Thursday, April 28, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: April 29, 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 would like, 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 at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

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

I had a burst of reading last week and finished this book already, but since I haven't really started anything new this week (I'm grading papers and midterm exams), I'll share the first couple of lines from the prologue. The book is Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda.

He clutches the worn slip of paper in his hand, trying to compare the letters written there to the red sign hanging on the door in front of him. Looking back and forth from the paper to the door several times, he is careful not to make a mistake.

There is a quiet desperation to these first couple of lines. He is clutching a slip of paper, trying to match the letters there to the sign. He apparently cannot read the words, but he is very careful to make sure he is at the right place. It made me wonder what was so important on the other side of that door.

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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Trailer Tuesday: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I have seen nothing but rave reviews for this book, and I think the trailer is well done as well. (Note: this trailer is 12 minutes long)

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Publication Date: March 2011
Book Description (from the publisher):
In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina's father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.
Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive.
It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?
Between Shades of Gray is a riveting novel that steals your breath, captures your heart, and reveals the miraculous nature of the human spirit.

What do you think? Have you seen any good book trailers lately?

Monday, April 25, 2011

400 Followers! Time for a Giveaway!

glitter graphics

No way you guys! I logged in recently to find that my follower count is at 400! 

400 is a pretty exciting number, and I've been looking for an excuse to give away some books, so here we go! Up for grabs, 5 lightly used books (read once by me for review purposes)!

ARC of The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld
Historical Fiction Mystery

Lady in Waiting by Susan Meissner
Christian Historical Fiction with a Contemporary Twist

Mirrored Image by Alice K. Arenz
Christian Romantic Suspense

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough by Ruth Pennebaker
Contemporary Fiction

Love on Assignment by Cara Lynn James
Christian Historical Romance
My review is forthcoming

Interested? First place winner gets their choice of two of the books above, and I'll pick three other winners to send one book each.  

One of the four winners can be international (so please enter international readers!), but since I'm sending these with my own money (and international postage is painfully expensive), the rest have to be in the US.

Entries will be accepted up until May 15 at 11:59 PM, Pacific time. You must be 13 years or older to enter. I will be sending via USPS, and am not responsible for lost or damaged mail. Winners will be contacted via e-mail. You can earn extra entries by spreading the word about this giveaway--see the form for details. 

Giveaway has ended.
(I adore your comments, but they will not be counted in the drawing.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: April 22, 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 would like, 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 at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

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

This is a long-term read for me (I'm reading a chapter a week) and since I'm in-between fiction reads right now, I thought I'd share the beginning of this one. It's from chapter 1 of John Adams by David McCullough.

In the cold, nearly colorless night of a New England winter, two men on horseback traveled the coast road below Boston, heading North. A foot or more of snow covered the landscape, the remnants of a Christmas storm that had blanketed Massachusetts from one end of the province to the other.

I thought this was a vivid picture to paint in the first two lines of a non-fiction work of history. :-) I'm currently within chapter 3 and have really been enjoying McCullough's writing (you can see my check-in for chapters 1-2 here). Even from the first pages, I can see why this book won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

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.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Review & Tour Stop: The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
Genre: Contemporary Fiction with a twist of magical realism
Pages: 288
Date Published: March 2011
Publisher: Bantam Books
Source: I received an Advance Reader's Edition of this book from the publisher through TLC Book Tours.
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Book description (from the publisher):
It’s the dubious distinction of thirty-year-old Willa Jackson to hail from a fine old Southern family of means that met with financial ruin generations ago. The Blue Ridge Madam—built by Willa’s great-great-grandfather during Walls of Water’s heyday, and once the town’s grandest home—has stood for years as a lonely monument to misfortune and scandal. And Willa herself has long strived to build a life beyond the brooding Jackson family shadow. No easy task in a town shaped by years of tradition and the well-marked boundaries of the haves and have-nots.
But Willa has lately learned that an old classmate—socialite do-gooder Paxton Osgood—of the very prominent Osgood family, has restored the Blue Ridge Madam to her former glory, with plans to open a top-flight inn. Maybe, at last, the troubled past can be laid to rest while something new and wonderful rises from its ashes. But what rises instead is a skeleton, found buried beneath the property’s lone peach tree, and certain to drag up dire consequences along with it.
Resonant with insight into the deep and lasting power of friendship, love, and tradition, The Peach Keeper is a portrait of the unshakable bonds that—in good times and bad, from one generation to the next—endure forever.

This is another fantastic book from Sarah Addison Allen. Set in Walls of Water, North Carolina, the story explores the history of the town and takes on a decades-old murder mystery. There is a kind of gothic feel to this story, a bit different than what I expected, and a bit more gothic, I think, than the other books that I've read by Ms. Allen (Garden Spells and The Girl Who Chased the Moon). In fact, there is an element of the supernatural in this book as the ghost of the murder victim seems to be haunting the town with his peach fragrance.

The murder mystery angle was interesting and somewhat suspenseful, and as the story unfolds about the victim's character and actions in the town, his presence becomes more sinister. I enjoyed the way the characters had to dig into the pasts of the town and of their families to try to figure out why his body had been buried at the Blue Rose Madam and what the circumstances were behind his death.

But my favorite part of the book had less to do with the mystery and more to do with the relationships. The book really is more about friendships, family, and finding yourself than about a murder mystery. I loved the way that two very different women, Willa and Paxton, came together, despite their different backgrounds and pre-judgments about each other, to form a strong and lasting friendship that they had never imagined possible. Watching that friendship develop in this book was moving for me, and after I turned the last page I hugged the book. The last two pages brought tears to my eyes because of the beauty that their friendship had become.

Additionally, I liked seeing the various characters step out of their comfort zones, away from other peoples' expectations, and learn to embrace and be comfortable with themselves. For some reason, that aspect really resonated with me, as a person who just moved back to her hometown after a decade away and struggles with the expectations that people have of me just because they knew me growing up. Some of the characters were wrestling with that same feeling and it gave me hope to see them deal with that pressure in a constructive and healthy way. I think the setting also connected with me--a town on the edge of a national forest that survives mainly on tourist traffic (just like my town).

I really liked this book. The elements of magical realism didn't seem as obvious in this book as in the other books I've read by this author, but it gave an interesting twist to the story. This is a beautiful book that is full of hope, friendship, and love, and it seems to have been at the top of my TBR pile at just the right time for me. Recommended.

Related Linkage:

Monday, April 18, 2011

How does Lorena Bathey see her story form?

I am happy to welcome author Lorena Bathey to A Few More Pages today, who I asked to share with us how she sees a story form. Here is what she had to say:
We all remember the phrase "once upon a time" that all our favorite stories began with. Today there are new words that offer the chance of excitement when a story is being told. They vary from every writer but the chance of being swept away in a book is still the possibility we want.

I have always been a reader that has to preview a story. I will stand in a bookstore reading the first and second pages to see if the story, characters, and writing grab me. But when you are writing your own book, it's not quite the same process.

My stories usually start with one character. I will see a person in my head or get a name and I hear their story unfold. More like a movie, this character begins to live their life in my head. I record what I see and am open to what happens next.

Seems odd that I don't plan it out, doesn't it? Many writers do flow charts and craft out each chapter to see how the plot unfolds. I don't do this. I do have to keep track of the characters, their families, and the details of what they do and always have a notes page to every book I write. But everything else pretty much forms along by itself.

This freaks some people out. Other writers I know are boggled that I don't set down the plot lines and diagram the exciting and key moments in the book. I just don't work that way and when someone suggests trying this method it makes me clench my teeth. Instead, if I get stuck or the writing isn't flowing faster than I can type, I set it aside and let it simmer. Usually I'll get a new idea or situation that will fix the problem I got stuck on.

Reading and re-reading is imperative for me to stay in the groove of the story. Like a pianist who loses their touch when they don't practice their music, I lose the touch of my characters if I stay away too long. Then I must sit down and read what I've already written so that their voice becomes the voice I hear and I can begin writing their story again.

This works together to create a novel filled with interesting characters and hopefully new and improved stories that keep you up late so you can finish reading about them.

My first novel has just been released. It's called Beatrice Munson and it’s the story of a woman, Marissa Lyons, who has become the statistical single mother in the suburbs of San Martino. Here all the women have begun to look like their homes, in varying shades of beige. But when Marissa's high school nemesis, Beatrice Munson, moves in across the street from her, everything begins to change.

The women of this neighborhood find their worlds shaken when Beatrice shows them that life is meant to be lived fully. Beatrice's defining moment in life was to get a boob job or go to Egypt and choosing travel she has returned to her hometown with a remarkably different take on life.

A story of friendship, thwarted love, drag queens, handsome lawyers, and amazing party planning, Beatrice Munson is a book you curl up with until three in the morning finishing.

As a special gift for the followers of A Few More Pages Blog, I'd like to offer a discount on the eBook version of Beatrice Munson.
Go to to purchase your copy and enter LQ49F when you check out to receive 20% off. But act fast as this is a limited time offer good until May 1.
 About the author:
Growing up in the Bay Area of Northern California, Lorena Bathey attended St. Mary’s College in Moraga graduating with a degree in English. Then she traveled, learned about life, and developed great fodder for a book. Losing her mother to cancer and her own marriage’s demise brought her to find herself. She wrote Happy Beginnings: How I Became My Own Fairy Godmother and found speaking and empowering others was her passion.

Lorena Bathey found after writing her first book that characters were visiting her mind and wouldn't leave. She was introduced to Marissa, Andrea, Lily, Deidre and Beatrice and her first novel, Beatrice Munson, came to life. After finishing that book she was inspired to write more novels and she knew that pursuing her passion was the best way to live her life. So a writer she became.

After meeting the love of her life, they embarked on the thrilling life to follow their dreams bringing their families along for the ride. Today Lorena has nine novels in her writing queue all with screenplays in the works.

But writing isn't the only muse that inspires Lorena. She has become a passionate photographer and likes to push the envelope taking shots while learning how to navigate Photoshop. Travel, walking, enjoying new restaurants, and Italy are other loves and things she makes sure she has time for.
Related Linkage:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

John Adams Readalong, Chapters 1-2

Wallace at Unputdownables is hosting a John Adams Read-along and I'm participating, I'm just a little behind. We are reading through David McCullough’s John Adams this April, May, and June. Feel free to jump in at any time. You can see our reading schedule and guidelines in the starting post. You can find the Week 1 Check-in here, and the Week 2 Check-in here.

I missed last week's check-in because I wasn't finished with Chapter 1 (and I was insanely busy) and today I'm a day behind the scheduled post day for Chapter 2, but I'm here! I'm caught up and here are my thoughts on the book so far.

First of all, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that at various points in my reading I start to imagine the book narrated in my head by David McCullough. My many years of enjoying his rich voice as host of American Experience on PBS has seeped into this reading, and it tends to make me (A) laugh at myself, and (B) enjoy the book even more. This is my first time reading a book by David McCullough (I know, someone should take away my historian credentials), and just two chapters in I already understand why his books are so well-read and spoken of so highly. His writing is so clear and easy to understand, it is a pleasure to read. He truly writes for the general reader, without the confusing jargon and intellectual wordiness that sometimes plagues my non-fiction choices.

Secondly, although most of the events of this book are familiar to me as a history teacher, I am still really enjoying this book. The difference, I think, is that I've not read about the time period from the point of view of John Adams before. It's always been an overview of all of the different actors in the action. I am liking this process. I also think McCullough has done a particularly nice job of portraying Adams, not as one of the sainted founding fathers who could do no wrong, but as a real person, with human weaknesses and failings, and with endearing qualities that make you wish you could have met the man in person.

That is possible because John Adams was so prolific! McCullough weaves in Adams's own words throughout the narrative--his feelings, his thought processes, his passions are all there for the reader to view. And the content of his correspondence and personal journals is all the more admirable when I got to the part of Chapter 2 that talks about just how impersonal and sparse Thomas Jefferson's own journals were. I love that we can get to know Adams through his words, and I wish other historical figures had done the same.

One of the things I'm loving in Chapter 2 is the characterizations of the people around John Adams. Here is my favorite example so far:
Knowing nothing of armed ships, he made himself expert, and would call his work on the naval committee the pleasantest part of his labors, in part because it brought him in contact with one of the singular figures in Congress, Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island, who was nearly as old as Franklin and always wore his broad-brimmed Quaker hat in the chamber. Adams found most Quakers to be "dull as beetles," but Hopkins was an exception. A lively, learned man, he had seen a great deal of life, suffered the loss of three sons at sea, and served in one public office or other continuously from the time he was twenty-five. The old gentleman loved to drink rum and expound on his favorite writers. The experience and judgment he brought to the business of Congress were of great use, as Adams wrote, but it was in after-hours that he "kept us alive."
His custom was to drink nothing all day, nor 'til eight o'clock in the evening, and then his beverage was Jamaica spirits and water.... He read Greek, Roman, and British history, and was familiar with English poetry.... And the flow of his soul made his reading our own, and seemed to bring to recollection in all of us all we had ever read.
Hopkins never drank to excess, according to Adams, but all he drank was promptly "converted into wit, sense, knowledge, and good humor." (100)
I love this. I want to go back in time and meet Stephen Hopkins.

On a related note, I not only have been enjoying McCullough's prose, but John and Abigail's words as well! The excerpts of their writings that have been presented in the book so far are quite readable as well, and easy to understand. I particularly enjoyed John's feelings on speeches and writing:
He had no liking for grand oratorical flourishes. 'Affectation is as disagreeable in a letter as in conversation,' he once told Abigail, in explanation of his views on 'epistolary style,' and the same principle applied to making a speech. The art of persuasion, he held, depended mainly on a marshaling of facts, clarity, conviction, and the ability to think on one's feet. True eloquence consisted of truth and 'rapid reason.' As a British spy was later to write astutely of Adams, he also had a particular gift for seeing 'large subjects largely.' (99)
A writer and orator after my own heart.

So chapter 2 ends as the Committee of Five, those who would work on the Declaration of Independence, puts its finishing touches on the document. It is all very exciting and suspenseful, even though I know what is going to happen. The experience of reading this book has been similar to my first viewing of the HBO series based on this book, John Adams. Throughout that series I found myself doing fist-pumps when I recognized the various persons in the room just by their attitudes and stances in the Continental Congress toward independence (yes, I know, OMG what a nerd). John Dickinson, for example, was easy for me to pick out. It's kind of funny that I get so excited when I feel like I know what is going on, like I'm part of the party. So perhaps that is one of the reasons why I am enjoying the narrative even though I know how it's going to end. It's almost like re-reading a book you loved once and enjoying it all over again as you pick out things you didn't notice the first time through.

That's all for now. I'll admit that I didn't expect the chapters to be quite as long as they have been, but I'm making my way through and enjoying myself.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: April 15, 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 would like, 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 at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

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

Today I'm finishing up a quick read of The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal. Here is the first line:

The day they came to tell me, I was in one of the gardens with Kiernan, trying to decipher a three-hundred-year-old map of the palace grounds.

I thought this was a good start--thought-provoking because I figured she must be talking about the day that she learned she was, as the title tells us, the "false princess." For some reason, the sentence makes it feel like she was totally caught off guard by the revelation. It also seems to say a bit about the girl herself--I immediately thought she must be adventurous to be exploring the palace grounds with a three-hundred-year-old map.

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.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

History is Cool! A Guest Post by Author Scott Cardinal

I am happy to welcome author Scott Cardinal to A Few More Pages today. As a history teacher and lover of all things historical, I was quite excited when I saw what he wrote for us today. Enjoy!
Historical fiction and books that deal with time travel have always been of great interest to me. And I am not alone. Considering so many people’s current obsession with celebrities, it is interesting to see that people have always been interested in well-known individuals. Especially if they were heroes and legends in his or her own time. What I am especially drawn to is reading about people who were well-known 100+ years ago, who have been forgotten over the course of time.

My cousin is a well-known and respected historian. He is also a history teacher at a high school. He chooses this type of work because he has made a huge impact on the lives of countless kids who took his classes over the course of 30+ years. He is the type of history teacher that you wish you had. Seriously. He shows up in historical clothing and brings real artifacts with him. He brings history to life.

Kids do not skip his class. They love it. They want to know what he will wear or talk about today.

That is cool.

Because he loves history so much, he has gone out of his way to find out about heroes, legends, and events that are little known or not known at all. And when he talks about them, his eyes light up. His voice changes. He talks as if he was actually there. He knows these people. He knows these events. There isn’t anything you could ask him that he would not be able to answer.

History can be cool.

Nellie Bly
Learning about real heroes and legends can be cool.

Wouldn’t it be great if fewer girls were interested in Lady Gaga, but instead were interested in Nellie Bly? After all, she was a pioneer female journalist in the 1920’s who travelled around the world and also faked insanity to have herself committed to a mental institution in order to expose the horrid conditions. She was truly amazing.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if girls were inspired by Phoebe Fraunces? In 1775 the 16-year-old girl saved George Washington’s life by exposing the plot to abduct and assassinate him. Very little is known about this true story, but my cousin has an original article from the time as well as a copy of the court transcripts! What made this story particularly intriguing is that Phoebe Fraunce’s fiancĂ© was one of the lead conspirators! It was his job to set General George Washington up while he was alone with his mistress at Mary Gibbons’ New Jersey Cottage! To add further authenticity to this story, Phoebe was the daughter of Samuel “Black Sam” Boniface Fraunces who was the owner/operator of Fraunces Tavern that still stands in downtown Manhattan today! Why does it still stand? That’s easy to answer. It was at Fraunces's tavern, on December 4, 1783, that General George Washington said farewell to his officers at the close of the war.

Teenage girls like Phoebe Fraunces in 1775 were cool. More people should know about them.

Peter Francisco
Countless people today worship big, strong athletes. They think football players are awesome. They are considered heroes. Meanwhile, how many guys today now about real American heroes such as Peter Francisco? He was 6'6", 260 lbs, and when he was 16-years-old he became one of the greatest hero of the American Revolutionary War! Oh, yeah, and even though he grew up as an indentured servant he eventually learned to read and write and became a successful blacksmith and businessman. Wow.

Historical fiction allows us readers to meet the characters that populated past times, and live vicariously through their experiences. Intrigue. Romance. Drama. Action. Heroism. These things have been going on throughout history. And we get to read all about them!

Time travel stories can be particularly exciting and dramatic because modern day readers may be able to more easily relate the characters because they look, act, and talk like “us.” In addition, is there anyone in the world who doesn’t wish they could travel back in time – even just for a day? Who wouldn’t want to right things that went wrong? Who wouldn’t want to meet people they admire? Sure, some people would like to go back in time just to buy stock in Apple and IBM, but many of us would just love to wear authentic 17th century clothes, walk through a castle, drink some mead, and look up at starry skies that are not washed out by the lights of modern city lights.

A great deal of time, research, energy, and imagination goes into writing historical and time travel fiction and I personally like to reward those authors as often as I can. One way I just found out about is to join the Time Travel Reading Challenge. You can read all about it on Alyce’s blog At Home With Books. She lists dozen of Time Travel books, and I can guarantee that you will love a great deal, if not all, of them.

Remember, history is cool!
About the author:

Scott Cardinal is an American Novelist, Screenwriter, Investigative Journalist, and Filmmaker. Unlike most authors, he writes in numerous genres including Contemporary, Historical and Gothic Fiction, Magical Realism, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Horror, Thriller, and Adventure. His novels have been written in first, second, and third person. Many read very fast because he adapted them from his original screenplays.

Many of his literary works represent his obsession with American History and Time Travel. The Adventures of Justin Tyme and Inn Time best represent this.

You can connect with Scott online below:
Thank you so much for this wonderful and passionate essay, Scott! It reminds me of all of the reasons why I love history. I'm looking forward to taking a closer look at your historical fiction titles. 

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Review & Tour Stop: Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

    Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay
    Genre: Contemporary/Historical Fiction
    Pages: 496
    Publication Date: September 2010 (hardcover); April 2011 (paperback)
    Publisher: Harper Perennial
    Source: I received a free review copy from the publisher to participate in a TLC Book Tour.
    Rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Book Summary (from the publisher):
    When Nina Revskaya puts her remarkable jewelry collection up for auction, the former Bolshoi Ballet star finds herself overwhelmed by memories of her homeland, and of the events, both glorious and heartbreaking, that changed her life half a century earlier. It was in Russia that she discovered the magic of dance and fell in love, and where, faced with Stalinist aggression, a terrible discovery incited a deadly act of betrayal—and an ingenious escape to the West.
    Nina has kept her secrets for half a lifetime. But now Drew Brooks, an inquisitive associate at a Boston auction house, and Grigori Solodin, a professor who believes Nina's jewels hold the key to unlocking his past, begin to unravel her story—setting in motion a series of revelations that will have life-altering consequences for them all.

    Russian Winter begins with elderly former ballet star Nina Revskaya deciding to place her sizable jewelry collection up for auction to help provide funding to the Boston Ballet Foundation. Going through her collection dredges up memories of her life in Soviet Russia before she escaped to the West. The auction also brings Grigori Solodin back into her life, a man with many unanswered questions about the past. Throughout the story there are flashes forward and backward in time, showing how the past has shaped Nina into who she has become and explains how and why Grigori has sought her out for information.

    Russian ballerina Rimma Karelskaya (1953). (Wikimedia Commons)
    I certainly found a lot of wonderful things to savor in this book. The historical storyline was fascinating, taking place in the USSR after World War II. I enjoyed being immersed in the busy and demanding life of a famous ballet dancer in Soviet Russia. I had no idea just how much time, dedication, talent, and practice was required from these dancers. Their lives revolved around their art, and their art was a part of them. Nina was also friends with other dancers, musicians, and writers, which was an interesting community to experience post-war Soviet Russia through. They were not the elites of the country, but they were better off than many other people were in that time and place.

    Ms. Kalotay points out in the "Author's Note and Sources" that although Nina and her friends are fictional characters, she has based their experiences as artists, writers, musicians, and dancers in Stalin's Russia on the experiences relayed to us by those who actually lived as artists, writers, musicians, and dancers at the time portrayed. These creative and gifted people had a place in society, but they had to be careful that their artistic contributions were considered useful to that society. "Officially, art has a much greater purpose: to educate the population and serve the Revolution. Without social context, mere beauty is insufficient--at least, according to the lectures Nina has to sit through at the House of Art Workers" (132). Other interesting points that the story also touches on include the anti-Semitism of the USSR, the ways that citizens were expected to spy and inform on each other, how they were controlled when traveling outside of the USSR, and ways they found to escape.

    The contemporary threads of the story captured my imagination as well. There was almost a mystery to the way the characters were tied together, and as Nina's past is revealed in the flashbacks, Grigori's story begins to unfold. Indeed, much of the suspense on my part concerned trying to figure out just how Grigori was connected to Nina's story. I had early suspicions, but the way it all came together in the end was unexpected, heartbreaking, and beautiful. Even though their connection wasn't nearly what I had expected, it underlines one of the realizations that Grigori comes to near the end, that "we are all connected" (450). The other main character in the contemporary storyline is Drew, the young woman researching Nina's life and jewelry for the auction. Her research helps uncover and answer the mysteries that Grigori had been seeking to solve, and reveals to Nina just how wrong she had been about some of the people in her past. Nina's realization that she had made a big mistake about the people she cared for the most, and that there wasn't anything she could do to make it up to them because they were all gone now--it made my heart ache for her. It would be awful to experience that.

    This book was moving and breathtaking. Although I had a short stretch of frustration with the format of the story (the flashing forward and backward in time) about halfway through, I found that in the long run it was just a small hiccup that was probably just a symptom of my frustration at not being able to sit down and read the book without interruption. For my reading experience, this book was not one to read in small bites before bedtime but one to savor in longer stretches of reading on the weekends. This book was astounding and beautiful, and I am so glad that I read it. It ranks up there as one of my favorite reads of the year so far. I would gladly recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, mysteries, or just a beautiful story that explores relationships, secrets, and redemption.

    This would also be a great book club choice, and TLC Book Tours has up to ten copies available in their Book Club of the Month Contest for April: click here to learn how to enter to win for your book club.

    Related Linkage:
    Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction Challenge

      Friday, April 8, 2011

      Book Beginnings on Friday: April 8, 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 would like, 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 at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

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

      This week I'm trying to finish a library book that needs to go back soon: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (ISBN: 9780142004333). Here is the first line:

      Even if she hadn't been the last person to walk through the turnstile at Warren Street tube station, Jack Barker would have noticed the tall, slender woman in the navy blue, thigh-length jacket with a matching pleated skirt short enough to reveal a well-turned ankle.

      I have been so excited to start this series from the beginning ever since I read The Mapping of Love and Death (click here for my review), that when I read the first line of this book (and of the series), my inner fangirl squealed. I just knew that had to be Maisie, and I have been utterly enjoying every single page since then. I might just have to own this series, rather than checking it out from the library as I had planned.

      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.

      Thursday, April 7, 2011

      Book Spotlight: Deed So by Kath Russell

      I had originally agreed to read and review this book through Pump Up Your Book! Tours, but I think it must have gotten lost in the mail. So after letting them know about the missing book, I decided spotlight the book instead on my tour date, since I do think the story sounds quite good. If the book eventually turns up, I'll put it on my TBR pile to read and review in the future.

      Deed So by Kath Russell
      Genre: Historical Fiction
      Pages: 238
      Date of Publication: November 2010
      Publisher: CreateSpace

      Book Description (from Pump Up Your Book):
      Welcome to 1962, one year before the world would witness President John F. Kennedy assassinated, and a time before civil rights, women’s rights, and the Vietnam War changed everything. Deed So by Katharine Russell chronicles the coming-of-age of brainy twelve-year-old Haddie Bashford, a sensitive young girl who wants nothing more than to leave the close-minded world of her home in Wicomico Corners. When Haddie witnesses the killing of a black teen by a down-on-his-luck white farmer, her family becomes embroiled in a web of hatred that threatens to engulf the whole town. Tempers flare and prejudice heats to a boiling point, even as Haddie struggles to fully comprehend what is going on, especially the dark consequences within her own family. When the murder case goes to trial, neighbor is pitted against neighbor, and the violence escalates to a dangerous level. As the case drags on, arson erupts, paralyzing the community. Can the town—and Haddie—survive?

      Intertwining the major themes of struggle, equality, loyalty, and love that defined a generation, Deed So is a provocative snapshot of a tense time in history. Filled with larger-than-life characters, pitch perfect dialogue, and a wonderful sense of history, Deed So is as moving as it is thrilling. Haunting, edgy, and thought-provoking, this is a perfect read for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird or Nicholas Sparks.

      About the Author:
      Kath Russell enjoyed over thirty-five years in marketing and communications management in the biotechnology industry. She was an executive with one of the first genetic engineering companies. Russell also was president of Russell-Welsh Strategic Life Science Communications, Inc., and founder and chief executive officer of an ecommerce company offering services for mature companion animals and veterinarians. Russell received her bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University, her master’s degree in journalism from Boston University, her master’s of business administration from the Kellogg School of Management, and earned her certificate in creative writing from the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.

      Links of Interest:

      Saturday, April 2, 2011

      John Adams Readalong

      Wallace at Unputdownables is hosting a John Adams Read-along and I'm joining in. I've been meaning to read this Pulitzer Prize-winner, but have been skittish about the sheer length of the thing. I mean, this book is huge. So, when I saw this read-along with a nice and leisurely approach to this daunting chunkster, I decided to give it a go. Here's the schedule:
      Beginning Friday, April 1st and ending Friday, June 24th.


      Week #/ dates :: Chapters to Read

      Week One/ April 1-7 :: ch. 1
      Week Two/ April 8-14 :: ch. 2
      Week Three/ April 15-21:: ch. 3
      Week Four/ April 22-28 :: ch. 4
      Week Five/ April 29- May 5 :: ch. 5
      Week Six/ May 6-12 :: ch. 6
      Week Seven/ May 13-19 :: ch. 7
      Week Eight/ May 20-26 :: ch. 8
      Week Nine/ May 27-June 2 :: ch. 9
      Week Ten/ June 3-June 9 :: ch. 10
      Week Eleven/ June 10-16 :: ch. 11
      Week Twelve/ June 17-23 :: ch. 12
      Post #/ date post should be up on blog:

      Start up Post/ April 1
      Week One Review/ April 8
      Week Two Review/ April 15
      Week Three Review/ April 22
      Week Four Review/ April 29
      Week Five Review/ May 6
      Week Six Review/ May 13
      Week Seven Review/ May 20
      Week Eight Review/ May 27
      Week Nine Review/ June
      Week Ten Review/ June 10
      Week Eleven Review/ June 17
      Week Twelve Review (Final Review)/ June 24

      You all know how busy I am right now, but since this book covers the time period I'm teaching in my classes this term I think I can squeeze it in. Wish me luck! I think I need to go do some push-ups before I pick up the book to start chapter 1....

      Friday, April 1, 2011

      Book Beginnings on Friday: April 1, 2011

      Sorry this went up late today!

      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 would like, 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 at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

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

      I'm still working on the book I was reading last week (Russian Winter), so I thought I'd share the first line from a book that I read in February but haven't reviewed yet: Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves. Here are the first few lines:

      The truck driver let me off on Lamartine, on the odd side of the street. I felt odd too, standing in the town where my mother lived. For the first seven years of my life, we hadn't even lived on the same continent, and now she waited only a few houses away.

      This is a good start to the book, since much of it focuses on Hanna's aching desire to be loved by her mother. But this isn't just the story of a mother and daughter finding each other, it is a fantasy set in a dark and dangerous town, with an unreliable narrator (this isn't really a spoiler, because that unreliability is made clear in the first chapter). It is definitely not my usual kind of read, but once I started it I couldn't put it down.

      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.


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