Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court by Michelle Moran

I am a big fan of Michelle Moran's writing.  I love her Egypt novels (Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen and Cleopatra's Daughter) in particular and have recommended them to several people looking for a good historical read.  I am also beyond thrilled that Ms. Moran is a fan of book bloggers and keeps in touch with many of us.  She contacted me offering to send me a copy of her newest release, "The Second Empress" to read and review. 
I was so excited to receive and read this book.  I love historical fiction and was looking forward to this French court follow up (her previous French tale "Madame Tussaud"was released last year).  The Second Empress proved to be a highly entertaining novel, but you need to go into it expecting an entertaining tale, not a historical account.  There are a number of historical inaccuracies in this novel that cannot be ignored.  A better historical fiction representation of Napoleon's time would be the Josephine B. trilogy by Sandra Gulland. 
That being said this was a fun novel to read and certainly kept me hooked throughout.  I do quite enjoy Ms. Moran's writing style.  This story was told from several points of view, not just Marie-Louise (Napoleon's second wife, from Austria).  It was also told from the point of view of  Napoleon's sister Pauline (herself a fascinating character) and Paul, Pauline's manservant from Haiti.  I quite enjoyed Paul, he was a good way of balancing out the "crazies" of the Bonapartes, offering insight as to why people would remain loyal to the family. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

"I am Moth, a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart."
This opening sentence hooked me and I was loathe to put this book down at any point in time following.  Ami McKay's writing has a way of not just putting you there (in this case New York in the 1870's) but actually delving into the place in time in a way that you really believe you know this place, it becomes familiar - that's quite a talent.  I found this a fascinating book for that reason.  Most of this story was told from Moth's point of view, but interspersed were notes from Dr. Sadie (a female physician serving in the Bowery), and notes from various publications of the times (both real and fictional). 
There were points of this story that brought me back to Moulin Rouge (one of my favorite movies - though set at a slightly different place and time).
I was not prepared to love this book as much as I did.  I read it over the course of 2 days - the first beginning once my children were in bed for the night and continuing on until I could no longer keep my eyes open.  I will now have to go backwards to Ami McKay's first novel, The Birth House (I don't know how I missed it).

Friday, August 3, 2012

Happy Family by Wendy Lee

Hua has recently immigrated to the States from China.  It was her Grandmother's dream to send her to America to have a fantastic life.  Hua falls in love with the idea of an American life and more than anything, the idea of belonging.  As you get into her story you realise that there is more to her than first assumed.  She is shy and quiet, but has an unexpected past. 
When we first meet her, she is working as a waitress in Chinatown in New York.  She meets Jane and her adopted Chinese daughter Lily in the park.  She slowly enters into a relationship with the family, eventually gaining trust to become their Nanny.  Jane wants Lily to know some of her Chinese heritage, so her friendship with Hua seems like a perfect solution.
This book was very well written and it surprised me how easy it was to get into.  I read it in a single evening sitting (something I was not expecting).  There were more twists and turns in it that kept me going to completion.  I don't know if she has published anything since (this book came out in 2008), but I would be interested in what else Lee has to offer.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Blood Red Road by Moira Young

As I was purchasing Insurgent my Veronica Roth, the book store clerk asked if I had read the Dustlands books.  Nope, hadn't even heard of them.  She said that they were even better than the Divergent series.  If the next books are anything like this one, I will have to agree.
Blood Red Road again is set in a future dystopian society.  It centers on 18 year old Saba, whose father has been killed and brother kidnapped.  Saba sets out with her 9 year old sister Emmi in search of finding their brother Lugh and bringing him back.  What happens from there is so fantastic and unpredictable it's amazing.  Some of this book reminded me back to an old western, other parts were reminiscent of Ancient Rome. 
The entire book is written from Saba's point of view and dialogue.  It took me a little bit to get into her speech patterns, but once I was into the flow of it, it just worked.  A part of this book that I find fascinating is their allusions to 'the Wreckers', the people who came before them (us) and what was left behind.  I'm looking forward to picking up Rebel Heart (#2) when it comes out in October.  Very well done.  Dystopian, but not a copy of The Hunger Games, good in its own way!

Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I have my husband to thank that I picked this one up (Divergent).  I had a gift card to spend on a few books for vacation.  He saw this one by a Hunger Games display and suggested I get it.  So I did.  I'm glad I did.  If you had told me a couple of years ago that I would be reading YA books about dystopian society and enjoying it, I would have laughed at you.  It is so not like what I would normally read, but I'm really loving these kinds of books. 
This trilogy centers on Beatrice Prior, a 16 year old girl, sometime in the future in what we know as Chicago.  The society she lives in is divided into 5 factions, each separate from each other by the trait/value they hold high.  She has grown up in Abnegation (selfless).  Every year the 16 year olds must choose which faction they will become part of for the rest of their lives, even if it means separating from their families (faction before family).  The other factions are: Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent).
Beatrice's choice surprises even her, but it fits her too.  The initiation she must undertake is daunting.  The fear that everyone holds is not being accepted, becoming part of the factionless.  
Even before I finished Divergent I went out to buy Insurgent, the second in the trilogy.  I just had to see where this was going next.  There is much more going on in these factions than appears on the surface, including individual members.  It makes you wonder how much of ourselves we reveal to others and how true we are to ourselves.  Can a single virtue define a society?
My biggest problem with these books is that the third one is not out yet - Never start a trilogy where you have to wait over a year for the last book to come out! 

Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner

Jennifer Weiner is one of my favorite Chick Lit authors.  I find she's too real to be stuffed in with all the fluffy, breezy books that usually determines that category.  Then Came You doesn't disappoint.  It tells a tale of surrogacy.  Something I'd never read about in a novel before, a very intriguing, timely topic.  This book is told from 4 points of view: the college student considering egg donation as a way to make a large sum of money to help out her addict father, the housewife looking to become a surrogate as a way to help out her financially struggling family and the grown step-daughter, the trophy wife struggling with fertility issues, mistrustful of her father's new wife and need for a baby.  I loved reading this book and am now thinking it's time to go back and revisit some of Jennifer Weiner's earlier tales. 

The Devil's Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis

This is the first novel I've read based on the life of Catherine de Medici.  I'm a little embarrassed to say that I knew very little about her.  I've read a lot more English history than Italian and my French history centers more around the French Revolution than the age of Reformation.  The only thing I really knew about Catherine de Medici prior was that her family had a part in raising Mary, Queen of Scots. 
I found this book fascinating.  It is very bloody (but that part of history was) and there is a lot of belief in the dark arts (which she did partake in).  Beyond that, I don't know how much was fact and how much was fiction.  As with many historical novels this one prompted me to do my own little bit of research on the character and those around her.  One of the main characters of this book is someone whom very little is known about, Cosimo Ruggieri.  As well, one of Catherine's sons is missing from the book.
I was expecting a real hard hearted, difficult woman.  What I found was a sympathetic character, a pawn in her family's need for power.  I would be interested in reading more of this woman and this era and see how other authors have put their own spin on it.  Any suggestions?

Monday, July 30, 2012

50 Shades of Grey trilogy by E.L. James

Yes, I read them.  Shocking I know.  Actually it was pretty funny seeing a face to face reaction of this news from one of my admins at work.  She thought I would be too straight laced to even contemplate reading these books.  And it's true, erotic fiction is not my usual forte.  I left behind regular old romance novels over 10 years ago as well.  But the buzz on these books was such that I was curious.  How did this "mommy porn" catch on anyways and is it really worth reading? 
I've chosen to post on the trilogy as a whole, rather than 3 separate posts about each book.  This post also contains many spoilers, so don't continue reading unless you really want to know.
The premise of the series is this:  Anastasia Steele, an about to graduate college student meets Christian Grey, an extremely good looking, young, successful businessman.  He notices her and becomes interested, but not in having her be a regular old girlfriend, no, he's into the kinky stuff and wants her to be his new sub.  And the story goes on from there.
Now for my opinion.  I think these books were poorly written, poorly edited and repetitive.  Yada, yada, yada, she bites her lip, he's turned on and then the descriptive sex stuff goes on for a few more pages, (which I really find boring to read in books) and then it happens all over again in the next chapter.  The only thing I found interesting, that kept me going through the trilogy was trying to find out exactly why Christian is the way he is.  What was the big secret in his past anyway?
Christian himself is one of those characters that really only exists in fiction - incredibly handsome, incredibly wealthy and successful he can play piano like a pro, fly planes and sail a boat, he does big sports for fun and owns several properties and of course he has accomplished this at an impossibly young age. 
The danger in this series and its popularity is that despite all of Anastasia's reservations about Christian's 'requests' in the bedroom, she agrees to most of them.  It's the whole, "Don't do that, but I like it" crap and of course ends up "changing" him.  Christian has all the traits of a controlling, abusive man.  And there's the danger.  How many young women will fall in love with this character and then end up in such an abusive relationship, thinking that they can change the man.  Guess what? In real life that doesn't happen. You can't change anyone! They have to want to change themself and it it is a lot of work and proper counselling that will help to make that happen.  It's the Twilight syndrome only 10 times worse.  And yes, I'm quite aware that these books started as fan fiction with the main characters being Bella and Edward rather than Anastasia and Christian. 
I think the reason these books have become so popular is because it is now socially acceptable reading and women are curious.  Sales from companies specializing in erotica have gone up in proportion to the popularity of these books.  I'm all for women taking control and being in touch with their sexuality, I'm just concerned for those women who mistakenly believe that they can change an abuser, much like Anastasia.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Above the Stairs by Margaret Powell

This is Powell's follow up to her highly successful Below Stairs.  This volume recounts what the social scene was like amongst domestic servants in the 1920's.  With their crazy schedule and the unappealing label of "skivvie" how in the world did they meet men and go courting enough to find one that they could and would marry.
Once again, Powell's touch of humour and grace gently guides you through this lost era.  She also recounts some of her experiences post service as a married woman in England.  An absolutely delightful read.

Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

I picked up this book at Costco a couple of weeks ago.  It looked interesting to me.  The memoirs of a 1920's kitchen maid.  At first I didn't know if it was someone's real memoirs, or, just a book that was written from such a point of view.  After I brought it home, I found out this was a reprint of a book that first came out in the 1960's.  Indeed Margaret Powell went into service as a teenager in the 1920's in England.  This turned into a very fascinating read about what life was like back then and the class differences of the time.  Really, this book is more than that.  Powell accounts for her childhood in Hove as one of 8 or 9 children with a father who floated from job to job.  She left school at 14, not because she couldn't have achieved higher levels, but because her family simply couldn't afford the fees.  Powell started in laundry service before moving into domestic service as a kitchen maid, the lowest ranked in the household. 
She writes with humour and grace as she recounts her experiences, capturing the time beautifully.  You can picture how life was back then.  This book was one that was used as inspiration for Upstairs, Downstairs.  I now have a longing to watch those shows again, having a vague memory of them in my childhood.  I highly recommend this book.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Unexpected Son by Shobhan Bantwal

Once again, Shobhan Bantwal has captured my attention in her book, "the Unexpected Son".  She write of modern Indo-Americans and the issues relating.  This book tells the story of Vinita, married for close to 25 years to Girish Patal.  She immigrated to the US from India shortly after their marriage.  A mysterious letter from Mubai arrives letting her know that the son she secretly gave birth to 30 years before lives and is dying from leukemia.  Vinita had been told that that son had been born stillborn. 
The story flashes back 30 years to India, where Vinita had been a very serious college student, seduced by Som Kori, a local playboy.
As always Bantwal brings to light the complex issues surrounding (in this case) unwed mothers and family pride in India.  A fantastic read.  I just love her writing.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Full Moon Bride by Shobhan Bantwal

Full Moon Bride explores the idea of arranged marriage in Indo-American culture.  Soorya is a fully modern first generation American woman.  She is a succesful lawyer and has embraced her home country.  She is also fully respectful and fully involved in her Indian ancestery.  She lives at home with her parents and is fully respectful of them and her grandmother who lives with them.  What Soorya is looking for now is marriage.  She has never dated.  She would love to have a family.  She sees her best friend embarking onto her own life in marriage, a love match typical of Americans.  She also knows that her own parents have a successful marriage and that theirs was arranged in India.  So what for Sorrya?  Does she continue on with 'bride viewings' and potential Indian suitors of similar backgrounds, or, does she venture out of arranged marriages completely and give the American dating scene a go?  A very enjoyable read.

When Joy Came to Stay by Karen Kingsbury

When Joy Came to Stay is the story of Maggie, a woman battling depression.  She seems to have the perfect life but as is often true, the masks we wear cover up a history of hurt.  Maggie ends up checking herself into a mental institution.  Her husband comes home to find her note.  What is uncovered is a history that will challenge them both to the bottom of despair and back again.  It's a really great tale of how we can find the root of our hurts and how to begin to heal from them.  It is also a great tale of loving people and how to love people.  I really enjoyed this book.

On Every Side by Karen Kingsbury

On Every Side is a story about public rights and freedom of religion.  Jordan is a very angry, young, successful lawyer.  The company that he works for deliberately sets out to squash any sort of public expression of Christianity.  He decides that the next target should be a Jesus statue that is in a public part in a small town.  You know from the get go that there is an underlying reason that he is targeting this particular town and that reason is connected to his own personal biases against Christianity.  It's a matter of reading through the story to find out just what those are and how it all plays out.  As often happens in a Kingsbury book some of the play by play just seems a little too good to be something that would actually ever happen.  But then there is a suspension of disbelief in novels as well as an allusion to "with God all things are possible".  Still, an enjoyable read and an interesting basis for a story, especially considering in the years since she wrote this book how much today's society has hidden away any sort of public testimony.

Where Yesterday Lives by Karen Kingsbury

Ellen is a busy, career focused married woman who is called home for the funeral of her father.  She absolutely idolized him.  Her siblings however, have a very different picture of who he was and how they grew up.  Ellen's longing to return and relish in her cherished memories unearth other memories, memories of her first love.  She finds herself overwhelmed with emotion and unsure of where to turn.  This book was a very touching, very real read. 

Just Beyond the Clouds by Karen Kingsbury

A Thousand Tomorrows was one of my favorite Kingsbury books.  I was quite excited to find out there was a sequel.  Just Beyond the Clouds focuses on Cody's return home and his relationship with his brother Carl Joseph, who has Down Syndrome.  Carl Joseph has been attending a a program that teaches him the skills he needs to lead a more independent lifestyle.  This comes as quite a shock to Cody who has a very old school mentality on just what it is that Carl Joseph can and can't do.  This was the most interesting part of the story for me. 
I do suggest you read these books in order.  Though you could read this one and understand who the characters are, I do believe that that the books are better read together and that A Thousand Tomorrows is the better of the two books.

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich

This was one of my favorite Plum books in a while.  It is full of things blowing up, Stephanie getting into scrapes and all characters working at their full potential.  Eighteen books in you do wonder what if anything will ever change.  Will she ever pick between Morelli and Ranger?  Will either of them ever just move on because she won't?  I think I've just accepted this series the same way I accepted Scooby Doo when I was 8.  It's basically the same story over and over again, well done and highly entertaining, not to be taken seriously.

Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close

I really don't know what to make of Girls in White Dresses.  The cover says one thing, the story inside is completely different.  When I picked it up I thought I was going to read a book about 3 single girl friends who are going about their own independent life while other friends of theirs get married and all the parallels that change friendships.  Instead, what I got was a number of over lapping stories with so many characters that I had a difficulty keeping them all straight (I did a lot of flipping back and forth on this one which is highly unusual for me).  The story also jumped a number of months at a time.  It was a highly readable book in some ways, but in other it was confusing and slightly depressing, with no real conclusion in the end.  Not my favorite book of the year.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Curious Incident of the Dog at Nightime by Mark Haddon

I admit it, I didn't read this book until now.  Yes, I know it has been out for 8 years.  Yes, I know it's been on all sorts of bestseller lists and book club lists and must read lists, but it didn't pique my interest until about a week ago.  That's when I was at a PD session with a bunch of other teachers and on our break we started discussing books worth reading and got on the topic of books written well that centre on exceptional learners.  I mentioned Jerk, California by Jonathan Friesen and someone brought up this book.  So, I got it and was totally hooked.  I can't believe I took so long to pick it up.  This is an extraordinary book.  For other like me who haven't touched this one yet, the story is told from the viewpoint of Christopher, a teenager with autism who comes across a neighbour's dog, killed with a garden fork.  Christopher decides to solve the mystery of what happened to Wellington.  Haddon does such an amazing job of getting into the mindset of how someone with autism thinks and acts, it's quite incredible.  Fantastic read!

Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich

If you haven't tired of Stephanie's bumbling mystery exploits, her knack for blowing up cars and her indecision between Morelli and Ranger then by all means sink into this one for an evening or two of guilty pleasure reading.  I hadn't read a Stephanie Plum book in quite a while so I really enjoyed it, though I must admit that I often wonder how both Morelli and Ranger put up with her and could she just pick one and stick with one already?  Of course not, coming up, Explosive Eighteen.

Even Now and Ever After by Karen Kingsbury

I picked up these 2 books in a special bound set from the library.  Even Now is the first and Ever After is the second.  Even Now tells the story of Emily Anderson, a teenager raised by her grandparents, searching for the parents she never knew.  Her mother disappeared shortly after her birth and her father lost contact with the family. The mystery surrounding Emily's birth and her parent's disappearance, as well as her search for them is told beautifully.
The second book picks up where the first left off.  I really don't want to say much more than that as I believe it may spoil the enjoyment of reading these books for yourselves.  They are both well done and are worth reading.

A Thousand Tomorrows by Karen Kingsbury

A Thousand Tomorrows may just have validated why I pick up a Karen Kingsbury novel.  This is the best of hers that I've read.  This is the story of Cody Gunner a bull rider in the rodeo circuit and Ali Daniels a barrel racer.  Each carries their own secret hurts and demons.  It's a really fantastic story.  One I've never read the likes of before.  The background topic was interesting (I've never read a story set on the rodeo circuit before) and I understand that Kingsbury spent quite a bit of time visiting with and talking to rodeo circuit riders as part of her research.  It was well worth it.  I look forward to reading the sequel to this one, Just Beyond the Clouds.

Ten Thousand Charms by Alison Pittman

Ten Thousand Charms is the first book in the Crossroads of Grace series by Alison Pittman.  The story held promise for me as one of the descriptions compared it to a cross between Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love and a Jeanette Oak saga.  It pairs an ex-prostitute and an ex-boxer together.  Each has the challenge of raising a new-born in pioneer Oregon and decide to join up to help each other out.  Unfortunately, this book is so predictable, I just didn't enjoy it like I thought I would.  I would much rather have re-read Redeeming Love (again) as that is a story with much more depth and grace.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

This is the third and final book of the Hunger Games trilogy.  Rebellion against the power of the Capitol.  As I was reading, I thought back to where this all began and you just can't believe where these books have taken you.  They are a powerful statement of the sinful nature of humanity, while still drawing out what is good.  I highly recommend this series to adults and young adults alike.  Fantastic!

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

This is the second of the Hunger Games Trilogy.  It opens with a withdrawn Katniss Everdeen.  She has been affected by the Hunger Games and is feeling lost at home.  Her relationship with Peeta is strained.  Her relationship with her best friend Gale has changed.  As she approaches and begins her time of touring for the Capitol, she finds herself in deeper than she ever expected.  She knows that she has defied the Capitol, the only question is what retaliation will they take upon her.
This book is simply fantastic.  I could not put it down.  Just when you think you know what's happening, the book takes a turn you weren't expecting.  It's highly readable, highly entertaining.  I jumped right into it from the first book and from this one into the third.  Fantastic reading.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I read very few Young Adult books anymore.  If I do pick one up, it is likely because it has gained such popularity in youth culture that I was to familiarize myself with what my students are reading.  The last YA series I read was Twilight, which I found well written but disappointing after all of the hype.  The description of the Hunger Games didn't appeal to me at all.  Set in the future in what used to be known as North America the main character Katniss volunteers to take part in the Hunger Games as a stand in for her younger sister.  The idea behind the Hunger Games is that 2 young people (a boy and a girl) from each of the 12 districts are pitted against each other in a fight to the death.  The winner gets to live and brings riches home.  This does not sound like my kind of book.  In fact after the disappointment of Twilight, I was reluctant to even consider reading this book.  It was only because an old college friend of mine raved about these books.  She couldn't put them down.  Generally, we agree on choices of fiction.  And I wouldn't have thought her to enjoy these books by their description.  So I put a request in at the library and got the call this past week.
Well, I couldn't have been more wrong about a book.  This book is fantastic!  Very engaging.  So much so, that I wish I hadn't just requested the first book from the library, but instead picked up the series for my own library.  I'm hoping to get the next two books when I'm out running errands tomorrow.  There have been only two other series of books that I wanted to read consecutively with urgency like this, the first being the Mark of the Lion Series by Francine Rivers and the second being the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson.  Absolutely well written, riveting fiction.  I'm very glad that my students are reading these books too!
Thank you S.K.!

March by Geraldine Brooks

March was recommended to me by my old college roommate, Ang.  Ang is someone I trust in book recommendations (though we don't always agree completely, we do enjoy letting each other know about good books we have found and think the other would like - love Good Reads for that!).
If Ang hadn't recommended I pick this one up, I may never have heard about it.  Once I did, I have to admit that I was skeptical.  March is the untold story of the absent father from Little Women, gone to war in 1861.  I'll begin by saying I don't like classics being touched.  It's the same reason I haven't read Scarlett, although Gone With the Wind is one of my all time favorites.  If a story is meant to be told, the author will tell it themselves.  However much we love these characters they are the babies of the author who kindly shares them with us.
That being said, March is the exception to the rule.
March is an amazing book and Brooks is an incredibly gifted writer.  This is not someone who just happened to enjoy Little Women and decided to write about it on a whim.  This is someone who loved Little Women and researched Alcott's life.  Most know that Alcott based the March family on her own family.  Jo representing Alcott herself.  Brooks took it upon herself to research Alcott's father, Amos Bronson Alcott.  He was a teacher and abolitionist.  The story bases itself on his life beliefs, though Brooks' character of March is his own man.
March leaves his Concord home at the beginning of the US Civil war.  He is a Chaplain for the Army with great sympathies for the slaves of the south.  
This book is very, very good - no other words for it.  It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006.  It is a very adult story with frank depictions of war and slavery, so I would not recommend it for a child or teen reading Little Women, but as an adult, it's marvelous.
Thank you Ang, for this one! 

Learning by Karen Kingsbury

This is the second of the Bailey Flanigan series by Kingsbury.  It picks up right where Leaving left off.  Bailey is set to go onstage on Broadway.  Cody is working through his first teaching/coaching job at a small town high school.  Like Leaving, this book bounces back and forth between the two stories.  As both characters begin to develop friendships and intense feelings for other people, you have to wonder where Kingsbury is going with all of this.  I have to admit that there were parts of this book that had me cringe and hope that Kingsbury was going to set right.  Kingsbury's books are Christian fiction and sometimes I find a piece that just doesn't sit right with me (even though I am a Christian myself).  I don't know if it's the idea of Christian characters playing into Christian stereotypes that I don't like or what, I can't seem to put my finger on it.  There was one part* in this book that redeemed a lot of that for me and gave me hope that Kingsbury can be a good ambassador for Christ through her books. 
Like Kingsbury's other fiction, I find these books to be fairly quick, enjoyable reads and look forward to the next 2 books in the series.
(*Bailey's attempt to lead a Bible study with her co-workers)

Leaving by Karen Kingsbury

Leaving is book 1 of the Bailey Flanigan series by Karen Kingsbury.  Those familiar with Kingsbury's work will know Bailey from the various Baxter series.  I believe that this is the 5th series of books that are set in Bloomington, Indiana.  Bailey Flanigan is now a young adult, a college student intent on pursuing her dream of acting on Broadway.  Intertwined with Bailey's story is that of Cody Coleman, a young man who spent part of his teenage years living with the Flanigans.  He and Bailey have a romantic past, but Cody has done his best to distance himself from her in order not to hurt her.  He is an Iraq war vet, a college student finishing his teaching degree, wishing to coach high school football and mentor those the way he was mentored by Bailey's father.
I think if you are to really read and enjoy Kingsbury's books I would go right back to the first series set in Bloomington and work my way through them from there.  Because the characters are so closely related, I think it's much more enjoyable to start at the beginning and read all of their stories, not just pick up and try to fill in gaps as you go along.   I'm sure this series would be fine to read on it's own as well, but I prefer it the other way around.

FYI - Kingsbury's Books set in Bloomington in order:

Redemption Series (Baxter series #1)

Firstborn Series (Baxter series #2)

Sunrise Series (Baxter series #3)

Above the Line Series
Take One
Take Two
Take Three
Take Four

Bailey Flanigan Series
Loving (March 2012)

Anchored in Love, A Tribute to June Carter Cash by John Carter Cash

June Carter Cash seems like such a fascinating woman to me.  She grew up in poverty until her family found success recording and performing in the late 1930's/early 1940's at the age of 10.  She performed throughout the rest of her life.  She was known as a comedienne and performer.  She was a singer and a songwriter.  She discovered and encouraged new talents in the music scene.  She performed with some of the greats of the 20th century.  She was married 3 times in her life, twice divorced in an age when divorce was a very shameful thing.  She was a mother.  For all of her grand accomplishments in her own right, she is most famously remembered as the love of Johnny Cash's life.
I was looking for a book that would help me to know her story.  This is the one I was drawn to.  It is written by her son, John Carter Cash.  It reads like a family memoir, drawing upon his own memories and those of others who knew her best.  Some is in her own words.  A very fascinating, intimate look at a great woman.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay

I jumped right into this one after finishing Sarah's Key by the same author.  My expectations were up as I really enjoyed the last book.  I feel pretty let down by this one.  It was okay.  I kept waiting for it to go somewhere that it just never really got to.  There were some plot points that seemed pretty irrelevant to the story at hand that would have made great stories in themselves, but it was pretty all over the place and kinda depressing really. 
This is the story of Antoine Rey, a Parisian divorcee who decides to take his sister away to their childhood vacation spot for her 40th birthday.  It starts off well enough, but the big family secret that they discover doesn't seem so big and matter so much in 2012 (though it would have in 1974 when the story flashes back to).  It wavers from there.  I wouldn't recommend reading this one.  Okay for a rainy afternoon if you have nothing better to do.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Early November?  Really, it's been that long since I posted on here?  Come to think of it, I've been re-reading a lot of older books, so yeah, I guess it has been that long.  So my first book of 2012 is Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.  I have to say, I feel completely out of the book world to have missed this one.  You know when the book already has a movie out, that's on DVD, you've missed the boat.  But nonetheless, here's my take.
I picked up this book yesterday with some Christmas money purely because it looked interesting.  I hadn't heard about it before, kind of.  Something about it looked familiar and I found out why later on in the day.  I was chatting with my mom briefly and asked if she'd read it.  She reminded me that I bought it for her for Christmas.  It was one of the books on her Amazon wish list.  Right, I felt a little sheepish there.  I remembered getting her the book set in Russia (Peter the Great by Robert K. Massie) but forgot the other book I had picked off the list.  She had had Sarah's Key recommended to her by a new friend in Toronto.
About the book.  For those who, like myself and my mother are just discovering it for the first time.  This is the story of Sarah, a little French girl taken in the 1942 Paris roundups of Jewish families, who were later sent to die at Auschwitz.  Just as Sarah is about to be taken with her parents, she hides her little brother in a cupboard, locking it and promising to return for him.  As she faces atrocity after atrocity it is her determination to free her little brother that keeps her going.
Intertwined with Sarah's story is the story of Julia, an American turned Parisian reporter uncovering the story of the Paris roundups for the 60th Anniversary Commemoration. 
I know it is going to sound trite, but this book really is a page turner.  It's a haunting tale that keeps you wondering what is going to happen next?  What happened to Sarah?  Will she make it?  If you have a good chunk of time it is the kind of book that you can read in a day (or over an evening and a morning like I did).  I just flew threw it.  Sarah's story is one that will stay with me.  Tatiana de Rosnay's writing is so lifelike, that you feel you are part of Sarah's life, and Julia's as well.  At the end, I had to remind myself that they were just fictional characters.  Though, Sarah's story is one that needed telling.  It's a sad, sad reminder of a part of history that has mostly been ignored, swept away because it is from a shameful era.  Thank goodness that de Rosnay has opened up the light onto those who suffered and died in France during the Second World War.  May they no longer be forgotten.
I highly recommend this book to you.  There is a book club guide at the end and it is a novel definitely worth reading and discussing.  I'll be looking for the movie this week, I hope it holds up in comparison.