Great Reads

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler

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Publish Date:
 10/16/18
Author: Therese Anne Fowler
Started:
1/21/19
Finished:
1/26/19
Pages:
400
Rating:
⭐⭐⭐

Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a copy of this in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads Summary:

The riveting novel of iron-willed Alva Vanderbilt and her illustrious family in as they rule Gilded-Age New York, from the New York Times bestselling author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.

In 1883, the New York Times prints a lengthy rave of Alva Vanderbilt’s Fifth Ave. costume ball–a coup for the former Alva Smith, who not long before was destitute, her family’s good name useless on its own. Marrying into the newly rich but socially scorned Vanderbilt clan, a union contrived by Alva’s bestfriend and now-Duchess of Manchester, saved the Smiths–and elevated the Vanderbilts.

From outside, Alva seems to have it all and want more. She does have a knack for getting all she tries for: the costume ball–no mere amusement–wrests acceptance from doyenne Caroline Astor. Denied abox at the Academy of Music, Alva founds The Met. No obstacle puts her off for long.

But how much of ambition arises from insecurity? From despair? From refusal to play insipid games by absurd rules? –There are, however, consequences to breaking those rules. One must tread carefully.

And what of her maddening sister-in-law, Alice? Her husband William, who’s hiding a terrible betrayal? The not-entirely-unwelcome attentions of his friend Oliver Belmont, who is everything William is not? What of her own best friend, whose troubles cast a wide net?

Alva will build mansions, push boundaries, test friendships, and marry her daughter to England’s most eligible duke or die trying. She means to do right by all, but good behavior will only get a woman so far. What is the price of going further? What might be the rewards? There’s only one way to know for certain…

My Review:

I wanted to like this more than I did but it was a little contradictory for me. Alva, a supported of women’s sufferage, is a little hypocritical for me throughout the book. She wants to be in charge of her destiny but so heavily relies on her husband and his family to push her movement. Without the Vanderbilt family, she would not be able to push her views. With that being said, she does stand up to the family and make movements towards the sufferage movement but I feel like it is a little ironic that she is able to only after she is tied to her husband and his family. This could be what the author wanted to show for the time period.

The writing felt a little sporadic and jumpy for me. It moved quickly through time which is expected for a book that is spanning throughout so many years but it felt choppy and unnatural in moving forward for me. I fam sure that Fowler wanted to stay as true to the story and time periods as possible but I just felt like there could be more in certain chapters without jumping years ahead at the drop of a dime.

As historical fiction is a perferred genre for me, I was hoping for a little more. I was left bored in some parts and for the first 30% of the book, I wasn’t really sure if there would ever be a point to the read. I don’t enjoy books as much that are driven more by the characters than the plot and I felt like this was going in more of a character study (which is okay for many and I should have picked up on before tackling) than more of a plot that Alva was a part of.

This may have been an issue from me because I was uninterested in much of the book but I had a hard time remembering the characters as they were all relitively uninspiring.  My feelings for chapters fluctuated because things would get interesting but end fairly quickly and the next second, a new occurance would be happening that had nothing to do what was previously interesting and I again would lost interest for pages at a time.

I liked the end much more than the majority of the book. I felt compelled to finish and was excited to see what Alma was doing in the last 25% of the book. This is what seemed to be more plot driven and exciting for me but I can’t give the book anymore stars for the lack of intrigue prior to the last 25%. The book was fairly unremarkable for me. All in all I just had a really hard time enjoying this. I have seen so many rave reviews however so it could be for you!

Great Reads

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

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Publish Date :1989
Author: 
 Lois Lowry
Started:
1/19/19
Finished: 
1/20/19
Pages:
137
Rating :
⭐⭐⭐⭐

Goodreads Summary:

Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think of life before the war. It’s now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching through town. When the Jews of Denmark are “relocated,” Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be one of the family. Soon Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission to save Ellen’s life.

My Review:

Holocaust Remembrance Day is January 27th. This month, I designed my language arts class to dive into some Holocaust material. We have been reading survivor stories and hero stories all month so far. I wanted to steer away from the books by students normally read, like Night or The Book Theif, because they really are, but I wanted to focus on some inspiring non-fiction information. My students are loving it and although it has taken me much more time to research and create lessons for, I’m loving it as well. With that being said, many of my students in the past had read Number the Stars and I just never got around to it. I found it in my classroom library, grabbed it for the weekend on Friday, and started it as soon as I was done my previous read.

This book is great for younger grades. It introduces the Holocaust and although it could be much more graphic or realistically scary, it does a good job for younger students to get a small dose of what the Holocaust was about. Our protagonist, Annemarie does amazing things and is a good choice for our main character because she is young enough to know that there are wrongdoings going on in the country but still too young to understand it in its entirity which is why this is a good introduction to later Holocaust topics.

The themes of doing the right thing and bravery is awe-inspiring and thoought-provoking and although a really short book, it has a really strong message. If this book was geared to older readers, it could have had so much more but as a middle-grade book, this was just perfect.

I am glad that I finally got around to reading it.

Great Reads

ARC – The Wartime Sisters – OUT TODAY!

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Publish Date :
 1/22/2019
Author: 
 Lynda Cohen Loigman
Started:
11/9/18
Finished: 
11/11/18
Pages:
304
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:

Two estranged sisters, raised in Brooklyn and each burdened with her own shocking secret, are reunited at the Springfield Armory in the early days of WWII. While one sister lives in relative ease on the bucolic Armory campus as an officer’s wife, the other arrives as a war widow and takes a position in the Armory factories as a “soldier of production.” Resentment festers between the two, and secrets are shattered when a mysterious figure from the past reemerges in their lives.

My Review:

It’s no secret how much I love WWII historical fiction. Actually, if I look back in my blog, that is mostly what I’ve reviewed and when I look back at my books I’ve rated 5 stars, so many of them are historical fiction with a setting of WWII. This book was no different for me. Ironically, I was pulled in right away without even being in the WWII time period. I wanted to see immediately how Ruth would fare in life. I was less interested in Millie. The tables turned quickly though as it seemed as Ruth took her rough childhood and became snobby whereas Millie’s more welcoming childhood went dark. My sympathies changed quite quickly; but even with these personal characteristics, both girls were likable and their personalities were understandable based on childhood events. 

This is a fresh take on WWII for me as not only is it set in America, it’s a woman’s perspective here in America. So often we get perspectives from characters in Europe and for good reasons as Europe was center stage; however, the females in America also have a story to tell. Working for an armory factory while many of their husbands were overseas fighting was a perspective I enjoyed reading. So, not only does this book center around sisters’ struggling relationships but the battles of living as a wife, mother, businesswoman, factory worker, widow, etc. during the war. 

I enjoyed the book as a whole and I’m so happy to have read this. I just ordered Loigman’s other novel and am looking forward to jumping in! I highly recommend this fresh perspective of WWII that centers on broken yet bounding relationships.

Great Reads

Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn

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Publish Date:
12/30/14
Author:
Alan Finn
Started:
1/10/19
Finished:
 1/13/19
Pages: 
448
Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Goodreads Summary:

Postbellum America makes for a haunting backdrop in this historical and supernatural tale of moonlit cemeteries, masked balls, cunning mediums, and terrifying secrets waiting to be unearthed by an intrepid crime reporter.

The year is 1869, and the Civil War haunts the city of Philadelphia like a stubborn ghost. Mothers in black continue to mourn their lost sons. Photographs of the dead adorn dim sitting rooms. Maimed and broken men roam the streets. One of those men is Edward Clark, who is still tormented by what he saw during the war. Also constantly in his thoughts is another, more distant tragedy–the murder of his mother at the hands of his father, the famed magician Magellan Holmes…a crime that Edward witnessed when he was only ten.

Now a crime reporter for one of the city’s largest newspapers, Edward is asked to use his knowledge of illusions and visual trickery to expose the influx of mediums that descended on Philadelphia in the wake of the war. His first target is Mrs. Lucy Collins, a young widow who uses old-fashioned sleight of hand to prey on grieving families. Soon, Edward and Lucy become entwined in the murder of Lenora Grimes Pastor, the city’s most highly regarded–and by all accounts, legitimate–medium, who dies mid-seance. With their reputations and livelihoods at risk, Edward and Lucy set out to find the real killer, and in the process unearth a terrifying hive of secrets that reaches well beyond Mrs. Pastor.

Blending historical detail with flights of fancy, Things Half in Shadow is a riveting thriller where Medium and The Sixth Sensemeet The Alienist–and where nothing is quite as it seems…

My Review:

The awesome thing is that this book reminded me of so many great books that I have recently read. Although extremeeeeely different, it had elements that reminded me of Lydia Kang’s The Impossible Girl,  Tomi Adeyami’s Children of Blood and Bone, and even Stuart Turtron’s The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. What is awesome about this book though is that this book came out LONGGGGGGG before any of the mentioned titles did!

This book is super hard to review without giving away much of anything. First things first, I was so surprised that this had so little reviews found on Goodreads. Many readers gave fab reviews for Riley Sager’s The Last Time I Lied. This book was actually written by the same author under a different pen name of Alan Finn. If you are a fan of The Final Girls, or The Last Time I Lied, I strongly recommend that you give this a read. It is severly underrated

I felt connected to all of the characters in the book. Edward was super compelling and I enjoyed his story as well as Lucy’s. The characters are dynamic which is important and satisfying. I really enjoyed that this kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I would think that I would figure out certain aspects of the plot and then be completely wrong. Even up until the very end, I was finding out more and more imporant information.

My biggest issue with this book is that this is the end! I would love more Edward and Lucy and wish that there was more of this series. I would love to continue to read more about both of these characters.

Great Reads

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

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Publish Date:
 01/23/18
Author:  Laurie Frankel
Started:  1/1/19
Finished: 1/6/19
Pages: 336
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Goodreads Summary:

This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.

This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.

This is how children change…and then change the world.

This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.

When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.

Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.

This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever.

My Review:

I liked and disliked this story. I loved the issues that the story brought up. I thought it was wonderful to read about contemporary issues. I just had some issues with how the novel played out. The book’s topics do indeed help start uncomfortable conversations. It is thought-provoking and a good start. However I was wanting more from this.

First, this story was not only about our transgender character Claude/Poppy, but the entire family. Although transgender issues and transitioning don’t just affect one person, I felt like it focused less on the transgender character than it should have. I appreciated the different views and family dynamics but wanted more about Claude/Poppy. Her experiences as such a young child could have been better portrayed to help readers understand the conflicting feelings even a child may go through.

My second issue was that I felt like so much more could have been done with Claude/Poppy. The story does show the struggle that ensures but I feel like so much opportunity was missed in that transgender children often have more issues with their lives than what Claude/Poppy experienced. I would have appreciated a little more realism. Although I am happy that the story was more positive, I felt like it was more unrealistic than anything. So much of the story seemed “too good to be true” or fairytale-like which after reading this, you’ll understand why. The section on Thailand was a little weird for me. I understand the importance of this trip in both Rosie and Claude/Poppy’s life but realistically, how many families have not only the money but the opportunity to travel for an extended amount of time? Rosie’s career was able to bring this opportunity but what would happen to the family and Claude/Poppy without this opportunity that the majority of transgender children are not fortunate enough to have?

My last issue was the writing style as a whole. I felt like this book had so much page filler that I felt compelled to skip paragraphs. Some details were unnecessary and annoying for me to read through. The book was prolonged in areas that didn’t hold my attention and lacked detail or warranted conflict when there should have been more.

I have to say that the story is definitely important and as mentioned a thought-provoking read for a topic very stigmatized but I’m not sure this this is the exact story needed to get people talking more. Still a good read.

Great Reads

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

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Publish Date:
 03/06/18
Author:  Toni Adeyemi
Started:  12/22/18
Finished: 12/31/18
Pages: 525
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Goodreads Summary:

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

My Review:

I’ve never been a huge fan of fantasy. I am into more realistic books which is why I love historial fiction so much. I am glad that I gave this a shot though. A little background on my fantasy reads: The first one I ever read was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Let me set the scene for you. I’m in second grade. I have the most engaging and fun teacher in the world! Seriously, this woman has been my inspiration for teaching to this day and I’m not even teaching elementary. I LOVE her and my family and I still talk about her to this day. She even remembers me whenever I’ve bumped into her. Ok, back to the story… she decides to read to us this book every day for a set amount of time (maybe 20 minutes) until she finishes the book. The ENTIRE read, I ignored her. I vividly remember rocking back and forth in my chair, doodling on papers, and actively day dreaming. Of all the books I read during my elementary schooling years, I remember only that book and HATING it. I couldn’t even tell you what other books I was assigned to read from there until sometime in high school. It impacted me that much.

Take two: I’m in college. I’m assigned a sequel to The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe. Did not finish, did not pass the test 🤷🏻‍♀️.

Take three in college: same Adolescent Literature class. I get assigned A Wrinkle in Time. Unpopular opinion here: HATE IT. Did finish, did pass the test, still wondered why this professor was out to get me. Seriously, that class is the only C I ever obtained in my college career, master’s included. Can’t win ‘em all 🤷🏻‍♀️.

I do love the Harry Potter books and enjoyed the Hunger Games trilogy. Another unpopular opinion from me: The Giver is just okay. If you want to categorize these in fantasy, these have been successful. If not, I’ve struck out in fantasy my entire life.

To talk about Children of Blood and Bone, the themes in this book are astonishing. Although on the surface we get a book about reclaiming lost magic that was taken from an overzealous king, underneath that, we get so much more. Themes of injustice and civil rights are clearly there making this a great book to compare and contrast so much of the world’s true history. It’s a great learning tool for any classroom ready to take on this book packed full of themes and different literary device lessons.

I won’t say the book was perfect for me though. I struggled sometimes with the chapters changing too quickly and noticing that some short chapters although in a different character perspective, could have been included and described through a different character’s eyes. The constant switching of the characters sometimes got me confused and I had to refocus. I also found myself skipping through some descriptions during fight scenes as they could get overly descriptive and I felt like I just needed the dialogue and important happenings. I was in love with some parts and was super interested and some parts I found myself less than interested and putting the book down for later. I have to say as well that the ending was too abrupt for me. There was so much leading up in this fairly long book and the ending for me was a little underwhelming. I am interested to read the sequel because of this but often really dislike when books do this. It’s not that I don’t like a sequel but I want to feel like the book is finished for me when it is done.

Overall, this was a wonderful debut for an author. I’m hoping the sequel is just as magical as this one was for her. I can see why so many people enjoy the book and for that I give it a 4/5. Is fantasy my favorite now? No, but this has helped open be a little bit.

Great Reads

December / 2018 Wrap-Up and January TBR

This was an awesome year and my very first year blogging. This blog has definitely helped hold me accountable to reading and has gotten me reading more than I ever have. Two summers ago, (2017), I found Goodreads while I was surfing the internet. I always loved to read but finding this website was access to a brand new world. I started marking books upon books as “To Read” and that began my new reading journey. About a year into reading, I converted my “food only” Instagram to incorporate books as I started to follow so many readers and notice they were reading a ton. I then began to find a way to start blogging. A month into blogging, I found Netgalley, and the rest is history. I’m now constantly reading ARCS, getting books upon books sent to my house to review for publishers, and am enjoying every second! As a super busy teacher, I started the year (before embarking on my book blog and ARC journey) with a goal to read 30 books. I have read 73 books! That is amazing for me and my heaviest year of reading ever! I am happy with that number. I see some fellow bloggers who get through so much and I am a bit envious. However, I feel like I have a great balance in my life. Being a full time teacher, a restaurant reviewer, an avid gym-goer, and someone who is also addicted to mindless reality shows like Teen Mom, I am satisfied with my number in the 70’s! According to GoodReads I have read a total of 26,268 pages!!! I hope next year treats me just as well! So this post I will post every single book I have read this year at the end. This last month I read:

The Vanishing Box – Review found here

This is Cuba – Review found here

Slay Bells – Review found here

The Masterpiece – Review found here

The Twelve Dice of Christmas – Review found here

Children of Blood and Bone – Look for a review soon

For the start of the new year, I hope to read:

This is How it Always Is – by Laurie Frankel

Oh I Do Like To Be – by Marie Phillips

The Havana Game – by John Lutz

The Only Woman in the Room – by Marie Benedict

The Song of Achilles –  by Madeline Miller – this is a buddy read with the same people I read Circe with

All the books I have read this year have reviews or reviews scheduled to be published except for the first few I started reading before blogging. If you are interested in reading them, please click on the title as it will bring you to the blog post. These are in order of how they were finished in the year.

11/22/63 by Stephen King
As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
When Dimple Met Rishi byy Sandyha Menon
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
The Thing About Jellyfish ny Ali Benjamin
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
The Light between Oceans by M.L. Steadman 
The Outsiders by S.E Hinton
The Broken Girls by Simone St. James
The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh (this was my first ARC ever!)
Educated by Tara Westover
Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser
Walls of Silence by Ruth Wade
Macbeth by Jo Nesbo
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Every Note Played by Lisa Genova
The Unbinding of Mary Reade by Mariam McNamara
Lady Be Good by Amber Brock
The High Season by Judy Blundell
White Houses by Amy Bloom
From Twinkle, With Love by Sandyha Menon (My 2nd Sandyha Menon book this year) Sorority by Genevieve Sly Crane
Birds of Wonder by Cynthia Robinson
Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp
Love and Ruin by Paula McLain
The Good Twin by Marti Green
Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris
The Theory of Happily Ever After by Kristin Billerbeck
The Way of Beauty by Camille Di Maio
Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li
The Myth of Perpetual Summer by Susan Crandall
The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
The Subway Girls by Susie Ornan Schnall
Don’t Believe It by Charlie Donlea
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Sam’s Letters to Jennifer by James Patterson
The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas
Tiffany Blues by M.J. Rose
Pretty Ugly Lies by Pamela Crane
Mr. and Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel
Goodbye, Paris by Anstey Harris
Her Name Was Rose by Claire Allan
Inferno by Dan Brown
She was the Quiet One by Michele Campbell
Every Time You Go Away by Beth Harbison
The Other Woman by Sandie Jones
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastly by Stuart Thurton
Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood
The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris
The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston
Misery by Stephen King (my 2nd King this year)
The Air You Breath by Frances de Pontes Peebles
The Most Beautiful: My Life with Prince by Mayte Garcia
A Child Called ‘It’ by David Pelzer
The Girl from Berlin by Ronald H. Balson
The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang
The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman (blog scheduled for this January)
Our Little Lies by Sue Watson
Auschwitz Lullaby by Mario Escobar
Circe by Madeline Miller
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths
This is Cuba: An American Journalist under Castro’s Shadow by David Ariosto
Slay Bells by T.C. Wescott
The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis
The Twelve Dice of Christmas by Gail Oust