Sunday, September 28, 2014

It's Monday again!

Hello again, my fellow readers! How are you?

It's been a busy week for us, as usual. David had two days off from school, so things have been louder than usual this week but it was nice to have him home. We celebrated my sister's birthday yesterday and it was a fun time with lots of laughing, eating, and in a surprise turn of events, dancing. Happy birthday to my sister and my best friend, who share a birthday!


Reading-wise, I finally finished Emma (thank goodness!). I also participated in A More Diverse Universe over at BookLust. The challenge was to broaden your reading and read books who aren't old white men. You can see all of the reviews here

Read This Week:
By Jane Austen

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
By Karen Abbott

Bedtime Reading This Week:
Star Wars: Jedi Academy  Just Me in the Tub (Mercer Mayer's Little Critter)
Star Wars: Jedi Academy for David
Just Me in the Tub for BG

Posts from this Past Week:
It's Monday
Top Ten Tuesday: Fall TBR List
Becoming Josephine
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
The Story Hour

Reading Now:
The Empathy Exams: Essays
The Empathy Exams
By Leslie Jamison

Up Next:
Broken Monsters
Broken Monsters
By Lauren Beukes

What are you reading this week?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Review: The Story Hour

The Story Hour
By Thrity Umrigar
Harper August 2014
336 pages
Won from Goodreads 

The Story Hour

Maggie is a psychologist with a thriving practice and a devoted husband. Things change when she meets Lakshmi, a young Indian woman who tried to commit suicide. Lakshmi is estranged from her family in India and her days are ordered by her domineering husband. Maggie breaks her own rules and agrees to treat Lakshmi for free in her home office. Those aren't the only protocols that are broken as the two women become friends. But can their friendship survive each woman's darkest secret?

The relationship between the two women evolves as Lakshmi shares her loneliness with Maggie. She feels she has no one who cares about her. As the women bond over the early loss of their mothers, Maggie slowly lets Lakshmi into her life as well. Maggie shares some of her insight with her husband Sudhir. He figures out that much of Lakshmi's trouble comes from not having her own identity or income. Maggie and Sudhir help her to start her own cleaning and catering business. The friendship between the two women is lovely and believable until their biggest secrets are revealed. Without giving too much away, I found each woman's reaction rather unbelievable.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is the way Umrigar tackles racism. Through Maggie and Lakshmi's eyes, we see racism in many forms and realize that everyone has prejudices. When Maggie first visits Lakshmi in her hospital room, the patient visibly recoils. Lakshmi has been taught by her husband that all African-American people are liars and out to get you. Maggie thinks herself above prejudice - she married an Indian man after all. But she slowly realizes her own misconceptions about immigrants and the poor. We are reminded that each of us makes assumptions based on race and class and that getting to know people often paints a much different picture.

Umrigar makes some bold choices with this book. Maggie can be selfish and rather brusque. Her husband and, later, Lakshmi are devoted to her. Instead of being appreciative, she is focused on herself. This can sometimes make her a difficult character to like. Lakshmi's chapters are very distinctive because they are written the way that she speaks. It takes a while to get used to her broken and incorrect English. While it can be uncomfortable to read, it really highlights the differences between her faltering speech and Maggie's college-educated, professional demeanor. 

Thrity Umrigar has written a beautiful and insightful story about the importance of being known and loving people in spite of their failings. The Story Hour will make you reconsider your own prejudices and the ways in which we perceive the people around us. 

Other books by Thrity Umrigar:

I read The Story Hour as a part of A More Diverse Universe, where readers commit to reading books by authors who look and think differently than they do. To find other diverse reads, head over to Booklust

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Review: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
By Karen Abbott
Harper September 2014
544 pages
Received for review from TLC Book Tours and the publisher

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

The Civil War was one of the most terrible conflicts in our nation's history and had repercussions for years after it ended. While many people know about the major battles, few know of the many roles that women played during the war. Women took over for the men who went away to war by running farms and businesses. In this book, Karen Abbott introduces us to four fascinating women who took on men's roles and became soldiers and spies. 

Ms. Abbott has written a wonderful book that brings history to vivid life. She manage to write about both sides without elevating one and condemning the other. We meet two women who support the Confederacy and two who fight for the Union. Belle Boyd becomes a spy for the Confederacy after the Union invades her hometown and Rose O'Neal Greenhow romanced Union generals in order to gain information. Emma Edmonds masquerades as a man to fight for the Union and Elizabeth Van Lew smuggles soldiers out of Confederate prisons and sends them back North.

There is a lot of history to take in from these pages. We meet soldiers and generals, presidents and slaves, and move from The White House to cities under siege and bloody battle fields. While readers jump back and forth between the women, she moves in chronological order. By laying out the book this way, Abbott is able to show connections between these very different women. I know a fair deal about the Civil War because of a great teacher in high school. Even if you don't consider yourself a Civil War buff, this book makes it easy to follow along. The focus is on the women and their stories, not memorizing dates and locations.

While you may not agree with many of the tactics or the motives of these women, their commitment and intelligence are admirable. They were women in a time when women were seen as second class citizens. Belle, Rose, Emma, and Elizabeth used their smarts, their feminine wiles, and even the perception that they were weak and stupid to gain information for their cause. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is a perfect pick for the reader who loves history or learning about remarkable women. 

Need to know more about Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy? Check out other reviews at the TLC Book Tours page.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Fall TBR List

So that list you have on your computer or tucked away in a notebook somewhere that details every book you hope to read? It's time to share it...well, at least the books that will be coming out in Fall 2014. To read about other upcoming releases, visit The Broke and The Bookish

Station Eleven (September)
Station Eleven
A literary end-of-the-world story that revolves around a traveling troupe of actors.

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan
Nonfiction about girls in Afghanistan who pretend to be boys

Broken Monsters (Sept) 
Broken Monsters
A thriller about fame and identity, online and in the real world

Belzhar (Sept) 
Jam is attending a therapeutic boarding school after the loss of her boyfriend Reeve. It's by Meg Wolitzer, so you know you should read it!

The Future for Curious People: A Novel
What would you change if you could see your future?

The Wonder of All Things
A plane at an air show crashes into the crowd and reveals Ava's hidden ability to heal people. 

Us (Sept) 
Douglas' son is going to college and his wife has announced that she is leaving him. He makes one last ditch effort to keep the family together during their last vacation. 

Lila (Oct) 
Marilynne Robison returns to the town of Gilead to tell us the story of John and Lila Ames from Lila's point of view. 

The Book of Strange New Things
Peter is sent as a missionary to another planet, while his wife Bea watches Earth fall apart around her.

The Missing (Nov)
The Missing (The Lost, #2)
Lauren returns to the town of Lost, only to discover that Peter has vanished. She must travel to Despair and try to rescue the citizens there, all the while trying to track down Peter. (Sequel to The Lost)

What fall releases are on your TBR list?

Review: Becoming Josephine

Becoming Josephine
By Heather Webb
Plume January 2014
310 pages
Received for review from TLC Book Tours and the publisher

Becoming Josephine

Rose Tascher leaves her family and the life she has known behind in Martinique when she sails to France to marry. But her dreams of romance in Paris are shattered by her husband Alexandre, who cheats on her and ultimately leaves her. She must find a way to support herself and her two children and survive the French Revolution. Rose catches the eye of an up-and-coming general and soon finds that she is Josephine, symbol of luck and prosperity and the wife of the powerful and unpredictable Napoleon Bonaparte. 

Josephine lives through a fascinating and frightening time period. We see her reinvent herself over and over again, as a lover, as a wife, as a mother, as a symbol to the people of France. Her story reminds modern readers just how dangerous it was to be a woman in the 18th century. Josephine is forced into marriage not once, but twice.  A woman will be divorced and lose her reputation forever if she is unfaithful, but a man of high status is expected to be involved with several women. If her husband or father do not support her, it is virtually impossible for her to survive or care for her children.

Heather Webb has created a wonderful glimpse into the life of one of history's most fascinating women. But choosing to cover thirty years in only 300 pages means that things often feel rushed and fragmented. There are actually sections where the narrative breaks on one page and then breaks again on the next, giving us snippet after snippet. 

We get to spend only a little time with Alexandre, Napoleon, or Josephine's family, so it is hard to feel anything for their triumphs and defeats. I understand that Josephine's life may have been exactly like this series of starts and stops that are portrayed in this book - waiting for her husband to return, playing the part of the devoted spouse, taking part in a huge fight, and then waiting for said husband to return again. But it isn't that interesting to read, especially when we cannot understand the rationale of the other half of the couple. 

Becoming Josephine serves as a great introduction to Josephine. We see a young woman become a wife and a mother and find her own will and voice in a world that was not kind to women. While I wish this book had been longer and more in-depth, it is a perfect place to start if you want to learn about Empress Josephine. 

Wondering what other readers thought about Becoming Josephine? Visit TLC Book Tours and check out more reviews! 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

It's Monday and I need a nap!

What. A. Long. Week.

There has been all of the craziness of a regular week plus a grouchy little boy who is adjusting to a new schedule and a grumpy little girl who is getting some molars/suffering from a nasty cold. I'm just going to slink off to a corner somewhere and take a nap.

Read This Week:
Becoming Josephine
Becoming Josephine
By Heather Webb

Bedtime Reading This Week:
The Velveteen Rabbit      How Does Baby Feel?: A Karen Katz Lift-the-Flap Book
The Velveteen Rabbit for D (We are splitting time between him a short book out loud and then listening to me read Ramona the Brave)
How Does Baby Feel? for BG

Posts from this Past Week:
It's Monday
Top Ten Tuesday: I've read one book and now I need to read more! 
RIP Recommendations
Review of The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014

Reading Now:
By Jane Austen

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
By Karen Abbott

Up Next:
The Empathy Exams: Essays
The Empathy Exams
By Leslie Jamison

What are you reading this week?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Readers In Peril Reads and Recommendations

lavinia portraitRIP

Each year, as the days get shorter and the leaves start to fall, Carl hosts a reading event at his blog Stainless Steel Droppings. The event is Readers in Peril, or RIP. Readers are challenged to read something dark and creepy that will result in leaving the lights on at night and jumping at strange noises in your house.

Now I am not a huge fan of being scared. You won't catch me in a haunted house or watching a horror movie marathon anytime soon. But I have discovered that you can enjoy the creepy feeling of the fall season without spending too many sleepless nights peering into the shadows. 

I will be participating in RIP for the second time this year and I have a nice stack of books that I plan to read and some suggestions for you if you want to join us!

My book list:
Broken Monsters    Horrorstor: A Novel
Dracula  or Frankenstein

My suggestions for you:
The Hundred-Year House
The Hundred Year House: Readers travel back through time with a sprawling (and haunted?) estate. 

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce, #6)
The Flavia de Luce Mysteries: Mysteries with heart that follow a precocious 11 year old chemist as she solves mysteries in her charming English hamlet. 

Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story
Bellman and Black: Gothic tale about a man who becomes a purveyor of funeral necessities.

Her Fearful Symmetry
Her Fearful Symmetry: Ghosts and twins. That's really all we need to say! 

Night Film
Night Film: Reporter investigates a mysterious death and gets sucked into the dark side of fandom. This is a spectacularly creepy read!

The Bones of Paris (Harris Stuyvesant, #2)
The Bones of Paris: Missing girl? Check. The Grand Guignol? Check.  The Paris catacombs? Double check. 

The Night Circus: You haven't read this yet?!? Now is the perfect time. 

Are you taking part in RIP IX? 
What are you planning to read?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: The O Henry Prize Stories 2014

The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014
Edited by Laura Furman
Anchor September 2014
416 pages
Read for review via Netgalley 

The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014

Story collections are hard to review, especially if they don't have a unifying theme. The stories in this collection were selected as the best stories from literary journals and magazines throughout the country and the styles and content of the stories couldn't be more different. The writers range from National Book Award Winner Louise Erdich to relative newcomers like Allison Alsup and Rebecca Hirsch Garcia.

The editor, Laura Furman, attempts to ease you into the book by dedicating quite a few pages to the importance of short stories and how the jurors chose the stories. The jury members each discuss their favorite story and their reasoning for its inclusion in this collection. Furman writes about the strengths of short stories and the necessity of publications that publish these works. In addition, she discusses many of the stories in detail, which I found jarring at the beginning of the book. 

There were several strong stories in this collection. In "Valentine," a teenage girls finds escape from her boring and ordered life when she befriends a fascinating boy. But things don't go quite the way she expected. In this story, writer Tessa Haddler expertly portrays the time period and what it feels like to be a teenager. Stephen Dixon's "Talk" follows a man who has recently lost his wife. As he goes about his day, he realizes that he has not spoken to a single person and his pain and loneliness are apparent with each word.

My favorite story was "You Remember the Pin Mill" by David Bradley. He starts each paragraph with "I remember," which should have been infuriating as a narrative device. But it works wonderfully as a man reflects back on his life and on one year in particular. His father is abusive, so he and his mother run away to her childhood home and her father. While things are safer away from the boy's father, there are a whole new set of tensions in a town divided between black and white, rich and poor. Bradley has crafted a beautiful story about the moment in a child's life when they see the failings in the people who they love the best.

The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014 seems a bit long while reading it. But there are many stories in this book that will take you to distant places and take you on incredible and sorrowful journeys. Reading a collection like this is a great way to break up your reading and find new authors to enjoy. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

I've read one book from this author and need to read more!

It's Top Ten Tuesday time! This week, we are talking about authors we have read once (or more), but we haven't read through their entire works yet! While the prompt said author we have read once, I may cheat a bit and list some authors where I have read a few, but not all of their books yet!

The Lost
The Lost is about a woman who finds herself stranded in a mysterious town along with the your misplaced car keys and abandoned dreams. Sarah Beth Durst has published several books before, but what I'm really wanting is a sequel. I'm in luck - The Missing will be out later this year.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
I adored The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses story set in the roaring 20s. I'm going to have to pick up Mechanique and see if it is just as good!

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
Like every other reader, I fell head over heels for A.J. Fikry and the other characters in this book. Gabrielle Zevin has written many other books and I am especially interested in her novel The Hole We're In and the Anya Belanchine series.

Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table, with Recipes
Bread and Wine is a book of vignettes and recipes. It's about living an open life and inviting others to be a part of your life, whether all is well or your house is in shambles. I am excited to read Niequist's backlist (Bittersweet and Cold Tangerines) as well as her upcoming devotional Savor

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress was an awesome historical fiction novel based on actual events. I'm psyched to read Lawhon's upcoming book Hindenburg. 

Hild took me to another time and place and gave me a great new historical heroine to root for. Griffith has a big backlist that I'm excited to jump into, but I'm most excited about the Hild sequel that is in the works!

Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity
Jen's book Interrupted really made me rethink what we should be doing as Christians and as the church. I've had her book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess sitting on my shelf for a long time. I think it needs a move from my tbr shelf to my already read shelf!

All the Light We Cannot See
All the Light We Cannot See is one of my favorite books of the year. Doerr has several other novels and short story collections for me to read. Yay!

I read Powers' novel Orfeo earlier this year and read The Echo Maker while in college. There is a big backlist to read through and I am especially interested in The Time of Our Singing. 

Well, I've only got nine books. Oh well! Whose backlists are you excited to read?