Monday, February 28, 2011

Oliver Twist Readalong: Book 3 and Final Thoughts

Allie at A Literary Odyssey is hosting this Readalong of Oliver Twist. This third and final Readalong check-in covers Book 3 (approximately 140 pages). Here are my thoughts:

This third section of the book has been my favorite of the three. It was suspenseful and action-packed, and the secrets that were revealed were astonishing. I found myself feeling happy for Oliver and Miss Maylie, but heartbroken for poor Nancy, who wanted to help Oliver but couldn't help herself.

Nancy's fate in the book was shocking and sad. That whole branch of the story, with Bill on the run and the scene that ultimately ended Bill's life, left me breathless and in shock.

I would have been more shocked by the revelations about Oliver's parents and family if it hadn't been so perfectly coincidental. Out of all of the people in London, Oliver just happened to randomly be taken in by people who knew his father or ended up being related to him. With a few little hints here and there about possible connections, I was ready for Oliver's story and I knew that Brownlow would be connected somehow. I didn't expect Miss Maylie to turn out to be connected to Oliver, though! I think my jaw dropped with that revelation!

Regarding the bad guys, I was glad Fagin got what he deserved in the end (his role in Nancy's fate made him even worse than he already was in my eyes). Monk was horrid. What a terrible man to manipulate people he didn't even know for his own ends. Especially a young boy, who didn't deserve all of the grief and hardships he was forced into because of Monk's scheming. The only person more horrid was Monk's mother, who seemed to be a real piece of work herself.

The Artful Dodger, what can I say about him? He never really struck me as a really bad guy, despite his choice of profession. Even when he betrayed Oliver, he didn't seem like he was doing it out of meanness or hate (unlike Noah Claypole and Monk) but to save his own skin. I had to chuckle at the scene in the courtroom, when he was being tried for thievery. Forever the showman, this was his response at the end of the hearing:
'Oh, ah! I'll come on,' replied the Dodger, brushing his hat with the palm of his hand. 'Ah! (to the Bench) it's no use your looking frightened; I won't show you no mercy, not a ha'porth of it. You'll pay for this, my fine fellers; I wouldn't be you for something. I wouldn't go free now, if you wos to fall down on your knees and ask me. Here, carry me off to prison. Take me away.'
With these last words, the Dodger suffered himself to be led off by the collar, threatening till he got into the yard to make a parliamentary business of it, and then grinning in the officer's face with great glee and self approval. (369)

I am so very glad that Allie's Readalong gave me the motivation to tackle this book. For some reason, Charles Dickens makes me nervous, even though this only the second time I've read one of his works. The Readalong kept me reading even when I was hesitant after the first section. I also enjoyed seeing what other participants thought of each section as we were going.

I liked this book! It was a little bit predictable and almost too perfect in some ways, but it was definitely a worthwhile reading experience. I liked A Christmas Carol more than Oliver Twist, but I am glad to have another Dickens novel under my belt.

A million thanks to Allie for hosting the Readalong, and also for the book! I won her giveaway for this gorgeous Penguin Classics clothbound edition. When it arrived I had no idea why the cover featured pocket watches, but now that I've read the book, I know!

Related linkage:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

On My Wishlist: Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

I haven't talked about the exciting books I have on my wishlist lately! So I'm going to try to post a little more often about them. These are books I've been dying to get, but that have to wait on my wishlist because I have to buy other stuff besides books (like food and winter coats).*wink*

When I saw that this book is coming out in MAY, I squealed with joy. I LOVED Shanghai Girls, and this is the sequel I've so been looking forward to!

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
ISBN: 9781400067121
Genre: Historical Fiction
Date of Publication: May 31, 2011

Book description (from the publisher):
In her beloved New York Times bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and, most recently, Shanghai Girls, Lisa See has brilliantly illuminated the potent bonds of mother love, romantic love, and love of country. Now, in her most powerful novel yet, she returns to these timeless themes, continuing the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy.

Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, and anger at her mother and aunt for keeping them from her, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the communist regime.

Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.

Acclaimed for her richly drawn characters and vivid storytelling, Lisa See once again renders a family challenged by tragedy and time, yet ultimately united by the resilience of love.
On My Wishlist is a fun weekly event hosted by Book Chick City and runs every Saturday. If you want to know more click here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: February 25, 2011

So today I'm debuting a new button for this meme (feel free to use it). You are welcome to keep using the old one if you prefer, I just felt like freshening the place up a little.

With this little tweak of the button, I also wanted to let you know that you are welcome to post your book beginning at any time during the week and come link up here. I keep the linky open for the whole week, so don't feel like you can't participate if you are busy on Friday.

How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be here at A Few More Pages every Friday.

Thanks to Becky at Page Turners for starting this meme and to Rose City Reader for inspiring it!

Next week I'll be reviewing The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear for a TLC Book Tour. Here's the first line from the prologue:

Michael Clifton stood on a hill burnished gold in the summer sun and, hands on hips, closed his eyes.

This is the 7th book of the Masie Dobbs series, and although this is my first foray into this series, I'm loving it. I quite liked this first line. I could almost feel the warmth of the sun and see the glowing light behind my eyelids. Lovely.

So, what is the first line of your current read, and how did you like it? Please leave the link to your specific post, not just to the front page of your blog.

Speculative Fiction Challenge 2011

I know, I'm kind of late to be joining a challenge that started at the beginning of the year, but I felt like I was missing something by not having this challenge on my list.

  • Timeline: 01 Jan 2011 - 31 Dec 2011
  • Rules: To read 12 Speculative Fiction novels in 2011
I'll keep track of my progress on this post.
  1. Blue by Lou Aronica
  2. May by Kathryn Lasky
  3. The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal
  4. Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves 
  5. Shadows on the Stars by T.A. Barron
  6. Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik
  7. The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin  
  8. The Canary List by Sigmund Brouwer
  9. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemison 
  10. The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe 
  11. Veiled Rose by Anne Elisabeth Stengl 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Review and Tour Stop: Blue by Lou Aronica

Blue by Lou Aronica
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 394
Date Published: January 2011
Publisher: The Fiction Studio
Source: I received a free copy of this book for review through Pump Up Your Book Online Book Publicity Tours.
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book description (from Pump Up Your Book!):
Chris Astor is a man in his early forties who is going through the toughest stretch of his life. 
Becky is Chris’s fourteen-year-old daughter, a girl who has overcome enormous challenges to become a vibrant, vital young woman – and now faces her greatest obstacle yet. 
Miea is the young queen of a fantasy land that Becky and Chris created when Becky was little, a fantasy land that has developed a life of its own and now finds itself in terrible, maybe fatal trouble. 
Together, Chris, Becky, and Miea need to uncover a secret. The secret to why their worlds have joined at this moment. The secret to their purpose. The secret to the future. It is a secret that, when discovered, will redefine imagination for all of them. 
Blue is a novel of trial and hope, invention and rediscovery. It might very well take you someplace you never knew existed.

Becky and her father, Chris, created the fantasy world of Tamarisk when she was a child undergoing cancer treatment. Their Tamarisk stories stopped when Chris and his wife Polly separated and divorced. Becky is now a teenager, and as she struggles with normal teenage issues, her strained relationship with her father, and some alarming physical symptoms, she suddenly finds herself transported back to the land of Tamarisk. But things are different. Tamarisk isn't just a story this time but a real world, and it is in danger of being wiped out by an incurable blight attacking the world's plant life. Becky wants to help, but she also has to face a more personal battle at home, and she begins to wonder if there is anything she can do to save the world that she created and has come to love.

Blue takes on several emotional themes--divorce, cancer, illness, and death--and how all of these issues affect family relationships. Chris struggles with his diminished role as Becky's father after his divorce and her becoming a teenager. He tends to overthink things and lets his feelings get hurt too much, and his inner turmoil affects his relationships. Becky is also having a hard time dealing with the power struggle between her parents, the emotional burden of their divorce, the way it changed her relationship with her father, and the spectre of illness that haunts her. The re-emergence of Tamarisk in their lives gives them a chance to re-connect. It gives Becky something to hope for and provides an unexpected escape from the stresses of her life. It gives Chris hope that their relationship can be healed from the damage done by the divorce.

The story focuses on several characters, but mostly on Becky, Chris, and Miea (Miea is the Queen of Tamarisk). There is also a seemingly omniscient character present (Gage), who is observing the different threads of the story and apparently influencing it. The Gage portion of the story is confusing at first, but by the end I think I had mostly figured out what his role was.

Throughout the story, I kept wondering whether Tamarisk and Miea were real or if they were just part of Becky's imagination. There are various points in the story where different characters wonder the same thing, including Chris and his ex-wife Polly. But eventually I became a believer, and, trust me, by the end of the story you will want to believe that Tamarisk is real too.

The layering of the different universes within the story was challenging and thought-provoking. There was some great world-building going on here. Tamarisk was imaginative and interesting, especially as Chris and Becky tried to understand the confusing scientific principles they had unwittingly created there through their stories.

I think this book has potential cross-over appeal for both adults and teens. YA readers would probably enjoy this story as much as adults will, especially since a good portion of the book centers in on Becky's feelings and experiences. And adults (especially parents) will probably find a lot in Chris and Polly to relate to as well.

I really liked Blue, and I would recommend it to anyone who has ever wished that their childhood fantasy worlds could come to life.

Related Linkage:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Oliver Twist Readalong: Book 2

Allie at A Literary Odyssey is hosting this Readalong of Oliver Twist. The second Readalong check-in covers Book 2 (approximately 120 pages). Here are my thoughts:

I mentioned in my check-in after Book 1 that I was starting to have a hard time with the book, feeling like it was too long. This time, I felt like the action picked up a bit--I felt a bit more suspense and mystery in this portion of the story than I did in the first section.

It helped that we were kind of left hanging at the end of Book 1, wondering what would become of Oliver after a forced burglary attempt resulted in his being shot in the arm. Although Oliver's very life was hanging by a thread, the incident had two good outcomes: it takes him out of Fagin's control and places him into the kind household of Mrs. Maylie and her niece.

By this time, I'm starting to understand that Fagin knows more about Oliver's parentage than he lets on. He has apparently been paid to keep Oliver out of sight and to change him from the angelic boy he is into a sneaky thief. Someone named Monks wants to keep Oliver's family ties a secret, but who is he? How is he connected to Oliver and what does he have to gain by keeping Oliver in such hazardous and unhappy circumstances?

So I'm starting to feel the suspense and am enjoying the book more. I am pretty sure I know who Oliver is related to (I'm thinking maybe he's related in some way to Mr. Brownlow or someone he knows), but all of the different strands of the story haven't quite started coming together for me yet. Before I sign off, I've got to mention that Mr. Bumble's new circumstances as a married man left me giggling. His bullying tendencies are absolutely thwarted by his new wife, who turned out to be even more of a bully than he is! I love it.

I marked a few passages that seemed profound when I read them, so I'll share a couple of them here. Both of them are musings that are brought about by Miss Maylie's life-threatening illness, the first by her aunt, Mrs. Maylie, and the second by the narrator:
I have seen enough, too, to know that it is not always the youngest and best who are spared to those that love them; but this should give us comfort rather than sorrow, for Heaven is just, and such things teach us impressively that there is a far brighter world than this, and that the passage to it is speedy. (267)
We need be careful how we deal with those about us, for every death carries with it to some small circle of survivors thoughts of so much omitted, and so little done; of so many things forgotten, and so many more which might have been repaired, that such recollections are among the bitterest we can have. (272)
I'm not as hesitant about continuing my reading as I was when I finished Book 1, so on to Book 3! I'll be posting my final thoughts here at the end of the month.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: February 18, 2011

How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be here at A Few More Pages every Friday.

Thanks to Becky at Page Turners for starting this meme and to Rose City Reader for inspiring it!

This week I'm reading The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent. I read her first book, The Heretic's Daughter, last month and really liked it. Here's the first line from the preface:

The woman worked her way out of the crowd, grabbing Cromwell by the cloak, and pulled at it until he turned to face her.

Cromwell? That name perked my ears. I know a little bit about him, so this book beginning did its job of grabbing my attention.

The preface takes place 24 years before the rest of the book, and seems to set the scene for some of the secrets that will be revealed later on. I'm about 100 pages in and while I'm enjoying this book, at this point I don't think it's as good as The Heretic's Daughter.

So, what is the first line of your current read, and how did you like it? Please leave the link to your specific post, not just to the front page of your blog.

Review & Tour Stop: When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt

When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 336
Date Published: January 25, 2011
Publisher: Harper
Source: I received a bound galley of this book for review as part of a TLC Book Tour.
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Description (from the publisher):
"If you leave Opi, you'll die with strangers," Irma Vitale's mother always warned. Even after her beloved mother's passing, 20-year-old Irma longs to stay in her Abruzzo mountain village, plying her needle. But too poor and plain to marry and subject to growing danger in her own home, she risks rough passage to America and workhouse servitude to achieve her dream of making dresses for gentlewomen.
In the raw immigrant quarters and with the help of an entrepreneurial Irish serving girl, ribbon-decked Polish ragman and austere Alsatian dressmaker, Irma begins to stitch together a new life . . . until her peace and self are shattered in the charred remains of the Great Chicago Fire. Enduring a painful recovery, Irma reaches deep within to find that she has even more to offer the world than her remarkable ability with a needle and thread.

Before I get started, I just wanted to point out that this is my favorite book of 2011 so far. What is sure to follow is a gushing fangirl review that cannot recommend this book enough and will probably not do the beauty of this book justice. But I will try.

When We Were Strangers transports the reader from the high and rural hills of Irma Vitale's family home in Opi, Italy, through her long journey to America and opportunity. She is a small town girl, going out into a world bigger than she has ever imagined, with only her sewing skills and the kindness of strangers to help her succeed.
I had made dresses, altar cloths, aprons, cheese and wine. But how to make a life? Tiny stitches crept across the cloth. Could I make a new life thus: one stitch at a time? (29-30)
She goes alone to America (a terrifying prospect for a young person leaving home for the first time who has never been further than the next town over), and while she learns that some strangers can be dangerous, she also realizes that others can become your best and most trustworthy friends.

When We Were Strangers is a beautiful immigrant story. Set during the 1880s, the historical detail throughout the book enchanted me--Irma's experiences on the ship to America, her search for work in a foreign country, the nature of her work as a seamstress, the limited opportunities that existed for young single women, Irma's volunteer work at a medical clinic--it was all so realistic and interesting. And when things went wrong, she had her genuine moments of doubt:
Why had I come to America? That I might live? For whose sake? Not for my people, all dead, disappeared or making new families without me. Not to earn passage home, I was slowly concluding, for who would truly welcome me there? In my father's house a new babe would more than fill the space that once was mine. In Opi I rarely questioned my life. One does not ask "why" in a hunger year, only: "What will I eat tomorrow?" My ancestors who climbed our mountain never asked why. But alone in Chicago, a steady "why" oppressed me. (167)
I also enjoyed the different places that Irma landed to try to make a life: Cleveland, Chicago, and San Francisco. The people that become important to her, though, made the story all the more touching. Irma was alone in America. She didn't know anyone but was able to make truly special friends who stuck with her through thick and thin. She may have left her family in Opi, but she had created a circle of friends that was just as close as family.

I loved this book more than I can say. It is in turns beautiful, heartbreaking, hopeful, and meaningful. I could not help but love Irma for her humility and compassion for others, so that even with a large scar on her face, people were drawn to the loveliness that radiated from her very being. I am certain that this book will be high on my list of favorite books at the end of the year. I highly recommend it, and I think it would be a fantastic choice for book clubs as well. If you read a historical novel this year, I hope you pick up this one. It is wonderful. I can't wait to go buy a finished copy to reside on my keeper shelf.

Edited to add: I didn't want to leave this review without including one of my favorite passages, where Irma talks about how much she is a part of Opi and Opi is a part of her:
Barely sixteen, I felt as old and shabby as my mother’s brown shawl, melting into Opi and the place carved out for me. As I knew my own plain face in our tin mirror, I knew each stone in the four walls and floor of our house. I knew the narrow streets draped across the mountain crest like threads for lacework never finished, unraveling into shepherd’s trails. These threads caught and held me like a web…. I knew the voices and shapes of our people. By the sound of their footsteps I knew which of them walked behind me. I knew the old women’s coughs, the old men’s stories, the good husbands and those who came home stinking drunk from wine on market day. I knew why the mayor’s wife covered her bruises with a shawl. In a tapestry of Opi you’d see me in the shade of the olive trees with my dull brown hair and face turned away. (4)
I love this section because it is so lyrical and because I can totally relate to it as a girl from a small town. Everybody knows everybody else, and everyone knows the dirt on everyone else. Can you tell I really loved this book?

(Reader's Advisory: Sensitive readers might want to know that this story depicts both a rape and an abortion. It's realistic, but it might be hard for some readers to handle.)

Related Linkage:
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

    Wednesday, February 16, 2011

    Review: May by Kathryn Lasky

    May by Kathryn Lasky
    Daughters of the Sea # 2
    Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Fantasy, Romance
    Pages: 336
    Date Published: March 2011
    Publisher: Scholastic Press
    Source: Star Book Tours
    Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

    Book Description (from the publisher):
    May feels her life drying up. The sea calls to her, but her parents forbid her from swimming. She longs for books, but her mother finds her passion for learning strange. She yearns for independence, but a persistent suitor, Rudd, wants to tame her spirited ways. Yet after her fifteenth birthday, the urge to break free becomes overpowering and May makes a life-changing discovery. She does not belong on land where girls are meant to be obedient. She is a mermaid-a creature of the sea.
    For the first time, May learns what freedom feels like-the thrill of exploring both the vast ocean and the previously forbidden books. She even catches the eye of Hugh, an astronomy student who, unlike the townspeople, finds May anything but strange. But not everyone is pleased with May's transformation. Rudd decides that if can't have May, no one will. He knows how to destroy her happiness and goes to drastic measures to ensure that May loses everything: her freedom and the only boy she's ever loved.

    I know there has been a lot of recent mermaid fiction geared toward young adults, but as of yet I've been hesitant to read it. I like mermaids, but I guess I've been afraid to try them because I don't want to be disappointed. This book caught my eye because of the historical setting and the pretty cover (yes, covers sometimes influence my reading decisions). The author also intrigued me, because she is the author of the popular Guardians of the Ga'Hoole series.

    The first thing that I loved about this book was the lighthouse! May lives with her parents in a lighthouse on the coast of Maine near the turn of the twentieth century. The details about the lighthouse were fantastic! I visited a historic lighthouse a couple of summers ago in Oregon, and the description of May's lighthouse was spot-on of what I observed and learned about in person. Her descriptions took me back in my mind's eye to that lighthouse visit.

    May starts out as your typical teenage girl struggling to find herself and happiness. She isn't completely happy in her home life, and when her mother (a hypochondriac who wants attention and to be taken care of) lets it slip that she isn't really her mother, she feels a bit of relief. But it also inspires her to learn who she really is--who her real parents are, and what happened to them. She has always felt at home with the sea, though her father never lets her swim in it. She finally takes a chance and discovers that she is not only adopted, she is also a mermaid.

    I didn't realize at first that this is the second book in a series, and in the beginning of the story it doesn't really matter. Later on, though, May discovers a sister (Hannah, the main character of the first book in the series), and I felt like I was missing a good chunk of the story about her. It made me want to read that first book so I would have more understanding of some of the revelations Hannah and her painter friend bring in. This book is also obviously not the last in the series (I believe there are four books planned altogether), as there are many strands of the story left up in the air at the end that will surely be resolved in later books in the series.

    May was an enjoyable read, with some fun historical details and a fair dose of suspense. May's first disappointed suitor, Rudd, made me nervous every time he entered the story and I'm sure we have not seen the last of him. I would characterize this YA novel as aimed at a younger YA audience, and I think girls will especially like it. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it, but highly suggest that you start with the first book in the series to get a better grasp of the overall story.

    Related Linkage:
    Reading Challenges: TwentyEleven Challenge (YA)

      Tuesday, February 15, 2011

      Trailer Tuesday: The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers

      I read this book last year, and it was quite moving. I don't remember seeing the trailer before now, but it's a good one. Here's a link to my review of the book from July. It just came out in paperback this month.

      The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers
      Genre: Contemporary Fiction
      Book description (from the publisher):

      Lulu and Merry's childhood was never ideal, but on the day before Lulu's tenth birthday their father propels them into a nightmare. He's always hungered for the love of the girls’ self-obsessed mother; after she throws him out, their troubles turn deadly. Lulu had been warned not let her father in, but when he shows up drunk, he's impossible to ignore. He bullies his way past Lulu, who then listens in horror as her parents struggle. She runs for help, but discovers upon her return that he's murdered her mother, stabbed her five-year-old sister, Merry, and tried, unsuccessfully, to kill himself.
      Lulu and Merry are effectively orphaned by their mother’s death and father’s imprisonment. The girls’ relatives refuse to care for them and abandon them to a terrifying group home. Even as they plot to be taken in by a well-to-do family, they come to learn they’ll never really belong anywhere or to anyone—that all they have to hold onto is each other. 
      For thirty years, the sisters try to make sense of what happened. Their imprisoned father is a specter in both their lives, shadowing every choice they make. One spends her life pretending he's dead, while the other feels compelled--by fear, by duty--to keep him close. Both dread the day his attempts to win parole may meet with success.

      Monday, February 14, 2011

      February Giveaway Winners!

      After a great turnout of 127 entries, my 3 winners are:

      Free Forum Sigs

      Carol picked Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn.

      Free Forum Sigs

      Lacey picked A Rush of Wings by Kristen Heitzmann.

      Free Forum Sigs

      mary ann picked Alvor by Laura Bingham.

      Thank you to everyone who entered and spread the word about my February Book Giveaway! I'll be contacting the winners later today via email. Happy Valentine's Day!

      Happy Valentine's Day!

      To My Sweetheart, with Cupid and Doves Old Postcard

      ♥ I hope you have a lovely day with the ones you love. ♥

      Saturday, February 12, 2011

      Review: Lady in Waiting by Susan Meissner

      Lady in Waiting by Susan Meissner
      Genre: Historical Fiction AND Contemporary Fiction
      Pages: 332
      Date Published: September 2010
      Publisher: WaterBrook Press
      Source: I received a free review copy through the WaterBrook Multnomah Blogging for Books Program.
      Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

      Book description (from the back cover):
      Love is a choice you make every day.
      Content in her comfortable marriage of twenty-two years, Jane Lindsay had never expected to watch her husband, Brad, pack his belongings and walk out the door of their Manhattan home. But when it happens, she feels powerless to stop him and the course of events that follow Brad's departure.
      Jane finds an old ring in a box of relics from a British jumble sale and discovers a Latin inscription on the band with just one recognizable word: Jane. Feeling an instant connection to the mysterious ring bearing her namesake, Jane begins a journey to learn more about the ring--and perhaps about herself.
      In the sixteenth-century, Lucy Day becomes the dressmaker to Lady Jane Grey, an innocent young woman whose fate seems to be controlled by a dangerous political and religious climate, one threatening to deny her true love and pursuit of her own interests.
      As the stories of both Janes dovetail through the journey of one ring, it becomes clear that each woman has far more influence over her life than she once imagined. It all comes down to the choices each makes despite the realities they face.

      This book grabbed my interest with the mention of Lady Jane Grey. Related to King Henry VIII on her mother's side, she was fifth in line to the throne. After the death of Henry's son Edward VI, she was thrust into a series of political machinations that resulted in her being declared her Queen of England--never mind that Princess Mary and Princess Elizabeth were in line before her according to Henry's will. The religious conflict of the time made this possible, as some in the country didn't want Catholic Mary to become queen, and they saw Jane as a way to accomplish this. Her rule did not last long (9 whole days), as the people ultimately did not accept her over Mary. I have always found Jane Grey interesting and wanted to learn more about her. Although this book is a work of fiction, Ms. Meissner has done a nice job of weaving historical details in with the fictional story.

      The story of Lady Jane Grey (told through the words of her dressmaker Lucy Day) is tied to the story of present-day Jane Lindsay in that both Janes have a feeling of powerlessness over their lives. Lady Jane seems a victim of the times, her gender, and the political aspirations of her parents, while Jane Lindsay has allowed others to make decisions for her out of fear. As each woman faces seemingly unbearable changes in their lives, they come to realize that they are ultimately responsible for their happiness, and that they have more power over their lives than they thought they did.

      The format of this book was more intriguing than I expected. At times it could feel disjointed when it jumped from the history to the past and back again, but I enjoyed both the historical and contemporary threads of the story. They both felt realistic to me as I read--the characters were clearly not perfect people and that made them quite believable. I liked that the author included a note explaining which aspects of the novel were based on history and which aspects were fiction. That was helpful for me, since I have just a rudimentary knowledge of Lady Jane Grey.

      The way the book approached issues of faith was subtle and not preachy. Faith obviously played an important part in Lady Jane's life, especially since she refused to convert to Catholicism to avoid being executed after Queen Mary came to power. When faith came into the contemporary thread of the story, it was not overbearing. I think even readers who generally shy away from Christian fiction would not be turned off by the faith aspects of the story.

      I'm very glad I read this book, even when it touched on issues that could be uncomfortable (like marital problems and family conflict). Lady in Waiting was enjoyable and interesting, and I would very much like to try another book by Susan Meissner. I would recommend this book to fans of both contemporary and historical fiction.

      Related Linkage:
      Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, What's in a Name 4 (Life Stage Title)

      Thursday, February 10, 2011

      Book Beginnings on Friday: February 11, 2011

      How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be here at A Few More Pages every Friday.

      Thanks to Becky at Page Turners for starting this meme and to Rose City Reader for inspiring it!

      This month I'm working my way through Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, as part of Allie's Readathon at A Literary Odyssey. Here's the first line:

      Among other public buildings in the town of Mudfog, it boasts of one which is common to most towns great or small, to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse there was born on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events, the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.

      This is my first time reading Oliver Twist, and my reaction to this first line was honestly a feeling of distress. This is a wordy first line, with too many asides, commas, and semicolons. I was scared that the rest of the book would be like this. It is like this in places, but thankfully Dickens doesn't use these horribly long sentences all of the time.

      So, what is the first line of your current read, and how did you like it? Please leave the link to your specific post, not just to the front page of your blog.

      Why My Link Collections Have Changed

      If you have been participating in any link-ups at my blog this year, you'll notice that I recently changed over to InLinkz from Linky Tools.

      Part of the reason for the switch is because Linky Tools has become a subscription service, which required that I export my links or pay a yearly subscription. I considered subscribing. But I had used InLinkz before for review link-ups last year at the POC Challenge blog, and I liked their thumbnail linky collections better. The only reason I had switched to Linky Tools was because Inlinkz had started charging for thumbnail linkys and Linky Tools was free at the time. Now that they aren't free, I've decided to take the plunge and subscribe over at Inlinkz.

      So, that's why things look different at my link-ups. InLinkz might look different, but it is easy to use. Just scroll down to the bottom of the links and click on the blue "Add Your Link" button. Then fill in the blanks that pop up.

      It was hard to make the decision to pay for a linky service, but I like having thumbnail links for the reading challenge link-ups. I think it's fun to see the cover of the book being reviewed at the other end of the link. It took me a few hours to export all of my collections from Linky Tools and restart some of my collections that were still underway, but I am satisfied with my choice.

      If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask!

      Disclosure FYI: If you decide to subscribe to InLinkz and you go through one of my links, I will earn a small credit towards my subscription fee for next year. 

      Tuesday, February 8, 2011

      Oliver Twist Readalong: Book 1

      Allie at A Literary Odyssey is hosting this Readalong of Oliver Twist. The first Readalong check-in covers Book 1 (approximately 180 pages). Here are my thoughts:

      This is only my second experience reading Charles Dickens (my first was A Christmas Carol, which I adored). Oliver Twist has been a surprising read so far. I don't love it as much as A Christmas Carol, but it's been an interesting experience.

      My first reaction to the book was surprise. There is a lot of humor and wit in this book. His biting criticism is veiled in humor and irony, and I really like that aspect of it. Here's an example, which takes place immediately after Oliver was born:
      Now, if during this brief period Oliver had been surrounded by careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses, and doctors of profound wisdom, he would most inevitably and indubitably have been killed in no time. There being nobody by, however, but a pauper old woman, who was rendered rather misty by an unwonted allowance of beer, and a parish surgeon who did such matters by contract, Oliver and nature fought out the point between them. The result was that, after a few struggles, Oliver breathed, sneezed, and proceeded to advertise to the inmates of the workhouse the fact of a new burden having been imposed upon the parish... (4)
      You can't help but feel the strongest sympathies with poor Oliver, who never seems to have a chance. As a boy, one of the men in charge of the workhouse declares that he is certain to be hanged one day, just because he had the audacity to ask for more food. The nerve of that boy!

      Most of the adults (with the exception of those few good people who have made brief appearances in his life so far) in this novel so far have disgusted me. They don't want people to think the workhouse is an acceptable alternative to working, so they keep everyone there underfed and in rags, including the children who don't have anywhere else to go. If they ask for more food than the almighty board has benevolently provided, they get thrown in solitary confinement for a week. No one trusts a poor child, assuming the worst about him at all times. It's all very frustrating.

      One thing that nags at me, though, is that Oliver is almost too good to be true. I could just picture his sweet little face as he talks with a woman who has been nursing him through an illness:
      "Save us!" said the old lady, with tears in her eyes, "what a grateful little dear he is. Pretty creetur, what would his mother feel if she had sat by him as I have, and could see him now!"

      "Perhaps she does see me," whispered Oliver, folding his hands together; "perhaps she has sat by me, ma'am. I almost feel as if she had."

      "That was the fever, my dear," said the old lady mildly.

      "I suppose it was," replied Oliver thoughtfully, "because Heaven is a long way off, and they are too happy there, to come down to the bedside of a poor boy. But if she knew I was ill, she must have pitied me even there, for she was very ill herself before she died. She can't know anything about me though," added Oliver after a moment's silence, "for if she had seen me beat, it would have made her sorrowful; and her face has always looked sweet and happy when I have dreamt of her." (87)
      He is almost an angelic, sainted image, and the worst thing he's done so far on his own (without being forced or tricked into it) is to hit a boy who taunted him and said mean things about his mother (and deserved the punch). Otherwise, Oliver has mostly been a blameless victim of his circumstances, preyed upon by unkind and unsavory characters. Undoubtedly a sympathetic character, but almost a little too perfect nonetheless.

      Another thing that kind of gnaws at me is the characterization of Fagin, who Dickens repeatedly refers to as "the Jew." Why this negative characterization based on the man's religion and heritage? Perhaps, as I have read, it is indicative of the anti-semitic nature of British society at the time. It certainly seems to hammer home the idea that this bad man is a Jew, and the way he is characterized is consistent with the negative stereotype that anti-semitism has cultivated. It is unfortunate, and I wish his characterization would have been more about the man and less about his religion and heritage, which really have nothing to do with the story.

      Although I've found the book funny and compelling in places, I'm starting to have a hard time with it. It seems too long right now, and I'm starting to lose interest. Surely Dickens won't leave Oliver to a terrible fate, and I almost cringe to think about the terrible things to come that he will probably be subjected to before he is saved and given a life free of kidnappings and treachery.

      On to Book 2, which I'll be posting my reactions to later next week.

      Monday, February 7, 2011

      Review: These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf

      These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf
      Genre: Contemporary Fiction
      Pages: 352
      Date Published: February 2011
      Publisher: Mira Books
      Source: I received a free review copy from Erin at Moss Media Relations. Thanks Erin!
      Rating: 4 of 5 stars

      Book Description (from the publisher):
      When teenager Allison Glenn is sent to prison for a heinous crime, she leaves behind her reputation as Linden Falls' golden girl forever. Her parents deny the existence of their once-perfect child. Her former friends exult in her downfall. Her sister, Brynn, faces whispered rumors every day in the hallways of their small Iowa high school. It's Brynn—shy, quiet Brynn—who carries the burden of what really happened that night. All she wants is to forget Allison and the past that haunts her.
      But then Allison is released to a halfway house, and is more determined than ever to speak with her estranged sister.
      Now their legacy of secrets is focused on one little boy. And if the truth is revealed, the consequences will be unimaginable for the adoptive mother who loves him, the girl who tried to protect him and the two sisters who hold the key to all that is hidden.

      These Things Hidden is shocking and heartwrenching, with a storyline that feels like it could have been ripped from the headlines. It tackles various hot-button topics, including the pressure on teens to excel, teen pregnancy, adoption, mental illness and depression, cancer, and poverty, in a gripping and realistic way. I kind of feel like I've given out some spoilers by saying that, but it's not exactly what you would expect. In fact, throughout the story things aren't always as they seem, and though I predicted a couple of the twists, there were still many surprises.

      The story is written from various points of view, alternating with each chapter. I don't always like this kind of approach, but I think it was effective in this case because it helps the reader to better understand the story and each character's feelings and motives. I think Brynn was the most heartbreaking character of them all, even though her sister Allison is the one that went to prison and had her family and friends turn their backs on her. Brynn was carrying a lot of issues inside of her, and the combination of her natural timidity, a lousy home life, and the events that led to Allison's incarceration just devastated her. Although she does some awful things later in the story, you can't help but feel some sympathy for her. My favorite character was Charm. Her family circumstances were difficult, but I think she was the most normal and admirable person in the story.

      This is the kind of book that will, at times, make you cringe and gasp in disbelief. I was definitely caught up in the story and kept turning the pages late into the night. I think fans of Jodi Picoult will like this one, especially with the multiple narrators, controversial issues explored, and unexpected twists. This book was so thought-provoking that I've put Ms. Gudenkauf's first novel, The Weight of Silence, on my wishlist.

      Related Linkage:
      Reading Challenges: TwentyEleven Challenge (Hot Off The Presses)


        Sunday, February 6, 2011

        It's Library Lovers' Month!

        I didn’t know this until yesterday, but February is Library Lovers’ Month! Click on the banner above to learn ways to love your library!

        According to the website dedicated to Library Lovers’ Month,
        Library Lovers’ Month is a month-long celebration of school, public, and private libraries of all types. This is a time for everyone, especially library support groups, to recognize the value of libraries and to work to assure that the Nation’s libraries will continue to serve.
        You can find a lot of other great ideas on how to celebrate Library Lovers’ Month by clicking here.

        Thursday, February 3, 2011

        Book Beginnings on Friday: February 4, 2011

        How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be here at A Few More Pages every Friday.

        Thanks to Becky at Page Turners for starting this meme and to Rose City Reader for inspiring it!

        My beginning for this week comes from These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf (ISBN 9780778328797).  Here is the first line:

        I stand when I see Devin Kineally walking toward me, dressed as usual in her lawyer-gray suit, her high heels clicking against the tile floor.

        This first line caught my interest. I know it doesn't directly say that Devin is a lawyer, but it infers that, and it made me wonder why the narrator is waiting for a lawyer. Great way to grab this reader from the first line!

        So, what is the first line of your current read, and how did you like it? Please leave the link to your specific post, not just to the front page of your blog.

        Heroine Love! February 1-18

        I know it's already into the third day of the celebration (I meant to post about this earlier!), but I still want to provide the info about this fantastic event going on over at The Heroine's Bookshelf this month!

        lovely banner for heroine love february 1-18

        12 book bloggers... 30+ literary prizes...
        ...One swoony month of Heroine Love!

        Join The Heroine's Bookshelf for Heroine Love Feb 1-18
        Celebrate literary heroines with guest posts from 12 amazing book bloggers
        Win audiobooks, autographed copies, and more every week day
        Qualify  for a Grand Prize Pack on Feb 18...just enter a weekday giveaway! 
        animated gif of swoony greatness...heroine love february 1-18

        So far this has been a really fun event, and I'm looking forward to each day's guest post!

        (On a related note, I loved The Heroine's Bookshelf and just wanted to point you towards my review of it, just in case you missed it the first time: click here for my review).

        Wednesday, February 2, 2011

        Review: The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld

        The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld
        Genre: Historical Mystery/Thriller
        Pages: 480
        Date of Publication: January 20, 2011
        Publisher: Riverhead Books
        Source: I received a free review copy as part of a TLC Book Tour.
        Rating: 4 of 5 stars

        Book Description (from the publisher):
        Under a clear blue September sky, America's financial center in lower Manhattan became the site of the largest, deadliest terrorist attack in the nation's history. It was September 16, 1920. Four hundred people were killed or injured. The country was appalled by the magnitude and savagery of the incomprehensible attack, which remains unsolved to this day. 
        The bomb that devastated Wall Street in 1920 explodes in the opening pages of The Death Instinct, Jed Rubenfeld's provocative and mesmerizing new novel. War veteran Dr. Stratham Younger and his friend Captain James Littlemore of the New York Police Department are caught on Wall Street on the fateful day of the blast. With them is the beautiful Colette Rousseau, a French radiochemist whom Younger meets while fighting in the world war. A series of inexplicable attacks on Rousseau, a secret buried in her past, and a mysterious trail of evidence lead Young, Littlemore, and Rousseau on a thrilling international and psychological journey-from Paris to Prague, from the Vienna home of Dr. Sigmund Freud to the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., and ultimately to the hidden depths of our most savage instincts. As the seemingly disjointed pieces of what Younger and Littlemore learn come together, the two uncover the shocking truth behind the bombing. 
        Blending fact and fiction in a brilliantly convincing narrative, Jed Rubenfeld has forged a gripping historical mystery about a tragedy that holds eerie parallels to our own time.

        This book is based on historical events. There was an actual terrorist attack on Wall Street on September 16, 1920. The blast killed 38 people and injured over one hundred. But how many of us know anything about it? For many of us, it has been overshadowed by more recent events. One of the reasons I find the 1920 Wall Street bombing so interesting is that it was never solved. In The Death Instinct, author Jed Rubenfeld re-imagines the event with a wide cast of characters and an imaginative set of circumstances surrounding the bombing.

        One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the cast of characters. I enjoyed them all, from the fictional main characters, Dr. Stratham Younger and his friend Detective Jimmy Littlemore (whose sharp observations often reminded me of Sherlock Holmes), to the characters based on actual historical figures, like Sigmund Freud, Marie Curie, and Senator Albert B. Fall. The interesting way that the characters were thrown into the mix and stirred around kept me amused and interested throughout the book.

        The main thing that distracted me while I was reading is that there is a large portion of the book that seems to have nothing to do with the bombing. There are sizable flashbacks to Younger's war experiences and then later travels to Europe for various reasons unrelated to the bombing. While I was interested in what was going on, I couldn't help but wonder why the characters were going so far off-track from the original gripping scene and mystery of the Wall Street bombing, and how (and when) they would get back to it. Eventually things began to reunite with the original storyline, but wondering about it was a little distracting nonetheless.

        On the whole, I quite enjoyed this story. The author provides an informative "Author's Note" at the end of the tale to explain what aspects of the story were inspired by true events and which aspects of the story were entirely fictional (as he says, "the action of the book--the perils of its protagonists, the evildoing they uncover--is fiction. The world in which that action takes place is fact."). I liked the historical elements of the story. It was rather fun to see appearances by so many historical figures within it, and the historical settings were intriguing (besides the political machinations of the post World War I years, there were also fantastic flashbacks to World War I and a foray into the radium craze of the early 20th century). I was also pulled in by the mystery and suspense. I was kept guessing throughout, and because so much was going on I didn't really develop any hunches about who was responsible before it was revealed (and even that involved a bit of a twist at the end!). Apparently this is the author's second novel featuring Littlemore, Younger, and Freud (see The Interpretation of Murder), and while their earlier connection is mentioned, this book stands on its own with no problems.

        There is a lot to like about this book, especially if you are a fan of historical fiction and suspense. There is plenty of action here to go with some fascinating history.

        Related linkage:
        Reading Challenges: TwentyEleven Challenge (Hot off the Presses), Historical Fiction Challenge, Mystery & Suspense Challenge


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