Sunday, July 20, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (186)

It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

It's been a quiet week now that my reading program is over at the library. I am now working on my next project which is weeding the fiction because we are going to be moving our genre fiction out of the fiction stacks and setting them apart so they are easier to browse. I like how easy it is to find fiction by genre in bookstores and I think our patrons will prefer it that way. It will take some time and we will probably still be working on it into the new year!

I had the weekend off and planned to get more reading done. I finished one book yesterday but my eyes decided they were tired today and became blurry so I've been listening to audio instead. 

Books reviewed:

Love by the Morning Star by Laura L. Sullivan

Books read:

Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn

This is a companion novel to City of Jasmine and it acts as a bridge of sorts between the author's 1920s historical novels and her Lady Julia mysteries. I enjoyed the adventure but I think I liked City of Jasmine more. The ending kind of disappointed me but I am hoping the next book will wrap things up even if Poppy is not the focus.

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran

This is the book we are reading for my evening book discussion group. It is about three sisters who escaped Iran and have come to Ireland to open a restaurant. Some of the villagers are welcoming while others are afraid of their "foreign ways". I liked the recipes and descriptions of food (it has drawn comparisons to Chocolat) and while I liked the main characters, I think the book could have used more character development.

Currently reading:

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (reread)

I am almost done with this audio book and should have it finished this week so I can get started on The Son of Neptune.

What I plan to read next:

The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh

This is my afternoon book group's selection. It is a historical fiction novel set in South Africa during the 1880s.

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (reread)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Review: Love by the Morning Star

Love by the Morning Star
By Laura L. Sullivan
Published: June 3, 2014

Upstairs, downstairs, and in which lady’s chamber?  

On the brink of World War II, two girls are sent to  the grand English country estate of Starkers. Hannah, the half-Jewish daughter of a disgraced distant relative, has been living an artistic bohemian life in a cabaret in pre-war Germany and now is supposed to be welcomed into the family. Anna, the social-climbing daughter of working-class British fascists, is supposed to be hired as a maid so that she can spy for the Nazis. But there’s a mix-up, and nice Hannah is sent to the kitchen as a maid while arrogant Anna is welcomed as a relative.

And then both girls fall for the same man, the handsome heir of the estate . . . or do they? 

In this sparkling, saucy romance, nearly everything goes wrong for two girls who are sent to a grand English estate on the brink of World War II—until it goes so very, very right!

My review:

Hannah is hardworking and has a positive and cheerful outlook on life and she is also a dreamer. She is a terrible maid but she tries her best and her coworkers can't help but like her because of her charm and disposition. She believes that her relatives mean for her to be a maid in their home because they are disappointed in her mother's choice of husband. Her pride keeps her from confronting them about her treatment at their hands and she decides to make the best of her situation. 

Anna doesn't really feel as strongly about Fascism as her father does but she jumps at the chance to serve the National Fascist Front when it involves going to an English estate as a spy. Anna wants to set herself apart from her low upbringing and embrace the opportunities she has been presented when she is mistaken for Lord Liripip's niece. Her goal is to marry well and she sets her sights on the heir, Lord Winkfield, otherwise known as Teddy. 

Love by the Morning Star is a comedy of errors with one likable but naive protagonist (Hannah) and one not-so-likable but naive protagonist (Anna) who turns out to be not so bad in the end. The story is rather silly and over the top but I liked Hannah and wanted to see her get a happy ending. The romance didn't quite work for me because I thought that Teddy wasn't good enough for Hannah and I thought things wrapped up too neatly but this is not meant to be realistic historical fiction. Even though some serious topics are covered, the book maintains a humorous tone. I enjoyed it because I knew what to expect and it definitely made me laugh at times.

It is supposed to be teen fiction but I think the writing style and tone do not quite fit the genre. Normally teen historical fiction still has a somewhat modern feel to it at least in the dialogue even if the characters don't sound like 21st Century teens. With this book, it really did seem like something that my grandmother or mother could have read as a teen. Hannah's way of speaking and thinking (very similar to the way film heroines spoke in the 30's and 40's) may take some time to get used to. I think that might make it a hard sell for teens at my library. I think adult readers of historical romance might appreciate it more although the protagonists are young and the romance is relatively "clean" and fairy-tale like. Teen readers of historical fiction who can get past the unusual voice of the protagonists (mostly Hannah) might find themselves really enjoying the story. If you liked A Countess Below Stairs (The Secret Countess) and The Reluctant Heiress by Eva Ibbotson, Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl or The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons then you will probably enjoy Love by the Morning Star.  Pick it up if you are in the mood for something light and silly with a happy ending. 

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher

Sunday, July 13, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (185)

It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

After a crazy week of library programs, the weekend felt kind of dull now that summer reading program is over. My murder mystery dinner was a success and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun although once again no one guessed the killer (it is one of those games where the suspects don't even know who the killer is until the confession is read). I am now planning another smaller murder mystery program for Halloween and have some ideas for making sure the killer gets caught this time :)

Books reviewed:

City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn

Books read:

I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan

I really enjoyed this one but there is a creepy story (involving a perverted phone call from a "patron") in it that also happened to someone who works at my library.  The stories are so similar we couldn't help but wonder if the same person was pranking different libraries. Thankfully to counter the unpleasant/creepy stories, there are also positive and inspiring stories too.

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan (reread)

Currently reading:

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (reread)

I listened to this audio book last year and thought I would listen to the whole series on audio to get ready for the final book, The Blood of Olympus, this October. It will be sad when it is over. Not sure if Rick Riordan will revisit these characters again or just move on to his Norse mythology series.

Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn

This is a companion novel to City of Jasmine (see the link to my review of that one above). I like it so far and I think fans of City of Jasmine and the Lady Julia mysteries should definitely give this a try. There will be cameos of beloved characters...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Review: City of Jasmine

City of Jasmine
By Deanna Raybourn
Published: February 25, 2014

My review:

In the years since her husband's death, Evangeline Starke has become an aviatrix. While on tour she is stunned to receive a photo of her husband that was taken recently in Damascus. Evie decides to investigate and heads straight into adventure and danger.

This was a fun and romantic adventure story and I enjoyed it much more than its companion novel, A Spear of Summer Grass. The novel has humor, suspense, plenty of action, exotic settings and entertaining characters. It put me in mind of Indiana Jones or Brendan Fraser's The Mummy

Evie is a headstrong girl and resourceful girl but she sometimes irritated me when she charged into danger. Evie is determined to figure out the mystery even if she doesn't always use the best judgment. Gabriel is intelligent and mysterious and there is definitely more to him than what is on the surface (which was apparent to everyone but Evie). The relationship dynamics between Evie and Gabriel reminded me of that between Lady Julia and Brisbane from the author's Lady Julia Grey series.  They have great chemistry and it is fun to watch them work together. 

City of Jasmine would be a great book to take to the beach this summer. While I still prefer the author's Lady Julia Grey mysteries, this was an enjoyable book and I wouldn't mind reading more about Evie's adventures. I think this would appeal to readers who like historical fiction, adventure movies and romance.

Note: I received an e-ARC for review purposes courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher

Sunday, July 6, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (184)

It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

I just got back today from spending 4th of July weekend with my parents. It was a busy weekend and it made me realize that this summer is just flying by. 

This week will be crazy at work as we wrap up our summer reading programs. On Tuesday evening I have my final brewery tour and beer tasting program (thankfully I just have to show up for this one) and on Thursday is the long awaited masquerade murder mystery dinner. I am trying to be as organized as possible by making lists of stuff I need to do each day so I won't be as overwhelmed. 

Books reviewed:

Books read:

The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan (reread)

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (reread)

The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan (reread)

Currently reading:

This is an entertaining collection of the unusual things that occur in public libraries. I am enjoying it so far and I can definitely relate.  The author shares more funny and strange tales of librarianship on tumblr:

What I plan to read next:

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan (reread)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review: The Pearl That Broke Its Shell

The Pearl That Broke Its Shell
By Nadia Hashimi
Published: May 6, 2014

Afghan-American Nadia Hashimi's literary debut novel, The Pearl that Broke Its Shell is a searing tale of powerlessness, fate, and the freedom to control one's own fate that combines the cultural flavor and emotional resonance of the works of Khaled Hosseini, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Lisa See.

In Kabul, 2007, with a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can only sporadically attend school, and can rarely leave the house. Their only hope lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a son, she can attend school, go to the market, and chaperone her older sisters.

But Rahima is not the first in her family to adopt this unusual custom. A century earlier, her great-aunt, Shekiba, left orphaned by an epidemic, saved herself and built a new life the same way.

Crisscrossing in time, The Pearl the Broke Its Shell interweaves the tales of these two women separated by a century who share similar destinies. But what will happen once Rahima is of marriageable age? Will Shekiba always live as a man? And if Rahima cannot adapt to life as a bride, how will she survive?

My review:

The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is a fascinating book because of its depiction of bacha posh and some of the cultural practices in Afghanistan. I have read other fiction set in Afghanistan but I had never heard of bacha posh. Rahima's aunt (Khala) Shaima first suggests the idea to her mother since Rahima's opium addicted dad won't let the girls attend school and they can't even go to the store to get things they need. Rahima eagerly agrees and finds freedom in being able to go to school and run and play with the boys. Her dad also begins to see her as a person as his son "Rahim". Unfortunately this won't last forever and soon enough Rahima hits puberty and has to transform back into a sheltered girl and be married off. 

Interspersed with Rahima's journey is that of her great-aunt Shekiba. Shekiba means gift and as the character notes, a gift is something you give away. Shekiba experienced a lot of misfortune as a young girl. She was badly scarred in an accident when she was a child, then her mother and sister and brothers all died in a cholera epidemic. She helped her father, doing backbreaking labor on their farm but when he died, she was taken in by his family who treat her terribly and sell her off as a servant to pay their debts. Eventually Shekiba finds herself dressing as a man, working as a guard of the king's harem. 

Both Shekiba and Rahima's stories are filled with struggles and sorrow. It is sad that Rahima finds confidence and freedom only when she is dressed as a boy but that confidence gives her strength to face what lies ahead of her as a woman. Shekiba is physically strong but even though she is a little naive because of her upbringing, she also finds mental strength through her experiences.

This story focuses predominantly on women but what is sad is that even though the men in their lives tend to treat them terribly they can also be vicious to each other. The practice of multiple wives certainly makes for some tense family dynamics. There are some admirable women though such as the protagonists, Khala Shaima, and Rahima's friends at the training center.  While the story could be bleak, there was also hope and the ending definitely suggests that there are better things ahead for Rahima and other women like her. The book examines the idea of naseeb, or destiny, and the courage of the characters to try to change their destiny.

I think this book would appeal to fans of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini as well as those interested in learning more about some of the struggles faced by women in Afghanistan. There are also two nonfiction books about bacha posh being released this fall (The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg and I am a Bacha Posh by Ukmina Manoori).

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss