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My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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MsArdychan's bookshelf: read

I Owe You One
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Love, Hate & Other Filters
The Wartime Sisters
The Belles
The Gilded Wolves
Hey, Kiddo
Blackberry and Wild Rose
Queen of Air and Darkness
Firestarter
The Retribution of Mara Dyer
The Evolution of Mara Dyer


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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

ARC Review: Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40148146-love-from-a-to-z?ac=1&from_search=true
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.

Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.

Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.


Review:
Last year, I was enthralled by a book called, Saints & Misfits, by author S.K. Ali.  It was wonderful, showing a YA character practicing her Muslim religion.  Ali's newest book, Love From A to Z, continues to give insight on what it is like to be a Muslim in America.  It is also really fun, and wildly romantic.  I loved it.

What I Liked:
Characters:
Zayneb is a very strong female character.  I love that she calls people out when they are being racist.  She sometimes gets into trouble as she confronts others.  But she also fights in more subtle ways such as turning up the volume on her Arabic music when a woman gives her nasty looks on a plane.  I fully connected with Zayneb's anger and frustration.

But Zayneb also struggles balancing her need for working towards social justice with her parents need for her to not rock the boat.  Their feelings are understandable.  No one wants to see their child get into trouble.  But Zayneb must help them understand that she is willing to risk a bit to enact meaningful change.

Romance:
This book is very romantic and swoony.  I adored how Adam and Zayneb found ways to get to know each other, while following the rituals of their culture.  It wasn't all smooth sailing.  But they really did have so much in common that it was lovely when they found those common interests.


Religion On The Page:
Most YA books shy away from any portrayal of a character's religion.  I guess it's considered controversial, but the reality is that many teens have a very active religious practice.  The main characters in this book, Zayneb and Adam, are both Muslim and it is an important aspect of their daily lives.  I appreciated how the author showed daily prayers and customs, and explained them without dragging the story down in exposition.

I think one of the most interesting parts of Islam that the book explores is how dating works for Muslim teens.  The rules and expectations are different than what non-Muslim teens know, and I thought the author did an exceptional job of giving insight into this topic.  I love how the emphasis is on finding someone who shares your values.  If one has any misconceptions about what are expected of Muslim girls (and boys), they will be set straight by this book.

Story:
Although Zayneb and Adam face different challenges, both choose to make sense of their problems by writing in a journal.  They each get their writing inspiration from an ancient text called The Marvels of Creation and the Oddities of Existence.  Each day they try to write about at least one Marvel and one Oddity.  This was a great vehicle to show the character's inner feelings and concerns.  It also showed why they were a great match.

Another part of the the story that was important was showing Zayneb's experiences being a Muslim in a post 9/11 America.  There is subtle racism as people make snap assumptions about why women wear a hijab, to all out hostility from people who blame Islam for all the violence in the world.  Because Zayneb is easily identified as Muslim from what she wears, she notices how people react to her, and she is not shy about calling them out.  This lands her in some trouble, but I admire her bravery for standing up for herself.

Adam is dealing with a new illness (the same one that led to his mother's early death).  He has always been the rock as his dad kind of fell apart when his mother died.  How can he possibly burden his dad with another worry?  Adam has to learn to accept help from others.  If your family loves you, it is no obligation to care about you.

Music:
This book has many older songs that Adam's mom and Zayneb's aunt both love.  Each has a special meaning in the book.

I made a playlist of all the wonderful music on Spotify:

                              

What I Didn't Like:

        
via GIPHY

Rating: 




Release Date:  April 30th, 2019

Author:  S.K. Ali

Publisher:  Salaam Reads

Genre:  YA Contemporary

Page Length:  384 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  This is a smart, romantic book about two teens and the marvels and oddities of love.  I highly recommend this book.

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Monday, April 29, 2019

ARC Review: Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak by Adi Alsaid

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33952377-brief-chronicle-of-another-stupid-heartbreak
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
The summer after senior year is not going as eighteen-year-old Lu Charles expected: after her longtime boyfriend unexpectedly breaks up with her, Lu can’t write a single word, despite the fact that her college scholarship is tied to her columnist job at hip online magazine Misnomer. Then, she meets Cal.

Cal’s ever-practical girlfriend Iris is looking ahead to her first year of college, and her plans do not include a long-distance boyfriend. When Lu learns that Cal and Iris have planned to end their relationship at the end of the summer, she becomes fascinated and decides to chronicle the last months the couple will spend together.

The closer she gets to the couple, the more she likes them, and the more she wants to write about them. The summer unfurls, and Lu discovers what it really means to be in love. On the page, or off it. The book is touching exploration of love and how it shapes us both during a relationship and after it has ended.


Review:
I really like Adi Alsaid's writing, and so when I saw that he had a new book out, A Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak, I was all in.  His book takes the reader through a transformative summer in New York City.  Idealized New York competes with reality as main character Lu muses on love and relationships, trying to figure out what when wrong with her first romance.  I loved the New York setting, the story and most of the characters.  But Lu did get on my nerves.   


What I Liked:

Setting:
This is a YA novel that is basically a love letter to New York City.  Having just been there for the first time over Spring Break, I can honestly say that the scenes that take place all over the city are authentic.  From the marvel that is the Flatiron Building, to the tackiness of Times Square, to the subways with their mini musical performances, all of it painted a portrait of a much beloved city. 

Characters:
Although I had mixed feelings about Lu (more about that later), I loved many of the other characters, particularly Cal and Iris.  They take the cake as being the most romantic (and most mature) couple in YA literature!  They are so romantic, that Lu becomes obsessed with them.  They really do represent the idealized notion of first love.  And while the book questions how realistic this kind of devotion is, I know from my own life that people can, and do, stay together through long distance relationships.

I also liked Lu's best friend, Pete.  They are coworkers at a movie theater (also a job I had at that age).  I was so grateful that the author didn't fall back on the "best friends falling in love" trope.  I thought Pete had great advice for Lu, and was appropriately annoyed when she disregarded it. 

 I also liked that not all the characters were obsessed with finding a sexual partner.  Pete seemed to be an Ace, and I liked that being represented in this novel.

Lu's mom is also a fun character.  She shows her concern by texting constantly, and holding Lu accountable when she makes mistakes.  She knows that Lu is technically an adult and can't be forced to follow her rules.  But the mom does find ways to mete out tough love.  Her punishment of cooking the strongest smelling food for Lu when she has a hangover was perfection!

Story:
I think that the summer after high school is over is such a bittersweet moment.  Some people are all set for college.  But many young people are confused about their future.  They've been told that college is what should happen next, but that may not be the path for everyone.  Whichever path one takes, teens are starting to experience grown-up realities such as showing up for work, budgeting their money, maintaining friendships, and choosing between what they want and what they actually need.

I think this story gets all of this right.  Lu is faced with parts of her life changing course in unexpected ways.  Sometimes she does not make good choices (there's a lot of underage drinking in this book!), but she learns that she needs to face her disappointments and forge ahead.

What I Was Mixed About:
Lu:
I had really mixed feelings about Lu's character.  I could totally sympathize with how heartbroken she was when she was dumped by her boyfriend.  But I found myself really annoyed and impatient when Lu kept blowing off her deadline with her magazine article.  For someone who got into New York University, you'd think she would have been more resilient.  I kept wondering that if she couldn't handle some adversity before college even started, maybe she wouldn't be able to handle going to such a demanding college.

I also wished the author would have had Lu acknowledge that she seemed more in love with the idea of being in love than with any actual person.  I think that some people are so caught up in the notion of being part of a couple that they check out after the initial rush of a new relationship wears off.  Lu alluded to this in some of her writings about her boyfriend, Leo, but I wish this would have been explored more.


Rating: 




Release Date:  April 30th, 2019

Author:  Adi Alsaid

Publisher:  Inkyard Press

Page Length:  384 Pages

Genre:  YA Contemporary

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A love letter to New York, this book about first love was a lot of fun.


 
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Friday, April 26, 2019

April 2019 Round Up






I am combining two great blog hops:  Stacking The Shelves (a Saturday feature by Team Tynga's Reviews), and Sunday Post (a Sunday feature by the Caffeinated Book Reviewer).  Both of these features give people a chance to post about what books they received and also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what others are excited about.  I really enjoy seeing everyone's version of these features!   All book covers are linked to Goodreads, if you want to check them out.  If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me via Bloglovin, Networked Blogs, GFC, or by email subscription.  If you leave a comment and tell me you are a new follower, I will follow you back!

 

I can't really remember the last time I've done one of these round ups!  So I think this post will be a summary of all of April.

April was full of excitement as my daughter had to make a major life decision:  Where to go to college!

So the first week (our spring break) we took a week-long trek to the U.S. East Coast, to look at schools she had been accepted to in New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.  We've never been to the East Coast, so this was really fun.  We saw a Broadway show, To Kill A Mockingbird, ate New York Pizza, and walked around Times Square!  After being tourists, it was time for business, so we set off on several college tours.

The final decision is that my daughter is choosing The Rhode Island School of Design!
  


She is very happy that she was accepted, and seeing the school in person sealed the deal.  It will be a very warm and nurturing environment for our artist kid.
 

My favorite book that I read this week, by far, was Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40148146-love-from-a-to-z?ac=1&from_search=true


This book was so romantic, and lovely, I hope it is wildly successful.  I will post a review soon.
 
On The Blog:
 

April 1st:  ARC Review:  You'd Be Mine by Erin Hahn

April 2nd:  ARC Review:  The Editor by Steven Rowley


 
April 3rd:  ARC Review:  Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige


 
April 9th:  ARC Review:  When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton


 
April 11th:  ARC Review:  Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly


April 18th:  Book Review:  Educated by Tara Westover

April 22nd:  Audio ARC Review:  No Country For Old Gnomes by Delilah S. Dawson & Kevin Hearne

 April 24th:  Audio ARC Review:  Save Me The Plums by Ruth Reichl New Books:         
April 24th:  Audio ARC Review:  Save Me The Plums by Ruth Reichl

New Books:
Won on Goodreads:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39893613-the-gown?ac=1&from_search=true

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39725622-the-princess-and-the-fangirl?ac=1&from_search=true
 

 








 
Public Library:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29774026-the-priory-of-the-orange-tree?ac=1&from_search=true
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30724132-geekerella?ac=1&from_search=true

Free
 from Amazon's World Book Day:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9496240-the-hangman-s-daughter?ac=1&from_search=true
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35997022-an-american-princess

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36793956-go?ac=1&from_search=true

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41574696-the-murmur-of-bees

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39727420-the-passion-according-to-carmela?ac=1&from_search=true
 
 
NetGalley:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40148146-love-from-a-to-z?ac=1&from_search=true

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43263552-the-long-call?from_search=true

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43263472-twenty-one-truths-about-love?from_search=true
 
That's it for April!  I can't believe May is just around the corner.  Happy Spring, everyone.
 
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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Audio ARC Review: Save Me The Plums by Ruth Reichl


https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41644326-save-me-the-plums?from_search=true
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this audio book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodsreads):
When Condé Nast offered Ruth Reichl the top position at America's oldest epicurean magazine, she declined. She was a writer, not a manager, and had no inclination to be anyone's boss. And yet . . . Reichl had been reading Gourmet since she was eight; it had inspired her career. How could she say no?

This is the story of a former Berkeley hippie entering the corporate world and worrying about losing her soul. It is the story of the moment restaurants became an important part of popular culture, a time when the rise of the farm-to-table movement changed, forever, the way we eat. Readers will meet legendary chefs like David Chang and Eric Ripert, idiosyncratic writers like David Foster Wallace, and a colorful group of editors and art directors who, under Reichl's leadership, transformed stately Gourmet into a cutting-edge publication. This was the golden age of print media--the last spendthrift gasp before the Internet turned the magazine world upside down.

Complete with recipes, Save Me the Plums is a personal journey of a woman coming to terms with being in charge and making a mark, following a passion and holding on to her dreams--even when she ends up in a place she never expected to be.


Review:
I have long been a fan of Gourmet magazine, and it's last editor-in-chief, Ruth Reichl.  This memoir chronicles her tenure at the magazine and its change from staid, old-world dinosaur to a more democratic take on eating.

What I Liked:
Narrator:
Just as she made the world of gourmet eating more accessible, Ruth Reichl is the perfect narrator for her own book.  She brings a warmth to her presentation that invites the reader to be on her side. 

Setting:
I am an avid home cook and still have many issues of Gourmet on my shelves.  Under Ruth Reichl, the publication went from a stodgy dinosaur to a chronicler of American culture through food trends.  I loved the behind the scenes look at how a food magazine worked (the critiques of recipes seemed particularly brutal!).

This is also a love letter to the city of New York.  From the old-school power lunches to how the city came together during the 911 crisis, you just know how much Ruth loves The Big Apple.

Story:
It seems strange to talk about a memoir in terms of a "story", but the rise and fall of Gourmet Magazine held a great deal of suspense and poignancy.  While Ruth did turn the monthly publication into required reading for home cooks, their publisher, Condé Nast, was too slow to embrace the Internet.  Their failure to understand that home cooks wanted the ease of online access was their fatal failure.  The Great Recession of 2008 hastened their downfall.

Rating: 




Release Date:  April 2nd, 2019

Genre:  Memoir

Author:  Ruth Reichl

Narrator:  Ruth Reichl

Audio Publisher:  Penguin Random House Audio

Audio Length:  7 Hours, 55 Minutes

Print Publisher:  Random House

Page Length:  288 Pages 

Source:  Publisher

Format:  Audio Book

Recommendation:  Even if your too young to remember Gourmet Magazine, anyone who loves cooking will get immense pleasure from this book.

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Monday, April 22, 2019

Audio ARC Review: No Country for Old Gnomes by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35440590-no-country-for-old-gnomes
Please Note:  I received an advance audio copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
The Skyr is a rich, verdant land claimed by both halflings and gnomes. For centuries, the halflings have worked to undermine gnomish power structures and seize total control--through legal means, certainly, but more insidiously through their extensive organized crime network. Now, threatened with being pushed out entirely, the gnomes are desperate and ready to fight back. Gustave the Goat King faces his first test as a leader: Can he bring peace to a fraught region or will a civil war consume the entire kingdom?

Review:
The first book in this series, Kill The Farm Boy, was a fun romp incorporating several fairy tales.  No Country for Old Gnomes continues the pun-filled collaboration of
authors Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne. Although both books are set in the same universe, only a few of the characters from the first book appear in the second.  

I enjoyed the many fascinating characters and the quest they embarked on.  Plus, as is often the case with fantasy novels, the authors cleverly wove in issues relevant to real-life such as immigration, and political corruption.

But with so many different characters and story lines occurring, I got a bit lost trying to keep all everything straight in my mind.


What I Liked:

Audio Narration:  
With the vast array of characters in this book, narrator Luke Daniels does a stellar job of making each person distinct.  He achieves this with the use of many hilarious accents.  Halflings have a stereotypical French accent, while the dwarves seem to all sound like they live in Minnesota (don'cha know).  I don't know how many takes it must have taken, but reading this book must have been exhausting!

Characters:
There were a LOT of characters in this story.  Each character has an issue that makes them question themselves.


                
via GIPHY

A few of the characters I really like are Båggi, Agape, and Offi.

Båggi, a dwarf, must rid himself of his violent tendencies, but is all violence bad?  What if he kills someone while defending others?  Shouldn't he feel remorse when this happens?  

Agape, an Ovitaur (a character with a human head and torso, but has a sheep's legs), has been belittled by her parents for so long, she has zero self-worth. 

Offi, an "emo" gnome, is a twin who can never measure up to his perfect brother's reputation.  Black is his favorite color, is sullen, and he likes to think of creative new inventions.


Story:
The story is basically a fairy-tale road trip!  

               
via GIPHY
As the new king of The Skr adjusts to being human (he was a goat, after all), various factions in the kingdom try to consolidate power.  The ensuing violence leaves death, destruction, and refugees in its wake.

The characters all come to the realization that they must find King Gustave and set off to find him.  Along the way they encounter characters that reference mermaids, ghosts, vampires, and witches, with clever takes on stories such as Hansel and Gretel.  I love the road trip concept.  These stories always incorporate ways for the characters to learn about themselves and others.

Themes:
What happens when there's a regime change in the Skyre?  Pretty much what goes on in real-life:  Chaos.  I found the use of a refugee crisis in the story to be a very effective way to comment on the current mass migration of people fleeing violence in various countries throughout the world.  


What I Didn't Like:
Confusing array of characters:
There were so many different types of characters (some with very similar names), that it was hard to keep track of who everyone was to each other.  There were gnomes, halflings, dwarves, elves, gryphons (note: these are how they are spelled in the book), and many more!  There were so many story lines that I found it very confusing.



Rating: 




Release Date:  April 16th, 2019

Genre:  Fantasy/Parody

Authors:  Delilah S. Dawson & Kevin Hearne

Audio Book Publisher:  Penguin Random House Audio

Audio book Length:  14 hrs, 8 min

Narrator:  Luke Daniels

Print Publisher:  Del Rey

Print Length:  352 Pages

Source:  Publisher

Format:  Audiobook

Recommendation: If you enjoy pun-filled humor, silly situations, with a bit of social commentary mixed in, then this is the book for you!  Very fun.

  
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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Audio ARC Review: Educated by Tara Westover

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35133922-educated
Please Note:  I received an advance audio copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This has not influenced the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her "head-for-the-hills bag". In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father's junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one's life through new eyes and the will to change it.


Review:
How does one review a non-fiction book?  I can't very well comment on the characters or plot.  I think the one thing that I can discuss in a review is how this book touched my heart.

I had a very difficult childhood.  And while I don't want to disclose too much, I can say that my father didn't want me to go to college.  After all, why does a girl need an education?  We're just going to get married, right?

Educated, by Tara Westover, illustrates how one's family can have a iron hold on you.  It seems obvious, when seen by outsiders, what one should do (get as far away from your family as possible).  But living with abuse, the lies and shame overshadow everything else.


What I Liked:
Accuracy:
The author is very clear that her version of events does not always line up with her siblings.  Whenever possible, she is careful to point out how her memories differ from others.  It's up to the reader to decide if she is to be believed.

Blame:
Tara Westover also tries to find answers as to why her father, in particular, behaves the way he does. She never excuses his behavior, but does point out many of her dad's paranoid actions are signs of bi-polar disorder.

Her mother, who always sides with her husband, is harder to understand.  Are her actions loyalty?  Love?  Fear?  I think it could be a combination of all three things.  Whatever the reason, I would think forgiving her mother for some of her actions would be more difficult.

Issues with Home Schooling:
While I don't think this was a complete indictment of the home schooling movement, it does point out some of the very real problems with letting parents have free reign over the education of their children.  

In Ms. Westover's situation, her schooling was non-existent.  As she became a teenager, she could barely read, write, or do even simple math.  When she realizes she needs to go to college, she has to find creative ways to fill the gaps in her knowledge.

The Importance of Education:
The author shows that having an education makes one less economically dependent on others.  It also give the student the means to evaluate and make decisions.  Finally, as the reader can see from the book, there are so many opportunities open to those who go to college.

The Cost of Education: 
The author was continually being pulled back home by various family situations.  I could really identify with the guilt she felt over leaving the people she loved behind.  She also felt like a fraud when she became friends with people from more traditional backgrounds.  Eventually, Ms. Westover had to make a choice.  She could either abandon her life as an academic, or lose her family.
  
While this book is shows an extreme situation, many people (women in particular) do pay a price for becoming educated.  People can lose their place in their community when they go to college.  There can be a level of distrust that some have over college graduates ("Do you think you're better than us?").  I know I faced this with my father.  Of course, there is also a financial cost to getting a college degree.  

For her situation, it seems that the author was able to receive many grants and scholarships.  I'm happy for her, but most people will be saddled with lots of debt upon graduation.  Many are weary of making such a commitment, which is understandable.




Trigger Warning for Domestic Violence

Rating: 




Release Date:  February 20th, 2018

Author:  Tara Westover

Genre:  Memoir

Narrator:  Julia Whelan


Audio Book Publisher:  Penguin Random House Audio


Audio Length:  12 Hours, 10 Minutes


Publisher: Random House

Page Length:  352 Pages

Source:  Random House Audio

Format:  Audio Book

Recommendation: Though sometime too violent to imagine, this is a powerful book of abuse, and what one will do to survive.






 
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Thursday, April 11, 2019

ARC Review: Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40988979-lost-roses
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
It is 1914 and the world has been on the brink of war so many times, many New Yorker's treat the subject with only passing interest. Eliza Ferriday is thrilled to be traveling to St. Petersburg with Sofya Streshnayva, a cousin of the Romanov's. The two met years ago one summer in Paris and became close confidantes. Now Eliza embarks on the trip of a lifetime, home with Sofya to see the splendors of Russia. But when Austria declares war on Serbia and Russia's Imperial dynasty begins to fall, Eliza escapes back to America, while Sofya and her family flee to their country estate. In need of domestic help, they hire the local fortuneteller's daughter, Varinka, unknowingly bringing intense danger into their household. On the other side of the Atlantic, Eliza is doing her part to help the White Russian families find safety as they escape the revolution. But when Sofya's letters suddenly stop coming she fears the worst for her best friend.

From the turbulent streets of St. Petersburg to the avenues of Paris and the society of fallen Russian emigre's who live there, the lives of Eliza, Sofya, and Varinka will intersect in profound ways, taking readers on a breathtaking ride through a momentous time in history.
  


Review:
I love historical novels that tell me about a part of history I don't know much about.  While, of course, I have been taught about the Russian revolution that lead to the formation of the Soviet Union, I didn't know much beyond the execution of the royal family.  Lost Roses, by Martha Hall Kelly, filled in the gaps with gripping details of how the lives of both peasants and aristocrats were turned upside-down by the forces of change.  I liked the narrative style, the historical details, the various settings, and the characters.  While I wish the story focused less on the ultra wealthy, this was still a very compelling novel.

What I Liked:
Narrative Style:
I liked the alternating chapters with the first person narratives of three characters:  Eliza (a wealthy American), Sofya (Eliza's aristocratic Russian friend), and Varinka (a peasant girl hired by Sofya).  Each woman's story intersected with another.  While they each had their own concerns and worries, all of them are swept up in the historical events of WWI and the Russian revolution.

Historical Details:
The depth of historical details in this book is truly breathtaking.  From what each character wore, to what they ate, to how they amused themselves, a vivid picture of the time comes into focus.  I was surprised by how rigid American mourning rituals were, especially considering this was only a hundred years ago.  The emphasis on letter writing, and reading books was also wonderful to read.

Characters: 
Each of the three main characters has a compelling story.  Eliza Ferriday is a wealthy American who seems to be, at first, unaffected by world events.  She is friends with Sofya and is worried sick when their communications are cut off during the Russian Revolution.  To alleviate her fears for her friend, she creates a charity to help recent Russian immigrants in the United States.  But soon, WWI begins to affect even Eliza as men are shipped overseas to fight in the war.  

Sofya is a newly married school friend of Eliza's.  She visits Eliza in America at the beginning of the story, but soon must return to Russia.  Sofya's harsh change in circumstances over the course of the book brings to light how brutal the revolution was on aristocrats.  

Varinka is the youngest main character.  A young teen as the story begins, she is continually abused by another peasant.  I think since she was so used to being mistreated, she has a hard time sympathizing with anyone else's pain. 

If you've read the author's other novel, Lilac Girls, you will also recognize Eliza'a daughter, Caroline Ferriday.  In this novel, we see Caroline as a young girl.  While this is a fun extra, she is not the main focus of Lost Roses.

What I Didn't Like:
Focus:
I really wish there would have been a greater focus on the sufferings of other types of people than just the wealthy in Russia.  While the author certainly does use Varinka's story to show how peasants viewed the revolution, the main focus was on the suffering of the aristocracy.  Yes, they did suffer greatly, but middle and lower income people suffered for centuries under Imperial rule.  It's hard to feel badly for Sofya's family when they had been profiteering off the masses for centuries.

Character's Awareness: 
I wish that Sofya, in particular, had a little more awareness about the suffering of the masses caused by the ruling class in Russia.  She had many opportunities to make amends (especially when she had all the information concerning secret Swiss bank accounts).  Instead, the book focuses in on how much Sofya has lost.  This made it hard for me to empathize with Sofya.

Rating: 



 
Release Date:  April 9th, 2019

Author:  Martha Hall Kelly

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  448 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  With excellent historical details, this is a gripping novel of the Russian revolution.
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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

ARC Review: When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40265670-when-we-left-cuba?ac=1&from_search=true

Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Beautiful. Daring. Deadly.

The Cuban Revolution took everything from sugar heiress Beatriz Perez--her family, her people, her country. Recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro's inner circle and pulled into the dangerous world of espionage, Beatriz is consumed by her quest for revenge and her desire to reclaim the life she lost.

As the Cold War swells like a hurricane over the shores of the Florida Strait, Beatriz is caught between the clash of Cuban American politics and the perils of a forbidden affair with a powerful man driven by ambitions of his own. When the ever-changing tides of history threaten everything she has fought for, she must make a choice between her past and future--but the wrong move could cost Beatriz everything--not just the island she loves, but also the man who has stolen her heart...


Review:
Recently, I read Next Year In Havana, by Chanel Cleeton, in preparation for reviewing her newest release, When we left Havana.  Although it is not billed as connected, I was delighted to find that they are!  While the first book only hints at the life of Beatriz ("The Legend"), she is the entire focus of the second book.  This had everything I love about historical fiction.  There were fiery characters, and a tragic romance all set against the backdrop of sweeping historical events.  I loved this book!

What I Liked:
Stand Alone Book:
I appreciated that the reader needn't have read Next Year In Havana to understand what was happening in this book.  The characters do not overlap all that much.  That being said, I do think one would get a better appreciation of the Cuban revolution if they read Next Year in Havana first.

Historical Events:
The sixties were a volatile time, with so many established notions being challenged such as the kinds of roles women could have, and how much control the United States should have in the Western Hemisphere.  This is showcased in the struggles that America had with Cuba.  As American big business bemoans the nationalization of their assets by Fidel Castro, Cuban exiles wait for the U.S. to use their might to overthrow the new government.

This was the height of the cold war, and the tensions between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Cuba come to a head with the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The book really gave me a sense of how scary it must have been to have two super powers on the brink of nuclear war.

Characters:
Beatriz is a legendary beauty in Havana, and brings her considerable reputation with her to Palm Beach, Florida.  But behind her notoriety as a heart breaker lies a young woman who is questioning the norms of her day. Why can't she get an education and take care of herself?  Must she be delegated to be only someone's wife or mother?  I loved Beatriz for her willingness to be in charge of her own destiny.  She never waited to be taken care of or saved.

Nick's relationship with Beatriz parallels the relationship America has with Cuba.  Just as America sees its Island neighbor as something to possess, he sees Beatriz as needing to be taken care of and protected.  But he soon learns that if he is to win her heart, he needs to treat her as an equal. Cuba also demands to be seen as formidable (thus the Cuban Missal Crisis).  I found Nick's character to be complex, and morally ambiguous.  

Espionage:
Since this was the cold war, spying was a significant part of this book.  I loved all the moments where we saw how this worked.  How did spies communicated with their handlers? Why did they risk everything for their ideals?  This was a thrilling part of the book.  I liked how Beatriz gets slowly sucked in to becoming a spy, not realizing until it's too late that she is being used.  By then, she doesn't have much of a choice but to proceed.

Romance:
The romance between Beatriz and Nick is epic with so much more than reputations at stake.  Nick sees his work as a U.S. Senator in idealistic terms.  He is out to change the world.  Beatriz also feels her life work, overthrowing the Castro regime, is more important than her personal happiness.  But their attraction cannot be ignored.  I liked that while they knew they were a scandal waiting to happen, they couldn't quite walk away from each other.

Fantasy Cast:
 
Young Rita Moreno as Beatriz

Current Armie Hammer as Nick

Rating: 




Release Date:  April 9th, 2019

Author:  Chanel Cleeton

Publisher:  Berkley Books

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  368 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  If you enjoy historical fiction you will love this book.  This would be a great book club selection.



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