Great Reads

Circe

book
Publish Date :
4/10/18
Author: 
 Madeline Miller
Started:
  11/1/18
Finished: 
11/23/18 (My November Buddy Read assigned this into chapters during the month or I would have finished this overnight!!!) Thanks for organizing bookbuddyreads
Pages:
393
Rating : ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Goodreads Summary:

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

My Review:

I enjoyed this book right from the start. I read this as a buddy read in which certain chapters were talked about every week. Although I wanted to finish the story in one setting, I dragged it out so that I would remember relevant information to talk about on a weekly basis. Had I finished it quickly, I’m sure I would have given spoilers during discussions and did not want to be that person. This is the only reason why I read this book within an entire month. I had been dying to pick this book up since the moment it was announced and I wish I would have sooner as I got it into my TBR shelf the second I was able to.

The mythology intrigued me. What I loved right from the beginning is the harsh upbringing Circe endured as a child. I did not know much about Circe other than a tiny bit from The Odyssey. What I thought of her then was more evil than what I gathered from this book. I liked seeing that she had compassion in her. I also liked that I understood where her harshness actually did come from. I felt so bad for her being so misjudged and really felt awful for her punishment in which introduces itself into what I and readers of The Oddessey know of Circe and her island. I must be a little honest, I was a little jealous of Circe’s punishment. Being banished to an island with not a single soul to bother her, with a house that was immaculate that no dust or dirt could come by (a self-cleaning house!) that had abundances of cheese and grains with a self-lighting nightly fireplace. I mean, c’mon! Punish me! I could totally get used to that. I barely enjoy being with the people I love for long periods of time, haha! This is an only child’s dream, I’m telling ya’!

Everything about this book was great for me. I enjoyed Circe as a more dynamic character and thoroughly enjoyed learning about her. There were so many great points brought up during my buddy read that I didn’t think of as her exile to Aeaea was honestly the best and worst thing that ever happened to her. Although some parts were rough to get through, the truthfullness and accuracy that Miller put into the book was important. I really did not want the read to be over and wish that there was more to the book. Without giving away the ending, I wish there was more that Miller would do to possibly bring upon a sequel highlighting Circe, Telegonus, or even Telemachus.

Great Reads

Auschwitz Lullaby

book

Publish Date : 8/07/18
Author: 
 Mario Escobar
Started:
  11/18/18
Finished: 
11/21/18
Pages:
304
Rating : ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Goodreads Summary:

In 1943 Germany, Helene is just about to wake up her children to go to school when a group of policemen break into her house. The policemen want to haul away her gypsy husband and their five children. The police tell Helene that as a German she does not have to go with them, but she decides to share the fate of her family. After convincing her children that they are going off to a vacation place, so as to calm them, the entire family is deported to Auschwitz.

For being German, they are settled in the first barracks of the Gypsy Camp. The living conditions are extremely harsh, but at least she is with her five children. A few days after their arrival, Doctor Mengele comes to pay her a visit, having noticed on her entry card that she is a nurse. He proposes that she direct the camp’s nursery. The facilities would be set up in Barrack 29 and Barrack 31, one of which would be the nursery for newborn infants and the other for children over six years old.

Helene, with the help of two Polish Jewish prisoners and four gypsy mothers, organizes the buildings. Though Mengele provides them with swings, Disney movies, school supplies, and food, the people are living in crowded conditions under extreme conditions. And less than 400 yards away, two gas chambers are exterminating thousands of people daily.

For sixteen months, Helene lives with this reality, desperately trying to find a way to save her children. Auschwitz Lullaby is a story of perseverance, of hope, and of strength in one of the most horrific times in history.

My Review:

Every time I read a WWII novel, I reiterate how it is my favorite genre and it really is. I am never less surprised with what happens in the books and I am always learning something. Although I knew that the Holocaust effected more than just the Jewish community, reading this story through a gypsy perspective was new for me. It’s easy to forget about the others who suffered the cruel terrors of the Holocaust. This was written about two years ago but was just translated into English from Spanish and published here.

Not a spoiler but the proglogue is told from the well-known horrific Nazi, Josef Mengele, a.k.a The Angle of Death. I knew this story wouldn’t be told through his perspective but I would like to come along a story told from a complete Nazi perspective. Mengele was awful and in now way should be pardoned or accepted for the heiinous crimes he performed during the Holocaust but through our character Frau Hannemahn’s eyes, he becomes more dynamic than the person I once imagined him as.

This is a fictionalized story based on a true account which I was super interested in. I was shocked at how differently the Gypsies were treated than the Jews. It puts into perspective how bad these camps really got because the Gypsies were in no way privileged either. Mengele’s inner motives were sad but even as our protagonist, Helen, stated, anything was better for the children than the hardships they were experiencing before the nursery, or so they thought?

I was disappointed with how fast Blaz had to grow up and how mature he was for such a young boy. I’d imagine that a concentration camp would do that to anyone. The novel is so sad to think about as extermination’s, ruthless beatings, and accidental deaths were in abundance. It’s disgusting to imagine how long people really endured these conditions and I hope to God that we as humanity could never let something like this happen again. It is never less surprising to me that this was a political party’s “solution” to their issues and every day I wonder how this was something people bought into at all.

This book was realistic in ways that I never knew. I was unaware of the daycare that Mengele had ordered and also was unaware of the conditions that Gypsies had been in verses the Jewish. I was actually unaware of their seperation in all honesty.  Absolutely beautiful book.

“Sometimes we have to lose everything to find what is most important. When life robs us of what we thought we could not live without and leaves us standing naked before reality, the essential things that had always been invisible take on their true value.”

 

 

Great Reads

Our Little Lies

book


Publish Date :
 10/11/18
Author: 
 Sue Watson
Started:
  11/12/18
Finished: 
11/18/18
Pages: 318
Rating : ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Goodreads Summary:

Marianne has a life others dream of. A beautiful townhouse on the best street in the neighbourhood. Three bright children who are her pride and joy.

Sometimes her past still hurts: losing her mother early, growing up in foster care. But her husband, Simon, is always there. A successful surgeon, he’s the envy of every woman they’ve ever met. Flowers, gifts, trips to France: nothing is too good for his family.

Then Simon says another woman’s name. The way he lingers on it, Caroline , gives Marianne a shudder of suspicion, but she knows it’s nothing – she can’t entertain this flash of paranoia.

In the old days, she’d have distracted herself by excelling at work, but Marianne left her glamorous career when she married. She’d speak to a friend, but she’s too busy with her children and besides, Simon doesn’t approve of the few she has left.

It’s almost by accident that Marianne starts to learn more about Caroline. But once started, she can’t stop, because what she finds makes her wonder: is the question she should be asking not ‘should she be jealous’, but… ‘should she be scared?’

Fans of The Girl on the Train and I Let You Go, who are looking for a dark, gripping psychological thriller with a final twist to put their jaw on the floor, will love Our Little Lies.

My Review:

At no fault to anyone other than myself, this started out slow for me. I may just needed to pick this up at a different time; however it was too cliche. We have Marianne who is married to the perfect guy in the perfect scenario with the perfect children, etc. etc. I know. You’ve read this before too. But it doesn’t stay like the cliche story I was expecting. Simon is a jerk but Marianne has some major issues too. I gave her the benefit of the doubt knowing that Simon’s behaviors likely added to her insanity but I didn’t like Marianne either as she was painted to be insane and she herself knew so.

I had an issue with how slow the book was. 50% in and the background information about Simon and Marianne’s marriage was getting to be annoying for me. I understand that much of the information was an important aspect of understanding the couple and each of their history but I lost interest. Had I not read reviews or was okay with giving up on a book without finishing it, I may have put it down but I stuck it out and exactly at 54% for me, I was hooked.

Marianne, Simon,  and Caroline were all extremely unlikable for me. WhIle I usually don’t like books with characters that don’t have any redeeming qualities at, this wasn’t necessarily the case since it was a more important to the plot and conflicts as a whole to dislike them. Even with the unlikable characters, I eventually started to feel sorry for then, especially Marianne and Caroline, and my perceptions of them and even Simon changed many many times. It’s hard to give more about the dynamics without giving it away. This was a great read and you most definitely won’t see the ending coming!

Great Reads

The Impossible Girl

book
Publish Date :
 10/9/2018
Author: 
 Lydia Kang
Started:
10/31/18
Finished: 
11/8/18
Pages:
364
Rating :
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thank you so much to Netgalley, Union Lake Publishing, and the author, Lydia Kang for a free copy of this advanced reader’s edition to review. All opinions are my own.

Goodreads Summary:

Manhattan, 1850. Born out of wedlock to a wealthy socialite and a nameless immigrant, Cora Lee can mingle with the rich just as easily as she can slip unnoticed into the slums and graveyards of the city. As the only female resurrectionist in New York, she’s carved out a niche procuring bodies afflicted with the strangest of anomalies. Anatomists will pay exorbitant sums for such specimens—dissecting and displaying them for the eager public.

Cora’s specialty is not only profitable, it’s a means to keep a finger on the pulse of those searching for her. She’s the girl born with two hearts—a legend among grave robbers and anatomists—sought after as an endangered prize.

Now, as a series of murders unfolds closer and closer to Cora, she can no longer trust those she holds dear, including the young medical student she’s fallen for. Because someone has no intention of waiting for Cora to die a natural death.

My Review:

I was not only drawn to this beatiful cover but drawn to the original premise of the story! What a unique idea Kang has executed. The story is not like anything that I have ever read before. The first couple of chapters went by slow for me but once I got into it, I was super interested in what was going on.

Cora’s unique medical ailment of having two hearts was perfectly executed for her character as she was living as two people, herself and her brother Jacob, and also living two seperate lives being a resurrectionist and portraying a well-off woman. What I had a hard time believing was her ability to work and dress as a man for so long without her coworkers catching on. I know that passing as a man has been done multiple times in history for various reasons but I would assume that makeup, especially during the 1800’s wouldn’t be necessarily the most believable especially while working up a sweat digging and moving bodies postmortum. I did admire Cora’s medical intelligence for the time period and also admired her hardworking attitude that was not a norm in the 1800’s for women.

I was at first so appalled thinking of the resurectionist aspect but as I continued to read, I grew more and more knowledgable about how doctors and other medical professionals really relied on bodies to explore and study in order to advance the medical community. I really had to put myself into the time period to look past my preconceived notions. Being a teacher in Philadelphia and spending more time in the city than I get to spend time in my own home in New Jersey, I liked the aspect that they brought up Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum a few times. It intrigued me to do some more research about the museum here in the city.

The story is twisted and I didn’t foresee much of anything. I knew our twisted character was twisted but there wasn’t much to pick up on and I thought maybe this character was just a red herring.

This is a historical fiction and murder mystery tied all into one. I highly recommend getting into this book. You’ll never see what’s coming.

Great Restaurants

Puyero – Hallaca Making Class

Do you have any Christmas traditions? Are there certain dishes that your family makes for Christmas every year? Even bigger, is there a tradition that your culture abides to every year? I’m a mutt so I try and incorporate a little of everything. I am German and Italian on my father’s side. My grandfather always brought us what he called “Klerban”. It’s like a Christmas fruit bread. I’m not sure where the name came from for him but when googled, it looks like they regularly call it Stollen. We also incorporate the Christmas Eve tradition of the seven fishes. My mother is Puerto Rican. We have coquito and Puerto Ricans often make pastilles for Christmas tradition. Pastilles are very similar to the Venezuelan hallacas which is what this post is all about!!!

There’s a great little restaurant in Philadelphia that is called Puyero Venezuelan Flavor. During this Christmas season, they are offering classes that teach how to make Hallacas and also offer some other traditional Christmas dishes like pan de jamon. I had a chance to preview the class on Monday. It was very informative, insanely delicious, and so much fun!!! There was a class on Wednesday but there are two other classes that you can sign up for. The event is $30 per person and is being held on November 28th, or December 5th. UPDATE: NOVEMBER 28TH IS ALREADY SOLD OUT.  You can get tickets HERE. Buy fast because tickets are moving quickly!

Puyero is found at:
524 South 4th Street,
Philadelphia, PA, 19147

Thanks to my foodie friend PhillyFoodGal for the invite.

Before wrapping the hallacas into the plantain leaves.


A finished hallaca that I got to sink my teeth in.


The entire loaf of pan de jamon that I could have eaten by myself given the opportunity!


This was the pan de jamon. It was the percfect mix of sweet and salty!


Their Andes hot chocolate which was so rich and thick it was unbelivable. It has cinnamon and vanilla in it!


If you aren’t available for the class, you can come in anytime from now to December 30th to try some of the hallacas!

Great Reads

A Child Called It: One Child’s Couage to Survive

book
Publish Date :
 9/1/1995
Author: 
 David Pelzer
Started:
10/29/18
Finished: 
10/30/18
Pages:
184
Rating :
⭐⭐

Goodreads Summary:

This book chronicles the unforgettable account of one of the most severe child abuse cases in California history. It is the story of Dave Pelzer, who was brutally beaten and starved by his emotionally unstable, alcoholic mother: a mother who played tortuous, unpredictable games—games that left him nearly dead. He had to learn how to play his mother’s games in order to survive because she no longer considered him a son, but a slave; and no longer a boy, but an “it.” Dave’s bed was an old army cot in the basement, and his clothes were torn and raunchy. When his mother allowed him the luxury of food, it was nothing more than spoiled scraps that even the dogs refused to eat. The outside world knew nothing of his living nightmare. He had nothing or no one to turn to, but his dreams kept him alive—dreams of someone taking care of him, loving him and calling him their son.

My Review:

I actually picked this book up because I know so many students in our educational system read this. I never have read it but it was recommended by some of my students to read actually. I knew that the material was going to be rough to deal with but I knew it was an important read.

What I liked most about this book is how David recalls his relationship with his mother prior to being abused. It was most interesting for me to think about the shift of change that David’s mother went through. Mental health is a social stigma that our society often looks the other eye to. Thinking about how David’s mother changed was heartbreaking to me as David suffered from her inability to cope with mental issues that she should have gotten help for. I was a little perplexed aboout how David’s mother and family were never questioned after David was taken away and that they never faced any consequences. I’ve read heresay that the book is mostly fictional and that David Pelzer had embellished or made up many of the horrific scenes. If true, this would make more sense about no one getting into trouble regarding this abuse case.

I actually wanted more from the book. Although extremely happy that David escaped this life, I was left wondering what happened to him after he was taken in, what happened to the family, where David went, what David experienced after, etc. I know there are books written after this but I’m not sure I’d want to continue reading. I googled David and tried to connect the pieces myself. Spoiler: I still came up lacking even after googling. I’m not sure impressed but I understand why the topic is important to explore.

 

Great Reads

The Girl from Berlin

book
Publish Date :
 10/9/2018
Author: 
 Ronald H. Balson
Started:
10/24/18
Finished: 
10/31/18
Pages:
352
Rating :
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thank you so much to Netgalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the author for a free copy of this advanced reader’s edition to review. All opinions are my own.

Goodreads Summary:

In the newest novel from internationally-bestselling author, Liam and Catherine come to the aid of an old friend and are drawn into a property dispute in Tuscany that unearths long-buried secrets

An old friend calls Catherine Lockhart and Liam Taggart to his famous Italian restaurant to enlist their help. His aunt is being evicted from her home in the Tuscan hills by a powerful corporation claiming they own the deeds, even though she can produce her own set of deeds to her land. Catherine and Liam’s only clue is a bound handwritten manuscript, entirely in German, and hidden in its pages is a story long-forgotten…

Ada Baumgarten was born in Berlin in 1918, at the end of the war. The daughter of an accomplished first-chair violinist in the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic, and herself a violin prodigy, Ada’s life was full of the rich culture of Berlin’s interwar society. She formed a deep attachment to her childhood friend Kurt, but they were torn apart by the growing unrest as her Jewish family came under suspicion. As the tides of history turned, it was her extraordinary talent that would carry her through an unraveling society turned to war, and make her a target even as it saved her, allowing her to move to Bologna―though Italy was not the haven her family had hoped, and further heartache awaited.

What became of Ada? How is she connected to the conflicting land deeds of a small Italian villa? As they dig through the layers of lies, corruption, and human evil, Catherine and Liam uncover an unfinished story of heart, redemption, and hope―the ending of which is yet to be written.

My Review:

I know this is a series about Liam and Catherine but the book can be read as a stand alone. I have yet to read the others but I liked this so much, I am very intrigued to read the others from the series. I loved how this story went back and forth from Ada’s life during WWII and the present day. The mystery of finding out how Ada is tied into the life of Gabrielle and her farm.

Ada’s story was always interesting. It could have been cut down a little on her music adventures. After a while, I understood how hard it was to be not only a female member of an orchestra at the time, but how hard it was to be a member of the orchestra if Jewish. This part of the story did get a little tiring as it was reiterated for me just a tad too much. However, every single part was pretty interesting still.

Catherine and Liam’s journey to Italy was also interesting. I was intrigued the entire time how Ada and her story connect to the land dispute. I was also super intrigued about VineCo and their “fishy” dealings.

I also really liked learning about Italy during WWII. So many historical fiction about novels about WWII center around Germany for obvious reasons but getting an insight on Italy was a treat.

This book was surprising and I enjoyed finding out facets to the mystery throughout the book. Up until the end, I was still getting information that helped tie everything together which I loved. This is one that I’ll remember for a long time.

 

Great Reads

The Air You Breath

book
Publish Date :
 08/21/2018
Author: 
 Frances de Pontes Peebles
Started:
10/08/18
Finished:
10/19/18
Pages:
464
Rating : 
⭐⭐️⭐⭐️

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and Riverhead Books in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.

Goodreads Summary:

The story of an intense female friendship fueled by affection, envy and pride–and each woman’s fear that she would be nothing without the other.

Skinny, nine-year-old orphaned Dores is working in the kitchen of a sugar plantation in 1930s Brazil when in walks a girl who changes everything. Graça, the spoiled daughter of a wealthy sugar baron, is clever, well fed, pretty, and thrillingly ill behaved. Born to wildly different worlds, Dores and Graça quickly bond over shared mischief, and then, on a deeper level, over music.

One has a voice like a songbird; the other feels melodies in her soul and composes lyrics to match. Music will become their shared passion, the source of their partnership and their rivalry, and for each, the only way out of the life to which each was born. But only one of the two is destined to be a star. Their intimate, volatile bond will determine each of their fortunes–and haunt their memories.

Traveling from Brazil’s inland sugar plantations to the rowdy streets of Lapa in Rio de Janeiro, from Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Hollywood back to the irresistible drumbeat of home, The Air You Breathe unfurls a moving portrait of a lifelong friendship–its unparalleled rewards and lasting losses–and considers what we owe to the relationships that shape our lives.

My Review:

Dores and Graca’s innocent relationship was inspring. As a house girl, Dores and Graca’s relationship buds quickly and unexpectedly. This shows that even the most opposite people can attract and share experiences. This was beautiful to me. However, the writing was drawn out. I became uninterested quickly in their lives at the sugar plantation and was always waiting for something more. As the girls are sent to to go to school, I became interested waiting for more of a plot to redeem itself. That didn’t really come here either.  However, at literally 25% in, I started devouring the book. The girls adventure truly starts here and it is not only interesting but amazing to read about the culture they experience in Lapa and thus forward.

The book is mostly unexciting with the girls’ friendship at the center of it all. I felt strongly that it was drawn out and repetitive. Oddly enough, I still found this to be 4 stars. Many life lessons are sprinkled through the book. There are intriguing factors. There are major heartbreaks and sadness thrown throughout. Graca and Dores are described so well throughout the book you really understand them. And ironically enough, I grew to love and hate Graca as all other characters do.

This read like a straight memoir and it’s surprising to know that it’s straight fiction. This is a slow read drawn out at times as mentioned but definitely worth the commitment.

Great Reads

October Wrap-Up and November TBR list

I had big plans for “Owntober” but I didn’t really live up to my own expectations. Kathy at Books and Munches suggested it and it was an awesome idea! However, I’ve been in a real reading slump and haven’t been in love with much of what I’ve been picking up. It did me no justice with being motivated. I did really love the last book I finished this month so I’m looking forward to some more coming up.

Here’s what I did accomplish :

The Little Shop of Found Things – I have mixed feelings with this book. I feel like there could have been so much more drama and intrigue. I was left a little disappointed.

Misery– Not my cup of tea as surprised as I was. The movie may have ruined my outlook on this book.

The Air You Breath – This took me a while to get into. My feelings throughout reading reallly fluctuated the entire time. The review will be publised soon.

The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince – I’m a HUGE Prince fan so this was a good read for me. I loved Mayte’s writing and wish she would write more.

A Child Called ‘It’ – This fell super short for me. The review will be posted soon.

The Girl from Berlin – Absolutely love. Love the mystery mixed in with WWII historical fiction which is always my favorite! This review will also be up soon.

Next month I hope to read:

Circe by Madeline Miller– I’ve been pushing this off for a while and have a buddy read coming up this month to get into it!

Me Before You by Jojo Meyes – I have never read this and hear I am in for a great surprise.

The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman – I keep hearing great things about this. I want to get through this ARC this month to help promote its January release.

The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang – This is another ARC I’ve been sitting on for a while.

Our Little Lies by Sue Watson– I’ve heard some pretty good things about this one. Honestly I was first drawn to the cover.

If I finish these I’m going to try and tackle Auschwitz Lullaby by Mario Escobar – I love WWII historical fiction and feel like this would be a safe way for me to end pleased.

Have any of you read these?

Also, are there any novels I should get my hands on to read during December and Christmastime? Are there any holiday ARCs you’re tackling that I should maybe take a look into?