Friday, November 18, 2011

Book Review: The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

  • The Distant Hours

  • By: Kate Morton

  • Pub. Date: November 2010

  • Publisher: Atria Books

  • Format: Hardcover, Pages: 562

  • ISBN-13: 9781439152782

  • Source: Library Copy

  • Synopsis:

    A long lost letter arrives in the post and Edie Burchill finds herself on a journey to Milderhurst Castle, a great but moldering old house, where the Blythe spinsters live and where her mother was billeted 50 years before as a 13 year old child during WWII. The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives looking after the third and youngest sister, Juniper, who hasn’t been the same since her fiance jilted her in 1941.

    Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother’s past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in ‘the distant hours’ of the past has been waiting a long time for someone to find it.

    Morton once again enthralls readers with an atmospheric story featuring unforgettable characters beset by love and circumstance and haunted by memory, that reminds us of the rich power of storytelling

    My Review:

    This is the first book I have read by Kate Morton, but I will definitely be reading more! This book was wonderful. The writing was absolutely beautiful and the plot was enthralling, full of suspense and layers of stories.

    The Distant Hours switches back and forth between two time periods, the near past, the 1990s, and WWII, the late 1930s into the early 1940s. This expanse of time allows for the layers of the plot to slowly stack up and the secrets build, waiting for the final denouement. I loved the intricacies of the characters and their relationships to one another, especially the Sisters Blythe. This book explores how both war time and your family's history can impinge on one's life and how you can respond to it- many of the characters allowed the circumstances around them to dictate how their lives would go. Edie, though, the only characters from the newer generation, tended to make her own destiny more than her mother and the sisters. However, Edie also did not grow up in a time of world war or in a severely confining family.

    My favorite part of The Distant Hours was definitely the ending. We learned the secrets of the past and watched the tragedies of the sisters unfold to their last moment. I'm trying to be especially vague because I don't want to give away of the major plot points. I highly recommend this book for anyone who has the time to sit and enjoy this book. The story and the writing are both beautiful and should be enjoyed.

    My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Book Review: Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

  • Blood, Bones & Butter

  • By: Gabrielle Hamilton

  • Pub. Date: March 2011

  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

  • Format: Hardcover , 304pp

  • ISBN-13: 9781400068722

  • ISBN: 140006872X

  • Source: Library Copy

  • Synopsis:

    “I wanted the lettuce and eggs at room temperature . . . the butter-and-sugar sandwiches we ate after school for snack . . . the marrow bones my mother made us eat as kids that I grew to crave as an adult. . . . There would be no ‘conceptual’ or ‘intellectual’ food, just the salty, sweet, starchy, brothy, crispy things that one craves when one is actually hungry. In ecstatic farewell to my years of corporate catering, we would never serve anything but a martini in a martini glass. Preferably gin.”

    Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty fierce, hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Above all she sought family, particularly the thrill and the magnificence of the one from her childhood that, in her adult years, eluded her. Hamilton’s ease and comfort in a kitchen were instilled in her at an early age when her parents hosted grand parties, often for more than one hundred friends and neighbors. The smells of spit-roasted lamb, apple wood smoke, and rosemary garlic marinade became as necessary to her as her own skin.

    Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; the soulless catering factories that helped pay the rent; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a difficult and prickly marriage that nonetheless yields rich and lasting dividends.

    Blood, Bones & Butter is an unflinching and lyrical work. Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion. By turns epic and intimate, it marks the debut of a tremendous literary talent.

    My Review:

    Ugh. When I started this book, I was so enchanted and interested in Gabrielle Hamilton's life and experiences that led her to be an owner and chef at a popular restaurant in New York City but once Gabrielle's descriptions of her childhood end, I just became more disgusted with her life and her poor choices.

    I understand that many people don't have great childhoods or make the best decisions for their lives, but it seemed that Gabrielle had several opportunities to change the course of her life but chose instead to go in the opposite direction. I had little sympathy for her because she was competent enough to know what she was getting herself into. She also never seemed to reflect enough on her past and thus, I think, just ended up repeating some of her mistakes again. For example, she ended up marrying an Italian man so he could get a green card and stay in the US. She didn't love him and they lived apart, yet they had kids together... I don't understand that at all and she never explained her motives for staying (if seeing each other mostly for only one month a year in Italy counts as staying) with a man she never loved and having kids with him. Since this is Gabrielle's own memoir, I wanted more reflection and explanations of her decisions so that I could better understand her. However, I feel like I just got the surface layer of her life, which just left me tired of her and unsympathetic with her problems in life.

    I also wanted more of a focus on her love of food. Gabrielle often worked in the catering industry, and I understand that that probably did not give her the time to use her passion for creating good food, but I still wanted more reflections on the use of food in her life and everyone's lives. As I said earlier, the descriptions of her early childhood were wonderful and I was hooked so that I wanted to know where her life of loving food would lead, but her life choices and subsequent shallow explanations of them, just left me wanting to stop reading, although I did push through and finish the book.

    My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Book Review: Inferno by Dante Alighieri

  • The Divine Comedy; Volume 1: Inferno

  • By: Dante Alighieri, Translated by Mark Musa

  • Pub. Date: December 2002

  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)

  • Format: Paperback , 432pp

  • Series: Penguin Classics Series

  • ISBN-13: 9780142437223

  • ISBN: 0142437220

  • Source: Personal Copy

  • Synopsis:

    This vigorous translation of the poet's journey through the circles of hell re-creates for the modern reader the rich meanings that Dante's poem had for his contemporaries. Musa's introduction and commentaries on each of the cantos brilliantly illuminate the text.
    My Review:

    I read Inferno for the October Group Read hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey. I did finish this in October, I just got very busy and wasn't able to post my review in time for the group read. I read The Inferno once before, in high school. The translation I read then was the Longfellow translation, which I really struggled with back then. This time, I bought a newer translation by Mark Musa. I found the Musa translation much more accessible.

    The Inferno is Dante Alighieri's view on Hell. Here is an illustration that gives the overview of the layers in Dante's Hell:

    This picture shows Dante's divisions of sin in Hell. Each sinner is punished accordingly to their main sins. Each punishment fits the sin. For example, flatterers ("brown nosers") are immersed in shit for figuratively kissing the asses of their superiors to gain favors. This is probably one of my favorite punishments. I know its gross, but it's so easy to picture and relate the sin to the punishment.

    I really encourage everyone to give The Inferno a try. I believe that it is one of those classics that everyone should read. It's a large part of our culture as well, everyone has heard of Dante's levels of Hell. Mark Musa's translation is wonderful and the endnotes for each canto include great notes to make some of Dante's references to specific people or places understandable for today's readers.

    I am going to include my paper on The Inferno that I wrote in 11th grade as the end of this post. I did quite a bit of research for that paper and I'm proud of it for a high school paper.

    My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

    “All hope abandon, ye who enter in!” (Alighieri 14) states the sign on the gates to Hell, according to Dante Alighieri in his book, The Inferno. The Inferno is one of Dante’s masterpieces in which both the story and the meaning behind it have intrigued readers for centuries. Dante wrote the book to be read and understood in multiple ways. A reader could read The Inferno literally, allegorically, morally, or anagogically (“Dante Alighieri” 1533). The different levels of comprehension and discernment serve Dante’s purpose of writing The Divine Comedy, which was “to remove those living in this life from the state of misery and lead them to the state of felicity” (qtd. in “Dante” 4).

    Arguably, the best way to read The Inferno would be allegorically. To read a book allegorically is to look for hidden meanings and symbols. As defined in the dictionary, symbolism is the “a: artistic imitation or invention that is a method of revealing of suggesting immaterial, ideal, or otherwise intangible truth or states b: the use of conventional or traditional signs in the representation of divine beings and spirits” (Mish 1194). If read allegorically, The Inferno becomes an insightful book in which Dante employs highly developed and meaningful symbolism to express both religious and political views.

    The Inferno is a story about Dante the Pilgrim and his journey through Hell. In the beginning, Dante the Pilgrim finds himself lost in a dark forest, where Virgil finds him and offers to be his guide and protector through Hell. Dante the Poet greatly admired the work of Virgil, explaining why it is no surprise that Virgil is the guide in Dante’s story. Once Dante the Pilgrim accepts Virgil as his guide, Virgil conducts him into Hell and though all nine circles.

    The main symbols Dante the Poet uses are numbers. For example, the number three is constantly utilized. On a religious aspect, the number three can signify many things, such as the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, or power, wisdom, and love, or faith, hope, and charity (“Dante Alighieri” 1532). The most obvious way Dante utilizes the number three is his The Divine Comedy, which is broken into three books, The Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. A vital part of the Christian faith is one God in three persons, just as Dante’s book is one story in three books. In addition, the poems in The Inferno are written in the terza rima rhyme scheme, which results in each rhyme occurring three times (“Dante Alighieri” 1532). The significance of the reoccurrence of the number three in Dante’s work, particularly his poem The Inferno, is how it can embody many things in Christian theology. Dante also uses nine, as a multiple of three, in his work. For instance, there are nine circles of Hell. Multiplying three by itself only increases the significance of the number three as a symbol.

    Another numerical symbol is the mystical number seven (“Dante Alighieri” 1532). Dante the Pilgrim’s journey through Hell lasts seven days, which is also the length of time that it took God to create Earth; “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (New International Version, Genesis 2: 2-3). Just as God created a new world, Dante the Pilgrim became a new person, all in the same length of time.

    Another religious symbol in The Inferno would be Mohammed, who is in the ninth Bolgia of the eighth circle in Hell. Mohammed’s sin is causing division among people. Dante the Poet puts Mohammed in his story specifically to express how he felt about other religions. Dante the Poet is a devout Christian; he does not agree with other religions and shows that through the punishment of Mohammed. Mohammed’s punishment is to walk in a circle and to be cut apart by a devil with a sword. Mohammed’s placement in Hell represents Dante the Poet’s feelings against other religions.

    Some of the most noteworthy depictions in The Inferno would be the forms of punishment that each sinner must endure. Each sin correlates specifically to the main sin of the individual. For example, before Dante the Pilgrim enters Hell, he and Virgil come upon the space known as the Ante-Inferno. Here is where some angels and humans, who never committed themselves to either positive or negative, are sent, since neither Heaven nor Hell will accept them. Their punishment is to be chased into action by being stung by bees and other insects while chasing a blank banner:

    And I, who looked again, beheld a banner,
    Which, whirling round, ran on so rapidly,
    That of all pause it seemed to me indignant;
    And after it there came so long a train
    Of people, that I ne’er would have believed
    That ever Death so many had undone […]
    These miscreants, who never were alive,
    Were naked, and were stung exceedingly
    By gadflies and by hornets that were there (Alighieri 15-16)

    The blankness of the banner represents their lack of affiliation, thus their punishment compares to the sin they perpetrated (Musa 39). Since they were always passive in their lives on Earth and never took action, the bees force them to take action now. In addition, since the action that the bees perpetrate makes the sinners chase the blank banner; both the bees and banner represent the action they should have taken.

    Another example of a case where the sin fits the punishment is the sin of lust, which is punished in the second circle of Hell. The sinners there are swept around in a constant frenzy of wind, where they are forever in the “embrace” of the wind (Bondanella XL). Dante the Pilgrim talks to two of the sinners in the second circle, Paolo and Francesca. Francesca relates their story to Dante the Pilgrim and how they came to be in Hell. The use of the wind holding the sinners in an embrace is the perfect metaphor for the embrace and lust that they lived in during their time on Earth.

    Additionally, the flatterers are another notable example of Dante the poet’s genius in ensuring the symbolic representation of the punishments doled out in Hell as relating to each particular sin. The flatterers in the eighth circle, “who made their way figuratively by ample applications of their tongues to the objects of their flattery are now immersed in human excrement, produced by the same posteriors they so obsequiously kissed to further their nefarious causes” (Bondanella XL-XLI) are punished in the literal meaning of the sins they perpetrated on Earth. Dante the Poet’s brilliance and humor show with the way that Dante takes the figurative meaning of their sin and symbolically changes it into a literal punishment.

    As indicated by the numerous uses of numbers and sin/punishment correlation as religious symbols, Dante the Poet emphasizes the Christian religion throughout his entire work. One of the very first religious symbols that can be seen is Dante the Pilgrim as an ordinary man, Virgil as reason and wisdom, and Beatrice, who comes to Dante briefly in the beginning, as faith and love (Durant 1067):

    With voice angelical, in her own language: […]
    Beatrice am I, who do bid thee go;
    I come from there, where I would fain return;
    Love moved me, which compelleth me to speak. (Alighieri 9-10)

    Dante the Pilgrim is an everyman, which means that he stands for all human beings and their journey through sin and temptation. Dante the Poet’s use of Virgil as logic represents how logic can make one worthy of the first circle of Hell, but cannot allow one into Purgatory, and much less Heaven. Beatrice, who stands for compassion, is in Heaven and defines how one can attain the right to be there. Both Virgil and Beatrice are prime examples of Dante the Poet’s religious symbols.

    In addition to the religious symbols contained within The Inferno, Dante the Poet included a few political references. Dante wrote the book mainly for religious reasons, but he included many of his own feelings and views; as a member of the Council of the Hundred, Dante saw many different sides of the political matters in the early 1300’s (“Dante” 3). One paradigm of Dante’s political views is the prediction that Ciacco makes in Canto VI. Dante the Pilgrim asks Ciacco what will happen to Florence if things continue as they are:

    ‘[…] But tell me, if thou knowest, to what shall come
    The citizens of the divided city;
    If any there be just; and the occasion
    Tell me why so much discord has assailed it.’
    And he to me: ‘They, after long contention,
    Will come to bloodshed; and the rustic party
    Will drive the other out with offence.’ (Alighieri 32-33)

    As a White Guelf, a faction of the Guelf party, which supported the pope, Dante was exiled from Florence by the Black Guelfs when they came into power in 1301 (“Dante” 3). Dante the Poet has Ciacco make a prediction about what had already happened in Florence to take a political stand, which was the fall of the White Guelf party in Florence. Dante the Poet’s word choice in the aforementioned quote distinguishes his personal views on the political perspective in his world. By using words like divided city, rustic party, and offence Dante deliberately adds another meaning to the passage.

    After Dante’s exile from Florence due to the rise in the Black Guelf power, Dante was separated from his family, job, and political connections (Ferrante 137). Dante the pilgrim is alone in the dark woods, away from all other people, echoing Dante’s feelings in the commencement of The Inferno (Ferrante 137). The resemblance between the two events, Dante the Poet’s exile and Dante the Pilgrim being alone in the forest, indicate an intentional symbol by Dante the Poet. Dante the Poet puts Dante the Pilgrim in the same kind of situation that he had been in, in order for the readers to relate to Dante the Poet.

    In addition, to Dante’s current world, Dante looked to the past for political aspirations. Dante the Poet felt very strongly about the benefit of having an empire as the ideal form of government. For example, he admired the Roman Empire and wanted Italy’s government to be set up likewise. To express his view in The Inferno, Dante the Poet creates a Hell as an unorganized city with very little central authority. Adversely, Dante’s heaven is set up as a well-maintained city with authority (Ferrante 45). Dante the Poet’s placement of the chaotic government in Hell and a well-maintained one in Heaven represents Dante’s love for a strong empire with a central authority, and therefore is a political symbol.

    Also, Joan M. Ferrante believes Dante’s “Hell reveals what society is when all its members act for themselves and against the common good” (132). All of the sinners in Hell are there because they did not recognize God and lived for themselves on Earth. The sinners do not change much in Hell, for they continue thinking about only themselves. Dante the Poet’s story can be read allegorically, but the moral reading is also the political reading since “it is impossible to be a moral human being without being a good citizen, and it is difficult to be either a good citizen or a moral person in a bad society” (Ferrante 136). Therefore, the moral symbols in The Inferno equate very much to Dante’s political ideas and vice versa.

    Just as Dante cherished the Roman Empire, he also loved the rulers in Rome, especially Julius Caesar; Lucifer, in the ninth circle of Hell, is seen chewing on Brutus, Cassis, and Judas Iscariot:

    When I beheld three faces on his head! […]
    At every mouth he with his teeth was crunching
    A sinner, in the manner of a brake
    So that he three of them tormented thus.
    To him in front the biting was as naught
    Unto the clawing, for sometimes the spine
    Utterly stripped of all the skin remained.
    ‘That soul up there which has the greatest pain,’
    The Master said, ‘is Judas Iscariot.
    With his head inside, he plies his legs without.
    Of the two others, who heads downward are,
    The one who hangs from the black jowl is Brutus;
    See how he writhes himself, and speaks no word!
    And the other, who so stalwart seems, is Cassius (Alighieri 176-177)

    Brutus and Cassius were the two men who deceived Julius Caesar and assassinated him in order to take the Roman Empire from him. The reality of Lucifer chewing on Brutus and Cassius as well as Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, shows that Dante the Poet sets the betrayal of Jesus and Julius Caesar as equal. The equivalence between the two betrayals denotes Dante’s esteem and love of the Roman Empire.

    In addition to Dante’s adoration for the Roman Empire, he also wholly appreciates the great philosophers. Some of the philosophers are named specifically in The Inferno, and include Homer, Horace, Socrates, Plato, Ptolemy, Orpheus, and Virgil, who is taking a short leave to guide Dante the Pilgrim through Hell, and later Purgatory. According to Will Durant, the placement and specific naming of the great people who came before Dante allows readers to know whom Dante respected (1070). Most of the great people Dante admires are in the first circle of Hell, called Limbo, because they were believed to live a virtuous life yet were never baptized. In Limbo, they are free to do much as they please, which is why Dante the Poet placed them there since he could not bear to have them punished for something he so strongly believed in. In fact, Dante was so generous as to give them a castle in which to stay. Dante the Poet made a political statement through placing the philosophers in Limbo.

    In The Inferno, Dante makes use of many different types of symbolism and representations throughout the novel, such as number symbolism, religious symbols, and political symbols. Religious symbols such as the sin and punishment correlation makes moral statements for how Dante the Poet believed people should live. In addition to the religious symbols, Dante the Poet adds some political symbols, such as the city representation in order to express his views. The use of the symbolism is highly developed and very influential since most readers are able to recognize the symbols and apply it to their lives. The Inferno is influential because symbolism is basically dripping from every page, so any reader can notice it. After a reader recognizes what Dante the Poet is trying to get across, the reader can take many lessons from the book and lead what Dante considered a better and more moral life. All of the symbolism contained within The Inferno combines to create a unique and powerful book, for the past, present, and future readers.

    Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

  • Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

  • By: Helen Simonson

  • Pub. Date: March 2010

  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

  • Format: Hardcover , 358pp

  • ISBN-13: 9781400068937

  • ISBN: 1400068932

  • Source: Library Copy

  • Synopsis:

    Written with a delightfully dry sense of humour and the wisdom of a born storyteller, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand explores the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of family obligation and tradition.

    When retired Major Pettigrew strikes up an unlikely friendship with Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani village shopkeeper, he is drawn out of his regimented world and forced to confront the realities of life in the twenty-first century. Brought together by a shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship on the cusp of blossoming into something more. But although the Major was actually born in Lahore, and Mrs. Ali was born in Cambridge, village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as a permanent foreigner. The Major has always taken special pride in the village, but will he be forced to choose between the place he calls home and a future with Mrs. Ali?

    My Review:

    I loved the writing in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. The story progressed slowly.. but not so that it was boring, more that it flowed along at its own pace. I think the writing and progression match the characters and their narrative about the changes going on in their town and lives.
    Major Pettigrew is a 68 year old widower who has steady lifestyle and habits that keep his life rather calm and predictable. One day, though, he meets the 58 year old  Pakistani, widowed shopkeeper in his village. As Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali begin talking, they discover their shared interest in poetry. Their friendship blossoms very slowly and tentatively as neither want to upset the balance in their lives, especially Major Pettigrew. The story line is rather simple, but it's written so that the reader really cares for Major Pettigrew and wants him to find happiness in his life.

    I really enjoyed this book as I watched Major Pettigrew, an elderly man, take charge of his life again and begin really living. It was a sweet and entertaining story. I also really liked the cover of the book :)
    My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    Book Review: The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

  • The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1

  • By: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

  • Pub. Date: September 2003

  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble

  • Format: Paperback , 752pp  

  • Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series

  • ISBN-13: 9781593080341

  • ISBN: 1593080344

  • Source: Personal Copy

  • Synopsis:

    The Complete Sherlock Holmes comprises four novels and fifty-six short stories revolving around the world’s most popular and influential fictional detective—the eccentric, arrogant, and ingenious Sherlock Holmes. He and his trusted friend, Dr. Watson, step from Holmes’s comfortable quarters at 221b Baker Street into the swirling fog of Victorian London to exercise that unique combination of detailed observation, vast knowledge, and brilliant deduction. Inevitably, Holmes rescues the innocent, confounds the guilty, and solves the most perplexing puzzles known to literature.

    My Review:

    After two weeks, I finally finished volume 1 of the Sherlock Holmes! I don't know why it took me so long to read this book, especially since I read for quite a few hours this past Saturday, for Dewey's 24 hour readathon. I know part of it is that I now have a part-time job and school is picking up in my time requirements for studying. However, the Sherlock Holmes stories were fun and I still think I should have been able to read it quicker.

    Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed this volume of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work. I picked the Barnes & Noble edition because it contains all of the Holmes stories, in order of publication, within just two volumes. I didn't want to buy just a single copy of one of the novels, find out that I liked the stories, and then have to buy several different books to get all of the stories. Plus, since Holmes often references past cases, I think it's worthwhile to read them in order.

    This first volume included three short novels and 23 short stories. I'm not going to summarize each story, especially since I would probably give away the ending to some of them, but rather give my overall impressions. I became particularly interested in Sherlock Holmes after seeing the movie featuring Robert Downey, Jr (I highly recommend this movie, especially since there is a sequel coming out later this year!). It was interesting to see the backstory for both Watson and Holmes in the first novel of the collection, A Study in Scarlet. It provided some context for both their personal lives and how their relationship came together.

    I enjoyed the novels more than the short stories, but that is also just my personal preference since I generally like longer novels more than anything else. There is more background and twists and turns in a novel than in a 15 page short story. I was able to guess the ending to some of the short stories, but not all. I highly enjoyed Sherlock Holmes deductions when he would denounce the guilty party and explain his logical reasoning. However, although Holmes was a great character to follow, I'm glad the readers view is through Watson's eyes since he can give us an account of Holmes deductions and also be a reliable narrator that will tell us everything else that is going on. I think if we were in Sherlock Holme's head, the reader would become extremely confused since I doubt many could follow Holme's thoughts when he is 'on the scent.'

    Overall, I found the Sherlock Holmes stories really entertaining and I'm glad Sir Arthur Conan Doyle continued to write them, even after he got sick of them and killed off Holmes :) I'm looking forward to the second volume of the stories. I recommend these stories for anyone looking for some fun, and rather quick mysteries. Some stories are not appropriate for children because some of the murders are a little grizzly and there is also some drug use by Sherlock Holmes.

    My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    Saturday, October 22, 2011

    It's 24 Hour Readathon Time!

    I've decided to keep one master readathon post which I'll update throughout the day. So, if anyone wants to follow me during my reading escapades, just stay tuned in to this post! :)

    I'm getting a little bit of a late start since I forgot to set my alarm, but it's okay since I got up only 15 minutes late and my husband helped get my coffee going. I'm looking forward to reading so I'm going to keep the introduction short.

    1. The Complete Sherlock Holmes Volume 1 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Started at page 284-
    The first hour of the readathon is some introductory questions:

    1)Where are you reading from today?
    I live in Pittsburgh, PA and will  be reading in my house... probably either on the couch or recliner. I may go out for some coffee later if I need a change in location.

    2)Three random facts about me…
    a- I've driven across country twice (well, I didn't actually drive because I was too young, but I went across country with my family). b-I've been married for over a year now. c-I went to the opera last night and loved it.

    3)How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?
    I participated in the readathon last spring and was way to overambitious in my goals, plus I like to sleep and can't stay up the whole 24 hours. So my TBR for today is to finish up Volume 1 of the complete Sherlock Holmes and get a good start- at least half way through- on The Inferno by Dante Aligheiri.

    4)Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?
    See above in my answer for #3. I want to keep today relaxed and a great time to just sit down and read since I've been really busy lately.

    5)If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, any advice for people doing this for the first time?
    This is just my second time participating in the 24 hour readathon, but I guess I'd tell people to relax and have a great day. Last time I tried to do too much with trying to read a lot and participate in the mini-challenges. Today I want to mostly read and do just a little online participation.

    Update #2- Photo Mini-Challenge

    It's not a picture of a character, but rather a representation of Hell, which I'll be reading about in The Inferno later today.
    Update #3:

    Well, I'm almost 4 hours into the readathon (since I didn't get going until 8:30~ish EST). I never thought I was such a slow reader, but I'm only on page 358 and I started at 284, meaning I've read only 74 pages so far. However, I've gotten online once an hour to update and look at the new posts on which must be really slowing me down. Plus, my husband came home from his 15 mile run and wanted to talk... the nerve. ;-) I'll just have to stop getting distracted and start plowing through my book so I can move onto the next one. 

    Update #4:

    It's now 4:08 EST and I've been "reading" for 8 hours now! Reading is in quotes because of course I've done other stuff in the past 8 hours, but reading has been my main focus. I took a shower a couple hours ago to feel all nice and clean and refreshed, then I made some popcorn to munch on. Then I ended up falling asleep for a little bit, but now I'm back and ready to keep tackling my book! I don't know if I'm just a slow reader or maybe I'm reading the Sherlock Holmes stories particularly slow because I like to pick up on clues before Holmes divulges the secret to the mysteries, but I'm now on page 462, which means I've read only 178 pages. I really need to pick it up! Hopefully my husband will come home soon and maybe make some dinner or at least feed me a snack so I can keep going! I hope everyone else is having a wonderful readathon!

    Update #5:

    14 hours into the readathon and I'm still going, albeit quite a bit slower than earlier. My husband felt like talking earlier so I spent some time on the couch with him... trying to read and respond to him at the same. I'm on page 596 now in the Sherlock Holmes volume and I'm in The Hound of the Baskervilles, which is the last story of this volume! My new goal is just to finish this before falling asleep, which I should be able to do. If I get started on The Inferno, I'll count that as a bonus for today :)

    Final Update:

    The readathon has been over for 30 minutes. I'm rather disappointed in my own performance for this readathon. I felt like I was reading all day yesterday (I did stop at midnight and went to bed), but I didn't even finish the book I had already started. I'm reading a Sherlock Holmes collection and yesterday I read from page 284 to only 630, which is a total of 346 pages. Now, the print is small and I tried to pay attention to all of the details to figure out the mysteries... but I still should have read more pages than that! Maybe I'll do better next time...

    Have Fun Reading!

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    Updates and Readathons

    So... I am back in school and got a job, so my book reviews have really fallen to the wayside. I don't know how many actually read this blog but I feel guilty whenever I glance over at my small pile of books waiting to be reviewed. My reading has also slowed down but I do have several books finished and waiting to be reviewed on here. I'm going to try to get back on track and starting updating By the By Books as often as possible.

    To help me get back on track, I'm going to try to participate as much as possible in two upcoming readathons. I participated in last spring's Dewey's 24 hour readathon and loved it! I still went to sleep that night, but I tried to read as much as possible while I was awake. Dewey's read a thon is this weekend, and I may be going out some to see friends, but when I'm home and awake, I want to read! If you're interested in finiding out more about Dewey's 24 hour read a thon, go here.

    November 18-20 is the Re-readathon hosted by The Perpetual Page Turner at
    This readathon is for giving us time to re-read books that we don't always have the time to get back to. Ever since starting my blog, I've been loathe to re-read books because I want to keep adding new and fresh reviews, however I really love to re-read my favorite books. Maybe I'll use this readathon to re-read the Harry Potter series, which I like to do about once a year, or I'll go back and read some of my favorites since starting this blog. This readathon hits the start of my Thanksgiving break, so I shouldn't have much schoolwork to do, which will give me the excuse to take the weekend off and just enjoy my books.

    I hope this readathon planning and finding the balance between school, work, spending time with my husband and friends, and reading will allow me to start posting new book reviews with some regularity. Please bear with me when my blog slows down, I'm not leaving any time soon. :)

    Thursday, October 6, 2011

    Book Review: Road from the West by Rosanne E. Lortz

  • Road from the West

  • By: Rosanne E. Lortz

  • Pub. Date: September 2011

  • Publisher: Madison Street Publishing

  • Format: Paperback , 360pp  

  • ISBN-13: 9780983671909

  • ISBN: 0983671907

  • Source: ARC from publisher through Historical Fiction Book Tours

  • Synopsis:

    Haunted by guilt from the past and nightmares of the future, a young Norman named Tancred takes the cross and vows to be the first to free Jerusalem from the infidels. As he journeys to the Holy Land, he braves vast deserts, mortal famine, and the ever-present ambushes of the enemy Turks—but the greatest danger of all is deciding which of the Crusader lords to trust. A mysterious seer prophesies that Tancred will find great love and great sorrow on his journey, but the second seems intent on claiming him before he can find the first. Intrigues and passions grow as every battle brings the Crusaders one step closer to Jerusalem. Not all are destined to survive the perilous road from the West.

    My Review:

    I must admit that I know shamefully little about the Crusades, so when I was offered the opportunity to read Roseanne Lortz's Road from the West, I was excited to find out it was about the First Crusade. Road from the West is the first book in the trilogy Chronicles of Tancred.

    Road from the West follows Tancred, a young Marqus from the west. Tancred is out fighting alonside his Uncle Bohemond one day when he has a revelation. The men he is killing are all Christians and it must be a sin for Christians to fight other Christians. Tancred has also been having dreams where he is condemned on Judgement Day because of his sins. In an abrupt moment of clarity for Tancred, he stops fighting and calmly leaves the battlefield. From there, Tancred travels to Rome to speak to Pope Urban to learn how to cleanse his soul.

    Pope Urban convinces Tancred to join in his call for a crusade to rid Jerusalem of the Muslim infidels and reclaim all the lands gained on the journey for Christians. Tancred is won over b Pope Urban's call and leaves to tell his Uncle of his new mission. Then Tancred learns that Bohemond is also joining the crusades, but not for religious reasons. Bohemond wants to gain land, wealth, and titles from himself. Regardless of motive, they set off with their troops following along together with some other western troops who also heeded the call for the crusade.

    Lortz's narrative is wonderfully written. The writing is very simple, but in a good way. I felt that this section of history, which is almost 1000 years old, was fresh and easily understandable for today's reader. The actions, descriptions, and motives of most of the characters are clear and concise. Also, it felt well researched and I learned a lot about some major players of the crusades. Road from the West is a entertaining and informative read. However, I do think that the book lacked some emotion for the reader to relate to the characters. So, while I'm interested in Tancred's adventures, it's more of a passive or intellectual interest rather than an emotional need to make sure that he survives the crusade.

    Road from the West is the first book of a trilogy. As I finished this book last night, I was ready to jump right into the second book. I don't know when the next book will be released, but I'm looking forward to it!

    My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    I received one copy of Road from the West for free to review. This did not affect my review in any way and I did not receive any other compensation for my review.

    Event Hashtag for Tour: #RoadFromTheWestVirtualBookTour


    Tuesday, September 27, 2011

    Top Ten Tuesday- Books to Re-read

    Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This meme was created because we are particularly fond of lists here at The Broke and the Bookish. We'd love to share our lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

    Each week we will post a new Top Ten list complete with one of our bloggers’ answers. Everyone is welcome to join. All we ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND post a comment on our post with a link to your Top Ten Tuesday post to share with us and all those who are participating. If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment.
    If you can't come up with ten, don't worry about it---post as many as you can!
    This week's topic:
    Top Ten Books I want to Reread
    1. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling- I've lost count how many times I have read this series, but it's never enough times to get tired of it. This is one of my two favorite series.

    2. The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien- Did you guess that this is my other favorite series? Then you guessed right! I love the imagery, imagination, and action of the LOTR series.

    3. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky- I first read Crime and Punishment in high school. From that point on, I was hooked on 19th Century Russian literature... which is why I took a class in college on the Masterpieces of 19th Century Russian literature. It was my favorite class during my undergraduate career, and I am not a literature/english major. And my love affair with Russian lit all started in high school with Crime and Punsihment. Every time I read it, I find some new way to look at Raskolnikov or discover a new aspect to the story. It's wonderful!

    4. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell- I first read this in this past December. It now competes with Crime and Punishment as my favorite book and I definitely want to reread it soon.

    5. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton- This is a beautifully written and tragic book that I fell in love with in high school and continue to read it every couple of years.

    6. Little Women by Loisa May Alcott- I read this back in elementary school. I remember liking it but thinking it was a little boring. I've been feeling a strong urge recently to read it again and see what my adult self thinks of it.

    7. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy- I read this during my Masterpieces of 19th Century Russian Literature course as well. It's a wonderful book and I highly recommend Tolstoy.

    8. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy- I read this back in high school but I would love to read it again since I now have a much larger Russian history/fiction background to compare it to. I think I would get more from it than when I read it the first time.

    9. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand- This is one of those books that people either love or hate. They may love or hate it because of its political stance or large size. I love it for both! I've read it twice now, once in high school and once rather recently, but I could always get right back into it again. Maybe I'll read it next year as we gear up for the Presidential elections, that seems a little fitting since we need to pick a great leader.

    10. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot- I think this is a wonderfully written piece of work about the true story of Henrietta Lacks and her legacy to science. Since I am in the scientific, and soon to be, healthcare field, it's also a great cautionary tale about the importance of patient rights and privacy. I think it's something that anyone in the science field should read and be reminded about.

    Let me know what you're 10 ten rereads are!


    Friday, September 23, 2011

    Book Review: Reign of Madness by Lynn Cullen

  • Reign of Madness

  • By: Lynn Cullen

  • Pub. Date: August 2011

  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)

  • Format: Hardcover , 400pp

  • ISBN-13: 9780399157097

  • ISBN: 0399157093

  • Source: Library

  • Synopsis:

    Juana of Castile, third child of the Spanish monarchs Isabel and Fernando, grows up with no hope of inheriting her parents' crowns, but as a princess knows her duty: to further her family's ambitions through marriage. Yet stories of courtly love, and of her parents' own legendary romance, surround her. When she weds the Duke of Burgundy, a young man so beautiful that he is known as Philippe the Handsome, she dares to hope that she might have both love and crowns. He is caring, charming, and attracted to her-seemingly a perfect husband.

    But what begins like a fairy tale ends quite differently.

    When Queen Isabel dies, the crowns of Spain unexpectedly pass down to Juana, leaving her husband and her father hungering for the throne. Rumors fly that the young Queen has gone mad, driven insane by possessiveness. Who is to be believed? The King, beloved by his subjects? Or the Queen, unseen and unknown by her people?

    One of the greatest cautionary tales in Spanish history comes to life as Lynn Cullen explores the controversial reign of Juana of Castile-also known as Juana the Mad. Sweeping, page-turning, and wholly entertaining, Reign of Madness is historical fiction at its richly satisfying best.

    My Review:

    Reign of Madness is an historical fiction book chronicling Juana of Castile's life. Juana was the third child of Ferdinand and Isabel, rulers of Spain. Juana had no hope of ever becoming Queen but she let her parents sends her off to the Netherlands to be married to Philippe the Handsome.

    At first, Juana is taken away by her new husband. He is caring and loving... and handsome. Over time, though, he begins to change. Neither Philippe or Juana originally wanted power but Philippe seems to be persuaded by his grandmother to begin to seek the throne back in Spain.

    Juana grows more distant to her husband as he becomes more power hungry. Eventually, after some family misfortunes and misunderstandings, Juana is in a place to take her mother's throne. However, Philippe does not want to be a consort King, so he arranges for Juana to appear crazy to the public. Juana becomes a pawn to her husband, father, and son, as they all want her power. Meanwhile, Juana is locked up waiting for her adolescent love to save her, Diego, son of Christopher Columbus.

    Juana's story is, without a doubt, interesting and has the right amounts of green and corruption. However, many times I was just bored or confused.

    Juana's relationship to her mother is like that of a modern adolescent, not a girl raised to become at all powerful in her own right, like her mother did. I kept waiting for Juana to grow up and drop the petty drama.

    As for being bored, Christopher Columbus enters the story several times with his exploits to the Americas. I'm not sure why he was included though. My guess is that his presence adds some historical context that everyone knows about, but he isn't relevant to Juana's story and just served to distract the reader. Even her relationship to his son, Diego, was a little boring. There were just small moments when they stood and talked to each other and then nothing came of it. Boring and unnecessary.

    Also, as Juana's relationship to her husband changed, her feelings and knowledge of what was going on seemed to be only superficially explained. I kept wanting more. I wanted to know how Juana did not guess what her husband was doing to her sooner, especially since the reader could guess right away. There was a lot of foreshadowing throughout the novel, so I knew all of what was going to happen long before it did.

    I normally love historical fiction for the richness of detail and learning about important figures. I think Reign of Madness lacked a lot in the details that makes historical fiction so enchanting and escapist. I never really felt myself pulled into Juana's world. I did learn more about Juana the Mad/of Castile, but I'm sure I still have a long way to go before I feel like I knew her.

    Overall, it was an okay/good read but not great. I guess it's a good introductory story to one theory on the life of Juana the Mad.

    My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

    Sunday, September 18, 2011

    Book Review: The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

  • The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

  • By: Stieg Larsson

  • Pub. Date: November 2010

  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

  • Format: Hardcover, 563 pages 

  • Series: Millennium Trilogy Series

  • ISBN-13: 9780307595577

  • ISBN: 0307595579

  • Source: Personal Copy

  • Synopsis:

    This novel not only puts the cap on the most eagerly read trilogy in years; the sequel to The Girl Who Played With Fire marks the completion of its Swedish author's career; Stieg Larsson died at the age of fifty in 2004. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is, however, too exciting and too adept to be read simply as a major author's memorial. From its onset, with "avenging angel" protagonist Lisbeth Salander lying in intensive care, this fiction pulses forward. One British critic called it "intricately plotted, lavishly detailed but written with a breakneck pace and verve...a tantalizing double finale;first idyllic, then frenetic."

    My Review:

    I can't decide if I like The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo more from Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. They were two different novels. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had more action and suspense whereas The Girl who kicked the Hornet's Nest was more political intrigue and character-focused. The middle book, The Girl who Played with Fire, was a good book but really just set everything up for the third installment.

    In The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, we find Lisbeth Salander, an anti-social girl with a horrible past that is coming back to haunt her, is in the hospital in critical condition- she's suffering from three gun shot wounds, one to her head. While Salander is locked in her hospital room, government and law enforcement officials and the media are scrambling to discover the truth about Salander. The people from Salander's past, meanwhile, are busy covering everything up... again.

    Mikael Blomkvist, a top journalist and one of Salander's few friends, does everything he can to learn more about Salander and help her out- including figuring out how to get Salander to be able to help herself even while she's in a locked and guarded room.

    One thing I loved most about The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest was the political intrigue. It was very interesting to learn more about the structure of the Swedish government. One aspect that I noted about my reaction to the political corruption though, was that because this was happening in a foreign country that I'm not familiar with, it was kind of like reading a fantasy book. Things can happen in fantasy but not in books about our real lives because as readers, we're a step removed from the location, and therefore the characters. I think if The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest took place in the U.S., or even a country that I know more about, I would have had a stronger reaction to Lisbeth's treatment because that would have meant that it could happen here... not just in a place that I will probably never visit. (I hope my connection to the fantasy genre and my reaction analysis made sense. I'm not sure if I explained myself well enough though).  However, regardless of where this took place, I was intrigued by the government/police scandals and investigations.

    Another aspect that I liked from this book was that we learned a lot more about Lisbeth Salander. The reader learns all about her childhood and why she behaves the way she does and why she makes some of the decisions that she does.

    On the other hand, while we learn a lot about Salander's past, she doesn't do much in her present. True, she is recovering from severe wounds, but I kept expecting her to get better, leave the hospital, and take things into her own hands... which happens, but not until about the last 50 pages of the book. Before then, it's Blomkvist who does all the running around and work to save Salander. Since the titles are based on Salander's character, I wanted her to do more, and yes, she is very interesting, but I do think that Blomkvist is the main character of the series (and especially thing final book), not Salander.

    Overall, I really enjoyed this book... enough that I stayed up reading it last night and only got 5 hours of sleep. I would change a few things but I do recommend it.

    My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    Wednesday, September 14, 2011

    Book Review: The Girl who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

  • The Girl who Played with Fire

  • By: Stieg Larsson

  • Pub. Date: November 2010

  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

  • Format: Hardcover, 503 pages 

  • Series: Millennium Trilogy Series

  • ISBN-13: 9780307595577

  • ISBN: 0307595579

  • Source: Personal Copy

  • Synopsis:

    Part blistering espionage thriller, part riveting police procedural, and part piercing exposeé on social injustice, The Girl Who Played with Fire is a masterful, endlessly satisfying novel. Mikael Blomkvist, crusading publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation. On the eve of its publication, the two reporters responsible for the article are murdered, and the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to his friend, the troubled genius hacker Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist, convinced of Salander's innocence, plunges into an investigation. Meanwhile, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous game of cat and mouse, which forces her to face her dark past.

    My Review:

    Blomkvist returns from Hedstad, where he spent most of the first book in this series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which I reviewed here), and tries to return to his normal life as a journalist at a small but mighty monthly journal. However, he can't find the girl he worked with in Hedstad, Lisbeth Salander.

    Salander has left the country, and especially Blomkvist. The point of her trip surprised me buts I guess it made her seem more like a real person who maybe didn't want to stay as anti-social as she had been before. The rest of her adventure out of the country was interesting, but did not play a role in the main action of the book.

    Blomkvist begins working with an investigative journalist who is writing a piece on the sex trade in Sweden. Right before Blomkvist's journal is ready to publish the piece, the journalist and his girlfriend are murdered and Salander becomes the prime suspect.

    Media chaos ensues. The media circus surrounding the murders and search for Salander sounded like what could, and probably does, happen here in America. The media takes little bits given from the police and jumps to conclusions and sensationalizes the 'facts' based on little evidence.

    Blomkvist, while still grieving for his lost friends and scrambling to change the journal issue before going for publication, becomes convinced that Salander is innocent and begins his search for her. Salander is incredibly difficult to track. Along the way, we learn more about Lisbeth's past.

    I found the beginning of The Girl who Played with Fire to be really slow and many things to be rather irrelevant to the plot. However, the second half of the book was exciting and suspenseful. I recommend this book for a very good story, as long as you are willing to drag through some of the slower parts. Plus, the book ends right in the middle of action which makes you want to start the third book right away. I don't know if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but it certainly creates a lot of suspense!

    My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    Library Visit

    Have I ever said how much I love the library system in Pittsburgh, PA?

    I LOVE to buy books! I love to gaze at my book shelves and ponder all the beautiful stories contained within their covers. But I don't have unlimited resources, either in money or space. Therefore, I've increased my borrowing habits from the library.

    I use to live in Oakland, the neighborhood in Pittsburgh where the University of Pittsburgh is located. Oakland is also home of the main library for Pittsburgh. It's a massive, beautiful building that is also connected to the Pittsburgh Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Art.

    Since I've graduated, my husband and I have moved out of Oakland but still live in Pittsburgh. There is a very small branch just up the hill from where we live now. It may be up a steep hill and it may be closed two days a week, but the service is just as great. I requested two books online mid-day last Friday. The library was closed Sunday and Monday and my books were still in bright and early this morning!

    While I was in there, I glanced at the display of new books and there was another book I wanted to read! Even at the little branch campus!

    The books I picked up today are:

    The Friday Night Knitting Club by Katie Jacobs
    Blood, Bones, & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
    Reign of Madness by Lynn Cullen

    Any suggestions on which book I should start first?

    Book Review: Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

  • Sarah's Key

  • By: Tatiana de Rosnay

  • Pub. Date: September 2008

  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press

  • Format: Paperback , 320pp  

  • ISBN-13: 9780312370848

  • ISBN: 0312370849

  • Source: Library copy

  • Synopsis:

    A New York Times bestseller. Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.
    Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.
    Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.

    My Review:

    I had to stay up late last night in order to finish this book. I was so drawn into the story that I knew there was no way I could fall asleep before finding out how it all ended. I was also so uncomfortable almost the whole time through Sarah's Key.

    There are two plot lines running throughout the novel and both were sad and tragic. I wanted to know more (mostly, I wanted to know how it would end for the characters) while I also didn't want to read anymore because the characters were in such terrible positions.
    Sarah, a young Jewish girl in Paris of 1942 is torn from her home, along with her family and Jewish neighbors, in the middle of the night by the French police. In what become known as the Vel' d'Hiv', Sarah and the others Jews were placed in a large building for days without any sanitary precautions and extremely little food. They are not told what will happen to them. During the raid, Sarah hid her younger brother in a small, locked cabinet in their apartment since she assumed they'd be home soon. Grief and disbelief struck her when she realized she was not going home and her brother was locked in a cabinet, and that she and her parents were going to be led to their deaths by the hands of her fellow Frenchmen.

    Julie Jarmond, an American, is married to a Parisian man and has a daughter in Paris 2002. She loves Paris but lately she feels distant from her husband and Parisian life. As a journalist, she begins investigating the Vel' d'Hiv'. As her investigation deepens, she finds a connection between her and Sarah, leading to a wild goose chase for her Sarah.

    I was horrified by Sarah's story. I had never heard of the events of the Vel' d'Hiv' or the actions of the French against the Jews in their own country. Sarah's story was incredibly tragic. Julie's story, though, also made me uncomfortable and sad. Along the way, she discovers that she is pregnant and expects her husband to be happy... he is not. He is going through a mid-life crisis and wants her to get an abortion. Julie's situation, while not a matter of life and death over a whole group of people, still deals with the possible death of her unborn baby or the death of her marriage. I could not imagine ever needing to make that choice.

    Sarah's Key is enthralling and tragic, poignant and grievous. I recommend it for those ready to deal with many emotions while reading it. It's a quick read, but it definitely drained me emotionally.

    My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Book Review: Eromenos by Melanie McDonald

  • Eromenos

  • By: Melanie McDonald

  • Pub. Date: March 2011

  • Publisher: Seriously Good Books LLC

  • Format: Paperback , 176pp  

  • ISBN-13: 9780983155409

  • ISBN: 0983155402

  • Source: Received through Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

  • Synopsis:
    Eros and Thanatos converge in the story of a glorious youth, an untimely death, and an imperial love affair that gives rise to the last pagan god of antiquity. In this coming-of-age novel set in the second century AD, Antinous of Bithynia, a Greek youth from Asia Minor, recounts his seven-year affair with Hadrian, fourteenth emperor of Rome. In a partnership more intimate than Hadrian's sanctioned political marriage to Sabina, Antinous captivates the most powerful ruler on earth both in life and after death.
    This version of the affair between the emperor and his beloved ephebe vindicates the youth scorned by early Christian church fathers as a "shameless and scandalous boy" and "sordid and loathsome instrument of his master's lust." EROMENOS envisions the personal history of the young man who achieved apotheosis as a pagan god of antiquity, whose cult of worship lasted for hundreds of years—far longer than the cult of the emperor Hadrian.
    In EROMENOS, the young man Antinous, whose beautiful image still may be found in works of art in museums around the world, finds a voice of his own at last.

    My Review:
    Though slim, this novel is surprisingly thorough in the story of Antinous. Set in the second century A.D., Eromenos recounts Antinous' short life from a young boy living in rural Bithynia to his untimely death.

    I loved the richness of the details in this book right from the beginning. Eromenos describes all of the scenery of Antinous' home and travels. I knew very little about this time period or Hadrian's rule. However, without knowing much beforehand, I fell into the story and felt like I knew Antinous personally.
    Antinous meets Emperor Hadrian on one of Hadrian's tours through his empire. Shortly thereafter, Antinous is invited to study at Hadrian's school in Rome. Antinous excells in his studies, causing Hadrian to notice him once again. As Antinous deals with the social stratification that exists within Rome and especially Hadrian's court, Hadrian begins to pay more attention to Antinous. Antinous learns that Hadrian's current favorite young boy is getting too old to be considered a favorite anymore.

    After some time, Hadrian invites Antinous on a trip. Antinous learns on that trip what it means to be one of Hadrian's eromenos. From then on Antinous works to figure out what his role is in Hadrian's court. He doesn't want to abuse any power he may be given and he works to stay as Hadrian's favorite while maintaining his own self-respect
    When Antinous starts to grow too old to stay in the same position in Hadrian's court, he must decide what the rest of his life will be like. How will he take care of himself and who will stay on his side. Antinous' decision is poignant and beautifully written.
    While I highly enjoyed Eromenos, I want to know more about the people surrounding Antinous, especially Hadrian. The story is told only through Antinous, who has to spend most of the time figuring out life at court by himself. I want the whole story and what the other characters thought and how they viewed Antinous. Therefore, I enjoyed this novel as a microcosm on Antinous' life but it did leave me wanting more because I felt there was more to the story.

    My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    I received one copy of Eromenos for free to review. This did not affect my review in any way and I did not receive any other compensation for my review.

    To see the other reviews on tour, go here
    Melanie McDonald's website
    Twitter Event Hashtag = #EromenosVirtualBookTour
    Facebook page

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    Book Review: Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell

  • Claude & Camille

  • By: Stephanie Cowell

  • Pub. Date: April 2011

  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group

  • Format: Paperback, 330pp  

  • ISBN-13: 9780307463227

  • ISBN: 0307463222

  • Source: Library copy

  • Synopsis:

    Sometimes he dreamt he held her; that he would turn in bed and she would be there. But she was gone and he was old. Nearly seventy. Only cool paint met his fingers. “Ma très chère . . .” Darkness started to fall, dimming the paintings. He felt the crumpled letter in his pocket. “I loved you so,” he said. “I never would have had it turn out as it did. You were with all of us when we began, you gave us courage. These gardens at Giverny are for you but I’m old and you’re forever young and will never see them. . . .”

    In the mid-nineteenth century, a young man named Claude Monet decided that he would rather endure a difficult life painting landscapes than take over his father’s nautical supplies business in a French seaside town. Against his father’s will, and with nothing but a dream and an insatiable urge to create a new style of art that repudiated the Classical Realism of the time, he set off for Paris.

    But once there he is confronted with obstacles: an art world that refused to validate his style, extreme poverty, and a war that led him away from his home and friends. But there were bright spots as well: his deep, enduring friendships with men named Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro, Manet – a group that together would come to be known as the Impressionists, and that supported each other through the difficult years. But even more illuminating was his lifelong love, Camille Doncieux, a beautiful, upper-class Parisian girl who threw away her privileged life to be by the side of the defiant painter and embrace the lively Bohemian life of their time.

    His muse, his best friend, his passionate lover, and the mother to his two children, Camille stayed with Monet—and believed in his work—even as they lived in wretched rooms, were sometimes kicked out of those, and often suffered the indignities of destitution. She comforted him during his frequent emotional torments, even when he would leave her for long periods to go off on his own to paint in the countryside.

    But Camille had her own demons – secrets that Monet could never penetrate, including one that when eventually revealed would pain him so deeply that he would never fully recover from its impact. For though Camille never once stopped loving the painter with her entire being, she was not immune to the loneliness that often came with being his partner.

    A vividly-rendered portrait of both the rise of Impressionism and of the artist at the center of the movement, Claude and Camille is above all a love story of the highest romantic order. (Image and synopsis from

    My Review:

    Claude & Camille is the story of young Claude Monet, the famous impressionist painter. First, I'd like to say that while I would not consider myself that knowledgeable about art, Monet is my favorite artist and Impressionism my favorite style. I love the Impressionist gallery in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

    Monet, along with his friends Bazille, Renoir, Degas, Manet, Pissarro, and Cezanne, are poor starving artists. They believe in their artistic vision even though no one else is the least bit interested in their work. They are considered too modern and are often turned down at the yearly Salon art exhibit in Paris. Many of them have left their families and potentially stable futures in pursuit of the ever unstable world of art.

    Along the way, Claude Monet meets Camille Doncieux, a privileged girl already expecting a proposal from a  well-to do gentleman. Claude and Camille throw caution to the wind and fall in love with each other and move in together. This book shows their relationship and how two people who truly care for each other can still go through both good times and bad times. Their bad times are often compounded by their continual lack of money, Claude's artistic depressive episodes, and Camille's manic-depressive disorder (although never diagnosed, this book makes it clear that she has MDD).

    I think Cowell's best aspect in this book was accurately portraying life. As I've grown up, I've realized that life is not easy and there will always be hard times and hard decisions but there will also be good times that make life worth living. Cowell portrays that through Claude and Camille. They have their own very hard times and they make mistakes but they also have their great times in life. They also have their days where they are just living and going through life.

    I enjoyed all the aspects of Money's life and I particularly enjoyed learning more about my favorite artist. I hadn't realized how close he had been to his fellow contemporary artists. It was fun to see all of them interact and grow up.

    My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars