Details

Holly

Do you remember when I wrote about how much I love love loved Code Name Verity? (Hey, if you don’t click here!) The fact that the people in that book were not real still makes my heart hurt. (But, good news – the companion novel Rose Under Fire was also amazing.)

Anyway, one of the things I really loved about CNV was in the author’s notes at the end, where Elizabeth Wein outlined how she struggled to come up with a way in which her characters would have had enough ink to write their stories. She researched and came up with a plausible situation based on the circumstances in which the ballpoint pen was invented.

Now, truth be told, I would not have given a second (or a first) thought as to how the characters were writing, but I love that she worked that detail in. Some readers are really into well-developed characters, and some readers prioritize the plot over the characters, but I am a reader that can get really hung up on the details. (This spills over into my life outside of reading, for better and for worse.)

I read the terrible follow-up to The Nanny Diaries, Nanny Returns, and I was really turned off by the fact that the two main characters had supposedly spent years living abroad doing international development work in Sweden, Haiti, and throughout Africa…and had their golden retriever with them everywhere they went. Right.  I just finished Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, and I felt the narrator’s credibility was shot when, in describing a rural southeast Missouri town of 2000 people, she suggested that a Starbucks might be built there. Having lived in a rural southeast Kansas town 90 minutes from the nearest Starbucks, I found that to be a profoundly stupid unrealistic statement.

Anyway, I love meticulously researched historical fiction, such as Elizabeth Wein’s. I love when I end up learning something unexpected, and when I finish a book wanting to know more about that time and place. The part I sometimes hate about historical fiction is not knowing the true story. I love reading speculative stories, like The Girl with the Pearl Earring, and Alice I Have Been – but then I want to know what the full story is!

For that reason, I like reading meticulously researched non-fiction as well – I loved reading the personal accounts included in A History of the Wife. And, need I remind you again why I think Erik Larson is the bees knees for writing nonfiction that flows as smoothly as a novel – a really really gripping novel at that.

So, details. Am I the only one who gets hung up on the little things? Any amazing historical fiction recommendations?

Review – For Darkness Shows the Stars

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

for darkness shows the stars

Series: For Darkness Shows the Stars #1

Published 2012

402 pages

Source: Library

Reviewed by Holly

I could start with the synopsis of this book, but the synopsis did not really made sense to me when I read it – or maybe I just didn’t read it very carefully.  I thought that this book took place in space for some reason. It does not.

So never mind about that. Let’s start over. For Darkness is set in a futuristic society with basically zero technology. Wait, what? Yeah, apparently people had gotten so caught up in trying to enhance human genetics that things all went to hell – and hence, the Luddites rule the land, technology is outlawed, and social distinction is based on whether or not your ancestors messed with their genes or not.

Okay, so the premise is a little bizarre. And, on top of that, the story is a retelling of Jane Austen’s  Persuasion which I have now found myself a little sad that I haven’t read. Underneath the crazy setting, I can totally see how the story arc closely follows an Austen plot: upper class girl befriends lower class boy working on her family’s estate. As teenagers, boy makes the decision to seek out better options off the farm, and she decides to stay home and support her family. When they meet again, boy has made good in the world – and the estate is falling apart. He’s angry and bitter. She is trying to keep it together. A whole bunch of miscommunication ensues.

It’s great. I really thoroughly enjoyed this one, and I just saw that the second one, Across a Star-Swept Sea is also available at the library. Score! This one is inspired by The Scarlet Pimpernel, so I might have to add that one to my reading list too.

Parting words:

“The old poems said that lovers were made for each other. But that wasn’t true for Kai and Elliot. They hadn’t been made for each other at all – quite the opposite. But they’d grown together, the two of them, until they were like two trees from a single trunk, stronger together than either could have been alone. And ever since he’d left, she’s been feeling his loss. He’d thrived without her, but Elliot – she’d just withered.”

4 Stars

Review: The Poet’s Wives

The Poets’ Wives, David Park

Amanda

Published April 1st,  2014 by Bloomsbury USA

304 Pages

Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads…

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What does it mean to be a poet’s wife, his muse and lover, there for the heights of inspiration and the quotidian of the day-to-day, and oftentimes, too, the drudgery of being in a supporting role to “the great man”?

In this exquisite and sensitive new novel, David Park explores this complicated relationship through three luminous characters: Catherine Blake, wife of William Blake, nineteenth-century poet, painter, and engraver; Nadezhda Mandelstam, whose husband, Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, died in a transit camp en route to Siberia during Stalin’s rule; and Lydia, the wife of a fictional contemporary Irish poet, who looks back on her husband’s life in the days just after his death.

All three women deal with their husband’s fame or notoriety, taking seriously their commitment to the men they married and to assisting with and preserving their work. And this despite infidelities, despite a single-mindedness at the expense of others, and despite hardship sometimes beyond comprehension.

Set across continents and centuries, under wildly different circumstances, these three women exist as a testament to love, to relationship despite the odds, and to art. Deeply insightful and beautifully wrought, The Poets’ Wives is David Park at his best—a novelist who finds dignity and grace away from the spotlight, and who reminds us that art has the power to capture even the quietest of voices.

This was my first David Park book, and I was drawn to the idea of the story of the women behind the poets William Blake, Osip Mandelstam and the fictional Don.  I am afraid that I liked the idea of this book more than the book itself.  There were passages in each wife’s story that were beautiful and eloquent about love, marriage and sacrifice; but these were not enough to pull the whole book together for me.  The three sections just broke from Catherine, to Nadezhda, to Lydia, and I needed something to connect them.  I understand they were all wives of poets-but the lack of a connection of some kind was too harsh for me.

I liked the overlying question of the book, which to me was how much do you have to sacrifice for art?  These women sacrificed comfort, relationships, and independence to their husbands and to the calling of Poetry.  I don’t know that I’d have been willing to make some of those choices. Nadezhda’s story was just heartbreaking and made me want to read more about both her story and her husband’s.  This part of the book was my favorite, despite how sad it was.

I thought the choice to use a fictional character with the lives of these two real women was interesting.  It seemed like Park wanted the reader to feel as much sympathy for Lydia as for the real women and I just could not do that.  I think I would have liked Lydia fine had the book been about her and her family’s’ story entirely.   But I just couldn’t feel as much for someone who chose to stay with a philandering husband (poet or not) compared to a victim of Stalin.

Maybe I should tell Holly to read this as part of her research on marriage?  Because really, some of the passages were very moving.  All of the other reviews I’ve read so far have been positive, so maybe this was just my disconnect-read it and tell me what you think!

2.5 stars.

I received this advanced copy from NetGalley and Bloomsbury in exchange for an honest review.

Reading about Marriage

Holly

When J & I announced our engagement last summer, I noticed that people presume a lot of things about weddings. So, and this is completely true, rather than immediately start shopping for a wedding dress, I wanted to read a book about wedding history and traditions. Every time I got a question about dresses or flowers or honeymooning or cake, I wondered where these expectations came from. I wanted the full background – so that I could avoid the patriarchy as much as possible in the planning. (And yes, true that the entire institution of marriage is historically steeped in patriarchy, but I am confident that my pending marriage is not, and I am indeed excited about it. So let’s put that aside.)

Anyway, I downloaded an ebook about wedding traditions months ago, but it turned out to be pretty disappointing. I could have saved $1.99 and just read Wikipedia for all that was included in there. And, it turns out that picking out flowers and dresses and cake has been pretty fun – especially cake.

However, I decided to turn my book search from “wedding” to “marriage,” and embarked on a little reading project recently. Here’s what I read – and what I found.

#1 A History of the Wife by Marilyn Yalom

history of the wife

This book was basically exactly what I was looking for – it goes through the history of (western) marriage as experienced by the wife, opening with ancient Greek and Roman wives, through medieval European history, to modern American marriages. And of course, seen overall, these thousands of years of history are full of double-standards and one-sidedness, but Yalom includes plenty of first-person narrative accounts of how women perceived their own experiences. The personal accounts really made this book for me.

As she closes out with a chapter on American wives from 1950-2000, Yalom reflects back on how wives – ie, women – of a certain generation are sometimes lumped together, and she points out that this view is not entirely fair. This statement is about contemporary views of the last few generations, though it really could be applied to every “wife” in the book – each individual is obviously not representative of her particular place in history.

As we consider these changes, it is useful to remember that a wife is not a single photo, but a series of photos as one would find in a family album. The women of the fifties were not frozen into perpetual domesticity, nor were their daughters – adults in the seventies and eighties – congealed forever in the molds of feminism and sexual freedom that were characteristic in those decades. People change with the times both with and against the currents they encounter. They change because they interact with members of the next generation, who force them to confront new values and behaviors. And most of all, they change because they themselves age and reach different development stages.”

I like this. What is important to me about my relationship and soon-to-be status of “wife,” does not have to mirror what society has deemed important about marriage. Phew – weight off the shoulders.

#2 Against Love: A Polemic by Laura Kipnis

After Yalom’s history, I turned to this trope against the idea of modern marriage. From the description, I thought this book was going to argue that evolutionarily or psychologically or culturally, humans are just not suited for long-term monogamy.

However, that was not in fact the overall point. And, I’ll add here, that I think most of her points sucked. She had four chapters – here is what they were called, followed by my interpretation:

1. Love’s Labors – the relationship-industrial-complex is just another tool in the capitalist machine.

against love

2. Domestic Gulagsbeing in a couple is suffocating, dude. You have to like, think about someone else’s feelings and shit. (Dear Laura, that is called not being an asshole, and is not limited to coupledom)

3. The Art of Loveadultery is really a way to rebel against The Man, so that’s cool.

4. And the Pursuit of Happinesslook at all the politicians who can’t keep in their pants. Must be something in the water!

I could get on board with some of the questions she raises at the beginning, about society’s expectations on marriage and relationships, but this went downhill pretty quickly. Actually, if you read the front cover, it probably starts going down from there. I saw several reviews talk about how funny this book was, but mostly it seemed angry and mean.

#3 All There Is: Love Stories from Storycorps by Dave Isay.

I had to cleanse my mind with a feel-good relationship book. This collection of (very) short stories did the trick. I didn’t know exactly how Storycorps worked until I read the description here, but basically it is an NPR project to capture people telling their own stories, which are recorded and archived and shared in various ways. All There Is  is a collection of love stories from the project.

My favorite contributor, by far, was this guy:

My wife and I were in Philadelphia, and we saw a sign that said SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE. I will never forget it. It had six points to always say to your wife or husband, and the first one was YOU LOOK GREAT. The second one was CAN I HELP? The third one. LET’S EAT OUT. The fourth one was I WAS WRONG. And the fifth one was I AM SORRY. But the last and most important one was I LOVE YOU. That was it. There was six statements, and it said if you follow that, you’ll have a successful marriage. So we followed it, and we did have a successful marriage. If she was working out in the yard, I’d come out: “Can I help you?” And when we’d come home from work, and I knew she was tired, I’d ask her, “You want to go out to eat?” To keep her from working and cooking at the same time.

all there is

It lasted fifty-three years, two months, and five days. It’s been rough, but every morning when I wake up she’s included in my prayers, and I talk to her every night when I go to bed. She was something. One thing: If they ever let me in those pearly gates, I’m going to walk all over God’s heaven until I find that girl. And the first thing I’m going to do is ask her if she would marry me and do it all over again.” – Leroy A. Morgan

I can’t beat that, folks.

Review: Turned


Turned (The Belladonna Agency #1), Virna DePaul

Reviewed by Amanda

Published April 1st 2014 by Bantam

384 pages

Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads…

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Welcome to a mesmerizing world where vampires hide among humans. This centuries-old species has its own rules, code of conduct, and taboos. Only the FBI knows that vampires exist—and although the Bureau agrees to keep their secret, it also plots to give humans the upper hand.

Turning mortals into vampires is forbidden.

But there are creatures who refuse to play by the rules.

Ever since he was turned, FBI special agent Ty Duncan has had one mission: bring rogue vampires to justice. As a recruiter for Belladonna, a shadow agency formed to keep vampires in check, Ty must tap Ana Martin, a troubled ex–gang member and one of the few mortals who can infiltrate places that his kind and the law cannot. From their first encounter, Ty fights a hunger to make Ana his own.

When Ty claims to have information about Ana’s missing sister, Ana has no choice but to trust this captivating stranger who awakens her deepest desires. But as she and Ty climb the heights of pleasure and passion, an enemy is conspiring to destroy them both.

Can Ana help Ty find his humanity in a love that could heal them both, or will their passion lead them into a darkness impossible to escape?

I admit, I read some less than brilliant books from time to time.   Continue reading

Review: Early One Morning

Early One Morning by Robert Ryan

Published March 25, 2014 by Open Road Media

343 pages

Source: Netgalley

Reviewed by Amanda

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From Goodreads: On a crisp autumn night in the twenty-first century, a car is pulled from the depths of an Austrian lake. A skeleton grips the wheel. Finally, an answer: William Grover-Williams, the premier English race-car driver of his generation and a hero of the French Resistance, met his end at the bottom of a mountain lake.

Or did he?

In the Roaring Twenties, Grover-Williams and Frenchman Robert Benoist were teammates and rivals on the Bugatti racing team. Locked in a fierce competition for the world championship, they also raced to win the heart of the gorgeous Eve Aubicq. Then the war changed everything—and nothing. As members of the British Special Operations Executive, Grover-Williams and Benoist dashed across France in support of the Resistance, but it wasn’t just the Nazis they had to watch out for. Double agents were everywhere, and friendship—or love, for that matter—was no guarantee of loyalty. Every morning, Will, Robert, and Eve had to look in the mirror and ask: Whom can I trust today? The wrong answer might just have spelled their doom.

Some of the things that real people accomplish in their lives so far surpass what we can imagine.  William Grover-Williams went from rich kid to chauffeur to British spy-what a life he had!

We first meet William Grover-Williams as a young man trying to get out from under his parents thumb and getting into some trouble doing it.  When we meet him again he’s working as a chauffeur for the famous portrait artist William Orpen; and he meets his mistress, the beautiful Eve.  I would have liked more about Eve.  According to Ryan’s story she became Orpen’s lover as a teenager and he alludes to the trauma she went through due to the Germans, but never really goes back to it.  I think I would have enjoyed Eve even more throughout the book if she had been a more developed character.

That being said I did enjoy how Ryan wrote Grover-Williams and his friend/rival/mentor Robert Benoist.  I enjoyed the tension that was between them as drivers as much as the admiration and the friendship.  It was hard to become emotionally invested in these characters when the book begins with the car being pulled out of a lake, because I felt there was this looming tragedy coming but it was so worth it in the end.   Obviously not everyone has a happy ending in any war story, but this was a really good story of friendship, love and hope.  I was definitely caught up in the drama as they began working with the British Special Operations and the French Resistance.

For me, Ryan was a bit too technical with the details of the racing cars, however if this is something you’re into the detail might have been perfect.  It was enough for me to imagine the beautiful old cars racing in Monte Carlo-I don’t care about the engines!  The story moved a lot faster to me when we were past the racing.  It was quite a contrast to read the life Williams and Eve were living with the glamour of working for Bugatti and then the harsh differences after the Nazis moved into Paris.

I actually found the afterword to be extremely interesting as well.  I really like knowing who based on a real person and what kind of detail was true.

Definitely recommended for historical fiction and spy novel fans!

4 Stars!

Thank you Netgalley and Open Road Media for this advanced copy to review.

Pssst – don’t forget to leave a comment here to enter our giveaway for a copy of City of the Sun!

Author Interview with Juliana Maio and Giveaway

City of the Sun, Juliana Maio

Read and interviewed by Amanda

Published by Greenleaf Book Group Press on March 11, 2014

380 Pages

From Goodreads…

18405477

Espionage, love, and power play upon the shifting sands of wartime Cairo

CAIRO, EGYPT 1941. As the Second World War rages, the city known as ”Paris on the Nile” plays host to an international set who seem more interested in polo matches and swanky nightclubs than the Germans’ unrelenting advance across North Africa. Meanwhile, as refugees, soldiers, and spies stream into the city, the Nazis conspire with the emerging Muslim Brotherhood to fuel the Egyptian people’s seething resentment against their British overlords.

Ambitious American journalist Mickey Connolly has come to Cairo to report on the true state of the war. Facing expulsion by the British for not playing by their rules, he accepts a deal from the U.S. embassy that allows him to remain in the country. His covert mission: to infiltrate the city’s thriving Jewish community and locate a refugee nuclear scientist who could be key to America’s new weapons program. But Mickey is not the only one looking for the elusive scientist. A Nazi spy is also desperate to find him–and the race is on. Into this mix an enigmatic young woman appears, a refugee herself. Her fate becomes intertwined with Mickey’s, giving rise to a story of passion, entangled commitments, and half-truths.

Deftly blending the romantic noir of the classic film Casablanca with a riveting, suspenseful narrative and vivid historical detail, City of the Sun offers a stunning portrayal of a time and place that was not only pivotal for the war, but also sowed much of the turbulence in today’s Middle East.

From Juliana’s website:

Juliana Maio was born in Egypt but expelled from the country with her family during the Suez Crisis. She was raised in France and completed her higher education in the United States, receiving her B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and her Juris Doctor degree from UC Hastings.

Juliana practices entertainment law in Los Angeles and has represented internationally renowned filmmakers as well as a host of independent production companies. Prior to that she served as vice president of worldwide corporate and business affairs for Triumph Films, a joint venture between Columbia Pictures and Gaumont Films.

Juliana co-founded Lighthouse Productions, an independent film and television company. She has spoken both domestically and abroad about the Arab Spring. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, film producer Michael Phillips. They have a daughter.

Amanda:  Your book was completely eye opening for me to read from a historical perspective. I’ve definitely read about the numbers of Jews that fled to Palestine during WWII, but I admit that I had not given thought to Egypt.  I did not know about the local population or really about their role during the war.  What drew you to write about this time period, rather than the events in your own life?  Have you been back to Egypt?

 Juliana:  “There was so much at stake during WWII that I thought it important to bring the story to that period. Not only was it a pivotal time for the war but also a determinative time with regard to relations between Westerners and Arabs. Also, with refugees, spies and thousands of soldiers converging into Cairo, I thought this would bring a rich canvas to the novel.

Yes, I have been back to Egypt a few times. Cairo is decaying unfortunately.”

It was amazing to me how many of your characters were real or based in real people; like the spy JOHANNES EPPLER or the belly dancer HEKMET FAHMY.  Who was your favorite person to put on the page-other than your own creations?  (I am really sad that Kirk’s secretary, Dorothy Calley, was not real!)

“Once you put yourself into a character and get under his/her skin, it’s impossible not to like the character. But I guess my favorite historical character is Anwar Sadat because he was truly genuine in his love for his country. By the same token, I really liked Bill Donovan for the same reason. I do admire patriotism.”

If you could describe City of the Sun in 3 words what would they be?  

 “Journey into another world – oops 4 words! But that’s what the novel did for me.”

What else would you like readers to know about you?   What do you like to read?

” This book is very close to my heart and I just hope that my readers enjoy it and learn from it.  I generally read non-fiction, but I hope to have more time to start reading more fiction.”

Are you working on another book?

“Not yet, but I’m starting to do research on a sequel to CITY OF THE SUN, which will take place in 1956!”

I found City of the Sun to be rich in historical detail and it opened my eyes to a subject I had never thought about.  What we learn about WWII and the Jews is so European focused, so I really liked reading a totally different perspective on the war.  I also have not read anything that addressed the different factions of the Jews during the war and how they felt about each other.   The appearances by Anwar Sadat and the Muslim Brotherhood also made me really think about how the stage was set so long ago for the Middle East and Egypt that we see today.

We are lucky enough to have TWO copies of City of the Sun to giveaway!

Comment to win!  So because Egypt is my favorite country that I have never had a chance to go to, I want to know-Where is your dream country to travel to?

Open to US residents only please and we’ll pick 2 random numbers to win on April 7.