Review: The Girl from Everywhere

The Girl From Everywhere, Heidi Heilig

Hardcover, 464 pages

Expected publication: February 16th 2016 by Greenwillow Books

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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It was the kind of August day that hinted at monsoons, and the year was 1774, though not for very much longer.

Sixteen-year-old Nix Song is a time-traveller. She, her father and their crew of time refugees travel the world aboard The Temptation, a glorious pirate ship stuffed with treasures both typical and mythical. Old maps allow Nix and her father to navigate not just to distant lands, but distant times – although a map will only take you somewhere once. And Nix’s father is only interested in one time, and one place: Honolulu 1868. A time before Nix was born, and her mother was alive. Something that puts Nix’s existence rather dangerously in question…

Nix has grown used to her father’s obsession, but only because she’s convinced it can’t work. But then a map falls into her father’s lap that changes everything. And when Nix refuses to help, her father threatens to maroon Kashmir, her only friend (and perhaps, only love) in a time where Nix will never be able to find him. And if Nix has learned one thing, it’s that losing the person you love is a torment that no one can withstand. Nix must work out what she wants, who she is, and where she really belongs before time runs out on her forever.

Time travelling pirates?!  Could a book sound any cooler than this?  Nix sails on her father’s ship, The Temptation, and as long as he has a map the captain can sail to any place – and any time.  The past?  Then to the future? Mythical ports?  All doable!  Oh and partly set in Hawaii?  Give me more!  

Nix helps her father find the maps required for their time traveling sails, but the one map he desperately wants might wipe Nix off page entirely.  Nix and Captain Slate don’t sail the Temptation alone – they have a unique and hilarious crew to help – including ghosts and tiny dragons.  So poor Nix loves her father, but to help him find happiness she risks her own life.  And as much as the story is about Nix and her father, there’s so much more; love, addiction, treason and adventure on the high seas!  

I loved Nix, I loved Kashmir and I loved the mythology that Heilig wove into their journeys.  I knew I was head over heels for this book when the Chinese Terracotta warriors came up…

…‹http://www.chinatour.com/xian/xian-attractions/terracotta-warriors.htm

…‹http://www.chinatour.com/xian/xian-attractions/terracotta-warriors.htm

If you’re looking for an adventure I highly recommend this fast and fun read.  I am dying to get my hands on a finished copy of The Girl from Everywhere so I can see the maps!  This was such an awesome concept and I cannot wait to see where the series goes.  

5 stars!

Thank you Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Review (and Giveaway!): Dirty Chick

The very first post I wrote for this blog was a review of a historical fiction set in colonial New Zealand, which I read because a) it was $1.99 and b) it was set in NZ. I recently read Dirty Chick: Adventures of an Unlikely Farmer, a memoir about an American ex-pat living in a small farming community in New Zealand because a) the publisher offered me a review copy and b) it is set in NZ. The publisher also offered to give a copy of Dirty Chick to a reader, so leave a comment at the end of this post to win!

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I know, I sound a bit like a crazy person, but NZ is essentially my personal Shangri-La. I spent a summer there on an internship in college, followed by a few weeks of traveling around with my BFF/sister/co-blogger Amanda, and we had the best time ever. Besides, if anyone is going to judge me for being a crazy person, I’m pretty sure that it won’t be Antonia Murphy, author of Dirty Chick, because she sounds a bit like a crazy person as well.

Dirty Chick is Murphy’s personal account of the first year she and her family spent living on a farm on New Zealand’s North Island. She lists and details her and her husband’s reasons for going to, and staying, in NZ as:

  1. The ocean
  2. George W. Bush (“This was 2003 and 2004, the height of the Bush years, and Peter and I were unnerved by the wartime zeal in our country. Most of our fellow liberals were threatening to emigrated to Canada or New Zealand, but as it turns out, we were the crazy ones who did.”)
  3. Hobbits; and
  4. DNA (in the form of their developmentally delayed son)

There are surely many people who may be annoyed by this book. For instance, if you are annoyed by any of the following, maybe don’t read this:

  1. Educated, middle-class liberals on soul-searching journeys
  2. The discussion of home fermentation and cheese making
  3. Gross stories about farm animals, sometimes in the house.

I, however, can deal with all of the above, and I definitely found this an enjoyable read. In addition to the stories about racist zombie alpacas, seedy goat impregnation, and addiction to baby lambs, this is also Murphy’s story about parenting, and the trials of raising a disabled son. In those sections, you see the true struggles of life on the farm. As Murphy says on the subject, “compared to that, an angry rooster was a breeze.” Murphy brews a lot of fruit wine, and inexplicably wears animal ear headbands all the time, but she also proves that she will (literally, in fact) go to the ends of the earth to give her son a fighting chance at a healthy existence.

If you want a fun, quirky look into a life that is unlike your own (unless YOU are also living on a small farm in NZ raising two kids and a score of animals, drinking quince wine and aging cheese in your garage), check out Dirty Chick.

And, the giveaway! To enter, simply leave a comment below! What’s your personal Shangri-La? We’ll randomly select the winner on 1/29!

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher for review consideration. Quotes taken from an advance uncorrected proof.

Updated with the giveaway winner on 2/1: Congrats Kristi! Your book will be in the mail shortly!

Top Ten Places Books Have Made Us Want To Visit

Today we’re hooking up with the Broke and the Bookish for their Top Ten Tuesday.  Today’s list is the 10 places books have made you want to visit-real or fictional.

cafc6-toptentuesdayAmanda

I want to know how many of these lists won’t include Hogwarts? Or Narnia?

  1. Italy thanks to Beach Music by Pat Conroy -I actually studied in Rome basically because of reading this book
  2. The Book World! The Well of Lost Plots Specifically.  I want to meet Thursday Next!
  3. Diagon Alley. Of course.
  4. Giverney, Linnea in Monet’s Garden. Childhood dream accomplished!
  5. Prague, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor

Holly

I am not sure I did this assignment correctly, but here are places I would very much like to visit.

  1. Hogwarts. Duh.
  2. Narnia. Minus the Turkish Delight, thankyouverymuch.
  3. Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I would try very hard to be on my best behavior and not fall into a chocolate river.
  4. Anywhere the Miles visits in the Phantom Tollbooth, except the Doldrums.
  5. Lumatere, to hang out with Finnikin and co.

Where would you like to visit?

Review: Barracuda

Barracuda, Christos Tsiolkas

Amanda

Published September 9th 2014 by Crown Publishing

Hardcover, 448 pages

Source: NetGalley

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Fourteen-year-old Daniel Kelly is special. Despite his upbringing in working-class Melbourne, he knows that his astonishing ability in the swimming pool has the potential to transform his life, silence the rich boys at the private school to which he has won a sports scholarship, and take him far beyond his neighborhood, possibly to international stardom and an Olympic medal. Everything Danny has ever done, every sacrifice his family has ever made, has been in pursuit of this dream. But what happens when the talent that makes you special fails you? When the goal that you’ve been pursuing for as long as you can remember ends in humiliation and loss?

Twenty years later, Dan is in Scotland, terrified to tell his partner about his past, afraid that revealing what he has done will make him unlovable. When he is called upon to return home to his family, the moment of violence in the wake of his defeat that changed his life forever comes back to him in terrifying detail, and he struggles to believe that he’ll be able to make amends. Haunted by shame, Dan relives the intervening years he spent in prison, where the optimism of his childhood was completely foreign.

Tender, savage, and blazingly brilliant, Barracuda is a novel about dreams and disillusionment, friendship and family, class, identity, and the cost of success. As Daniel loses everything, he learns what it means to be a good person—and what it takes to become one.

I’ll be honest and say I had a moment or two where I almost put Barracuda down, however, in the end I’m really glad that I chose not to.  Once I started to get into this book I nearly couldn’t step away, despite the fact that it was an uncomfortable read at times.  The language is harsh, the sexual descriptions graphic and the writing powerful.  My heart ached for Danny and his family, and for his coach.

Barracuda takes us back and forth in time, beginning with Dan as an adult and then flashing back to Danny in the pool and as a young man.  I liked the changes in time, though honestly I could have done without the scenes from his time in prison.  I felt like Tsiolkas made the points of what Dan got out of his time in prison clear without my having to read those scenes.

Danny thinks-no he knows that he’s the best in the world.  His vision of the future is all about the swimming and where it will take him in life.  When he fails as a swimmer he becomes completely unmoored and adult Dan continues to suffer as a result.  I kind of wanted to reach into the book and shake him at times to say: Find a focus! Find a life outside the pool!  Whether he’s Dan or Danny, he’s an angry young man and I think that was part of my struggle reading this book.  Danny hates the rich students at the school giving him a scholarship, he hates the “golden boys” that swim against him, much as he loves his family and friends he seems to hate them at times too.  The anger becomes focused in Danny’s violence later and in the sex scenes felt really brutal to me.

Danny was driven and focused and I was captivated by the scenes with him in the water.  Even when he is not winning the writing was beautiful:

The water would not love him as it had during the race; tomorrow it would once more be a force to battle, to master, to defeat.

I feel like it was the water that pulled me through Barracuda.  The descriptions of his swimming were wonderful.  I was carried along hoping for Dan’s redemption and for him to find peace from his shame.   I walked away with a lighter heart than I expected at the conclusion for which I’m thankful.

Also, I know we have such an idealistic Australia that we picture as Americans but it was really good to read about a “real” Australia.  It was important to read about class struggles, immigration and race and more than going to the beach and drinking beer in hostels.  So for those reasons too this was an eye opening book for me.  This was a hard read, but I am glad I saw it through as I am definitely still thinking about it.

4 stars!

All quotes were taken from an uncorrected galley proof subject to change in the final edition

Thank you NetGalley and Crown Publishing for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Assassination Vacation

assassination vacation

Title: Assassination Vacation

Author: Sarah Vowell

Reviewed by Holly

Assassination Vacation – or Sarah Vowell’s books in general – were recommended by a friend when I was talking about my growing preference for nonfiction books, particularly nonfiction that tells a good story. I googled, and realized the Sarah Vowell has been a regular contributor to This American Life. This boded well, as did the description of Assassination Vacation on Goodreads:

“Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. With Assassination Vacation, she takes us on a road trip like no other — a journey to the pit stops of American political murder and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage.

From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to the Dry Tortugas, Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by the spilling of politically important blood, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism. We learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln (present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and witness the politicking that went into the making of the Lincoln Memorial. The resulting narrative is much more than an entertaining and informative travelogue — it is the disturbing and fascinating story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including literature, architecture, sculpture, and — the author’s favorite — historical tourism. Though the themes of loss and violence are explored and we make detours to see how the Republican Party became the Republican Party, there are all kinds of lighter diversions along the way into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult.”

Excellent, I thought – historical tourism with a quirky, Ira Glass-approved narrator. I was in.

When I started reading though, I didn’t take me long to realize that I was not enjoying this book. And, I had just read this post about the dilemma of reading something that you’re not digging – finish, or not? For the most part, I’m in Camp Finish. I wanted to give the book a fair shake, and I was holding out hope that it would get a little bit better.

The book is divided into 3 sections – Vowell visits sites related to the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. I was well into the Lincoln section, waiting for a chapter-break so I could put the book down for a while, when I realized that each section was a chapter, and the Lincoln “chapter” went from page 18 to 121. In and of itself, I suppose there is nothing wrong with exceedingly long chapters, but I think the reason for not breaking up the presidential sections into chunks, is that there really was no theme or ribbon or story arc to connect one incident to the next. And I don’t mean connect the Lincoln incident to Garfield, etc, but rather, to connect Vowell’s trips together. She starts Lincoln’s story while she sits in the audience of a play in Ford’s Theater, then walks over to the Library of Congress. Then next we get a history of the Surratt boardinghouse and the conspirators, followed by 3 paragraphs on the William Seward House, complete with remarks from the museum director. And suddenly next we are going to the Lincoln’s Birthday wreath ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial.

All this, and we’re about 11 pages into Lincoln’s section. Vowell jumps from one place to another and  from history to present day, and I just could not ever figure out where she was going and why. She doesn’t tell her pilgrimages in linear order, or in chronological order of the events, and she brings different friends and family members along on her trips who weave in and out of her narratives.

After reading the book, I have no idea if all of the escapades took place over 6 months or 4 years, and I would say that matters because I never really got a sense for why she was visiting all the sites she could related to the assassinations. She did hint at some interesting thoughts and perspectives, as well as throwing in some commentary on the then-presidential administration (W), but I was too distracted trying to keep up with what place she was visiting now, to really get a sense for her motivation – I mean, besides to write a book with a catchy title.

I did enjoy the Garfield (60 pages) and McKinley (50 pages) sections more than the Lincoln one, probably because I did not know very much about those presidents or those assassinations. Also, perhaps because there aren’t quite as many places to visit, Vowell had to slow down and give a bit more detail about each place she was visiting, which made these chapters much less jarring.

Parting Words – there were a few places where this book had great potential to be what I wanted it to be, instead of being a hotmess of just barely related visits to off-the-beaten-path historical sites. This is one of those places:

“And while I gave up God a long time ago, I never shook the habit of wanting to believe in something bigger and better than myself. So I replaced my creed of everlasting life with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. ‘I believe in America,’ chants the first verse of one of my sacred texts, The Godfather. Not that I’m blind to the Psych 101 implications of trading in the martyred Jesus Christ (crucified on Good Friday) for the martyred Abraham Lincoln (shot on Good Friday).”

TWO Stars

 

 

 

Site Reading

Sight reading is something about reading music (for which I have no inclination). Site reading is the term I just made up for wanting to read about a particular place after visiting it. And, a forewarning, it’s about to get super nerdy in here (I should probably preface everything I ever say with that statement).

Midnight RisingI just finished a book that I really enjoyed, but it’s not necessarily one I would go around demanding that everyone read. So instead of reviewing it, I wanted to talk about how I came to read Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz.

Let’s start here: I never really gave very much thought to reading non-fiction books for fun until embarrassingly recently. I don’t mean Jen Lancaster-style nonfiction, I mean reading books on history or science or or culture. In my head, there was a divide between “school” books and “fun” books. This, despite the fact that I generally thought school was fun (right up to the point where I decided grad school was no longer fun and left). Anyway, somewhere post-student-life I realized that I could read books about whatever I damn well pleased, and sometimes that means reading about teenagers in dystopian futures and sometimes that means reading about John Brown.

If you’re still with me, I’ll try to connect that leap. Now that I’m the sort of person that likes to read about just about anything that interests me, I will look for books when I’m intrigued by a particular story. John Brown, the radical abolitionist, was not that story, or at least not the whole story.

My partner-in-crime/fiancé  and I lived in a small town in Kansas for a few years, and while we were there, we made it a point to visit just about anything significant within driving distance (we still do the same now, but our to-see list is longer in Virginia). One of those sites, naturally, was the John Brown museum in Osawatomie, Kansas. To me, the most interesting story told at the state historic site was that of Florella Adair, John Brown’s half-sister, who lived in Kansas with her husband. I’m still kind of obsessed with Florella, and unsatisfied with what I know about her. She was one of the first female graduates of Oberlin College, and she put up her half-brother and his band of men while they were running around (read: killing people) in Kansas, over her husband’s disapproval. Interesting, right?

Anyway, after visiting the John Brown museum, I googled for books and didn’t find anything that jumped out at me, so I mentally filed that one away for another day. Then, just recently, we took a trip to Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia, the site of THE John Brown ill-fated raid. Thus, my interest in John Brown – and Florella – was reignited, and I googled again. I added this book to my To-Read list, especially after I realized the author, Tony Horwitz, also wrote Confederates in the Attic (which is pretty awesome).

I think that brings us to the present, where I finally checked this book out of the library and read it. And, I really liked it – it was slow going to get through the beginning, as there were tons of family members to introduce between John Brown’s brothers and sisters, and his own children. Tons. After all that, once we got to the raid, the pace quickened, and the scope broadened. John Brown was neither a sympathetic character nor a fringe lunatic, and the story was well-rounded. Of course, my first question in any historical event is always “what were the women doing?” In this case, the answer was “not much.” It’s a pretty dude-centric story, and therefore a dude-centric book, with unfortunately just a few brief mentions of my buddy Florella. However, Brown’s daughter Annie figures into the story, and in his acknowledgements, Horwitz calls Annie his “favorite figure in the Harper’s Ferry drama.” (That’s “favorite figure,” not “favorite female figure.” Important distinction.)

Midnight Rising is not light-reading, but it’s not overly dense either. Generally, if anyone (Dear J, don’t read this sentence) starts talking to me in military terms about who’s flanking who, I start thinking about what’s for dinner, but the descriptions of the raid are manageable. It helps that I visited the scene just months ago, and could *almost* follow along, though spatial and directional things are not really my forte.

If you’re into this sort of thing – small history lessons, reading about people and places, nonfiction – then I definitely recommend this book. Any other site-readers out there have book recommendations?

(Tangent: this weekend, I picked up a copy of March for 50 cents at a thrift store, because I saw that is was by the author of Year of Wonders – an Amanda-demand that I really enjoyed. It wasn’t until I got it home that I realized that the author, Geraldine Brooks, is married to Tony Horwitz. Weird, huh?)