Michelle Moran: Cleopatra’s Daughter

At the dawn of the Roman Empire, when tyranny ruled, a daughter of Egypt and a son of Rome found each other…

Selene’s legendary parents are gone. Her country taken, she has been brought to the city of Rome in chains, with only her twin brother, Alexander, to remind her of home and all she once had.

Living under the watchful eyes of the ruling family, Selene and her brother must quickly learn how to be Roman – and how to be useful to Caesar. She puts her artistry to work, in the hope of staying alive and being allowed to return to Egypt. Before long, however, she is distracted by the young and handsome heir to the empire…

When the elusive ‘Red Eagle’ starts calling for the end of slavery, Selene and Alexander are in grave danger. Will this mysterious figure bring their liberation, or their demise?

I’ve previously read and enjoyed two of Michelle Moran’s historical fictions, and after the last one I added most of her collection to my Goodreads. Her stories are so rich and detailed that I feel I’ve been transported right into the ancients. Granted, they aren’t perfect–and they are very fictional–but extremely fun to read. And you get a fantastic look at the world from a woman’s view at the famous people we hear about in history, which were typically men.

Cleopatra’s Daughter shows us what Rome looked like during Octavian’s rule from Kleopatra Selene’s perspective. She is terrified when forced to leave Alexandria after her mother and father commit suicide, and her world is thus turned upside down. Through her eyes we see war and gladiator battles and slave riots and court judgment–everything Rome is famous for, but from an outsider looking on horrified.

There are a couple things to look out for. There are a few mentions of rape, especially when it comes to the female slaves. And speaking of slavery, there is a multitude of it. The attitudes are mixed–some are for, some are against. There’s a revolt happening and a rebel is trying to stage an uprising in the Senate to free them–there are some interesting conversations happening, but I’m not sure as much care was spent on those sensitive conversations as could have been. The biggest problem I noticed was that blue eyes/blonde hair was the MOST BEAUTIFUL AND COVETED ALWAYS–even though the Romans had conquered Gaul and taken them as slaves. The Romans still had a preference for those blue eyes and that blonde hair–it was mentioned at least every other chapter.

It isn’t the most problematic book I’ve ever read–just some things to be aware of while you’re reading. Keep your eyes open. Selene is not a woman I could ever say I want to be. But it was certainly fascinating being in her shoes for a few hundred pages.

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Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility

‘The more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!’

Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

This edition includes explanatory notes, textual variants between the first and second editions, and Tony Tanner’s introduction to the original Penguin Classic edition.

It’s no surprise that Pride and Prejudice is an all-time favorite of mine. So many of us fell in love with Mr. Darcy at a young age, and we just never really let go of that crush. But I’ve had a hard time getting into some of Austen’s other books. Emma I like, but everything will always fall short of P&P.

Sense and Sensibility probably would have been better titled as Nonsense and Secrets Destroy Your Life.

I.

Was.

So.

CONFUSED.

Everyone is love with the wrong person in this book, which seemed that it would have been solved simply if they would stop keeping secrets from everybody else. Oh, this person is engaged already to this person, and this person is engaged already to this person, but not really because no one knows it and they aren’t ACTUALLY engaged, he just has a lock of her hair.

WHAT THE WHAT.

The only honest person in the whole freaking book is Colonel Brandon–who I might be even more in love with now than Mr. Darcy. If we all had a Colonel Brandon in our lives, we’d all be SO much better off.

Instead we all have Willoughbys and Wickhams.

By the end of this, I was skimming, so I took to Hulu to watch the 2008 version–and it made much more sense in movie format. Still, the only real result is that I fell even more in love with Colonel Brandon, and everyone else seemed much more the mess. Of course, in true Jane Austen fashion, it all turns right in the end, but goodness she does like to torture her lovers, doesn’t she?

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Anne Bishop: Etched in Bone

New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop returns to her world of the Others, as humans struggle to survive in the shadow of shapeshifters and vampires far more powerful than themselves…

After a human uprising was brutally put down by the Elders—a primitive and lethal form of the Others—the few cities left under human control are far-flung. And the people within them now know to fear the no-man’s-land beyond their borders—and the darkness…

As some communities struggle to rebuild, Lakeside Courtyard has emerged relatively unscathed, though Simon Wolfgard, its wolf shifter leader, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn must work with the human pack to maintain the fragile peace. But all their efforts are threatened when Lieutenant Montgomery’s shady brother arrives, looking for a free ride and easy pickings.

With the humans on guard against one of their own, tensions rise, drawing the attention of the Elders, who are curious about the effect such an insignificant predator can have on a pack. But Meg knows the dangers, for she has seen in the cards how it will all end—with her standing beside a grave.

I’ve been waiting a year for the fifth and final book in The Others series to come out. And I’ve had the ARC in my collection for months–I had to have been one of the first to be approved for it. My willpower is SO STRONG, guys. Sometimes I don’t know how I manage to wait until the release month to read these. Probably because I just have way too many books in line.

Anyway, the anticipation was strong with this one. I’ve loved the first four, and the last one teased some mega romance. My body was ready.

But maybe my brain wasn’t? Or maybe it’s because I’m halfway through marathoning ASOIAF for trivia next week. THIS FELT LIKE SUCH A CHORE. I couldn’t make it halfway.

Something about Etched in Bone just didn’t measure up to the rest of the series. Slow doesn’t begin to describe it. It also barely focuses on Meg and Simon at all, which is what I was really looking forward to in this last edition.

One thing I noticed, in the slowness, is that Bishop is continually reintroducing characters to us, even though this is the fifth book. Really, if you’ve made it this far, you should know her world by now–how packs operate, why Meg is special, etc. A little bit of that is fine, but it shouldn’t still be happening more than 25% into the book. it makes the story/series seem very choppy and ruins the flow of it.

The plot also focuses around domestic abuse, and there is a LOT of victim blaming. For a series that unpacks mental illness and addiction, I was pretty grossed out by how this topic was being handled. Maybe it resolves itself later–but it wasn’t looking good.

I hated to DNF this, but I hated to finish it more. When a book becomes a chore, it just is not worth it, no matter how much I loved the rest of the series. I’m so disappointed.

NetGalley and Roc provided this ARC for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Margot Lee Shetterly: Hidden Figures (Young Readers’ Ed)

Now in a special new edition perfect for young readers, this is the amazing true story of four African-American female mathematicians at NASA who helped achieve some of the greatest moments in our space program. Soon to be a major motion picture.
Before John Glenn orbited the earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. This book brings to life the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, four African-American women who lived through the Civil Rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality, and whose work forever changed the face of NASA and the country.

If you haven’t heard of Hidden Figures by now, you must be an naive astronaut yourself…ala Catcher Block (please tell me I’m not the only one who has watched that movie 700 times).

 

I still haven’t seen the Hidden Figures movie, but thank goodness it did not take a lifetime for the book to come available at the library. Although the edition I received was the Young Readers’ Edition…and I’m not sure how much of a difference (if there is one) between this and the regular version? I can tell you this only took me two hours to read, so do with it what you will. If there is an adult version out there, let me know what you thought of it!

I will never be over the amount of erasure that went into our school history books. Learning that might have been the biggest shock to my white privilege–I take education so seriously, and having huge chunks of information left out is unfathomable. I will slowly uncover some of what I have missed, but those who don’t care to extend their education will never know anything outside of those empty textbooks.

That is why it is so crucial for stories like Hidden Figures to be told. We learned about the space race, but all of the faces in that story were white. We never learned about the women at Langley, much less about the black computers crunching the numbers. Margot Lee Shetterly details each woman’s journey through Langley’s West Side Computing Office and into NASA.

Now, because I had the YRE, these stories were simplified. I am unsure what or if anything was left out or minimized. Nothing was extremely vivid–I have a feeling a lot of the edges were sanded down. On one hand, it was nice to have a lot of the science explained at a lower level, since I am the furthest thing from a mathematician. But I am quite interested in a more detailed depiction of these women’s lives. Also, we hardly got any information on Christine. The introduction sounds like there were four women involved, but the book is mostly about Dorothy, Mary, and Katherine. I would have liked a little bit more in her section.

I’m looking even more forward to seeing the movie now. And maybe I’ll see if the library has the full version. Maybe I just requested the wrong book–it has been known to happen! If you liked the movie, I highly recommend reading more about these women! And question your history books. What else are we missing from those pages?

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Zadie Smith: Swing Time

Two brown girls dream of being dancers–but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, about what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.

Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them. Moving from northwest London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.

I feel a bit like I’ve missed some critical piece of this book somewhere. I got to the end and even though I felt as if this was agonizing at times…I’m thinking, “That’s it? What was the point? Did I miss it?”

Swing Time is written as a series of flash forwards and flash backs, so the timeline jumps all over the place–from London to West Africa–telling the story of two biracial girls from childhood to their tumultuous adulthood. Yes, you did read that right, TWO BIRACIAL MAIN CHARACTERS, each with their own unique perspective and personality. There’s also a gay man and bisexual woman. It had so much diversity and promise. And Zadie Smith does do a marvelous job of showing the huge variety of privilege that there is in the world:  white privilege and the privilege of the wealthy and first world privilege. Our main character is so incredibly naive, even with her activist mother.

The backbones of the book were there. I found myself nodding along with a lot of it, marking down quotes, googling things that I needed to reference or read later. But unfortunately, the actual plotline didn’t hold up to Smith’s incredible prose, and that is the disappointment. I still don’t understand the connection between Tracey’s story and Aimee’s, or what actually happened with Aimee at the end. It’s almost as if this book is SO DEEP, that the plotline just dissolved into the message–such a weird feeling.

If you were looking forward to reading Swing Time, I’d say still read it. The message alone is worth it. And maybe you’ll pull more out of the plot than I did–if you understand the ending, please tell me, because I’m utterly confused. Any Zadie Smith fans out there that can help me out?

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Han Kang–Human Acts

From the internationally bestselling author of The Vegetarian, a rare and astonishing (The Observer) portrait of political unrest and the universal struggle for justice.

In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.

The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho’s own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.

An award-winning, controversial bestseller, Human Acts is a timeless, pointillist portrait of an historic event with reverberations still being felt today, by turns tracing the harsh reality of oppression and the resounding, extraordinary poetry of humanity.

This book.

Deep Exhale.

This book is a ghost story. To read this book is to experience the mass casualty that overcomes a city in war. We see both sides–from the living and bereaved–trying to find closure in a city building overcome with overflowing death. We see, too, through the blind eyes of a trapped soul, panicking under the press of rot and gore, unable to release himself from the body that no longer lives.

And that is only the beginning.

This book is a ghost story–and there are so many ghosts. There are only 218 pages, but I could not read this for more than a few minutes at a time without putting my bookmark in and just breathing. I could not cry because I felt like every emotion I had was sucked right out of me.

I’m not sure how to describe this book–beautiful? amazing? great? All of those words could fit but mostly it just tore me to shreds. This short book is exhausting to read and in literature that is the exact opposite of a negative review. Just be prepared when you go into this. Han Kang does not need to waste 500 pages on dramatic world-building, she can do it in a whisper. You will be haunted by Human Acts. This book is a ghost story.

This book was provided by Blogging for Books and Hogarth for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

Read the World:  South Korea

DiversityBingo2017:  NonWestern Real World Setting

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Jacqueline Woodson: Feathers

“Hope is the thing with feathers,” starts the poem Frannie is reading in school. Frannie hasn’t thought much about hope. There are so many other things to think about. Each day, her friend Samantha seems a bit more holy.”There is a new boy in class everyone is calling the Jesus Boy. And although the new boy looks like a white kid, he says he’is not white. Who is he?

During a winter full of surprises, good and bad, Frannie starts seeing a lot of things in a new light:—her brother Sean’s deafness, her mother’s fear, the class bully’s anger, her best friend’s faith and her own desire for the thing with feathers.”

Jacqueline Woodson once again takes readers on a journey into a young girl’s heart and reveals the pain and the joy of learning to look beneath the surface.

Oh Jacqueline Woodson, you strike again. When I read Brown Girl DreamingI added this one to my TBR right away. I fell in love with her poetry and wanted to read more of her incredible writing.

I was not disappointed. Feathers is prose instead of poetry, but it is just as gorgeous. Written for middle-grade, her story combines so many different facets into a book under 150 pages. We see a young girl learning about life alongside a mother with depression and a brother who is deaf, and that gives her a unique outlook when a new boy comes to school needing a bit of compassion.

This is for sure going on my list of books to recommend when my parent friends reach out to me for their kids. If you have a child in middle school, definitely add this to your shelves.

DiversityBingo2017: D/dEAF/HARD OF HEARING MC

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Jennifer Ryan: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

“Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!”

As England enters World War II’s dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar’s stuffy edict to shutter the church’s choir in the absence of men and instead ‘carry on singing’. Resurrecting themselves as “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir“, the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives.

Told through letters and journals, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir moves seamlessly from budding romances to village intrigues to heartbreaking matters of life and death. As we come to know the struggles of the charismatic members of this unforgettable outfit — a timid widow worried over her son at the front; the town beauty drawn to a rakish artist; her younger sister nursing an impossible crush and dabbling in politics she doesn’t understand; a young Jewish refugee hiding secrets about her family, and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past — we come to see how the strength each finds in the choir’s collective voice reverberates in her individual life.

In turns funny, charming and heart-wrenching, this lovingly executed ensemble novel will charm and inspire, illuminating the true spirit of the women on the home front, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict.

After all the super intense books I’ve been reading lately, I was in some pretty desperate need for something light and fluffy. And while war is never exactly fluffy…stories about it can be kept light and romantic. That’s how The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is–some big action written into a lovely easy read that would be welcome alongside a cozy fire or on a sandy beach.

There are some interesting characters in this book, for sure–and as with most WWII novels, some pretty strong women. There’s a few men around, but mostly the ladies run the show and all are incredibly unique. That said, there isn’t much actual diversity in this book, which is disappointing. The only attempt at a diverse character is one homosexual soldier, whose only real role is to further the moral curiosity of one of the leads. I liked that soldier…but he wasn’t in the book enough to really count as more than a diverse prop–not what we are going for, authors.

That’s really the only criticism I can give, and while that is a big one, I did enjoy reading the book. It was a nice, pleasant read. I’m not bouncing off the walls wanting to hand this to everyone, but it was a good way to spend two days. I feel refreshed and ready for something that requires more digging.

NetGalley and Crown Publishing provided an ARC for my unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Amanda Eyre Ward: The Nearness of You

In this profound and lyrical novel, acclaimed author Amanda Eyre Ward explores the deeper meanings of motherhood—from the first blissful hello to the heart-wrenching prospect of saying goodbye.

Brilliant heart surgeon Suzette Kendall is stunned when Hyland, her husband of fifteen years, admits his yearning for a child. From the beginning they’d decided that having children was not an option, as Suzette feared passing along the genes that landed her mother in a mental institution. But Hyland proposes a different idea: a baby via surrogate.

Suzette agrees, and what follows is a whirlwind of candidate selections, hospital visits, and Suzette’s doubts over whether she’s made the right decision. A young woman named Dorothy Muscarello is chosen as the one who will help make this family complete. For Dorrie, surrogacy (and the money that comes with it) are her opportunity to leave behind a troubled past and create a future for herself—one full of possibility. But this situation also forces all three of them—Dorrie, Suzette, and Hyland—to face a devastating uncertainty that will reverberate in the years to come.

Beautifully shifting between perspectives, The Nearness of You deftly explores the connections we form, the families we create, and the love we hold most dear.

So here’s the deal. I almost didn’t make it past the first chapter. I even tweeted that I was fully prepared for this book to piss me off all the way through.

The premise of this book is that Suzette doesn’t want children. Her mother has a mental illness so bad that she is hospitalized (we never meet her), and Suzette also suffers from “issues.” Those issues are vague, but referred to throughout the book, and she’s deathly afraid of anyone close to her getting sick too. She was very clear on the first date with Hyland that she was not going to have children. They made a decision, she was firm on it, he seemed happy.

But after 15 years of marriage, he suddenly decided that he wanted a baby, and pretty much gaslights her into thinking she wants one too. So they get a surrogate. And then he spends the rest of the book making her feel HORRIBLE for being a successful pediatric surgeon with a busy schedule–even though she has ALWAYS BEEN a successful pediatric surgeon with a busy schedule.

This is my absolute worst nightmare–and my husband knows this–that he will suddenly decide 15 years into our marriage that he wants children. It is the cruelest thing a person could do, in my opinion–worse than cheating–to go against something so fundamental in your marriage foundation.

I know, I’m ranting, but this is all just to say that it soured my opinion of the book from the first chapter–and it only went downhill from there. I did finish it, and had that big nope in the beginning not happened…I don’t know, there were a few other things that made me go ehhhhhhhhh…

The story certainly has hooks, and I could see people liking this. But it has way more problems than good things.

NetGalley and Ballantine Books provided this ARC for an unbiased review. This post does have affiliate links.

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Elan Mastai: All Our Wrong Todays

You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn’t necessary.

Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be.

Writing science fiction always seems like the hardest genre to me–there is always a problem to solve. When done right, the reader is transported directly into an alternate universe; when done wrong, all of the focus goes on the lack of research and the awkwardness or lack of world-building. The author has to be able to explain the problems and solutions well enough for a person like me to at least grasp the concept to make it believable–and also hold up to those smart enough to pick apart the numbers and equations in their heads.

All Our Wrong Todays is science fiction done WELL. I was immediately immersed into Tom’s whorling world of time travel between 2016 and 1965–and I had previously put down two books as DNF because I could not focus on anything. I was in serious danger of a book slump when I picked up Elan Mastai’s first novel. But instead, Tom’s fictional memoir saved both me and his world from total destruction.

This book does have some problems. Everybody in the book is straight, and while there are POC, they are mostly background characters.  Also, the relationships are a little sketchy, although the narrator does acknowledge that fact. He knows he’s an awkward guy going about everything the wrong way. Still–they are a bit problematic.

I am conflicted, because I hate “mental illness as a twist”–but I don’t think that is what is being done here. The book is a legit time travel story, but it does unpack some heavy mental illness and domestic abuse issues as a part of the plot. The narrator challenges and discusses them in the text. I can’t explain further without spoiling the book, but I think the author does a really good job of writing these issues in without using them as a plot device.

At first, I thought this was going to be a really great escape book for Inauguration Weekend. And it IS a good one to dive into, for sure. But this one will hit you deep. Can a book be fun, challenging, and heart wrenching all at the same time? Because All Our Wrong Todays certainly makes the effort.

NetGalley and Dutton provided an ARC for unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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