Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: "Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow" by Juliet Grey

From Goodreads:  Paris, 1774. At the tender age of eighteen, Marie Antoinette ascends to the French throne alongside her husband, Louis XVI. But behind the extravagance of the young queen’s elaborate silk gowns and dizzyingly high coiffures, she harbors deeper fears for her future and that of the Bourbon dynasty.

From the early growing pains of marriage to the joy of conceiving a child, from her passion for Swedish military attaché Axel von Fersen to the devastating Affair of the Diamond Necklace, Marie Antoinette tries to rise above the gossip and rivalries that encircle her. But as revolution blossoms in America, a much larger threat looms beyond the gilded gates of Versailles—one that could sweep away the French monarchy forever.

My Thoughts:  I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow is the second book in Juliet Grey's Marie Antoinette trilogy.  I read the first book in the fall and didn't love it and I wasn't sure that I really wanted to read this one.  I eventually was sucked in by the cover (isn't it pretty?) and decided to give it a shot.  After reading the prologue, I was really excited for this book.  The prologue is so well-written that it felt like I was there watching events unfold in the marketplace in Paris.  It was amazing!  Unfortunately, the rest of the book fell flat.  The story felt very slow at times and at other times hard to follow.  Towards the middle of the book, the story splits in two and you finally understand what role the prologue plays in the story.  When the story split, it felt very disjointed and I felt I would be reading along and it would stop abruptly and start on the other story.  There were several times where I thought I had missed a page when in fact, the stories had switched. 

I also felt bad reading this because normally I am very sympathetic towards Marie Antoinette but I find myself really not liking her in this book.  She was spoiled and whiny and I just got really tired of her.  There was a moment where I thought, 'Wow, if she was really like this, it's no wonder everyone disliked her.' I was also surprised that Ms. Grey's story included an affair between Marie Antoinette and Axel von Fersen.  I don't know if I have ever read a work of historical fiction that did this so I had a 'whoa!' moment.  In all fairness, I have to say that Ms. Grey is a wonderfully descriptive writer as her descriptions of Marie Antoinette's clothes, hair and surroundings were magnificent.  It's also very obvious that she did a TON of research for this book which I always appreciate.  Even though I didn't love the first two books in this trilogy, I probably will read the third book just because I am curious as to how she will end the story (not that I don't already know how it will end).  3 stars.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Top Ten Books Written In The Past 10 Years That I Hope People Are Still Reading In 30 Years

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is: Top Ten Books Written In The Past 10 Years That I Hope People Are Still Reading In 30 Years
This was such a hard topic so some of my picks are not the best.
1.) The Help by Kathryn Stockett-People either loved or hated this book but I personally loved it.  I thought it was a very powerful story and hope it maintains it's popularity.
2.) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak-An inspiring story that fits well in the genre of Holocaust literature.
3.) Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling-Harry Potter encouraged so many people to get reading and hopefully, they will continue to do so.
4.) Everything is Illuminated by Jonathon Safran Foer-I just love this book and seeing as how the Holocaust is a 'popular' topic, I think this book will still be relevant in the years to come.
5.) The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova-I think this is just an awesome story.  It's been out for a while but it still seems to be popular and well-loved.
6.) Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert-I know some people hated this book but I found it very inspiring and I think it's message is timeless.
7.) Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane-This is just a fantastic psychological thriller that I think will be enjoyed for years to come.
8.)A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah-This book was written a few years ago and there are still violent conflicts occurring in Africa.  Any book that can promote awareness of situations that would normally be ignored, is important and should still be read years from now.
9.) Anything by Laurie Halse Anderson-I feel like any teenager could relate to these books and I hope they will be reading Anderson's work for years to come.

What books

Monday, May 28, 2012

Review: "Jeneration X" by Jen Lancaster

From Goodreads:  In Such a Pretty Fat, Jen Lancaster learned how to come to terms with her body. In My Fair Lazy, she expanded her mind. Now the New York Times bestselling author gives herself—and her generation—a kick in the X, by facing her greatest challenge to date: acting her age.

Jen is finally ready to put away childish things (except her Barbie Styling Head, of course) and embrace the investment-making, mortgage-carrying, life-insurance-having adult she’s become. From getting a mammogram to volunteering at a halfway house, she tackles the grown-up activities she’s resisted for years, and with each rite of passage she completes, she’ll uncover a valuable—and probably humiliating—life lesson that will ease her path to full-fledged, if reluctant, adulthood.

My Thoughts:  This is probably one of my favorite Jen Lancaster books so far.  As someone who is trying to figure out how to be a grown up, I completely related to her and this book.  I want Jen to be my BFF, can you imagine how much fun that would be?  Plus, it's nice to know I am not the only one with an insane pet.   As always, this is a laugh out loud kind of book that I couldn't put down.  You get to read more about the antics of her crazy pets and watch her settle down into her own home while still maintaining her usual quirkiness (and snarky wit).  I love that she includes Fletch into her tales because their banter is hilarious and because he puts up with all of her shenanigans.  My only issue with the book is that several of the stories included had been posted on her blog so I had read some of them already (I didn't realize they were part of the book at the time).  Overall, a fun summer read! 4 stars.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Stacking the Shelves (4)

Stacking the Shelves is a feature hosted by Tynga's Reviews.  It is a great way to share all the books and bookish items received in the past week.

NetGalley is killing me lately!  I have more than enough to read (seriously, right now my TBR pile is RIDICULOUS) but I keep finding more great books on NetGalley.  It also doesn't help that I don't have a ton to do at work so I have an ample amount of time to surf their catalog.
This week I received 1 book from NetGalley:

The Queen's Vow by C.W. Gortner -Isn't the cover gorgeous?  I have read Gortner's book on Catherine d'Medici and really liked it so I am looking forward to reading this.

Did you receive any fun books this week?  Are you overwhelmed by the ever-growing TBR pile?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: "The Fellowship of the Ring" by J.R.R. Tolkien

From Goodreads:  One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find then, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them...

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit.

In a sleeping village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with the immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.

My Thoughts:  I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.  I am not really into high fantasy but I liked the Lord of the Rings movies so I figured I would give it a whirl.  I am so glad I did.  I have been told by many people that this was a hard book to get through but I didn't find that to be true at all.  The story and characters grabbed me immediately and the world building was amazing.  I can't even imagine how creative Tolkien must have been to come up with hobbits, elves, dwarves, etc. as well as Middle-Earth.  It must have taken him a really long time to weave together all these characters, lands and events.  It is easy to see why this is such a classic and I can't believe I shied away from it for so long. 

There are a ton of characters in this book but I feel like you get to know each one pretty well.  They all have unique personalities and unique voices so it didn't seem hard to keep track of everyone.  I also loved the descriptions of the different places that Frodo and company travel through.  It was so interesting to watch to the switch from the dark and forboding mountains to the lush greenery of Lothlarian.  I don't want to compare the book to the movie but I think the  movie did a good job of bringing the book's scenery to life.  I actually really want to watch the movie again now that I have read the book.  It has been  years since I have seen it and I think I might appreciate it more now.  Overall, this was a fantastic read.  I am excited to pick up the next two books!  4 stars.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Top Ten Blogs/Sites I Read That Aren't About Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
This week's topic is:  Top Ten Blogs/Sites I Read that aren't about Books

1.) The Family CEO -This is a money management blog that I like.  I have gotten so many good budgeting and money saving tips from this site.

2.) Six Sister's Stuff- A great cooking/crafts blog.  I have made several recipes from this site and they were all delicious.

3.) People I Want to Punch in the Throat-This blog is hysterical!  The blogger is smart, sassy and usually right on the money with her assessments of various aspects of everyday life.

4.) Postsecret

5.) Semi-Homemade Mom-Another great site for recipes.

6.) The Food Librarian-This blog has a lot of great recipes but it also has really awesome photographs of the food she makes.

7.) Get Crocked -I am obsessed with cooking in the crock pot.  I love this site because it is full of yummy crock pot recipes.

8.) The Chronicle of Higher Education- I read this a lot mostly because it pertains to my job.

What non-book blogs/sites do you frequent?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Stacking the Shelves (3)

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly feature hosted by Tynga's Reviews.  It is a great way to showcase any books received during the week.

Even though I am completely overwhelmed with books right now, I picked up a few more this week.  I need a week long vacation just to get caught up on reading!

From the Library:
Jeneration X by Jen Lancaster
Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

From NetGalley:
Her Highness, the Traitor by Susan Higginbotham

What books did you pick up this week?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Review: "The Secret Keeper" by Sandra Byrd

From Goodreads:  Juliana St. John is the daughter of a prosperous knight in Marlborough. Though her family wants her to marry the son of her father’s business partner, circumstances set her on a course toward the court of Henry VIII and his last wife, Kateryn Parr.

Sir Thomas Seymour, uncle of the current heir, Prince Edward, returns to Wiltshire to tie up his business with Juliana’s father’s estate and sees instantly that she would fit into the household of the woman he loves, Kateryn Parr. Her mother agrees to have her placed in the Parr household for “finishing” and Juliana goes, though perhaps reluctantly. For she knows a secret. She has been given the gift of prophecy, and in one of her visions she has seen Sir Thomas shredding the dress of the king’s daughter, the lady Elizabeth, to perilous consequence.

As Juliana learns the secrets of King Henry VIII’s court, she faces threats and opposition, learning truths about her own life that will upset everything she thought she once held dear.

My Thoughts:  I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I liked this book, I really did.  Unfortunately, I didn't love it.  The story had a so much potential but it kind of fell flat.  It sucked me in but kind of let me down towards the end.  The story was moving at a decent (sometimes slow) pace and then the end felt like a ton of stuff was shoved into very few pages.  There were a lot of descriptions of dresses and jewels and I actually did enjoy imagining all the luxurious items worn by Katherine Parr and those around her. 

I liked the character of Juliana but I couldn't relate to her.  There were times where I felt very sympathetic towards her but as the book progressed, I just felt kind of meh.  In the beginning she seemed like a pretty strong character and she did take charge at the end but through the middle of the story, I just wasn't that interested in what she was doing.  I also thought that while the idea of her prophesy like dreams sounded compelling, it just didn't turn out to be as exciting as I thought.  It seemed at first that they might show her things she was to help prevent but instead the dreams were just about things that were going to happen and those events weren't that exciting.  The one character I did really like was Jamie Hart and yet he only appears in the story sporadically. 

There was a secret revealed toward the end of the story that seemed very strange and unexpected and I know why the author included it but at the same time it felt unneccessary considering the personality of Juliana.  I think she would have done what Katherine Parr asked her to do without including this big secret and that whole scene left me thinking 'Huh?'  Overall, this was a decent read that could have been really good.  3 stars.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: "Pretty in Plaid" by Jen Lancaster

From Goodreads:  In Pretty in Plaid, Jen Lancaster reveals how she developed the hubris that perpetually gets her into trouble. Using fashion icons of her youth to tell her hilarious and insightful stories, readers will meet the girl she used to be.

Think Jen Lancaster was always "like David Sedaris with pearls and a super-cute handbag?" (Jennifer Coburn) Think again. She was a badge-hungry Junior Girl Scout with a knack for extortion, an aspiring sorority girl who didn't know her Coach from her Louis Vuitton, and a budding executive who found herself bewildered by her first encounter with a fax machine. In this humorous and touching memoir, Jen Lancaster looks back on her life-and wardrobe-before bitter was the new black and shows us a young woman not so very different than the rest of us.

The author who showed us what it was like to wait in line at the unemployment office with a Prada bag, how living in the city can actually suck, and that losing weight can be fun with a trainer named Barbie and enough Ambien is ready to take you on a hilarious and heartwarming trip down memory lane in her shoes (and very pretty ones at that).

My Thoughts:  I love Jen Lancaster.  I was feeling pretty crummy when I picked this book up but she never fails to lift my spirits.  I swear that she says all the things that I think and could never say.  Pretty in Plaid is a look at Jen's early life and all of the crazy things she did prior to Bitter is the New Black.  Jen was a sassy kid who grew into a super sassy adult!  Whether or not it's all true, it is pretty hilarious to think of 8 year old Jen ordering lobster and then being too freaked out to eat it!  It's also funny to think of a crazy doctor locking her in an office to get her to complete a bunch of paperwork (one of my favorite stories in the book).  While telling all these fun stories, she is sure to mention what she is wearing and some of the outfits will make you shudder.  There were times where I definitely could relate to her; she was just another girl trying to find her place in the world and who can't relate to that?  Overall, this book is a fun, fluffy read that is great if you are looking for a laugh.  4 stars.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: "The Terror" by David Andress

From Goodreads:  For two hundred years, the Terror has haunted the imagination of the West. The descent of the French Revolution from rapturous liberation into an orgy of apparently pointless bloodletting has been the focus of countless reflections on the often malignant nature of humanity and the folly of revolution.

David Andress, a leading historian of the French Revolution, presents a radically different account of the Terror. In a remarkably vivid and page-turning work of history, he transports the reader from the pitched battles on the streets of Paris to the royal family's escape through secret passageways in the Tuileries palace, and across the landscape of the tragic last years of the Revolution. The violence, he shows, was a result of dogmatic and fundamentalist thinking: dreadful decisions were made by groups of people who believed they were still fighting for freedom but whose survival was threatened by famine, external war, and counter-revolutionaries within the fledging new state. Urgent questions emerge from Andress's trenchant reassessment: When is it right to arbitrarily detain those suspected of subversion? When does an earnest patriotism become the rationale for slaughter?

Combining startling narrative power and bold insight, The Terror is written with verve and exceptional pace-it is a superb popular debut from an enormously talented historian.

My Thoughts:  I really was not in the right frame of mind when I picked up this book so I'll be honest, I didn't enjoy it at all.  That doesn't mean this is a bad book (it's not), it just wasn't for me.  The Terror is a very in depth look at all that was occurring in Revolutionary France.  You meet all the players and political groups and see all the moves for power.  There is so much information in this book and it is written in a very scholarly manner which is why I struggled with it so much.  It is definitely dry at times but a lot of scholarly works are.  There were some interesting discussions about the changes made to the French calendar and the overall discontented atmosphere in France so I did enjoy some of this book.  I also liked the discussions about all of the revoluationaries turning on each other, I think it just reiterated the chaos and turmoil that was going on.  Overall, I think this is a good book if you are looking for a very detailed work on the this period in history.  3 stars.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Review: "Clockwork Angel" by Cassandra Clare

From Goodreads:  When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own.

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by--and torn between--two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length...everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world...and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.

My Thoughts:  I am way late to the party on this series.  I picked this book up before reading The Mortal Instruments series but decided to wait on it for a while.  Big mistake.  I liked this book so much more than City of Bones.  I am not saying I disliked The Mortal Instruments series, but Clockwork Angel just appealed to me more.  The story was action packed and I really couldn't put it down.  I loved that it was set in Victorian England (I am a sucker for historical fiction) but it was hard to imagine female Shadowhunters in that era.  I kept trying to imagine a woman fighting demons in a Victorian era dress, it was kind of a funny picture.  Also, the idea of these clockwork people/robots was a little strange for me (I've never read any steampunk before) but was a nice change of pace from just vampires, werewolves and fairies.

The characters in this story were great.  I felt like they were all just mysterious enough to make me want to know more about them.  I liked that a lot of the characters in this book were the ancestors of the characters in the other series and also loved that Magnus Bane made an appearance.  I really like him as a character and it was fun to see him in a different context.  I don't love that a love triangle is forming in the story but I guess I will have to deal with it.  I really can't wait to read the next book; so many questions were left unanswered and I am hoping that I will get to find out more about Tessa's parents in the next book.  4 stars.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Review: "Moloka'i" by Alan Brennert

From Goodreads:  This richly imagined novel, set in Hawai'i more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place---and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.

Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'i. Here her life is supposed to end---but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.

With a vibrant cast of vividly realized characters, Moloka'i is the true-to-life chronicle of a people who embraced life in the face of death. Such is the warmth, humor, and compassion of this novel that "few readers will remain unchanged by Rachel's story".
My Thoughts:  I know that I always say 'Why didn't I read this sooner?' but this is one of those times where I am really kicking myself.  I bought this book a year ago and have kept putting off reading it because I wasn't sure whether or not I would like it.  Well, I am officially an idiot for putting it off because this is one of the best books I have read this year.  It is completely different than any other work of historical fiction that I have read and I think that is part of the reason I loved it so much.  The setting is fantastic (who doesn't love Hawaii?) and the story is absolutely heart-breakingly beautiful.  The writing is so good; Brennert's descriptions of the people of Moloka'i and their surroundings made me feel as though I was watching the whole story happen instead of just reading it.  Rachel's story brought me to tears on more than one occaision both because it was at times so sad and at others so joyful.  I haven't had a story evoke that much emotion from me in long time.  In addition to a great story, this book is full of great characters all of whom seemed so human and real.  Rachel was a wonderfully well-developed character; there were times where it seemed as though you could feel what she was feeling.  The things she had to deal with her throughout her life were horrific but she handled everything with such grace.  I also loved how the idea of family played such a huge role in the story.  There was an emphasis on the idea that a family doesn't always mean blood relatives and that you can really create a loving family in a bad situation.

Honestly, until reading this book, I never realized that there had been a leper colony in the Hawaiian islands or that leprosy was even an issue in Hawaii in the 19th and 20th centuries.  This book may have been fiction but it opened my eyes to historical events that I never knew existed.  I feel that since Hawai'i is part of the US, I really should know about events like this.  I will be adding the island of Moloka'i to my growing list of things I need to read about further.  In closing, this is a REALLY great book that can be enjoyed by all, not just fans of historical fiction. Go read it!  5 stars.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Review: "The Law of Dreams" by Peter Behrens

From Goodreads:  The Law of Dreams tells the story of a young man's epic passage from innocence to experience during The Great Famine in Ireland of 1847. 

On his odyssey through Ireland and Britain, and across the Atlantic to “the Boston states,” Fergus is initiated to violence, sexual heat, and the glories and dangers of the industrial revolution. Along the way, he meets an unforgettable generation of boy soldiers, brigands, street toughs and charming, willful girls – all struggling for survival in the aftermath of natural catastrophe magnified by political callousness and brutal neglect.

Peter Behrens transports the reader to another time and place for a deeply-moving and resonant experience. The Law of Dreams is gorgeously written in incandescent language that unleashes the sexual and psychological energies of a lost world while plunging the reader directly into a vein of history that haunts the ancestral memory of millions in a new millennium.

My Thoughts: This is going to be a short review because I am not quite sure what to say about this book.  It wasn't a bad story by any means, it was just different than most books I normally read.  The writing was good and the story kept me interested it was just kind of like getting slapped in the face with extreme poverty and hardship.  The story starts in Ireland during the famine and moves through poverty-stricken parts in London and ends in Canada.  Behrens shows no mercy in his tale of Fergus and his struggle to survive and the story is 'nasty and brutish' (to paraphrase Thomas Hobbes).  Death and violence are ever present and Fergus' tale is a really sad one.  Behrens made it clear through the story that sometimes things were done in order to survive and because of the extreme poverty his characters faced, the reader shouldn't judge them.  One thing I didn't love, there is a lot of sex in this book.  That doesn't normally bother me but at times, it seemed really unneccessary to the rest of the story.  Overall, an interesting read.  It definitely left me thinking and I feel like I am still thinking it through.  3 stars.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Top Ten Favorite Passages from Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

This week's topic is:  Top Ten Favorite Passages from Books
(Ok, really it's favorite quotes but most of my favorites are long so I am going to make it passages)

1.) "...So I ask them if they believe in God.  And if they say they do-I know they don't believe in life.'  'Why?' 'Because, you see, God—whatever anyone chooses to call God—is one's highest conception of the highest possible. And whoever places his highest conception above his own possibility thinks very little of himself and his life. It's a rare gift, you know, to feel reverence for your own life and to want the best, the greatest, the highest possible, here, now, for your very own. To imagine a heaven and then not to dream of it, but to demand it.'" From We the Living by Ayn Rand

2.) “Mr. Montag, you are looking at a coward. I saw the way things were going a long time back. I said nothing. I am one of the innocents who could have spoken up and out when no one would listen to the 'guilty,' but I did not speak and thus became guilty myself.”  -From Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

3.) “The essential truth of life, he was coming to realize, wasn't romantic and took only two words to label: Shit. Happens.  But the thing was, you kept going. You kept your friends and your family and your mate as safe as you were able. And you kept fighting even after you were knocked down.”  From Lover Mine by J.R. Ward

4.) “That's not a thing any of us are granted. To go back. Wipe away what later doesn't suit us and make it the way we wish it. You just go on.”  From Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

5.)  “From the Crusades, to the Inquisition, to American politics--the name of Jesus had been hijacked as an ally in all kinds of power struggles. Since the beginning of time, the ignorant had always screamed the loudest, herding the unsuspecting masses and forcing them to do their bidding. They defended their worldly desires by citing Scripture they did not understand. They celebrated their intolerance as proof of their convictions. Now, after all these years, mankind had finally managed to utterly erode everything that had once been so beautiful about Jesus.” From The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

6.) "Ask yourself these three questions, Tatiana Metanova, and  you will know who you are.  Ask:  What do you believe in?  What do you hope for?  What do you love?" From The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

7.) "I will find you," he whipsered in my ear.  "I promise.  If I must endure two hundred years of purgatory, two hundred years without you-then it is my punishment, which I have earned for my crimes.  For I have lied, and killed, and stolen; betrayed and broken trust.  But there is the one thing that shall lie in the balance.  When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weigh against the rest."  His voice dropped, nearly to a whisper, and his arms tightened around me.  "Lord,  ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well." From Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

8.) "I wish I wasn't an imperial highness or an ex-grand duchess.  I'm sick of people doing things to me because of what I am.  Girl-in-white-dress.  Short-one-with-fringe.  Daughter-of-the-tsar.  Child-of-the-ex-tyrant.  I want people to look and see me, Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova, not he caboose on a train of grad duchesses.  Someday, I promise myself, no one will be able to hear my name or look at my picture and suppose they know all about me.  Someday I will do something bigger than what I am." From The Lost Crown by Sarah Miller

9.) "Indeed, people speak sometimes about the 'animal' cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to animals, no animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, artistically cruel." From The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

10.) "When the day shall come that we do part," he said softly, and turned to look at me, "if my last words are not 'I love you'-ye'll ken it was because I didna have time." From The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon

I can't wait to see all of the quotes everyone came up with!  Leave a link in the comments so I check out your list!


Monday, May 7, 2012

Review: "Shadow and Bone" by Leigh Bardugo

From Goodreads:  Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

My Thoughts: I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I was immediately pulled to this book as soon as I saw the cover.  Isn't it amazing?  I normally am not a huge fan of the fantasy genre but this book surprised me and I really enjoyed it.  Alina is such an awesome character; she is one tough cookie, just the way I like my heroines.  I also liked the fact that with the exception of Mal and Alina, you never knew which character was friend or foe.  I felt like I was always cautiously liking a character because I didn't know whether I should trust them or not.  The Darkling was one such character; he showed early on that he was capable of violence but other times he seemed to really care for Alina.

 The author definitely outdid herself in the creation of the world of the Grisha and I loved how she incorporated all of the Russian/East European aspects into the story.  Ravka was so well-developed with all the different types of Grisha, the different colors and clothes they wore and all their different powers.  I also loved Bardugo's description of the Shadow Fold, I could almost sense the darkness whenever this area of Ravka was discussed.

This is the first book in a trilogy and I am definitely excited to read the next book.  There was a big twist toward the end of the story and I was left with a lot of questions at the end.  I also want to see more of Mal in the next book.  He wasn't part of a big chunk of the story and I would like to get to know him better.  Overall, a great read!  4 stars.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Stacking the Shelves (2)

Stacking the Shelves is a new meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews.  It's a great way to showcase the books you receive during the week and check out some really cool blogs.

This week I received two books.  Honestly, I should not have picked up any but NetGalley sucked me in while I was bored at work.  I have been going back to my old favorite, historical fiction, and these ones look pretty good.   

 From NetGalley: 

Days of Splendour, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Gray

What books did you pick up this week?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Review: "The King's Concubine" by Anne O'Brien

From Goodreads:  One marriage. Three people.  Proud king. Loving wife. Infamous mistress.

1362, Philippa of Hainault selects a young orphan from a convent. Alice Perrers, a girl born with nothing but ambition. The Queen has a role waiting for her at court.

‘I have lifted you from nothing Alice. Now you repay me.'

Led down the corridors of the royal palace the young virgin is secretly delivered to King Edward III - to perform the wifely duties of which ailing Philippa is no longer capable. Power has a price, and Alice Perrers will pay it.

Mistress to the King. Confidante of the Queen. Whore to the court. Her fate is double edged; loved by the majesties, ostracised by her peers. Alice must balance her future with care as her star begins to rise - the despised Concubine is not untouchable.

Politics and pillow talk are dangerous bedfellows. The fading great King wants her in his bed. Her enemies want her banished. One mistake and Alice will face a threat worse than any malicious whispers of the past.

My Thoughts:  I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I have heard of Alice Perrers in passing but I have not read anything about her and really know very little about her life.  So when I got the opportunity to read this book, I jumped at it.  I know in my reviews, I talk a lot about how this or that character was a strong female lead but I always prefer a book with strong female lead and this book nailed it.  I loved Anne O'Brien's creation of Alice as a strong woman who pulled herself up by her bootstraps and was able to deal with adversity.  Granted, she obtained a lot of her funds because she was the king's mistress but I think O'Brien made Alice sympathetic enough that I didn't think of her as prostituting herself out.  She truly loved the king and he cared about her; yes, she took advantage of the situation but I could see where she was coming from.  At times I did feel like O'Brien made her a little too Scarlett O'Hara-esque ("As God as my witness, I'll never go hungry again!") but considering that she came from nothing and her goal was to ensure that she, and her children, would be secure, it didn't bother me that much.  Overall, Alice was one tough cookie and I enjoyed her as a character.  Was she like that in real life?  Who knows but if I had to imagine her, I would like to think she was as O'Brien described her.

I didn't know what to expect when I picked this book up but I have to say the story was really good.  The King's Concubine was engaging and kept me wanting to know more. I thought it might be a little too much romance for me but really the story isn't about this epic love between Edward and Alice.  It had just enough romance for my taste without it overpowering the rest of the story.  Most of the characters were very believable though I had a hard time believing that Phillipa loved her husband so much she would hand pick a mistress for him.  I loved the two extremely hateful princesses, Joan and Isabella, and their conversations with Alice were great.  I like a well-written snarky conversation and this book had it.  As always, I appreciated the author's note at the end of the book which gave a detailed explanation as to what was, and was not, historically accurate.  I am definitely going to start looking for books about Edward III and hopefully, I will be able to find out more about Alice Perrers.  4 stars.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review: "Catherine the Great" by Robert K. Massie

From Goodreads:  Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into Empress of Russia by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant mind and an insatiable curiosity as a young woman, she devoured the works of Enlightenment philosophers and, when she reached the throne, attempted to use their principles to guide her rule of the vast and backward Russian empire. She knew or corresponded with the preeminent historical figures of her time: Voltaire, Diderot, Frederick the Great, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette, and, surprisingly, the American naval hero, John Paul Jones.

Reaching the throne fired by Enlightenment philosophy and determined to become the embodiment of the “benevolent despot” idealized by Montesquieu, she found herself always contending with the deeply ingrained realities of Russian life, including serfdom. She persevered, and for thirty-four years the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution that swept across Europe. Her reputation depended entirely on the perspective of the speaker. She was praised by Voltaire as the equal of the greatest of classical philosophers; she was condemned by her enemies, mostly foreign, as “the Messalina of the north.”

Catherine’s family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies—all are here, vividly described. These included her ambitious, perpetually scheming mother; her weak, bullying husband, Peter (who left her lying untouched beside him for nine years after their marriage); her unhappy son and heir, Paul; her beloved grandchildren; and her “favorites”—the parade of young men from whom she sought companionship and the recapture of youth as well as sex. Here, too, is the giant figure of Gregory Potemkin, her most significant lover and possible husband, with whom she shared a passionate correspondence of love and separation, followed by seventeen years of unparalleled mutual achievement.

The story is superbly told. All the special qualities that Robert K. Massie brought to Nicholas and Alexandra and Peter the Great are present here: historical accuracy, depth of understanding, felicity of style, mastery of detail, ability to shatter myth, and a rare genius for finding and expressing the human drama in extraordinary lives.

History offers few stories richer in drama than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, this eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.

My Thoughts:  I love Catherine the Great, I do.  She really was an amazing woman for her time.  I think she is one of the most interesting female rulers in history.  I have read a lot about her so to me this book was a little boring simply because none of the information was new.  That being said, it this was a really great biography.  Robert K. Massie's writing style is very readable, even for non-fiction and he organizes his information in such a manner that it is almost as though you are reading a work of fiction.  I have read several of Massie's other books and his writing style is what made me want to read this one.

This biography has a TON of information about Catherine's life from birth to death.  It felt like Massie left no stone unturned and he painted a fair picture of Catherine.  He made it clear that she was not without faults but that she did try to rule Russia to the best of her abilities.  He also clearly laid out both her successes and her failures so I felt like there wasn't a very obvious bias in this work.  I enjoyed that he included parts of her correspondence with different people like Voltaire, Potemkin, etc. as I liked being able to see her own words and thoughts.  I also appreciated that he didn't make her out to be a total whore which is common in some works about her.  It makes me crazy when I read something about her that only emphasizes how many lovers she had and her sexual proclivities (there are a lot of stories about her and many of them aren't true.  Overall, this was a good biography of Catherine the Great and if you are interested in her life, I recommend it.  3 1/2 stars.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

April Wrap Up

Jeez, April was not a good reading month for me!  Work was super crazy and training for the half marathon kept me really busy so I definitely didn't read very much this month.  I also kind of hit a blogging slump so my posts haven't been as regular as usual.  I even missed my blogoversary on April 19!  Numbers wise, I only read 8 books this month which brings my total for the year to 45.  I don't think I have read so few books in a month in a really long time.  I did make progress on all of my challenges so I am pretty happy about that.  I also met one of my goals for the year by completing my first half marathon.  So the month wasn't a total waste...except all the time I had to spend at my sucky job.

I am kind of mad at myself because I haven't been doing a very good job of reading books I own.  At the beginning of the year, I had 81 books on my shelves that I needed to read.  As of today, I have read 11 of them.  This isn't very good.  I am trying not to buy books until I have read 75% of the books I own.  This means 61 books so I still have 50 books to go.  I think I am going to move to a plan where every other book I read will be one of my shelf.  The other can be a library book, ebook or galley.  Hopefully next month, my numbers will be a little bit better.

I finally gave in and purged my bookshelves a bit.  I took around 30 books to Half Priced Books and got a little bit of cash for them.  I love seeing full bookshelves but the thought of moving a bunch of books this summer (in Kansas heat no less) makes me cringe.  There are more books I plan to get rid of before August but at least this is a start.

Without further ado, here is what I read in April:

1.) The Flower Reader by Elizabeth Loupas
2.) Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
3.) Lover Reborn by J.R. Ward
4.) A Night to Remember by Walter Lord
5.) The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
6.) The Lost Crown by Sarah Miller
7.) The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King
8.) Catherine the Great:  Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie

How did you do in April?  Did you hit any goals or did you have a slow month too?
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