Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Rating: 4 out of 5
Orphan Train follows the stories of two women connected by their abandonment. In the early 1920s, Vivian Daly loses her entire family in a tragic fire shortly after they immigrate to the United States. In the span of a few hours, Vivian becomes an orphan and a ward of the Children’s Aid Society of New York. They soon send her along with other orphans on trains headed for the West to families who want to adopt children… except that’s not how it really works out – most children are forced into unpaid labor and may never be adopted.
In present time, Molly Ayer has been passed along from one foster family to the next. She always seems to get in “trouble” when she really is just misunderstood. When Molly steals a copy of Jane Eyre from the library, she must do 50 hours of community service or be send to juvenile detention. Little does she know that the elderly woman she will be helping will change her life forever.
This book is not long enough! I fell in love with these characters from the very beginning, and I wanted to keep reading about their lives. They are both the epitome of being “misunderstood” and being victims of circumstance that take their situations and make something amazing out of them. Vivian has been through more in her life than ten people combined, and Molly is on that same path at the young age of 17. Molly and Vivian illustrate how it doesn’t matter what era it is – children who are orphaned or abandoned are not treated with the care and love they deserve.
Not only are the characters compelling, but the history of these orphan trains is fascinating. Children really were sent in trains across the country. The theme did remind me somewhat of The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty which I reviewed last year and loved. The main character in that book seems to have it extremely easy in life compared to Vivian. There is also a wonderful afterward in the book with a short history of orphan trains with pictures. I cannot recommend this book enough – it would be wonderful for book clubs because there is so much to discuss about relationships as well as history.
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Murder As a Fine Art by David Morrell
Release Date: May 7, 2013
Rating: 5 out of 5
Looking for the PERFECT Summer thriller? You’ve just found it. There’s a murderer in London in the mid-1800s. He seemingly has no motive except to create the most grisly murder scene you could think of. (Warning: the novel is ridiculously graphic) It is the same time that Thomas DeQuincey has published his memoir Confessions of an Opium Eater (which really is his actual memoir), and so naturally, he becomes the first major suspect in the eyes of the media. DeQuincey must clear his name, and he enlists the help of his daughter Emily and Detective Inspector Ryan of Scotland Yard. Can DeQuincey save his name while the entirety of Victorian London is after his head?
Murder As a Fine Art is definitely the best mystery/thriller that I have read in a long time. Not only is the novel wonderfully atmospheric, but Morrell provides wonderful facts and lessons about the era from an omniscient perspective. Each chapter begins with a tale of the real Victorian London and how it functioned. I could not put this book down – I read it in less than a day. Not only will the fast-paced plot keep you guessing the entire time, but the characters will amaze you and at times boggle your mind. We get glimpses of the murderer from his perspective – letting us know just how messed up this guy really is. Ryan is my favorite character (what can I say? I like a man in uniform. Even though he was a plainclothes detective… But I digress). Ryan is the former student of the famous French “first detective” Vidocq – he uses his methods with skill and precision. I was amazed when I found out that Morrell was the author of the book that inspired the Rambo movies, but don’t let that deter you at all. The writing is masterful and the plotting is brilliant. I HIGHLY recommend this book to all mystery and history lovers. It will keep you on the edge of your seat while you learn a history lesson or two.
Thanks to Historical Fiction Book Tours for letting me host this book – for more information about the book and other fun things, click here.
A Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershon
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: May 2013
Rating: 4 out of 5
OK, so my first question is: WHY ISN’T THERE MORE HYPE ABOUT THIS BOOK?!?!? Just from reading the publisher’s description, you can tell that it is going to be epic (and it totally is):
Autumn 1962: Ed Cantowitz and Hugh Shipley meet in their final year at Harvard. Ed is far removed from Hugh’s privileged upbringing as a Boston Brahmin, yet his drive and ambition outpace Hugh’s ambivalence about his own life. These two young men form an unlikely friendship, bolstered by a fierce shared desire to transcend their circumstances. But in just a few short years, not only do their paths diverge—one rising on Wall Street, the other becoming a kind of global humanitarian—but their friendship ends abruptly, with only one of them understanding why.
Can a friendship define your view of the world? Spanning from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the present-day stock market collapse, with locations as diverse as Dar es Salaam, Boston, Shenzhen, and Fishers Island, A Dual Inheritance asks this question, as it follows not only these two men, but the complicated women in their vastly different lives. And as Ed and Hugh grow farther and farther apart, they remain uniquely—even surprisingly—connected.
This is not only the story of two men whose lives collide, but of how life bonds them together in the most unexpected way. Told over the course of fifty odd years, this book follows the lives of these men through every aspect of life and how everything comes back to love and friendship in the end. I’m not going to lie, this has been one of my favorite reads this year. Hershon has created a cast of characters you will not soon forget. All at once you will find that you can hate a character and love them at the same time. They are so human in their errors that you forget you are not reading a narrative biography of two men from real life. The Odd Couple meets literary fiction in this wonderful book that I highly recommend.
The publisher has given me one copy of the book to give away! Leave a comment below with your latest favorite read by May 15, 2013 at 11:59 pm to enter. US only please. Make sure you don’t post as anonymous so I can contact you if you win
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for letting me host this book. For more information, click here.
The Fifth Knight by E.M. Powell
Release Date: November 13, 2012
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
King Henry II has sent out knights on a secret mission to capture Archbishop Thomas Becket. Sir Benedict Palmer has accepted this last mission so that he can make some money before retiring from the life of a mercenary. Contrary to what he thought was the plan, the mission’s leader kills Becket and captures the young nun, Theodosia. Little does she know that she has been kidnapped because of a secret she holds. To prevent Theodosia from being tortured and killed, Palmer helps her escape. As they are forced to run away together, they realize they must solve the mystery of why Becket was really murdered and how Theodosia’s secret knowledge will affect the kingdom.
It’s been a long while since I’ve read a novel from this time period that I’ve really enjoyed, so it was great to find such a fun read. A man and a woman from completely different worlds come together for an adventure filled with murder and intrigue. I absolutely loved Powell’s creation of suspense. I spent most of the book sitting on the edge of my seat wondering if Palmer and Theodosia could find out what is really going on and save themselves from imminent torture and death. The stakes are high and Powell knows how to execute a high level of suspense. If the history, mystery, and suspense don’t capture you (which, I mean, how could they not?) then there’s always that extra bit of romance thrown in to make Theodosia question her vows as a nun. Powell’s dialog is modern so that it is easy to understand, but she also adds some period vocabulary and phrases to make it more believable and have that great atmospheric feel. This novel is a quick and entertaining read for all of you awesome history buffs out there who want to read some light historical fiction.
This past weekend, Elaine Lobl Konigsburg died at the age of 83 in Falls Church, VA. E.L. Konigsburg wrote one of my favorite books of all time: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It’s hard to explain the extent in which this book transformed my childhood. Claudia and Jamie Kincaid are two children who run away from home – what better place to escape to than the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York? I had always been interested in history and museums as a child, but it wasn’t until I discovered this book that I understood the magic that can be created by such a place. With each new adventure Claudia and Jamie experienced, I wanted to create my own adventures in any way that I could. There are books that spark the imagination, and there are books that set the imagination ablaze.
One of my favorite scenes is when the two children wade in the fountain looking for change they can use in the vending machines for food. Even before I reread the book as an adult, this scene was imprinted in my mind and came to the surface anytime the book was mentioned.
So, not only do these children live in a museum, they solve a mystery behind a statue left to the museum by Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. And they solve the mystery by DOING RESEARCH. Let’s just stop there for a minute. Kids. Doing research. And HAVING FUN doing it. I realized then that as a child I could find almost any answer through reading books and other documents. And now where am I in life? I run a blog about books and I’m a freakin’ archivist. So, basically, you could have predicted my entire career path by seeing how much this book impacted me as a child.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler won the Newbury Medal for excellence in American children’s literature in 1968. I probably read it around the early to mid-1990s. I’ve recommended to hundreds of children since. Konigsburg was not just a children’s author, but a woman who created a story read my millions of children around the world for decades. I never knew her personally, but Mrs. Konigsburg changed my childhood, and ultimately my life. I will be forever grateful to her for having such a wonderful imagination and a dedication to the children of the world.
The Union Street Bakery by Mary Ellen Taylor
Release Date: February 5, 2013
Rating: 4 out of 5
Daisy is down on her luck after she has lost her job, broken up with her boyfriend, and has to move to a little apartment above her family’s bakery. The Union Street Bakery isn’t in such great shape either; the economy has taken a toll on the demand for baked goods. Daisy is also on the outs with her two sisters, which is even more difficult because she is adopted. Everything changes when an elderly customer dies and leaves Daisy a journal dating back to the mid-1800s. Daisy starts dreaming about Susie, the author of the journal, and must investigate the past in order to let her rest in peace.
Southern novels are one of my favorite genres to read, and this book was no exception. Mix in the South with history, baking, and a ghost story, and you have one heck of a book. Daisy represents us all when we are experiencing difficult times and are reticent to face these challenges at first. Yes, the plot deals largely with the journal and the Susie speaking to Daisy, but it also a book about family and how our personal and family histories really do matter. Daisy is really a detective when it comes down to researching her family’s history and the origins of Susie’s journal – she puts all of the pieces of the puzzle together while learning about herself in the process. I also love that the setting is Old Town Alexandria in Virginia which is close to where I live – I’ve been to many of the areas mentioned and the description was very accurate. The book is entertaining and a quick read – I definitely recommend it.
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Rating: 4 out of 5
What do you get when you put together Downton Abbey, the American South, three women, and an attractive concierge? Gold. Pure plot gold.
The Alexander, an historical building in Atalanta, has been converted into a luxury apartment building. Edward has spent his life working in the service industry and he has finally reached his goal of forming his own concierge business with at Alexander. In his work he finds out more about the residents of the building than he might ever want to know. Samantha is married to the “perfect” rich husband who supports her and her two siblings. She thinks she has it all until someone betrays her. Claire is a writer who sold her home after her daughter went off to college so that she could fulfill her dream of writing a bestseller. But will her dream be her undoing? Brooke is trying to manage her two young children on her own while dealing with her plastic surgeon ex-husband galavanting around town with other women. What can these four people possibly find in common? The Alexander holds a showing of Downton Abbey every Sunday. Not only does the show bring them together, but it will help them change their lives.
I love Downton Abbey with a fiery passion. It’s melodramatic, the costumes are amazing, and it has just enough history to make it feel less of a soap opera so you don’t feel too guilty about watching it. Wax has brought together the drama of the show with a modern life tale of women who are all going through dramas of their own. As the book and the show illustrate, life isn’t ever really fair, but we have to make the most of it and remain strong. Wax’s characters come together to form their own strength after floundering for a bit. Women can form strength when they have support and love – even if it comes from strangers. I really had a lot of fun reading this book. It has some romance, plenty of drama, but overall it is a novel of true friendship and how it originates in the most unlikely of places. Wax creates enough nods to the show that fans will love the references, but not feel that she is rehashing the show. For those of you who are not fans of the show, you will be able to enjoy the novel in and of itself as a tale of women’s relationships. I highly recommend this book to all fans of great and witty fiction.
The Expats by Chris Pavone
Publisher: Crown Books
Release Date: January 22, 2013
Rating: 4 out of 5
Kate is your average working mom. She’s in the house taking care of the kids when her husband comes home and tells her they’re moving to Luxembourg… within the month. Kate jumps at the chance to leave her job, except she never really told her husband what she really does for a living. When the family arrives in their new home, Kate starts her new role as a housewife and full-time mom. As her husband starts to grow distant and Kate starts to worry, a new couple moves into their neighborhood, but Kate suspects that they are not as they seem… just as she realizes that her past may have caught up with her.
Whoa. This book was freaking amazing! I love spy novels. I especially love spy novels that take place in Europe. But a spy novel in Europe with a FEMALE protagonist seemed too good to be true… and yet here we are with this wonderful book! I think what makes this book so compelling (besides the nonstop suspense) is that Kate has a real life. She isn’t the solitary aging man with no strings attached and badly stained teeth from too much whiskey and smoking. She has a real family which she must protect at the same time as figuring out what the heck is going on around her.
This isn’t just a one dimensional book about spies. It is about how a marriage can be just as complicated as politics and international relations. There were a few elements of Gone Girl in it for me insomuch as there is this sense that you never really know who you are married to. I hope you will pick this one up for a great read. It’s quick, but has depth, and it is definitely worth it. I can’t wait to see what Pavone comes up with next!
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for letting me read and review this book!
Rocamora by Donald Michael Platt
Publisher: Raven’s Wings Books
Release Date: September 26, 2011
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
The Inquisition is threatening the lives of many during the 17th century. Vicent de Rocamora is somewhat of a rebel during this time. He believes that the “blood purity” everyone finds so important is nothing more than the Roman Catholic Church trying to control Spain. After being forced to join the Dominican Order, Vicente works his way up in the Church’s ranks until he is in a position to influence the direction of the Inquisition and try to stop the bloodshed that is being committed in the name of God.
Action, intrigue, and history combine in this sweeping historical fiction novel about a real man. Vicente is a deeply flawed character, but those imperfections only make him more interesting as a protagonist. He isn’t your typical “hero”, but at the end of the day you really want to see if he can succeed with his grand plans to save the Jews and Moors from persecution. The prose is lyrical throughout much of the book, but it is also blunt when it needs to be. I have read so many wonderful books about the English and American history of the period, but it is much rarer to read a novel of Spain written in English. Platt has done a wonderful job of explaining the real historical events to those who may have had a more Anglo-centric education. Some scenes in the book are quite violent and shocking, but they are necessary in setting the scene of the period. I loved the exploration of politics and courtly love. Overall, I definitely recommend this book to all of you looking for some serious historical fiction. The novel was a bit long, and I think it could have been broken up into several novels with success. I truly enjoyed reading Platt’s work, and I am definitely going to seek out the sequel.
Thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for letting me host this book! For more information, click here.
The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Rating: 4 out of 5
Ashaunt Point is the summer destination for the Porter family. The year is 1942, and World War II has finally reached the remote Massachusetts paradise when the Army builds a base there. Janie is the youngest who always feels left out and alone. Bea, her nursemaid, tries to keep her entertained while Bea herself navigates the trials of a first love. Janie’s older sisters, Helen and Dossie, run across the Point like wild women chasing after the young and handsome soldiers, this is the summer that everything will change for the family. Following each of these characters’ lives, the story goes forward into the futures of these women, through both good and horrible.
I loved this book to the point where I brushed off dinner plans so I could finish reading it. Graver’s prose is a little difficult to follow at first because the third person omniscient moves around so quickly. But, once you get used to it, you will fall in love with these women and want to make sure they will be able to live their lives happily. Graver writes the past and present with such emotion. She focuses not just on the events that changed the future of the planet, but the people who lived through them, and how the humanity of these events can be lost without a woman telling her side of the story. You will feel the pain and triumph of each character with such vividness that you will feel as if you were really living with them throughout the novel. I highly recommend this book for all lovers of women’s fiction and history. Definitely a great read for book club!
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this book! For more information, click here..