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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Review: Saving Abby by Steena Holmes

Title: Saving Abby
Author: Steena Holmes
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Publish Date: May 31, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "All children’s book illustrator Claire Turner ever wanted was to be a mother. After six years of trying to conceive, she and her husband, Josh, have finally accepted that she will never be pregnant with a child of their own.

Yet once they give up hope, the couple gets the miracle they’ve been waiting for. For the first few months of her pregnancy, Claire and Josh are living on cloud nine. But when she begins to experience debilitating headaches, blurred vision, and even fainting spells, the soon-to-be mother goes to the doctor and receives a terrifying diagnosis. Since any treatment could put their unborn baby’s life at risk, the Turners must carefully weigh their limited options. And as her symptoms worsen, Claire will have to make an impossible decision: Save her own life, or save her child’s?"

My Two Cents:

"Saving Abby" is a tearjerker of a book. After a long time of struggling with infertility, Claire and Josh finally are able to get pregnant. They are incredibly excited as their entire life shifts. Furthermore, they will do anything to ensure that the baby is born healthy so when Claire is diagnosed with a very aggressive form of brain cancer, they know they have to act quickly in order to save the baby but they may not be able to save Claire in the process.

Like I said this book is definitely a tearjerker and as a mother it definitely brought tears to my eyes. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to struggle with something like this when you're trying to have a child. All in all, I really liked the book. I really appreciated that the way that the author was able to elicit my emotions throughout the book. This book definitely pulled on my heartstrings.

I liked the characters but both of the main characters Josh and Claire seemed a little flat to me. I would like to get to know both of the characters a little bit better in order to understand them better and perhaps even feel for them a bit more. Rheir situation is so heartbreaking that you are still pulled into the story. Overall, I thought this was a good book especially if you're looking for a good cry.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Review: Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear

Title: Birds of a Feather
Author: Jacqueline Winspear 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Penguin
Publish Date: 2005
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "It is the spring of 1930, and Maisie has been hired to find a runaway heiress. When three of the heiress's old friends are found dead, Maisie must race to find out who would want to kill these seemingly respectable young women before it's too late. As Maisie investigates, she discovers that the answers lie in the unforgettable agony of the Great War."

My Two Cents:

"Birds of a Feather" is the second book in the Maisie Dobbs series. These books can be read out of order. The mysteries at the center of the book are very much standalone but the personal story of Maisie works best as you read in order. In this book, Maisie takes on the mystery of an heiress that has disappeared. What she will find out as she tries to solve the mystery is that looks can be deceiving and the mystery is much deeper and perhaps darker than she thought in the beginning.

In this book, you get a little more of a sense of Maisie and how she uses her intuition to solve crimes. This is ladled on a little heavy-handedly in this particular book, which lends the book a sense of mysticism that I did not totally buy.

While this mystery was not my favorite, I did like getting to know the characters better. Maisie is such an interesting character. We know a little bit more about her background now and I loved seeing what made her tick. The mystery at the center of the book makes Maisie recall her time as a nurse during WWI where she faced a lot of hardship and heartbreak with everything that she faced. I liked delving into that a little bit more. I'm looking forward to the next installation of this series!


Friday, August 26, 2016

HF Virtual Book Tours Review: Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina

Title: Madame Presidentess
Author: Nicole Evelina
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Lawson Gartner Publishing
Publish Date: July 25, 2016
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Rising from the shame of an abusive childhood, Victoria Woodhull, the daughter of a con-man and a religious zealot, vows to follow her destiny, one the spirits say will lead her out of poverty to “become ruler of her people.”

But the road to glory is far from easy. A nightmarish marriage teaches Victoria that women are stronger and deserve far more credit than society gives. Eschewing the conventions of her day, she strikes out on her own to improve herself and the lot of American women.

Over the next several years, she sets into motion plans that shatter the old boys club of Wall Street and defile even the sanctity of the halls of Congress. But it’s not just her ambition that threatens men of wealth and privilege; when she announces her candidacy for President in the 1872 election, they realize she may well usurp the power they’ve so long fought to protect.

Those who support her laud “Notorious Victoria” as a gifted spiritualist medium and healer, a talented financial mind, a fresh voice in the suffrage movement, and the radical idealist needed to move the nation forward. But those who dislike her see a dangerous force who is too willing to speak out when women are expected to be quiet. Ultimately, “Mrs. Satan’s” radical views on women’s rights, equality of the sexes, free love and the role of politics in private affairs collide with her tumultuous personal life to endanger all she has built and change how she is viewed by future generations.

This is the story of one woman who was ahead of her time – a woman who would make waves even in the 21st century – but who dared to speak out and challenge the conventions of post-Civil War America, setting a precedent that is still followed by female politicians today."

My Two Cents:

"Madame Presidentess" is a historical fiction book about Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for the American presidency. This is one of a group of books about Victoria that come out recently. My suspicion is that as we have one of the first women in a while running as viable presidential candidate that people are beginning to discover Woodhull again. Also, her life is incredibly fascinating! You have the makings for a good historical fiction book. It's no wonder that she is become such a popular topic for historical fiction.

Victoria's life doesn't start out great. She is born into a very poor family where her father seems to focus only on the next get rich scheme and her mother is addled by religious visions. It falls to Victoria in a lot of ways to take care of her siblings and keep the family going, which is hard for anyone. When she has the opportunity to get married at a very young age she does as it means more freedom for her. This book covers from her childhood to her adult years so you get to know her very well. Again it's no wonder that she's such a popular topic for historical fiction. She is an incredibly strong person who defines the word perseverance. I really enjoyed getting to know her a little bit better through this book.

The writing of the book is pretty good. Evelina gives a fresh take on Woodhull's life. But of the things that I really liked about the book, I especially was drawn to the first-person perspective which really pulls you into Victoria's life and makes her feel like a real person. It feels like a lot of people are just discovering this person. Before I read the last historical fiction book about Woodhull, I didn't know much about her at all. She's one of those people that in a lot of ways has largely been lost to history.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review: I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows

Title: I Will Send Rain
Author: Rae Meadows 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publish Date: August 9, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Annie Bell can't escape the dust. It's in her hair, covering the windowsills, coating the animals in the barn, in the corners of her children's dry, cracked lips. It's 1934 and the Bell farm in Mulehead, Oklahoma is struggling as the earliest storms of The Dust Bowl descend. All around them the wheat harvests are drying out and people are packing up their belongings as storms lay waste to the Great Plains. As the Bells wait for the rains to come, Annie and each member of her family are pulled in different directions. Annie's fragile young son, Fred, suffers from dust pneumonia; her headstrong daughter, Birdie, flush with first love, is choosing a dangerous path out of Mulehead; and Samuel, her husband, is plagued by disturbing dreams of rain.

As Annie, desperate for an escape of her own, flirts with the affections of an unlikely admirer, she must choose who she is going to become. With her warm storytelling and beautiful prose, Rae Meadows brings to life an unforgettable family that faces hardship with rare grit and determination. Rich in detail and epic in scope, I Will Send Rain is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, filled with hope, morality, and love."

My Two Cents:

"I Will Send Rain" is the story of the Bell family set against the beginning of the Dust Bowl years. Annie is bored with her marriage and wants more out of life. After a surprise flirtation with the mayor, she finds herself in a situation that she never could have expected. Birdie, Annie's daughter, has fallen head over heels with Cy, a farmer's son. She believes it to be true love and won't listen to her parents' reasoning but she gets into her own situation that will change her life as well as the lives of her family. Filled with great historical detail and bold characters, this is a read that I will be thinking about long after I read the last few words.

I haven't read a lot of historical fiction set during the 1930s, especially during the Dust Bowl years. It makes for a great setting. There is so much drama caused by the dust that consumed everything around it that automatically makes for an interesting read. I loved how the author was able to weave in the historical events of the time into the drama in the story. It is so hard for to imagine just how difficult these years were for so many in the center of the United States. People's lives and livelihoods were crushed. The juxtaposition between the chaos caused by the dust and the chaos caused by the decisions that the characters make in the book.

The characters are great! Annie is a strong woman but she wants to be loved and to feel the spark that she once had with her husband. I loved getting to know her through this book. I loved the juxtaposition between her and Birdie. Annie is a full-fledged adult and knows exactly what she is doing when she gets involved with the mayor. Birdie is blinded by first love and doesn't stop to think of the consequences. Even in the end, she seems to pull her "youthful ignorance" card and isn't willing to step up to the proverbial plate to take responsibility for her actions.

Overall, this is a great book! The writing is good and had a nice flow. The ending seemed a little abrupt but in a way where there did not really seem to be room for a sequel, which is unfortunate. I would have liked more closure but that took very little away from my enjoyment of the book. I really enjoyed the family secrets at the center of the book!


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Review: Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti

Title: Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books
Author: Cara Nicoletti
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Co.
Publish Date: August 18, 2015
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "As a young bookworm reading in her grandfather's butcher shop, Cara Nicoletti saw how books and food bring people to life. Now a butcher, cook, and talented writer, she serves up stories and recipes inspired by beloved books and the food that gives their characters depth and personality.

From the breakfast sausage in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods to chocolate cupcakes with peppermint buttercream from Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, these books and the tasty treats in them put her on the road to happiness."

My Two Cents:

Is there anything that goes better together than good books and delicious food? In this book, the author explores some of the dishes from her favorite books and provides recipes for readers to try on their own. The book covers many different genres from children's lit to some of the classics. The author gives the meaning for her behind some of the books. Some of the books have universal appeal but there are others which may not appeal to as many people.

The design of the book is gorgeous and really drew me in. I love a good, stylish cookbook and that is definitely what you get with this book. This is definitely a book for book lovers. It inspired me to look back at some of my favorite books to see whether or not I could create any recipes from them!


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Review: The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat by Vali Nasr

Title: The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat
Author: Vali Nasr
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Doubleday
Publish Date: April 16, 2013
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Vali Nasr, author of the groundbreaking The Shia Revival, worked closely with Hillary Clinton at the State Department on Afghan and Pakistani affairs. In The Dispensable Nation, he takes us behind the scenes to show how Secretary Clinton and her ally, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, were thwarted in their efforts to guide an ambitious policy in South Asia and the Middle East. Instead, four years of presidential leadership and billions of dollars of U.S. spending failed to advance democracy and development, producing mainly rage at the United States for its perceived indifference to the fate of the region.

After taking office in 2009, the Obama administration had an opportunity to fundamentally reshape American foreign policy, Nasr argues, but its fear of political backlash and the specter of terrorism drove it to pursue the same questionable strategies as its predecessor. Meanwhile, the true economic threats to U.S. power, China and Russia, were quietly expanding their influence in places where America has long held sway.  "

My Two Cents:

"The Dispensable Nation" is a grim look at American foreign policy and where the author thinks that it is going . Nasr worked in the White House with Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State and Richard Holbrooke, a much renowned foreign policy mind also in the State Department. Nasr has an axe to grind of sorts with Obama's foreign policy and for the most part, he makes a very good case throughout the book.

It was a fascinating read. It is easy to criticize things like foreign policy, which has so many moving parts and things that must be considered, from the outside. I am always more fascinated by those that have been on the front lines of making big decisions to see how they felt about the decisions that were made.

The book is broken down into different topical sections. I thought this worked really well for the subject matter in order not to overwhelm the reader. Although this book is filled with a lot of criticism for what the author sees as failings, I liked that the author also included other ways forward that should be considered by those that make and carry out foreign policy. I like books that stick with me long after the last page. This book gave me a lot to think about. It's a great read for those that have a keen interest in the difficult things that foreign policy makers face every day!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Review: The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

Title: The Star Side of Bird Hill 
Author: Naomi Jackson 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Penguin
Publish Date: June 30, 2015 
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "After their mother can no longer care for them, young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, are exiled from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados to live with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.

Dionne spends the summer in search of love, testing her grandmother's limits, and wanting to go home. Phaedra explores Bird Hill, where her family has lived for generations, accompanies her grandmother in her role as a midwife, and investigates their mother's mysterious life.

When the father they barely know comes to Bird Hill to reclaim his daughters, and both Phaedra and Dionne must choose between the Brooklyn they once knew and loved or the Barbados of their family."

My Two Cents:

"The Star Side of Bird Hill" is a coming of age story of two sisters who go to stay with their grandmother in Barbados after their mother, who is fighting demons of her own, can't take care of them. The sisters will deal with their new home in very different ways and the book really explores their feelings. This is a story about family and sisters and what it takes to overcome the most difficult circumstances.

The sisters deal with feeling abandoned in different ways with vastly different outcomes. Dionne is angry and acts out at every turn. At first, I wasn't sure what was driving Dionne's hot anger. It is just so intense. Eventually we find out that she is using her anger and acting out to hide her deep pain and fear. Phaedra acts completely different. She throws herself into learning what her grandmother will teach her about midwifery. It was so interested to see the juxtaposition.

The book takes a little while to take off but as we learn more about Phaedra and Dionne and what makes them tick, the book really hits a great stride. I enjoyed getting to know the characters through this book. This is Jackson's debut novel and this book made me excited to see what the future holds for her!

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