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REVIEW: A Triple Knot by Emma Campion

A Triple Knot by Emma Campion

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Publisher: Broadway Books

Release Date: July 8, 2014

Source: Publisher

Joan of Kent, the renowned beauty and niece of King Edward III, seems blessed with a life of royal privilege until her father is executed for treason and she becomes a ward of the king, living amongst those who deem her the daughter of a traitor. Joan begins to understand the brutal constraints and dangers inherent in being of royal blood. There is one at court who loves her, but his love proves the greatest threat of all.

As an impetuous teenager, she escapes into a clandestine marriage in a bid for freedom, then must hide it for nearly a decade, as her guardians marry her off to another man. After her first husband’s death, Joan—now a mother of four—enters into another scandalous relationship, this time with the heir to the British throne, Prince Edward, hero of Crécy and Poitiers, who has loved her all along. But his devotion comes at a terrible price. Haunted by nightmares of her father’s execution and the ruthlessness of her royal kin, Joan must reconcile her passion for the crown prince with her own conscience. - from the publisher

So many books have been written about the Tudor era, so it’s awesome to see more being written about their predecessors, the Plantagenets. I’ve also never read anything about Joan of Kent, so it was fascinating to read about a new-to-me historical figure. I really had a wonderful time reading this book. One of my favorite aspects is that Joan is followed from childhood into her illustrious adulthood without letting any part of her life fall by the wayside. I am so in love with Campion’s characterization of Joan. She is young, but she has been taught well to be suspicious of all those around her. Although she makes mistakes, she is always redeemed by her intelligence and spirit.

Being such a huge fan of historical fiction, I’ve read almost too many novelizations of the Middle Ages, but I was enchanted by this novel. I found the cover to be a bit misleading – this is more a story about Joan’s life than it is a bodice-ripper. Yes, there is romance, but it is always within context of Joan’s story as a human being. Most details of the real Joan are unknown, but Campion is able to create an entire world for Joan. The plot can move at a slow pace, but since I view the book more of a fictional biography than a plot-driven novel I really don’t have any problem with it. Summer can be the best time to read a great piece of historical fiction, and I definitely recommend picking this one up for the beach!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for letting me be a stop on this tour. For more information, click here.

REVIEW: The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry

The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry

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Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Release Date: June 24, 2014

Source: Publisher

Eve and Cooper Morrison are Savannah’s power couple. They’re on every artistic board and deeply involved in the community. She owns and operates a letterpress studio specializing in the handmade; he runs a digital magazine featuring all things southern gentlemen. The perfect juxtaposition of the old and the new, Eve and Cooper are the beautiful people. The lucky ones. And they have the wealth and name that comes from being part of an old Georgia family. But things may not be as good as they seem. Eve’s sister, Willa, is staying with the family until she gets “back on her feet.” Their daughter, Gwen, is all adolescent rebellion. And Cooper thinks Eve works too much. Still, the Morrison marriage is strong. After twenty-one years together, Eve and Cooper know each other. They count on each other. They know what to expect. But when Cooper and Willa are involved in a car accident, the questions surrounding the event bring the family close to breaking point. Sifting between the stories—what Cooper says, what Willa remembers, what the evidence indicates—Eve has to find out what really happened. And what she’s going to do about it. - from the publisher

I will pretty much read any book that even remotely mentions Savannah, Georgia. I visited Savannah years ago on a class trip, and I have been utterly enchanted by it ever since. Henry takes the beautifully Southern atmosphere and turns it into a wonderful novel about life and love. Eve is one of those great female characters who tackles hardship straight on – she realizes who she really is in her obsession to find out what really happened between Cooper and Willa. Nothing is ever as it seems at face value.

You want to cheer Eve on, but at the same time, it’s like watching a train wreck as the family slowly unravels. While this book is being advertised as “women’s fiction”, I think it really goes beyond that and should be labeled as a mystery. The quest that Eve goes on in order to find out what happened the night of the wreck is more than just a woman on a mission – she goes into full-blown detective mode. Her obsession starts to consume her everyday life, even though she doesn’t want to believe in her suspicions. I do think that the ending was rushed, but overall, it didn’t take too much away from the story. I think the ending could have been expanded upon, especially with Cooper’s story.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves Southern fiction and a good, dramatic mystery. I was constantly reminded of Karen White with a dash of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil thrown in for good measure.

REVIEW: The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis by Thomas Goetz

The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis by Thomas Goetz

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Publisher: Gotham Books

Release Date: April 3, 2014

Source: publisher

In 1875, tuberculosis was the deadliest disease in the world, accountable for a third of all deaths. A diagnosis of TB—often called consumption—was a death sentence. Then, in a triumph of medical science, a German doctor named Robert Koch deployed an unprecedented scientific rigor to discover the bacteria that caused TB. Koch soon embarked on a remedy—a remedy that would be his undoing.
 
When Koch announced his cure for consumption, Arthur Conan Doyle, then a small-town doctor in England and sometime writer, went to Berlin to cover the event. Touring the ward of reportedly cured patients, he was horrified. Koch’s “remedy” was either sloppy science or outright fraud.
 
But to a world desperate for relief, Koch’s remedy wasn’t so easily dismissed. As Europe’s consumptives descended upon Berlin, Koch urgently tried to prove his case. Conan Doyle, meanwhile, returned to England determined to abandon medicine in favor of writing. In particular, he turned to a character inspired by the very scientific methods that Koch had formulated: Sherlock Holmes.
 - from the publisher

You all know I could never resist the chance to read anything even remotely related to Arthur Conan Doyle or Sherlock Holmes, right? You never know what kind of book you will get when you read about famous authors, but this book is absolutely brilliant. So many nonfiction books these days are either too watered down for the reader who has a basic knowledge of science OR the author gets too bogged down in his/her research that there is a complete lack of a cohesive narrative. Goetz manages to create a rip-roaring scientific adventure that will fascinate and thrill you.

Out of all of the books I’ve read on Conan Doyle, most breeze by his meeting with Robert Koch and how he was influenced to create a “scientific” detective. Many never even mention his career as a doctor at all. Yet, how could a man who had not studied scientific medicine create such a genius detective so well-versed in the knowledge of the human body and its surroundings? Koch is also portrayed very fairly considering he was one of the most controversial scientists in his day. His contributions to microbiology and research on tuberculosis cannot be denied, but his progress was ultimately hindered by his desire for recognition and glory. Conan Doyle was one of the first to recognize that there was really something more going on than just pure scientific research and findings.

I highly recommend this book – it reads like a novel, but informs like a paper published in a scholarly journal. I could not put this book down, even while I was being distracted by someone’s screaming children at Starbucks! Goetz is a skilled researcher and writer, and I look forward to reading more of his works.

GIVEAWAY: How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer

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Thanks to the publisher, I have one SIGNED copy of How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer to give away! Just comment below with your favorite literary heroine.

US only, please. Contest ends July 15, 2014 at 11:59 pm.

REVIEW: How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer

How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer

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Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Release Date: July 1, 2014

Source: publisher

Like a jewel shimmering in a Midwest skyline, the Toledo Institute of Astronomy is the nation’s premier center of astronomical discovery and a beacon of scientific learning for astronomers far and wide. Here, dreamy cosmologist George Dermont mines the stars to prove the existence of God. Here, Irene Sparks, an unsentimental scientist, creates black holes in captivity.

George and Irene are on a collision course with love, destiny and fate. They have everything in common: both are ambitious, both passionate about science, both lonely and yearning for connection. The air seems to hum when they’re together. But George and Irene’s attraction was not written in the stars. In fact their mothers, friends since childhood, raised them separately to become each other’s soulmates.

When that long-secret plan triggers unintended consequences, the two astronomers must discover the truth about their destinies, and unravel the mystery of what Toledo holds for them—together or, perhaps, apart. - from the publisher

I’ve got to say that this is the most bizarre book I’ve read all year – but I mean that in the best way possible. If you read the synopsis above, you might think that this is a romantic comedy, or just your average love story. Oh, you would be so very wrong. This book is tragic, intelligent, and oh so brilliantly written. Netzer has mixed the deepest love with the vastness of the universe’s unknown capabilities. The concept of predetermination is explored in the most unique way possible – it took me half the book to even realize the underlying implications of the story since I was so wrapped up in these characters and their journey.

Irene is my favorite female character that I have read in a long time. She is fierce, dedicated to her work, and independent. She is a genius in her own right, and she definitely doesn’t need a man to fulfill her destiny. Yet, she realizes that she is lacking human connection and passion in the rest of her life. Work cannot be everything, no matter how much you let it consume you.

I can’t really describe my favorite part of the book since it is the very last scene, but it involves tulips and the coolest nerds of the literary world. I fell so in love with these characters that I was truly sad that the book had ended. I want to follow George and Irene into their futures, and watch what new mischief they can get themselves into :)

Book Club Girl’s Agatha Christie Read-A-Long: And Then There Were None

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Book Club Girl’s Agatha Christie Read-A-Long: And Then There Were None

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1- When we first meet the “ten soldiers,” while they may not have been the best group of people, you don’t necessarily wish them ill will. As their pasts are revealed and their true personalities unmasked, did you feel any sympathy for them as a victim of the situation? Do you think that we, the reader, were predisposed to dislike certain characters more and feel sympathy for others?

I don’t know that I felt any sympathy for these characters when we first meet them. They’ve all committed pretty horrible crimes for which they can’t be tried in court. Especially as their true personalities surface, most of the ten characters show no remorse for their crimes. I did love the character Vera because she seems to be the smarted and most put-together of them all, but I do think that has a lot to do with what Christie wants us to think.

2- Each soldier was initially defined by their stature or position in life, did that change for any of them as the story progressed, or did they rely more on their roles off the island for survival?

At first, each character is completely defined by his or her role in society, but as each character drops one by one, the roles definitely change. I think the roles are soon redefined by who can remain the most calm (and sane, if you think about it). They do all start to lose it eventually, which truly evens the social playing field.

3- One of the themes present throughout And Then There Were None is guilt and the effect it can have on a person. How did each character deal with the guilt of their past crimes? Who handled it the best? And who was the most torn up from it?

It’s hard for me to answer this question because I don’t want to give the ending away to anyone who hasn’t read it yet! I think the character who “did it” had the most guilt because they couldn’t make life fair for the victims of these people. Ack! That is horrible and vague… Most of the characters don’t handle the guilt at all. They shut themselves up and try to run away from the madness of knowing they are going to die.

4- What did you think of the use of “Ten Little Soldiers” throughout the book, both the poem posted in the bedrooms and the little disappearing figurines on the dining room table? How do they both figure into the story? Do you think the reminder of the “Ten Little Soldiers” poem was necessary throughout the story?

I loved the soldiers so much! They really add to the psychological suspense since each soldier directly corresponds to one of the criminals. The reminder of the poem sort of helps you keeps track of what is really happening and why it is happening to these people. It also gives so much drama to the last death scene, as you know what is going to happen, even though you really don’t want it to.

5- If you were trapped on Soldier Island, which character’s behavior would you most identify with and why? If not, what would you have done differently?

Honestly, I would be taking the house apart trying to build a raft. Especially after the first few deaths, you KNOW what is going to happen, just not who is next. Holing yourself up in a house that is so obviously set up by the person who is trying to kill you is not a very smart idea to me.

6- From the very beginning certain characters are drawn to each other to form alliances in their strange situation—at first Vera and Emily, later Blore, Armstrong, and Lombard, Armstrong and Wargrave, and then Vera and Lombard. What do you think brought them together? How do these alliances affect events?

It kind of reminds me of the show Survivor. You know that no one is to be trusted, but you have to form alliances if you want to stay alive. I think they help the characters keep the madness at bay for a time. They see that they might have a friend and jump on that possibility. Alliances don’t necessarily change events, but they almost make it easier for the puppet master to pull the strings.

7- Did you have your own theories about who Unknown was before getting to the “Manuscript Document” and if so, at what point?

The first time I read it, I had absolutely no idea. I thought of several possibilities, but none of them were even remotely correct. I’ve read it a few times since then, and I try to see the clues Christie leaves, but there almost aren’t any to be found. It is truly a remarkable feat of hers to write such an unsolvable mystery!

8- It’s widely commented that Christie “violated the standard rules of mystery writing” by making it nearly impossible for us to solve the mystery before she explains it to us. How did that make you feel as a reader?

I freakin’ love it! I don’t think there should be “rules” when writing any type of book. I hate when I’m reading a mystery book and I can figure out the ending. It can be comforting to read books that fall into a pattern, but if all mysteries were written as such, everyone would be writing the same book over and over again.

9- As Agatha wrote in her author’s note, the plot was so simple, yet so baffling, that she herself was most pleased with the outcome for having done it. Are there any mysteries from recent years that you think come close to what she accomplished here?

No. It seems impossible to me to meet Christie’s level of brilliance. I think there are many spectacular mystery writers out there right now, but no one is able to blow my mind like Agatha. Gillian Flynn came really close with Gone Girl, but it doesn’t have the same kind of simple poise Christie executes so well.

REVIEW: Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman

Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman

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Publisher: Knopf

Release Date: April 1, 2014

Source: publisher

In 1945 on the outskirts of Salzburg, victorious American soldiers capture a train filled with unspeakable riches: piles of fine gold watches; mountains of fur coats; crates filled with wedding rings, silver picture frames, family heirlooms, and Shabbat candlesticks passed down through generations. Jack Wiseman, a tough, smart New York Jew, is the lieutenant charged with guarding this treasure—a responsibility that grows more complicated when he meets Ilona, a fierce, beautiful Hungarian who has lost everything in the ravages of the Holocaust. Seventy years later, amid the shadowy world of art dealers who profit off the sins of previous generations, Jack gives a necklace to his granddaughter, Natalie Stein, and charges her with searching for an unknown woman—a woman whose portrait and fate come to haunt Natalie, a woman whose secret may help Natalie to understand the guilt her grandfather will take to his grave and to find a way out of the mess she has made of her own life. - from the publisher

I honestly can’t even describe to you how much I loved this book. I’ve always loved reading historical fiction about World War II, but this book took the historical aspect and turned it into so much more. Waldman deals not only with the “what happened here”, but also how blurred the line between right and wrong becomes on the tail end of such a horrific tragedy. When millions of Jews were murdered, what becomes of their most valuable possessions? How do you respect the dead and history of your people while still trying to live in the present?

Waldman writes the novel by telling different characters’ stories. My favorite was that of Natalie because she is thrown into her story without really knowing what is going on at first. She must reconcile with her grandfather’s past, as well as determine her own future. With books like these, I always try to think of what I would do if I were presented with a similar situation – I have no idea here. Hindsight is 20-20, and I don’t know if I could ever begin to feel the pressure of completing Natalie’s task, but I loved reading about it.

There are so many non-fiction books that describe similar situations such as The Monuments Men or Saving Italy, but this work of fiction is able to bring so much more life to the stories of the people who rescued these objects, sometimes at the price of human lives. When does a life become more valuable than these objects? I love a book that makes me question my own views, and this novel is definitely successful in doing so.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for letting me be a stop on this tour. For more information, click here.

REVIEW: No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie

No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Cromie

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Publisher: William Morrow

Release Date: February 5, 2013

Source: personal copy

I’ve spent the past six months or so reading all of the James/Kincaid mysteries, and I’m kind of in love with them. Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are detectives in London solving mysteries together for thirteen books. In this, the fourteenth novel, a search and rescue team has just found a body along the Thames. Duncan is sent in to determine if the incident is a crime scene or just a horrible accident. Not only does it turn out to be a murder, but a murder of a high-ranking detective at The Met. Gemma gets assigned a case that starts out as a completely different crime, but she soon learns that everything must be connected. Adding to all of their drama at work, Gemma and Duncan have just entered the adoption process for a little girl who was orphaned after their last case.

As soon as I read the first novel in this series, I was hooked. Crombie creates these characters who are so ridiculously real that you think you are reading the chronicles of their lives rather than a mystery novel. Kincaid is observant and a little bit of a rule breaker. Gemma is detail- oriented and very intuitive. Together, they form the perfect detective team, even when they are supposed to be working separate cases.

Crombie not only excels in writing expressive and realistic characters, but she paints a picture of London that makes you feel you’ve lived their your entire life. Each description of a tube stop or a pub is vivid and engrossing. I’ve been chain- reading these books so quickly that I’ve become completely immersed in Gemma and Duncan’s world. I sincerely recommend you read these books, and preferably in order so that you can see the progression of Duncan and Gemma’s relationship. These characters become almost like your family, you get to know them so well. I’m so excited to read the next book in the series, as well as the newest book which comes out in September!

A Literary Event: Mary Kay Andrews Signing

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One of my favorite authors recently came to a local library to speak – Mary Kay Andrews! She was promoting her new book, Save the Date, which came out at the beginning of June. If you haven’t read any of her books before, I think the best way to describe them is with the words Andrews used herself: “My books are like piña coladas: they’re sweet, fun, and you want to finish it to the last drop. And when you’re done, you want another!”

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Mary Kay (real name: Kathy Hogan Trocheck, under which she has also published a mystery series) was the sweetest person you’d ever meet. She answered everyone’s questions with a smile on her face, told some great stories about being a writer, and she even tried to get me a job with the library! It’s so great when you see that your favorite authors are also really wonderful people!

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You’ve heard me talk about independent bookstores a lot, but I also am a huge advocate of libraries (as a librarian myself!) and the St. Charles City-County libraries in Missouri are doing an amazing series of programming this summer. They made this event an experience – they had music playing for an hour-long champagne and wine reception before Mary Kay spoke, and Left Bank Books (an independent bookstore in St. Louis) was selling Andrews’ books in the back of the room.

It is so much fun to go to events like these. You get to hear the author speak, have your book signed, and meet some great book-lovers! I guarantee that your local library or bookstore has some great events like these scheduled, so make sure to ask them or check out their website.

REVIEW: The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee

The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee

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Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Release Date:

Source: publisher

Rating: 4 out of 5

WARNING: Do NOT read this book on an EMPTY stomach!

Portia is more than just down on her luck: her cheating husband has left her with no money and he got her former best friend pregnant. As a politician’s wife in Texas she had the “perfect” life, even though she was suppressing her gift of “knowing” – being able to predict future events through knowing what to cook beforehand. Wanting to break free from her fake fairy tale life, she moves to a town house apartment her great-aunt left her in New York City. Both of her sisters live in New York, even though they sold their apartments in the same building. Living above Portia is an attractive, single father, Gabriel, who just happens to be a major investor. And the three sisters just happen to be looking to recreative their grandmother’s restaurant, The Glass Kitchen.

Look no further for the perfect summer read! I know that Linda Francis Lee is a popular author, but I have never read any of her books before. I saw that this book was blurbed by Sarah Jio, and so I immediately knew I had to give it a chance! As soon as I started reading, I was reminded of Sarah Addison Allen and Jael McHenry with their love of cooking and an element of magical realism. Add a dash of The Parent Trap for good measure, and you have one great read. After each mention of a dish or baked good Portia is making, I wanted to jump inside of the book in order to sample it. Portia is a wonderful character who I want to be my best friend. She’s hesitant to embrace her gift since she knows it makes people uncomfortable and they might think she is strange. Yet, she can’t move forward in her life without making some big changes; accepting her passion and calling is one of them.

Gabriel is your typical wounded widower who is struggling to raise two teen girls on his own. He is broody, but loves his girls with every fiber of his being. The real standout in this book is his daughter, Ariel. Ariel is having a hard time fitting in at her new school, and she can’t really talk to her dad about it. Yet, she instantly connects with Portia. Ariel is just like the twins in The Parent Trap trying to get Portia and her dad together – hilarity ensues :) She also has an element of Harriet the Spy that I am in love with. She carries around a leather journal which her dad gave to her after discovering she really isn’t talking to her therapist. She writes down everything happening around her, no matter how small the detail. I love her inquisitiveness and sass. I highly recommend this book for an engaging and sweet read – perfect for pool-side reading this summer!