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