Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Review: Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

A new book by Susanna Kearsley is always cause for happiness. I enjoy pretty much everything of hers I've read, and I've read quite a few. (Counting this one, I've read seven of her books, if you want the exact number.) I enjoy the historical aspects of her stories, and especially the paranormal bits she sometimes throws in there, and she writes some really beautiful love stories.

I ended up really liking this book, but I struggled with it in the beginning. There are two story lines, one in the past and one in the present. I usually like that format, but this time, the chapter changes from past to present made it too easy to put the book down between chapters, and sometimes I wouldn't pick it back up for days. For the first half or more of this book, I felt like nothing was happening. There's so much history explained. And again, rich, detailed history is something I tend to like in books. But for some reason, I didn't find it very interesting. The presentation felt more like I was reading passages out of a textbook, and much of it was information I already knew, so I did not find it enjoyable. I felt like I was being forced to sit through a lecture I'd heard before when really I was wanting some action, adventure and romance. Also, there are so many characters in this book - both in the past and present story lines - and we learn so many details about them, details that are not very significant to the main story. I had to keep stopping to remember if that person was the cousin or the friend or the neighbor or another soldier.

I admit that part of the problem could be me. I'm stressed at work, I'm upset by the current political situation, and often feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes reading helps, but sometimes, my mind is too distracted to focus on books.

Eventually, I found myself with several hours of time in which I couldn't do much of anything except read. That's when I finally got through what I considered the very long introduction in the book. I noticed I was right at 70% percent when I started to warm to the characters. That's when the romance in the past and the present finally moves forward. We know from the beginning who likes who and what direction they're going, but they don't make much attempt to get there until that 70% point. At that point, I really started to enjoy the story, both the past and present story.

Even though it took me a few weeks to get to that point, I am really glad I stuck with the book because I absolutely loved the last 30% of the book. Kearsley creates the best male love interests. The men she writes about are nice and respectful and noble and I love them so much. Even years after reading some of her books, I can, without having to think about it, tell you some of my favorite lines from her heroes in past books. Nice guys, in books, much like in real life, sometimes seem entirely too rare. In this book, in the present day story line, we have Sam, who is carefully making his way into Charley's life, becoming a friend at work, as well as helping her out around the house she's just moved into - replacing a broken door, showing up after a storm to clean up the area. In the past we have the French soldier, a man of honor, prepared to admire Lydia from afar because he fears he can never provide her with what she needs. I won't go into too much detail, because it's better if you read it for yourself. Kearsley has a gift for writing some sizzling romance, without the characters ever doing much more than holding hands or sharing an unexpected kiss.

Also, there's a ghost story, and I love good ghost stories. I wish this had been more of a ghost story, and less of a history lesson, but I did enjoy the ghost aspect quite a bit.

Frustrating that I find it easy to talk about the parts of the book that bothered me, but I'm afraid to describe what I really liked about the book without giving too much of a it away.

I ended up really liking this book, but it took me a while to get to that point. I definitely recommend this book to Kearsley fans and fans of historical fiction, with a bit of romance.

I received a copy of this via Netgalley.

Finished reading on April 15, 2018.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Review: Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Issacson

Leonardo da VinciLeonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I very much enjoyed this book. For years, I've had something of a crush on Leonardo - as weird as that sounds. I'm an artist and an art teacher, so yes, I'm a Leonardo fan girl. The more I learn about him, the more I like him.

While most of us are familiar with his greatest work and achievements, this book provides the stories behind that work, and all the work that didn't get finished or receive the kind of recognition of Mona Lisa or The Last Supper. What I like the most are the parts of the story that portray him as just a normal person - a very intelligent, talented, interesting person - but in a lot of ways, normal. He had friends, he had family, they had drama - he adored his friends and family, he fought with them, he stopped speaking to them, he reconciled with them - you know, just like normal people. He had ideas - some that worked out, some that didn't. He didn't accomplish everything he wanted to accomplish. Like all artists, he was always striving for more. I think this book does a great job of presenting him as a whole, complex person, not simply a genius.

Some of the less interesting parts for me, were when the story got very analytical about his sketches, in particular, the scientific and military based sketches. Important topics, of course, but listening to this, I would sometimes find my mind drifting during those parts. That probably wouldn't have happened as much if I had the book with the images with me. (A pdf is provided for the audiobook, and I downloaded it, but was never near a computer while listening.)

Overall though, I loved the book. Because I checked it out from the library, and there's a huge wait list (I think I've been on the list since October) I could only have it for seven days. So I was listening every chance I got, sometimes when I maybe wasn't able to pay as much attention as I wanted. As a result of that, I plan to buy a copy of the book soon. (I'd planned to buy a copy after Christmas, knowing I would be getting book store gift cards, but after Christmas, the cost of the book increased - so I decided to wait on the library copy - anyway, after listening to the book, I'm now going to go ahead and buy a copy.)

This is one of those books that makes me wish I knew other art people, so that they could read this and we could discuss this. Quite a few things in this book that I'd not known that I found fascinating.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Leonardo or art history. Very enjoyable and interesting story.


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Sunday, February 04, 2018

Review: An American Witch in Paris by Michele Hauf

I have read a lot of books by Michele Hauf, (32 books, counting this one, according to Goodreads) and I've liked them all, loved many of them, but this one, this may be my favorite. It's possible that I say that after every new book by this author, but only because it's true.  This book has everything I always love about her books - great characters, interesting story line, fascinating magic, beautiful imagery and sexy, steamy romance - and then taken up to the next level. Tuesday may be my favorite out of all the wonderful characters in Hauf's Beautiful Creatures world. And have I mentioned, this story is so, so sexy? Reminded me a bit of Hauf's Paris Secrets erotica series that she writes under the name Michele Renae.

The women Hauf creates are always strong and independent, that is a big part of why I enjoy her books. These women can take care of themselves, and they're powerful - literally - but they're able to fall in love, absolutely and completely, while still holding onto their power and that's something that I find very appealing in a romance novel. In this particular book though, I feel like Hauf went a step further, giving us this character of Tuesday, a centuries old witch who has devoted much of her life to helping other women, because as history has shown us, that's what witches did. There's a line in the book that says, "Feminism was her right" and when I read that, I knew immediately that Tuesday was going to be one of my favorite characters. While a lot of romance authors write characters who are clearly feminist in their actions, I feel too often they're afraid to use the word. Not the case with Tuesday.

Another aspect of this story that I really loved was the dynamics of Tuesday and Ethan's sexual relationship. There is something so very sexy about Ethan asking, "May I?" Yes, explicit consent is sexy! There's something very mature and respectful about their relationship. They both know exactly what they're doing. Both of these characters have been around for a long time, they've seen a lot over the centuries and they're a bit jaded about the idea of love, but wonderfully philosophical about sex. "It's about finding yourself in someone else, yet not getting lost there." That quote was one of my favorites, but I highlighted so many lines in this book. The talk of "worlds." Another favorite, "I'll share myself with you, lover. But let's never take ownership."

And the visuals Hauf creates. Her descriptions always make me want to get out my sketchbook and attempt to draw what she'd described. Sometimes it's amazing fairy wings, but in this book, it was Ethan at the window of his Paris apartment, drinking Scotch. I could see that so clearly and it was beautiful.

Besides the romance, there's also a rather tense story line about stolen codes that could bring about the end of the world, and trying to find the demon who took those codes - which is the entire reason Tuesday and Ethan are together. Then there's the appearance of an former spouse and a deadly curse. Pretty much everything you need for a great book.

This book felt very relevant and important in the current landscape. This is the story of a vampire and a witch trying to prevent a demon from destroying the world, but it's also about two very powerful people, who realize they have to look beyond the horrors they've experienced in the world to save each other - because somewhere along the way, they've become a part of each other's world.

I highly recommend this book. If you like hot, sexy vampire/witch stories, you want this book.

I received a copy of this book via Netgalley.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Review: Charlotte Bronte - A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman

Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery HeartCharlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I've been a fan of the novels Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights since I was a teenager. This summer, I finally visited the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth and doing so made me want to learn more about the Brontes. This book reveals much about the family, Charlotte in particular and explains some of the inspiration for her writing.

This book shows that Charlotte's life really was as interesting as the characters she created. But after listening to this, I'm quite heartbroken at learning of the circumstances of her death. She seemed so very happy in her new marriage, after spending so much of her life yearning for the kind of love she now finally had. And her husband adored her, which makes me glad, because she deserved that after having lost so much during her life. There time together was much too short. Think of all the beautiful love stories she may have been able to write had she been able to live a bit longer.

I now plan to re-read Jane Eyre and her other novels.

I checked out the audio book through my library's Hoopla account, but I liked this book so much, I'm probably going to buy a hard copy so I can re-read parts of it and make notes.

Highly recommend this to Bronte fans.



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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy, #1)The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I thought I would like this more than I did - being that I'm obsessed with all things Russian and I love fairy tales. But it took forever for me to get into this book, I found the first half to be a bit boring. I enjoyed the end, but I wanted more about the Frost Demon, he was the most interesting character and the book is nearly over by the time he shows up.

A while back, someone in one of my online book groups posted that this was a great book and was on sale - a kindle daily deal. I saw that it was a Russian fairy tale and clicked the buy button, without reading much more about it. Then I realized it was classified as "young adult" and sort of regretted my quick purchase. I am not much of a fan of young adult books. I read a lot of them when I was a young adult, and loved them at the time, but twenty or so years later, I no longer have much interest in reading those stories. So my lack of love for this book is my own fault. While I still enjoy fairy tales, I prefer there be more of a adult twist to them, with a bit of grown-up romance. By the time I got around to reading the book, I knew this was a young adult book, so I knew this probably wouldn't be the kind of story I'd hoped it would be when I bought it.

The winter setting is really beautiful, and it did make me want to read more about Russian fairy tales.


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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Review: Daughters of the Night Sky by Aimie K. Runyan

As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. Female pilots in the Red Army during WWII - that sort of satisfies everything I love in a book: strong women, Russian history, WWII setting.

For the most part, I loved this book. It drew me in immediately. The story is about a pilot, Katya, who was training to be a pilot before the war started. She then joins the Red Army and is part of group of women who became known by the Germans as "Night Witches" because they bombed German camps at night. I know nothing about piloting or navigating planes, but felt this story described the process well enough that I understood what was happening, without feeling overwhelmed with details.

One aspect of the book that I especially enjoyed was seeing how women were treated and how they handled finding themselves in what had previously been considered men's roles. Despite Stalin's support, they still had to deal with men not comfortable with seeing women being treated as equals. These were complex characters, with families and fears and ambitions, as well as insurmountable courage.

The action scenes are well written and exciting. Every time I picked this book up, I had a tough time putting it down. I was reading in the morning before work and during my lunch breaks, always dreading having to put the book away.

I read the entire last half in one sitting. And I continued to love the book, heartbreaking though parts of it were, up until near the end. As the story was progressing, the war was ending, and I was feeling hopeful for these characters, even after all the losses they'd suffered, and then something happened that upset me, that seemed unnecessary. I'm being vague because I don't want to spoil it for other readers - because even though I didn't like what happened, you all need to read this book.

Because this was based on true events, I thought at first that maybe the author had based this character on a real person so the author had no choice. But the author's note said the characters were fictional, and that she took liberties with the end, which was supposed to be a happy ending of sorts, but annoyed me. Sometimes, I think authors do things like this because they think it makes the story more serious or edgy. I don't know, maybe I just read too many books that have guaranteed happy endings. And as I said, this does have a happy ending, but not the one I had hoped for. The fact that I'm still so upset about this, two days after finishing the book, shows how well-developed these characters and this story was. I loved these characters and my heart is broken for them. I may as well admit, I cried through the last few chapters of this book, I felt that attached to this story. 

Anyway, I think this is a really great book. I highly recommend it if you are interested in stories set during WWII, and/or stories about interesting, strong women.

I received a copy of this via Netgalley. 

Monday, January 01, 2018

Review: Still Me by Jojo Moyes

This book is so good. As expected, parts of it made me laugh, made me furious, and made me cry.

I love Lou, so glad to return to her world and find out how she's doing, but part of this story infuriated me. I found myself thinking, all this time and she's learned nothing, she still lets people walk all over her, won't fight for what matters to her. This wasn't the life Will wanted for her, always putting other people's lives before her own. She's too nice, like pathetically self-destructively nice at one point. There were several times when bad things happened to her with regard to her relationship and her job and she just let them, did nothing to protect herself. I can't relate to that level of niceness, but, in the end, maybe her being nice is why things work out for her. Takes a very well written story and characters to make me feel so strongly about a book.

Things do eventually work out for her with regard to her relationship and her job.

In this story, Lou has taken a job in New York City, working as a personal assistant for a very wealthy man's new wife. (The wife reminded me of a rather well-known rich wife, and that bothered me because this was the last place where I wanted to be thinking about those people, but anyway. I imagine the description would apply to a lot of wealthy New York wives.) The couple is pretty awful and it upset me to see Lou in this position.

Also, Lou is still trying to maintain her relationship with "Ambulance Sam" and as you can imagine, that proves somewhat difficult. But this is Lou, and she makes things fun and interesting and sweet.

Overall, I loved the book. I imagine this is the last we'll hear of Lou, but I would gladly read more about it, because she really is a wonderful character.

I received a copy of this via Netgalley.