Monday, February 25, 2013

The First Warm Evening of the Year Blog Tour and Review

The First Warm Evening of the Year by Jamie M. Saul
review copy provided by William Morrow via TLC Book Tours
Synopsis:

Geoffrey Tremont is untroubled by his neat, contented bachelor life in bustling New York City. On an ordinary day, Geoffrey arrives home to find a letter awaiting him with a postmark from an unfamiliar town: Shady Grove, New York. An old friend has named him the executor of her estate. Twenty years ago, in college, Geoffrey and Laura Welles had been each other’s confidant; as their lives diverged, they went their separate ways. Now she’s reached out of the past to ask him a final favor.
Traveling up to Laura’s hometown, Geoffrey meets Marian Ballantine. A widow living in the shadow of an idyllic marriage and now grieving the loss of her best friend, Marian knows a lot about Geoffrey. Laura often spoke of him, she tells him, and though he’s flattered, he’s also thrown off balance. From the moment he first sees her, Geoffrey instinctively knows this attractive, plainspoken woman has the power to upend his cool, compartmentalized life.
The First Warm Evening of the Year is a gripping and evocative novel that resonates on every page with the joys and pains of being alive.

My Take:

The First Warm Evening of the Year was a real treat. It is a love story, but not really a typical romance novel. It examines new love and past love, but not really young love. I found the story to be introspective, thoughtful, and more mature than most of the romance-type novels I've read of late. I hate to even call it a romance, I will refer to it as a love story instead.  This is one that needs to be read and not read about, so no extensive plot summary here.

It is a love story but it also examines loss and grief and the ways these can take over a life.  The novel  looks at relationships and life and the way we each choose to live our lives. I thought the contemplative, self-examination that Geoffrey and Marian engage in was actually refreshing. I liked the pacing of the book – not a head-long rush, but a much slower, consider everything kind of pace. I was pleased that the characters were a bit older, hopefully wiser, and felt they needed to really think about the implications of their actions and what was the best thing for their lives. There is a lot of soul searching and frank examination of life and decisions made and the consequences of those decisions.

This is one of those books that the reader will probably continue thinking about long after they have finished reading it. I will definitely be recommending it to my friends and my book club. 


About Jamie M. Saul

I was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, attended public school there, and graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School, an all-boys school, at the time, with renowned alumni that includes Richard Avedon, the great photographer; novelist James Baldwin; playwrights and screenwriters Paddy Chayefsky and Neil Simon; and several famous actors, film directors, and athletes. I received my bachelors degree in English from Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana.
For most my life, all I wanted to do, which is to say the only thing I wanted to be, was a writer, and all my energies were directed toward that goal. Most everything else about me that is pertinent can be found in the P.S. material at the back of the Harper Perennial edition of my novel Light of Day. I can add that my life has been and still is fairly unremarkable. I have very little in common with the characters of Light of Day. I don’t have any children. I have never been divorced nor abandoned by a wife, and except for being a guest professor at Yale, I’ve never held a position with a college or university. I will say that I have a dislike of facile thinking; one’s mind should always stay open and remain keen to change and new ideas. To quote e.e. cummings “…even if it’s Sunday, may i be wrong.”
My interest in art and artists also began around the time I discovered foreign cinema, and the artists I admire are also mentioned in my P.S. material, but I will add that along with Paul Cézanne, I consider Marcel Duchamp among the most important artists and thinkers of the modern era.
Connect with me on Facebook.


The Remaining tour stops:

Tuesday, February 26th: Book Journey
Wednesday, February 27th: The Scarlet Letter
Thursday, February 28th: Regular Rumination
Tuesday, March 5th: Lavish Bookshelf
Wednesday, March 6th: Iwriteinbooks’s blog
Thursday, March 7th: A Chick Who Reads
Date TBD: Speaking of Books



Friday, February 22, 2013

Feature & Follow (19)


I haven't participated in Feature & Follow in a while, so I'm joining in once again. This is a fun way to find some new blogs and add followers. Feature & Follow is hosted by Parajunkee of Parajunkee's View and Alison from Alison Can Read. Be sure to follow them and the Featured blog and enjoy this week's Feature question.



Our Feature is Jelly of Jelly’s Insider

When did you start blogging?
January 2013. I am a newbie though I have been writing reviews on goodreads for a year now.
What is your favorite part of book blogging?
Meeting new people. As cliche as that sounds, I love people! Unfortunately, nobody in my life is as much of a book nerd as I am. If I can’t find someone to confess my book obsessions to, I’ll explode. I think the whole book blog community is a great way for authors,publishers, and readers to get together and share their interest.
What type of books do you mainly blog about?
Mostly YA fantasy, paranormal, and dystopian fiction. I also like adult urban fantasy,paranormal romance, and New Adult romances!
What is your favorite book(s)?
Hard question. I really hate choosing favorites.My current favorites are Moira Young’s Dustland series, Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, Susan Ee’s Angelfall, and Ann Aguirre’s Razorland series.
What has been the best thing that has happened to you because of book blogging?
You mean besides being featured? Everything! It’s hard to say because I am still so new. This answer goes back to question two. I have met some lovely people around here that write very entertaining reviews. Everyone I have met so far is very sweet. I am very excited to make new memories with other bloggers.


This weeks Question:

We always talk about books that WE want. Let’s turn it on its head. What books have you given other people lately?

I am always giving my daughter books, but I don't think that really counts because that is my job as her mother. I try to only give books that I think people will really like because I hate the idea of a book just sitting on a shelf and not being read. Because of this, I am pretty selective about which books I give to friends and family. I did give a copy of The Headmaster's Wager to a friend who reads very widely because I thought she would like the historical aspect to the book, and it's just a really good book.




Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Thwarted Queen Blog Tour and Review

Thwarted Queen by Cynthia Haggard
Review copy provided by the author via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Synopsis:

THWARTED QUEEN is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear.
Cecylee is the apple of her mother’s eye. The seventh daughter, she is the only one left unmarried by 1424, the year she turns nine. In her father’s eyes, however, she is merely a valuable pawn in the game of marriage. The Earl of Westmorland plans to marry his youngest daughter to 13-year-old Richard, Duke of York, who is close to the throne. He wants this splendid match to take place so badly, he locks his daughter up.
The event that fuels the narrative is Cecylee’s encounter with Blaybourne, a handsome archer, when she is twenty-six years old. This love affair produces a child (the “One Seed” of Book II), who becomes King Edward IV. But how does a public figure like Cecylee, whose position depends upon the goodwill of her husband, carry off such an affair? The duke could have locked her up, or disposed of this illegitimate son.
But Richard does neither, keeping her firmly by his side as he tries to make his voice heard in the tumultuous years that encompass the end of the Hundred Years War – during which England loses all of her possessions in France – and the opening phase of the Wars of the Roses. He inherits the political mantle of his mentor Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, and become’s the people’s champion. The rambunctious Londoners are unhappy that their country has become mired in misrule due to the ineptitude of a King prone to fits of madness. Nor are they better pleased by the attempts of the King’s French wife to maneuver herself into power, especially as she was responsible for England’s losses in France. But can Richard and Cecylee prevail? Everywhere, their enemies lurk in the shadows.
This book is filled with many voices, not least those of the Londoners, who forged their political destiny by engaging in public debate with the powerful aristocrats of the time. By their courageous acts, these fifteenth-century Londoners set the stage for American Democracy.

My Take:

Thwarted Queen by Cynthia Sally Haggard tackles a fascinating and famous time period - that of the Wars of the Roses. I have read several books that take place during this period, but they always seem to be told from the male perspective. In Thwarted Queen, the reader is able to read about the events through a female point of view - a unique view, in fact. The book is told from Cecylee Neville's  point of view - she is the wife of Richard, Duke of York, and the mother of Edward IV and Richard III.

This is a work of historical fiction, so some liberties are taken within the story that aren't necessarily completely accepted, such as the affair Cecylee had with the archer, Blaybourne, leading to the birth of Cecylee's firstborn son, Edward. This explanation does go a long way in explaining some of the more irregular behavior and some political problems that arose after her son became King Edward IV. I thought it made sense and added many things for the reader to consider.

Because women were generally not considered important enough for their lives to be documented, we have very little information about what Cecylee was really like as a person. However, Haggard portrays Cecylee as fairly modern in her attitudes about women and their place in society. But this could be attributed in part, to the fact that she is related to Geoffrey Chaucer, and reads his Canterbury Tales, and in particular, "The Wife of Bath's Tale" is a major influence on her.  While I doubt that Cecylee was actually quite as independent and free spirited as she is portrayed in the book, I like to think of her that way.  Cecylee, as described by Cynthia Sally Haggard, was smart, a fast learner, a shrewd politician at times and very observant of the people around her.And while Cecylee was a smart woman, her biggest weakness was being completely blind to her own children's faults. This leads to many of her worst decisions and some of the worst events in the story.Despite her faults, she does finally realize her errors and tries to make amends.  I really liked Cecylee and I empathized with her situation. Through her eyes and through her tale, the reader is drawn into the complex, complicated, and dangerous world in which she lived.

I enjoyed all the history that Haggard works into the story. She manages to explain the political backdrop as well as the many and various players in the political scene and the complexities of their relationships and alliances with painstaking care.

I would heartily recommend Thwarted Queen to anyone who enjoys historical fiction particularly those who enjoy the history aspect to historical fiction.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Born and raised in Surrey, England, CYNTHIA SALLY HAGGARD has lived in the United States for twenty-nine years. She has had four careers: violinist, cognitive scientist, medical writer and novelist. Why does she write historical novels? Because she has been reading them with great enjoyment since she was a child. Because she has a great imagination and a love of history that won’t go away. And because she has an annoying tendency to remember trivial details of the past and to treat long-dead people as if they were more real than those around her.
Cynthia’s biggest influence was her grandmother, Stephanie Treffry, who had a natural story-telling ability. As a widow in 1970s Britain, Grandma Stephanie didn’t drive a car, so would spend time waiting for buses. Her stories were about various encounters she had at those bus-stops. Nothing extraordinary, except that she made them so funny, everyone was in fits of laughter. A born entertainer, Cynthia tries to emulate her when she writes her novels.
In case you were wondering, she is related to H. Rider Haggard, the author of SHE and KING SOLOMONS’S MINES. (H. Rider Haggard was a younger brother of her great-grandfather.) Cynthia Sally Haggard is a member of the Historical Novel Society. You can visit her website at www.spunstories.com.



THWARTED QUEEN by Cynthia Sally HaggardVirtual Book Tour Schedule:

Monday, February 11
Review at Griperang’s Bookmarks
Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading

Tuesday, February 12
Review at The Book Garden

Wednesday, February 13
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages

Thursday, February 14
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Friday, February 15
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Guest Post at Flashlight Commentary

Monday, February 18
Review at The Lit Bitch
Review & Giveaway at Confessions of an Avid Reader

Tuesday, February 19
Interview & Giveaway at The Lit Bitch

Wednesday, February 20
Review at A Book Geek

Thursday, February 21
Review at Psychotic State Book Reviews
Feature & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court

Friday, February 22
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair

Monday, February 25
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Tuesday, February 26
Review at Kinx’s Book Nook
Interview & Giveaway at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Wednesday, February 27
Review at A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, February 28
Author Guest Post at A Chick Who Reads

Friday, March 1
Review at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews





Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by The Countess of Carnarvon
Kindle edition purchased from amazon.com
Description from Goodreads:
Lady Fiona Carnarvon became the chatelaine of Highclere Castle - the setting of the hit series Downton Abbey - eight years ago. In that time she's become fascinated by the rich history of Highclere, and by the extraordinary people who lived there over the centuries.

One person particularly captured Fiona's imagination - Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon.

Almina was the illegitimate daughter of banking tycoon Alfred de Rothschild. She was his only daughter and he doted on her. She married George, the Earl of Carnarvon, at 19 with an enormous dowry.

At first, life at Highclere was a dizzying mix of sumptuous banquets for 500 and even the occasional royal visitor. Almina oversaw 80 members of staff - many of whom came from families who had worked at Highclere for generations.

But when the First World War broke out, life at Highclere changed forever.

History intervened and Almina and the staff of Highclere were thrown into one of the most turbulent times of the last century. Almina was forced to draw on her deepest reserves of courage in order to ensure her family, the staff and the castle survived.

This is the remarkable story of a lost time. But Highclere remains and in this book, Fiona weaves Almina's journey into the heritage and history of one of England's most exquisite Victorian castles.


My Take:
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey is one of those books everyone is suggesting to those of us who love the show Downton Abbey. I do love Downton Abbey. This isn't a new thing though, because I have always loved the historical periods portrayed in Downton Abbey. Naturally, when I saw this book on several reading lists for Downton, I had to read it.

The book is not exactly history, not quite biography, but kind of a combination of both. The book is mostly the story of Almina Wombwell Herbert, the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothchild and  begins when she marries George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon. It is also the story of the castle itself, the Herbert family who lives upstairs and the staff who live downstairs and on the estate.

This was an enjoyable book. I enjoyed reading about life in the castle and the parallels between actual events and people and the characters and plot lines in Downton Abbey. There is extensive information about how World War I affected those living and working at Carnarvon.

 I wasn't aware before reading the book that it was Almina's husband, George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who was the financial backer of Howard Carver and the excavation of Tutankhamun's tomb. 

This is a quick read and if you are at all interested in this time period and in the lifestyle of the wealthy aristocratic family, you should enjoy reading Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey



Friday, February 1, 2013

How Literature Saved My Life

How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields
digital review copy provided by Knopf via edelweiss
Summary:
"Reading How Literature Saved My Life is like getting to listen in on a really great, smart, provocative conversation. The book is not straightforward, it resists any single interpretation, and it seems to me to constitute nothing less than a new form." --Whitney Otto

In this wonderfully intelligent, stunningly honest, painfully funny book, acclaimed writer David Shields uses himself as a representative for all readers and writers who seek to find salvation in literature.

Blending confessional criticism and anthropological autobiography, Shields explores the power of literature (from Blaise Pascal's Pensées to Maggie Nelson's Bluets, Renata Adler's Speedboat to Proust's Remembrance of Things Past) to make life survivable, maybe even endurable. Shields evokes his deeply divided personality (his "ridiculous" ambivalence), his character flaws, his woes, his serious despairs. Books are his life raft, but when they come to feel un-lifelike and archaic, he revels in a new kind of art that is based heavily on quotation and consciousness. And he shares with us a final irony: he wants "literature to assuage human loneliness, but nothing can assuage human loneliness. Literature doesn't lie about this--which is what makes it essential."

A captivating, thought-provoking, utterly original way of thinking about the essential acts of reading and writing.

My Take:
Oh, how I loved this book. And, oh, how difficult it is to explain exactly why. How Literature Saved My Life is unlike any other book I have read.  The title alone is reason enough to read the book. Can literature save a life? Sometimes I think yes and sometimes I think no. Perhaps if you read the right book. This book.

How Literature Saved My Life is a difficult book to describe accurately and I definitely can't categorize it. While I was reading it, I kept thinking that this book reminded me of a professor I had in college who tried so hard to show a classroom full of typical college students how literature could help them make it through to the other side when they finally had to deal with their own 'dark night of the soul'. As an older student in the class, I was silently agreeing with him, but I don't think he got through to very many of the students. This book seems like a long examination of this concept -- literature can show us that we aren't the only one trying to figure out what life is all about; we aren't alone in our pursuit.

I loved this book because reading it felt like those late nights at the local pub arguing and discussing and laughing with other English majors about various poems, books, plays - and the rambling way we went off on tangents, but it all seemed to wind back around and make some kind of beautiful sense.

I will read How Literature Saved My Life again and again.