Tag : published-2012

My Loving Vigil Keeping

My Loving Vigil Keeping, by Carla Kelly

My grandma is an avid reader.  When I was little, she had, at the bottom of her basement stairs, tall built-in bookshelves stuffed full of magic.  I loved to browse and, even better, select something to explore.  Though those shelves are gone and I am much older, we still share this love of books and often talk about the things we are reading.  During a recent visit, my grandma told me about a new friend she had made.  This friend was an author and had given my grandma a signed copy of her latest book.  My grandma loved the book.  And my curiosity was further peaked when she said this friend had just moved to Idaho from Utah.

My friends, despite my grandma’s recommendation, I was prepared not to like this book.  But oh, I did.  I did.  My Loving Vigil Keeping is a historical romance that takes place primarily in Scofield, Utah, a mining town, in 1899 and 1900.  The book starts just months before the Scofield Mine Disaster, which was, at the time, the worst mining disaster in the history of the United States.  Our heroine, Della, managed to scrape her way through college to earn a teaching certificate.  Though she has a good job in Salt Lake, she heads to Scofield to teach, to escape her relatives, and to reconnect with her past.

Learning about the mining town and historical facts about Salt Lake and Provo, both near where I currently live, was very interesting.  The character development in general and of the protagonist in particular was lovely.  It was nice to see her grow and to see her find love.  I quite enjoyed the male lead and that there really isn’t any major drama about who will end up with whom. It does take place in a Mormon community, but the religious aspects were not the story. And I did think the ending was a little rushed and convenient, but I raced through this book.  I’ll definitely be reading more by Carla Kelly in the near future.  In fact, I went out and bought Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, so I have it on hand when the need strikes.

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Though Kelly no longer lives in Utah, this counts as a “Utah book” in my book, because it is set in Utah and it was published by Cedar Fort Publishing, a Utah publisher.

Categories: Fiction, Reviews, Utah Book Month

The Queen's Vow

The Queen’s Vow, by C.W. Gortner

Title: The Queen’s Vow
Author: C.W. Gortner
Pages: 382
Originally Published: 2012
Format I Read: Paperback
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Rating: [rating:3]

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I received this book for free from the publisher. All content and opinions are my own.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Queen’s Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile. The Queen’s Vow was originally published in 2012 and is out in paperback now. Here’s the blurb:

Young Isabella is barely a teenager when she and her brother are taken from their mother’s home to live under the watchful eye of their half-brother, King Enrique, and his sultry, conniving queen. There, Isabella is thrust into danger when she becomes an unwitting pawn in a plot to dethrone Enrique. Suspected of treason and held captive, she treads a perilous path, torn between loyalties, until at age seventeen she suddenly finds herself heiress of Castile, the largest kingdom in Spain. Plunged into a deadly conflict to secure her crown, she is determined to wed the one man she loves yet who is forbidden to her—Fernando, prince of Aragon.

As they unite their two realms under “one crown, one country, one faith,” Isabella and Fernando face an impoverished Spain beset by enemies. With the future of her throne at stake, Isabella resists the zealous demands of the inquisitor Torquemada even as she is seduced by the dreams of an enigmatic navigator named Columbus. But when the Moors of the southern domain of Granada declare war, a violent, treacherous battle against an ancient adversary erupts, one that will test all of Isabella’s resolve, her courage, and her tenacious belief in her destiny.

I have to say one thing for Mr. Gortner, he certainly knows how to get me through an entire historical book, quickly. With each of the three books of his I’ve read, I’ve raced through. The intrigues and details and narrators are all very compelling. And I was particularly compelled by The Queen’s Vow. Prior to reading this book, I knew only the vaguest outlines of the reign of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. I knew, of course, about Christopher Columbus and their policy of reform. But that’s about it. Now, I know a great deal more. And Gortner’s writing is really fluid. Though it has a modern feel to it at times, the historical details are so well drawn, that I didn’t mind the modern touches in the least.

From an educational and entertainment perspective, this is a really good book. But it did have some limitations. Isabella, the narrator, is presented as an ideal, a person who never strays from her morals, which are firmly entrenched in Catholicism. This limits her character a great deal, as she didn’t really seem real. And in light of the very difficult situations she faced as a princess and as a monarch, it didn’t quite ring true. Further, the divisive issue of the Spanish Inquisition was handled with very light gloves. And, finally, the book didn’t have a strong arc to it. The last half of the book deals rather exhaustively with the Crusade to rid Spain of the Moors, in which my interest started to lag. Of course, this is due in part to staying true to actual historical events.

Despite its limitations, I enjoyed reading The Queen’s Vow, and I have a better understanding of the world of Queen Isabella.

The Queen’s Vow, by C.W. Gortner [rating:3]

See my reviews of C.W. Gortner’s other books:
The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, by C.W. Gortner
The Last Queen, by C.W. Gortner

You can find C.W. Gortner on his website and on Twitter.

Thank you to Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours and Ballantine Books for sending me a review copy of The Queen’s Vow.

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Categories: Fiction, Review Copy, Reviews

Cascade

Cascade, by Maryanne O’Hara + Giveaway

Title: Cascade
Author: Maryanne O’Hara
Pages: 384
Originally Published: 2012
Format I Read: Kindle (via Netgalley)
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: [rating:4]

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I received this book for free from the publisher. All content and opinions are my own.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Cascade. Cascade was originally published last year, and it’s now out in paperback! The blurb:

It’s 1935, and Desdemona Hart Spaulding has sacrificed her plans to work as an artist in New York to care for her bankrupt, ailing father in Cascade, Massachusetts. When he dies, Dez finds herself caught in a marriage of convenience, bound to the promise she made to save her father’s Shakespeare Theater, even as her town may be flooded to create a reservoir for Boston. When she falls for artist Jacob Solomon, she sees a chance to escape and realize her New York ambitions, but is it morally possible to set herself free?

I was definitely drawn into this book. I loved the conceit of the woman who had married for convenience, who wanted to be an artist, set against the economic troubles of the 1930s and a town in danger of submersion. The intrigue of the plot kept me turning pages. I was interested in the town, but I was particularly interested in Dez’s story. I wanted to see if she would or could actually do something about her unhappiness. But while I was interested in her story, I didn’t quite feel invested in it. Maybe it was due to the fact that I didn’t find her very likable – she does some rather despicable things. I did appreciate that she wasn’t all bad or all good and that her actions generally had realistic consequences. The prominent theme of Cascade was probably my favorite part – that to a large extent we cannot control life, and we certainly cannot control what happens after we are gone.

Cascade pulled me into its story and made me think. For those two reasons, I recommend it. Oh, and it gets bonus points for making me want to go and read Shakespeare.

Cascade, by Maryanne O’Hara [rating:4]

GIVEAWAY CLOSED.
I have one paperback copy of Cascade to giveaway to one lucky reader. To enter to win, please leave a comment on this post. The giveaway is open only to U.S. addresses and will remain open through Monday, May 20, 2013.
And the winner is comment number four, Elisabeth!

You can find Maryanne O’Hara on her website and on her blog.

Thank you to Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours, Penguin, and Netgalley for sending me a review copy of Cascade.

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Categories: Fiction, Review Copy, Reviews

Mini Reviews

Mini-Reviews: Tournament of Books Catch-Up Round

Where'd You Go, BernadetteBuilding StoriesThe Round HouseThe Orphan Master's Son

I’ve been cruising through the list of 16 books in this year’s Tournament of Books. The Tournament is well underway, and I want to get these reviews out there now!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple

Rating: [rating:4]

This was a fast and fun read. But it had depth too. Told from the perspective of bright teenager, Bee, this story is mostly a look at Bee’s mother, the titular Bernadette Fox. She’s a recluse who hates Seattle and it’s attendant gnat-moms. But she’s also a revolutionary architect and Bee’s mom. The story is composed of regular old prose and also emails, official documents, and secret correspondence. I loved Bee and Bernadette, though I had less-charitable feelings towards the father/husband, Elgie – a Microsoft-employed genius and absentee father.

The story is funny and satirical, and yet oddly, dare I say it, heartwarming. While poking fun at the attitudes of upper-class Seattle suburbia, it also examines the nature of an artist who isn’t producing art and the particular quandaries faced at middle-age. The writing, upon reading, does not intrude and simply allows the story of unfold. Upon reflection, it reveals a mastermind in control of the various voices, characters, and forms.

I liked Bernadette, and I liked this story. I highly recommend this book to almost everyone.

Building Stories, by Chris Ware

Rating: [rating:4]

I’m not even sure that this can qualify as a book. It comes in a big and heavy box that resembles a board game. And, as you see in the picture below, inside, there are fourteen different pieces: little books, pamphlets, newspapers, etc. Though there is a suggested reading path found on the back of the box, the reader is free to experience these items in any order. Oh, and did I mention all of this is in graphic novel form?

photo 4 (4).small

The story follows an apartment building, its inhabitants, and one little bee by the name of Branford. It is beautifully drawn and written and has resonated within me since I finished. My one criticism is that I did not understand or discern the relevance of the presentation. Why was some of the story in a little Golden Book-esque binding? Why was some of it in strips or in newspaper form? Perhaps that kind of understanding will require some rereading.

Two pieces of advice that I have gleaned from talking with others and from my own experience:
1. Start with the little Golden Book-esque one.
2. Do not end with Branford the Bee.

Note, too, that there are adult scenes, so be wary of reading this around or leaving it out near children.

Have you read this book? I’d love to talk about it. It’s a book (or book-thing) that almost requires discussion.

The Round House, by Louise Erdrich

Rating: [rating:4]

This is about the summer of thirteen-year-old Joe Coutts – the summer in which his mother is brutally attacked and raped on their reservation. It’s about the weird and loophole-filled laws that govern reservations. It’s about growing up. It’s about family and sacrifice and choices and right and wrong. But mostly, it’s just about a boy.

I liked this book a lot. I did not love it though. I found it to be slow in some places, disconnected in others. But overall, it was beautifully written and memorable. It read very realistic teenage boy for me, which is an impressive feat. And there are scenes from it that I will not soon forget. I love how Erdrich made this story both universal and yet very personal. I very much enjoyed it.

(P.S. It won the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction.)

The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson

Rating: [rating:4]

Where to even begin with this one? It’s about a boy, the titular orphan master’s son, who grows up in North Korea. It reaches through the boy’s whole life. It shows the depravity of North Korea. And it shows the peril of individual stories in the hands of a dictatorship. Here’s one of the many many quotes I noted as I read:

“. . . For us, the story is more important than the person. If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change.” Here, Dr. Song took a sip of juice, and the finger he lifted trembled slightly. “But in America, people’s stories change all the time. In America, it is the man who matters. Perhaps they will believe your story and perhaps not, but you, Jun Do, they will believe you.” (121, 27%)

Now, this is fiction, of course, so I have no idea how realistic or unrealistic the depiction of North Korea is. But it felt real. And it felt arbitrary, in that way that chaos does. I liked this one. It definitely made me think and pause and feel grateful for what I have.

Have you read any of these books? Which was your favorite? Are you following the Tournament of Books this year?

Categories: Fiction, Reviews

The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

Title: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Pages: 416
Originally Published: 2012
Format I Read: Ebook (Kindle)
Publisher: HarperCollins
Rating: [rating:5]

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Shockingly (at least in hindsight), I was not really looking forward to reading this book. But it was on the Tournament of Books list, so I dutifully downloaded it to my Kindle. Then, at some point, I was bored somewhere and fired it up. And I got sucked right in.

Plot synopsis light: This is a retelling of The Iliad.

Plot synopsis: This is the story of Achilles told from the perspective of his friend Petroclus. Petroclus was born a Greek prince but was exiled after an unfortunate accident. He is sent to the kingdom of Achilles’s father, where he becomes Achilles’s closest friend.

I just loved this book. The writing is what struck me the most. It is clear and yet lyrical and beautiful. This does not feel like Greek at all – ancient or otherwise. And yet, the world of ancient Greece is brought to life on the page. The gods and goddesses and heros and the Trojan War. It’s all there. Readable and whatnot. But Miller manages to include the grandiose and bring it to a personal and human level. I loved this passage about Petroclus finding acceptance with Achilles:

This feeling was different. I found myself grinning until my cheeks hurt, my scalp prickling till I thought it might lift off my head. My tongue ran away from me, giddy with freedom. This and this and this, I said to him. I did not have to fear that I spoke too much. I did not have to worry that I was too slender or too slow. This and this and this! I taught him how to skip stones, and he taught me how to carve wood. I could feel every nerve in my body, every brush of air against my skin. (47)

The characters too, make this book what it is. I loved both Petroclus and Achilles. They both grow and mature in interesting and realistic ways. The ending was a little rushed to me, but there are reasons for that. (Which you probably already know if you know how the story of Achilles ends.)

In any case, I was delighted. And, like any good book tends to do, The Song of Achilles managed to add several books to my TBR list, not the least of which is The Iliad. Who’s up for a readalong!?

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller [rating:5]

Categories: Fiction, Reviews