My Kind of Costume Party

Oct 31, 2013

As everyone knows, today is Halloween. To be honest, I'm really not a fan of the holiday. I do, however, LOVE a good costume... I just prefer the kind that remind me of my favorite books or time periods in the past. So, I thought it would be a little fun to join in today's festivities by highlighting my favorite costume dramas (in rank order!). I'm sorry it's such a long and picture-heavy post, but I don't know how to talk about these movies without including photographic teasers to tempt you to watch them!

{Side Note: When I'm watching period dramas based on books or real people, I typically don't care if they are super accurate. You'll see what I mean...}

Based on the Dickens novel of the same name, this mini-series definitely takes a little time to get into. It's got all the makings of classic Dickens: an intricate story, a large cast of characters and the slow build-up to the dramatic conclusion. It even got my mister's stamp of approval!

So, I have a huge crush on Eddie Redmayne. He was the main reason I wanted to see Les Miserables, and I was really excited when I learned that he starred in this adaptation of the classic WWI novel by Sebastian Faulks. It's definitely more graphic than a typical costume drama, but I still really enjoyed this movie.

Even though I knew how this movie was going to end, I was still in tears as the movie wrapped up. I read the novel in high school and didn't love it, but this mini-series version makes me want to revisit the story now that some years have passed. Now that I think about it, I should move this one closer to the front of the list.

I read this book in college and enjoyed it, even if I did think it read like a less sparkling version of Austen's Pride and Prejudice. That being said, this is a delightful costume drama that (like the movie mentioned previously) makes me want to revisit the book. There is some major slow burn in this one!

11. Emma - 1996 Movie Version
I think this is an Austen movie that isn't necessarily a fan favorite, but I really loved it. This was one that I watched before I read the book, and I immediately knew that I had to read the book when it was over. If it was that fun and witty on screen, I could only imagine how much better it'd be on the page.

I dragged my mom and sister to a special movie theater to see this one when it released since it wasn't going to be in a theater anywhere close to us. They were kind enough to oblige, and I wasn't disappointed. This is one of those real life romances that just makes me love learning about history!

09. Sense and Sensibility - 1995 Movie Version
Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant... First of all, this movie obviously has an absolutely brilliant cast. I felt the emotion in this movie in a way that I'd missed when I first read the book as a teen. I love turning this one on when it's cold and rainy outside! 

This movie portrays the romance between poet John Keats and a woman named Fanny Brawne. I love so much about this film, which was written and directed by Jane Campion. I basically turn this movie on whenever I feel like I need a good cry. That take as you will...

As I mentioned in my side note at the beginning of this post, I don't always care about historical accuracy or faithfulness to a book when it comes to costume dramas. This is a perfect example of that fact. I know this is wildly speculative and not really accurate, but I just don't care. I love this movie!

06. Emma - 2009 Mini-Series Version
Okay, so Romola Garai's mannerisms annoy me a bit in this version, especially in the very beginning episode. However, there are so many other things to love about this production, and she does calm down as the show goes on. I think I'm due for a rewatch of this one soon!

I think this was one of my earliest costume drama obsessions. I remember being absolutely horrified that Jo didn't end up with Laurie! Yes, I watched this one before I read the book. Either way, there's something so comforting and nostalgic about this movie. That definitely makes it a favorite for me!

04. Pride and Prejudice - 2005 Movie Version
Not everyone loves this version, and I get that. As an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, it's not that faithful. But as a costume drama and period piece? OH BOY. I absolutely cannot get enough of this movie. I just convinced my mister that I NEEDED the Blu-Ray version because it was clearly superior to my much-loved and (I argued) practically worn-out DVD. Can't fault that logic! 

Oh, Anne and Gilbert. You two will be the death of me! All the drama, all the banter, all the feelings. I fell for these two as far back as elementary school, and I was positively thrilled when I discovered the mini-series. I remember begging my sister to watch it with me, and I was so shocked when she said it was boring. NO WAY, SISTER. 

Look, I don't know why more people haven't seen and fallen absolutely head over heels in love with this movie. The setting is gorgeous, the score is beautiful, and the acting is superb. Not to mention the heartbreaking story! It is quiet, slow, intimate and packs an emotional punch.

01. Pride and Prejudice - 1995 Mini-Series Version
This should be no surprise to anyone who knows me! If you can stick it out for six hours, I promise this mini-series is worth it. There's a reason this version is often credited as the catalyst that led to the Jane Austen craze! People loved her before this mini-series, but this is what took the Janeite fandom to new heights.

I can think of SO many more costume dramas that I didn't include! 
I struggled so much to narrow it down to just fifteen.
So, tell me, do you love any of these movies? And which ones did I forget?

Consider This Classic: Ellie Recommends

Oct 30, 2013

Consider This Classic is a monthly feature where bloggers highlight and recommend their favorite classic. They'll tell you when they first read it, why they love it and where to go from there. If you'd like to participate in Consider This Classic, click here to sign up.

This month, I've got Ellie from Book Revels here sharing her favorite classic. Ellie is a blogger I found through Betty and Jamie (she's in their book club!), and I'm so glad I did. And I'm particularly excited about her recommendation this month because it's a favorite of mine. I was thrilled when she told me she was choosing this book!

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Publication Date: 1813
Originally Published In: United Kingdom
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife."

Pride and Prejudice has delighted generations of readers with its unforgettable cast of characters, carefully choreographed plot, and a hugely entertaining view of the world and its absurdities. With the arrival of eligible young men in their neighborhood, the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are turned inside out and upside down. Pride encounters prejudice, upward-mobility confronts social disdain, and quick-wittedness challenges sagacity, as misconceptions and hasty judgments lead to heartache and scandal, but eventually to true understanding, self-knowledge, and love. In this supremely satisfying story, Jane Austen balances comedy with seriousness, and witty observation with profound insight.

I first picked up Pride and Prejudice in twelfth grade. For English class, we were given a list of books to choose from to write a critical paper about and Pride and Prejudice was the only one that appealed to me. Plus, I'll admit I thought it would be the easiest to write about! I ended up falling completely in love with it in a way that I had never connected to a classic before.

I'm very picky when it comes to romantic relationships in books. I have extremely high standards: there has to be depth, complexity, and flaws, and I prefer the slow-building kind of relationship. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy's relationship in Pride and Prejudice is the quintessential example of a perfect book couple to me. Their path to true love is rife with misunderstandings. They let their pride and prejudice get in the way of forming a meaningful connection with each other. What I love most is how they transform over the course of the novel and let go of their first impressions. They both make mistakes, but they own up to them and find each other at least. They change because of each other and become better people for it. Their love story will always be one of my favorites.

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund - A retelling of a different Austen novel, but has the same kind of relationship that flounders because of misunderstandings. I think fans of Pride and Prejudice will enjoy this one.

P.S. My favorite Pride and Prejudice adaptations are the Keira Knightley movie and the Lizzie Bennet Diaries!

Haunted By Your Memory

Oct 29, 2013

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Release Date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: Abrams Books | Amulet Books
Pages: 387 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Kindle ebook
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she's forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love - a boy who died in battle - returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.

Thoughts on In the Shadow of Blackbirds
I couldn't really think of anything for today's Top Ten Tuesday topic (Scariest Book Covers) because I absolutely hate reading anything scary. I stay far, far away from the horror section. I did, however, recently read In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters. It's gotta a pretty scary cover, if you ask me. I mean, hello, there's a creepy ghost floating behind the girl!

I love historical fiction, but I would never naturally gravitate toward this book. From the cover to the summary, it doesn't really appeal to my horror hating self. However, Alyssa from Books Take You Places spoke highly of both this book and The Caged Graves, and I decided to give both a shot. I knew I was definitely interested The Caged Graves, and my initial assessment was correct. I really, really enjoyed that story! I was more on the fence about buying this one, but the Goodreads page left me curious enough to give it a shot.

Mary Shelley Black has to go live with her aunt in San Diego after her father is arrested for treason in 1918. It's the place where she met her best friend and childhood sweetheart, Stephen, so it does hold good memories for her even if she's going there under less-than-pleasant circumstances now. Her father's imprisoned, her love is fighting at the front, and the city is fighting off the deadly Spanish influenza. Things aren't looking good for Mary Shelley! And then it gets worse. Mary Shelley learns that Stephen has died, and she starts being visited by his spirit. But why?

In the Shadow of Blackbirds had SO many things about it that I enjoyed. Winters' research was evident throughout the book, and I particularly loved her notes at the end about it. There was definitely an ominous, creepy tone pervading the book. There are two elements that contribute to this - the paranormal element (spirit photography, etc.) and the influenza. Both make the ominous atmosphere just drip off the page. I never felt scared while reading the book, but it's definitely got that haunting feel.

Mary Shelley was also my kind of heroine. She's capable of so much, and isn't afraid of a challenge. From her relationship with her aunt to her letters exchanged with Stephen, I just so loved her smart and sassy self. When she feels like something isn't right, she investigates until she learns the truth. She just can't give up until Stephen is at peace!

Despite being really well-written, filled with fascinating historical detail, and having a heroine that I loved, I probably should have trusted my gut on this one. This was definitely a case of "it's not you, it's me." I actively avoid books with spirits, ghosts, and this kind of element. It's not something that I like or care to read about, but I was hoping it might be incorporated differently into this book. With The Caged Graves, the mystery is explained realistically without relying on the supernatural. This book, however, does firmly rely on the existence of spirits in its resolution. Since I dislike those elements so completely, I couldn't really fall in love with this book in the end. It's like I was detached from the story because of my personal dislike for stories of this nature.

This is one of those rare reviews where I'd tell you that I would recommend this book if you like this type of story. Despite my lackluster rating, I did feel like this was a really strong novel. I wasn't the right reader for it, unfortunately, but I have no doubt that many readers will find much to love about the story Winters has written.

One random note: I bought this on my Kindle, but I saw the hard copy in stores and was shocked by its loveliness. There are SO many details that went into the creation of this book, and you'll miss out on all the thought and work that went into it if you don't see it in person. Just trust me! If you want to read this book, you need to buy a copy for your shelves instead of your e-reader.

So Quotable
"Don't ever worry what the boys who don't appreciate originality think of you. They're fools."

When What's Stolen Is Found

Oct 28, 2013

Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Release Date: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Pages: 308 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She's never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she'd like to forget completely. But when Callie's mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie's real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love - even with someone who seems an improbable choice - is more than just a possibility.

Thoughts on Where the Stars Still Shine
I read Trish Doller's debut, Something Like Normal, earlier this year but chose not to review it. I really liked it, and I was so impressed by Doller's ability to write such strong, memorable characters. While the story and the setting have been special and unique in both of her books, I really feel like it's the characters that make the books truly stand out.

When I first saw the cover for Where the Stars Still Shine, I fell in love. I had no idea what the book was about, and I don't even think I'd read Something Like Normal at that point, but it was definitely interested in it. One thing I've realized now that I've read this book - the cover doesn't fully portray the depth and feelings in this book. Don't get me wrong, I still love the cover... but you've got to know going into this book that it's not all light and fun.

Callie has spent her entire life on the run with her mom. There have been horrible moments and painful memories, but she still loves her mom. It's the only life she's ever known. The past finally catches up to them - Callie's mom is arrested and Callie is returned to her father. She's headed back to huge Greek family in Tarpon Springs, Florida, and there are bound to be a few bumps along the way.

My favorite thing in Where the Stars Still Shine were the characters. They were well-developed, unique and felt so real. I loved that family was a HUGE aspect of this book, and it was done in a way that felt so fresh. There is often a gaping hole in YA where parents, siblings and extended family ought to be. While I know that a book can't focus on every single aspect of a character's life, I do often get frustrated with the fact that it seems as though many teen live in total isolation from their family.

Well, that's definitely not the case in this book! I can't even choose my favorite person in the family. Callie's dad is doing his best to make the transition home as easy as possible for her. Callie's grandmother is a little spitfire and exactly how I would imagine a Greek matriarch. Despite a few rough moments, Callie's cousin became such a good friend to her - another thing I loved! It's so special when a family member is also a close friend.

Callie herself is not really a likable character. She's constantly hurting the people around her. Pushing everyone away to protect herself makes her a hard character to love. My heart broke for her, but I also wanted her to see how she kept sabotaging her own happiness. However, it was entirely believable that she'd act that way, so this isn't a complaint about the book or the character. If there's anything I felt was lacking in Where the Stars Still Shine, it's professional help for Callie. I know everyone was doing their best to help her start over in Tarpon Springs, but I did feel like she was thrown into this new world without enough attention given to her emotional needs. In light of the abuse she'd suffered, I found myself wanting one of the adults in her life to insist she get the help she needed. It's like she was supposed to just forget the past and move on - but there are some deeply traumatic things that have happened to her and have totally affected the way she interacts with the world. I didn't feel like she was given the resources she really needed to process what had happened to her.

The romantic relationship was believable, even if I was somewhat hesitant about the way it started. It's not my favorite way to read about a relationship beginning, but I did think it felt authentic to Callie's character. So, at the same time, it did make sense to me. Alex was definitely charming, and I loved the tension he was experiencing with his own family. What's interesting is that I wasn't really that invested in the romance. There were things about it that kept me from loving it, but I think that's partly because of where these two characters are at this point in their lives.

I did think that the book ended really nicely. Everything isn't all wrapped up, but it's something that felt very realistic. It's not a story that really calls for a ribbon around the ending. Callie's life is messy, so it's only fitting that the ending would have a few loose ends.

Tarpon Springs was such a special setting. The Greek culture came alive, and I felt so connected with the places described in this book. I could just picture this little beach town and the colorful characters that populated it.

In Where the Stars Still Shine, Doller has created a heroine with a heartbreaking past who just keeps getting in the way of her own future. I find it really interesting that Doller has now written two protagonists who have endured really painful events in their pasts and are struggling to find some semblance of normal without hurting all of the people that truly love them. They aren't always successful - but the journey is certainly one worth taking. I'm really excited to see what else Doller writes in the future!

So Quotable
"I've never been in love before, but this moment is bittersweet and tender and terrible and perfect. Surely this must be it."

Restore What's Been Lost

Oct 25, 2013

Unspoken by Dee Henderson

Release Date: October 1, 2013
Publisher: Bethany House
Pages: 441 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; eARC
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Charlotte Graham is at the center of the most famous kidnapping in Chicago history.

The task force of FBI and local cops found her two abductors, killed them, rescued her, but it took four very long years. The fact she was found less than three miles from her home, had been there the entire time, haunts them. She's changed her identity, found a profession she loves, and rebuilt her life.

She's never said a word - to the cops, to her doctors, to family - about those four years.

A family legacy has brought her back to Chicago where a reporter is writing a book about the kidnapping. The cops who worked the case are cooperating with him. Her options are limited: hope the report doesn't find the full truth, or break her silence about what happened. And her silence is what has protected her family for years.

Bryce Bishop doesn't know her past, he only knows she has coins to sell from her grandfather's estate - and that the FBI director for the Chicago office made the introduction. The more he gets to know Charlotte, the more interested he becomes, an interest encouraged by those closest to her. But nothing else is working in his favor - she's decided she is single for life, she struggles with her faith, and she's willing to forego a huge inheritance to keep her privacy. She's not giving him much of an opening to work with.

Charlotte wants to trust him. She needs to tell him what happened. Because a crime cops thought was solved, has only opened another chapter...

Thoughts on Unspoken
I first discovered Dee Henderson when I was in high school. I was primarily reading Christian fiction at the time, and I noticed that there were a ton of her books on display at the Christian bookstore. I started with Danger in the Shadows - the prequel to her popular O'Malley series - and just fell in love. Henderson writes these mystery/thrillers that have just the right amount of romance. I went on to read every single book she'd written and have counted myself as a huge fan ever since.

Prior to last year, her last book was published in 2006. I was always looking for more from her, but I could never find any information on whether or not she was writing another book. And then I spotted an ad for her book Full Disclosure. I bought Full Disclosure the day it released and read it soon after. And, unfortunately, it was one of the most disappointing and frustrating things I'd ever read. I then read and reviewed her new novella, Jennifer, when it was released earlier this year. While I had a few minor issues with it, I did feel like Henderson was finding her groove again. It didn't have the same spark as her earlier books, but I enjoyed her brief return to the beloved O'Malley family.

That's a ton of detail leading up to my review, but I feel like it's relevant because I was only cautiously optimistic about Unspoken. The summary sounded like classic Henderson, but I still wasn't sure. So, I requested the book on NetGalley and hoped for the best. I actually got approved after the book had been published, so I ended up purchasing my own copy just a few days later.

What I found so interesting about Unspoken is that it was a classic Henderson setup but still reflected some of the changes I've noticed recently in her writing style. Charlotte Graham was at the center of one of Chicago's most famous kidnapping cases when she was a teenager. Years have passed, and she's slowly and carefully built a life that she enjoys. When a family relation dies, Charlotte is left in charge of taking care of dismantling the estate and all it entails. In the process, she meets Bryce Bishop. He sells collectible coins, and Charlotte has a stockpile that she wants to part with. Part One of Unspoken deals with this process - making the deals, selling the coins and going through the family member's estate. Charlotte and Bryce get to know each other during this time, but it's a pained and tense process. Charlotte has closed herself off because of her past, and Bryce doesn't know her story.

To be honest, Unspoken has a slower and much more detailed beginning than I've come to expect from Henderson. I personally enjoyed this part, but I do think that some readers will find it a little too tedious or labored. I was interested in it, but it did leave me feeling like this wasn't the Henderson book I'd recommend to someone that was new to her. By Part Two, things had really picked up with the story. The focus on coin collecting shifted back to Charlotte's kidnapping and some of the mystery surrounding it. There have long been some unresolved questions regarding what happened to her during those four years and who, exactly, was involved in her disappearance. This section was much more enjoyable, and getting to this part is what prompted me to stay up until 2 a.m. to finish this book.

As far as the romance, there have been interesting similarities in the romantic relationships from Henderson's most recent full-length novels. In both books, I found the relationships to be interesting but also a bit difficult. Charlotte is a very hard character to connect to - she's cold, closed off and is challenging to like. Bryce, on the other hand, was a really warm and genuine man that I enjoyed getting to know. But the development of his relationship with Charlotte felt much more business-like than romantic. It's partly because of Charlotte's past and partly because of their present circumstances, but I definitely didn't find myself really drawn to this couple. I like that Henderson is trying something new with her romances, but I don't think it's something that everyone will love.

I really enjoyed Unspoken, but I think you have to go into it with the right expectations. It doesn't read like Henderson's earlier books. The pacing is much slower, and there isn't a strong romance aspect to the book. It wouldn't be the first book I'd recommend to introduce someone to Henderson, but I did think it was an enjoyable addition to her overall collection of works. While I may prefer her more fact-paced and romantic stories, this one still had a lot to offer for her fans.

So Quotable
"I wish to do your will today, not less than your will, and not beyond it. Allow me to accept the limits and boundaries and lines you see as best for me, while living fully within them for my joy and your glory."
*I received a copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for my review.

History With Hannah - Lesson 2

Oct 24, 2013

I'm back with another installment of this historical fiction feature! I decided to do this to highlight the historical aspects of a book I've read and enjoyed recently. My favorite thing about the historical fiction genre is how much learn when I'm reading - and the curiosity I'm left with afterward that has me looking up new-to-me time periods or aspects of the past.

A few weeks ago, I finished a book that I knew I had to highlight here. It was an emotional, interesting story that combined both past and present to create a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading!

Orphan Train by Christine Baker Kline

Release Date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins | William Morrow
Pages: 278 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from "aging out" of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.

Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers being to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life - answers that will ultimately free them both.

Past: New York City and Minnesota
Present: Maine

Past: 1929 - 1943
Present: 2011

1. Orphan Trains
Prior to reading this book, I'd never heard anything about orphan trains. If I had to guess, I'd bet many people haven't heard about this significant moment in America's past. Rather than try to explain it myself, I'm going to quote a section from the back of the book that provides a short history of what happened:
Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains transported more than two hundred thousand orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children - many of whom, like the character in this book, were first-generation Irish Catholic immigrants  from coastal cities of the eastern United States to the Midwest for "adoption," which was often turned out to be indentured servitude. Charles Loring Brace, who founded the program, believed that hard work, education, and firm but compassionate childrearing - not to mention midwestern Christian family values - were the only way to save these children from a life of depravity and poverty. Until the 1930s, there was no social safety net; it is estimated that more than ten thousand children were living on the streets of New York City at any given time.
Many of the children had experienced great trauma in their short lives and they had no idea where they were going. The train would pull into a station and the local townspeople would assemble to inspect them - often literally scrutinizing teeth, eyes, and limbs to determine where was child was sturdy enough for field work, or intelligent and mild-mannered enough to cook and clean. Babies and healthy older boys where typically chosen first; older girls were chosen last. After a brief trial period, the children became indentured to their host families. If a child wasn't chosen, he or she would get back on the train to try again at the next town.
Some children were warmly welcomed by new families and towns. Others were beaten, mistreated, taunted, or ignored. They lost any sense of their cultural identities and backgrounds; siblings were often separated, and contact between them was discouraged. City children were expected to perform hard farm labor for which they were neither emotionally nor physically prepared. Many of them were first-generation immigrants from Italy, Poland, and Ireland and were teased for their strange accents; some barely spoke English. Jealousy and competition in the new families created rifts, and many children ended up feeling that they didn't belong anywhere. Some drifted from home to home to find someone who wanted them. Many ran away. The Children's Aid Society did attempt to keep track of these children, but the reality of great distances and spotty record keeping made this difficult.
Are you as shocked as I was reading this explanation? I love studying history - it was one of my favorite subjects in school - but I honestly don't think I ever learned anything about this questionable practice in our past. The thing I loved most about Orphan Train is the way it followed one fictional orphan's story. You can tell how much research Kline did when writing this book, and she skillfully weaves that research into the story. You won't learn every little thing about orphan trains, but you will walk away from this book with a heartbreaking example of what many of these children went through.

2. Portaging
This book alternates between the past and present and focuses on two women (one old, one young) who have a profound impact on one another. The young woman is Molly, a teenager living in foster care, who meets Vivian (the grown-up orphan train rider) when she's doing required community service. What I loved about Molly is that you'll still learn a little something about history from her section, even though it's set in 2011. Molly is a Penobscot Indian, and her class is required to do a research report focusing on something called "portaging."

In the past, Wabanki Indians had "to carry their canoes and everything else they possessed across land from one water body to the next, so they had to think carefully about what to keep and what to discard." The students are required to interview someone about their own portages, the literal or metaphorical journey that have taken in their past and what they chose to carry or leave behind. This was a fascinating part of the story, and I loved the way Kline tied it into the overall story. I had never heard of portaging, but this book left wanting to find out more about this concept. Kline took two different threads in our nation's history and wove them together to create an thoughtful and moving story.

An Orphan Train In Michigan (Source)

In For A Big Surprise

Oct 23, 2013

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

Release Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's
Pages: 432 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Kindle ebook
Series: Throne of Glass #2
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
An assassin's loyalties are always in doubt.
But her heart never wavers.

After a year of hard labor in the Salt Mines of Endovier, eighteen-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien has won the king's contest to become the new royal assassin. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown - a secret she hides from even her most intimate confidantes.

Keeping up the deadly charade - while pretending to do the king's bidding - will test her in frightening new ways, especially when she's given a task that could jeopardize everything she's come to care for. And there are far more dangerous forces gathering on the horizon - forces that threaten to destroy her entire world, and will surely force Celaena to make a choice.

Where do the assassins's loyalties lie, and who is she most willing to fight for?

Thoughts on Crown of Midnight

Okay, whew. I just needed to start by getting that off my chest! I'm sorry for the shouting, but I just wanted to make sure everyone could hear me. I really enjoyed Throne of Glass, but there were a few minor things that left me wanting a little more from it. Thankfully, this was a case where the second book just made me fall in love with the series. It took the foundation that was established in Throne of Glass to all new heights!

Goodness, I cannot even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this book. I stayed up SO late because I couldn't put it down, even though I had to get up early for work the next morning. There was so much to love about Crown of Midnight, so I think that late-night decision was totally justified.

The beginning of this book focuses on Celaena's new role as the King's Assassin. She's given targets to take out, and I was in heaven finally getting to see her in action. I wanted to get to see Celaena's skill a little more in Throne of Glass since there weren't many scenes focusing on the competition, and Maas definitely delivered in this book. The action was really amped up toward the end of Part One and just took off from there. Sometimes a big turning point like that leaves me feeling like the pacing is off. Thankfully, I never felt that way in this one! While there was more action in Part Two, there was plenty of intrigue and mystery happening in Part One.

And the romance! Ooooohhhh my goodness, I had so many feelings during the first part. I don't even have the words to tell you how happy I was about this element. There's so much romantic tension and then Maas just delivers when the couple finally gets together. My heart was just aching with some of the turns their story took, but I have hope that there'll be even more with these two in book three. I love that Celaena makes a decision about who she wants to be with and sticks with it. I don't know what Maas intends to do in future books, and things aren't all smooth for the two lovebirds, but it's still a relief to see a series where the romance doesn't thrive on a dragged out love triangle.

There are a few big shockers - some that I saw coming, some that I didn't. Either way, I was totally hooked! The big thing that I felt wasn't fully developed in Throne of Glass was the magic, and so I was hoping it would be explained better in Crown of Midnight. Thankfully, there is definitely more to learn in this one about what is going on in this kingdom. I don't want to go into anything about the plot, but trust me when I saw that Maas delivered on everything I felt was lacking in Throne of Glass.

Crown of Midnight is just an addictive story! I really enjoyed Throne of Glass, but I can now see how Maas was setting everything up and introducing you to characters that were about to steal your heart. The creativity of the story, the super swoonworthiness of the romance, and the mythology of the magic in this world just blew me away. The story is so complex, so detailed, and so thought out. I definitely feel like Maas knows where she's going with this story, which makes me even more excited for further books in this series.

If you're anything like me, you'll finish this one just DYING for the next book. The other thing I did? Well, I went and ordered hard copies of these books because I can already tell that I need to have these books on my shelves. The Kindle copies just weren't cutting it... I need to be able to flip back through and savor my favorite moments whenever I want. I'm so glad other bloggers convinced me to give these books a shot - I definitely think I've found a new favorite series!

So Quotable
"It was like coming home or being born or suddenly finding an entire half of herself that had been missing."

What's In A Name?

Oct 22, 2013

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic asked bloggers to list either the top ten character names they love or the top ten unusual character names. To be honest, I just didn't feel that inspired by the topic. I knew I'd have to spend a long time looking at my bookshelf or scouring Goodreads to come up with ten names. Why? Well, I think I usually find the character a lot more memorable than the name they're given. I know the two should go hand-in-hand, but they don't always for me.

Sometimes, I'll find myself working on a review with characters that I ADORED, but I'll still have to flip back through the book to make sure I'm remembering their name correctly. Isn't that terrible? It typically only happens when I've let too much time pass in between finishing a book and writing the review, but still... 

I did, however, start thinking about when parents name their kids after characters in literature. The inspiration for what to name your baby can come from anywhere, and I know that it's not uncommon for bookish people to reflect their literary love in the naming of their babies. No, I'm not pregnant, but I do have a lot of friends who have started having babies... And, what can I say, it's put babies on my brain!

Would I name a future baby after a character I loved? I'm really not sure! But here are a few I'd consider:

Anne - I probably wouldn't use this as a first name since my name is Hannah, and those are a little too similar to each other to be used as the first name for my future offspring. I would, however, consider using this for a middle name. I love classic, traditional names so this is obviously right up my alley. It also helps that this is one of my favorite characters ever written.

Blythe - As much as I love Gilbert, I just can't see myself giving a little boy that name. It's just a little too out-of-date for my taste. Plus, I'm pretty sure everyone and their mother would know exactly why I gave my baby that name. But I would love to use his last name for a girl's first name! The mister isn't a fan, so it's not likely to happen but in my imagination this would totally work.

William - Look, I can't use Fitzwilliam because of obvious reasons but I'd totally turn it into William for my future little boy. It's another classic, traditional name. I like that it's not obviously literary (like if you named a boy Gilbert) so it's not like everyone would immediately know that I'm nerdy enough to name my kid after a fictional character. Not that I mind being nerdy...

Elizabeth - Like Anne, this is another really popular and classic name. It's also one I'd be more likely to use as a middle name than a first name, but that's just because I'd prefer to pick something with a little more personal meaning for my future baby's first name. I also particularly love it shortened to Beth. 

Have you ever named something after a favorite fictional character?
What names would you consider for future babies or furbabies?

Spirit That Could Not Be Broken

Oct 21, 2013

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Release Date: August 7, 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's
Pages: 404 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Kindle ebook
Series: Throne of Glass #1
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Amazon)
In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king's champion. Her name is Celaena Sardothien.

The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. But something evil dwells in the castle of glass - and it's there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena's fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world.

Thoughts on Throne of Glass
So, I've never been a big fantasy reader, but I'm finding more and more to enjoy about the genre since I started blogging. I remember seeing tons of reviews around the blogosphere when Throne of Glass was first published. I noticed that many of them raved about the book, but there were also a number of bloggers who found issues with Celaena's character and other aspects of the book. To be honest, I really wasn't sure how I'd feel about this one. The summary didn't really appeal to me, but I was intrigued enough to buy a copy for my Kindle. And, as is always the case, it just sat there for almost a year.

After seeing Alexa and Kelly rave about this series, I finally decided it was time to take the plunge. Did I mention that at this point Crown of Midnight had been released AND I'd pre-ordered it? Oh yeah, I decided to go ahead and buy the second book without even reading the first. I know, sometimes I have to shake my head at my own crazy. Now that I've read Throne of Glass, I can't believe I waited so long!

Four Things I Loved In This Book:

1. The World Building
Most of the fantasy I've read takes a while to get into the action. The beginning is usually bogged down by the world-building. But not Throne of Glass! This book starts off with a bang, and it just gets better from there. I loved that we're immediately thrown into the story because it kept me from feeling bored or overloaded with information. I was interested and invested in Celaena from the very beginning.

The world and the setting felt so real to me! I could imagine each different part of this place, which is something I really appreciated about this book. My biggest problem with most fantasy books is that world feels so foreign that I become disconnected from the story. Even though this was clearly an imaginary world, I still felt like I "knew" it, in a way.

The only weakness for me here was that the magic element didn't feel fully fleshed out. I know it's important to the story, but I didn't feel like I completely understood why magic had been banned and how it was being used within the world. It wasn't a huge issue - just something that felt like it needed a little more development in order for me to fully get how it fit into the book.

2. The Characters
I can see why not everyone will love these characters. Celaena is arrogant, self-absorbed and somewhat ruthless. She also loves clothing and is prone to dramatics. So, I get that she won't be everyone's cup of tea. But dang, y'all, I loved her! Something about her just won me over right from the start. I loved that she loved to read, that she could fight like nobody's business and that there's something a little off-putting about her.

I did want a little more information about her backstory, but I think I could have gotten it if I'd read the novellas. So, that little hole likely wouldn't bother me if I'd taken the time to read those prequels first.

3. The Romance
There's a love triangle in this one, which is something that can be hit-or-miss. For some reason, this one just worked for me. I don't think it's a perfect triangle, but I still loved the romance. I obviously had a favorite (Chaol! DUH!), but it made me excited to see how this element develops in the later books. I don't think this will be something that everyone will like, but I definitely didn't feel like it detracted from my enjoyment of the story. In some ways, it just enhanced it because I thought both boys were well-developed and intriguing.

4. The Plot
There's so much more to the story than the romance in this one. I really loved the idea of the challenge to become the king's assassin. The competition was intense! I don't want to say much more about the plot, but I really was so caught up in what was happening. From training for the competition to the evil lurking in the castle, there was no way I was going to be able to put this book down once I started.

I did feel like the book would have been a little stronger if there had been a little more attention paid to the competition. There were a few times that I wanted to know more about what was going on - feeling like I didn't get to see the full picture of what was happening. In some ways, there's so much more that could have been told about these events. But, at the same time, I also understand that Maas can only focus on so much without this book getting bogged down in too much detail.

It did take me forever to finally read this book, but I absolutely enjoyed it once I did. There were a few minor things that kept me from rating this as a "loved" - but it came pretty dang close. From the engaging story to the interesting characters, I found a lot to love in Throne of Glass. As soon as I'd finished this one, I immediately started reading Crown of Midnight. I had to know what was going to happen next!

So Quotable
"Library were full of ideas - perhaps the most dangerous and powerful of all weapons."

Make It In The Movies

Oct 18, 2013

Laura Lamont's Life In Pictures by Emma Straub

Release Date: September 4, 2012
Publisher: Penguin | Riverhead Books
Pages: 306 pages
Source & Format: From Kristina; Paperback ARC
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
In 1920, Elsa Emerson, the youngest and blondest of three sisters, is born in idyllic Door County, Wisconsin. Her family owns the Cherry County Playhouse, and more than anything, Elsa relishes appearing onstage, where she soaks up the approval of her father and the embrace of the audience. But when tragedy strikes her family, her acting becomes more than a child's game of pretend.

While still in her teens, Elsa marries and flees to Los Angeles. There she is discovered by Irving Green, one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood, who refashions her as a serious, exotic brunette and renames her Laura Lamont. Irving becomes Laura's great love; she becomes an Academy Award-winning actress - and a genuine movie star. Laura experiences all the glamour and extravagance of the heady pinnacle of stardom in the studio-system era, but ultimately her story is a timeless one of a woman try to balance career, family, and personal happiness, all while remaining true to herself.

Thoughts on Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures
I have been intrigued by Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures ever since I spotted it at the bookstore last year. The summary sounded like something right up my alley - historical fiction, movie stars and the Golden Age of Hollywood. Y'all probably don't know this, but I love classic old movies. I used to be addicted to the Turner Classic Movies channel, and I've got an entire shelf dedicated to my classic movie collection. Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Vivien Leigh... I could watch these stars again and again!

In that vein, I'm also in love with reading biographies of famous classic movie stars. There's something so fascinating about finding out about their lives and loves behind the camera. Movie stars could stir up a scandal, even then. So, I was really excited about this book and was thrilled when Kristina offered to send me her copy. I knew that Laura Lamont was a fictional character - not a real actress from the Golden Age - but I was still hoping that Straub would recreate that classic glamour with this character and this story.

Laura Lamont, born Elsa Emerson, was the youngest of three girls. Born in Wisconsin, her parent's owned and operated a playhouse that helped instill in her a love for the stage from a very early age. But tragedy strikes, and the family dynamic is never the same. So, Elsa marries and heads to Los Angeles with her husband, an actor. The marriage is her chance to get away and to leave the pain and sadness behind. She's ready to support her husband in his acting career - perfectly happy to be the lovely wife on his arm. But a powerful movie executive sees more in Elsa... He refashions her into Laura Lamont and helps launch her movie career.

Sounds exciting, right? Unfortunately, this book was missing one thing that was absolutely vital for it to be a good read: an interesting leading lady. For a book and a story like this to work, Laura Lamont needs to come alive. I needed to believe that she could light up a screen, enchant audiences and have that halo of glamour that defined successful actresses in the studio-system era. Instead, Laura Lamont just limps across the page. I didn't feel like her had any spark, any pizzaz, anything to make me invested in the character's story. I had a hard time believing that someone so bland was supposed to be a small-town girl turned starlet. The book is centered around Laura Lamont, and yet I felt like she had the least character development. There's no engagement with her life - it's as if things are just happening to her (or we're being told that they are) rather than her exerting any effort or having any agency or voice.

I also assumed the book would largely focus on the heyday of her career. Instead, the book is a collection of moments throughout her life. A brief introduction to Laura when she's Elsa, a glimpse into her first marriage, some reflections on her stardom and then a huge portion is dedicated to her life after her career has fizzled out. The novels ambition - to follow Laura throughout her life - felt like one of it's biggest weaknesses. I would have preferred a book that focused on a small period of time in depth rather than try to portray so much in way that just skims the surface.

There's very little attention given to major historical events during those time periods, and there's also very little dialogue. It left my feeling like Laura was disconnected from reality. The lack of dialogue made it feel heavy and slow, which is shame because so many movies from that era had really quick, clever dialogue that was so smart. Just watch a scene from His Girl Friday starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell to see what I mean. This book had the chance to really showcase what was so great about movies created at that time while also showcasing the negatives of being an actor during the studio-system era. Straub briefly touches on what it was like to be stuck in a studio contract, with your every action controlled by executives, but it's just a minor mention in the larger story of Laura's life.

I wanted so badly to like this book, so it makes me really sad that it ended up reading like a really boring biography of someone with no personality and who didn't change at all in their entire lifetime. It's an ambitious attempt that didn't live up to expectations due to cardboard characters, lack of focus, too much exposition and not enough dialogue. You want classic Hollywood scandal and glamour? I'd advise you to look elsewhere. It's a shame that a book set during a time period I find so fascinating only left me feeling incredibly detached.

So Quotable
"That was what love was, though, wasn't it? Holding each other's misery as close as your own?"
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