Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

I have mixed feelings about this book.  The story was good and interesting, but you sort of see what is coming early on and you just want it to stop!  I had a hard time identifying with some of the decisions the characters made, so it was somewhat painful to have things unfold the way they did.  The book left me feeling a little sad, too.  Not one of my favorite books, but not a bad read either.

Summary (from Amazon):
Tom Sherbourne is a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a tiny island a half day’s boat journey from the coast of Western Australia. When a baby washes up in a rowboat, he and his young wife Isabel decide to raise the child as their own. The baby seems like a gift from God, and the couple’s reasoning for keeping her seduces the reader into entering the waters of treacherous morality even as Tom--whose moral code withstood the horrors of World War I--begins to waver. M. L. Stedman’s vivid characters and gorgeous descriptions of the solitude of Janus Rock and of the unpredictable Australian frontier create a perfect backdrop for the tale of longing, loss, and the overwhelming love for a child that is The Light Between Oceans

Read: August 2013 via CD from library

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

This was a great book!  I know it was fiction, but I learned a lot about Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald.  I was constantly googling to find out if certain things were true (and they always were).  The novel seemed to capture Zelda's voice and her perspective on how things were.  I really liked it!

Summary (from goodreads):
When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the “ungettable” Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn’t wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner’s, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.

What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera—where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.

Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby’s parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous—sometimes infamous—husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott’s, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda’s irresistible story as she herself might have told it.

Read: July-August 2013

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden was my kind of novel: a plot that twisted between different eras with a little non-threatening suspense.  I enjoyed the story and trying to figure out the mystery.  Some of the character's motivations were a little unbelievable, but overall it was a good story.

A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book—a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-fi rst birthday, they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and very little to go on, "Nell" sets out to trace her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast and the secrets of the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is not until her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes up the search after Nell’s death that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled. A spellbinding tale of mystery and self-discovery, The Forgotten Garden will take hold of your imagination and never let go.

Read: July 2013 (via CD from library)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

I love me some Tudor history.  I liked Wolf Hall because it was a completely different spin on Henry VIII than what I usually read.  Thomas Cromwell, a nobody who becomes a lawyer, survives the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey and eventually emerges as Henry's most trusted advisor.  Cromwell helps secure the annulment from Catherine of Aragon and paves the way for Anne Boleyn to become queen.  The book was a little long, and sometimes the characters got confusing, but I'm glad I read it.  I would probably only recommend it if you love British history like I do!

Summary (from Amazon):
No character in the canon has been writ larger than Henry VIII, but that didn't stop Hilary Mantel. She strides through centuries, past acres of novels, histories, biographies, and plays--even past Henry himself--confident in the knowledge that to recast history's most mercurial sovereign, it's not the King she needs to see, but one of the King's most mysterious agents. Enter Thomas Cromwell, a self-made man and remarkable polymath who ascends to the King's right hand. Rigorously pragmatic and forward-thinking, Cromwell has little interest in what motivates his Majesty, and although he makes way for Henry's marriage to the infamous Anne Boleyn, it's the future of a free England that he honors above all else and hopes to secure. Mantel plots with a sleight of hand, making full use of her masterful grasp on the facts without weighing down her prose. The opening cast of characters and family trees may give initial pause to some readers, but persevere: the witty, whip-smart lines volleying the action forward may convince you a short stay in the Tower of London might not be so bad... provided you could bring a copy of Wolf Hall along.

Read: May-July 2014 via Kindle

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Loved this!  Rubin launches a year-long project to focus on making her life happier.  The writing draws you in and makes you think more about your own life.  Definitely want to re-read this one because Rubin has some great ideas for  how to make your life a little happier!

Summary (from Amazon):
Rubin is not an unhappy woman: she has a loving husband, two great kids and a writing career in New York City. Still, she could-and, arguably, should-be happier. Thus, her methodical (and bizarre) happiness project: spend one year achieving careful, measurable goals in different areas of life (marriage, work, parenting, self-fulfillment) and build on them cumulatively, using concrete steps (such as, in January, going to bed earlier, exercising better, getting organized, and "acting more energetic"). By December, she's striving bemusedly to keep increasing happiness in every aspect of her life. The outcome is good, not perfect (in accordance with one of her "Secrets of Adulthood": "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good"), but Rubin's funny, perceptive account is both inspirational and forgiving, and sprinkled with just enough wise tips, concrete advice and timely research (including all those other recent books on happiness) to qualify as self-help. Defying self-help expectations, however, Rubin writes with keen senses of self and narrative, balancing the personal and the universal with a light touch. Rubin's project makes curiously compulsive reading, which is enough to make any reader happy. 

Read: Spring 2013 via gift from my sister

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

I usually love Sophie Kinsella novels, but this one is definitely my least favorite.  After an unexpected break up, Lottie jumps on an offer from a long lost boyfriend to get married since they are both still single.  Sounds like a fun plot, but the main component of the story is that Lottie decides that she and Ben should wait to have sex until they get married so that their honeymoon sex will be awesome.  Her sister tries to block their attempts to consummate their marriage so that they can still get an annulment.  For me, too much of the plot was wrapped up in whether or not they will have sex before they realize they shouldn't have jumped into marriage.

The best part of the book was that it was quick and easy and silly - good for the beach.  Not sure I would have bothered if I had known what the book was really about.  I would skip this one.  Better beach books are out there!

Lottie just knows that her boyfriend is going to propose during lunch at one of London’s fanciest restaurants. But when his big question involves a trip abroad, not a trip down the aisle, she’s completely crushed. So when Ben, an old flame, calls her out of the blue and reminds Lottie of their pact to get married if they were both still single at thirty, she jumps at the chance. No formal dates—just a quick march to the altar and a honeymoon on Ikonos, the sun-drenched Greek island where they first met years ago.

Their family and friends are horrified. Fliss, Lottie’s older sister, knows that Lottie can be impulsive—but surely this is her worst decision yet. And Ben’s colleague Lorcan fears that this hasty marriage will ruin his friend’s career. To keep Lottie and Ben from making a terrible mistake, Fliss concocts an elaborate scheme to sabotage their wedding night. As she and Lorcan jet off to Ikonos in pursuit, Lottie and Ben are in for a honeymoon to remember, for better . . . or worse.

Read: June 2014 during our Amelia Island trip (via library)

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This is absolutely one of the best books I have ever read.  The beginning is a little odd, because the narrator is Death himself, but I am so glad I stuck with it.  I was absolutely enthralled with Liesel, her sweet Papa, her funny friend Rudy and the quiet Jew in her basement.  With the setting in Nazi Germany, there is an undercurrent of sadness, but the story is so rich and good that you will love it anyway.  I can't wait to see the movie when it comes out in November!

Summary (from Amazon): 
Death himself narrates the World War II-era story of Liesel Meminger from the time she is taken, at age nine, to live in Molching, Germany, with a foster family in a working-class neighborhood of tough kids, acid-tongued mothers, and loving fathers who earn their living by the work of their hands. The child arrives having just stolen her first book–although she has not yet learned how to read–and her foster father uses it, The Gravediggers Handbook, to lull her to sleep when shes roused by regular nightmares about her younger brothers death. Across the ensuing years of the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Liesel collects more stolen books as well as a peculiar set of friends: the boy Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, the mayors reclusive wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal), and especially her foster parents. Zusak not only creates a mesmerizing and original story but also writes with poetic syntax, causing readers to deliberate over phrases and lines, even as the action impels them forward. Death is not a sentimental storyteller, but he does attend to an array of satisfying details, giving Liesels story all the nuances of chance, folly, and fulfilled expectation that it deserves. An extraordinary narrative.

Read: May-June 2013 via CD from library

Friday, May 17, 2013

Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

This was a fun read and interesting to read about the various aspects of adoption: the perspective of the birth mother and the adopted daughter.  I liked the book overall (more than Giffin's last novel).

Summary (from Good Reads):
Marian Caldwell is a thirty-six year old television producer, living her dream in New York City. With a fulfilling career and satisfying relationship, she has convinced everyone, including herself, that her life is just as she wants it to be. But one night, Marian answers a knock on the door . . . only to find Kirby Rose, an eighteen-year-old girl with a key to a past that Marian thought she had sealed off forever. From the moment Kirby appears on her doorstep, Marian’s perfectly constructed world—and her very identity—will be shaken to its core, resurrecting ghosts and memories of a passionate young love affair that threaten everything that has come to define her.

For the precocious and determined Kirby, the encounter will spur a process of discovery that ushers her across the threshold of adulthood, forcing her to re-evaluate her family and future in a wise and bittersweet light. As the two women embark on a journey to find the one thing missing in their lives, each will come to recognize that where we belong is often where we least expect to find ourselves—a place that we may have willed ourselves to forget, but that the heart remembers forever.

Read: May 2013 via CD from library

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

I'm glad I finally got to read this literary classic.  I don't really know why I never read it growing up.  I had no idea what to expect and the story was unusual - a little too sci fi for my taste.  I'm sure it has lots of allegories and symbols, but I enjoyed reading it just for fun.  Not sure I will read the rest of the quintet anytime soon though!

Summary (from Amazon):
Everyone in town thinks Meg is volatile and dull-witted and that her younger brother Charles Wallace is dumb. People are also saying that their father has run off and left their brilliant scientist mother. Spurred on by these rumors, Meg and Charles Wallace, along with their new friend Calvin, embark on a perilous quest through space to find their father. In doing so they must travel behind the shadow of an evil power that is darkening the cosmos, one planet at a time.

Young people who have trouble finding their place in the world will connect with the "misfit" characters in this provocative story. This is no superhero tale, nor is it science fiction, although it shares elements of both. The travelers must rely on their individual and collective strengths, delving deep into their characters to find answers.

Read: April 2013 via CD borrowed from Jenny

Friday, April 19, 2013

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

My Mimi read this one and recommended it.  Books set in Asia aren't usually my thing, but I am glad I read it anyway.  Snow Flower and Lily are bound together as "old sames" by a matchmaker when they are little girls.  The novel explores the depths of friendship and the complexities of growing up.  I learned a lot about the Chinese culture and more than I wanted to know about foot-binding.  Definitely a good, memorable read.

Summary (from Amazon):
See's engrossing novel set in remote 19th-century China details the deeply affecting story of lifelong, intimate friends (laotong, or "old sames") Lily and Snow Flower, their imprisonment by rigid codes of conduct for women and their betrayal by pride and love. While granting immediacy to Lily's voice, See (Flower Net) adroitly transmits historical background in graceful prose. Her in-depth research into women's ceremonies and duties in China's rural interior brings fascinating revelations about arranged marriages, women's inferior status in both their natal and married homes, and the Confucian proverbs and myriad superstitions that informed daily life. Beginning with a detailed and heartbreaking description of Lily and her sisters' foot binding ("Only through pain will you have beauty. Only through suffering will you have peace"), the story widens to a vivid portrait of family and village life. Most impressive is See's incorporation of nu shu, a secret written phonetic code among women—here between Lily and Snow Flower—that dates back 1,000 years in the southwestern Hunan province ("My writing is soaked with the tears of my heart,/ An invisible rebellion that no man can see"). As both a suspenseful and poignant story and an absorbing historical chronicle, this novel has bestseller potential and should become a reading group favorite as well. 

Read: April 2013 via gift from Mimi

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

With my undying love of all things British, I wanted to love this book.  I loved the idea of it - what happens if the Queen just hops on a train and takes a day off without telling anyone?  The story just wasn't what I thought it would be.  It had a lot more to do with the Queen's private staff trying to find the Queen before the press gets wind of her absence.  That part of the story had too much of a homosexual flair for my taste.  I wanted to like this book, but unfortunately, it just wasn't all that great.  Pass.

Read: March 2013 via library

Friday, March 29, 2013

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

I learned a lot about the true story of Alice in Wonderland by reading this novel.  I like historical fiction where the author builds a plausible plot from documented facts.  It was neat to learn about Lewis Carroll's (potentially improper) relationship with a real life Alice that inspired the famous story.  I love when books make me Google to see whether something really happened.

Summary (from Amazon): 
Part love story, part literary mystery, Melanie Benjamin’s spellbinding historical novel leads readers on an unforgettable journey down the rabbit hole, to tell the story of a woman whose own life became the stuff of legend. Her name is Alice Liddell Hargreaves, but to the world she’ll always be known simply as “Alice,” the girl who followed the White Rabbit into a wonderland of Mad Hatters, Queens of Hearts, and Cheshire Cats. Now, nearing her eighty-first birthday, she looks back on a life of intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. First as a young woman, then as a wife, mother, and widow, she’ll experience adventures the likes of which not even her fictional counterpart could have imagined. Yet from glittering balls and royal romances to a world plunged into war, she’ll always be the same determined, undaunted Alice who, at ten years old, urged a shy, stuttering Oxford professor to write down one of his fanciful stories, thus changing her life forever.

Read: March 2013 via library

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Snobbery with Violence by Marion Chesney

My mom picked this one up at the library and it fit in with my current British theme.  Set in the early 1900s, Lady Rose and Captain Cathcart find themselves trying to solve a murder at a Castle.  The story is full of intrigue and English high society...perfect entertainment for my commute, although I'm not sure I would have read this one if it had not been an audio version.

From Amazon:

When a marriage proposal appears imminent for the beautiful -- if rebellious -- Lady Rose Summer, her father wants to know if her suitor's intentions are honorable. He calls on Captain Harry Cathcart, the impoverished younger son of a baron, to do some intelligence work on the would-be fiancee, Sir Geoffrey Blandon.

After his success in uncovering Geoffrey's dishonorable motives, Harry fashions a career out of "fixing" things for wealthy aristocrats. So when the Marquess of Hedley finds one of his guests dead at a lavish house party, he knows just the man to call.

But when Harry is caught between his client's desire for discretion and his suspicion that murder may indeed have been committed, he enlists the help of Superintendent Kerridge of the Scotland Yard and Lady Rose, also a guest at Lord Hedley's.

Set in Britain and the Edwardian world of parties, servants, and scandal, M. C. Beaton's Snobbery with Violence is a delightful combination of murderous intrigue and high society.

Read: March 2013 via CD from the library

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

I love Pride and Prejudice.  This was the last installment in my quest to read all of Jane Austen's novels, and I am glad I saved it for last.  The story is the most fun and the most familiar.  I have thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the story again and can't wait to re-watch the movie soon!  

Read: February - March 2013 via my old paperback copy

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

As a crazy Downton Abbey fan, I enjoy all things British.  The American Heiress is the story of Cora, a rich young American, who goes to England to snag a husband with a title.  She falls in love, but has to learn to navigate the tricky English social scene.  This was a quick fun read for me.  I know some people did not love the end, but I was satisfied with it.

From Amazon:

Be careful what you wish for. Traveling abroad with her mother at the turn of the twentieth century to seek a titled husband, beautiful, vivacious Cora Cash, whose family mansion in Newport dwarfs the Vanderbilts’, suddenly finds herself Duchess of Wareham, married to Ivo, the most eligible bachelor in England. Nothing is quite as it seems, however: Ivo is withdrawn and secretive, and the English social scene is full of traps and betrayals. Money, Cora soon learns, cannot buy everything, as she must decide what is truly worth the price in her life and her marriage. 

Read: February 2013 via Kindle

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander was a good read.  I got caught up in the story and enjoyed the premise, that Claire travels back in time in Scotland and has to adapt to clan life.  Although categorized as a romance novel, Outlander wasn't any fluffier or full of romance than a Philippa Gregory book.  I enjoyed it.  I'm not sure whether I will read the rest of the series...maybe someday!

From Amazon:

Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another...

In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon—when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an "outlander"—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord...1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire's destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life ...and shatter her heart. For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire...and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

Read: December 2012-January 2013 via Kindle

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Oh wow.  This is one of the best stories I have read in a long time.  I'm not normally one for much nonfiction, but this was amazing and I just can't believe it is true.  Louie Zamperini, an Olympic runner, is stranded in the Pacific Ocean during WW2 only to be rescued by the Japanese.  He becomes a P.O.W. and endures so much.  I learned so much about WW2 (I mainly knew about the German side of the war, not the Japanese side).  This is an amazing reminder of the heroes who sacrificed everything for our freedom.  I highly recommend it!

From Amazon:

On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.  It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard.  So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini.  In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails.  As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile.  But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.

Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater.  Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion.  His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.  Telling an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.

Read: February 2013 via CD from the library

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

I was skeptical about this story for the first few chapters, but then the characters became real and I was hooked.  This is a sweet coming-of-age story about Holling Hoodhood and his teacher Mrs. Baker.  Holling is the only kid in his class who doesn't go to classes at the Catholic Church or the Synagogue on Wednesday afternoons, so he and Mrs. Baker start reading Shakespeare together.  Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, Mrs. Baker and Holling develop a neat friendship as Holling finds the courage to grow up.

From Amazon:

Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.

Read: February 2013 via CD from the library

PS: The Wednesday Wars won a Newbury Honor award.

The Kingmaker's Daughter by Philippa Gregory

As you know, I love Philippa Gregory novels because they bring British history to life for me.  I've enjoyed this series and learning about the War of the Roses.  The Kingmaker's Daughter was a good installment about Anne Neville.

From Amazon:

The Kingmaker’s Daughter is the gripping story of the daughters of the man known as the “Kingmaker,” Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick: the most powerful magnate in fifteenth-century England. Without a son and heir, he uses his daughters Anne and Isabel as pawns in his political games, and they grow up to be influential players in their own right. 

At the court of Edward IV and his beautiful queen, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne grows from a delightful child to become ever more fearful and desperate when her father makes war on his former friends. Married at age fourteen, she is soon left widowed and fatherless, her mother in sanctuary and her sister married to the enemy. Anne manages her own escape by marrying Richard, Duke of Gloucester, but her choice will set her on a collision course with the overwhelming power of the royal family and will cost the lives of those she loves most in the world, including her precious only son, Prince Edward. Ultimately, the kingmaker’s daughter will achieve her father’s greatest ambition.

Read: November 2012 via CD from the library