Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: The Thirteenth Tale

Title: The Thirteenth Tale
Author: Diane Setterfield
Length: 406 pages
Publisher: Atria
Genre: Fiction
Source: Purchased
My Rating:SmileySmileySmileySmiley
Synopsis (from Goodreads): Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father's antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise–she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.

Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.

As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story. In the end, both women have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets. As well as the ghosts that haunt them still.

My Review: This was a tale that sucked me in from the beginning and didn't let me go until the very last page and then I still just sat there and thought about it, let it haunt me for a little longer.  It was literary fiction, it was a Gothic novel, it was a mystery, and for me it even turned into a tear jerker. I can't tell you exactly when anything in this novel takes place and that is because a date is never mentioned.  It does nothing but add to the feel of the book, increases your wondering, increases the mystery.  To say much about the actual plot, other than what it says in the synopsis, I think would be a bit of a spoiler.  This story must unfold as you read it, as you become as invested in it as both Miss Winter and Margaret are. There are enough twists and turns and sub-plots to keep just about anyone interested.  If you enjoy a well written, engrossing, haunting novel then I would suggest you give this one a try.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: Sarah's Key

Title: Sarah's Key
Author: Tatiana de Rosnay
Length: 378 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Genre: Fiction/Historical fiction
Source: Purchased
My Rating:SmileySmileySmiley
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
A young girl.
A fateful key.
A woman searching for the truth…
Experience the novel that has touched millions.
Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten-year-old girl, is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door to door arresting Jewish families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah locks him in a bedroom cupboard—their secret hiding place—and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released.
Sixty Years Later: Sarah’s story intertwines with that of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the roundup. In her research, Julia stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own future.                                                                                                       
With more than five million copies in print and over two years on the New York Times bestseller list, Sarah’s Key has made its way into the hearts and minds of readers everywhere. Now, with this beautiful new hardcover edition, the gift of powerful storytelling can be shared with the ones you love.

My Review:  I bought this book based on some good reviews and my current like of  WWII historical fiction.  This book was well written and engaging, at least for the first 2/3rds of the story.

I loved the chapters which described Sarah's experiences.  They were riveting, emotional, and horrifying all at the same time. I had not previously been aware of this incident in France during WWII and was glad to read it's history.  I became involved with this character.  Each time her story was paused I waited for it to be Sarah's turn again.  Unfortunately Sarah's story ended too soon and then we are left with just Julia's.

I never really liked Julia's character but also didn't dislike her, at least in the beginning.  I was able to follow along, patiently, with the parallel stories, waiting for them to intersect.  I could understand both her professional and personal reasons for pursuing Sarah's story. However, at some point, her continued pursuit goes beyond reasonable and becomes completely selfish.  It was at this point that issues with her character in the beginning of the book could no longer be overlooked, because the underlying story was so good, but combined with her selfishness and made her completely unlikable in my eyes. I'm afraid if I say much more it will fall into the spoiler realm so I'll leave it here.

If this had been Sarah's story alone this book would've been great.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Review: Stiletto 911

Title: Stiletto 911: The Makeover Manifesto of a Career Woman
Authors: Vivian Valtas Schmidt, Sue Publicover
Length: 269 pages
Publisher: Glamour Press House
Genre: Self-help, Chick-lit, Fiction
Source: Goodreads Giveaway
My Rating:Smiley
Synopsis (from Goodreads): “No matter how bad you’re feeling, you perk up when you have something to strut about — and in. But, while shoes are fun, stilettos represent a challenge. You can’t possibly slip on a pair of four-plus-inch stilettos for the first time and walk the walk without wobbling. Everyone starts in flats, because there’s no challenge to walking around in them — nor do you enjoy the feel of red-hot femininity and admiring glances. You have to work your way up, and the same is true in business: Inch by inch, we get taller. Our confidence rises. We will undoubtedly stumble —that’s called 'experience' — but we will never give up.”

Morgan Demarest is a twenty-three year old fashion diva who has a passion for shopping, stilettos, and indulgence. But her spree-filled life takes a life-altering turn when her fiery artist lover tosses Morgan and her precious designer wardrobe out of his Chicago loft. Having been raised by well-meaning parents who swooped in and saved the day on countless occasions, Morgan is distraught to find that safety net is now gone. As her self-centered world crumbles, Morgan is forced to take a hard look at her past, present, and future. She begins a surprising journey of self-discovery on the road to a new life — in the company of a 21st century Fairy Godmother who has her own set of rules.

This fable for today’s woman also features a series of 'footnotes' with advice, ideas, exercises, and the occasional kick in the big girl panties.

My Review This book sounded like it would be a fun read. I must admit that it was an easy read and it had some amusing moments and some of your typical self-help advice which everyone could use a reminder of now and then.

However the Fairy Godmother really irritated me. I don't think that there was any point where I liked her, which decidedly took away from the story. I also found that the timeline was a little hard to follow, i.e. had just one day past of a couple of months, and a few characters who commanded attention and weren't followed through with properly as the story progressed. Some of the advice given occasionally seemed to contradict, or be at odds with, other advice and the general intention of the book. Possibly a small or petty issue I had was some proof-reading errors and sentences that started with "and" and "but". These would not normally be a breaking point but along with the other issues I had they were noticeable.  In the end the story was summarily and tritely ended.

I hope that some people get some needed advice from this book and that I eventually get back into my stilettos. Unfortunately I would not recommend this book to my friends.

Review: Prague Fatale (Bernard Gunther #8)

Title: Prague Fatale (Bernard Gunther #8)
Author: Philip Kerr
Length: 416 pages
Publisher: A Marian Wood Book/Putnam
Genre: Historical fiction, Mystery, Political thriller
Source: ARC from Goodreads Giveaway
My Rating:SmileySmileySmiley
Synopsis (from Goodreads): September 1941: Reinhard Heydrich is hosting a gathering to celebrate his appointment as Reichsprotector of Czechoslovakia. He has chosen his guests with care. All are high-ranking Party members and each is a suspect in a crime as yet to be committed: the murder of Heydrich himself.
     Indeed, a murder does occur, but the victim is a young adjutant on Heydrich’s staff, found dead in his room, the door and windows bolted from the inside. Anticipating foul play, Heydrich had already ordered Bernie Gunther to Prague. After more than a decade in Berlin's Kripo, Bernie had jumped ship as the Nazis came to power, setting himself up as a private detective. But Heydrich, who managed to subsume Kripo into his own SS operations, has forced Bernie back to police work. Now, searching for the killer, Gunther must pick through the lives of some of the Reich’s most odious officials.
     A perfect locked-room mystery. But because Philip Kerr is a master of the sleight of hand, Prague Fatale is also a tense political thriller: a complex tale of spies, partisan terrorists, vicious infighting, and a turncoat traitor situated in the upper reaches of the Third Reich.

My Review: I'll start off by saying that I enjoyed this book. If possible I would actually give it 2.5 Smiley instead of 2. I have not read any previous Bernie Gunther novels but did not feel as if I had to to read this book. There was obviously some history I was missing between Heydrich and Gunther, but it did not really detract from the story. 

The mystery was an interesting one with some good twists and turns.  There is also a side romance involving Gunther and a woman named Arianne.  However that is all it was, a side story.  I didn't feel that it added much to the story though it did serve as a means to help tie up some loose ends.

This story kept me interested but not "on the edge of my chair" interested. I also felt that the story was a little uneven in it's pace. With that said I would definitely say that this book was worth my time and I would be willing to try reading something else by Philip Kerr. 

Review: Divergent

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Length: 487 pages
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Genre: Young adult, Fiction, Dystopian
Source: Purchased
My Rating:SmileySmileySmileySmiley
Synopsis (from Goodreads): In a future Chicago, 16-year-old Beatrice Prior must choose among five predetermined factions to define her identity for the rest of her life, a decision made more difficult when she discovers that she is an anomaly who does not fit into any one group, and that the society she lives in is not perfect after all.

My Review:  This is not just a story about Beatrice Potter having to choose from one of five factions.  It is also about expectations, family loyalties, fitting in, coming-of-age, determination, bravery, and romance set in a future dystopian society.

This book is by no means anywhere close to the genre of book that I normally like. However it was being talked up on an message board that I frequent and I decided to give it a try for a change of pace. I was very pleasantly surprised by Divergent. It was a fairly quick read, well written, with interesting story lines and engaging characters. I enjoyed comparing the different factions and trying to decide which one I would pick.  I also must admit that I was a little taken with the, as others would say "swoon worthy", male lead, Four. This book also has a very strong female lead.  I can see how this book would be quite popular with the "young adult" crowd and am not at all ashamed to admit that I enjoyed it, being slightly older than a young adult.  I am now looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy, Insurgent, when it comes out May 1, 2012.

Review: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle

Title: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle
Author: The Countess of Carnarvon
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Genre: Historical non-fiction, Biography
Source: Goodreads Giveaway
My Rating:SmileySmileySmiley
Synopsis (from Goodreads): Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey tells the story behind Highclere Castle, the real-life inspiration for the hit PBS show Downton Abbey, and the life of one of its most famous inhabitants, Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon and the basis of the fictional character Lady Cora Crawley.  Drawing on a rich store of materials from the archives of Highclere Castle, including diaries, letters, and photographs, the current Lady Carnarvon has written a transporting story of this fabled home on the brink of war.

Much like her Masterpiece Classic counterpart, Lady Almina was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, Alfred de Rothschild, who married his daughter off at a young age, her dowry serving as the crucial link in the effort to preserve the Earl of Carnarvon's ancestral home.  Throwing open the doors of Highclere Castle to tend to the wounded of World War I, Lady Almina distinguished herself as a brave and remarkable woman.

This rich tale contrasts the splendor of Edwardian life in a great house against the backdrop of the First World War and offers an inspiring and revealing picture of the woman at the center of the history of Highclere Castle.

My Review: If you are looking for Downton Abbey in book form than this is not the book for you. I had a hard time with that at first. I was looking for the same feel of the Downton Abbey television series.  I wanted the stories of both those living in the castle and those whose job it is to keep it running smoothly.  There is obviously some of that in this book but as it is not a fictional story written for drama, it can not be the same.

It's well written and a good history. There are lots of interesting pieces of information and connections. I found both Lady Almina and her husband, the 5th Count of Carnarvon, very compelling subjects. The Count in particular played a large part in a wonderful, historical find of that time period.  This story is not solely about Lady Almina and Highclere castle which I felt actually added something to the book. 
However, I think I frequently got side tracked by the many names thrown out there not pertinent to the story. Names that were obviously important names in that time in English history, but since they were often not more than a mention it did as much, if not more, to distract from the book than it did to add to it. If you are interested in this time in English history I am sure you will enjoy this book.

Review: Winter Garden

Title: Winter Garden
Author: Kristen Hannah
Length: 391 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Genre: Fiction, Historical fiction
Source: Purchased
My Rating:SmileySmileySmileySmileySmiley
Synopsis (from Goodreads): From the author of the smash-hit bestseller Firefly Lane and True Colors comes a powerful, heartbreaking novel that illuminates the intricate mother-daughter bond and explores the enduring links between the present and the past.

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard: the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night. On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time - and all the way to the end. Thus begins an unexpected journey into the truth of Anya's life in war-torn Leningrad, more than five decades ago. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina will finally hear the singular, harrowing story of their mother's life, and what they learn is a secret so terrible and terrifying that it will shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are.

My Review: This book was a little slow to get started. I would say I was at least 1/3 of the way through before I became invested. The three women were leading completely different lives and though we would get pictures of them there was nothing that united them in the story. The three individual stories were not enough by themselves to engage me.  In fact, Meredith actually irritated me a little with her self-sacrificing manner and her refusal to deal with her immediate family problems.

Once Nina finally came home and the fairy tale was being told in it's entirety I didn't want to put the book down.  It's such an overwhelming story that I find it hard to believe that there is anyone who could not be moved by it.

It is interesting to watch the relationship change and evolve  with the three women but that is definitely a secondary story line.

If you are interested in WWII, fairy tales, and are a sucker for a good tear jerker than definitely give this book a try.   I haven't had a book make me cry like that in, well I can't remember when.

Welcome to A Library of our Own!


I'd like to take a moment to welcome you to our blog "A Library of our Own".  This blog belongs to myself, Debbie, and my two young children, G and E.  I've always been an avid reader and have been working hard at sharing this love with these two sweet young souls.  I have been fairly successful in this, slightly more so with G, who started reading on his own at 3 1/2 (yes, I'm bragging!), than with E.  I blame this on the fact that G, 4 1/2 years old, is slightly older than E, 3 years old, and hence he tends to pick books to read that don't always hold E's attention.  G will be starting kindergarten next year and E will then have her pick of books.  Though don't get me wrong, E loves to read along with us and especially likes a little private reading session.

I have a wide range of tastes when it comes to reading, and since this blog also belongs to my children you can count on seeing a little bit of everything on here.  In general I will post individual book reviews for those books which I read, and as for right now, we will have a  round-up of the books which G and E have been reading in a feature called "The G&E Chronicles".  In this feature you will get to see  opinions of the books from both the adult and child point of view.

Once again I welcome you and hope that you will be able to find something here to interest you.  If you have any questions or comments please don't hesitate to contact me, or G and E for that matter.  We look forward to sharing this journey with you.