August 30, 2013

The End of an Age

A Future Arrived by Phillip Rock

Release Date: February 2013 (Originally February 1985)
Publisher: HarperCollins | William Morrow
Pages: 450 pages
Series: Greville Family Saga #3
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
The final installment of the saga of the Grevilles of Abingdon Pryory begins in the early 1930s, as the dizzy gaiety of the Jazz Age comes to a shattering end. What follows is a decade of change and uncertainty, as the younger generation, born during or just after the "war to end all wars," comes of age.

American writer Martin Rilke has made his journalistic mark, earning worldwide fame with his radio broadcasts, and young Albert Thaxton seeks to follow in his footsteps as a foreign correspondent. Derek Ramsey, born only weeks after his father fell in France, and Colin Ross, a dashing Yankee, leave their schoolboy days behind and enter fight pilot training as young men. The beautiful Wood-Lacy twins, Jennifer and Victoria, and their passionate younger sister, Kate, strive to forge independent paths, while learning to love - and to let go.

In their heady youth and bittersweet growth to adulthood, they are the future - but the shadows that touched the lives of the generation before are destined to reach out to their own.

Thoughts on A Future Arrived
The Greville family saga finally comes to a close in A Future Arrived. After really enjoying the first two books, I was looking forward to seeing how this family's journey would end. I was sad to say goodbye, but I was excited to see where Rock would take his characters. Although I did like this book, it didn't quite live up to my expectations.

Rather than focus on the characters that readers have already come to know and love, Rock spends almost the entire book devoted to the children of the younger generation of Grevilles and Wood-Lacys. So instead of seeing more from Alexandra, we are introduced to her son, Colin. The Wood-Lacy twins, Ivy's brother Albert, a young student at Charles' school... It's a whole new cast of characters!

What was a bit frustrating for me is that Rock doesn't actually drop the older characters completely, so you end up reading about an even larger group of people. Because of that, there is a ton of information covered in a really brief amount of time. I also didn't feel as strong of a connection to the younger characters, and I think it's in large part due to the fact that we've just fast forwarded and jumped into their lives. While I definitely still liked them all, it did leave the book feeling a little off in some respects.

There is also a rather large time jump in A Future Arrived - it opens in 1930 but then shifts to 1938-1940. It wasn't confusing, but it did seem a little more disjointed than the previous books. I think there was also this sense that Rock really wanted to cover the historical aspect, so he occasionally let the characters fall to the wayside in order to convey the setting and time period. I think both aspects are certainly important, but I don't necessarily want to break for a history lesson in the middle of my reading. There were way more info dumps in A Future Arrived than there were in the first two books.

I felt a little more incredulous about some things in this book, too. Everyone is being paired up with someone and, once again, the female characters take a backseat role in the whole thing. It began to feel like a bit much for me, and I was beginning to grow tired of the romantic entanglements. A Future Arrived also ends in a rather abrupt way, in my opinion. There's a loss in the family that seems completely brushed over as the book just sort of fades into black at the close. I don't know - it just felt more contrived than the first two books in this series I had come to love.

I know it sounds like I hated this book, but I promise that I didn't. Yes, I was disappointed that A Future Arrived seemed to be lacking some of the qualities that first drew me to this series. I wanted it to go out with a bang instead of a whimper! I wanted to see how these characters that I first met in 1914 have changed, grown, loved and lost. But, while it didn't really deliver for me, I still enjoyed the series as a whole and think that people who've read the first two books will certainly want to finish. Despite a lackluster ending, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Greville family saga. It was right up this historical fiction lover and Downton Abbey fan's alley!

August 29, 2013

A Glimmer of Peace

Circles of Time by Phillip Rock

Release Date: January 2013 (originally July 1981)
Publisher: HarperCollins | William Morrow
Pages: 425 pages
Series: Greville Family Saga #2
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
A generation has been lost on the Western Front. The daed have been buried, a harsh peace forged, and the howl of shells replaced by the wail of saxophones as the Jazz Age begins. But ghosts linger - that long-ago golden summer of 1914 tugging at the memory of Martin Rilke and his British cousins, the Grevilles.

From the countess to the chauffeur, the inhabitants of Abingdon Pryory seek to forget the past and adjust their lives to a new era in which old values, social codes, and sexual mores have been irretrievably swept away. Martin Rilke throws himself into reporting, discovering unsettling political currents, as Fenton Wood-Lacy faces exile in faraway army outposts. Back at Abingdon, Charles Greville shows signs of recovery from shell shock and Alexandra is caught up in an unlikely romance.

Circles of Time captures the age as these strongly drawn characters experience it, unfolding against England's most gracious manor house, the steamy nightclubs of London's Soho, and the despair of Germany caught in the nightmare of anarchy and inflation. Lives are renewed, new loves found, and a future of peace and happiness is glimpsed - for the moment.

Thoughts on Circles of Time
I started reading Circles of Time almost as soon as I'd finished The Passing Bells. As I've previously mentioned, I'm addicted to series and actually love being able to binge read the books in a series all at once. Although the previous book reached a satisfactory conclusion, I was really excited about diving right back into this world.

Circles of Time is set in England during 1921-1923. The Great War is over, but the world is still reeling from the loss and devastation that resulted. What I immediately liked about this book was the focus on this time period. It's relatively easy to find books set during either of the World Wars, but I don't think I've really seen many books that focus on those years in between from the British perspective.

Like in The Passing Bells, this book focuses on a really large cast of characters. Since there is a time jump from the previous book, there have been some developments in the characters' lives that are introduced in the first few chapters. So, the book then focuses on how each character comes to terms with what they've lost and finds their way to a new normal.

The variety of settings was something I liked about Circles of Time. In the previous book, much attention was spent on the battlefield or in other political arenas. In this one, it felt like there was even more going on while I was reading. From jazz clubs to army outposts, this book paints a really vivid and interesting picture of post-wartime England.

I felt that Martin Rilke, the American journalist cousin, really served as the center for the story (as I'd noted in my review for the previous book). I liked seeing many of the events through his eyes - since he had a newspaperman's attention to detail and the "poor relation" outsider view to offer a unique look at everything that happens.

Another aspect of the aftermath of war is that the social codes are beginning to change. Gone are the strict social mores that dictate each action of society - and the older generation struggles with this new freedom and break from tradition. I loved this aspect of the series because I thought it was portrayed very realistically. I could just picture Lord Stanmore struggling against his upbringing and beliefs when his children make decidedly unconventional life choices.

Without the war, I thought the book began to feel more personal. It focused more on the emotion and rebuilding (of lives, relationships, homes, fortunes, etc.), which led to a more heartwarming and moving plot in many instances. However, political tension does begin to crop back up towards the end of the novel when Martin discovers the unrest and tension in Germany. I feel like a lot of historical fiction focuses on World War II but doesn't necessarily highlight the economic and political turmoil that led up to that point. Germany was floundering and desperation caused its people to put their hope in the wrong person. As a history lover, I was fascinated by this aspect of the book.

As I said in my review of The Passing Bells, I think fans of historical fiction will find much to love in this series. While the book did shift its focus from the relationship aspect to a more historical viewpoint toward the end, I still enjoyed every minute of it. Some of the same things I said previously still apply - the focus on male characters, the lack of depth to characters due to the sheer number of them, etc. - but it didn't detract from my reading experience. If you liked The Passing Bells, you'll definitely want Circles of Time on your To Be Read pile!

August 28, 2013

Before There Was Downton Abbey...

The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock

Release Date: December 2012 (Originally January 1978)
Publisher: HarperCollins | William Morrow
Pages: 544 pages
Series: Greville Family Saga #1
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
The guns of August are rumbling throughout Europe in the summer of 1914, but war has not yet touched Abingdon Pryory. Here, at the grand home of the Greville family, the parties, dances, and romances play on. Alexandra Greville embarks on her debutante season while her brother Charles remains hopelessly in love with the beautiful, untitled Lydia Foxe, knowing that his father, the Earl of Stanmore, will never approve of the match. Downstairs the new servant, Ivy, struggles to adjust to the routines of the well-oiled household staff, as the arrival of American cousin Martin Rilke, a Chicago newspaperman, causes a stir.

But, ultimately, the Great War will not be denied, as what begins for the high-bred Grevilles as a glorious adventure soon takes its toll - shattering the household's tranquility, crumbling class barriers, and bringing its myriad horrors home.

Thoughts on The Passing Bells
Billed as the perfect series for fans of Downton Abbey, I was absolutely intrigued by the cover when I first saw this book on the shelves at Target. I purchased it soon after, but I let time go by without reading it. It kept making my list of books to read soon, but I obviously needed the Summer Series Challenge to finally get into gear and start reading this book.

At 544 pages, this is no small read. However, I was shocked once I started reading it at how quickly it flew by. First published in 1978, The Passing Bells was recently reissued by William Morrow and I'm assuming it's in no small part due to Downton Abbey craze.

The Passing Bells follows the Grevilles, an aristocratic English family, during World War I. There is definitely an upstairs/downstairs aspect to this book as it follows not only the central family, but also the servants at Abingdon Pryory and several other key people in the lives of the Greville family members.

Anthony Greville, Earl of Stanmore, and Hanna Rilke Greville, Countess of Stanmore, are the parents of three bright and quickly maturing children: Charles, Alexandra and William. The book also introduces the reader to a large and varied cast of characters. Hanna's American nephew, Martin Rilke, plays a crucial role throughout the book and often becomes a person whose path intersects with all the other characters. As an outsider, he offers valuable perspective on the customs and cares of the English people (and the wealthy in particular).

The novel covers 1914 - 1920, and it flits around between all the characters' lives during that time period. With such an enormous cast, it's a huge task to fulfill! Surprisingly, I was able to keep up once I got acquainted with everyone and never felt confused. The only thing that I disliked with having so many characters is that there isn't a lot of character development because no one person receives enough time, attention or page space to become really fleshed out. The Passing Bells is definitely a book that focuses on action and events, which made the pacing really quick.

While I think the Downton Abbey comparison is fitting, I don't think the book will appeal to every Downton Abbey fan. The Passing Bells does mirror the ensemble cast aspect of the show, but it digs much deeper into the grittier issues of life during wartime. The show is ultimately about entertainment, and it definitely glossed over many aspects of World War I that are more fully fleshed out in Rock's novel. It's a book that is absolutely focused on the war - the event that has served as the catalyst for almost everything that takes place on the book's pages.

There are many female characters, but men take the lead in this book. I was surprised by the fact that the men are really the focal point of this novel - the females are mostly introduced in relation to them rather than having independent story lines of their own (with the exception of Alexandra). I don't think it detracted from my enjoyment of the book, but I did find it surprising that it is almost exclusively focused on the male experience. The cover seems very feminine to me, but the best read as something very masculine (particularly with the focus on men and their experiences with war and politics).

The Passing Bells was rich with historical detail, and Rock definitely knows how to set a scene. There were numerous instances where I felt as though I could clearly picture the horror, devastation and futility of what was taking place. I'd never realized just how mismanaged certain aspects of World War I were, and it was fascinating to take a step back in time with these characters on that journey.

If you're looking for a historical fiction book that reads like a movie, I think you'll enjoy The Passing Bells. The wide range of characters made for an exciting and intriguing read, even if I did feel that they weren't fully developed due to sheer number of moving parts in this story. With fascinating historical detail and fast-paced action scenes, I would definitely recommend The Passing Bells to fans of historical fiction. It may not be the perfect fit for every Downton Abbey fan, but I certainly think the comparison is deserved. It's the first in a series, but it stands nicely on its own for those who aren't ready to commit to more time spent with these books. All in all, I very much enjoyed this read!

August 27, 2013

Remember Me?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week they post a new topic/top ten list and invite everyone to share their own answers. I'm so obsessed with lists - so it makes perfect sense that I'd love this feature!

Top Ten Memorable Secondary Characters

One Reason (Among Many) J.K. Rowling Is Amazing

Source
I started working on this post in the same way I always do - browsing Goodreads and my bookshelves to jog my memory and inspire my list. But I kept coming back to the same issue. While there are so many memorable secondary characters in literature, all I wanted to talk about was how impressed I am that J.K. Rowling managed to create so many secondary characters that I'll never forget.

If you've read my blog before, you may know that I was really late to the whole Harry Potter thing. In fact, it wasn't until late 2011 that I finally got to know this world and the people that inhabit it. I spent the next few months making me way through the series, falling in love with these characters in a way I'd never anticipated. I finished the last book at the very beginning of 2012 - a fitting way to ring in the New Year, if you ask me.

But that's the only time I've read these books. I didn't grow up with them. I didn't spend years re-reading each copy before the new one came out. I didn't attend the movie premieres or even pay attention to when a new book was being released. I've read these books once, but once was all it took for me to be hooked.

And I'm still shocked at how clearly these characters stand out in my mind. Some may argue that creating memorable characters is easier when you've got seven books to allow your readers to get to know them, but I'd argue that even characters who only appear in one book are incredibly well-drawn. I mean, think about Cedric Diggory. That's a character who only appears in one book, but I didn't have to go check Goodreads or flip through the book to try and remember his name.

One of the many reasons I fell in love with this series is because of the secondary characters. Rowling creates people who have flaws, likes and dislikes, personalities... Her attention to detail when it comes to her characters is unlike anything I've ever read before. Within one paragraph, she can tell you a few seemingly tiny things that speak volumes about the entire character. Need an example? Read the very beginning of the very first book, and tell me you don't have a pretty clear picture of the Dursleys after those couple of opening paragraphs.

I already know I'll be reading these books again and again in the coming years. There's something about them that's so magical - and it's not just because of Hogwarts. Ask anyone who has read these books who their favorite character is and I can almost guarantee that you'll get a whole range of answers. You'd think everyone would automatically say Harry Potter, right? But no, there's a favorite for everyone in these books. 

You want to find ten of my favorite secondary characters? Just open these books. You can find so many of them there. And that's just one (of many) reasons why I'm now a J.K. Rowling fangirl.

To complete this week's list, here are ten secondary characters in Harry Potter that immediately come to mind:

1. Hermione Granger. My husband telling me that I'm just like her is the best compliment ever.
2. Fred & George Weasley. I just can't even with these two. Don't get me started. 
3. Luna Lovegood. Gotta root for the girl who does her own thing!
4. Dobby. The house-elf I'll never forget.
5. Severus Snape. Always.
6. Sirius Black. Would my list be complete without this beloved character?
7. Draco Malfoy. Oh, Draco. Your family really didn't do you any favors.
8. Remus Lupin. Only one of the best teachers ever at Hogwarts... and so much more!
9. Dolores Umbridge. My blood boils just thinking about her!
10. Hedwig. Only Rowling could make me love an owl.

August 26, 2013

Lost & Found

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands by Natasha Solomons

Release Date: August 2013
Publisher: Penguin | Plume
Pages: 352 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
London, 1958. It's the eve of the sexual revolution, but in Juliet Montague's conservative Jewish community where only men can divorce women, she finds herself a living widow, invisible, Ever since her husband disappeared seven years ago, Juliet has been a hardworking single mother of two and unnaturally practical. But on her thirtieth birthday, that's all about to change. A wealthy young artist asks to paint her portrait, and Juliet, moved by the powerful desire to be seen, enters into the burgeoning art world of 1960s London, which will bring her fame, fortune, and a life-long love affair.

Thoughts on The Gallery of Vanished Husbands
I read Natasha Solomons' The House at Tyneford last summer and absolutely fell in love with it. Something about the writing just captured me - I had so many quotes and phrases underlined. So, I was really excited when I spotted Solomons' new book, The Gallery of Vanished Husbands, on NetGalley. The cover is eye-catching and lovely, and the description sounded so unique. It's not a setting or time period that I've read much about, so I was really curious about it.

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands tells the story of Juliet Montague, a mother of two living in London. As part of a conservative Jewish community, she's expected to live a certain way. But there's a problem. Her husband, George, disappeared one day and hasn't been heard from since. She's a woman caught in transition. She's no longer single, but she also hardly counts as married. The leaders in her community make a decision - she must live as if she's a widow because only her husband can initiate a divorce.

Juliet decides to do as she's told. She works hard in her father's store to support her children, and she remains practical to her core. She's saving up money to buy herself something useful for her thirtieth birthday, until she's struck one day by the desire to do something different. She spots a piece of art that she wants to call her own, and she's willing to spend all she's saved to purchase it. The artist is unwilling to sell because he wants to paint Juliet's portrait instead. This one small decision, having her portrait painted, thrusts Juliet into an entirely new world. While she is not artistic, she has a critical and judicious eye. She knows good art when she sees it, and this skill helps her enter the London art scene.

The entire book centers around Juliet's life, including her love for art and her rebellion against the conservative community that wants to dictate her actions. While I liked the idea of the story, there was just something lacking for me in the execution. Solomons' characters were unique and well-developed, and the writing was still descriptive and evocative. My problem? I trudged through most of this book. I love books with a slower pace, but this one was really a struggle for me at times.

It didn't feel like there was any build-up or conflict leading to a climax and resolution. While there are certainly conflicts along the way, there wasn't any excitement or passion in the story. For a book that is focusing on a woman who is fighting against her upbringing, I found it frustrating that the book lacked that depth of feeling. I wasn't very invested in Juliet's story, and the whole thing was just a little lackluster.

As much as I love the title, I even thought that was a bit misleading. The disappearance of Juliet's husband helps spark her rebellion, but it's not really a crucial element of the plot. The phrase comes from a section in the newspaper that prints the photos and descriptions of husbands who have run off in the hopes that someone can tell their families where they've gone. It seemed like such a minor element to me, especially considering the fact that book focuses much more on a collection of portraits of Juliet (every artist she works with ends up painting her somehow). It's not about the fact that her husband has vanished - it's about a woman who has lived in the shadows finally coming into her own.

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands is the story of a woman who dares to be different, to be bold and to choose her own future. While I was disappointed in the pacing, the writing was descriptive and the focus on the art world was intriguing. I wanted a little bit more from the story, but it was still an enjoyable read and offered a new perspective that I haven't read heard much about until now.

So Quotable
"... she could feel the tug of the invisible chain tying her to George. He mad her not quite respectable. While Juliet no longer had an interest in respectability, she wanted to select the method of her own notoriety."

*I received a copy of this book from Penguin/Plume in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

August 23, 2013

Secrets, Suspicion & Suspense

The Caged Graves by Dianne Salerni

Release Date: May 2013
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin | Clarion Books
Pages: 329 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Kindle ebook
Amazon Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Seventeen-year-old Verity Boone expects a warm homecoming when she returns to Catawissa, Pennsylvania, in 1867, pledged to marry a man she has never met. Instead, she finds a father she barely knows and a future husband with whom she apparently has nothing in common. One truly horrifying surprise awaits her: the graves of her mother and aunt are enclosed in iron cages outside the local cemetery. Nobody in town will explain why, but Verity hears rumors of buried treasure and witchcraft. Perhaps the cages were built to keep grave robbers out... or to keep the women in. Determine to understand, Verity finds herself in a life-and-death struggle with people she trusted.

Thoughts on The Caged Graves
A few months ago, Alyssa from Books Take You Places tweeted about wanting some historical fiction recommendations because she'd recently finished two that she'd loved. While I offered up some of my own, I was curious about what she'd read that had so hit the spot. She quickly told me that I HAD to read The Caged Graves by Dianne Salerni. Her review soon convinced me that it was time to take the plunge, and I bought it on my Kindle soon after. Holy cow, I'm so glad I did!

Verity Boone has been living with relatives for most of her life, but she's finally returning to her hometown, Catawissa, at age seventeen. She's engaged to be married to a young man she only know through letters, and she hardly knows her father when it comes down to it. When she arrives, she finds that nothing is as she expected and there are rumors following her every step in Catawissa.

Everything about the place is unfamiliar to her - she hasn't been there since her mother and aunt died when she was a toddler. So, when she sees two graves outside of the cemetery and enclosed in iron cages, she's horrified to learn that they belong to her family members. There are secrets about why they've been set apart, and Verity is determined to learn the truth... even though the darkest rumors involve witchcraft and buried treasure.

Author Dianne Salerni was inspired by real caged graves that have been found in Pennsylvania in the writing of her story. This small part of history led her to write this dark and gothic tale that felt nothing like most historical fiction that I've read. Salerni catches your attention with an engaging and likable (if somewhat naive) heroine, but she keeps you hooked with the suspense and mystery that builds on every page.

Although they're very different, this book reminded me of The Scorpio Races at times in the fact that there is such a clear mood permeating throughout the book. I closed The Scorpio Races feeling as though I'd been on Thisby, and I closed The Caged Graves with a similar feeling of having been immersed in the Catawissa lore. Furthermore, the spooky mystery surrounding the women's deaths quickened the book's pace and kept it from feeling slow or dull.

There is a love triangle aspect to The Caged Graves, and that was the only element that fell a little bit flat for me. I enjoyed how both love interests each had their positive and negative qualities - I honestly felt like there wasn't a clear winner while I was reading. Each boy's interaction with Verity was fun to read, so why was this the only element I didn't love? Honestly, only because I wanted to get back to the mystery. I was so caught up in the secrets and intrigue that I found the love story to be a little bit distracting at times. It became the focal point a few times when I wished it would have remained more of a fringe element.

Either way, this was such a wonderful read! It felt really different from most Young Adult books that I've read recently (aside from the love triangle aspect), and I loved that it was inspired by something that remains a mystery to this day. I loved that there was a logical answer to the deaths of Verity's mom and aunt, and I was surprised and delighted by the twists leading up to those revelations.

I flew through this book, and I'm so glad Alyssa recommended it to me! There are so many elements to love about this book: a descriptive and well-drawn setting, a spooky mystery, a fiesty heroine and two handsome gentleman. What more could you want from a book? I'll certainly be looking forward to more from Salerni! This is a hidden gem that I'd definitely recommend to fans of historical fiction, and it would be a great place to start if you're newer to the genre, too.

So Quotable
"I thought love was - big and loud and sudden, like a thunderbolt." She looked back, meeting his eyes. "I didn't know it was deep and quiet and grew upon a woman slowly, until one day she realizes it's the very breath and smiles and tears of her life."

August 21, 2013

Duty & Desire

Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara

Release Date: August 2012
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 368 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Kindle ebook
Amazon Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
It's 1935, and Desdemona Hart Spaulding has sacrificed her plans to work as an artist in New York to care for her bankrupt, ailing father in Cascade, Massachusetts. When he dies, Dez finds herself caught in a marriage of convenience, bound to the promise she made to save her father's Shakespeare Theater, even as her town may be flooded to create a reservoir for Boston. When she falls for artist Jacob Solomon, she sees a chance to escape and realize her New York ambitions, but is it morally possible to set herself free?

Thoughts on Cascade
I picked up Cascade after a five-star review and high recommendation from Meg at write meg! She primarily reads and reviews adult fiction, so I love following her blog to find new books that I may not have seen already around the blogosphere.

Desdemona (Dez) Hart loved art more than anything else. It was her passion - inspiring her, moving her, thrilling her. Then, her father, ailing and bankrupt, needed her to care for him. And so she did the unthinkable - she married a man she didn't love because it meant saving her father's dream, his Shakespeare Theater. Doing so meant sacrificing her dreams, her desires, and her plans for the future in order to save his.

This idea of sacrifice is central to the entire story because it also represents the loss of her freedom. She becomes tied to a man she doesn't love and a town, Cascade, that's slowly drowning. Almost literally. What once was a bustling tourist attraction is now an empty shell and a grim reminder of the past. The government needs to create a reservoir for Boston, and Cascade is one of two places they're considering. If it's chosen, that means the entire place will be flooded. Lives dismantled, people displaced. And then no one will call Cascade home.

Cascade tackles some thought-provoking topics - the weight of sacrifice, the cost of freedom, the questions of what's right. From people wanting to do whatever it takes to save their town to Dez's friendship with a fellow artist, there is all this heavy tension that just weighs on the story. You can feel that desperation, that ache, in every page.

Maryanne O'Hara wrote that she "had a line by the great Irish Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney" in mind while writing Cascade:
You lose more of yourself than you redeem / Doing the decent thing
She goes on to say that she wanted to explore the idea of choices - which one is right and who gets to decide which is right. Knowing this was her intention, I'd have to say that she successfully addresses these overarching questions. She doesn't necessarily answer them - just weaves a story that pushes against these thoughts and leaves them open for discussion.

Dez isn't really likable but she certainly makes for an interesting heroine. She's self-centered in many respects, but I thought that it was realistic and nice to read about a woman who was willing to go after what she wanted, no matter the cost. I don't need to like a character to enjoy a book - I just want them to be well-drawn, realistic and feel fleshed out.

The story focuses a lot on both art and water - two key elements that tie everything together - so I loved the fluidity and descriptiveness of the language. The writing is really lovely and haunting. There are times when the phrasing was over-wrought, but I found it mostly fitting with the overall tone of the book.

However, I don't think it's a read that everyone will enjoy. The pacing is extremely slow, which I found frustrating at times. There were also a few plot threads that either weren't completely resolved or kind of just disappeared. And, honestly, it's a little bit depressing because the subject matter and tone is so somber and reflective.

But it's also well-written, moving and thought-provoking. It tackles big questions on a small stage, and I'm really glad I read it. If you want a quiet drama, pick up Cascade. It will leave you thinking about freedom, sacrifice and choices.

So Quotable
"It was always bittersweet to know that people you loved were alive in the world but in a place where you couldn't be with them."

August 20, 2013

The Bare Necessities

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week they post a new topic/top ten list and invite everyone to share their own answers. I'm so obsessed with lists - so it makes perfect sense that I'd love this feature!

Top Ten Things That Make My Life As a Reader & Blogger Easier

Okay, so I had to start with Goodreads because joining this site is what ultimately led me to start my blog. I first discovered Goodreads in 2010, and I immediately created an account. A website devoted to books? You better believe I was interested. I used it sporadically in 2010 - not really interacting with anyone and just adding read books to my shelves.

Then, in 2011, I finally started using it to keep track of what I read. That led me to adding friends, reading others' reviews, and finally... joining the book blogging community! I probably go to Goodreads at least once a day. I use it for so many things: checking a book's rating,  tracking my reading progress, seeing what my friends thought about books I'm considering reading, adding books to my wishlist, etc. I could go on and on! This is absolutely one of my reading and blogging necessities these days.

 

While my Kindle certainly deserves its own spot on the list, in many ways, the Kindle app makes my life even easier. I love that I always have my books available on the go. I'm rarely without my iPhone, so it's been invaluable to have this app always within my reach. Whether I'm waiting for a meeting to start or standing in line at the grocery store, I can read a few pages without anyone even realizing it!

3. iPhone Camera
I'm addicted to taking pictures of books on my camera phone while out and about. I love browsing around the bookstore, but I usually end up looking at way more books than I can ever buy in one trip. If there are some books in my stack that aren't already on my wish list, I'll snap a quick pic so I can do some research when I get home and decide if it's a book I really do want to own. I'll spot books in a magazine, at Target, on Twitter... and it's so easy to just add them to my Books album on my phone. Once I add them to my Goodreads wish list (or decide it's not the book for me), I just delete the pic and snap some more!
Source
3. My Local Library
I am in love with my local library system. Y'all, I can't even begin to tell you how fabulous each of these libraries are, and the one pictured is the branch closest to me. The selection here is so awesome, and I'm constantly surprised by how many new releases are available on their shelves. My other favorite part is how easy it is to request a book if my local branch doesn't have it in stock. Consistently, as long as there isn't a waiting list, I'll have the book waiting for me on hold within a few days. Not to mention the fact that the library is clean and nice - a place where I'd actually want to sit down with a big stack of books.

My library also now offers ebooks and audiobooks for download online, and I'm in love with this option. While their online catalogue is still growing, I'm still so excited that this option is still available and is so easy to use! I love the library - it's introduced me to so many authors I may never have discovered before and gives me the opportunity to try books that I might be too unsure of to buy. 


4. Feedly
I wasn't really fazed when everyone was all in a tizzy about the end of Google Reader because I had been using Bloglovin' for as long as I've been blogging (which goes back longer than this book blog). However, all of the posts comparing different readers made me investigate some of the other options. I've only recently tried out Feedly (as in, within the last few days), but I'm already obsessed with so many of its features. It's clean, pretty easy to navigate and has some functions that were lacking in Bloglovin' but I've found really helpful now that my reader has gotten so out of control. It may look organized on the sidebar, but don't let it fool you. That's with a lot of "Mark as Read" clicks because I let it get crazy this summer!


6. May Books
I'm addicted to May Books in general, but I most often use my two blog-related ones. May Books are 5x8 in size, and they have soft canvas covers with stitched spines. You can completely customize them - from the pattern on the outside to the type of pages inside. I'm in love with monogramming things, so it only stands to reason that I'd love customizable notebooks, too. The two pictured here are ones I designed for my blog!

The chevron one is a calendar that I use to plan and schedule blog posts. There are month-at-a-glance pages where I can pencil in what I've got to post each day, which makes it easy for me to tell where there are holes in my blog content. I write down my scheduled posts on the weekly pages, too, but those also include release dates for review books I've got or just new releases I can't wait to read!

The zebra one has blank pages, and I use it to jot down all my ideas. Ideas for discussion posts, notes on a current read, brainstorming a new feature... this one has a little bit of everything! While I could probably keep track of this info on my phone or computer, there's just something I love about putting pen to paper.


7. Twitter
Oh Twitter! While it can be a total time suck, it's also helped me get to know my blogging buddies better and often helps me find new books and/or blogs that I ought to be reading! I'm still terrible about promoting my blog posts on Twitter, and I often feel like I have nothing important to say... but I still love it to keep up-to-date on what's happening in the blogging and publishing world.

 

It may seem like this contradicts the May Books item on my list since I just said I like writing things down on paper. While that's still true, there are a few things I prefer keeping up with on my phone using the iPhone Reminders app. Using this, I keep up with two important lists: 1) books I've read and need to review and 2) books I've added to my shelves that month. Since these typically change frequently, I like having them saved on my phone rather than on a piece of paper. One quick glance, and I know exactly what reviews I ought to be writing!

I used to have the monthly Audible subscription, but I ended up canceling it after about six months. But let me explain why! I don't have that long of a commute to work (the only time I typically listen to audiobooks), and I went crazy when I first joined and bought a bunch of audiobooks during sales AND racked up a ton of classics that were free with a Kindle/Audible promotion.

When I looked at my Audible account and realized I had more than enough books to last me at least a year of listening (at the pace at which I listen to them), I figured I didn't need to keep doing the monthly thing. However, I'm still in love with this app and the website. Whenever I run out of the books currently on my account, you better believe I'll be back to stock up again.


10. Book Light / Kindle Paperwhite
Okay, no post would be complete without mentioning my e-reader. It's made my life easier in a bunch of ways, including the fact that I'm now able to carry so many books with me at a time and can easily stash this in my purse for on-the-go reading. But I'm including on the list today to highlight the light feature (as well as including my trusty book light) because that's what keeps this night owl up reading at all hours. It doesn't matter what time my husband wants to go to bed - these two things allow me to keep turning the pages for as long as my eyes and brain will let me! And, you know, when I ignore the fact that I have work first thing in the morning. Either way, yay for nighttime reading!

August 19, 2013

All That Really Matters

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

Release Date: August 2013
Publisher: Penguin | Viking
Pages: 384 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
France, 1916: Artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his young wife, Sophie, to fight at the front. When their small town falls to the Germans in the midst of World War I, Edouard's portrait of Sophie draws the eye of the new Kommandant. As the officer's dangerous obsession deepens, Sophie will risk everything - her family, her reputation, and her life - to see her husband again.

Almost a century later, Sophie's portrait is given to Liv Halston by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. A chance encounter reveals the painting's true worth, and a battle behinds for who its legitimate owner is - putting Liv's belief in what is right to the ultimate test.

Thoughts on The Girl You Left Behind
Earlier this year, I read Jojo Moyes' Me Before You and absolutely fell in love with this new-to-me author. She's actually written a number of books, but they were published in the U.K. and aren't all available in the U.S. Anyway, needless to say, I was so excited to see that she had a new book coming out this year when I spotted it on NetGalley. Seriously, there was some happy dancing going on and lots of hoping I'd get approved. I was even more excited when I realized this had a historical fiction element because I was thrilled to read something in my favorite genre from a new favorite author.

The Girl You Left Behind opens in France in 1916. Sophie is living in a small village with her brother, her sister and her sister's children. It's World War I, and their quiet town is occupied by the Germans. They live in the hotel that they run, a place that has been stripped of its former glory, but it still serves as a place where their fellow townspeople can gather and chat. It may not be much, but it's something. Sophie and her sister haven't heard from their husbands in a while - they're off fighting at the front and things certainly look grim.

Then, the Germans decide to start eating at their hotel, which seems like a small things but it changes everything. The Kommandant becomes fascinated with a portrait on the wall at the hotel. It's a painting of Sophie that was done by her husband, an accomplished artist. At first, the Kommandant only cares about the painting... until he starts to take an interest in the flesh-and-blood woman. The town takes notice. Sophie is desperate for her husband's return, and she would do anything possible to keep him safe. When suspicions are raised and whispers start, things come to a head in this tiny French village.

At a key point in Sophie's story, the book moves almost a century forward and readers are introduced to young widow Liv Halston. She's still at a loss about what to do next. Her husband, David, was an incredible architect and their house is a part of his legacy. Liv can barely make ends meet, but she can't imagine selling the house. It would be like losing David all over again. The only other thing she clings to is a portrait titled "The Girl You Left Behind." It's the painting of Sophie that first caught the Kommandant's eye so long ago, now hanging proudly on Liv's walls.

When Liv meets someone new and intriguing, she begins to think that there may be another chance at love in her future. But he brings with him unwelcome news, and Liv is suddenly confronted with the painting's worth and history.

I honestly loved so many things about this book. I don't typically like dual narratives within a book, particularly when they take place in such different time periods, but I absolutely adored them both in this case. Sophie's story is heartbreaking, bleak and desperate. And when it stops at such a climactic moment - only to move so far forward - I wasn't sure how I was going to feel.

Once I got into Liv's story, I really fell in love with her character. She's lost and unsure of herself, still reeling from the death of her husband. When she's threatened with the loss of something she holds dear, she fights back with everything in her.

I loved both time periods so much, and I was delighted to see how the two stories merged into one and how the women and the painting are all connected. The search for the painting's provenance - the chronology of its ownership - and the way that plays into the story was so fascinating to me. I'd say more but I don't want to spoil anything!

While the book wasn't perhaps as memorable as Me Before You, it was equally as gripping. I stayed up late into the night reading this one, frantically turning pages and hoping to find out Sophie's fate and the conclusion to Liv's fight to keep what she belongs with her. Sophie and Liv have both been left behind by the men in their lives, and the way their stories parallel and intertwine is so lovely and so gripping. I loved that even when the women made tough decisions, perhaps even unlikable ones, I still felt as though I understood them and was rooting for them. I couldn't read fast enough - that's how desperately I wanted to know what was to become of them.

This is the kind of book that's such a joy to recommend - perfect for fans of historical OR contemporary fiction as it offers a little something of both. Each part of the tale is engrossing, moving and will completely suck you into this book. It's different than Me Before You, to be sure, but it makes me even more excited to dive into Moyes' backlist AND for her future releases. I have a feeling she'll become a favorite of mine! Well-drawn characters, intriguing stories and moving endings are three things I'll never say no to, and Moyes' books have them in spades.

So Quotable
"This was the story of our lives: minor insurrections; tiny victories; a brief chance to ridicule our oppressors; little floating vessels of hope amid a great sea of uncertainty, deprivation, and fear."

*I received a copy of this book from Penguin/Viking in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

August 16, 2013

A to Z Survey


This awesome graphic and survey was created by the lovely and incredibly talented Jamie from The Perpetual Page-Turner. She never fails to amaze me with her creativity and passion for reading and blogging! You have no idea how excited I am to go spend time reading everyone else's surveys and how much fun I had writing up my answers to all these awesome questions. Have fun reading!

Authors I've Read the Most Books From
Author You've Read The Most Books From:
According to Goodreads, that would be Robin Jones Gunn. She writes Christian fiction, and I had no idea I'd read 38 of her books already! Dee Henderson (15) and L.M. Montgomery (13) round out the top three.

Best Sequel Ever:
I don't even know how to choose! I think I'm going to go with Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery. I love all of the Anne books, but the first three are definitely my favorites. I adore seeing Anne start to grow up and mature in this sequel.

Currently Reading:
Right now, I'm in the middle of re-reading Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I'm actually going through it with my cousin. As I've mentioned before, we love reading books at the same time so we can discuss them together! I first read this one back in middle school, so it's really interesting to revisit it as an adult.

Drink of Choice While Reading:
Hands down, 100%, always and forever: Diet Coke. It is my drug of choice, and I'm addicted.

E-Reader or Physical Book?
E-reader Or Physical Book:
Both! Why would I choose? I buy plenty of books in both formats, and I love them each for different things. Numerous e-book deals and the ease of carrying around so many books at a time makes me love my e-reader. But I also love buying physical books to add to my shelves! One of my biggest bookish pet peeves are people who act as though it has to be all or nothing. Look, I love physical books as much as the next reader but I also appreciate the finer qualities of owning an e-reader. Each has their own positives and negatives on the pro/con list.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School:
I think I'd say Warner from... Haha! NOT. I actually didn't date in high school, so the real answer is that there isn't a fictional character I probably would have dated. However, if I had dated, I would have been most likely to date someone similar to Cricket from Lola and the Boy Next Door. It's just the whole adorable dork thing...

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:
I'm going to say Scarlet by Marissa Meyer. I wasn't really interested in reading Cinder, but I was swayed by all the crazy love for it around the blogosphere. And then I didn't really love it. It was just okay for me. I decided to give Scarlet a chance anyway, and I'm so glad I did. It was a book that completely changed my opinion of the series as a whole, and now I can't wait to read Cress in 2014.

Hidden Gem Book
Hidden Gem Book:
Oh my goodness, I'd definitely say Nowhere but Home by Liza Palmer. This book was just amazing! It's one of my favorite reads of 2013, and I finally tried to put my love for it into words yesterday. It's adult contemporary fiction, and it absolutely wowed me. I would love to see this book find its way to more readers!

Important Moment In Your Reading Life:
I think that creating a Goodreads account was a big moment because it was my first experience with the online book community. I never interacted on there, but I was able to see that there were so many other readers all over the world discussing books together... which led me to create my blog! Obviously, that had a huge impact on my reading life. It affected big things (like how much I read) but it also changed smaller things (like I started to pay attention to book release dates, etc.). And that doesn't even begin to cover getting involved with the book blogging community and making new bookish friends!

Just Finished:
I'm just finished The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock, which is the first book in a trilogy originally published in the 1970s. It was recently reissued - I'm assuming in light of the Downton Abbey craze. From the gorgeous cover to the writing inside, I loved everything about this one! The large cast of characters and thoughtful detail reminded me of all the reasons I love adult historical fiction.

Kinds Of Books You Won't Read:
I try to keep an open mind about what I read, and I don't typically dismiss an entire genre outright. For example, I'm not a huge science fiction fan, but I would pick up a book from the genre if someone who knew my reading taste specifically recommended it to me. I won't read romance or erotica, but that's just a personal thing. I like my love stories to be more on the "leave it to the imagination" end of the romance spectrum.

Longest Book You've Ever Read:
At 1,329 pages, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo definitely takes the cake on this one. However, I've also read a large number of books that were more than 500 pages long. Big books for the win!



Major Book Hangover Because Of:
From this year, it's definitely Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. For quite a while after reading it, I'd be reading something else but still thinking about Lou and Will. It's just that good.

Number Of Bookcases You Own:
I've got 4 bookcases in my house - 2 downstairs and 2 upstairs. But I love decorating with books and have them scattered all over my house! They definitely aren't contained by bookcases.

One Book I've Read Multiple Times
One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:
I love to re-read, but I haven't done it as much since I started blogging. There are a bunch of books that could actually fit in this category, but the first one that came to mind is The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum. I know I've already read it at least four times. There's just something about the book that I just love so much!

Preferred Place to Read:
The bath! It's my favorite place to read - whether I'm reading a physical book or on my Kindle. The only thing I'm too scared to read in the bath are library books because I don't want to pay to replace it if I accidentally damaged one. I also love to read in bed at night before falling asleep. That's probably my second favorite place and where the majority of my reading takes place!

Quote That Inspires Me
Quote That Inspires You From A Book You've Read:
"From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure for when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived." - A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Reading Regret:
Like Jamie, I think I'd say that I regret not reading the Harry Potter books earlier. I've actually read them at this point, but that was just in late 2011-early 2012 so it's still pretty recent. I wish I could have the experience that many others had - growing up with the series, waiting at midnight for the books to come out, etc. But on the plus side, I never had to wait between books!

One Reading Regret
Series You Started & Need To Finish:
Well, you can see all my series-related reading goals on my post for the Summer Series Challenge. Since then, I've made really good progress on my unfinished series! However, the series I still need to finish is the Infernal Devices. I've got Clockwork Prince and Clockwork Princess just waiting for me to pick them up! I honestly don't know why I keep putting them off.

Three Of Your All-Time Favorite Books:
I hate questions like this one! How can I choose just three? But, under extreme pressure, I would say: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery and the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Yep, I just cheated and included a series. Too bad.

Jane Austen Fangirl
Unapologetic Fangirl For:
Jane Austen. If a book or movie is in any way related to Jane Austen (whether it be her life or her books), I almost always cannot resist. It's like this crazy compulsion that I try to fight but never win against. My bookshelves are sorted into different categories like adult fiction, young adult fiction, biographies and memoirs, etc.... and yes, Jane Austen is one of my categories.

Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others:
Okay, I really can't narrow this down to one book. So, I'll choose one book releasing during each of the next three months. For September, I'm most looking forward to Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. In October, I can't wait to get my hands on Just One Year by Gayle Forman. November brings with it The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead, and I am dying for more Sydrian. Those are the three books I've already pre-ordered for the fall!

Worst Bookish Habit:
I think my worst bookish habit is that I rarely, if ever, loan books to other people. I often clean off my bookshelves and give away books that I no longer want to own - so I'm doing okay in that respect. But if it's a book I love, there's a good chance I want to recommend it to you... not loan it to you. I'll tell you to read it, but don't ask for my copy. I didn't used to have a problem loaning books, but a few bad experiences ended up changing my opinion on it.

My other bad bookish habit is that I continue buying books, even though I haven't read many of the books I already own. It's a huge problem - my wallet gets skinnier and my TBR just gets fatter. The worst that I'll often think about how excited I am to read a book and how I "must buy it now" only to let it sit next to my bed for months. I also do this at the library - checking out a ton of books at a time even though there's no way I will be able to read them all.

Latest Book Purchase(s)
X Marks The Spot: 
That would be Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laura Viera Rigler, which I find fitting that I addicted to being a total Jane Austen fangirl.

Your Latest Book Purchase:
Since I had a lovely little coupon, I moseyed over to Books-A-Million and bought two hardcover adult fiction books that I'd been eyeing recently: The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway and The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig.

ZZZ-Snatcher Book (Kept You Up Late):
Most recently, it was definitely The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes! Alternating between present day and World War I, I loved so much about this book. The characters, the history, and the role art plays in it just made this such a winner. I stayed up so late (on a work night, no less!) because I had to know how it was all going to end.
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