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Review – Cinderella’s Dress – Shonna Slayton

cinderella's dressCinderella’s Dress
Author: Shonna Slayton
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ½

Review Copy Provided by Publisher

Description:
Being a teen-ager during World War II is tough. Finding out you’re the next keeper of the real Cinderella’s dress is even tougher.

Kate simply wants to create window displays at the department store where she’s working, trying to help out with the war effort. But when long-lost relatives from Poland arrive with a steamer trunk they claim holds the Cinderella’s dress, life gets complicated.

Now, with a father missing in action, her new sweetheart shipped off to boot camp, and her great aunt losing her wits, Kate has to unravel the mystery before it’s too late.

After all, the descendants of the wicked stepsisters will stop at nothing to get what they think they deserve.

Review:
Sooo, I actually read Cinderella’s Dress back in June prior to its release, started to write my review and then got distracted by some life stuff (here’s a hint, if you want time to read/review, don’t sign up for a triathlon that will take 15 hours to complete – just sayin’). But as I look back at all the books i’ve read this year, trying to figure out which review to post next, the cover of this one caught my eye, because honestly, its gorgeous and i’m a total cover whore. Yeah, i said it, i’ve been known to pick books up based solely on the cover – sometimes it has been successful, like with this book, other times I’ve been majorly burned. So gorgeous cover combined with a fairy tale retold and I was a happy camper.

I really enjoyed how the author managed to work the various elements from the original Cinderalla (specifically the dress and the wicked stepsisters) into a YA romance (although, while marked as YA, most adults would likely enjoy it also). But the author did a great job moving the setting to a WW2 time period – her descriptions made you feel like you were experiencing the war through Kate’s eyes. I really liked Kate as a character – she wasn’t willing to accept the status quo of what was expected for women who were working at the time (being store models and seamstresses), she wanted more and was willing to work for it and prove that she deserved the job she wanted/got.

The underlying Cinderella element was good and the mystery of the dress – and the idea of did Cinderella actually exist? (I mean, I loved the Drew Barrymore movie where it was based in historical context) and the way the author developed the story made it seem plausible/likely. There was a truth to the way the author wrote the book that I enjoyed (if that makes sense). Both the main and the secondary characters were well-developed – none of them seemed fake (for lack of a better word) – I could easily see (should a movie be made) how they could be portrayed.

Overall, I gave Cinderella’s Dress, 3.5 stars and would recommend for anyone interested in fairy tale re-tellings or YA historical fiction.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2014 in Book Review

 

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Review – Keeping Corner – Kashmira Sheth

keeping cornerKeeping Corner
Author: Kashmira Sheth
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Description:
“Pretty as a peacock, twelve-year-old Leela had been spoiled all her life. She doesn’t care for school and barely marks the growing unrest between the British colonists and her own countrymen. Why should she? Her future has been planned since her engagement at two and marriage at nine.
Leela’s whole life changes, though, when her husband dies. She’s now expected to behave like a proper widow: shaving her head and trading her jewel-toned saris for rough, earth-colored ones. Leela is considered unlucky now, and will have to stay confined to her house for a year—keep corner—in preparation for a life of mourning for a boy she barely knew.

When her schoolteacher hears of her fate, she offers Leela lessons at home. For the first time, despite her confinement, Leela opens her eyes to the changing world around her. India is suffering from a severe drought, and farmers are unable to pay taxes to the British. She learns about a new leader of the people, a man named Gandhi, who starts a political movement and practices satyagraha—non-violent protest against the colonists as well as the caste system. The quiet strength ofsatyagraha may liberate her country. Could she use the same path to liberate herself?

Review:
One of my favorite things to do at the library, if I have a bit of time, is to randomly pick a shelf and then browse the books on it for something that looks interesting. In this case, I was wandering through the YA section and looked at the Fiction, R-T authors (my library has YA divided up into general fiction, genre fiction and then series). Something about Keeping Corner caught my eye and I am so glad that I picked it up to read. It is probably one of the more intriguing books that I have read in the last year.

I’ll admit that my knowledge of India’s history is rather lacking – I know very little about it, because it never really intrigued me to study it. Of course, everyone knows who Ghandi was (or at least the vast majority of us do). Keeping Corner takes place as he was starting his long-journey of activism – he wasn’t too widely known in the more rural areas of India (where Leela and her family lived), but was in the cities (where Leela’s brother lived). But while Ghandi is mentioned frequently through-out, Keeping Corner is more the story of Leela.

A young girl and soon to be child-bride, Leela is living her life as expected – waiting for her marriage to occur, so she can move in with her new husband’s family. But that all changes drastically when her soon to be husband is bitten by a snake and dies. Now she is expected to mourn for a year, in a tradition known as “keeping corner” – isolated from the world she has grown up in, not allowed to express joy, limited in interactions. I don’t know if I would have had the strength to survive what Leela did for a year – it took mental acuity that I don’t know that I possess (or many people today may possess). She faced the loss with bravery, and while at times she acted like the young girl she was (only 12) – she also displayed at times, the maturity of someone far older.

The author wrote Leela’s story in a way that would be engaging to both Young-Adults and adults who were reading the book. It has made me want to explore and read more about India’s customs, when it comes to death, weddings, births etc. although I haven’t found any books yet that I can recommend. Overall, I gave Keeping Corner 4 stars and I can’t wait to find more books by the author.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2014 in Book Review

 

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Review – Spirit of Lost Angels – Liza Perrat

spirit of lost angelsSpirit of Lost Angels
Author: Liza Perrat

Review Copy Provided by the Author

Description:
Her mother executed for witchcraft, her father dead at the hand of a noble, Victoire Charpentier vows to rise above her poor peasant roots.

Forced to leave her village of Lucie-sur-Vionne for domestic work in Paris, Victoire suffers gruesome abuse under the ancien régime. Can she muster the bravery and skill to join the revolutionary force gripping France, and overthrow the corrupt, diabolical aristocracy?

Spirit of Lost Angels traces the journey of a bone angel talisman passed down through generations. The women of L’Auberge des Anges face tragedy and betrayal in a world where their gift can be their curse.

Review:
Growing up with a mom that is a French teacher, the French revolution is a period of history that has been of interest to me for quite a while – I even took a section on it in high school. So I had a working familiarity with the time period that Spirit of Lost Angels was set in. I think this helped me to connect with the characters on a different level than someone who might not know much about the period. I felt that Liza did a great job of portrayal the trials and tribulations of the period. I also learnt something new about the women who were involved in the revolution – since so much of the history is focused on the men (I mean, since we all know that they are great and powerful), and there isn’t ever much said about the women, with the exception of Marie Antonionette (and her infamous, let them eat cake). I also enjoyed how the author was able to draw in other historical characters (Thomas Jefferson and Mary Wollstonecraft) which I felt added some authenticity to the text.

But at the same time, there were a few places that I struggled with and I can’t pinpoint why…I was able to put it down and at one stage was in no rush to pick it back up. But when I did, I was immediately sucked back in…which is why I’m ambivalent over my rating of the book. I have to admit that I am intrigued about how other books in the series are going to play out with the idea of the lost angels – there was a brief excerpt in the back of the book for the next one and i’ll likely be checking it out. Overall, I would give Spirit of Lost Angels 3.5 stars, but rounding down to 3 on Goodreads (and up to 4 on Amazon).

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2013 in Book Review

 

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Review – An Echo Through the Snow – Andrea Thalasinos

an echo through the snowAn Echo Through the Snow
Author: Andrea Thalasinos
Publisher: Forge Books
Release Date: August 21, 2013

Description:
Rosalie MacKenzie is headed nowhere until she sees Smokey, a Siberian husky suffering from neglect. Rosalie finds the courage to rescue the dog, and—united by the bond of love that forms between them—they save each other. Soon Rosalie and Smokey are immersed in the world of competitive dogsled racing. Days are filled with training runs, the stark beauty of rural Wisconsin, and the whoosh of runners on snow. Rosalie discovers that behind the modern sport lies a tragic history: the heartbreaking story of the Chukchi people of Siberia. When Stalin’s Red Army displaced the Chukchi in 1929, many were killed and others lost their homes and their beloved Guardians—the huskies that were the soul and livelihood of their people.

Review:
Sometimes when I have a few minutes at the library, I love just browsing through the shelves and seeing the random books that look intriguing. The other day, I was doing just that on the new releases shelf when I came across An Echo Through the Snow. The first thing about it that caught my eye was the starkness of the cover, with just the picture of the dog and a woman. Then after reading the description, I decided to take a chance on it because I was sufficiently intrigued.

While this is primarily a story about rescuing of dogs, dog sled racing and the history of how the Siberian husky came to be in the US, it is also a story about finding your place in the world. How for so many people we bounce around from job to job, the day in drudgery making people unmotivated to succeed and just floundering…but when that place in the world is found, the all of the pieces click into place…and that was how Rosalie’s story played out. I loved seeing her blossom as a young woman and finding her place in the world. Originally, I thought that she was a bit older than she turned out to be (18, vice in her mid-20’s) – but I think that added to her innocence during parts of the book.

The use of the flashbacks to the early 20th century and a period of Russian history, I had heard of vaguely but didn’t know a lot about. It is interesting to see how different books are starting to encompass that period of history now that they are free to write about it. But at the same time, they were a bit disjointed – I didn’t realize for a while how exactly they were going to be linked – it wasn’t like they were person flashbacks in history/familial connections, but rather dream-time kind of stories, which I could see being linked into Rosalie’s Native American heritage.

I think that my biggest complaint was how quickly everything seemed to progress – ultimately, the entire story took place in just under a years time – but it felt like it was moving really quickly and that everything fell into place a bit too quickly…I would have loved to have seen it drawn out a little bit more, maybe even only a couple more months to a year. But for the most part, my complaints about the book are few and far between. I enjoyed reading it and learned a lot about the sport of dog sledding (and it kind of makes me want to read some more about it and maybe travel somewhere to see a race – yes, I am that insane…). Overall, I would give this a 3.5, but rounding up to 4 stars. I think that it is a book that would probably be enjoyed by women, but I think also older teenagers, might enjoy it.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in Book Review

 

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Review – Mrs Lincoln’s Dressmaker – Jennifer Chiaverini

mrs lincolnMrs Lincoln’s Dressmaker
Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Release Date: January 15, 2013

Review Copy Provided by Dutton Adult via Edelweiss

Description:
In Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, novelist Jennifer Chiaverini presents a stunning account of the friendship that blossomed between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley, a former slave who gained her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city’s elite. Keckley made history by sewing for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln within the White House, a trusted witness to many private moments between the President and his wife, two of the most compelling figures in American history.

In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose Keckley from among a number of applicants to be her personal “modiste,” responsible not only for creating the First Lady’s gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in the beautiful attire Keckley had fashioned. The relationship between the two women quickly evolved, as Keckley was drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, supporting Mary Todd Lincoln in the loss of first her son, and then her husband to the assassination that stunned the nation and the world.

Keckley saved scraps from the dozens of gowns she made for Mrs. Lincoln, eventually piecing together a tribute known as the Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt. She also saved memories, which she fashioned into a book, Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Upon its publication, Keckley’s memoir created a scandal that compelled Mary Todd Lincoln to sever all ties with her, but in the decades since, Keckley’s story has languished in the archives.

Review:
I have previously read/listened to Ms Chiaverini’s work (her Elm Creek Quilters series) and enjoyed it, so when I saw that she had written a new book that was primarily historical fiction, I jumped on the opportunity to read/review it. My favorite part of her other series is how she is able to seamlessly go back in time to describe a key element, so I was curious to see how she could pull off an entire HF book. There have been numerous books written about Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley, her modiste (although the title is dressmaker, that isn’t necessarily accurate). However, I haven’t read any of them, which I am kind of glad of, because it meant that going into reading this book that my mind was a clean slate.

I found the first part of the book the most interesting about how Elizabeth came to work for Mrs. Lincoln following the election. But not only that, the sense of realism that was portrayed in how Mrs. Lincoln was talked/gossiped about – I made me think about the similarities between her and celebrities today – nice to see that some things haven’t changed. I really enjoyed the book up until the point just after Lincoln was assassinated and what happened to Mrs. Lincoln and her family – but then it just felt like it started going down hill. There were parts that it seemed like the author had just gotten a hold of Elizabeth Keckley’s memoir (which I am planning on reading) and was just regurgitating some of the stuff mentioned in there. It felt much more memoir-ish, than historical fiction -which is a pity. The last 25% of the book or so just dragged – I wasn’t that interested in what was going on which was a disappointment because I had enjoyed the first part of it. The story behind the tell-all memoir was intriguing, and kind of reminds me of how pretty much every celebrity today has had a bio/memoir written about then and how newspapers like the National Enquire go to extreme lengths for these “tell-all” tales – so maybe some historical basis to how these items came to be?

I think that this stage, I probably would have gotten more out of reading the memoir, so I could see what was real and what the author had actually interpretated based on her research. The story behind the quilt was interesting (and I did like that in the authors note, she described how she had come up with the storyline for it that she had). While I enjoyed bits and pieces of the authors writing style, I think I am going to stick to her contemporary fiction with flashbacks – I found it much more enjoyable. I have requested a copy of Elizabeth Keckley’s memoir from the library and am curious to read it. Overall, I’d give Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker 3 stars, but it is on the lower side of the 3.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2013 in Book Review

 

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Audiobook Review – The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate – Jacqueline Kelly

calpurnia tateThe Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Author: Jacqueline Kelly

Narrator: Natalie Ross
Run Time: 9hrs and 1 minute
Publisher: Brilliance Audio

Description:
Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones.With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

Review:
I have to admit that I probably would have passed over this book, if it hadn’t show up on a random book list that I was browsing one day, and then that it was readily available via audiobook from the library – so I didn’t have to wait on it. I don’t know why it is, maybe because the name in the title just made me want to chuckle and not take it seriously. Either way, if I had, I would have missed out on a brilliant YA book – it was totally worth the listen and I can see why it was nominated for the Newbury Award, even if it didn’t win.

I was immediately sucked into Calpurnia Victoria Tate’s (or Cally V’s) story – she is kind of how I imagined I would be if I had grown up at the turn of the 20th century – not wanting to be what was expected of me (a housekeeper, enjoying sewing etc), but rather wanting to play outside, into science etc. I thought that the author did a job of portraying the world how it was then – the idea that as 1900 rolled around the world might end (does this sound familiar?), the introduction of coca-cola and even the invention of the automobile. Cally’s grandfather definitely made the book all the more enjoyable – in all seriousness, he was a comic relief when needed but could also be serious as well. I loved how he was so absorbed in his own world that he often forgot what was going on around him.

There wasn’t anything really earth-shattering about how the story concluded – in fact, it was a relatively logical progression through-out and you could see how it was unfolding. I did like how the use of evolution in the title could be applied in two different ways – the study of evolution as with the grasshoppers and use of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Spieces but also the evolution of Calpurnia as a woman and a person – how she changed over the course of the 7 months that the book covered.

I love Natalie Ross as a narrator of audiobooks, she is rapidly becoming a go-to person for me. But it was funny when I first started listening to the audiobook because I had just listened to another book narrated by her recently (less than 2 months ago) and I kept hearing the voice of Dani (from Iced) in my head, because they were both young female characters between the ages of 12 and 14. I hadn’t really noticed this previously and it didn’t really bother me, just intrigued me that I could hear similarities in voice patterns even though one was an urban fantasy and the other a historical fiction. I can’t say much more about the narration – I loved how Ms Ross was able to provide so many different inflections to bring the characters to life – especially with the minutia of sounds that are part of life, but don’t necessarily show up in dialogue – like hiccups (there is a relatively memorable scene featuring these), burps etc. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it as much if I read it, but listening added a whole new dimension. It would be a great audiobook to listen to with kids on a car trip because it would suck them in (hopefully).

Anyone who loves historical fiction and YA should read or listen to this book. I give it 4.5 stars.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2013 in Audiobook Review

 

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Audiobook Review – Maisie Dobbs – Jacqueline Winspear

maisie dobbsMaisie Dobbs
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Series: #1 in the Maisie Dobbs series

Narrator: Rita Barrington
Run Time: 10 hrs
Producer: AudioGO

Description:
Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence–and the patronage of her benevolent employers–she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

Review:
I had heard about this series through several of my online reading buddies who loved it – so when it was selected as a group read, I figured that it must have been a sign (since I didn’t really have any interest in either of the other books selected). I was looking forward to a lite mystery after reading a lot of dark, completely jacked up Nordic Noir mysteries and this was a great palate cleanser.

I loved the character of Maisie – she just seemed so unique in the current fiction world as it stands right now. And the time period is one of interest to me since there aren’t a lot of books written in the time period between WW1 and WW2 (that I have found). The mystery wasn’t so much of a mystery as a plot leading to a realization – or at least, that is how i saw it – while I didn’t know all the details that were revealed at the end, I had a 95% idea of what the result was going to be. But I honestly didn’t mind – for me, the best part of the book was seeing how Maisie Dobbs became Maisie Dobbs. The biggest surprise for me in the story was what happened to the love of her life during the war (but don’t worry, I try to keep my reviews spoiler free – so as not to ruin the book). It wasn’t what I was expecting and totally made me tear up.

However, one of my complaints was that while I liked that flashbacks were used – they were a bit chunky – I think the first flashback actually lasted a significant portion of the book – so when it jumped back to the present day I was a bit surprised/confused. I think it either would have been better to have broken the flash-backs up into some smaller portions – almost like an appetizer, rather than a whole entree – or write the first part of the book as her history up until when the mystery began. I think the former probably would have worked the best.

Unfortunately, my experience with the audiobook didn’t live up to the book itself and if I had had time, I might have stopped listening and read instead. I know that I nearly considered doing that with the rest of the series – because someone told me that the other books are narrated by someone else. I just did not enjoy the narrators voice. While I found that her female voices were passable – her male ones were like torture – I think I would have preferred a recitation rather than hearing her try to do male voices. It just didn’t work for me – which is unfortunately, because I think if done properly, this could have been a great audiobook (and the second one – review to follow in the future), was much improved. This is the first time that I have listened to anything by this narrator and it likely will be the last. I don’t think that I can fairly judge her on any other narrations after my feelings towards this one.

Overall, I’d give the book a solid 4 stars, but the narration only 1.5 – however, I do think that the book overall balanced out the mess of the narration – so 3.5 overall.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2012 in Audiobook Review

 

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