12.29.2014

Life of Pi ~ Yann Martel

Rating: ½
ISBN: 9780676973778
Pages: 367
Year: 2001
Publisher: Vintage Canada

Book Blurb:
Growing up in Pondicherry, India, Piscine Molitor Patel -- known as Pi -- has a rich life. Bookish by nature, young Pi acquires a broad knowledge of not only the great religious texts but of all literature, and has a great curiosity about how the world works. His family runs the local zoo, and he spends many of his days among goats, hippos, swans, and bears, developing his own theories about the nature of animals and how human nature conforms to it. Pi’s family life is quite happy, even though his brother picks on him and his parents aren’t quite sure how to accept his decision to simultaneously embrace and practise three religions -- Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.

But despite the lush and nurturing variety of Pi’s world, there are broad political changes afoot in India, and when Pi is sixteen his parents decide that the family needs to escape to a better life. Choosing to move to Canada, they close the zoo, pack their belongings, and board a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum. Travelling with them are many of their animals, bound for zoos in North America. However, they have only just begun their journey when the ship sinks, taking the dreams of the Patel family down with it. Only Pi survives, cast adrift in a lifeboat with the unlikeliest of travelling companions: a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Thus begins Pi Patel’s epic, 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of Life of Pi. Worn and scared, oscillating between hope and despair, Pi is witness to the playing out of the food chain, quite aware of his new position within it. When only the tiger is left of the seafaring menagerie, Pi realizes that his survival depends on his ability to assert his own will, and sets upon a grand and ordered scheme to keep from being Richard Parker’s next meal.

As the days pass, Pi fights both boredom and terror by throwing himself into the practical details of surviving on the open sea -- catching fish, collecting rain water, protecting himself from the sun -- all the while ensuring that the tiger is also kept alive, and knows that Pi is the key to his survival. The castaways face gruelling pain in their brushes with starvation, illness, and the storms that lash the small boat, but there is also the solace of beauty: the rainbow hues of a dorado’s death-throes, the peaceful eye of a looming whale, the shimmering blues of the ocean’s swells. Hope is fleeting, however, and despite adapting his religious practices to his daily routine, Pi feels the constant, pressing weight of despair. It is during the most hopeless and gruelling days of his voyage that Pi whittles to the core of his beliefs, casts off his own assumptions, and faces his underlying terrors head-on.

My thoughts:
I really, really, really wanted to like this book. I have heard so many positive things about it, there has been so much hype about the story, but unfortunately that was not the case. I found this novel to be quite tedious at times and not overly enjoyable to read. Yes, there were some good parts, the main story line wasn't half bad, but there were many problems with this book - let's start at the beginning. 

Part One: Pi's childhood at the zoo in Pondicherry. In this part of the novel, I learned more than I ever thought I would about managing a zoo in India. Entire chapters were dedicated to different aspects of zoology. Then all of a sudden, it flips to Pi's unique religious beliefs. Then to his struggles in school because of his name, which I can totally relate to, but then back to some other aspect of zoology. Had the organization and the flow been better, I probably would have enjoyed this part of the novel a lot more than I did. And after 60 pages of zoology, I was beginning to wonder... when is the boat going to sink? When is the real story going to finally start?

Part Two: The boat sinks. Pi is forced onto a lifeboat with a strange collection of zoo animals: a hyena, an orang-utang, a zebra with a broken leg and a Bengal tiger. Clearly, this arrangement isn't going to last long. And yet ... it does. The actual description of Pi's life on the lifeboat and on his raft wasn't horrible, in fact it was probably one of the most interesting parts of the book. However there were times where I wished that the tiger would finally just eat him! Put the poor kid out of his misery and eat him. Especially when the tiger started to talk to Pi near the end of his voyage.  

Part Three: Ugh! Apparently there was really no animals, they were really all humans. Therefore you come to the grizzly discovery that there was definitely some cannibalism going on on that lifeboat. And that notion killed the novel for me. It tied in the spiritual aspect from the first part of the novel but it just wasn't enough to redeem the novel. 

Another one of my many qualms about this book - the number of freaking chapters! There were 100 chapters in a 367 page book. A little ridiculous if you ask me, especially considering one of the chapters was a whopping 3 sentences long. Was that really necessary? An the italic voice ... necessary? Really?

I get the point, there are two different versions of the same story which relates to Pi's religious beliefs that there are different religions, all serving one God, and it is up to you to decide which story to believe. Which is the better story. The novel promises us that we will believe in God, however it seems to me that the author is really saying that we will decide which story about God is best, hence choosing a religion, therefore believing in God. Using animals as metaphors, replacing people with zoo animals does make the story more pleasing to read, I would much rather read about a hyena tearing apart, then eating a zebra rather than a deranged cook committing the act of cannibalism. The story however, does nothing to enhance my beliefs in God. Instead, the message I got was to look at your own life, look at your own world views. Do you tend to believe the better but less likely story or do you tend to believe the more likely story that isn't as lovely as the first? What view of reality do you tend to hold? Are you governed by your emotions or rational? 

So would I recommend this book? I'm not sure. I'm a huge believer in reading the book before seeing the movie, so that being said, if you are like me then read the book before seeing the movie. But otherwise ... either you love it or you hate it. 

Honolulu ~ Alan Brennert

Rating: H H H H H
ISBN: 978-0312606343
Pages: 431
Year: 2010
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Book Blurb:
“In Korea in those days, newborn girls were not deemed important enough to be graced with formal names, but were instead given nicknames, which often reflected the parents’ feelings on the birth of a daughter: I knew a girl named Anger, and another called Pity. As for me, my parents named me Regret.”

Honolulu is the rich, unforgettable story of a young “picture bride” who journeys to Hawai'i in 1914 in search of a better life.

Instead of the affluent young husband and chance at an education that she has been promised, she is quickly married off to a poor, embittered laborer who takes his frustrations out on his new wife. Renaming herself Jin, she makes her own way in this strange land, finding both opportunity and prejudice. With the help of three of her fellow picture brides, Jin prospers along with her adopted city, now growing from a small territorial capital into the great multicultural city it is today. But paradise has its dark side, whether it’s the daily struggle for survival in Honolulu’s tenements, or a crime that will become the most infamous in the islands’ history...

With its passionate knowledge of people and places in Hawai'i far off the tourist track, Honolulu is most of all the spellbinding tale of four women in a new world, united by dreams, disappointment, sacrifices, and friendship.

My Thoughts:
I absolutely LOVED this novel! Once again, Alan Brennert was able to masterfully transport me to another place and time. He has a remarkable talent of transporting you to the island with his lush descriptions. I was totally hooked from start to finish - it was next to impossible for me to put this novel down! The characters were spectacularly written, both the fictitious and those based on real people, I loved how he intertwined parts of true history into this work of fiction.

I adored Regret or Jin as she called herself upon her arrival in Honolulu. She goes through so many struggles in the novel, first in her native Korea, then as a picture bride brought to the island by false promises only to find herself trapped in an abusive marriage, then finally to the struggles she faced as she set out on her own, a woman in a foreign country with little money and nowhere to go. She is brave, creative, fiercely independent and determined to make it.  

Although the story is written from the point of view from one woman, it represents the struggle for all immigrants who went to Hawai'i during its territorial period. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipinos - they all came to Hawai'i to escape something, be it poverty, social oppression or simply to seek a better life. The life they imagined couldn't be further from the truth. When they arrived there was backbreaking labour on the plantations, brutal treatment from the white overseers as well as the racial hostilities they face.

Another home run for Alan Brennert! I recommend this to anyone who is looking for an amazing read! 

12.28.2014

Freud's Mistress ~ Karen Mack & Jennifer Kaufman

Rating: HHH
ISBN: 9780425270028
Pages: 384
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Year: 2014

Book Blurb:
For fans of The Paris Wife, Loving Frank, The Other Boleyn Girl and Shanghai Girls . . . a novel inspired by the true-life love affair between Sigmund Freud and his sister-in-law, Minna Bernays.

Minna Bernays is an overeducated woman with limited options. Fired yet again for speaking her mind, she finds herself out on the street and out of options. In 1895 Vienna, even though the city is aswirl with avant-garde artists and writers and revolutionary are still very few options for women besides marriage. And settling is not something Minna has ever done.

Out of desperation, Minna turns to her older sister, Martha, for help. But Martha has her own problems — six young children, a host of physical ailments, a household run with military precision, and an absent, overworked, disinterested husband who happens to be Sigmund Freud. Freud is a struggling professor, all but shunned by his peers and under attack for his theories, most of which center around sexual impulses, urges, and perversions. While Martha is shocked and repulsed by her husband’s "pornographic" work, Minna is fascinated.

Minna is everything Martha is not—intellectually curious, an avid reader, stunning. But while she and Freud embark on what is at first simply an intellectual courtship, something deeper is brewing beneath the surface, something Minna cannot escape.

My Thoughts: 
This was definitely a different view of Freud from the one that I have from my psychology days. To view him as a romantic character was extremely hard for me to do. Most of my images of Sigmund Freud are of a stern, egotistical, cigar smoking man sitting beside a patient reclined on a couch. Having a degree in psychology, I spent a lot of time learning about Freud and his theories. I can honestly say after reading this novel, I still cannot see him as a romantic figure. I am however pleased with the portrayal of Freud.

As for the other characters in the book, I am torn. I couldn't stand Freud's wife - I found her annoyingly weak. Who doesn't know that your husband is having an affair with your sister in your own home! Maybe if you weren't hiding in your room, living in a drugged up world ... As for Minna, I really liked her for most of the book, that is until she completely fell apart after the realization that her lover really doesn't love her. This part of the novel was dragged out for what seemed like FOREVER! Her agonizing became tedious and quite frankly, boring.

The Sultan's Wife ~ Jane Johnson

Rating: HHH½
ISBN: 978-0-385-67002-9
Pages: 376
Publisher: Anchor Canada
Year Published: 2012

Book Blurb:
Morocco, 1627 - a golden kingdom ruled by a tyrant.

Nus-Nus, once an African prince, now the sultan's slave, is sent to the bazaar on an errand. There, he becomes entangled in a plot that could see him executed for murder. Caught between the tyrannical sultan, his sorceress queen and the malicious Grand Vizier, Nus-Nus seems doomed. 

     But when young Englishwoman Alys Swann is captured during a sea crossing and sold into the sultan's harem, an unlikely alliance develops between these two outsiders - an alliance that becomes a deep an moving relationship in which Alys and Nus-Nus find sustenance and courage in the most perilous of circumstances.

My Thoughts:

     This is a MUST read book! I was captivated from the very beginning. I could hardly bear to put the book down!

     It was very clear from page one that Jane Johnston not only adores her subject, but has also spent a great deal of time researching it. Not only does she include an extensive bibliography, but in the "about the author" blurb, it states that not only did she visit Morocco to research for the novel, but while she was there she met and later married a Berber tradesman. The Moroccan markets were brought to life - the sounds, the smells; the landscape was beautifully painted with word and I could almost feel the heat of the sun beating down on me and see the clashing of knives. And the characters ... they were fantastic! I absolutely loved the main character, an African prince turned slave to the Sultan, Nus-Nus. He was beautifully written; smart, caring, strong but not without his own personal tragedy. I really hope that there will be more books Nus-Nus - he deserves it!

     The novel is marvelously written. It is full of intrigue, deceit, deception, murder, sorcery ... all superbly woven together. There is romance but also heartbreak and personal tragedy. I do have a burning question however ... why is this book called the Sultan's Wife? The wife plays a major role however she is not present for a good portion of the book. The title is a bit misleading.

Dollface ~ Renee Rosen

Rating: HHH ½
ISBN: 978045114192
Pages: 416
Publisher: NAL Trade
Year Published: 2013

Book Blurb:
     Vera Abramowitz is determined to leave her gritty childhood behind and live a more exciting life, one that her mother never dreamed of. Bobbing her hair and showing her knees, the lipsticked beauty dazzles, doing the Charleston in nightclubs and earning the nickname “Dollface.”

    As the ultimate flapper, Vera captures the attention of two high rollers, a handsome nightclub owner and a sexy gambler. On their arms, she gains entrée into a world filled with bootleg bourbon, wailing jazz, and money to burn. She thinks her biggest problem is choosing between them until the truth comes out. Her two lovers are really mobsters from rival gangs during Chicago’s infamous Beer Wars, a battle Al Capone refuses to lose.

     The heady life she’s living is an illusion resting on a bedrock of crime and violence unlike anything the country has ever seen before. When the good times come to an end, Vera becomes entangled in everything from bootlegging to murder. And as men from both gangs fall around her, Vera must put together the pieces of her shattered life, as Chicago hurtles toward one of the most infamous days in its history, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.


My Thoughts:
     I'm torn on this one - Vera Abramowitz bothered me throughout this novel. There were times where I despised her, when she was needy, dependent on others and down right childish. I couldn't stand her wishy-washy ways, her woe is me ... I'm sleeping with two guys of rival gangs ... what am I going to do?! Ugh! It became so irritating. Then there was the worrying about everybody herself, her daughter, her mother, her husband, her lover, and every other character in the book, but yet, she rarely did anything to change the circumstances and on the rare occasion that she did, she ended up in over her head and needed someone to come and bail her out. All that being said, however, there were other times were I found myself feeling sorry for her and even liking her. I found my opinion of her changing throughout the novel, I liked her more in the later third of the novel. She grew up, she became tough and independent. She was definitely a very frustrating character.

     Now on to the parts I loved; I loved all of the gritty parts of the novel. The details of the time period - the dancing, the the music, the flappers ... add to that all of the bootlegging of liquor during Prohibition, the raids, the guns and of course the gangsters. I loved how the book really captured the times, the lifestyle, the dangers - clearly a lot of time and love went into the research for this novel. The details about the St. Valentine's Day massacre, the role that notorious gangster Al Capone played in it - awesome. This story made me want more of the roaring 20s!

8.12.2014

A Hero for the People ~ Arthur Powers

Publisher: Press 53
Year: 2013
Pages: 190
Rating: H H H ½
ISBN: 978-1935708834

Book Blurb: 

A Hero for the People: Stories of the Brazilian Backlands is Arthur Power’s debut collection of short stories set in Contemporary Brazil, where he and his wife lived for almost 30 years.

“Set in the vast and sometimes violent landscape of contemporary Brazil, this book is a gorgeous collection of stories-wise, hopeful, and forgiving, but clear-eyed in its exploration of the toll taken on the human heart by greed, malice, and the lust for land.” (Debra Murphy, CatholicFiction.net).

My Thoughts:
I was pleasantly surprised with this novel. Normally I am not a fan of short stories, however when I was offered a copy of  "A Hero for the People" through Book Junkie Promotions, I could not turn it down. 

I LOVE Brazil - it is on my list of places to visit, but I realized after reading this book that there is a lot more to the country and its people than I ever realized. This book is an adventure - you almost get the sense that you are traveling along through Brazil's backlands. You feel the emotions of the people in the stories - you feel their pain, their struggle, their fear. 

The stories were beautifully written. Each story in this is crafted and fine-tuned. They leave you satisfied and yet wanting more. Arthur Powers is a brilliant storyteller and a wonderful writer. You can clearly see his love and care for the people in his stories; it shines through every page. 


About the Author


Arthur Powers went to Brazil in 1969 and lived most his adult life there. From 1985 to 1997, he and his wife served with the Franciscan Friars in the Amazon, doing pastoral work and organizing subsistence farmers and rural workers’ unions in a region of violent land conflicts. The Powers currently live in Raleigh North Carolina.


Arthur received a Fellowship in Fiction from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, three annual awards for short fiction from the Catholic Press Association, and 2nd place in the 2008 Tom Howard Fiction Contest. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in many magazines & anthologies. He is the author of A Hero For The People: Stories From The Brazilian Backlands (Press 53, 2013) and The Book of Jotham (Tuscany Press, 2013).




A Hero for the People Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, August 11

Wednesday, August 13

Friday, August 15
Spotlight at Closed the Cover

Monday, August 18
Review at Book Nerd

Wednesday, August 20

Monday, August 25
Guest Post at The Bookworm

Wednesday, August 27
Spotlight at Unshelfish

Monday, September 1
Guest Post at Just One More Chapter

Thursday, September 4

Friday, September 5
Review at A Bookish Affair

Monday, September 8
Review at Mel’s Shelves

Wednesday, September 10
Review & Interview at 80 Acres and a Book

Friday, September 12

7.29.2014

Dreams of Joy ~ Lisa See

Rating: HHHH
ISBN: 9780812980547
Pages: 400
Publisher: Random House
Year: 2012

Book Blurb:
In her most powerful novel yet, acclaimed author Lisa See returns to the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy. Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the Communist regime. Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.

My Thoughts:
I am a huge fan of Lisa See. I have thoroughly enjoyed her previous novels, "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan", "Peony in Love", and "Shanghai Girls" and I have to say that "Dreams of Joy" definitely did not disappoint. 

Ms. See is able to transport her readers effortlessly. Her history is carefully researched. Her characters are beautifully written and totally believable. I absolutely LOVE her writing! 

Joy comes off as an annoying, know-it-all but I grew to love her throughout the novel. She becomes lovable and sympathetic. She's headstrong and will do whatever it is that she wants, despite her mother's and father's warnings. But it is through these decisions, and the consequences that go along with them, that we see her character grow and develop from a girl into a woman. 

There were parts of the book that were deeply disturbing and heart-wrenching, however I believe that it is a true reflection of what really happened during the Great Leap Forward during Mao's rule of China in the 1950's. At times it was horrifying, but at the same time, brutally honest. 

I would strongly recommend "Dreams of Joy" to anyone who loves historical drama with strong characters and authenticity. ** Read "Shanghai Girls" first! **


Empress of the Night ~ Eva Stackniak

Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Year: 2014
Pages: 400
Rating: H ½
ISBN: 9780385666589

Book Blurb:
Catherine the Great muses on her life, her relentless battle between love and power, the country she brought into the glorious new century, and the bodies left in her wake. By the end of her life, she had accomplished more than virtually any other woman in history. She built and grew the Romanov empire, amassed a vast fortune of art and land, and controlled an unruly and conniving court. Now, in a voice both indelible and intimate, she reflects on the decisions that gained her the world and brought her enemies to their knees. And before her last breath, shadowed by the bloody French Revolution, she sets up the end game for her last political maneuver, ensuring her successor and the greater glory of Russia.


My Thoughs:
Remember that old saying, if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all? Well, if I were to abide by this, I really wouldn’t have much to say about this book. But to quote another popular admonition, isn’t honesty always the best policy?

I had my reservations about this novel, I wasn’t overly impressed with Stackniak’s first novel about Catherine the Great, The Winter Palace, but I decided to give her another chance. Well, that was a waste of my time. By the time I was about 120 pages in, I was exasperated that there were still another 280 pages to go. Much like The Winter Palace, it was unbelievably long. I thought that the book was never.going.to.end.

The idea of an aged Catherine reflecting on her life, her reign, her legacy as the final moments of her life slip by, is an interesting idea, but Stackniak’s narrative is so fragmented and incoherent. The structure of the book is just strange; unless you know the history surrounding Catherine the Great, you can get very lost as there is no clear indication that the time has changed.

Another problem that I encountered was that there are HUGE gaps of time that are omitted. That being said, a lot of important parts of history and Catherine’s rule, are also omitted. The story just felt so disjointed and at times, totally random.

I found the characters to be very dull, dry and they never really developed. I was extremely disappointed with Catherine herself. In this novel she is portrayed as a love sick woman, not one of the greatest ruler in Russian history. I was bored with her constantly reminiscing about her past lovers. Get over it, you are the Empress of Russia. Where is the story of what made her “great”? Where are the politics? Her reign?

Sadly, I don’t think that I will be continuing to read Ms. Stackniak’s novels in the future. I do not recommend reading Empress of the Night.

7.01.2014

The Calligrapher's Daughter ~ Eugenia Kim

Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Year: 2010
Pages: 386
Rating: «««««
ISBN: 9781408806180

Book Blurb: 
In early-twentieth-century Korea, Najin Han, the privileged daughter of a calligrapher, longs to choose her own destiny, though her country—newly occupied by Japan—is crumbling, and her family, led by her stern father, is facing difficulties that seem insurmountable. Narrowly escaping an arranged marriage, Najin takes up a new role as a companion to a young princess. But the king is soon assassinated, and the centuries-old dynastic culture comes to its end.

Najin pursues a coveted education and is surprised to find love. After one day of marriage a denied passport separates her from her new husband, who continues alone to America. As a decade passes and the world descends into war, Najin loses touch with her husband. Will the love they share be enough to sustain her through the deprivation her country continues to endure? The Calligrapher's Daughter is a richly drawn novel about a nation torn between ancient customs and modern possibilities, and is a "vivid, heartfelt portrait of faith, love and life for one family during a pivotal time in history"

My Thoughts:
WOW! This was my first voyage to Korea ... and after reading this book, I cannot WAIT to go back! I'll be honest, I really did not know a whole lot about Korea's history before reading "The Calligrapher's Daughter" but as I was reading, I found myself constantly wanting to know more. So I would feel the need to tear myself away from the story and hit the history books to discover more about what I was reading about in the story. I absolutely love it when historical-fiction books inspire me to learn more about the actual history (... yes I am a bit of a history nerd). 

I love how Ms. Kim weaves both the ancient and the pre-war modern Korean history into a harsh yet compelling, beautiful narrative. It was full of personal and national suffering, both of which seem unbearable - yet they persevered through faith, family and tradition. 

Najin is a very strong character with her own struggles. She struggles to maintain traditions in an ever changing, and modernising, world. She has dreams of getting an education and working (both modern thinking), yet she wants to be the good Korean daughter and wife (traditional) at the same time. 

I was amazed to find out after reading the novel that it was actually based on her mother's life. 

I would highly recommend this novel - it was absolutely breathtaking and it was extremely hard to put it down. Love, love, love! 

5.19.2014

Moloka'i ~ Alan Brennert

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Year: 2004
Pages: 384
Rating: «««««

Book Blurb:
This richly imagined novel, set in Hawai'i more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place - and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.

Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'i. Here her life is suppose to end - but instead she discovers that it is only just beginning.

My thoughts:
Absolutely AMAZING! This book will pull on your heartstrings from beginning to end. It is heartbreaking, heartwarming - an emotional roller coaster. It is an absolutely beautifully written story. All of the characters are beautifully and carefully crafted - each with their own distinct personalities and their own own set of challenges yet they are all facing the same problem: leprosy. Either they are infected with the disease or they are working to help the patients.

4.12.2014

The Painted Girls ~ Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Painted Girls ~ Cathy Marie Buchanan

Publisher: Riverhead Books/Penguin USA
Pages: 357
Year: 2013
Rating: ««« ½ 

Book Blurb:

A gripping novel set in Belle Époque Paris and inspired by the real-life model for Degas’s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen and a notorious criminal trial of the era.

Paris. 1878. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventy francs a month, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work—and the love of a dangerous young man—as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modelling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Antoinette, meanwhile, descends lower and lower in society, and must make the choice between a life of honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde—that is, unless her love affair derails her completely.

Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.”

My thoughts:

This is a gritty story of survival in the gutter of the Belle Époque in Paris. It was written in such a way that it felt as if I was transported back into the late 19th century Paris, back to a time of despair, poverty, where the poor would do anything to support themselves and their family. The tone of the book is dark, the dark side of Pairs, of ballet, of art. It was full of rich details, from the life of a petit rat, to that of a washerwoman, to that of lady of the night. The story is filled with both sisterly love and rivalry. I thought that Buchanan did a fantastic job building and developing the complicated relationship between the sisters.

Normally I am not a huge fan of the constant POV changes ... I find them to be extremely irritating and sometime downright confusing, pointless and even detrimental to the story. This however, was not the case with this novel. I actually enjoyed the dual POV approach for the majority of the novel. I think that Buchanan was able to successfully make each girl her own character and to have her own story while still intertwining throughout the story. It wasn't until the end of the book that the dual POV really started to bother me - when each girl was only given 1/2 a page at most before switching to the other.

It was a little slow paced for a while, it did not always hold my attention. I found that I was disappointed with the last quarter of the book - I really didn't like how the characters developed. I was a fan of Marie throughout the book until she started to fall apart, then I became annoyed with her. Immensely annoyed.

Overall, I would say that it was a decent read, however I feel that it could have been so much better.

The Harem Midwife ~ Roberta Rich


The Harem Midwife ~ Roberta Rich

Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Pages: 320
Year: 2013
Rating: ««««

Book Blurb:
Hannah and Isaac return in this opulent, riveting, and suspenseful tale--a continuation of the hugely successful Midwife of Venice. 

      The Imperial Harem, Constantinople, 1579 
Hannah and Isaac Levi, Venetians in exile, have set up a new life for themselves in Constantinople. Isaac runs a newly established business in the growing silk trade, while Hannah, the best midwife in all of Constantinople, plies her trade within the opulent palace of Sultan Murat III, tending to the thousand women of his lively and infamous harem. But one night, when Hannah is unexpectedly summoned to the palace, she's confronted with Zofia, a poor Jewish peasant girl who has been abducted and sold into the sultan's harem. The sultan favours her as his next conquest and wants her to produce his heir, but the girl just wants to return to her home and the only life she has ever known. What will Hannah do? Will she risk her life and livelihood to protect this young girl, or will she retain her high esteem in the eye of the sultan?
    
An adventurous, opulent and deliciously exciting read, peopled with fascinating, unforgettable characters (a court eunuch; the calculating sultan's mother-in-law; the beguiling harem ladies; and a very mysterious young beauty from Venice who shows up on Hannah's doorstep causing much havoc), this novel is sure to please fans of The Midwife of Venice and extend Roberta's reputation as one of Canada's most loved historical fiction authors.


My thoughts:
I thoroughly enjoyed The Midwife of Venice – and I have to say that the sequel did not disappoint. A lot of “series” out there now a days, you really don’t always have to read book 1 before book 2 – not the case here. This is a true sequel, you need to have read The Midwife of Venice before picking up this novel. The Harem Midwife continues the story of Hannah Levi, a Jewish midwife, who now makes her life in Constantinople with her husband Isaac and her son Matteo.

Like in The Midwife of Venice Hannah is forced to make a difficult choice: use her skills to help another woman in need or protect her family. Only this time, there is another problem to deal with that threatens Hannah’s family.

Again, I am impressed with Ms. Rich’s writing. It is beautifully written and very well researched. The characters are all well developed and have a life-like quality to them. The scenery is vivid and fascinating. The descriptions are wonderful – you can see things, you can smell things, you can feel things!!! Love it! I absolutely loved the description of the palace and the harem rooms. Ms. Rich is able to describe the grandeur and opulence of life in the harem of Constantinople. From the lavish bathing rooms, the menagerie, the gardens, the marketplace and the streets of Constantinople – the details given make it feel as if you are there and you see what the characters are seeing.

The only problem I had with this story was the ending. It was just too simple, too neat. Other than that, I loved the book.

1.05.2014

The Inquisitor’s Wife ~ Jeanne Kalogridis

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 400
Year: 2012
Rating: ««½

Book Blurb:
In 1480 Seville, Marisol, a fearful young conversa (descendant of Spanish Jews forced to convert to Christianity), is ashamed of her Jewish blood. Forced into a sham marriage with a prosecutor for the new Inquisition, Marisol soon discovers that her childhood sweetheart, Antonio, has just returned to Seville and is also working for the inquisitors. When Marisol’s father is arrested and tortured during Spain’s first auto da fe, Marisol comes to value her Jewish heritage and vows to fight the Inquisition. When she discovers that her beloved Antonio is working to smuggle conversos safely out of Spain, she joins him and risks her life on behalf of her people; a passionate romance follows.

Unfortunately, Marisol does not realize that her supposedly kind and gentle inquisitor-husband has been using her all along to lead Antonio and her fellow conversos to their doom.

My thoughts:
I have to say that I was disappointed with this novel. I am normally a huge fan of Ms. Kalogridis’ work, but I definitely think that there was so much wasted potential. There were times where I found myself dozing off during the novel – it was so slow moving. There were also times where I found myself skipping sections because the story wasn’t holding my attention, and then I would have to go back and re-read the same section again. That being said, there were also parts where I felt that a more in-depth explanations and where dialogues felt unfinished.  I was hoping for so much more.

Characters were also a problem for me. I really did not like Marisol a whole lot – I found that I was not able to connect with her. I felt that she was a very one-dimensional character and quite frankly, she really didn’t have a winning personality. The other character who I had an issue with was Marisol’s husband Gabriel. The book description describes him as being “kind and gentle”, meanwhile in the book he is anything but that. Honestly, pretty much all the characters were under developed and flat.  

All of my negativity aside … there were some pretty good parts. The settings were beautifully described. There was also clearly a lot of research that went into the writing of this novel. There is a lot of interesting and informative information woven throughout the story.



The French Mistress ~ Susan Holloway Scott

Publisher: NAL Trade
Pages: 377
Year: 2009
Rating: «««

Book Blurb:
The daughter of a poor nobleman, Louise leaves the French countryside for the court of King Louis XIV, where she must not only please the tastes of the jaded king, but serve as a spy for France. With few friends, many rivals, and ever-shifting loyalties, Louise learns the perils of her new role. Yet she is too ambitious to be a pawn in the intrigues of others. With the promise of riches, power, and even the love of a king, Louise creates her own destiny in a dance of intrigue between two monarchs-and two countries.

Louise de Keroualle is the daughter of an impoverished French nobleman, who leaves her families country chateau to serve in the house of Madame D’Orleans, who also happens to be the beloved sister of King Charles II of England. She also happens to be the wife of the sadistic, cruel brother of King Louis XIV of France. Louise is depicted as a virtuous young lady, a rare commodity in Louis XIV’s court, who is dedicated to not only protecting her virtue but also protecting her mistress, Henriette from her evil husband.  Louise and Henriette form a close bond – a bond that resulted in a trip to the English court for Louise with Henriette to visit her brother the King. Upon their return to France, Henriette dies suddenly and mysteriously. Louise is ultimately sent back to the English court by Louis himself where she becomes maîtresse en titre to the King.

My thoughts:
This was not only my first novel written by Susan Holloway Scott, but it was also my first novel revolving around the life of Charles II of England. I had no idea that this in fact is a part of a series about Charles II’s mistresses.

I found the story to be well written and definitely an interesting read. I really enjoyed the first part of the book, Louise’s life at the French court and hers and Henriette’s trip to the English court, however after that … it started to die.

There were a few problems that I had with this book, and both occur once Louise returned to England after Henriette’s death.  First, it dragged . . . it took forever for Louise to finally succumb to King Charles II’s wills to become his mistress, and then the last 100 pages where Louise recounts Charles’ seamlessly endless problems with parliament never seemed to end.

Second, I really was not a fan of Louise once she returns to England. She all of a sudden became self-righteous, smug . . . and she wondered why nobody liked her – she thought she was better than them because she was French, and Catholic, and they were simply English and Protestant. Not to mention that she was extremely annoying, crying all of the time when things didn’t go her way. Plus SHE WAS A SPY!!! Seriously!!!

All of my complaining aside, the first half was great – a dazzling account of life in the French court and the English court as well (at least the first time Louise was there…). I loved the relationship between Henriette and Louise. There were detailed scenes and emotional dialogues. I don’t know if I would necessarily recommend this book, at least not very highly. I am going to give the author another chance. Hopefully her other books are more like the first half of this one. 

1.04.2014

New Year . . . New Blog

So it appears that I have neglected my blog over the past year, and for that I am extremely sorry. I started this blog a few years ago, and my life was very different back then. 

I initially started this blog while I was in Teacher's College, back when I was living by myself, with my cat in a bachelorette apartment, going to school and working a part-time job. Other than my classes and assignments, a few shifts a week and the occasional get together with friends... I had A LOT of free time on my hands. Free time that I spent reading and blogging. 

After I graduated, I got hired by the school board where I grew up as a supply teacher. Again, other than supplying 4-5 days a week, with no planning, no marking and again a lot of free time to read and blog. Then I got a long-term supply job that involved planning and marking ... that's when the blogging began to slow down.

And then I met a guy. A wonderful guy. Now I'm not saying that he was the problem, because he definitely was not, but my free time was no longer spent curled up with a book, but rather hanging out with him. 

And then I got a full time, permanent teaching position. Along with the planning, and the marking, I happen to teach French - that means creating a whole lot of resources for my kiddos. Not that I don't enjoy creating wonderful things to help my little guys learn a new language, it just takes up a lot of my free time. And so I had to cut something - I wasn't cutting my friends or my family and definitely not my boyfriend so blogging unfortunately took the hit. 

Well things have changed since then. I still have my wonderful boyfriend, however now he goes by the term fiancé, and in another 6 months he will be my husband. I am still a full time, permanent French teacher, however with a few years under my belt, I am starting to learn that everything does not have to be perfect. I have also made the conscious decision that I need to get back to doing the things that I love. I have missed reading. I have missed blogging. 

Now, I'm not saying that I will be posting like have in the past. I have decided to change the format a bit on this blog. I will still post reviews of books that I have read and I will occasionally post about upcoming and new releases, depending on how busy life is of course.

Things might look a little different but it's a compromise that I am willing to make. 
Kyrsta

The Kingmaker’s Daughter ~ Philippa Gregory

Publisher: Touchstone
Pages: 417
Year: 2012
Rating: ««««

Book Blurb:
Spies, poison, and curses surround her...

Is there anyone she can trust?
 

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. In this novel, her first sister story since The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory explores the lives of two fascinating young women.

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.

My thoughts:
As much as I like to think of myself as being pretty knowledgeable when it comes to European history, especially where it concerns the royal families, I have to admit that I really did not know much about Anne Neville before I read The Kingmaker’s Daughter. I have to say that Anne Neville is a very interesting character and her prospective of this tumultuous time was refreshing.

I am (and have been for years) a HUGE fan of Philippa Gregory. I love how she is able to take an event, such as the War of the Roses, which can potentially be a tedious subject full of politics and make it into something intriguing and exciting to read. I love how she is able to weave in court life and the fashions in with political scandals and betrayals, all well making the story realistic and plausible.

The relationship between the Neville girls, Anne and Isabelle, was reminiscent of the relationship between another set of sisters in a previous Gregory novel – the Boleyn sisters, Mary and Anne, in Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl (which, coincidentally was the book that got me hooked…). Clearly, the sisters love each other, but neither one of them even hesitated to turn on the other to further herself or her own cause. Speaking of characters, I actually found myself to like Richard III in this novel. Normally, I cannot stand him but here he is portrayed in a sympathetic light, as a caring husband who truly loves his wife Anne but he is still a calculating politician.

Once again, any amazing novel from Ms. Gregory. Can’t wait to read The White Princess, the next novel in the Cousin’s War series. 

The Boleyn Deceit ~ Laura Andersen

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Year: 2013
Pages: 416
Rating: ««««

Book Blurb:
Henry IX, known as William, is the son of Anne Boleyn and now the leader of England, his regency period finally at an end. His newfound power, however, comes with the looming specter of war with the other major powers of Europe, with strategic alliances that must be forged on both the battlefield and in the bedroom, and with a court, severed by religion, rife with plots to take over the throne. Will trusts only three people: his older sister, Elizabeth; his best friend and loyal counselor, Dominic; and Minuette, a young orphan raised as a royal ward by Anne Boleyn. But as the pressure rises alongside the threat to his life, even they William must begin to question-and to fear.

My thoughts:
So this is the second book in the trilogy, the first being The Boleyn King and the third The Boleyn Reckoning (due out in 2014). The Boleyn Deceit picks up where The Boleyn King ends. I would STRONGLY recommend, nay INSIST that you read The Boleyn King before you read this book. It is most certainly not a stand-alone novel.

I really enjoyed this novel, however I honestly have to say that it just wasn’t quite as good as the first book. I found that there was a lot more politics in this book (not necessarily a bad thing) and the love story … oh the love story … It occasionally got on my nerves in the first book but OMG … Half way through the book I wanted to reach in an literally punch William and Minuette in their faces (I couldn’t do it to Dominic, I have a soft spot for him). Speaking of William – I am really, really beginning to dislike him. A lot. Even sweet Minuette began to get on my nerves.

There were some redeeming parts of the book – I really enjoyed the political intrigue, and the reveal of the mystery from the first book, but it was a duo of new characters and one of the holy quartet who made the book for me. I loved the introduction of Dr. John Dee and of Francis Walsingham, and of course Elizabeth. I wanted more of Elizabeth!!! She is such a fiery personality and she is an absolutely fascinating personality.

As for the ending …. GRRRR!!! I hate cliff-hangers! I cannot wait to get my hands on the third installment to see how the rest of the story plays out. I definitely hope that Elizabeth gets a larger role.  

Side note ... Yet another gorgeous cover. Love it :)

The Boleyn King ~ Laura Andersen

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Year: 2013
Pages: 358
Rating: «««« ½

Book Blurb:
The Boleyn King is the first novel in an enthralling new trilogy. Reimagining history in sumptuous detail, Laura Anderssen takes readers back to the deadly intrigue, turbulent affairs, and treacherous passions of Tudor England - and answers the compelling question What if Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII the son he so desperately wanted?

Just seventeen years old, Henry IX, known as William, is a king bound by the restraints of the regency yet anxious to prove himself. With the French threatening battle and the Catholics sowing the seeds of rebellion at home, William trusts only three people: his older sister Elizabeth; his best friend and loyal counselor, Dominic; and Minuette, a young orphan raised as a royal ward by William's mother, Anne Boleyn.

Against a tide of secrets, betrayal, and murder, William finds himself fighting for the very soul of his kingdom. Then, when he and Dominic both fall in love with Minuette, romantic obsession looms over a new generation of Tudors. One among them will pay the price for a king's desire, as a shocking twist of fate changes England's fortunes forever. 


My thoughts:
I was honestly intrigued with the premise of the novel: Anne Boleyn’s son survives and becomes King of England?  I will admit that it took some internal persuading to pick up this novel. The idea of “what if” totally fascinates me however that being said I am a stickler for historical accuracy. In the end (obviously), I decided to take the plunge. And am I ever glad that I did.

The story revolves around a group of four teenagers in Tudor-style England; William, the son of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII; Princess Elizabeth; Dominic, a close friend of William whose role is to act as the young King’s conscious; and Genevieve (aka Minuette), an orphan who was raised alongside the Princess as a royal ward. The story itself is told from the point of view of four different characters. As I have said in the past, I am typically not a fan of this. There were definitely times during this novel where I was somewhat lost or confused as to whom was speaking, often confusing when it was William and when it was Dominic. I am very happy with Andersen’s portrayal of Princess Elizabeth, the only character who actually existed, as she is still fiercely independent and extremely intelligent.

Upon reading other reviews of this novel I have to say that I am a little surprised – only a handful touched on the evident research that Andersen must have done prior to writing this novel. There is so much more to this story than a simple, what if. As far as I can tell, there is really only one real change to history – albeit it was a MAJOR change, allowing Anne’s son to survive. Yes, this prompted other changes, Anne was not beheaded and wives 3 through 6 did not exist … but even in Andersen’s alternative world, certain parallels still exist. Jane Grey is still being thrown at the feet of a Tudor King, George Boleyn is still a shady character who is still wed to an embittered Jane Parker, and Princess Elizabeth is still infatuated with a very married Robert Dudley. Andersen clearly attempted to maintain some degree of authenticity.

That’s not to say that there are not a few things that were missing. One glaring omission in my opinion was that of Katherine Howard. Obviously in this universe, she would have never caught the eye of Henry VII let alone become wife #5, but considering that the Howard family plays a critical role in the story, I was surprised that she wasn’t a part of it, or even mentioned. I also felt that due to the love triangle (which honestly at times really irritated me) and Minuette’s personality, the story read more like a YA historical fiction. Not that I really have a problem with that, I often quite enjoy them, however I would have preferred it to be marketed as such. Just a little bit of a let down there.

With all that being said, The Boleyn King seems to have it all. There’s intrigue, romance, mystery, suspense . . . Andersen definitely does not disappoint! Even though the premise of the story is completely imaginary, Andersen seamlessly creates an amazing alternative universe that seems totally plausible … if only. I would absolutely recommend this novel to Tudor fans.