Archive for the ‘Good Reads 2012’ Category

Book Review – Princess Elizabeth’s Spy

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

What I’ve recently finished:

**Princess Elizabeth’s Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal**

GoodReads
Amazon
World Catalog

OK I read this book in June because I received an “Advanced Reader’s Copy.” Words cannot express how excited I was!

But…

Kermit can:

I’m not someone who is usually picked for something special but I received an ARC of the book and I was just so excited!!

What is it about?
Last time we left Maggie, she was training to be part of MI5 after spending some time being a secretary to Mr. Churchill. Unfortunately, while Ms. Hope is amazingly bright, she ran into some issues with physical training. Anyone who spends more time with her nose in a book as opposed to running must know that that can be a…humbling experience

She thinks her first mission is going to be on the front line of the war but unfortunately she is sent to be a tutor to young Princess Elizabeth in Windsor Castle.

She is asked to be an “‘undercover sponge.’” This does does not sit well with Ms. Hope. There was a particular time when she stands up to her handlers who are simply trying to give her her assignment and not allow her any context:

I’m through allowing myself to be confined to so-called ‘women’s work.’ I’m also through with patronizing men giving me half-truths and withholding information. This will end here and now.” [page 43]

Go Maggie!

One might think that this is a fluff assignment but they’re quickly proved wrong when they read of the murder of one of the ladies in waiting at court. The murder at court puts everyone one edge and Maggie realizes that not only is she to be a tutor to the Princesses but she’s instructed to be a body guard of sorts as well.

Why did I read this?
Simple: I read book one a few months ago and I HAD TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT!

What impressed me about this book?
The suspense. Like I’ve said, I haven’t read many suspense books but these stories continue to have a complex enough plot that it was intriguing but not too complex that it was a 900 page book you have to invest two months in.

Like always it was refreshing to see string females on both good and bad sides. That is always a plus in my book!

I also appreciated the upstairs/downstairs dynamic in this book. It’s the Downton Abbey fan in me coming out… Again… but it was interesting reading about the background of the British royalty during a war literally occurring in their back yard.

What disappointed me about this book?
Would you believe me if I say that I can’t think of anything? It was a wonderful ride! I remember having difficulty keeping people straight in the first book but it wasn’t much of an issue with this book.

Oh I’ve got a disappointment! There wasn’t a preview of book three at the end of the book because I was reading an ARC. 

Historical Relevance:
Marion Crawford was the Princess’ nanny wrote a book entitled The Little Princesses: The Story of the Queen’s Childhood by her Nanny, Marion Crawford. This book has sparked my interest because there has been so much written about the Queen’s reign as monarch that I can’t help but wonder about her childhood. Did she hate broccoli? Did she really need things she was working on while studying to be in a certain order like MacNeil alludes to in the book? This has sparked my curiosity!

What reading challenge(s) did this book apply to?

 

 

Overall Grade?.

I’ve recently started a series after more than a dozen books have already been published. Unfortunately with Maggie Hope, this is not the case. So this is a good representation of my thoughts right now:

taken from Random House’s Pinterest Board “Book Humor”

 

 

 

Book Review – The Midwife of Venice

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

What I’ve recently finished:

**The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich**

GoodReads
Amazon
World Catalog


What is it about?
Hannah Levi is a young, recently married young woman living in the Jewish ghettos of Venice, Italy in the 1500s. She is known in her community as being a very skilled midwife because she constructed “birthing spoons” that help her with some of the most challenging of labors. Late one night, a Christian count appears at her doorstep and begs her to assist her in the labor of his wife who was delivering her fourth baby. His desperation came from the fact that if he did not produce an heir before his fiftieth birthday, from which he was months shy, his title as well as fortune would go to his rather selfish brother. The previous three children his wife had, unfortunately, died in childbirth or soon thereafter. It is very well known that if a Jew assisted in this procedure that it is punishable by torture or even death. Hannah takes this request, however, because she needs the funds to get her husband back as his ship was overtaken in Malta. This story centers on the ramifications of her actions in assisting with this birth as well as encouraging Hannah to reunite with her husband.

Why did I read this?
I honestly don’t know. Hmmm. I think I came across it in Jermaine’s store and thought it was interesting so why not?

What impressed me about this book?
The story’s simplicity! I know that can almost sound like a bad thing but I certainly don’t mean it as such. 2012 has been a year filled with wonderful mysteries that are often complicated with a handful of plot lines. This story was written from the point of view, mostly, of Hannah and her husband and, as a reader you’re cheering them on as they get closer and closer to a reunion. There is, of course, disturbing anti-semitism that existed during this time period. That was rather difficult to read. For example, Hannah’s husband is rescued from the life of slavery in Malta by a nun. She brings him to her house and offers him a life at a convent if, and only if, he converts. She, basically, is offering her Christian virtue so charity so long as he converts. That of course was hard to read but unfortunately that much of the thought back then–that it was Christ’s teaching to punish Jewish people.

But looking at this at its basic levels this story was about a wife doing something rather dangerous to get her closer to her husband and, as a reader, I really couldn’t help but cheer them on.

What disappointed me about this book?
I know this seems odd to say but nothing really. The story was not too complicated so it’s not like I felt that the author could have done a better job at explaining certain components.

I will say though…this should be taken as a compliment to the author…she describes horrible living conditions of the ghetto as well as the bubonic plague quite well. Sometimes too well if you get my meaning :-& amp;

Historical Relevance:
Alright I thought I was going to have make something up with this component but a two second google search had me reading a rather interesting article on the history of forceps! Milestones in the evolution of obstetric forceps Bryan Hibbard asserts that in the Middle Ages the Church was often the only source to discuss midwifery and forceps were often used as a “last resort” when the child was likely dead and they were trying to save to mother. This “procedure” was believed to assist mothers in challenging births in the 11th century. (upon reading this you’ll be thankful for modern medicine)

When there is a difficult labour with a dead child place the patient in a sheet held at the corners by four strong men, with her head somewhat elevated. Have them shake the sheet vigorously by pulling on the opposite corners, and with God’s will she will give birth.

 

Interestingly enough the Chamberlens family in England at this time were fashioning some of the first versions of forceps. The article I linked is quite interesting. Give it a read!


What reading challenge(s) did this book apply to?

Overall Grade? Rating: ★★★½☆

 

Book Review – City of Ashes

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

What I’ve recently finished:

**City of Ashes by Megan Chance**
GoodReads
Amazon
World Catalog

What is it about?
This book centers around two young women. Set in the late 188s, Geneva Langley is a Chicago socialite who loves being surrounded by artists and free thinkers. Her husband, on the other hand, wants her to fit a rather strict mold of upper class woman hood-paying calls, attending balls and being a model wife as his business develops. Geneva (or Ginny) pushes the edge too far and they both find themselves banished to the developing city of Seattle. The second woman, Beatrice Wilkes, is an actress already living in the cut throat world of the newly developing Seattle theater scene. She has lived on her own since her mid-teens and because of this, she trusts no one living in this kind of environment – someone can be her friend one day and then steal her part the next.

These two women might initially strike the reader as opposites – Ginny getting many things handed to her with little work needed on her end and Beatrice who has had to work hard for everything from her food to her position in her theater company. But the Seattle fire of 1889 forces a bond between these two unlikely women and helps them attain what they both want – freedom and position and they pair together in a rather creative way in order to do just that.

Why did I read this?
I read Megan Chance’s book The Inconvenient Wife and thoroughly enjoyed it. City of Ashes is set around the same time as this other book but during a more specific event, The Great Seattle Fire. I had never heard of this, unfortunately, so that made me want to read it.

What impressed me about this book?
I’m a sucker for books told in various points of view. Many, if not all, of the characters were sneaky and dishonest. It was interesting read Ginny, for example, see her husband do something out of character and then, in the next chapter from the husband’s point of view, you can read what he was thinking and know why he did it.

I also liked the descriptions of the city both before and after the fire. It made the book quite interesting.

What disappointed me about this book?
Since this was the second book I read by the author, I couldn’t help but see a familiar and almost formulaic timeline between the two books. (I won’t state much else because I don’t want to include spoilers)

Historical Relevance:
When Ginny and her husband first arrive to Seattle, you read of a city with very little archetectural structure. For example, shops are on streets however they’re not all aligned correctly. And many of the buildings were made from wood. So imagine a great fire hitting a city like this? It is because of these circumstances, the fire did as much damage as it did. Because of this, many policies were changed during its rebuilding. I’ll take text straight from Wikipedia:

The city made many improvements in response to the fire. The city’s fire department shifted from a volunteer to a paid force with new firehouses and a new chief. The city took control of the water supply, increasing the number of hydrants and adding larger pipes.The advent of brick buildings to downtown Seattle was one of the many architectural improvements the city made in the wake of the fire. New city ordinances set standards for the thickness of walls and required “division walls” between buildings.These changes became principal features of post-fire construction and are still visible in Seattle’s Pioneer Square district today, the present-day location of the fire. At Pioneer Square, guided tours are also available to paying customers. Also at this location visitors can tour the Seattle Underground, where they can visit remains of buildings that were built over after the fire.

What reading challenge(s) did this book apply to?

Overall Grade?
Rating: ★★★½☆

Book Review – The House at Tyneford

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

What I’ve recently finished:

**The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons**
GoodReads
Amazon
World Catalog

What is it about?
Elise Landau is a Jew living in Vienna in the late 1930s. As it becomes more and more unsafe, her family, used to a sophisticated and rather elite life, separate and attempt to leave the country. Elise goes to work as a maid in the House at Tyneford. The story centers on this rather dramatic change in her lifestyle–from elite to service.

Why did I read this?
I love Downton Abbey and naturally I wanted to read some stories set during that time. I found this helpful list on Goodreads and mingled. Granted, The House at Tyneford is set during World War II (as opposed to the first) but it still seemed interesting to me.

What impressed me about this book?

  1. The author clearly gives an impression of the changes Elisa had to go through, as I’ve mentioned before.
  2. The descriptions of the setting. I felt like I was there! (and usually this kind of text, I won’t lie, makes me want to skip a few paragraphs ;-)

 

What disappointed me about this book?
A lot.  This story’s excitement is centered on the house mater”s son, Kit. I won’t include spoilers, of course, but I will say Elise and Kit form a bond and reading this relationship develop was enjoyable. Unfortunately, he’s not present during much of the book so I finished the book almost glad that it was over. It’s a shame too because this story’s premise had potential to be exciting. Unfortunately, for me, it just wasn’t.

Historical Relevance:
For this section I wanted to concentrate on Jews in hiding as servants. Unfortunately no numbers exist (and I don’t think they ever will) on how many Jews fled Nazi-occupied countries under the premise of a job elsewhere in service. That said, I did find some interesting stories centered on women like Elise, who escaped to serve another family AND there were some resistance movements where servants were a pivotal part in plotting and carrying out work of their movements or getting information on the Nazi’s next steps.

  • There is mention here of a maid serving a pivotal role in the Belarusian Resistance during World War II.
  • Here is a story of a woman working as a maid in the Gestapo office where she overheard plans to arrest the father of someone she knew. Upon hearing that, she warned that family
  • There is an exhibit at the Holocaust Museum and Study Center in New York that broadly shows the roles children played in their hiding during the war. Working as field laborers, farmers or servants was quite an effective disguise.

What reading challenge(s) did this book apply to?

Overall Grade?

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Book Review – Insurgent

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

What I’ve recently finished:

**Insurgent by Veronica Roth**
GoodReads
Amazon
World Catalog

What is it about?
I read Book I in this series earlier this year for a book club and enjoyed it way more than I thought I would. This is a sci-fi series set in a dystopian version of Chicago. This society is divided into five strictly segregated factions. At the age of sixteen, every kid must pick a faction in the annual ceremony. The Five Factions are listed quite well in this site here. The book’s protagonist, Tris Prior, in the first book selected the Dauntless faction who believe that cowardliness is at the root of society’s problems. Interestingly enough, she was raised in  the Abnegation faction that values selflessness. For more information about the first book, check out Divergent on Goodreads
Often with second books in a trilogy, the book serves merely as a gap between a big start and grand ending. I believe this book had more of a foundation to it – You see the main character struggle with current life decisions and ones she made in the past. Her society is in the middle of quite a revolution and this story is about each character’s motivation to side with one particular view. I think this society is starting to realize, one can not be all of one faction too.

Why did I read this?
Like I stated before – I read Book I for a book club. This book was rather thick….500 some pages but even with that, it was a quick read. So, when Book II (Divergent) came out, I wanted to see what would happen next!

What impressed me about this book?
I appreciated how thoughtful Tris was. In the previous book, she did and witnessed some things that take a lot of time to get over. I read the Hunger Games Trilogy and wondered how Katniss can go through such experiences and then be OK making TV appearances for Panem. Yes we see that both she and her fellow survivors struggle with it but I never got how they affected her specifically. Tris is more thoughtful and the reader starts to understand her feelings during and afterward.

What disappointed me about this book?
…then again, Tris is still a sixteen year old girl, who, at times, can be a little self-absorbed. So yes, there were times when I was rolling my eyes at her. But really, that is a phase, like it or not, we all go through. ;-)

Historical Relevance:
Non-applicable seeing as how this was set in the future ;-)

What reading challenge(s) did this book apply to?

Overall Grade?

Rating: ★★★★☆

Where have I gone?!

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Goodness it feels like a long time since I’ve updated my blog. So much for my original idea of having a digital scrapbook!

Well in chronological order, this is what I’ve been up to:

  1. June 20- June 25 – I visited my mommy and her sweetie husband in South Carolina. Wonderful little vacation. Relaxing was my word for it :-D
  2. June 29 – A Derecho hit our area. What’s a Derecho? Wikipedia says it “is a widespread, long-lived, straight-line windstorm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms. ” What do I call it?? Simply put – an ass kicker of a storm. See:


We lost power Friday night and it returned Tuesday night. I distinctly remember during the Snowcopolypse of 2010, enjoying it a little. Jermaine and I were walking around wearing five sweaters and we played Trivial Pursuit. Sure, it got old but at least the first day was fun. This storm? Not a bit of it was fun because very hot days followed. Jermaine and I had just gone grocery shopping Friday night and we were mad as hell when we had to throw away a majority of our fridge.

3. So yes. It’s been very very hot too. I know many prefer heat over cold but I do not. I haven’t had much energy lately to eat much less update projects here or review books. This smiley, actually, sums up how I’ve been dealing with the heat

 

But since the last entry, I have completed two socks:

And I’m absolutely giddy about this pair I’m working on now:

Herringbone Rib Socks

On the book side of things, there has been A LOT read, which has led me to wonder if I want to review Every. Single. Book.

Books I’ve finished since last book review: (Some of these might have already been read since June 12)

Finished 5/13 Finished 5/20 Finished 6/1 Finished 6/5

Finished 6/22

Finished 6/23 Finished 6/29 Finished 7/24

So Book Bloggers – Question for you – Do you review every book you read? Why? If not, what makes you want to review a book and what makes you just skip it? As I delve more into reviewing books, it would be interesting to see what others do.

Book Review – Mr. Churchill’s Secretary

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

What I’ve recently finished:

**Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal**
GoodReads
Amazon
World Catalog

What is it about?
What a fabulous beginning to a series!

Margaret Hope finds herself in England as World War II breaks out. She put her graduate program at MIT on hold to go across the pond from the United States to sell her grandmother’s house. Clearly trying to sell a home in a city where war is about to break out makes for a questionable housing market so she opens the house up to a few young women to be her roommates. We meet her a few months into the war and then the reader slowly starts to learn of her back story. Maggie was raised by her aunt who lives in the US after her parents’ death. This aunt is apprehensive of Margret’s presence in the UK because she fears Margaret will come across the truth about her childhood. I will stop there ;-)

Now let’s throw in some historical events! Margaret receives a job as a typist in the Prime Minister’s office (hence they book’s title). She was looked over for a job as a PM’s Analyst because that position was not suited for a females. As the PM’s office concentrates on the movement of Germany and wonders when the United States will be involved, the country starts to forget the IRA until they start conducting random acts of violence throughout the city of London! Thanks to Margaret’s wit and smarts she is able to break the codes she sees but the process of her doing that is really quite thrilling.

Why did I read this?
Honestly, I think I was wondering around Amazon one weekend and found it. Didn’t I say that last time? :-) It was available in Target one evening with I was there.

What impressed me about this book?
This was one exciting story with a very very likable heroine! This, I do believe, was my first spy book and I liked that it was fast-paced without getting overwhelming

What disappointed me about this book?
…but I will say, and maybe this is just a personal quirk, that I had a very difficult time keeping characters straight. And honestly, if that’s the only gripe I have about the book, then I say it is still a keeper.

Historical Relevance:
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Margaret, in a way….to be so smart but not be taken seriously whether it was in 10 Downing Street or in Britain’s security agency, Mi5. It didn’t take till the 1970s for women to be accepted as full officers in Mi5. Women held mainly secretarial jobs and did not do so for long. When they got married, they would be “encouraged” to go home to take care of their families. I found myself applauding Margaret throughout this book. She showed her intelligence in really smart ways. I can’t help but wonder how much of a typical woman of the times she was? I would venture that she definitely stood out from the typical woman of the times. And, because of that, I very much look forward to the next book, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy.

What reading challenge(s) did this book apply to?

Overall Grade?

Rating: ★★★★½

Book Review – Blue Asylum

Monday, May 21st, 2012

 

I’m a little back logged as far as books are concerned.

What I’ve recently finished:

 

**Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall**
GoodReads
Amazon
World Catalog

What is it about?
OK Tell my why I seem to be drawn to books where women are thrown in insane asylums for crazy reasons? asks the uppity feminist of the 21st century, reading about women in the 19th and early 20th century. All I have to say, that while women still have a way to go in terms of achieving equality, at least we’ve come far away from that! I’ve read my fair share of books with this premise or I’ve marked books like this as “to read” and I just end up feeling so terrible for these women!
Anyway, this specific book is about Iris Dunleavy, a Virginia plantation wife who is sent to the Blue Asylum off the coast of Florida during the Civil War after she is found to be mad for disagreeing with her husband over ideas concerning human decency and property. Iris is sent to an insane asylum with “modern” techniques to “cure” her. As someone in the 21st century reading this, I could not help but see the differences in the definition of slavery in the 1860s vs now. At this facility, she meets a soldier, Ambrose Weller, who is reeling from his experiences on the battlefields of our nation’s Civil War

Why did I read this?
Honestly, I think I was wondering around Amazon one weekend and found it. Luckily my library had it as well and I was one of the first in my branch to read it :-D (It’s the little things, no?)

What impressed me about this book?
I’m not going to lie–excessive descriptions of settings is a personal pet peeve of mine. I pride myself on the visions of the story in my head. That said, this book is essentially set in a swamp area. While I’ve heard DC referred to one countless times (:-)) , even I can admit I’ve never been. The descriptions in this book were clear without being too verbose.

What disappointed me about this book?
One very abrupt ending – I felt like there was very little resolution for many of these characters. I finished the book and I can’t help but wonder: What happened? And not like when you finish a book and you wonder what happens to them afterward. I genuinely felt like questions were left unanswered.

What reading challenge(s) did this book apply to?

Overall Grade?


Book Review – Revolution

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

In addition to my resolution to write more reviews, I have been finding all these great reading blogs, especially ones on historical fiction. YAY! My favorite so far is Historical Tapestry and I’ve certainly added some blogs to my Google Reader account.

So I’ve been finishing books more frequently and now I can share my review of “Revolution”

What I’ve recently finished:

**Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly**
**GoodReads**
**Amazon**

What is it about?
Seventeen year old Andi Alpers experiences the death of her younger brother and witnesses the unraveling of her family. Her father leaves and her mom simply can not handle it. Andi is left to take care of her very distraught mother while she works on her private school’s senior project. Because she’s angry and doesn’t know how to cope, her grades suffer to the point where the principal threatens to expel her unless she can develop an outline for her class’ senior project.
Her father steps in and tells Andi that she can work on this project while they’re both in Paris France. They stay with some family friends who are trying to prove that a heart they found belongs to Louis XVI, the son of Louis XV and Marie Antoinette through DNA testing. Andi comes across the diary of a woman two centuries prior who writes as the tragic events of the French Revolution are occurring. And she writes more specifically about her many failed attempts to rescue Louis as well. Andi develops a bond with this character, Alexandrine, who was almost a nanny to young prince. The readers gains an inside look at what the events of the French Revolution did to society’s “normal” folks.

Why did I read this?
My friend Carol recommended it.

What impressed me about this book?
The research!
The French Revolution always confused me in school. So to read a book that switched between two rather complicated teenagers during separate centuries, it had to be done well and Jennifer Donnelly did it fluidly. You can see how these two young girls were different but you can also see how Andi could relate to her. I won’t lie….there were times when I was googling a “French Revolution Timeline” so I can get some perspective but once I did that, I was able to appreciate the 18th century diary components and understand it better.
I also liked the character of Andi. This is a side note really but when she wasn’t being such a drama queen, she’s quite a funny kid! Teenagers will be dramatic teenagers, ya know?

What disappointed me about this book?
Ever watch a movie and say “great movie but if they only shaved a half hour off….?” Well, that’s the feeling I had about this book. It goes on for a while.

What reading challenge(s) did this book apply to?

 


Overall Grade?

What I’m reading and knitting…

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

No I did not die. Work picks up in the spring time for me…taxes…and hello surprise root canal…bad Laura is bad!

I recently saw a blog post where the knitter, Carole of Carole Knits, who also does a fair amount of reading, posted an entry about what progress she was doing on both. I thought–What a great idea!

Lately there has been a lot of balance between these to great loves of mine so why not share them? Goodreads is doing a contest on Book Bloggers and I’ve been checking out some blogs to add to my “reading” bloglist. I was quite drawn to the format of Reading with Tequila’s reviews. I think it might take some pressure away from me writing reviews and over thinking if the paragraphs flow well. (Yes. I still get that “I’m-writing-for-an-English-class vibe when I know that I want to write these )

What I’ve recently finished:

**The Birth House by Ami McKay**
**GoodReads**
**Amazon**

What is it about?:
Dora Rare is the only female born into her family in five generations of the Rare family living in Scots Bay near Nova Scotia in the early part of the twentieth century. Eyebrows start to raise at her mere existance because she’s the only female born to her family but also because at the age of seventeen she befriends Miss Babineau, a very experienced midwife who has had something to do with almost every birth in town (and some outside of it as well) When most of her family and friends are searching for husbands, she is given a very eye opening apprenticeship working with Miss Babineau. Working with her, she encounters abusive marriages, an overall lack of sensitivity to women in childbirth, unfullfilling marriages and sex lives, all during a time when no one discussed such things.

But wait–the plot thickens! Dr. Gilbert Thomas comes in and builds a maternity ward nearby and insists that he can assure a way for the town’s women to experience a “painless childbirth.” Granted I’ve never given birth but even I can see how that would make a woman say “You have my attention”

Why did I read this?
You know…thinking about it, I don’t remember…I think I went searching on Goodreads lists. It appealed to me because of its “in with the new/out with the old” quality it had.

What impressed me about this book?
As corny as this might sound, the bonds between the town’s women. At a time when the point of view of women was hardly listened to, you saw characters stand up for delivering their kids according to their own terms. And with some you didn’t. It was interesting to think about these women’s motivations for their actions.

What disappointed me about this book?
Her loveless marriage. It was pretty surprising for me to see a character who has experienced so much of bad experiences of marriage through assisting a midwife that she turns around and tolerates it from her own husband. I won’t say much but there was a satisfying resolution with this aspect of the book

Overall Grade? (out of five)

 

Now Knitting!

I picked up my Apres Surf Hoodie and not I simply can not put it down. It’s pretty funny because I started it over a year ago. Perhaps I might be able to wear it to MDSW?? Maybe?? That said I secretly mock people that wear ridiculous handknits for an outdoor May fesitval. Should you be proud as hell at yourself for steeking that fair isle sweater? Ab-so-lutely but come on…It’s been known to hit 90 degrees…not very bright.

Anyway, I’m quite proud of the progress:

Apres Surf Hoodie

This was taken over the weekend too…I’m more than halfway done with one sleeve too

Are you going to MDSW this year? I’d love to meet up!! :-)

 

  • Read – Alongs

    Historical Tapestry


  • Categories