Just so you all know, becoming a foster parent and having 5 kids in the house means there isn’t much time for reading, let alone blogging!
A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts
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…
Review: I checked this book out thinking it was a non-fiction biography. However, I quickly discovered that it is actually a novel based on a real person and true events. In the back of the book the author says why she decided to write a book about Alva Vanderbilt, where she found her references, and why she included certain elements in the book.
The story follows Alva Vanderbilt’s life from before she was a Vanderbilt to her extravagant life after marrying William K. Vanderbilt. At the time, the Vanderbilts were new to New York City high society (basically the nation’s high society). Alva was influential in the Vanderbilts’ acceptance. The same energy, positivity, and tenacity that helped her accomplish that feat served her well in the years to come as she changed both NYC’s appearance and society. As the years wore on, she also made a huge difference in women’s rights in the U.S. and Britain both intentionally and unintentionally.
Alva questioned norms and stood up for herself. This novel allows the reader to see her point of view and question the information that has previously been published about this strong willed woman. Of course it’s fiction and there’s no way to know exactly what Alva thought about or how she acted in private, but the author claims to have researched Alva’s life thoroughly and explains why she chose to portray Alva the way she did.
I recommend this book to fans of historical fiction and biographies.
Why I gave this book 4/5 stars: Interesting, well written, informative.
The Map of Salt and Stars
By: Jennifer Seynab Joukhadar
# of pages: 361
Challenges: What’s in a Name (both “of” AND “and”), A to Z, Monthly Motif (cover love), Book Bingo (chose because of cover)
Quote: “People make such beautiful things, I think, even though they destroy so much.”
The story of two girls living eight hundred years apart—a modern-day Syrian refugee seeking safety and a medieval adventurer apprenticed to a legendary mapmaker.
It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.
More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.
Review: I’ll be honest, I chose to read this book based on the cover and the title. I’m a geographer (majored in geography with a concentration in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). My dad is also a geographer as is my husband. So needless to say, anything to do with maps catches my attention!
This book is hard to review. It was beautiful and heartbreaking and enlightening, but I also felt it was a little over-the-top as far as cliches and being oversentimental. For some reason it fell a little flat for me, but at the same time, I appreciated it and think it was an important read. Something I haven’t figured out yet is that there’s a paragraph in the book where the mom talks about Straight Street in Damascus and how it’s mentioned in the Bible. I didn’t have any recollection of this although it’s possible I’ve read that passage of the Bible. The day after I finished this book I went to a church service and the sermon was about this same passage of the Bible. Straight Street and all. So I feel like it’s significant, but I don’t know how yet.
Sorry to get personal on my blog and mention religion, but I can’t get it out of my head. This isn’t a religious book although Muslim traditions are mentioned here and there. It’s also mentioned how the main character, Nour, was raised both Catholic and Muslim. For the most part the religious aspects are just generally mentioned, but that’s one reason why I found this “coincidence” in my life even more profound.
The book is about a girl, Nour, who was born in New York. After her father’s death her mom, a mapmaker, moved her and her two sisters back to their original home in Syria. Unfortunately their arrival takes place just before the violence in Syria erupts. Nour and her family become refugees, just like the ones we’ve been hearing about on the news in the U.S. over the past few years. As Nour’s family travels from place to place they meet new friends and encounter both dangers and wonders.
Nour’s story intertwines with the story of Rawiya, a young woman in the 1100s who is apprenticed to a mapmaker and goes on a journey to discover and record new places. Not only does she discover new places, she makes friends and is forced to confront many dangers.
Overall, I recommend this book to both adults and mature young adults. There is an intense part that may trigger victims of sexual assault. I now want to learn more about the conflict in Syria. This story is a great way to enable readers to “walk” in a refugee’s shoes.
Why I gave this book 3/5 stars: Important story, beautifully written, seemed a little “empty” to me for some reason.
The Clan of the Cave Bear
By: Jean M. Auel
# of pages: 516
Series: Earth’s Children (#1)
Challenges: A to Z
Through Jean M. Auel’s magnificent storytelling we are taken back to the dawn of modern humans, and with a girl named Ayla we are swept up in the harsh and beautiful Ice Age world they shared with the ones who called themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear.
A natural disaster leaves the young girl wandering alone in an unfamiliar and dangerous land until she is found by a woman of the Clan, people very different from her own kind. To them, blond, blue-eyed Ayla looks peculiar and ugly–she is one of the Others, those who have moved into their ancient homeland; but Iza cannot leave the girl to die and takes her with them. Iza and Creb, the old Mog-ur, grow to love her, and as Ayla learns the ways of the Clan and Iza’s way of healing, most come to accept her. But the brutal and proud youth who is destined to become their next leader sees her differences as a threat to his authority. He develops a deep and abiding hatred for the strange girl of the Others who lives in their midst, and is determined to get his revenge.
Review: I searched a bit to see if there were any articles that mentioned how the animated movie “The Croods” was inspired by this book from the 80s, but I didn’t see anything about that being the case. Basically, The Clan of the Cave Bear is an amazingly elaborate and detailed version of “The Croods.” I mean, really, they’re incredibly similar.
After a cave in destroys their cave, a clan wanders to try to find a new cave. On the way they meet Ayla (instead of Guy) who looks different and thinks differently than they look and think. The clan takes her in, but over the years they are constantly challenged by her ideas and feelings. Her mind works differently than theirs. She is able to come up with new ideas (sound familiar?), something that hasn’t happened in the clan for thousands of years. Their brains aren’t capable of thinking of new ways of doing things and the fact that Ayla’s brain is able to make new connections and that she challenges the clan’s traditions is both fascinating and frightening for the clan members.
The book is remarkably detailed. I found myself amazed that it sounded so real and had to keep reminding myself that we don’t know that much about early people. This is mostly fiction, but the author must have researched hunter/gatherer ways of life and what there is to know about early humans.
I became intensely wrapped up in Ayla’s story. She kept showing her differences in dangerous way and I’d like be like, NOOOO. Not again, please get out of this danger. Please, clan, don’t send her away. I was a little emotionally caught up in the story!
Two people I know who have similar tastes in reading to my own said that they really enjoyed this first book of the series, but didn’t like the following books. If you’ve read all the books what do you have to say to this opinion? Should I keep reading the series or leave it at the first book that I enjoyed?
Why I gave this book 4/5 stars: Amazing world building, interesting plot, and good characters.
By: V.E. Schwab
# of pages: 366
Series: Villains (#1)
Challenge: A to Z
Quote: “The moments that define lives aren’t always obvious. They don’t always scream LEDGE, and nine times out of ten there’s no rope to duck under, no line to cross, no blood pact, no official letter on fancy paper. They aren’t always protracted, heavy with meaning. Between one sip and the next, Victor made the biggest mistake of his life, and it was made of nothing more than one line. Three small words.”
Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.
Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?
Review: So you’d think that since this is the first in a series and it was published in 2013 would mean that there’s now a complete series to enjoy. But you’d be wrong! There is a second book in the series that was just published a few months ago. But obviously the author took a break from the Villains series to work on other books, such as the Shades of Magic series, which was a good series.
Vicious is about two friends, Eli and Victor, who take a college thesis idea and decide to act on it…by killing themselves. As you can imagine, things quickly go downhill and 10 years later, Victor is out of prison and seeking revenge on Eli, a self-professed hero in the city of Merit. Eli has an ability of his own, but he considers himself a hero because he’s ridding the city of everyone with supernatural powers. Victor doesn’t really care about saving people’s lives, and of course he doesn’t really care about the “strays” he keeps attracting such as Mitch and Sydney, he just wants his revenge.
I really enjoyed this story and the characters. There were a few things that I thought could have been more rounded out, such as Eli and Victor’s decisions in college, but the present day storyline and all of the characters made this an interesting and original book. I recommend it to fans of fantasy and superhero/anti-hero fans.
Why I gave this book 4/5 stars: Great characters, original story, could have been a little more detailed.
In the realm of psychological suspense, Thomas Harris stands alone. Exploring both the nature of human evil and the nerve-racking anatomy of a forensic investigation, Harris unleashes a frightening vision of the dark side of our well-lighted world. In this extraordinary novel, which preceded The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, Harris introduced the unforgettable character Dr. Hannibal Lecter. And in it, Will Graham — the FBI man who hunted Lecter down — risks his sanity and his life to duel a killer called the … RED DRAGON
Review: Of course I’ve heard of The Silence of the Lambs, both the book and the movie, and I’ve even seen part of the movie. However, I never had a strong desire to read the books in the series. A friend let me borrow the entire series so I decided to go ahead and check it out, starting with the first book in the series. I was a little confused, when, a few pages in, it is clear that this book chronologically takes place after The Silence of the Lambs. I wondered if I was supposed to read this last even though it was published first, but sure enough, it is number one in the series and most people recommend reading it in the series order even though they don’t line up chronologically.
The story is about a retired investigator named Will Graham. He’s enjoying his well deserved retirement with his wife and stepson in Florida after hunting down several serial killers, including the famous Hannibal Lecter. However, his peaceful life is interrupted by a FBI agent asking him to temporarily leave retirement to help track down another serial killer who is already responsible for murdering 2 entire families. Investigators are stumped and they know Will Graham is the best at understanding and predicting the behavior of serial killers.
Graham ends up immersing himself in the investigation of the “Tooth Fairy,” who eventually morphs into the “Red Dragon.” He’s willing to do anything to track down the person responsible for 8 murders who will most likely kill again within the next few weeks, including consulting Hannibal Lecter, who is locked up in a high security mental facility.
This book is filled with fairly graphic descriptions of horrific murders. I was wondering if I would be really disturbed, but it reminded me of some of Stephen King’s books, especially the Bill Hodges trilogy, so I felt prepared. The reader hears about the horrible stuff through Graham’s point of view and also the killer’s point of view. It’s weirdly intimate and emotionally confusing being able to see into the killer’s mind and past and sometimes even feeling sorry for the murderer.
I ended up really enjoying the story. I couldn’t put it down and kept thinking about it throughout the day when I wasn’t reading. While the content was disturbing, I didn’t feel traumatized by the descriptions, although some people may not have the same experience. I recommend this to adults who are fans of crime fiction/mysteries.
Why I gave this book 4/5 stars: This has been added to my favorites list because of the engaging plot and interesting characters, but it wasn’t as well written as some of the other books that have received a 5 star rating from me in the past.
The Witch Elm
By: Tana French
# of pages: 464
Challenge: Monthly Motif (new to you author), Book Bingo
Quote: “The rain had started, a light unobtrusive patter, its shadows down the windowpane mottling the sill and the bare floorboards. I stayed there for a long time, watching the drops merge and course down the glass, picking two and betting on their race to the bottom, the way I had when I was a kid.”
Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life: he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.
Review: I saw a review about Tana French’s books and decided to check this one out after hearing it was good. French is a new-to-me author, so it counts for January’s Monthly Motif challenge. I enjoyed The Witch Elm so much that I’m planning to check out more of Tana French’s books soon!
I spent much of this book feeling amazed that the author could think of something so complex and keep it going for so long. The whole book is intricate – from the plot to the many characters. The story mainly follows Toby, a young man whose life is abruptly ruined when he’s attacked in his own home and almost killed.
Toby is an interesting character because the reader can’t help but like him and root for him, but also feel dislike for him at times. And honestly, don’t we all know people like Toby, people with the gift of gab and with enough luck to easily swim through life’s ups and downs? Sometimes you wonder what that person would do if something truly awful happened to them, something that would be difficult or impossible to talk their way out of or ignore. That’s partly what this book is about and I commend the author for writing her character so well and avoiding what was probably a temptation to dilute him and make him “better.”
I’m recovering from a surgery on my nasal passage to correct a deviated septum, so maybe that’s affected my thought process, but I couldn’t stop thinking of this book over the days I spent reading. I wanted so badly to figure out the mystery of the skull. I sort of figured it out, but that wasn’t even the main point of the book. The story took a weird turn at the end, but overall I enjoyed it thoroughly and would recommend it to adults who enjoy mysteries.
Why I gave this book 4/5 stars: Interesting plot, intricate and realistic characters, thought provoking.