Thursday, September 26, 2013

Early Decision

Early Decision by Lacy Crawford
Publication date: August 27, 2013 by William Morrow
Source: publisher for an honest review
Description from Goodreads:

In Early Decision, debut novelist Lacy Crawford draws on 15 years of experience traveling the world as a highly sought-after private college counselor to illuminate the madness of college admissions.

Working one-on-one with Tiger-mothered, burned-out kids, Anne “the application whisperer” can make Harvard a reality. Early Decision follows five students over one autumn as Anne helps them craft their college essays, cram for the SATs, and perfect the Common Application. It seems their entire future is on the line—and it is. Though not because of Princeton and Yale. It’s because the process, warped as it is by money, connections, competition, and parental mania, threatens to crush their independence just as adulthood begins.

Whether you want to get in or just get out, with wit and heart, Early Decision explodes the secrets of the college admissions race.


My Take:

Early Decision by Lacy Crawford was a fast, entertaining read. I just recently went through the whole college application process with my son and it was still fresh in my mind while reading this book. 

I found the characters to be likable, for the most part. Some of the parents could be a bit much. There is a lot of pressure put on these kids and while most of the kids in the book are wealthy and won't have any problem getting into a university, the pressure to get into an ivy seems over the top at times.

I thought that Lacy Crawford did a great job of showing how parents can forget the big picture and what they actually want for the kids - or should want for them. Sometimes in the frenzy of work and life and raising our kids we forget that it is their future we are trying to prepare them for -- not ours. 

I felt empathy for Anne as she tries to figure out her own life all the while attempting to gently guide the students in writing their many drafts of personal statements for their college admission applications. I particularly enjoyed the tips and methods Anne uses in the book to get the students to write really great essays. 

Early Decision was a joy to read and  it provided many chuckles, some cringing over parents' behavior, and even a few actual laugh out loud moments. I enjoyed the book from start to finish and read it  in about a day.  The book is filled with examples of what not to do when your child is applying to colleges and even has some helpful tips.




Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Painted Hands Blog Tour and Review

Painted Hands by Jennifer Zobair
Publication date: June 11, 2013 by Thomas Dunne Books
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours for a fair review
Synopsis:
Muslim bad girl Zainab Mir has just landed a job working for a post-feminist, Republican Senate candidate. Her best friend Amra Abbas is about to make partner at a top Boston law firm. Together they’ve thwarted proposal-slinging aunties, cultural expectations, and the occasional bigot to succeed in their careers. What they didn’t count on? Unlikely men and geopolitical firestorms.
When a handsome childhood friend reappears, Amra makes choices that Zainab considers so 1950s—choices that involve the perfect Banarasi silk dress and a four-bedroom house in the suburbs. After hiding her long work hours during their courtship, Amra struggles to balance her demanding job and her unexpectedly traditional new husband.
Zainab has her own problems. She generates controversy in the Muslim community with a suggestive magazine spread and friendship with a gay reporter. Her rising profile also inflames neocons like Chase Holland, the talk radio host who attacks her religion publicly but privately falls for her hard. When the political fallout from a terrorist attempt jeopardizes Zainab’s job and protests surrounding a woman-led Muslim prayer service lead to violence, Amra and Zainab must decide what they’re willing to risk for their principles, their friendship, and love.

Jennifer Zobair’s Painted Hands is The Namesake meets Sex and the City, an engaging and provocative debut novel about the friendships, careers, and the love lives of American Muslim women.


My Take: 
Painted Hands sounded like a fun, interesting read with a new and different perspective. A different perspective for me anyway. I did find the book to be fun and interesting, and despite the fact that the novel tells the story of these young, American Muslim women, I found that there were many things I could relate to regarding their life choices and pressures from family and friends.

I appreciated that many of the issues between conservative and liberal issues in the book were not just religious, but political and economic as well. I found the characters to be diverse and believable. I really like Zainab and found her developing relationship with Chase to be very entertaining while at the same time, helpful in examining biases and personal motivations.

Amra, as the other main character, presents a more traditional view of life, but still a liberated young female lawyer, who wants it all - including the husband and children and the partnership in her firm.

Hayden rounds out the cast of young professional women in the book. Hayden is a troubled young woman who seeks out and uses her conversion to Islam as a place to hide and maybe heal from her pain. She was a very interesting character and helps in the explaining of different views of Islam. I was happy to see her grow and learn and finally become able to see herself and the people around her more clearly.

As I read Painted Hands, I was struck by how familiar many of the issues were - family demands and expectations contrasted with work demands and personal goals and dreams and always, regardless of religion, the differing ways of understanding and observing our religions. I thought that Jennifer Zobair did a wonderful job of showing just how similar we all are in spite of our different religious and/or political beliefs. I would recommend Painted Hands to anyone who enjoys women's fiction and anyone who is curious about how Muslim women see their lives and the world.


About Jennifer Zobair

Jennifer Zobair grew up in Iowa and attended Smith College and Georgetown Law School. She has practiced corporate and immigration law and, as a convert to Islam, has been a strong advocate for Muslim women’s rights. Her essays have been published in The Rumpus and The Huffington PostPainted Hands is her first novel. Jennifer lives with her husband, three children, and two dogs outside of Boston. For more information, please visit www.JenniferZobair.com.



Jennifer’s Tour Stops

Monday, September 9th: Bookalicious Mama
Tuesday, September 10th: Bibliophiliac
Wednesday, September 11th: Book Club Classics!
Thursday, September 12th: Ageless Pages Reviews
Monday, September 16th: BoundbyWords
Tuesday, September 17th: A Book Geek
Wednesday, September 18th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Thursday, September 19th: A Bookish Affair
Monday, September 23rd: BookNAround
Monday, September 23rd: Bibliotica
Tuesday, September 24th: Doing Dewey
Wednesday, September 25th: Stephany Writes
Thursday, September 26th: Drey’s Library
Monday, September 30th: Books in the City
Thursday, October 3rd: Reflections of a Bookaholic
Friday, October 4th: Not in Jersey
Monday, October 7th: Dreaming in Books

Tuesday, October 8th: Entomology of a Bookworm


Friday, September 6, 2013

Help for the Haunted

Help for the Haunted by John Searles
Publication date: September 17, 2013 by William Morrow
Source: ARC provided by publisher for an honest review
Description from Goodreads:
It begins with a call in the middle of snowy February evening. Lying in her bed, young Sylvie Mason overhears her parents on the phone across the hall. This is not the first late-night call they have received, since her mother and father have an uncommon occupation, helping "haunted souls" find peace. And yet, something in Sylvie senses that this call is different than the rest, especially when they are lured to the old church on the outskirts of town. Once there, her parents disappear, one after the other, behind the church's red door, leaving Sylvie alone in the car. Not long after, she drifts off to sleep only to wake to the sound of gunfire.

Nearly a year later, we meet Sylvie again struggling with the loss of her parents, and living in the care of her older sister, who may be to blame for what happened the previous winter.

As the story moves back and forth in time, through the years leading up to the crime and the months following, the ever inquisitive and tender-hearted Sylvie pursues the mystery, moving closer to the knowledge of what occurred that night, as she comes to terms with her family's past and uncovers secrets that have haunted them for years.

Capturing the vivid eeriness of Stephen King's works with the compelling quirkiness of John Irving's beloved novels, Help for the Haunted is that rare story that brings to life a richly imagined and wholly original world. From the very first page, it takes readers on a captivating journey, told in the heartbreakingly resonant voice of a young heroine who is determined to discover the truth about her family and what went wrong one snowy winter night.


My Take:

Help for the Haunted by John Searles was such a pleasant surprise. I just opened it to take a look and get a small sampling of the book because I had other books that needed to be read and reviewed first. Well, that didn't work - I dropped everything else and didn't stop reading until I had finished it. So much for prioritizing. This book swept me up into the mystery/crime suspense/supernatural story and didn't let go.

I really don't want to give anything away because this book should be experienced as a new and mostly unknown thing. There are a number of mysterious things in the story, and each one contributes to the suspense.

Help for the Haunted is a truly creepy story that starts off creepy for one reason, but as the reader makes her way through the book, it becomes creepy for other reasons as well. There is the supernatural thing which is fun and works so well with many aspects of the story line. Sylvie is the younger daughter of a couple who "help" those people who have problems of a certain type and haven't found the help they need from more conventional outlets. I loved how the pieces to the puzzle of Sylvie's family are slowly put together and hints and suggestions are given throughout the book without coming right out with the information. The suspense builds, then new information is given and a different kind of suspense builds.

I have written and rewritten this review three or four times trying to describe why I liked it so much without giving anything away.  I don't think I have explained it very well, but every time I start really digging into what I loved about the book I give something important away. So, suffice to say, I loved Help for the Haunted so much that I am recommending it to everyone who will listen to me. I am especially suggesting it now through the end of October. Such a fun read for this time of year.






Thursday, September 5, 2013

Queen's Gambit Blog Tour and Review

Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle
Publication Date: August 6, 2013 by Simon & Schuster 
Source: Publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours  for an honest review
Synopsis:

Widowed for the second time at age thirty-one Katherine Parr falls deeply for the dashing courtier Thomas Seymour and hopes at last to marry for love. However, obliged to return to court, she attracts the attentions of the ailing, egotistical, and dangerously powerful Henry VIII, who dispatches his love rival, Seymour, to the Continent. No one is in a position to refuse a royal proposal so, haunted by the fates of his previous wives—two executions, two annulments, one death in childbirth—Katherine must wed Henry and become his sixth queen.

Katherine has to employ all her instincts to navigate the treachery of the court, drawing a tight circle of women around her, including her stepdaughter, Meg, traumatized by events from their past that are shrouded in secrecy, and their loyal servant Dot, who knows and sees more than she understands. With the Catholic faction on the rise once more, reformers being burned for heresy, and those close to the king vying for position, Katherine’s survival seems unlikely. Yet as she treads the razor’s edge of court intrigue, she never quite gives up on love.



My Take:
Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle is a wonderful historical fiction novel about Katherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII's wives. I am embarrassed to admit that I really didn't know much about Katherine except that she was the last of his wives and played nursemaid to the then, old, ailing king with his rapid and often violent mood swings.

Queen's Gambit is told through Katherine's and her maid, Dot Fownton's point of view. I really enjoyed the switching of the narrator's voice throughout the book. It was refreshing to get the side of things that isn't often shown in novels. Dot is a hardworking and loyal woman who becomes more of a friend to Katherine rather than just being her maid. Through Dot's narrative the reader is shown the rougher, work-a-day world of the period as well as all the back-breaking effort it took to keep the royal households running so smoothly. Dot goes to great lengths to help Katherine and despite the hardships she encounters, she continues to be strong and faithful.

I was very interested to see how Katherine was portrayed in Queen's Gambit and I was not disappointed. Even though she was older than his other wives, the book portrayed Katherine as still being beautiful, but much more sensible than the previous wives and very intelligent - not just intellectually but also socially - she fully understood how things worked and who were the players behind the scenes and the implications for every action and word.

I really appreciated the fact that the author made clear just what a woman's position was at court and within families. Katherine had little say in who she married and she knew her duty as a woman of certain standing. It also demonstrated the very real peril she was in at times due to Henry's mood swings and the various players trying to influence him against her specifically and against religious reformers in general.  I thought Elizabeth Fremantle did a wonderful job of showing the reader just what a turbulent time it was and how all of this affected the entire court, and also Henry's children and Katherine.

Despite the dangers, Katherine believed in religious reform and the controversies, the strain of Mary and Elizabeth's religious differences, and the king's renewed  religious conservatism are examined and play an important part in the story. Fortunately, Katherine is too smart to fall into any obvious entrapment and is able to manage the king and his lackeys.

Even though through her wits and strength, Katherine survives King Henry VIII, she does not live the happily-ever-after life that she deserved. She married Thomas Seymour, the one love of her life, a bit too hastily and caused a scandal.  Seymour soon proved that he was not quite the man she had hoped he was; and then she died soon after giving birth to her only child. Such a tragic story.

Even though most of us know that basics of the story, Queen's Gambit was a great study in the details of Katherine Parr and life at King Henry VIII's court in the later years. I was thoroughly entertained, educated and completely intrigued by the picture of life during the final years of Henry's reign. I really loved this book. This is definitely a book I will recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and especially Tudor history and strong, intelligent women.


About the Author

Elizabeth FremantleElizabeth Fremantle holds a first class degree in English and an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck College London. She has contributed as a fashion editor to various publications including Vogue, Elle and The Sunday Times. QUEEN’S GAMBIT is her debut novel and is the first in a Tudor trilogy. The second novel, SISTERS OF TREASON, will be released in 2014. She lives in London.
For more about Elizabeth and her future projects, please visit her website. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Pinterest.

Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Monday, August 12
Feature & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, August 13
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Review & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, August 14
Review at The Library of Alexandra
Review & Giveaway at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Thursday, August 15
Review at From Left to Write
Friday, August 16
Review & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Monday, August 19
Review & Interview at A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, August 20
Review & Giveaway at Book-alicious Mama
Wednesday, August 21
Review at The Happy Booker
Thursday, August 22
Review & Giveaway at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Friday, August 23
Review & Giveaway at vvb32 Reads
Interview at The Happy Booker
Monday, August 26
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, August 27
Review at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Wednesday, August 28
Review at Medieval Bookworm
Thursday, August 29
Review at The Musings of ALMYBNENR
Friday, August 30
Review & Giveaway at The Tudor Book Blog
Monday, September 2
Feature & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Interview at Layered Pages
Tuesday, September 3
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Review & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court
Wednesday, September 4
Review at Booktalk & More
Interview at The Tudor Book Blog
Thursday, September 5
Review at A Book Geek
Friday, September 6
Review at History Undressed
Review at Impressions in Ink
Review & Giveaway at Drey’s Library
Review & Giveaway at Always with a Book
Monday, September 9
Review at She Is Too Fond of Books
Tuesday, September 10
Review at A Bookish Libraria
Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, September 11
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Thursday, September 12
Review at Closed the Cover
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Review at Carole’s Ramblings and Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell

Friday, September 13
Review & Giveaway at Books in the Burbs
Review & Giveaway at A Dream Within a Dream