Monday, March 30, 2020

The Book of Colours - Robyn Cadwallader

Summary: London, 1321: In a small stationers's shop in Paternoster Row, three people are drawn together around the creation of a magnificent book, an illuminated manuscript of prayers, a Book of Hours. Even though the commission seems to answer the aspirations of each one of them, their own desires and ambitions threaten its completion. As each struggles to see the book come into being, it will change everything they have understood about their place in the world.

Set in London just before the Peasants' Revolt - that remarkable, revolutionary uprising of the lower classes - this is a story about power the place of women in the roiling and turbulent world of the early fourteenth century; what power they have, how they wield it, and just how temporary and conditional it is.

Rich, deep, sensuous and full of life, Book of Colours is also, most movingly, a profoundly beautiful story about creativity and connection, and our instinctive need to understand our world and communicate with others through the pages of a book. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I like to go to museums. I actually went to a really cool one recently that had the traveling Pompeii exhibit. There was a surprising amount of stuff for a place that had been covered in several feet of ash! One of the things that I was impressed with is seeing their books—books that had been hand written and had beautiful drawings and paintings in them. This is not, of course, the first time I have seen this kind of book, but these ones stood out to me because of how old they were and also how well-preserved they were considering they’d survived a volcano and all. They were cool. Very cool. However, when you’re at a Pompeii exhibit you appreciate all the things that are there but you can’t help wonder when you’ll see those bodies that are so famously preserved for all to see. Or am I just the morbid one here? Anyway, after reading the Book of Colours, I wish I would have spent a few more minutes in front of those books.

Now. I know that Pompeii took place at a completely different time than The Book of Colours takes place, but when I started reading this book these were the first books that came to my mind (and is also probably the most recent museum I’ve been to). The Book of Colours takes place in 1322, and that is, my friends, a very long time ago. Yes, it is Medieval Times, and I think that sometimes we forget how long ago that was or how different life was back then. I mean, the story about the Pied Piper takes place right around here. That seems like a very far away fairytale, right? Whether or not it is, this is when it is said to have taken place. I’ve mentioned this before, but sometimes putting historical reading in context with other historical events is mind-blowing. I love finding out interesting stuff like that.

So this happened a long time ago. In some ways, life was so unfamiliar then that it was almost unrelatable. Everything was so different, even from what I’m used to reading about when I read historical fiction. However, Cadwallader did an excellent job of creating a time and place. Even the language was such that I felt like I was brought into this world and it was fascinating. When things are so unfamiliar, it takes a certain kind of writer to be able to bring us there. Little things matter and little things really make all the difference. Yes, the overarching life and the broad strokes of living back then are crucial, but filling in the gaps is really important in order to create an authentic feeling place and time and take us along with them. Cadwallader totally did this, and every time I picked up the book I could feel myself transported to that most unfamiliar time and place in a way that made me feel like I understood how different it was, and yet be able to find connections and understanding in a way that I had not felt before when I’ve read books set in a medieval era.

This book had a lot going for it, and one of the things I really enjoyed was the story of Gemma, a female limner who lived at a time when being a female limner was not a possibility. The social structures, whether between male and female or rich and poor were super interesting, and I think made for compelling reading. These people were facing real difficulties, and I think that without reading something like this book it is difficult to understand what life was like. This is a time hop book in a sense that there are two stories going on in an almost parallel fashion, but they are just a couple months apart. This makes sense in the end, and I appreciated the chapter headings being a clear delineation and place marker for what was going on.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the coolest thing about this book—learning about a Book of Hours, how it is made, how it is painted, why it is made, etc. It was fascinating! I loved the descriptions at the beginning of each chapter that discussed different facets of being a limner (whether it be mixing paint, applying paint, considering story, etc.), and you bettah believe that I was doing all kinds of research adjacent to reading this book. It was fascinating! It really brought me new respect for this beautiful art form, and I even looked up a man mentioned by the author who does modern art in the Medieval Style and definitely browsed his online offerings (so cool). Another thing this book did that surprised me is not only did it offer me a great insight into a Book of Hours and the painting that went into it, but it made me reflect on my own understanding of religion and scripture. How would things be different if I had my own personal painting (with myself, people important to me, and maybe my house and land) integrated into scriptural stories? Would I understand things better? Would my worship be more personal? I dunno but this was awesome. I looked at lots of beautiful pictures online of old Books of Hours and it was just so cool. I really enjoyed learning about it. It was so well-researched so well-presented that I enjoyed it a lot.

If you enjoy historical fiction, especially historical fiction that takes place in medieval times, or if you like learning about art forms, especially ones that may not be readily familiar or common today, I highly recommend this book. I think you would enjoy it!

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some discussion of sex and some occasional language, but it is all rather tame. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Freeform Friday: My 2020 Book Fair Finds

This post was written back in late February 2020, several weeks before COVID-19 blew up our lives.
Had I known then what I know now, I would have thrown caution (and my budget) to the wind and bought ALL of these books, just to freshen up my kids bookshelves before the quarantine hit.

I love the week I get to volunteer at my kid's school Book Fair.  It seems most parents would rather eat glass than sign-up, but it takes me back to my old job at a bookstore -- the place where I first realized that I loved finding and recommending books to people.  I get to do the same for little kids and see their eyes light up.  And, yes, I have to explain sales tax about 9 million times but other than that it's just so much fun!  On that note, here are some amazing books that I found 
nestled among all the Jojo Siwa and Paw Patrol.  

The Books I Took Home (5 STARS)

WE DON'T EAT OUR CLASSMATES by Ryan T. Higgins 

It's Penelope's first day of school, and she can't wait to meet her classmates.  But making friends is hard when they're so delicious!  (Taken from book sleeve)

Why I brought it home:  The first time I read this book I cracked up.  And the second time.  And the third.  I retold it to my family over dinner (prior to its purchase) and they cracked up.  The illustrations are just so stinkin' cute with a hilarious story that teaches empathy in a unique and utterly memorable way.  First, Penelope T. Rex is scared to go to school, so her mother buys her a new backpack with ponies on it (because ponies are delicious!) and her father packs her a lunch (300 tuna sandwiches and a juice box).  And, yes, Penelope eats hers her classmates a couple of times...but she always spits them back out again!  All the kids are understandably wary until Penelope gets chomped by the class goldfish, Walter, and discovers it isn't that fun being eaten.  I had so much fun reading this to my kids and if I had to pick a favorite from the entire fair...this would be it.



LITTLE LEGENDS: EXCEPTIONAL MEN IN BLACK HISTORY by Vashti Harrison

Meet the little legends.  They're brave.  They're exceptional.  They changed the world.  An n important book for readers of all ages, this engagingly written and beautifully illustrated volume brings to life true stories of black men in history.  Among these biographies, readers will find aviators and artists, politicians and pop stars, athletes and activist.  The exceptional men featured include choreographer Alvin Ailey, writer James Baldwin, artist Aaron Douglas, civil rights leader John Lewis, filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, inventor Garrett Morgan, musician Prince, and lawman Bass Reeves.  The legends in this book span centuries and continents, but each one blazed a trail for generations to come.  (Taken from the back of the book)

Why I Brought It Home:  My knowledge of black history is woefully inadequate, but recently I've been making an effort to rectify the situation.  This book is another step in that direction, one that I'm hoping my children will make with me.  Each page is dedicated to one historical figure with an adorable (and surprisingly accurate) likeness of the individual on the opposite page.  The illustrations are aesthetically pleasing with engaging  and informative text that is just the right length for most readers.  In looking through the table of contents, there were only a few names that I recognized (further proof that I needed the book) but there is also a final section that gives brief histories on the more well-known black historical figures (Martin Luther King, Jackie Robinson, etc.).  It even has a section for further reading recommendations and a final page to create your own "Little Legend".  Overall, I'm quite pleased with this book and excited to share the stories with my kiddos.  The author has also written several other books I plan to acquire: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History and Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World.  Both look wonderful!

REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

When best friends are not forever... Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little.  But one day Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group.  Everyone wants to be Jen's #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top...even if it means bullying others.  Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon.  Will she and Adrienne stay friends.  Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group -- or out?  (Taken from back of book)



NAT ENOUGH by Maria Scrivan

Natalie has never felt that she's enough -- athletic enough, stylish enough, or talented enough.  And on the first day of middle school, Natalie discovers that things are worse than she thought -- now she's not even cool enough for her best friend, Lily!  As Natalie tries to get her best friend back, she learns more about her true self and natural talents.  If Natalie can focus on who she is rather than who she isn't , then she might realize she is more than enough, just the way she is.  




Why I Brought Them Home:  Kids can be mean. So mean. I purchased both of these graphic novels because my girls seem to have the same struggles as the the main characters (self-esteem issues, struggles with friends and frenemies, etc.).  I hadn't read these through in their entirety when I purchased them, but I gave them both a thorough flip-through and felt they might be an informal (slightly sneaky) way to help them recognize their own worth and avoid the pitfalls of certain adolescent friendships.  My daughter, who struggles with self-confidence in reading, finished them rather quickly and we were able to talk about her take-aways on real friendship, boundaries, and confidence.  I'm pleased with what she learned and hope the lessons stick!

Honestly, I would have brought the rest of this list home in a heartbeat 
if I had enough money.  But this is the point where mine ran out...

The Ones I Desperately Wanted to Buy 
(aka. The Runners-Up)


DRAWN TOGETHER by Minh Lê & Dan Santat (Illustrator)

Sometimes you don't need words to find common ground.

When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens -- with a shared love of art and storytelling the two form a bond that goes beyond words.  

My Thoughts:  Drawn Together doesn't have many words, but like the two main characters, it doesn't really need them.  This book is simply gorgeous, with seemingly disparate characters finding common ground through art.  Both the grandfather and grandson have an artistic style that interacts with the other on the page in a beautiful explosion of style and color.  It's a feast for the eyes. 
THE WALL IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BOOK by Jon Agee

The wall in the middle of this book is supposed to protect one side of the book from the other side.

Supposed to.

My Thoughts:  Things are not always as they seem.  This is one of those books that can be read for fun or plumbed for deeper meaning.  It starts with a knight safely ensconced on one side of the wall that protects him from the wild animals and giant ogre on the other side.  The knight, boasting of his own safety, climbs a ladder leaning against the wall, while, unbeknownst to him, murky waters begin to rise underfoot.  When all seems lost, the knight is saved by the giant ogre, who plucks him out of danger and brings him to the other side of the book.  It is only then the knight learns he might have been mistaken in his original assessment of the wall and the creatures on the other side.  I'll let you draw your own moral there, but I appreciated the lesson.

LLAMA LLAMA MESS, MESS, MESS by Anna Dewdney

Llama Llama is growing up, but he still loves to play with all his toys!  When Mama Llama says it's time to clean up, Llama responds like any child more interested in playing than cleaning...by ignoring her!  But Mama has an imaginative response of her own.  What if she never cleaned?  What would happen then?  Well, Llama Llama is going to find out!  Here is a truly funny take on a childhood chore that all children will relate to and laugh at!  And it is sure to be helpful to get kids cleaning up!

My Thoughts:  Do I really even need to tell you why I was so tempted by this book? Of all the Llama Llama books, this one is my spirit animal.  My Patronus, if you will.  When little Llama doesn't want to clean, his mother decides to stop cleaning as well.  (Um...heck, yes!)  It was unbelievably satisfying to see.  Eventually the little Llama decides he doesn't like the mess and Mama Llama delivers her message and the moral of the story:  Grown up llamas clean, that's true, but little ones can pick up too!  They clean together...and then play together.  It's one of the better  Llama books.


SAY SOMETHING by Peter H. Reynolds

The world needs your voice.  If you have a brilliant idea...say something!  If you see an injustice...say something!

In this empowering new picture book, beloved author Peter H. Reynolds explores the many ways that a single voice can make a difference.  Each of us, each and every day, have the chance to say something: with our actions, our words, and our voices.  Perfect for kid activists everywhere, this timely story reminds readers of the undeniable importance and power of their voice.  There are so many ways to tell the world who you are...what you are thinking...and what you believe.  And how you'll make it better.  The time is now to: SAY SOMETHING!

My Thoughts:  I really loved the message of this book, which encourages the reader to use their voice, to express themselves through creativity, be a friend, share ideas, show off their style, say how they feel, and speak up for others.  We all have something to offer, so keep saying something until others listen!

NECK & NECK by Elise Parsley

Everybody loves Leopold the giraffe.  He inspires awe and wonder.  His adoring fans gaze and cheer.  Best of all, they feed him losts of deeeelicious snacks!  But, one day, a shiny bobble-headed new rival comes in and ruins everything...a giraffe-shaped balloon!  Just how far will Leopold go to prove that he's the hero of the zoo?

My ThoughtsNeck & Neck is a thoroughly adorable book about an attention-hungry giraffe who loses his cool when a helium-filled doppelganger steals his spotlight at the local zoo.
Leopold is determined to steal it back and sets out to destroy the balloon. His antics don't win him the praise he expects and it isn't until the end that puts a young boys happiness above his own that he becomes truly admired.   The illustrations are colorful, emotive, and oh-so-amusing and there are several pages where the giraffe's mischievous expressions are so well-drawn that I burst out laughing while reading.  Leo is a hoot.

I hope you found something to love among my book fair finds! I highly recommend that you pick up a few (or all) of these books for your young readers!  

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Big, Bad Bully - Jack Canfield & Miriam Laundry (Illus. Eva Morales)

Stand Up to the Biggest Baddest Bully of Them All

Summary: "Pigtails are for babies!" Those were the first words Bully ever said to her.  Her cruel taunts are something she hears on a daily basis, but NO MORE!  She is determined to put a stop to it once and for all.  Will she have the courage to stand up to the biggest, baddest bully of them all - or while she just keep quiet?

Words have power.  Have you ever wondered how you can deal with your own big, bad bully?  Now you'll find help.  Fun and easy exercises at the end of this book will give you skills that you can use today -- and far into the future.

P.S. Parents and teachers will find a special bonus section just for them.

(Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com - This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review)

My Review:  The Big, Bad Bully isn't your ordinary 'anti-bullying' book.  To discuss it properly, I'm going to have to do something I rarely do -- spoil the ending!  *GASP!*  I know it seems unbelievably out of character, but I promise it's necessary.

The Big Bad Bully is comprised of two main parts, both of which can be read in under a half hour.  The first half of the book is a well-illustrated, kid-friendly story about a girl struggling with and confronting a very persistent bully.  In the story portion, the bully is shown as a shadowy, mocking figure. I assumed it was another girl from class.  It wasn't until the very end that I learned her true identity; the big bad bully our protagonist faces is herself.

*WHAM*   <<< That's me getting punched in the chest, in case you were wondering.

Honestly, I don't know who needs this book more.  My kids? Or me?

The Big Bad Bully is about how we talk to ourselves and teaches that if we give them sway, the insecurities that plague us during adolescence (and, let's be honest, adulthood) can lead to increasingly negative and potentially damaging self-talk. I have had a particularly vicious inner dialogue for as long as I can remember, and it's certainly something I wish to spare my children. The Big Bad Bully served as a compelling reminder to not only silence my inner critic, but to help nurture and encourage positive self-talk in my adorable kidlets.

The Big Bad Bully doesn't diminish the message of more traditional anti-bullying books, but rather adds to the conversation and serves to highlight another problem that most people face, but rarely talk about.  From a critical standpoint, I do wish that the story portion had continued past the 'bully' reveal.  I wanted my kids to be able to see the character work through her problem, rather than just realize that she has one.  Thankfully, the rest of the book addressed my concerns.

The latter half of the book is a guide for parents, teachers, and older children that helps encourage positive self-talk.  It's not overly long, so most of it could be read to younger children, or simply be reviewed by a parent and taught informally.  It encourages an open dialogue with our children about self-talk and includes a daily mirror exercise, a helpful list of things you or a child can do to make give your inner cheerleader a boost, and some interesting activities for the family or classroom.  My favorite tip was a list of dinner time  questions to help focus the mind in a positive direction.  It seems totally doable.  And if I'm super sneaky, my kids won't even notice.

I really loved this book's message and am looking forward to putting it into practice in my own life and home.  My daughters have already read the book (and were intrigued by the ending) so I plan to read it again and have a family discussion about the dangers of negative self-talk, the importance of positive self-affirmation, and what we can do to effectively silence our big, bad bully.  Wish me luck!

My Rating:  4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  You're all good.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Beautiful - Renee Ahdieh

Summary: In 1872, New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead. But to seventeen-year-old Celine Rousseau, New Orleans provides her a refuge after she's forced to flee her life as a dressmaker in Paris. Taken in by the sisters of the Ursuline convent along with six other girls, Celine quickly becomes enamored with the vibrant city from the music to the food to the soirées and—especially—to the danger. She soon becomes embroiled in the city's glitzy underworld, known as La Cour des Lions, after catching the eye of the group's leader, the enigmatic Sébastien Saint Germain. When the body of one of the girls from the convent is found in the lair of La Cour des Lions, Celine battles her attraction to him and suspicions about Sébastien's guilt along with the shame of her own horrible secret.

When more bodies are discovered, each crime more gruesome than the last, Celine and New Orleans become gripped by the terror of a serial killer on the loose—one Celine is sure has set her in his sights . . . and who may even be the young man who has stolen her heart. As the murders continue to go unsolved, Celine takes matters into her own hands and soon uncovers something even more shocking: an age-old feud from the darkest creatures of the underworld reveals a truth about Celine she always suspected simmered just beneath the surface.

At once a sultry romance and a thrilling murder mystery, master storyteller Renée Ahdieh embarks on her most potent fantasy series yet: The Beautiful. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: Before I check out a book or start reading it, I do the normal people thing and read the inside cover. Sometimes I like this because it gives me a heads up. Sometimes I don’t like it because it gives up the deal pretty quickly and sometimes I like to just be immersed and figure it out on my own. As a person who doesn’t like to be confused, though, I don’t like if I have to rely on the inside cover to tell me what’s up.

The Beautiful has a cover that lets you know what it’s going to be like (thank you). I like the lush flowers spilling out of the ornate goblet, and the black is instantly captivating. Because it is a YA fic I can hopefully assume it’s not going to be too salacious, but definitely probably have some paranormal romance going on (or maybe historical fiction) and so that also gives me a clue. I didn’t actually read the inside cover of this book before I started reading it because I thought I knew what was up. I probably should have, because it took me awhile to figure out that New Orleans, the city that The Beautiful takes place in, is a city ruled by the dead in this book (and maybe in real life? I dunno). Maybe this should be addressed later on in this review, but it’s a good thing that this book has another part of the series coming out, because the fact that the mysterious people in the La Cour des Lions are dead is never actually discussed. I’m not sure they’re all actually dead, really. I just got that from the inside cover. See what I mean, though? It’s a good thing there’s another one coming out because it has to be explored.

The fact that I want to read another book from this series is obviously a good thing. There are many “first books” that I read that I can just walk away from and be fine. This isn’t a book that I have a burning desire to know more from, but I am looking forward to June 9 when it’s released. I feel like this book is hearkening back to the paranormal of yesteryear. First of all, the paranormal beings in this are different kinds of vampires. Vampires are always en vogue, but this is hearkening back to a few years ago when every teen girl didn’t just think it was for freaks to be enjoying vampires. They enjoyed them too. So that’s fun. I loved the atmosphere of this book—New Orleans is always so mysterious and magical. I like the dark feeling of it, and Ahdieh did a great job of evoking a certain feeling about New Orleans that was an integral part to the setting and happenings. She definitely used rich words and descriptions that evoked lots of emotions. Her descriptions of the dresses and materials were amazing! It was a really visual read, which was fun. If you enjoyed the Caraval series, I think you would really enjoy this for many of the same reasons.

The story itself was interesting, but I think that there could have been a lot more to it. Ahdieh obviously knew what she wanted to happen, but because of that, sometimes other parts of the story were overlooked or under addressed. I think there was a lot of potential for more depth to this story, but because it was of a decent length anyway, there were probably some elements that could have been easily cut out and still have the story make sense, and even give opportunity for other parts of the story to be more fleshed out.

Overall, I feel like this book had some great potential, and although it did have some great things going for it, it definitely had a few things lacking. However, the atmosphere and the fact that there are more books coming in the series make it worth the read. If you are into paranormal romance, especially vampires and the richness of dark magic and forbidden love, I think this is one you should check out.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some young love going on and although there is nothing super descriptive, there is some sensuality discussed. There is also violence. I would say it is pretty typical for vampire paranormal romance books of yesteryear.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Freeform Friday: A Reading of the Grimm Brothers' Story, "The Three Brothers"

I don't know how it's going for you all out there with your #socialdistancing, but things are getting a little cray cray around here and we're only a few days in (the fact that I even wrote "cray cray" is a big deal). I had originally planned another "Interview with a Librarian" for you with a librarian you haven't met yet about a really cool topic, but then The World Changed and so here we are. You're stuck with the musings of my family and our social distancing.

Because we now have A LOT more time on our hands with everybody home from school and my husband working from home and me having everything cancelled (just like everyone in the land) we've started reading longer stories to everybody at night. We've been reading some Grimm's Fairy Tales out of a simplified version. They're weird, yo, so it led me down a path to look into the ones that were originally published by James Grimm. They are now in the public domain, so my family decided to take it upon themselves to bring you along in our journey of the weirdness of The Brothers Grimm. Been listening to celebrities read cute stories? Been enjoying Olaf reading to you on Twitter every night? This is not that. This is my husband in his storytelling voice and my kids of various ages drawing some weird pictures to go with it. Bring your kids, huddle in, and enjoy this four minute OG of "The Three Brothers" by Grimms. This edition is the original from The Project Gutenberg eBook.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Troubled Waters - Sharon Shinn

Summary:  After the death of her father -- a former royal advisor who'd fallen out of favor -- Zoe Ardelay  has little time to grieve before she receives astonishing news:  She has been chosen to become the king's fifth wife!

Unable to resist the ambassador sent to fetch her, Zoe accompanies him to the royal city.  Once there, she slips away and hides among those who live along the shores of the mighty river.  For Zoe is coru: ruled by the elemental sign of water.

Gradually she discovers that she is, in fact, the coru prime.  Which means she must return to the palace, not as an unwilling bride for the king but as a woman with power in her own right.

But the palace abounds with intrigue and deception.  As Zoe unlocks more of the mysteries of her blood -- and the secrets of the royal family -- she must make a decisions:  How best to use her great power?  (Summary from book sleeve - Image from amazon.com)

My Review: I am not exactly sure when or where I picked up this book; it sort of just appeared on my shelf.  *Poof* Like magic but cooler!  I have enjoyed several of the author's previous novels, especially the Samaria series (Archangel, Jovah's Angel, The Alleluia Files, and others) and a stand-alone clean romance named Summers at Castle Auburn, and so I was oh-so-game to give this book a try.

Troubled Waters is the first book in the Elemental Blessings series.  In it a young, recently orphaned young woman named Zoe is selected to be the elderly king's fifth wife.  She travels accompanied by the king's man to the heart of the kingdom only to slip away in an unguarded moment and make her own way.  Zoe takes up residence in an encampment on the river flats, making friends and exploring the city, before finding a job at a local cobbler's shop.  It is during this time that Zoe uncovers certain skills inherited from her mother's bloodline -- elemental powers that will change the course of her life forever.  I'll stop there before I spoil anything else.  You're welcome.

One of my favorite aspects of of Shinn's writing is her ability to create a compelling belief system that feels organic, within an already fascinating world.  In Troubled Waters children are given three randomly chosen 'blessings' (metal tokens engraved with characteristics) shortly after birth that are thought to define their lives.  Each child also inherits elemental traits from their parents that shape their personalities and determine their destiny.  For example, in Troubled Waters, Zoe is blessed at birth with beautylove, and power and influenced by both her father's sweela (fire/mind) line and mother's coru (water/blood) line.  The concept of these randomly chosen blessings and inherited elemental bloodlines isn't just an afterthought, but an integral part of the story and woven into a setting that felt exceptionally authentic.  The whole belief system and world that Shinn created for her characters was rather charming and it ended up being my favorite part of the book.

Initially I was rather intrigued by Zoe's story -- a girl on her own, gifted with elemental powers and a greater destiny than she could ever imagine.  I was thoroughly prepared to devour a fast-paced adventure and ready for the "great twists" and "thrilling action sequences" promised by Kirkus Reviews....but instead I ended up on a leisurely stroll.  A very. leisurely. stroll.  It was nice.  Great world. Compelling characters.  But following Zoe around the city and getting to know different people was not as exciting as I had hoped. Eventually, some twists and action came, but it all happened so quickly (and then was over) that I was left thinking:  Hold up. Was that it?!  Then the story went straight back to a slow mosey.  If that weren't enough, I also didn't feel much chemistry between the two romantic leads, which was uber disappointing and kind of the last nail in the coffin.

Ultimately, though I loved the world that Shinn created, I wasn't as swept away by the story as I would have liked and have no plans to continue reading the series myself.  With that in mind, I'd only recommend this book to those who love a good world but don't mind a very very slow burn.

My Rating: 2.75 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  No swearing or sex that I can remember.  Minimal violence.  There is a passing mention of a same-sex partnership and anoter (lesser) character's preference for young girls.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Starless Sea - Erin Morgenstern

Summary: Far beneath the surface of the earth, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. The entryways that lead to this sanctuary are often hidden, sometimes on forest floors, sometimes in private homes, sometimes in plain sight. But those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is searching for his door, though he does not know it. He follows a silent siren song, an inexplicable knowledge that he is meant for another place. When he discovers a mysterious book in the stacks of his campus library he begins to read, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, lost cities, and nameless acolytes. Suddenly a turn of the page brings Zachary to a story from his own childhood impossibly written in this book that is older than he is.

A bee, a key, and a sword emblazoned on the book lead Zachary to two people who will change the course of his life: Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired painter, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances. These strangers guide Zachary through masquerade party dances and whispered back room stories to the headquarters of a secret society where doorknobs hang from ribbons, and finally through a door conjured from paint to the place he has always yearned for. Amid twisting tunnels filled with books, gilded ballrooms, and wine-dark shores Zachary falls into an intoxicating world soaked in romance and mystery. But a battle is raging over the fate of this place and though there are those who would willingly sacrifice everything to protect it, there are just as many intent on its destruction. As Zachary, Mirabel, and Dorian venture deeper into the space and its histories and myths, searching for answers and each other, a timeless love story unspools, casting a spell of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a Starless Sea.
  (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I really enjoyed reading The Night Circus, which was this author’s first book. It’s gotten a ton of acclaim and press over the years, so chances are you’ve read it as well. I think we’ve all been excited to see what she came up with next. I believe the best way to describe it is as another reviewer did in that it was like taking a long drink of absinthe and then riding the way of that long drink. I’ve never had absinthe (teetotaler here), but I can assure that it was trippy to say the least.

I’m all about a good story. I like interesting goings-on and things that challenge my mind. But I’m not a huge fan of science fiction (and this book definitely goes there). I feel that in science fiction, the story often doesn’t make a lot of sense. I understand that this is where imagination takes over, and of course I am very familiar with that and the joy that comes from using one’s imagination to delve into different worlds and different experiences. But in this book (and other science fiction novels I’ve read) I feel like I was teetering on the edge of delving into a different world and something was just a fever dream of Morgenstern. Sometimes the story made sense, and sometimes there were some truly magical moments. However, sometimes the story didn’t make sense and I wasn’t sure why it mattered in the first place. Things need to matter for me, ya know?

Okay so here’s what’s great about this book: it starts out with a bang. Seriously, the beginning story is just really, really cool and captivating. It definitely makes you want to read more. This story isn’t touched on extensively, per se, although at the end you’ll see how it makes sense, which I liked. I think that reading, like real life, can sometimes be so confusing and yet in hindsight it makes sense and fits together. I can appreciate that about this book—that it doesn’t need to all make sense in the moment to make sense when it matters.

There are some great characters, and although they aren’t “great characters” in that I really related to them or could see them in my life or appreciated the realness of them, they were great characters because they were really interesting. Many of them could have their own stories (and do) and could have whole books dedicated to them and their own journey and relationship to the Starless Sea. I think this world that Morgenstern has created in The Starless Sea has potential to have a whole series of book that take place in this world she’s created, with very little overlap or repetition. To create that amount of characters that are that interesting is commendable. Most peripheral characters in a book are just fine left in the periphery. Three cheers for Morgenstern in this regard!

So I want to be one of those cool and with-it people who are like “Yeah, man, I like a good fever dream where I have no idea what is going on and I’m cool with it.” (That sentence alone proves I am not that, I believe). However, I’m not, though. I like stories that make sense. This story sometimes made sense, but for the most part it didn’t. And I didn’t love that. Like I said before, there are some really interesting moments, but I wanted those to be tied together and more cohesive.

This is a book that definitely benefits from some hindsight. While I was in it I was so confused a lot of the time, and that made for a somewhat long slog. It’s hard to be confused all the time and keep on keeping on, ya know? Looking back on the read it makes more sense now, but with that benefit of hindsight, it’s a weird feeling in that I think the story could have been a lot cooler than it was and the ideas a lot more development. There was so much potential and it ended up just being a jumbled mess.

I’m giving this three stars because there was some really interesting content and Morgenstern is so creative and a great writer. I know I’m lower than the average review, and that is because it was just needlessly confusing.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some language and some veiled love scenes between both heterosexual and homosexual couples.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Freeform Friday Spotlight & Review - Thank Forward: A Gratitude Action Kit REVIEW & GIVEAWAY - Julie Shields and Mia Logan, PhD




This Freeform Friday, we have a special treat for you -- 
An amazing book kit review and giveaway!  
Keep reading and enjoy!


Summary: Thank Forward is an action-oriented kit inspiring acts of kindness.  Adorned with beautiful art, companion guide, and 21-card deck, the kit introduces unique themes with a range of suggestions made for sharing. From simple to bold, you hold the power to ignite joy in yourself and others.  The secret to happiness is gratitude; Thank Forward is your guide.
(Summary from kit - Images from Thankforward, Amazon, and myself - Given to me in exchange for an honest review)

My Review:  I don't often stray from by traditional book reviewing format, but I couldn't help myself when I was asked to review Thank Forward: A Gratitude Action Kit.  The whole concept of gratitude as a pathway to happiness aligns with my particular faith, but more than that it appeals to me on a spiritual level.  Simply put, I believe that when take the time to be grateful for what we have (instead of dwelling on what we do not), we unlock the gateway to joy.

Thank Forward encourages readers to cultivate an action-oriented disposition of gratitude in their lives.  From a strictly aesthetic standpoint, the book kit is creative, gorgeous and well-constructed.  It comes in a charming little box which contains a small, 64-page book that provides some personal insight from the authors', an inspirational pep-talk for those seeking increased happiness through gratitude, and an overview of the twenty-one cards included in the kit.  The instruction are fairly simple and stress-free.  To paraphrase, your actions can be big or small.  They don't have to cost a lot or take a lot of time.  They can be completed on your own time table.  Just remember to act with gratitude and enjoy the journey.  Oh, and pass the cards along!

The twenty-one individual gratitude cards are colorfully printed on thick, high-quality paper and offer a wide variety of suggestions on how to actively nurture and express gratitude in our daily lives.  In order to properly review this action kit, I knew I needed to really put it to the test, so I picked out a few action cards to try on my own (and I plan to do more).  I share my experience not to 'toot my own horn' as it were, but to show how easy and organically these cards can be woven into your own life. I loved the low-pressure approach and the various options on each card which allowed me to adapt the activities and set my own comfort level.

Here is my experience with five of the cards:

#2 - Pay it Forward (Gratitude for Giving without Expectation):  Give for the sake of giving.  Pay for someone behind you in line at a drive-thru, coffee shop, or grocery store; donate time to a nonprofit organization or charity; walk a neighbors dog; or listen to a friend who needs support.

I 'met' a woman on social media whose teenage daughter (a huge Harry Potter fan) had recently been hospitalized after a tragic accident.  I make wands and she wanted to purchase one to cheer her up. I am not the kind of person who charges for bringing happiness to hospitalized children, so I made a wand gratis and then decided to engage my teenage daughters' help.  They heard the girl's story and started gathering up some of our surplus 'wizarding' gear to make a care package.  I even passed along the card, with a card of my own.  The opportunity to bring a little happiness to a young girl I did not know, meant a lot to me.  When I was younger my sister had a similar accident and was hospitalized with similar injuries.  Many people helped my sister in the days following the accident, so it was a great honor to be put in a position to pay that kindness forward to this young woman.  I appreciate Thank Forward for encouraging a gratitude mindset, because if I hadn't been 'looking' I might have missed this opportunity to give without expectation.

#9 - Own It (Gratitude for the Ability to Love Myself): List 100 reasons you are grateful today. Take an extra challenge and list 100 things you love about yourself.  

I completed the first part of this challenge and it was so fulfilling.  When I took the time to actually sit down and think about it, I was amazed at how quickly my list of blessings grew.  It was strangely cathartic and did make me feel so much better.  Even after I'd finished, I kept thinking of things to add to it!  It was easy to see how a grateful mindset begets more gratitude.  My list was a bit 'live stream' and I could certainly add more to it, but if you're curious you can read it here.

As for the rest of the card.  Well, I am still working on the list of 100 things I love about myself.  It's good to have goals.

#20 - Spread the Love (Gratitude for Unexpected Gifts):  Write a happy message, create a doodle, or share a favorite quotation on a piece of paper.  Post it in a place that will benefit others (restroom, work or neighborhood bulletin board, a neighbor's door, etc.).

I took the opportunity to involve the family with this particular card.  We spent about an hour together researching (re: googling), reading aloud, and writing uplifting quotes on post-it notes. I am not going to lie.  This one was a little tricky with a little one who didn't really understand the concept of an 'uplifting' quote, but we muddled through with only a few discarded, nonsensical Post-Its.  Over the next week, our family posted the notes in various places around town -- at school, the supermarket, the police department, and even a local thrift store.  We weren't around to see the results of our sneakiness, but I'd like to think they brought a smile to someone's face, a little warmth to their heart, and maybe the right message made its way to someone who needed to hear it in that moment.

#10 Applaud Service (Gratitude for Generous Support and Assistance from Others):  Pass this card to someone who gives service selflessly to comfort others and watch them smile.

The opportunity to use this card cropped up within a week of receiving the kit.  I live in a rural area where people often let their dogs roam free. In an effort to elevate my mood, I was taking my dog on a walk when a strange dog charged out of a nearby pasture and, despite my shouts, kept advancing aggressively.  Just when I needed it, a car came over the hill and saw my predicament.  The driver drove her car between us, herding the dog away, and continued to drive between us until I was far enough away and the dog lost interest. I was able to speak to the female driver, thanked her profusely for her actions, and realized that she lived nearby.  Later that week, I baked some cookies and took them over to her home with a card to thank her for keeping my dog and I safe.  She wasn't home, but I hope that she was excited to find some cookies and a 'thank you' hanging on her gate.

#11: Gift of Storytelling (Gratitude for Sharing Culture, History, and Ideas) Give a new or used book to someone, read a story to another, donate books to charity, or recommend a book you love.  Share what inspires you, and be a catalyst for inspiring others.

Now, I don't know if you've noticed, but I love books.  I love recommending them to perfect strangers and I love sharing them with close friends, so I was beyond excited to do this card!  I decided to share The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, because I was so touched by its uplifting message about education, ingenuity, and perseverance.  I wanted to keep it personal rather than 'promotional' so I just linked my review on my personal FB page and asked my interested friends to comment so I could choose a random winner.  It was actually quite fun, and I think I'll do it again anytime I accidentally end up with two of the same book (it happens a lot!).
_____________________________

I found great personal satisfaction and a definite uptick in my mood whenever I was actively planning or working on the cards and every time I thought of the experiences afterward.  As I was looking for ways to be more grateful, I found them more easily that I expected and it became clear that increased gratitude really did lead me towards a lighter (yet somehow filled) heart.  While I personally feel a religious connection to the concept of 'gratitude', I do not think you have to be particularly religious or even spiritual to enjoy or employ the strategies in this book.  Anyone can be grateful for food.  Where you direct that gratitude -- be it to God, the universe, the farmers that grew it, or the hands that prepared it -- is up to you.

I plan to try these five cards next:
  • Disconnect to reconnect - Unplug from tech to better connect with your family
  • Act with Patience - Making an intentional effort to show in specific ways in your own life.
  • Lend an Intentional Smile - Go out of your way to smile at, compliment, and talk to others
  • Happy Chatter - Be positive, avoid gossip, and reframe your thoughts an language.
  • Make It Happen - Own your power and put energy toward a cause you believe in.  Volunteer!
And there are still 11 more cards I am excited to try!  

You guys, I can't recommend this kit enough.  Thank Foward: A Gratitude Action Kit would make an excellent gift for a close friend, family member, or for couples and families to work on together.  As we found in our own family, it was a great way to increase gratitude and happiness in our home and made for some fun family night activities.

My Rating:  5 Fantastic Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Have at it!
_________________________

NOW ONTO THE GIVEAWAY
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At Reading for Sanity we are THANKFUL for YOU 
and we'd like to pay it forward. 

On that note, we are pleased to announce:


THANK FORWARD'S 

"GIFT OF STORYTELLING" GIVEAWAY

If you'd like to win a copy of the Thank Forward Gratitude Action Kit reviewed above simply:
  1. Leave a comment on our FB post letting us know something YOU are grateful for OR which card we've covered in this review inspired you the most!  
  2. Like and share the FB post for an extra entry!
That's it!   If your comments don't show up on this page right away, don't worry.  We like to keep the spam low, so they go through a moderator first.

GIVEAWAY RULES:  This giveaway is open to US residents only and ends at 11:59 pm PST 3/21/2020.  The winner will be chosen randomly.  

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Sundays at Tiffany's - James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

Summary:  This unforgettably emotional love story explains why James Patterson is one of the bestselling authors of all time.

Jane is the only child of a single, selfish woman whose sole focus is her Broadway theater company.  Is it any wonder the lonely little girl turns inward and conjures up Michael, a handsome, charming companion who makes her laugh?

Years later, Jane is as alone as ever, still living in the shadow of her mother, when she catches a glimpse of a face she's never forgotten.  But while this Michael is no figment of her imagination, is he her one true love?  (Summary from book flap - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  When I think of James Patterson, the first thing that comes to mind are his well-known Alex Cross crime/thrillers or his YA fantasy series, Maximum Ride.  Until I came across Sundays at Tiffany's I didn't realize he'd written any romantic novels.  Color me shocked.

I didn't read Sundays at Tiffany's because of the big-name author(s), though.  I picked it up because I saw the trailer for the Lifetime Movie by the same name, thought it looked adorable, and heard that it was based on a book.  Well, you know me!  Gotta read the book first, right?!  Thankfully, I discovered it was already on my shelf, so I didn't have to wait very long.  I love it when that happens!

The book version of Sundays at Tiffany's has an immediate 'Once Upon a Time' kind of vibe -- like an all-knowing narrator was savoring the retelling. Generally, when a book feels that way I tend not to be too critical; I'm just along for the ride.  I immediately wanted good, amazing things for the neglected, heartbroken, little main character, Jane, and her charming, imaginary friend Michael, and there were others characters that were so thoroughly unlikable (ahemHughandVivienneahem), I heartily wished for them to get their comeuppance. I loved watching Jane gain confidence and stand up for herself and her renewed relationship with Michael made for a sweet little love story.

Sundays at Tiffany's was not without its surprises though.  After all, even a Lifetime-movie-kind-of-book needs to have a few twists and turns.  Right when I thought I had this book nailed down, it dropped a bomb that I wasn't expecting.  And then when I'd adjusted to that bomb (somewhat), things shifted again.  I'm not going to tell you how things end, because that would be cheating, but I will say...that I did not want to throw the book across the room when it ended.  You'll have to decide what that means for yourself.

UPDATE:  Now that I have read the book and watched the movie, I will say that there quite a few major differences between the two. Other than basic premise, setting, character names, and a few shared lines, the movie and book go their separate ways.  In the end, while the movie was marginally cleaner, I preferred the book.  No surprise there.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  A handful (or two) of profanity.  Readers sensitive to sexual situations might need to skip around 2-3 pages, mildly graphic.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Unexplained: Real-Life Supernatural Stories for Uncertain Times - Richard Maclean Smith

Summary: In every corner of this earth there are secrets. They are hidden in the dark edge of the woods, nestled in the cold stars, and staring out from a stranger's eyes. And whether they be demonic possession or an unsolved murder, the unknown has always haunted our dreams.

From the hit podcast Unexplained comes a volume perfectly crafted for the curious, the cynical, and the not-easily-frightened. Richard Maclean Smith is the expert in the unknown, and humbly offers up ten tales of real-life events that continue to evade explanation. With these chilling stories comes the missing key: a connection to our own beliefs in science, superstition, and perception.

What can a case of demonic possession teach us about free will? What can a cursed box show us about the act of storytelling? What can a supposed instance of reincarnation tell us about developing a concept of the self?

Perhaps some things are just better left unexplained...
  (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I enjoy learning about paranormal phenomenon, or weird, unexplained things. I feel like this book is right up my alley. Weird happenings in your house? Ghosts? Aliens? Unexplained disappearances? Yes, please. I like to watch all these things in a distant way i.e. I DO NOT WANT TO BE CAPTURED BY ALIENS thankyouverymuch. There are those people out there who want that. I am not those people. I want to enjoy my paranormal and supernatural experiences on my couch. While somebody else experiences them and I watch them or read them and am then able to put them down when it gets too scary.

Living in the digital age that we do, I have access to a lot of these things. There are tons of podcasts, Facebook groups, YouTube shows, Netflix shows, Prime shows…you name it, it’s there, not to mention the corresponding books. In many cases (as in the case of this book) the show came first. This book is actually based on a podcast that the author does. It is a compilation of different stories that he has researched and re-told on his podcast.

Here’s the thing with this book: it’s well-researched. I really enjoyed the back story and the in-depth detail it went into regarding each of the cases. There is also a lot of author explanation and discussion that I enjoyed, as I feel like a lot of these things are easily dismissed by those who range from highly skeptical to just not sure how to feel about it. Maclean Smith does a good job of talking people through the different happenings and stories and helping them see why there might be more than something that can be so easily dismissed.

But here’s the other thing about this book: the stories are very well-known, almost gateway stories. I had heard about almost every single one of these. Granted, I do listen to paranormal podcasts and such, but I’m not so engrained in the world that I know All the Things or have heard All the Things. It’s just something I’ve been interested in for a year or two now. I would say I’m not necessarily a beginner, but I’m early intermediate at best. So for someone like me, who is early intermediate (and possibly even just a late beginner, according to some people’s measurements) this book is pretty basic. I have heard all these stories, and I have heard them in multiple places—podcasts, movies, TV shows, etc. These are not stories that are surprising. If you have been in this world at all—if you have even dabbled—you have probably heard of most of these cases, and have probably heard them in-depth. Because of that, I would suggest that this is a book for people who are just dabbling or just barely starting to look at the world of the paranormal. Anyone else who has already been involved will find this book covering things that they already know quite a bit about, and although they are well-researched and the writing is good, there is nothing new to see here.

Along the same lines, there is no one paranormal topic that Maclean Smith tries to cover. Instead, he takes a smattering of things (aliens, ghosts, hauntings, etc.) and puts them all in one book. Each topic takes a chapter (the chapters are fairly long) and basically just go over one (or sometimes two) stories. These are interesting and for a person who is just getting into this world, a very good introduction. However, as mentioned above, if you are familiar with this world at all there is very little new here.

Since MacLean Smith has been in the paranormal podcasting world for quite some time, I expected this book to address some paranormal stories I hadn’t heard about. He has quite a following, and so I would have expected this book to be for that target audience, who will have obviously had more than a passing exposure to the paranormal world. For this reason I think he may have missed an opportunity to further wow and delight his dedicated listeners with new info and new content. However, for someone who is newly interested in getting in to this world, or for someone who just wants a casual first introduction, this book is an excellent place to start and includes well-researched and well thought out explanations for some very famous paranormal happenings.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Some paranormal content can be disturbing.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Freeform Friday: Guest Review by Cristina Bray of "A Gentleman in Moscow" - Amor Towles


You know how sometimes you just have those friends who read a ton--it seems that they're always reading new stuff and just take on a ton of genres and a ton of books? Cristina is one of those people. She reads a ton, and she reads a large variety of books, which, in my opinion, makes for a great reader and also one whose opinion I trust. I hope you enjoy this guest review from her today as she takes on the mega bestseller (and mega-sized) A Gentleman in Moscow.

Summary: He can't leave his hotel. You won't want to.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility--a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel.

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel's doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count's endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: When I was given the opportunity to guest review, I could think of no better book to share than “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles. I first read it in 2018, a couple of years after it was published, and I still just can’t seem to quit it. I found so many little nuggets of wisdom in this novel, most of which have stayed with me for years. It is one of those that I want to force everyone to read. Force, because it may not be for everyone. I understand it lacks speed and immediate gratification. For those nerds like myself who love a bit o’ charm, humor, and nostalgia, this one is unparalleled. 

The story arc itself is slow, deep, and intricate, subtlety building to an unexpected ultimate crescendo. The setting mostly takes place in a grand hotel, Metropol, in Moscow. The Metropol has seen times of great wealth and opulence, and after several years and several wars, it has also seen some scarcity. The main character, Count Rostov, an aristocrat and gentleman, is mercifully sentenced to house arrest in the hotel (his current residence) by the Kremlin for life. His crime was publishing a poem that was considered a call to action against the state. His witty retort? “All poetry is a call to action.”

Count Rostov, despite being born into aristocracy, comes off as unpretentious and in tune with reality. He has obviously been used to the finer things in life, yet he is quick to adjust, realizing at one point “but, of course, a thing, is just a thing” as most of his possessions are “acquired” by the state. He also develops a pragmatic view of his predicament, saying “if man does not master his circumstances, he is bound to be mastered by them."

Perhaps I love this book because Count Rostov (and the author) obviously has a thing for food. Living in a hotel that once boasted the finest restaurant and chef east of Vienna, he comes to the conclusion, “But in a period of abundance any half-wit with a spoon can please a palate. To truly test a chef’s ingenuity, one must instead look to a period of want. And what provides want better than war?” Perfectly showing his glass-half-full view of life, he looks at war and scarcity as a challenge for ingenuity. To Rostov’s delight, the chef, Emile, is no half-wit—he is more akin to a orchestra conductor or genius.

Having lived in the hotel for several years before his arrest, and being well acquainted with all of the staff, Count Rostov considered himself an expert in all things Metropol. As he searches for purpose, while going about his days as an exile, he meets his metaphorical hotel sherpa: a nine-year-old girl named Nina. She is the daughter of an official and wants to be a princess. Her parents are much too busy for her. She in turn teaches him about the hotel. More than that, this kid discovers everything there is to know about the hotel—its bowels and sinews, doors behind doors—making the count feel like a novice inside its walls. With her adventurous spirit and direction, it’s as if Rostov discovers the hotel holds an entire microcosm of Russia and its history inside the walls.

While on the inside for several decades, everything else keeps moving. People come and go from the hotel and Rostov’s life. Nina grows and enters an adolescent idealistic phase. Naturally, but sadly, she moves on from princesses. A haughty and petulant actress passes through several times (*wink wink*). His beloved friend, philosopher and poet Mishka, unexpectedly falls in love (and out of it) and keeps him up to date with his woes and tales. And alas, there is Sofia (sixish?), a 30-pound package of a kid that completely upends his life. All of Rostov’s relationships create an intricate web—soooo many connections—reminiscent of Russian literature. The characters possess such a depth that you cannot do them justice to simply sum them up.

Rostov, having nothing but time on his hands, ponders about life and fate often. And how a single fateful day can change the course of a life. I see great beauty in the chain of events you have to follow to pinpoint those fateful moments. Something that seems small and insignificant can come along and slowly upend every proceeding event. At one point the narrator says: “Alexander Rostov was neither scientist nor sage; but at the age of sixty-four he was wise enough to know that life does not proceed by leaps and bounds. It unfolds. At any given moment, it is the manifestation of a thousand transitions. Our faculties wax and wane, our experiences accumulate, and our opinions evolve—if not glacially, then at least gradually. Such that the events of an average day are as likely to transform who we are as a pinch of pepper is to transform a stew.”

No matter the aftermath of one’s fate, to Rostov “our lives are steered by uncertainties, many of which are disruptive or even daunting; but that if we persevere and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of supreme lucidity—a moment in which all that has happened to us suddenly comes into focus as a necessary course of events, even as we find ourselves on the threshold of a bold new life that we had been meant to lead all along.”

In a world where we seem to value immediate gratification—explosives and high-speed bus chases—I feel like this story may be lost on some. However, the beauty is in the writing, in the wit and sarcasm and humor behind Rostov’s conversations with pigeons and cats. I LOL’d when he called his court sentencing a tête-à-tête with the Bolsheviks. The novels humor was unexpected given that the count seems so sophisticated and serious. I hope you all become as enraptured with this novel as I did, it will really be worth your while.

My Rating: Five stars! Woot woot.

For the sensitive reader: I can’t think of anything, even though I’m the most sensitive person I know?! Perhaps I’ve been desensitized. This is the most I could dredge up.

-This book eludes to the existence of sex. The count meets up with a certain actress after hours throughout the book. It is consensual, sort of. She runs the show, and he doesn’t know what to think about it, most of the time. It does not go into specifics.
-There is a memory of a duel that the count was in, no one dies as the result of the duel, but his opponent becomes injured. The duel leads to a series of events where the other man does die a few months later, and the count blames himself for his death.
-Rostov also holds another man up at gunpoint, near the end of the book.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Bound in Flame - Katherine Kayne (Hawaiian Ladies Riding Society, Book #1)

Summary:  Letty Lang is a suffragist of the most fearless kind, with a bullwhip, big plans, and the ancient power she doesn't understand. Will a fast hours and a stubborn man derail her dreams?

Banished to boarding school to tame her wild temper, Leticia Lili'uokalani Lang sails home to Hawaii, bringing her devotion to animals with her.  She'll be among the first female veterinarians in history--most remarkable in 1909 when women still cannot vote.  With one mad leap into the ocean to save a horse, Letty sets another destiny in motion. She is a mākāhā, a Gate to the healing fires of the island, her beloved 'aina.  Letty must fight to harness the ancient power that lives within her, fueled by her connection to the islands.  But the price ofpower is steep.  Her inner flame burns hot -- hot enough that her kisses can actually kill, a precarious inconvenience since the horse's owner, Timothy Rowley, lights another kind of fire. 

Can Letty learn to master her power to have a chance at life and love? Or is the danger of the flame too great?  (This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review.  Summary from back of book. Image from goodreads.com.)

My Review:  I want to just get something out of the way before I start this review.  This isn't a clean romance.  You might think it is, barring a few moments of innuendo that will seem out of place in an otherwise sweet romance, but eventually (around, say, pages 328-340 of  this 347-page book) you will realize that you were very. very. mistaken.  So, if you're looking for a clean romance, look elsewhere.  Full stop.  End of review.  If you're not, then keep reading.

Bound in Flame has the kind of strong female lead I always seem to gravitate toward.  Letty Lili'uokalani Lang is confident, well-educated, knows what she wants and isn't afraid to run straight at it (other people's opinions be damned).  I really enjoyed watching her not get pushed around by every man on the island, including the romantic lead.  As for the story, I felt the basic bones of the plot were rather formulaic (e.g. two seemingly star-crossed lovers are inexplicably drawn to each other), but that the magical undercurrents provided a new twist that left things feeling fresh.

Story and characters (and their sex life) aside, the real star of this book is the setting -- the Hawaiian Islands during the early 1900s.  I loved the author's descriptions of the land, traditions, dress, food, and other aspects of the culture. She also introduced issues relevant to the times -- like women's rights, suffrage, racism, and the effects of colonialism on ancient cultures in a way that enhanced the overall story.  Although, I wouldn't categorize the book as historical fiction (because the author states in the afterword that she took creative license with certain aspects of the history), I still enjoyed the world she created.  And, oh man, did it make me miss Hawaii.

Now, for the tough stuff.  I didn't really care for the ending of this book.  For me, the resolution to Letty and Timothy's problem, the reason that they stayed apart for much of the book, came about a bit to easily, with the solution found in a chapter, and pretty much out of sight of the reader.  It just didn't sit well with me.  I will also admit that I am one of those readers who prefers clean romances and so I was let down in the last 25 pages when things got pretty darn physical. I was glad Letty and Timothy together, but not so much that I wanted to be present for that part of their story.  For me, it was great till it wasn't.  And then it was pretty much over.

If I boil it all down to the basics, Bound in Flame is a culturally-rich, historically-interesting, relationship-driven romance, that provided a fun escape from reality and rekindled my love for Hawaii.  It didn't end the way I had hoped (with a more complex solution and a closed bedroom door), but I imagine that won't bother everyone.

My Rating:  3 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some violence. One scene of sexual intimacy, fairly graphic.  Some infrequent innuendo or reference to body parts.

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