The Gentleman by Forrest LeoThe Gentleman by Forrest Leo
Published by Penguin Press Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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When Lionel Savage, a popular poet in Victorian London, learns from his butler that they're broke, he marries the beautiful Vivien Lancaster for her money, only to find that his muse has abandoned him.

Distraught and contemplating suicide, Savage accidentally conjures the Devil -- the polite "Gentleman" of the title -- who appears at one of the society parties Savage abhors. The two hit it off: the Devil talks about his home, where he employs Dante as a gardener; Savage lends him a volume of Tennyson. But when the party's over and Vivien has disappeared, the poet concludes in horror that he must have inadvertently sold his wife to the dark lord.

Newly in love with Vivien, Savage plans a rescue mission to Hell that includes Simmons, the butler; Tompkins, the bookseller; Ashley Lancaster, swashbuckling Buddhist; Will Kensington, inventor of a flying machine; and Savage's spirited kid sister, Lizzie, freshly booted from boarding school for a "dalliance." Throughout, his cousin's quibbling footnotes to the text push the story into comedy nirvana.

Lionel and his friends encounter trapdoors, duels, anarchist-fearing bobbies, the social pressure of not knowing enough about art history, and the poisonous wit of his poetical archenemy. Fresh, action-packed and very, very funny, The Gentleman is a giddy farce that recalls the masterful confections of P.G. Wodehouse and Hergé's beautifully detailed Tintin adventures.

“A funny, fantastically entertaining debut novel, in the spirit of Wodehouse and Monty Python, about a famous poet who inadvertently sells his wife to the devil–then recruits a band of adventurers to rescue her.”

This is a short and sweet book review.

I read this book back in February because I was planning on reviewing it for National Poetry Month (in April), but April was busier than I anticipated. Thus, I am reviewing it now, even though its hilarity and cleverness are not freshly imprinted on my brain.

This witty and entertaining Victorian era novel is true to form and unfolds in 19th century dialect. The Gentleman is not a fast read because of the period syntax, but it is oh, so enjoyable. Period detail throughout is on point, and the characters are delightfully shallow. You will end up staging this book like a theatre play in your mind’s eye because it is so easy to imagine the story world and characters from the author’s exquisite attention to detail.

I just really like this cat picture…

Fans of Jane Austen’s Emma will enjoy the twists and turns and mixups that the popular poet, Lionel Savage, encounters. The story switches narration between the poet and his editor, who admits that he reluctantly published the poet’s story that readers are indulging in. (The editor regularly interjects with footnotes and quotes before the beginning of chapters.) Read the fictional editor’s note that opens the book below:

EDITOR’S NOTE.

I have been charged with editing these

pages and seeing them through to

publication, but I do not like the task.

I wish it on record that I think

it better they had been burned.

— Hubert Lancaster, Esq

The poet’s wife, Vivien, is a satisfying character that ends up stealing the show, in my opinion.

A literary comedy of errors that will enchant fans of poetry, the Victorian era, and historical mysteries, The Gentleman is as enjoyable for its form, syntax, and witticisms, as it is for its characters and plots.

 

 

 

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Worlds of Ink and Shadow ( A Novel of the Brontes) by Lena Coakley

by Lena Coakley
on January 5, 2016
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings have always been close. After all, nothing can unite four siblings quite like life in an isolated parsonage on the moors. Their vivid imaginations lend them escape from their strict, spartan upbringing, actually transporting them into their created worlds: the glittering Verdopolis and the romantic and melancholy Gondal. But at what price? As Branwell begins to slip into madness and the sisters feel their real lives slipping away, they must weigh the cost of their powerful imaginations, even as their characters—the brooding Rogue and dashing Duke of Zamorna—refuse to let them go.

From the Bronte Parsonage Museum

 

This is the kind of book that you want to plan a whole photo shoot for. Isn’t the cover fabulous!? Of course, the title of the book is pretty fabulous as well.

And that, my friends, is exactly why I went into this novel with a little trepidation.

Would the story be equally amazing, creating a trinity of bookish brilliance?

I should know better than to ask so much from books with beautiful covers.

While I was not blown away by the story, I was continually intrigued by it. I enjoyed what I learned about the Brontes, and I would definitely recommend this book to any fan of their writing.

Image result for Bronte sisters archives

I love the writing of the Bronte sisters. I also love reading novels set in the nineteenth century, and I have read many, so the author had her work cut out for her. I just did not adore this novel as much as I had hoped I would. I think the reason for this was mostly my fault. Reading fantasy is always a challenge for me. I found it a little difficult to keep up with the characters within the Brontes’ created worlds.

Despite my too high expectations, this book was a lot of fun. It was filled with darkness, magic, and mayhem. Sibling rivalries and deceptions abound within the walls and imaginary worlds of the Brontes’ home. Worlds of Ink and Shadow reminded me of Jumanji or Night at the Museum in some aspects.

Oh! And there is a Bronte brother! This book introduced me to Bramwell, the brother to the Bronte sisters that I did not even know existed. According to the author’s book, he was equally as creative as his female siblings.

Click on the picture to be redirected to an interesting article in Emily Bronte from The Paris Review.

Emily-Bronte-Paris-Review

The plot was slow-moving, reminiscent of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Unlike these novels, however, there is no passionate and forbidden love story. There is a thread of romantic feelings between two characters in the novel, that mirrors Heathcliff and Catherine’s in Wuthering Heights, but nothing that is ever developed to capacity.

This novel is a window into the psyches and daily lives that shaped the writing of the Brontes. The author shows how, despite their creative talents and impulses, the Brontes were forced to create alternate lives for themselves, with ink and paper, to escape the oppressive culture that only provided them with two narratives to live their lives by: become a governess spinster or marry into the cult of domesticity. While the Bronte siblings had a relatively free and rich life within their home, the real-world that they were aging into would not have allowed them the same freedoms. It is no wonder that they created such dark and magical parallel lives. The world beyond their hearth would not be as accommodating to their talents and temperaments.

To Walk Invisble: The Bronte Sisters ( A Masterpiece Original series)

The author did a wonderful job drawing from the thematic material of each Bronte sisters’ writing to shape the Gothic fantasy world that occupied and controlled the lives of the Bronte family within her novel. Themes of despair, love, loss, religion, and gendered oppression are all touched upon. The critique of women’s roles and expectations in nineteenth century England was, in fact, the most compelling part of the novel for me. Worlds of Ink and Shadow gives twenty-first century readers a glimpse into the stark reality for women during the Brontes’ lifetime. The fact that any of them found the opportunity to put pen to paper was an anomaly all its own.

Did you read Worlds of Ink and Shadow? Please leave a comment, and let me know what you thought!

And Just For FUN:

Here is a fantastic and informative promo video for the novel, narrated by the author herself:

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How to Hang a Witch by Adriana MatherHow to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on July 26, 2016
Pages: 368
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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It's the Salem Witch Trials meets Mean Girls in a debut novel from one of the descendants of Cotton Mather, where the trials of high school start to feel like a modern day witch hunt for a teen with all the wrong connections to Salem’s past.

Salem, Massachusetts is the site of the infamous witch trials and the new home of Samantha Mather. Recently transplanted from New York City, Sam and her stepmother are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Sam is the descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for those trials and almost immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?

If dealing with that weren't enough, Sam also comes face to face with a real live (well technically dead) ghost. A handsome, angry ghost who wants Sam to stop touching his stuff. But soon Sam discovers she is at the center of a centuries old curse affecting anyone with ties to the trials. Sam must come to terms with the ghost and find a way to work with The Descendants to stop a deadly cycle that has been going on since the first accused witch was hanged. If any town should have learned its lesson, it's Salem. But history may be about to repeat itself.

Ummmm….An actual relative of COTTON FRIGGIN’ MATHER wrote a book about witches. How am I not going to read and like this book?!?!

Image result for cotton mather
Cotton Mather

When I started Adriana Mather’s debut novel, How to Hang a Witch, I knew I was in for a spooky-good time. My anticipation was met, and then some, by the end of the novel. Besides being historically on point, this book was a magical mash-up of some of my favorite 90s and 00’s films.

Ghost+ The Craft+ Mean Girls+The Crucible= A unique YA novel that entertains and educates to the beat of its own drum.

Image result for the craft
The Craft 1996 film

When Samantha Mather moves back to her ancestral family’s hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, old family feuds and ghostly apparitions are conjured, drawing Samantha into the dark history of her family’s past. As a descendant of the infamous Cotton Mather, Samantha immediately becomes a person of interest at school for the local ‘mean girls coven’, and she is swept up in a storm of rumors, bullying, hauntings, and black magic.

Image result for cotton mather's house salem massachusetts

Oh, and there just might be a peculiar love triangle…or quadrilateral that fits itself into the story.

I loved the setting of this book. The creepy old house, with creaking stairs and A SECRET LIBRARY, absolutely seduced me from the beginning of the book.

The antagonists in the story (there are a handful of them) are the kind you love to hate, and I was left guessing until the very end about who was truly evil and vengeful, and who was just an insecure bully.

Samantha was a smart and strong MC, and I was equally torn between the two romantic interests that complicate her life beyond witchcraft.

This book was a fast read for me because I had a hard time putting it down. Besides the fact that I love all things witches, I really enjoyed the snippets of historical insight that Mather provides in the novel, straight out of her own, personal family history.

Image result for on witchcraft cotton mather

I will say that there were times when this book felt schizophrenic. It was almost as if the author could not decided what type of creepy story she wanted to write. In the end, I decided to roll with it. It was fun, entertaining, and unique because of the author’s lineage.

Have you read How to Hang a Witch? What did you think?!

And Just for FUN:

A home video of some of the Witch Trial memorial sites introduced by a tour guide:

An interesting student-made documentary about the tourism and spectacle that surround the Witch Trials:

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The Wonder by Emma Donoghue + GIVEAWAY!!!The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
Published by Little Brown on September 20, 2016
Pages: 291
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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In the latest masterpiece by Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of Room, an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle-a girl said to have survived without food for months-soon finds herself fighting to save the child's life.

Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale's Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.

Written with all the propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, THE WONDER works beautifully on many levels--a tale of two strangers who transform each other's lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.

ENTER TO WIN a Hardcover copy of The Wonder below! US ONLY.

Have you read Emma Donoghue’s Room, or seen the Academy award winning film based off of that book? I haven’t indulged myself in either of these yet, but I did recently read Donoghue’s, The Wonder, and I could not put it down.

Set some years after the Crimean War, this story unfolds within the confines of a thatch-roofed home, in a small Irish village, haunted by poverty and intense religious superstition. The setting of the novel evokes an atmosphere of beauty, mysticism, and despair– a strange and compelling combination.

Image result for Ireland thatched roof house

The narrator of the story is a bold Red Cross nurse, named Lib, with brains and cynicism to spare. Trained under Florence Nightingale, Lib is called on for her special skills to determine if a nine-year-old self-proclaimed saint, who claims to survive off of ”heavenly sustenance”,  is the real thing.

The characters are concentrated doses of the culture, mannerisms, attitudes, and beliefs you would expect from late nineteenth-century Irish folk. The majority of the story is concentrated even further between the nightly conversations between Lib and Anna, and Lib and her own mental meanderings.

In short, this story is a superfast read. Each chapter begs you to continue to the next as the story plants red herrings and grows more complex by the page. It is an intimate story that forces you to ask yourself what you would do or believe in Lib’s position. Overall, I recommend this book to any historical fiction or psychological suspense fan who is looking for a story with a deep and fast hook. The only minor dislike I had was for the much too tidy ending.

Have you read The Wonder or The Room? What did you think?

Just for fun:

Here is a short video on Florence Nightingale and the advent of modern nursing:

 

And here is a fun, 1940s video aimed at women entering the workforce as nurses:

 

 

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Forget Tomorrow by Pintip DunnForget Tomorrow by Pintip Dunn
on November 3, 2015
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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Imagine a world where your destiny has already been decided…by your future self.

It’s Callie’s seventeenth birthday and, like everyone else, she’s eagerly awaiting her vision―a memory sent back in time to sculpt each citizen into the person they’re meant to be. A world-class swimmer. A renowned scientist.

Or in Callie’s case, a criminal.

In her vision, she sees herself murdering her gifted younger sister. Before she can process what it means, Callie is arrested and placed in Limbo―a prison for those destined to break the law. With the help of her childhood crush, Logan, a boy she hasn’t spoken to in five years, she escapes the hellish prison.

But on the run from her future, as well as the government, Callie sets in motion a chain of events that she hopes will change her fate. If not, she must figure out how to protect her sister from the biggest threat of all.

Callie herself.

This review is long overdue, but that is a common theme for me as of late. Over the past year, I have used any “spare” time (between school, work, commuting, spending time with my family) to attack my leisure/TBR list. So, when I have a moment to write a review/blog during the semester, that means I’m on top of my game. Yay for me!

Check out this lovely book-look created by another fan:

Book Look: Forget Tomorrow (Forget Tomorrow #1) By Pintip Dunn
Book Look: Forget Tomorrow (Forget Tomorrow #1) By Pintip Dunn by xmikky featuring a mini dress

When I read Pintip Dunn’s Forget Tomorrow earlier this year, it acted as the miracle brain balm to my reading romance rut. With Victoria Scott’s Dante Walker trilogy complete, J.L. Armentrout’s Lux series at an end, and Amy Engel’s The Book of Ivy duology finished, I felt at a loss for where to turn to for my next gripping teen read. Then, lo and behold, EntangledTEEN puts out the first book in another MUST READ series: Forget Tomorrow. My SciFi,YA, Romance loving heart was happy again…and completely in love with the characters and plot of Pintip Dunn’s new series.

I hesitate. Not because I don’t want to touch him, but because I do. I want to take his hand and hold it forever. […] Because five years ago, I never noticed the way his upper lip rested on his lower one, soft but assured. My breath didn’t quicken when he was near, and my stomach didn’t flip-flop whenever he touched me.

Our friendship has entered unfamiliar terrain.

Fans of the above mentioned books and others like the Divergent and UTNS series will find their next action-packed, romantic tension fix with Forget Tomorrow.

Two bad-ass characters, each carrying a secret. 17 year-old Callie is a strong, resilient, complex, and clever character that perfectly complements Logan, her childhood crush, who emanates from the page with quiet courage and a heart of gold. In other words, I’m in love.

This heart-pounding debut explores themes of family, convention and rebellion, identity, and the power of choice. I’m dropping everything to dive into the newly release sequel, Remember Yesterday, TONIGHT.

Follow me on Instagram for a chance to win a hardcover copy of Remember Yesterday in the near future.

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Blog Tour: Never Missing, Never Found by Amanda PanitchNever Missing, Never Found Published by Random House, Random House Kids on June 28, 2016
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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Some choices change everything. Scarlett chose to run. And the consequences will be deadly.

Stolen from her family as a young girl, Scarlett was lucky enough to eventually escape her captor. Now a teen, she's starting a summer job at an amusement park. There are cute boys, new friends, and the chance to finally have a normal life.

Her first day on the job, Scarlett is shocked to discover that a girl from the park has gone missing. Old memories come rushing back. And now as she meets her new coworkers, one of the girls seems strangely familiar. When Scarlett chose to run all those years ago, what did she set into motion? And when push comes to shove, how far will she go to uncover the truth . . . before it's too late?

“With flashbacks that slowly reveal the terrible secret of Scarlett’s escape and Pixie’s fate, this psychological thriller evokes well-paced fear.”Kirkus Reviews

Psychological Thrillers are all the rage right now and if you tore your way through novels like Damage Done, With Malice, or The Darkest Corners , then you will want to add Amanda Pinatch’s Never Missing, Never Found to your “reading a psych-thrill and chill” queue.

Never Missing, Never Found has a certain afterschool special vibe to it that will trigger memories of a common childhood fear for a lot of people. Most of the story takes place in a creepy-ass theme park where the story’s protagonist works and maybe this is something unique to children who grew up in the 80s, or maybe it’s universal to all generations, but the setting alone was enough to keep me creeped out and entertained. Theme parks are horrifying.

coney-island

 

 

The tone of the novel is a cocktail of paranoia, confusion, desperation, and deception. Little pieces of the larger story reveal themselves through flashbacks as certain things trigger memories from the main character’s painful past. This book is a page turner that will have you feeling completely outraged by the end. I was not sure how I felt about the ending because it was more dark and scandalous than I was expecting. But it will keep you thinking about it for a while, making you wonder what you would have done in a similar situation.

I also had mixed feelings about the narrator, but that’s the effect that Pinatch seems to want . The author creates an unreliable narrator in the most subtle ways, and it is brilliant. While there is a healthy dose of lust, romance, and teenage angst, the story focuses on unravelling a tale that depicts the presence of the past in everything one does. Especially when the past is better left behind for the sake of the narrator.

All of the characters are skillfully developed and I ended up saying to myself, “I so know this person/a person like this”,  after being introduced to the romantic interest, Conner. At other times I ended up thinking, “who the hell does something like that?!”. The book evokes all kinds of emotions such as anger and incredulity as more of the story reveals itself and as more of the characters intentions come to light.

Overall, Never Missing, Never Found was a solid psychological thriller that is perfect for a summer night spent reading until the wee hours. I found myself yelling at this book like I do with some movies and/or television programs that dare to push the envelope or the audience’s tolerance and patience. The author plunges the reader into a dark story that captivates from the first page, and I am excited to see what kind of depths she will explore in her next novel.

Have you read Never Missing, Never Found? What did you think?

Just for fun:

I found this funny blog post titled “18 Signs You Work At A Theme Park“, and thought I would share its hilarity with you.

6. You’ve learned to detach your emotions from the upset reactions of people too tall/short/large/small to ride your attraction

Sad tears, aggressive shouts—you’ve heard it all, and by now, you’re immune to the effects of these outbursts. The rules are for their safety, and you can’t budge from your word.

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Upcoming Release: Girl in the Afternoon by Serena Burdick

by Serena Burdick
Published by St. Martin's Press on July 12, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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Purchase Links: Amazon | TBD
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Born into a wealthy Parisian family at the center of Belle Epoque society, 18-year-old Aimée Savaray dreams of becoming a respected painter in the male-dominated art world; and secretly, she also dreams of being loved by Henri, the boy her parents took in as a child and raised alongside her.

But when Henri inexplicably disappears, in the midst of the Franco-Prussian war, the Savarays’ privileged lives begin to unravel. Heartbroken, Aimée tries to find him, but Henri doesn’t want to be found—and only one member of the family knows why.

As Aimée seeks refuge in the art world, mentored by the Impressionist Édouard Manet, she unwittingly finds her way back to Henri. With so many years gone by and secrets buried, their eventual reunion unmasks the lies that once held the family together, but now threaten to tear them apart.

A rich and opulent saga, Girl in the Afternoon brings the Impressionists to life in this portrait of scandal, fortune, and unrequited love.

 

A Bar at the Folies Bergere- Manet
A Bar at the Folies Bergere- Manet

Belle Époque Paris. Three words that will sell me on a book in a heartbeat. The opulence of fashion and architecture. The richness of artistic and intellectual life. The idea of “The Salon” and sparkling soirees that lasted until the morning sun lit the sky a color to match the Perrier Jouet in party-goers crystal flutes. BELLE EPOQUE PARIS. YES.

The setting of Girl in the Afternoon lived up to my expectations of Paris during this era. The descriptions of the clothes, the streets, the people, the flats, and artist studios were as vivid and lush as a painting. The descriptive sentences use to describe the main character’s emotions and observations were poetic and evoked images like a painting as well. I found that this was my favorite part of Girl in the Afternoon.

I was not crazy about the characters. I did not feel a connection with any of them, and I despised the mother of the main female character, but I think that was the point. I would have to say that Edouard Manet was my favorite character of this novel. Unfortunately, he only exists on the fringes of the story.

Despite the characters who were a little underdeveloped for my liking, the plot was thick and complicated. Depressing and twisted, feminist and emotional, the dark secret at the heart of the story is the stuff that Lifetime television movies are made of.

Girl in the Afternoon is a quick read that is great on ambiance and drama. Have you read Girl in the Afternoon? I would love to know your thoughts on it in the comments section below.

 

Edouard Manet Cafe Painting
Edouard Manet Cafe Painting

Here’s a little sampler of some café music that captures a less serious, less refined culture of the Belle Époque. When listening to this music, it’s easy to imagine people laughing, bathed in a romantic carefree glow, toasting overflowing steins of beer and bubbly champagne while admiring an impromptu can-can show at the local street café.

And just for FUN:

Here is a classical music playlist that captures the more intellectual, bohemian, and artistic mood of Belle Époque Paris.

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The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-LeviThe Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-Levi
Published by St. Martin's Press, Thomas Dunne Books on April 5, 2016
Pages: 374
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem is a dazzling novel of mothers and daughters, stories told and untold, and the binds that tie four generations of women.

Gabriela's mother Luna is the most beautiful woman in all of Jerusalem, though her famed beauty and charm seem to be reserved for everyone but her daughter. Ever since Gabriela can remember, she and Luna have struggled to connect. But when tragedy strikes, Gabriela senses there's more to her mother than painted nails and lips.

Desperate to understand their relationship, Gabriela pieces together the stories of her family's previous generations—from Great-Grandmother Mercada the renowned healer, to Grandma Rosa who cleaned houses for the English, to Luna who had the nicest legs in Jerusalem. But as she uncovers shocking secrets, forbidden romances, and the family curse that links the women together, Gabriela must face a past and present far more complex than she ever imagined.

Set against the Golden Age of Hollywood, the dark days of World War II, and the swingin' '70s, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem follows generations of unforgettable women as they forge their own paths through times of dramatic change. With great humor and heart, Sarit Yishai-Levi has given us a powerful story of love and forgiveness—and the unexpected and enchanting places we find each.

“Set against the golden age of Hollywood, the dark days of WWII, and the swinging ’70s, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem follows generations of unforgettable women as they forge their own paths through times of dramatic change.” – jacket excerpt

Looove this cov so much.
Looove this cov so much.

The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem is an absorbing novel that traces the familial and amorous relationships and life-shaping decisions of four generations of Israeli women.

1940s dressmakers

“The shop employed several seamstresses who made the clothes according to patterns that appeared in Burda magazine, and Luna would devour the magazine voraciously, studying it for hours on end. She spent all of her wages on clothes she purchased from the shop, and was always dressed at the height of fashion, accessorized to the most minute detail.  The polish on her fingernails matched that on her toenails, which matched her lipstick, which in turn matched her dress, shoes, and handbag. As she dressed, she also blossomed.”

Here is a fun Pinterest board with some vintage covers of Burda magazine.
Here is a fun Pinterest board with some vintage covers of Burda magazine.

I have to admit, I really loved one of the main female characters, Luna, because of her obsession with fashion and her unstoppable desire to look good. It seemed like an act of defiance in a culture that controlled women and their bodies.

But the beauty of this story is beyond cover-deep. The author’s prose is as classy as the cover of this book and provided an often overlooked, alternative snapshot of WWII era. I have read SO MANY WWII historical fiction novels, but not once have I read one from the Israeli perspective. It was refreshing and completely engaging to follow the narratives of the women at the heart of this intricately woven tale that examines the strained and tumultuous mother-daughter relationships set against a backdrop of unstable times in Jerusalem.

While the pacing of this book takes some dedication, it is completely worth the time it takes to read. The author masterfully captures the struggles that younger generations experience with their parents and older relatives. There is almost a voyeuristic feel because of the candid, ”airing of dirty laundry” scenarios that give real depth to this tale. The author captures the rigid patriarchal culture of the times and how women both accepted and rejected the constraints of it throughout the four generations featured in the novel. Despite cultural and temporal differences, I identified with many of the situations and lines of thought among the female characters.

Any lover of historical fiction and literary family portraits will want to add this to their collection. Reading The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem was an enriching experience.

And just for fun:

I liked the WWII era storyline the best, so here is a fun and informative article about fashion in the 1940s. This fashion history website is addictive to look at and full of educational information. Enjoy!

1940s fashion pic

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Summer Reading Abroad: I’ll See You in Paris Review + GIVEAWAY!

by Michelle Gable
on February 9, 2016
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Add to your Goodreads TBR shelf.
Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N
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After losing her fiancé in the Vietnam War, nineteen-year-old Laurel Haley takes a job in England, hoping the distance will mend her shattered heart. Laurel expects the pain might lessen but does not foresee the beguiling man she meets or that they’ll go to Paris, where the city’s magic will take over and alter everything Laurel believes about love.

Thirty years later, Laurel’s daughter Annie is newly engaged and an old question resurfaces: who is Annie’s father and what happened to him? Laurel has always been vague about the details and Annie’s told herself it doesn’t matter. But with her impending marriage, Annie has to know everything. Why won’t Laurel tell her the truth?

The key to unlocking Laurel’s secrets starts with a mysterious book about an infamous woman known as the Duchess of Marlborough. Annie’s quest to understand the Duchess, and therefore her own history, takes her from a charming hamlet in the English countryside, to a decaying estate kept behind barbed wire, and ultimately to Paris where answers will be found at last.

I enjoyed this story for the rich bits of history and biography revealed through long-lost discovered correspondence and the two main narrators of the story. The most entertaining character in the book was The Duchess of Marlborough, who tries her hardest to deny that she is, indeed, the duchess.

Gladys Deacon (aka the Duchess of Marlborough) Boldini painting.
Gladys Deacon (aka the Duchess of Marlborough) Boldini painting.

The story does some time hopping as each chapter reveals another piece of the puzzle concerning the duchess and the main female protagonist’s parentage. The pacing of the story is rather slow, which I have come to expect with novels that interweave the threads of multiple characters and different generations of a family. But it was a nice kind of slow. The kind of slow that goes great with a glass of wine and a bubble bath.

In addition to the fun mystery at the heart of the story that concerns identity and familial bonds, the author held my attention with the lush descriptions of Gilded Age New York, late Belle Epoque Paris, and the luscious English country side.

English house

I enjoyed the witty dialogue in this literary mystery. There are several laugh-out-loud moments throughout that you can imagine translating perfectly onto the big screen. This book definitely has a certain cinematic appeal because of the vivid descriptions and complicated characters. It is the perfect read for a lazy summer weekend when you want to indulge in an atmospheric story for some armchair travel.

If you have had the pleasure of watching the Smithsonian Channel’s two seasons of Million Dollar American Princesses and enjoyed it, then this book will be right up your ally. It has the same appeal.

Million Dollar
Million Dollar American Princesses Smithsonian Channel

Enter below for the chance to WIN a paperback copy of Michelle Gable’s lovely story, I’ll See You in Paris.

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A Small Indiscretion by Jan EllisonA Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison
Published by Random House on January 20, 2015
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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At nineteen, Annie Black trades a bleak future in a washed-out California town for a London winter of drinking and abandon. Twenty years later, she is a San Francisco lighting designer and happily married mother of three who has put her reckless youth behind her. Then a photo from that distant winter in Europe arrives inexplicably in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.

Past and present collide, Annie’s marriage falters, and her son takes a car ride that ends with his life hanging in the balance. Now Annie must confront her own transgressions and fight for her family by untangling the mysteries of the turbulent winter that drew an invisible map of her future. Gripping, insightful, and lyrical, A Small Indiscretion announces the arrival of a major new voice in literary suspense as it unfolds a story of denial, passion, forgiveness—and the redemptive power of love.

A Small Indiscretion was one of those books that I saw on another blog last year and thought to myself Ohhh! I really want to read this!. I occasionally passed by it at Barnes and Noble over the past year and would say to my husband while pointing at it with the excitement of remembering a long-forgotten good idea, “Oh! I have been wanting to read that one!”. Ultimately, the book failed to ever make it to the check-out counter as one of my purchases. I always ended up passing on it. No clue why. It was just one of those books, I guess.

So, I was ecstatic when I actually won a signed copy of this novel that I had been “oh, so wanting to read” for a year. And this is where the problem of all those previous  months of anticipation reared its ugly head. I had worked up this book in my mind so much because of the intriguing cover/title combo and the juicy synopsis, and because it was one of those ”TBR” books that was always at the forefront of my mind. When I finally read the book, it was a let down. BUMMER.

disappoint

 

I blame myself for this disappoint. The author’s writing was lovely and the story was emotionally complex, bringing to vivid life all the nuances of thought and feeling that would go with the shady scenarios that take place in her novel. I think I might have been more impressed with the story if I had completely forgotten about it over the past year.

It was the (lack of) momentum of the story. When I started this book, I was expecting to be completely compelled, under the spell of a page turning psychological suspense novel but that never came to pass. The pacing was way too slow for me to fall under compulsion and the protagonist was so incredibly unlikable for me, that I found it difficult to empathize with her. If I had liked the MC more, I would have been able to empathize with her despite some really bad decision-making.

Here's the PB edition recently released.
Here’s the PB edition recently released.

I do like the questions the story brought to mind (Was it worth it? What is love? Do you think of your own happiness first?, etc.), and the exploration of the grey areas of life and love and relationships. The story brought to light the cracks in the foundation of an otherwise strong and happy family and gave an example of how a family can work through the worst of tragedies, indiscretions, and betrayals. It also explores the lingering, deeply rooted subconscious effects of first love/infatuation and how the objects of one’s first all-consuming desire can alter the trajectory of one’s life.

The story is a strange combination of intense and boring, forcing one to finish it despite entertaining thoughts of bailing. Kind of like a higher-quality Lifetime Movie. The only character I genuinely liked in this novel was the protagonist’s husband but the story wasn’t about him, so there ya go.

I wish I could have gone into this book without any expectations, but alas, it was not meant to be. Have you read this San Francisco Chronicle’s  Book of the Year novel? I’d love to know what you thought about it!

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Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee CarpenterBohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter
Published by Pegasus on November 15, 2015
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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Set against the historical reign of the Golden and Iron King, Bohemian Gospel is the remarkable tale of a bold and unusual girl on a quest to uncover her past and define her destiny.

Thirteenth-century Bohemia is a dangerous place for a girl, especially one as odd as Mouse, born with unnatural senses and an uncanny intellect. Some call her a witch. Others call her an angel. Even Mouse doesn’t know who—or what—she is. But she means to find out.

When young King Ottakar shows up at the Abbey wounded by a traitor's arrow, Mouse breaks church law to save him and then agrees to accompany him back to Prague as his personal healer. Caught in the undertow of court politics at the castle, Ottakar and Mouse find themselves drawn to each other as they work to uncover the threat against him and to unravel the mystery of her past. But when Mouse's unusual gifts give rise to a violence and strength that surprise everyone—especially herself—she is forced to ask herself: Will she be prepared for the future that awaits her?

BOHEMIAN GOSPEL WAS ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2015.

“A fast-moving, seductive read. A fascinating mix of dark fantasy and rich historical detail.”  Author of The Bloodletter’s Daughter

Like any good book, Bohemian Gospel is a book for all seasons. However, I suggest you hurry and go buy a copy to read now, during the Winter months, so you can cuddle up under a fuzzy blanket by a toasty fire. This book will make you crave that kind of setting. The author’s writing is like the warm glow cast by candle flames despite the story giving me bone-deep chills on more than one occasion.

Bohemian Gospel is the kind of book that will beckon you out of bed in the wee hours of the morning with anticipation. Kind of like Christmas morning when you were a kid. It’s a rich story set in a time period that was unfamiliar to me (13th Century Prague/Bohemia), with a main character that was perplexing and bewitching. There’s an intriguing and devilishly good question about the MC, called Mouse, that propels the story forward at a seductive pace. Mouse is a character that ends up surpassing the implications of her moniker and becomes a lioness in the face of fate. To put it succinctly , this book cast a spell over me.

Although under 400 pages, there is an epic feel to the story as the reader witnesses decades of Mouse’s life unfold in both joy and torment. There were elements of Bohemian Gospel that reminded me of the His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers (HUGE compliment).

King Ottakar II in the Battle of Marchfeld 1278.
King Ottakar II in the Battle of Marchfeld 1278.

The secondary characters in Mouse’s story peaked my imagination and curiosity as thoroughly as Mouse did. The romance between Mouse and King Ottakar is predictable, but told in an enthralling and poignant way that had me on the edge of my seat.

There were moments in this novel that were pure, terrifying darkness. Those moments completely satisfied my need to be creeped out by a book. Sounds strange, I know, but the eerie and diabolical current to the story was so unique and transfixing. Read the following two pages for a really creepy excerpt:

Bohemian Gospel SS 2

There was just something beyond magical about this tale that had the capacity to both break and mend my heart in a single beat.

Wonderfully textured with elements of magic, mysticism, paganism, and fantasy, the author’s beautiful writing brought these elements together with lyrical perfection.

I could not describe this story better than the cover quote that boasts Bohemian Gospel as “A grand, thought-provoking adventure in sorrow, joy, and magic. One of the most intriguing novels you’ll read this year.”

Bohemian Gospel was one of my favorite things of 2015 and I am thrilled to share Mouse’s story with you by offering the following GIVEAWAY courtesy of PEGASUS BOOKS. Enter below for a chance to win this lovely novel. (Sorry, International friends. Giveaway is for US ONLY.)

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And just for fun:

I enjoyed reading Bohemian Gospel to Patricia Petibon’s Poulenc album. Although the music is from a completely different historical time period (20th Century), Poulenc’s daring sacred works in this compilation resonated well with Mouse’s tale for me.

Just a warning- THIS scary child-thing might visit you in your dreams after reading Bohemian Gospel:

Scary Doll Child

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The Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Founding of a Nation by Nancy Rubin StuartThe Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Founding of a Nation by Nancy Rubin Stuart
Published by Beacon Press on July 1, 2008
Pages: 314
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Add to your Goodreads TBR shelf.
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Praised by her mentor John Adams, Mercy Otis Warren was America's first woman playwright and female historian of the American Revolution. In this unprecedented biography, Nancy Rubin Stuart reveals how Warren's provocative writing made her an exception among the largely voiceless women of the eighteenth century.

A bronze statue of Mercy in Massachusetts.
A bronze statue of Mercy in Massachusetts.

There has been some what of a revival in American historical television dramas over the past few years, and I’d be lying if I said I liked them as much as the British historical dramas- based solely on the integrity of the history being presented to the public via the preferred medium of flat screens. Cable shows like TURN: Washington’s Spies, Sons of Liberty, and (the less recent) HBO series on John Adams are all wildly entertaining. I admit to watching these shows and cringing every time I witness an inaccuracy or fabricated event but still completely enjoying them. Like the majority of history, these American Revolutionary stories are told from the narratives of men. I’m ready for a Revolutionary T.V. drama told from and based on the perspective of a woman. I think Mercy Otis Warren’s story would be the perfect place to start.

TURN S2 picJohn Adams show picsonsofliberty

“Silence is the only medium of safety for those who have an opinion of their own that does not exactly square with the enthusiasms of the time”, Mercy Otis Warren confided to her son some fifteen plus years after the revolution had ended and her once dear friend John Adams had ascended to the presidency. Ironically, Mercy had been anything but silent during the years that spanned the American Revolution. But that was a different time for Mercy. A time when patriotic fervor was at its height and popular thought and values aligned with Mercy’s own.

Mercy Otis Warren pic

As the wife of the patriotic James Warren and the sister of the zealous James “the patriot” Otis (whom she endearingly referred to as Jemmy) Mercy was in a prime position to witness the personal and rhetorical events that contributed to the coming of the revolution. As an educated women- thanks to the chance at an education because an older brother refused to take his own education seriously- Mercy had acquired the knowledge and skills necessary to further develop her innate ability to wield a pen with wit and intuitive verve.

In Nancy Rubin Stuart’s depiction of Mrs.Warren’s life and patriotic achievements a unique point-of-view sheds an intimate light on the thoughts and actions of some of the Revolution’s most memorable figures. From Stuart’s book the reader is presented with a worm’s-eye-view of the history of The American Revolution.

Mercy Otis Warren should be pictured in the background holding her pen like a sword.
Mercy Otis Warren should be pictured in the background holding her pen like a sword.

Mercy Otis Warren was truly a Revolutionary figure in her own right and helped set the stage for women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to pen their own political commentary and openly critique the patriarchal system that Stanton would go on to challenge in Seneca Falls almost a century later.

I loved seeing the American Revolution unfold through Mercy’s eyes but wish the book would have divulged more information on Mercy alone. I am definitely inspired to go and read any other book I can find on Mercy Otis Warren after reading this book and am grateful to the author for introducing me to Mercy’s story.

A picture of Mercy's monument as bad ass as she was.
A picture of Mercy’s monument as bad ass as she was.

In short, Mercy Otis Warren was a bad ass. Mercy stands out as a rebel among rebels. In the 18th century it was not culturally or socially acceptable for women to occupy their minds with thoughts outside of the domestic sphere but Mercy was situated in a hot-bed of revolutionary action at her home in Plymouth, Massachusetts and could not help but put her education and sharp wit to use by her pen.

Those who admire Abigail Adams will feel just as strongly for Mercy Otis Warren after reading The Muse of the Revolution.

If you find yourself interested in the huge role that women played throughout America’s revolutionary period, check out Carol Berkin’s concise and entertaining Revolutionary Mothers.

Revolutionary Mothers pic

And Just for FUN:

Here’s a cute little ode to/bio of Mercy Otis Warren:

And for those of you who are looking for SERIOUS FUN and were inspired by my review, here’s a lecture video featuring professional historians/authors on Mercy Otis Warren, including the author of the book I reviewed:

 

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The Debt of Tamar by Nicole DweckThe Debt of Tamar by Nicole Dweck
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on September 8, 2015
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Add to your Goodreads TBR shelf.
Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N
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A USA TODAY Best seller!

Bestselling author Nicole Dweck brings to life one of history's greatest yet overlooked stories of love and resilience.

In 2002, thirty-two-year-old Selim Osman, the last descendant of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, flees Istanbul for New York. In a twist of fate he meets Hannah, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and an artist striving to understand a father she barely knows. Unaware the connection they share goes back centuries, the two feel an immediate pull to one another. But as their story intertwines with that of their ancestors, the heroic but ultimately tragic decision that bound two families centuries ago ripples into the future, threatening to tear Hannah and Selim apart.

From a 16th-century harem to a seaside village in the Holy Land, from Nazi-occupied Paris to modern-day Manhattan, Nicole Dweck's The Debt of Tamar weaves a spellbinding tapestry of love, history, and fate that will enchant readers from the very first page.

“Through it all, the very same sun and moon and stars never wavered, never once failed to rise and fall and shine their light upon the world. And though mankind itself had run amok, the universe never once collapsed in on itself.

Through seismic shifts, wars, famine, and mankind’s great experiment with its own free will, the universe never lost sight of even its most infinitesimal need for balance. “

Ottoman textile 1Ottoman textile 2

Some lovely Ottoman textiles. 

The Debt of Tamar was truly a gift.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that has tugged at the magical heartstrings that make me feel connected to the universe and humankind as a whole.

Inspired by the author’s longing to know more about her heritage, this book is a beautiful example of how genealogy and historical research can yield a treasure trove of thought and lyrical beauty bound into a spellbinding story.

Some familiar Ottoman architecture
Some familiar Ottoman architecture.

The Debt of Tamar filled me with wonder, sadness, courage and hope. I was enraptured by the author’s elegant writing style that mined diamonds of thought and ancient wisdom from simple yet profound sentences and character constructions on the page. Infused with rich elements like Sufi Mysticism, The Ottoman Empire, Holocaust Paris, and modern day Instanbul and New York, the story unfolds over centuries and lives connected by the same lines that hold constellations together at a pace that kept me reading ”just one more page”.

People being rounded up or escaping during the French Holocaust.
Jewish people being rounded up or escaping during the French Holocaust.

Written in third person, The Debt of Tamar reminded me of the film Amelie or A Very Long Engagement in its presentation. If you are a fan of films like the aforementioned or a fan of fairy tales, then you will enjoy this book. It is a fast, completely engaging read that will bring tears to your eyes on more than one occasion and that will leave you pondering the interconnectedness of everything long after you turn the last page. It was my pleasure to read The Debt of Tamar.

 

And just for fun:

Here’s a BBC documentary on The Ottoman Empire that will satisfy your thirst for more on this rich era after reading The Debt of Tamar:

 

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Enchantress of Paris by Marci Jefferson Review + GIVEAWAY!!!Enchantress of Paris by Marci Jefferson
Published by St. Martin's Press, Thomas Dunne Books on August 4, 2015
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N | Kobo
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The alignment of the stars at Marie Mancini's birth warned that although she would be gifted at divination, she was destined to disgrace her family. Ignoring the dark warnings of his sister and astrologers, Cardinal Mazarin brings his niece to the French court, where the forbidden occult arts thrive in secret. In France, Marie learns her uncle has become the power behind the throne by using her sister Olympia to hold the Sun King, Louis XIV, in thrall.

Desperate to avoid her mother's dying wish that she spend her life in a convent, Marie burns her grimoire, trading Italian superstitions for polite sophistication. But as her star rises, King Louis becomes enchanted by Marie's charm. Sensing a chance to grasp even greater glory, Cardinal Mazarin pits the sisters against each other, showering Marie with diamonds and silks in exchange for bending King Louis to his will.

Disgusted by Mazarin's ruthlessness, Marie rebels. She sacrifices everything, but exposing Mazarin's deepest secret threatens to tear France apart. When even King Louis's love fails to protect Marie, she must summon her forbidden powers of divination to shield her family, protect France, and help the Sun King fulfill his destiny.

Check out my PSYCHOLOGICAL ANALYSIS of Marci Jefferson HERE, and don’t forget to ENTER to WIN a finished copy of the Enchantress of Paris at the end of the review!

“Fraught with conspiracy and passion, the Sun King’s opulent court is brought to vivid life in this captivating tale about a woman whose love was more powerful than magic.”

COULD ANYONE ASK FOR ANYTHING MORE IN AN HISTORICAL NOVEL?!

Versailles Palace GardensVersailles Hall of Mirrorsversailles_water_terrace

Some opulent scenery from King Louis XIV’s Versailles Palace

I loved Marci Jefferson’s Girl on the Golden Coin which focuses on Frances Stuart so I already had high expectations for Enchantress of Paris. BUT FOR THE LOVE OF LOUIS, this book surpassed my expectations a hundred fold.

As a musician, I sometimes come across a book that reads like music to me. Full of the kind of lyricism and glorious texture that sweeps me up with all the verve and passion of a symphony piece. There’s the side of my brain that wanted to stop and dissect the anatomy of this novel. What makes it so magical and pitch perfect?  But the side of my brain that prefers to be swept up in such a composition won.

Marie Mancini, The King’s Mistress                                                                           Louis XIV, The Sun King

Marie Mancini, the Sun King's MistressKing Louis XIV

Gah! Is there anything more satisfying for a Historical Fiction lover or Historian than being introduced to a Historical Figure that you didn’t even know existed?! I knew nothing about Marie Mancini before the Enchantress of Paris and now I want to know EVERYTHING about her. Marie is the kind of hypnotic female protagonist that will be haunting the halls of your brain for weeks to come after reading this novel. She is clever and strong, defiant and demanding- all the things that make a captivating heroine.

Marci Jefferson’s storytelling is a full sensory experience. I swear, it’s like Marci tapped into some kind of ”powers that be” to craft such a rich and fascinating story. The mysticism that infuses Marie’s narrative was such an unexpected dimension to this story and added such an exciting and exotic feel to this European tale. Every aspect of the culture of the time period is touched upon in the Enchantress of Paris, and I adore Marci for giving some great historical detail about Jean-Baptiste Lully, the Sun King’s personal composer and  court musician.

Here’s an entertaining scene from the film about King Louis XIV, Le Roi Danse, featuring a Soprano singing an aria written by Lully:

As I’ve come to expect from Marci’s writing, the world building and characterization are equally brilliant and transcendent. The balance between historical detail and narrative is perfect. The ill-fated romance between Marie and Louis XIV was engrossing and infuriating at the same time- such a perfect combination. Marci really knows how to stir the blood with intimate scenes and clandestine dalliances.

We could hardly see so far from the lights of the palais. But we sensed each other and fell into each other’s arms.

“Did you come here to read the heavens?” he asked.

I glanced up and searched for the constellation Virgo, the virgin. But she had not yet ascended to the early spring sky. Instead I saw a shooting star sweep across the heavens. A sign of change? I chose to believe it meant we would overcome the odds. “You know I came for you.”

He ran a hand inside my cloak, feeling my satins. “You’ll be cold in this.”

“Not with the Sun King to warm me.”

“Look at us, forced to meet in the dark. What will happen to us, Marie.”

“You will shine, ” I whispered, “and darkness will flee.”

There, under stars tossed like silver against a velvet sky, our lips met.

Lets just face it. Marci Jefferson was born to write Historical Fiction. With the face of an angel and the brain of a she-devil, Marci Jefferson has made me a mega-fan with her second novel. I can’t wait to eat read the pages of the next thing she writes.

For your viewing pleasure, here’s an entertaining montage from the film Les Roi Danse featuring the best dance numbers in the film. (LOL)

Aaaand, just for fun:

If you are the type of reader who likes to listen to soundtracks with their novels, try Patricia Petibon’s French Baroque Arias which features music from Lully and other artists of the period.

 

ENTER to WIN below!

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Once Upon A Crime: A Brothers Grimm Mystery by P.J. BrackstonOnce Upon A Crime by P.J. Brackston
Series: A Brothers Grimm Mystery #2
Published by Pegasus Books on July 15, 2015
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N
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From New York Times bestselling author P. J. Brackston comes the prequel to Gretel and the Case of the Missing Frog Prints, the new novel in the rollicking series featuring Gretel, all grown up and working as a private investigator in 18th century Bavaria.

Gretel (yes, that Gretel) is now 35, very large, still living with her brother Hans, and working as a private investigator. The small, sleepy town of Gesternstadt is shaken to its pretty foundations when the workshop of the local cart maker is burnt to the ground, and a body is discovered in the ashes. It is Gretel who notices that the cadaver is missing a finger.

At first, she does not see this as significant, as her mind is fully focused on a new case. Not that she wouldn’t far rather be investigating an intriguing murder, but her client is willing to pay over the odds, so she must content herself with trying to trace three missing cats. It is not until she is further into her investigations that she realizes the two events are inextricably and dangerously connected, and that the mystery of the missing cats will lead her into perilous situations and frightening company.

Very soon Gretel finds herself accused of kidnapping Princess Charlotte, twice locked up in the cells at the Summer Schloss, repelling the advances of an amorous troll, strapped to a rack in Herr Schmerz’s torture chamber, and fleeing a murder charge. With dubious help from her brother (whose scant wits are habitually addled by drink), she must prove her innocence, solve the puzzle of the unidentified corpse, and find the stolen cats before they meet a grisly end

You can find my other reviews of Paula Brackston’s novels HERE.

Gretel Cover 1

I was sent a copy of Once Upon A Crime from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, so I have not had the pleasure of reading the first book in this series. In fact, I didn’t even know this series existed until the publisher emailed me. I’m going to have to start stalking Paula Brackston so I can stay in the loop about her work. Everything she writes is MAGIC.

Hansel Gretel film

 

Going into this novel, the 2013 film Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, immediately came to mind. OUAC is definitely reminiscent of this film, but where the story and characterization in the movie fell flat for me, Paula captures and creates with such wit and comedic timing in her own spin on the story.

I absolutely LOVED experiencing the same cleverness and lyrical quality I love about Paula’s Historical Fiction/Fantasy novels in this wholly entertaining, satirical masterpiece. Once Upon A Crime is full of knee-slapping hilarity, shady scenarios, and damn good writing.  All things I’ve come to expect from Backston’s work.

Set in 1776 Bavaria, Brackston weaves together a comical mystery revolving around a Princess, dead bodies, missing kittens, a love-sick giant and a lusty troll. I have to say, the characters were more absorbing than the plot for me and that’s exactly how I like it.

Beauty Beer

Thatched roofs, taverns and cottages awash in the warm glow of walk-in fire places, and the kind of frothy beer that strikes up memories of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast are all images that invaded the senses in OUAC. The world building is nothing short of a fairy-tale.

As a spoof on the traditional Hansel and Gretel children’s story, Paula achieves the perfect adult retelling casting Hansel and Gretel as slap-stick detectives in their mid-thirties. The story flowed at a leisurely pace, and the plot kept me guessing until the end. I was completely charmed and humored by this Brothers Grimm Mystery, and I look forward to reading the rest in the series.

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Dangerous Deceptions ( Palace of Spies #2) by Sarah ZettelDangerous Deceptions by Sarah Zettel
Series: Palace of Spies #2
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on November 4, 2014
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N
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As a lady in waiting in King George’s London court, Peggy has survived a forced betrothal, royal scandals, and an attempt or two on her life. And now she has a new problem: her horrible fiancé has returned to claim her! To save her neck, or at least her hand in marriage, Peggy joins forces with her cousin Olivia and her sweetheart, Matthew. But if she doesn’t play her cards right, her career as courtier and spy might come to an end at the bottom of the river Thames . . .

You can check out my review of the first book in this series, Palace of Spies #1 HERE.

Palace of Spies

 

(I love this series. HARD.)

George_I_Oval
King George I
Melusine, King's Royal Mistress
Melusine, King’s Royal Mistress
Sophia Dorthea, the King's wife.
Sophia Dorthea, the King’s wife.

I love Historical Fiction and Non-Fiction and read quite a bit of both, so I wouldn’t say I’m easily impressed. There’s just something so clever about Sarah Zettel’s characters/dialogue, and something so sneaky-educational about her writing. I’ve never learned so much about the time period and customs of King George I’s court as I have from reading her deceptively scholarly Palace of Spies novels.

St. James Palace, London
St. James Palace, London

Peggy Fitzroy, our protagonist, is dealt another wild card in this sequel to Palace of Spies as the fiancé she escaped from in her previous life outside of the palace comes to court to haunt her. We have a setting change from Hampton Court Palace to St.James Palace in London in this book, and the pacing and feel of the novel is something akin to a royal horse-drawn carriage dashing its way through a bumpy country road. Just as Peggy thinks she’s gained some ground, some sinister nuisance becomes a stick in her wagon wheel. Peggy is a refreshing heroine in Hanoverian England. She’s smart and determined and refuses to let outside circumstances and conventions determine her destiny.

I'm a little jealous of this cover, and I'm not sure where it came from (found on Pinterest) or why it says ''Book 1", but I want this edition!
I’m a little jealous of this cover, and I’m not sure where it came from (found on Pinterest) or why it says ”Book 1″, but I want this edition!

The layman’s reconnaissance missions and suspenseful games of cat and mouse were wholly entertaining. The budding romance between Peggy and ”the wrong boy” is the stuff that romance novels are made of. The competitive court atmosphere and games of gossip roulette are pitch perfect. Dangerous Deceptions will be a special treat for those who are eagerly awaiting the new season of BBC’s The Musketeers like I am. The Palace of Spies novels carry all the action, adventure, romance, and wonderful plotting and story telling that The Musketeers does.

It seems like a horribly LONG TIME to wait for the next novel in this series to come out (January 2016), but I know the wait will be worth it. Here’s the cover of the third installment, Assassin’s Masque:

Assassins-Masque-Cover-198x300

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Wish You Were Italian (If Only… #2) by Kristin Rae + ARC GiveawayWish You Were Italian by Kristin Rae
Published by Bloomsbury on May 6, 2014
Pages: 323
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Add to your Goodreads TBR shelf.
Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N
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Pippa has always wanted to go to Italy … but not by herself. And certainly not to sit in art school the entire summer learning about dead guys’ paintings. When she steps off the plane in Rome, she realizes that traveling solo gives her the freedom to do whatever she wants. So it’s arrivederci, boring art program and ciao, hot Italian guys!

Charming, daring, and romantic, Bruno is just the Italian Pippa’s looking for—except she keeps running into cute American archeology student Darren everywhere she goes. Pippa may be determined to fall in love with an Italian guy … but the electricity she feels with Darren says her heart might have other plans. Can Pippa figure out her feelings before her parents discover she left the program and—even worse—she loses her chance at love?

It’s Summer time and when I’m sitting at my desk in the most air-conditioned city in the country,  I close my eyes and imagine that I’m lounging on the Spanish steps, my face raised towards the Sun, my skin turning as golden as freshly pressed olive oil while pistachio gelato drips off the waffle cone in my hand and down my toasty decolletage… *Snaps out of it* Okay. I’ll continue to my book review before Fabio jumps out of a fountain and offers to clean up my mess…

hotel_rome_spanish_steps

So, yeah…Wish You Were Italian is THE PERFECT ‘get me the hell out of Houston and into an Italian daydream’ kind of book. It’s a fun and light read but does deal with the bittersweet emotions that come with monumentally defying your parents for the first time/stepping out on your own and the loss of a beloved family member.

The main character, Pippa,  was likable and I related to a lot of her internal conflicts about boys, family, and pursuing her dreams. The romance aspect was light-hearted and just a tad risqué (YESSSSSS). The hit-and-miss moments with destiny and the well fleshed out journey of Pippa’s Italian adventure were awesome and created the perfect tension and backdrop. I truly felt like I was swept off my feet by Kristin Rae’s descriptions of iconic Italian landscapes. There’s definitely an “Under the Tuscan Sun” for teens feel to this story which makes it perfect in my book.

Just shy of 330 pages, Wish You Were Italian is a great Summer read and perfect for taking to the beach/pool/backyard/WHEREVER you go to relax and read. I haven’t read any of the other books in this series, but will be adding them to my TBR pile for days when I want to mentally escape with a fun and flirty novel.

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About the Author:

KristinRaeAuthorWYWItalianLover of books, music, movies, crafty things, and chocolate. My young adult contemporary debut WISH YOU WERE ITALIAN is out now, and WHAT YOU ALWAYS WANTED is coming March 29, 2016 from Bloomsbury! Represented by Marietta Zacker of the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency.

Visit Kristin Rae’s Website HERE!

 

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The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston Review + Giveaway!!!The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, Thomas Dunne Books on April 21, 2015
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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A year after her husband’s sudden death, ceramic artist Tilda Fordwells finally moves into the secluded Welsh cottage that was to be their new home. She hopes that the tranquil surroundings will help ease her grief, and lessen her disturbing visions of Mat’s death. Instead, the lake in the valley below her cottage seems to spark something dormant in her – a sensitivity, and a power of some sort. Animals are drawn to her, electricity shorts out when she’s near, and strangest of all, she sees a new vision; a boatful of ancient people approaching her across the water.

On this same lake in Celtic times lived Seren, a witch and shaman. She was respected but feared, kept separate from the community for her strange looks. When a vision came to her of the Prince amid a nest of vipers she warned of betrayal from one of his own. Prince Brynach both loved and revered her, but could not believe someone close to him wished him harm, even as the danger grew.

In her own time, Tilda’s grief begins to fade beside her newfound powers and a fresh love. When she explores the lake’s ancient magic and her own she discovers Seren, the woman in her vision of the boat. Their two lives strangely mirror each others, suggesting a strong connection between the women. As Tilda comes under threat from a dark power, one reminiscent of Seren’s prophecy, she must rely on Seren and ancient magic if death and disaster are not to shatter her life once more.

If you’ve ever had any interest in Welsh or Celtic mythology or ancient Welsh culture, you will be obsessed with this book.

The Silver Witch was AWESOME. I was enthralled with how Paula Brackston wraps up her fantasy/supernatural narratives in solid, mesmerizing historical research. You can find some of the historical artifacts she writes about in this novel here.

With spellbinding craft,  Ms. Brackston weaves the life of a contemporary widowed woman with the life of an ancient Celtic female witch/shaman in The Silver Witch. Haunting and alluring mythology is divulged in pieces as the story goes back and forth between Tilda, the main character, and Seren, the ancient shaman to a Celtic prince.

Silver Witch House
The Welsh cottage where Tilda resides, close to a lake.

The pacing of the novel was slow enough to luxuriate in all of the wonderful and creepy aspects of the story, but not so slow that my attention span was tested. Brackston’s character development is masterful and almost overwhelms the senses with the depth and beauty of detail she lends her page people. I found myself reading the book as if I were living the book and that, of course, is a reader’s dream come true.

The crannog on the lake outside of Tilda's cottage where much of the story unfolds.
The crannog on the lake outside of Tilda’s cottage where much of the story unfolds.

There is a thread of romance that had substance without challenging the main plot and made The Silver Witch seem like a really well-rounded read. The tone and the setting of the book are so gloriously mysterious and mystical. Just think of fog hovering over a lake and tinkling wind-chimes playing atonal melodies or a Lydian mode to get a sense of the feel of this book.

This was my second novel of Paul Brackston’s to read, and I cannot wait to burn my way through the rest of her books. You can find my review of The Midnight Witch here.

Enter below for a chance to WIN a FINISHED COPY of The Silver Witch, courtesy of St. Martin’s Press. 

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Monarch Madness: A Royal Experiment by Janice HadlowA Royal Experiment by Janice Hadlow
Published by Henry Holt & Co. on November 18, 2014
Pages: 704
Format: Hardcover
Source: the Publisher
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The surprising, deliciously dramatic, and ultimately heartbreaking story of King George III’s radical pursuit of happiness in his private life with Queen Charlotte and their 15 children

In the U.S., Britain's George III, the protagonist of A Royal Experiment, is known as the king from whom Americans won their independence and as "the mad king," but in Janice Hadlow’s groundbreaking and entertaining new biography, he is another character altogether—compelling and relatable.

He was the first of Britain’s three Hanoverian kings to be born in England, the first to identify as native of the nation he ruled. But this was far from the only difference between him and his predecessors. Neither of the previous Georges was faithful to his wife, nor to his mistresses. Both hated their own sons. And, overall, their children were angry, jealous, and disaffected schemers, whose palace shenanigans kick off Hadlow's juicy narrative and also made their lives unhappy ones.

Pained by his childhood amid this cruel and feuding family, George came to the throne aspiring to be a new kind of king—a force for moral good. And to be that new kind of king, he had to be a new kind of man. Against his irresistibly awful family background—of brutal royal intrigue, infidelity, and betrayal—George fervently pursued a radical domestic dream: he would have a faithful marriage and raise loving, educated, and resilient children.

The struggle of King George—along with his wife, Queen Charlotte, and their 15 children—to pursue a passion for family will surprise history buffs and delight a broad swath of biography readers and royal watchers.

MEReadALOT's Monarch Madness Blog Hop

Such a wonderfully written and thoroughly explored family dynasty. This is one of my new favorite Royal Biographies. A Royal Experiment is as compelling and absorbing as a novel.

King George III
King George III

Most of us who dabble in Historical reading and Historical films might have a faint idea about who King George III is. Or maybe he sounds familiar from school days spent in American History class learning about the American Revolution. Those who live outside of America and studied European History or pursued History outside of high-school will be more familiar with him. Before reading A Royal Experiment, the only things I ” knew” about King George III were from the 1994 film The Madness of King George. (It’s a fun movie, and if you have Amazon Prime you can watch it for FREE here.) Looking back at the film after having read A Royal Experiment, it now seems like an unsympathetic caricature of King George III. Janice Hadlow does an exquisite job of exploring George the monarch and George the man in her Historical Biography, and shows how George III set out right from the start to rule England differently than his predecessors, King George I & II. A Royal Experiement kept me utterly captivated through 700+ pages of the Hanoverian dynasty and George the III’s life and rule.

Hadlow’s writing is refreshing and has a historical pop-culture edge to it that will make this book appealing to the King George scholar as well as the King George laymen. Some might say Hadlow’s writing is a paradox. A Royal Experiment reads with the historical vigor and detail of a text-book while being a wildly entertaining page turner. The historical world building and context of what was going on in and around England leading up to and during George III’s reign is captured in wonderful detail.

If Britain in 1760, was a volatile and sometimes intimidating place, it was also an increasingly wealthy one. Almost every visitor commented on the general air of comfortable prosperity that manifested itself in the clean and well-appointed private houses, the luxurious inns and, above all, in the quality of the roads […] From the moment of their arrival, travellers to Britain were struck by the sheer busyness of the place. They were astonished by the air of perpetual activity, not just the roads, but in the teeming streets; in the ports dominated by the masts of tightly packed ships; on the new canal systems, thronged with burdened barges; in the parks and pleasure gardens, where rich and poor mingled in huge numbers in pursuit of a good time.

 

I also enjoyed the insight into Queen Caroline’s character, George’s wife. Hadlow leaves no detail to the imagination, and she laid bare the kind of relationship George had with all of his family members and confidantes. The life and times of King George III reads like the best kind of fiction. Drama, romance, politics, gossip, betrayal, passion, and despair. A Royal Experiment would do well to be made into a BBC series. I had NEVER been interested in the House of Hanover until this book, and now I am completely fascinated with this period of British History. I was sad for A Royal Experiment to end, and I cannot wait to read the next book Janice Hadlow writes.

King George III and Family
King George III and Family

Here’s the trailer for The Madness of King George if you’re interested, but I wholly recommend reading Janice Hadlow’s A Royal Experiment for a more accurate and more entertaining window into King George’s life.

 

 

 

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Bad Girls Don’t Die (Bad Girls Don’t Die #1) by Katie AlenderBad Girls Don't Die by Katie Alender
Series: Bad Girls Don't Die #1
Published by Disney Hyperion on April 21, 2009
Pages: 346
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
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Alexis thought she led a typically dysfunctional high school existence. Dysfunctional like her parents' marriage; her doll-crazy twelve-year-old sister, Kasey; and even her own anti-social, anti-cheerleader attitude. When a family fight results in some tearful sisterly bonding, Alexis realizes that her life is creeping from dysfunction into danger. Kasey is acting stranger than ever: her blue eyes go green sometimes; she uses old-fashioned language; and she even loses track of chunks of time, claiming to know nothing about her strange behavior. Their old house is changing, too. Doors open and close by themselves; water boils on the unlit stove; and an unplugged air conditioner turns the house cold enough to see their breath in.

Alexis wants to think that it's all in her head, but soon, what she liked to think of as silly parlor tricks are becoming life-threatening--to her, her family, and to her budding relationship with the class president. Alexis knows she's the only person who can stop Kasey -- but what if that green-eyed girl isn't even Kasey anymore?

A fresh and funny take on the classic possessed-doll-poltergeist story.

I love Katie Alender. Her writing is clever and carries that kind of quick-wit charm you see on the big screen or current television shows aimed at teens. I really enjoy Katie’s writing and her simple yet effective characterization. I first fell in love with Katie’s writing in her book, Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer. You can check out my review of that one, here.

Alexis is our narrator, and she is your typical teenage girl who soon discovers her younger sister isn’t just being a spoiled brat; she’s POSSESSED. Alexis is easy to relate to and unlike many characters in horror films, she’s smart and rarely made me want to slap her.

Kasey, Alexis’s younger sister, is a character we end up feeling sympathetic for despite her demonic demeanor. I LOVE when an author does that with a character you naturally feel like you should hate. I continually felt conflicted about Kasey, and I loved the dimension that aspect of her character added to the story.

While there is a thin thread of romance in this story, it takes backseat but promises to be more center-stage by the end of the novel.

Now he had turned his whole body to face me. “I’ve never met anyone like you.”

I felt an urgent, almost magnetic pull between us. It made my throat feel dry and airy.

“This is so weird, ” I said, but it came out as a whisper.

He studied my face for a moment and then smiled.

Oh God, was it obvious that my heart was pounding? It was like those scenes in movies where the girl thinks the guy’s going to kiss her, so she closes her eyes and puckers up. Except I wasn’t just puckering my lips- I was puckering my whole soul.

This book is filled with all kinds of wonderfully-creeptastic scenes that will make you want to sleep with the lights on. The world-building is nicely done, the pacing was reminiscent of a teen thriller,  and overall, this book is an entertaining and light-read that is definitely worth an add to your TBR list.  Here’s one of my favorite and most infuriating scenes from the book:

“Go to bed, Kase.”

“Why did you want me to come in here?” she asked, looking around.

Was she kidding? “What are you talking about? I didn’t want you in here… It’s the middle of the night!”

She slumped and leaned away. Her hand brushed the hair back away from her face. It was a gesture of elegance, practiced and casual.

Then she reached out to my arm. Her fingers brushed my skin. “We can be friends,” she whispered.

I felt a sharp burn and looked down to find four red marks across my skin, where she’d touched me.

“You know what?” I said. “I’m sick of this. Get out of here.”

Kasey stood up suddenly, and grabbing the yearbook from my nightstand, threw it at the wall as hard as she could.

“What–?”

Then, with hard eyes, she backed away and hit herself in the face.

It took me a moment to process what I was seeing- my sister with an angry red mark on her jaw- and by the time I realized what she’d done, she was huddled on the floor screaming at the top of her lungs.

 

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The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina HenriquezThe Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Published by Knopf, Penguin Random House on June 3, 2014
Pages: 286
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
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A dazzling, heartbreaking page-turner destined for breakout status: a novel that gives voice to millions of Americans as it tells the story of the love between a Panamanian boy and a Mexican girl: teenagers living in an apartment block of immigrant families like their own.

After their daughter Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident, the Riveras leave México and come to America. But upon settling at Redwood Apartments, a two-story cinderblock complex just off a highway in Delaware, they discover that Maribel's recovery--the piece of the American Dream on which they've pinned all their hopes--will not be easy. Every task seems to confront them with language, racial, and cultural obstacles.

At Redwood also lives Mayor Toro, a high school sophomore whose family arrived from Panamà fifteen years ago. Mayor sees in Maribel something others do not: that beyond her lovely face, and beneath the damage she's sustained, is a gentle, funny, and wise spirit. But as the two grow closer, violence casts a shadow over all their futures in America.

Peopled with deeply sympathetic characters, this poignant yet unsentimental tale of young love tells a riveting story of unflinching honesty and humanity that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be an American. An instant classic is born.

If you’ve ever been curious about how the other half of America lives- the immigrants and the undocumented and those who would never even imagine having enough money to spend any on buying books to read for pleasure- then this powerful piece of fiction is a great place to start.

This book is for readers that enjoy character studies and learning about other cultures and socioeconomic classes. What I had first thought was going to take a very sociological and subjective approach, ended up taking a very poignant and objective look at the lives of American immigrants from multiple Central and South American backgrounds. Despite what’s being examined in this book, it reads like a lyrical page-turner.

The author’s writing is vivid and beautiful and cuts to the quick. The thread that connects all of the lives examined in this story creates a seamless and emotive narrative that relates what it’s like to fall in the kind of love that’s outside of the pop-culture idea of love, and what it’s like to be an outsider in America on top of that.

Arturo Rivera

I was born in Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Mexico. I lived there all my life until I came here. Other people from our town had gone north. Most of them left because they wanted a better life. That’s what they said. A better life. But it wasn’t like that for us. We had a good life, a beautiful life. We lived in a house that I built. We married in the town square when Alma and I were young, when people told us we didn’t know anything yet about the world. But we knew. Because the world to us was each other. And then we had Maribel. And our world grew larger.

We came here for her.

The characters are beautifully realized and capture the essence of what it is to be a human trying to navigate this world without the proverbial life-jacket of financial security and favor. The love story that blossoms between the two teenage characters was utterly different and refreshing. Their story is definitely a tearjerker.

I couldn’t put this book down. I practically read it in one sitting. It’s for those of you who need a therapeutic cry every now and then, or those of you who want something completely different than what you’ve been reading in the Adult and Young Adult mainstream. The Book of Unknown Americans will make you obsess over the incredibly talented Cristina Henriquez, and make you anxiously await her next novel.

About the Author

Cristina HenriquezCristina Henríquez is the author of The Book of Unknown Americans, The World In Half, and Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories, which was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection.

Her stories have been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Glimmer Train, The American Scholar, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, and AGNI along with the anthology This is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America’s Best Women Writers.

Cristina’s non-fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Oxford American, and Preservation as well as in the anthologies State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America and Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary: Women Writers Reflect on the Candidate and What Her Campaign Meant.

She was featured in Virginia Quarterly Review as one of “Fiction’s New Luminaries,” has been a guest on National Public Radio, and is a recipient of the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation Award, a grant started by Sandra Cisneros in honor of her father.

Cristina earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Chicago.

 

 

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