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Showing posts from 2015

Midweek reads and wrapping up...

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I keep setting myself up for failure.

I want to write my top ten of 2015 blog post, but nearly half of my top ten reads have been unreviewed, so I keep putting that post off in hopes I'll rally and write those reviews. And I've got some thoughts on changes to this blog for 2016 I want to explore, but don't want to dive into that until I wrap up 2015 stuff. And I want to do some of that fun reading challenge geekiness but haven't nailed down my 2016 TBR.

This is what I do to myself all the time, be it blogging or writing or any other endeavor: lots of rules about how/when I do it. If I make one resolution in 2016, it'll be to give myself permission to just do what I want, the moment I want to do it.

Today is the first snow of the season in Boston, and it's deliciously dramatic from my living room window. My wife had to go to work in it, but I'm happily snuggled inside, although despite the wealth of books around me, I'm not entirely interested in readin…

2016 Reading Challenge: Book Riot's Read Harder

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I was so intrigued by Book Riot's Read Harder challenge when it came out last year, but was not in the place to participate. But this year, with my goal to do more free-range reading, it seemed more reasonable. What I especially love about reading challenges like this one is that I'm forced to seek out some reads well beyond my regular reading -- and in this day and age when there's so much misunderstanding and lack of empathy toward those who are "other" than one's self, that feels very important.


Read Harder 2016

Read a horror book

Read a nonfiction book about science.

Read a collection of essays.

Read a book out loud to someone else.

Read a middle grade novel.

Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography).

Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel.

Read a book originally published in the decade you were born.

Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award.

Read a book over 500 pages long.

Read a book under 100 pages.

Read a book by or about a person …

2016 Reading Challenge: #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks

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This is a book challenge designed for me, and I'm so very grateful that Andi at Estella's Revenge made it happen. #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks is exactly what it sounds like: a reading challenge that requires us to read our damn books!

I'm going to make my aspirational TBR as I unpack from our move, but I'm hoping to read 10 of my own damn books. And I'm planning to split it between my physical reads and my ebooks, especially as I've gotten spendy when it comes to ebooks. They're piling up on my hardrive while my physical bookshelves remain static, and I want to be sure I'm reading what I'm buying!

2016 Reading Challenge: Historical Fiction

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I haven't done my roundup of how I did on my 2015 reading challenges, but I'm pretty sure the only one I successfully completed was the Historical Fiction one, and that's okay by me.

So obviously, I'm signing up for this one again!

Hosted by the fabulous Amy at the amazing Passages to the Past, I'm committing to 15 reads for the 2016 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Books Read

Susan Wittig Albert, Loving Eleanor
Heidi Heilig, The Girl from Everywhere
Mary Robinette Kowal, Ghost Talkers
Mary Robinette Kowal, Glamour in Glass
Mary Robinette Kowal, Shades of Milk and Honey
Mary Robinette Kowal, Without a Summer
Michelle Moran, Mata Hari's Last Dance
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
Julie K. Rose, Dido's Crown
Mary Sharratt, The Dark Lady's Mask
Various, A Song of War
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

Books Read in 2015

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January

Megan Mayhew Bergman, Almost Famous Women
Laura Foley, Joy Street
Mavis Gallant, From the Fifteenth District
Alex Myers, Revolutionary

February

Anna Freeman, The Fair Fight
Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover

March

Seth Greenland, I Regret Everything
Jan Moran, Scent of Triumph [DNF]
David Morrell, Inspector of the Dead

April

C.W. Gortner, Mademoiselle Chanel

May

Elizabeth Berg, The Dream Lover [DNF]
Rashad Harrison, The Abduction of Smith and Smith
Mary Slaight, The Antigone Poems
Donna Thorland, Mistress Firebrand

June

Michelle Diener, Dark Horse
Kate Forsyth, The Wild Girl
Paula McLain, Circling the Sun
Kris Waldherr, The Lover’s Path

July

Nalo Hopkinson, Falling in Love with Hominids
Nuala O’Connor, Miss Emily
Chantal Thomas, The Exchange of Princesses [DNF]
P. G. Wodehouse, The Code of Woosters [audiobook]

August

Marci Jefferson, Enchantress of Paris
Naomi J. Williams, Landfalls

September

Karen Abbott, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
Jeannine Atkins, Little Woman in Blue
Laura Purcell, M…

Book Review: The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

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Title:The Fair Fight
Author: Anna Freeman

First line: Some folks call the prize-ring a nursery for vice.

Review: I loved this book. I just loved it. The awesome is just one layer upon another: the plot is fascinating, the characters intriguing, the writing spectacular, the author's story amazing.

Shamefully, I didn't pen my thoughts back in February when I finished this, because I was just back to work from maternity leave and feeling even more sleep-lost and fuzzy-minded than I am now. But ten months later, I'm still obsessed with this book, and I hope I can convey enough of what was brilliant to entice some of you to read it.

Set in the late 1700s, the novel is split between three narrators: Ruth, daughter of a prostitute, who gains notoriety and fame as a female boxer; Charlotte, the pox-scarred wife of Ruth's patron, who takes inspiration from Ruth to find her own rough freedom; and George, friend to Charlotte's husband, and complicated third in an unusual love …

Book Review: The Conqueror's Wife by Stephanie Thornton

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Title:The Conqueror's Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great
Author: Stephanie Thornton

First line: Alexander deemed himself a god, the mythic descendant of Achilles and the son of Zeus, and entire nations fell to their knees in ecstatic worship of him.

Review: I loved this book. LOVED. Another top ten read for 2015.

To be fair, I anticipated I'd love it, having adored Thornton's previous novels (Daughter of the Gods and The Secret History). But this one, featuring those closest to Alexander the Great, really blew me away.

Unlike her previous novels about Theodora and Hatshepsut, it is the figures in Alexander's life who tell his story (and despite the title, more than wives, too): Hephaestion, Alexander's best friend and lover; Thessalonike, his adoring younger sister; Drypetis, the fierce daughter of Persia's King Darius; and Roxana, the scrappy Persian who becomes Alexander's first wife. Through these four points-of-view, we see a kind of Alexander as they k…

Interview with Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney, and Russell Whitfield

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I just loved A Year of Ravens, a fabulous collaborative novel about the story of Boudicca and her rebellion against the Romans. It was gutting and gruesome, and had me in tears often. I've a soft spot for Boudicca as well as the stories of women forgotten by history, and A Year of Ravens handles both beautifully.

I'm so delighted to share my interview with the seven authors of A Year of Ravens -- Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney, and Russell Whitfield -- who reveal some fun tidbits about the process of creating this novel, working together, and what surprised them.


Where did the book's title come from? (And who came up with it?)

STEPHANIE: Kate, Eliza and I were at Panera Bread trying to think of a title that would go with our previous release, ‘A Day of Fire’ and I stumbled onto ‘A Year of Ravens.’ I loved it so much that I then wouldn’t let them change it to anything else.

ELIZA: Stephanie’s genius took this one!

KAT…

Weekend reads and the guilt, oh, the guilt!...

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I am so behind on reviews! I have about seven books to review, I think, not including the ones I'm currently reading, and I'm trying to avoid looking and the calendar and panicking. (It's okay for me to review 2015 reads in 2016, right???)

If there's been one theme to my blogging year this year, it's this: feeling behind. My sweet, bookish baby just captivates me, so if I'm not working, I'm with him. But I also think I'm still struggling with some postpartum depression, because I have a hard time sitting down and writing -- be it a blog post, book review, or even work on my novel. (NaNoWriMo was mixed -- I didn't "win" but I did manage nearly 11,000 words and maintained about three weeks of regular writing.)

I've decided to seriously scale back my blog expectations for 2016. So far, I haven't signed up for any book tours and I'm trying to keep from doing so. (I don't think I've posted a book tour review on time once thi…

Book Review: Médicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

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Title:Médicis Daughter
Author: Sophie Perinot

First line: In my dreams the birds are always black.

Review: The extent of my knowledge about Marguerite of Valois begins and ends with the sumptuous 1994 film starring Isabelle Adjani, but the drama of her marriage and the days following have stuck in my mind for more than a decade. I've been dying to get my hands on this book since learning of it, as I enjoyed Perinot's debut and was eager for her take on the infamous French royal and her notorious family.

I was rewarded with a stellar read, a top ten for 2015, and I have no doubt I'll be haunted by this one for a long while.

Opening in 1562, a decade before her marriage, the novel is narrated by Marguerite. A smart young woman who craves the love of her mother -- Catherine de Médicis -- Marguerite is powerless against her conniving, mercurial family. Her brothers love her, but their affection comes with an enormous price tag. Marguerite wrestles for what small power she can, …

Book Review: After Alice by Gregory Maguire

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Title:After Alice
Author: Gregory Maguire

First line: Were there a god in charge of story -- I mean one cut to Old Testament specifics, some hybrid of Zeus and Father Christmas -- such a creature, such a deity, might be looking down upon a day opening in Oxford, England, a bit past the half-way mark of the nineteenth century.

Review: I wanted to like this book so much. I've somehow never read Maguire before, despite loving retellings, and given the slavish devotion so many have to Wicked, figured I finally needed to hop on the Maguire bandwagon. This book, however, was a massive fail for me, and I'm not entirely sure I'm going to attempt Maguire again.

This take on Alice in Wonderland follows Ada, an awkward and ungraceful playmate of Alice's, who stumbles into Wonderland, as well as Alice's older sister Lydia, who stays in the equally confusing real world.

Ada's story line -- a long bumble through the Wonderland -- was agonizingly slow for me. Maguire spoofs on C…

Book Review: A Year of Ravens

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Title:A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica’s Rebellion
Author: Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney, and Russell Whitfield

First line: We were both queens.

Review: If you've ever harbored the suspicion or opinion that historical fiction is a genre just of corsets, heaving bodies, and royal bedhopping, this book will change your opinion. If you know how rich, violent, and disturbing historical fiction can be, this book will make you cackle with delight.

Set in 60 AD, this episodic novel follows the rebellion of Boudica and the native peoples of the UK against the Romans. Despite the fact that this book is penned by seven authors -- each chapter follows a different point of view -- this book has a cohesive feel, and the absolutely gutting story of Boudica, her daughters, and the Romans fighting against her are presented in raw, hard, and unapologetic prose.

I loved this book for all the reasons I adore historical fiction: it illuminate…

Book Review: Castles, Customs, and Kings (Volume 2)

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Title:Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors (Volume 2)
Author: Debra Brown and Sue Millard, eds.

First line: Perhaps you know the significance of the year 1066, or the gist of the English Civil War, or that Mary, Queen of Scots, lost her throne.

Review: This beefy volume of articles about British history, ranging from pre-Roman to 20th century, is drawn from the fabulous English Historical Fiction Authors blog.

I love books that come from blogs. At first blush, it seems counter-intuitive, buying a book with content from a free blog, but this volume proves how awesome the idea is.

At close to 600 pages, this book anthologizes a whole year's content from nearly fifty authors, compiling their intriguing blog posts in chronological order. It's a welcoming format: I can dip into and out at my leisure, and a book like this begs that kind of languid reading.

In her introduction, Brown writes this volume is meant to evoke "the soul of the pas…

Little Woman in Blue by Jeannine Atkins

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Title:Little Woman in Blue
Author: Jeannine Atkins

First line: May's nightgown brushed her feet as she and her sister climbed the hill behind their house.

Review: We are enormous Louisa May Alcott fans in my house -- so much so, my son's middle name is Alcott!

When I saw mention of this book, a novel about Louisa's sister Abigail May (or Amy in Little Women), I was consumed with need for it. I knew a little of May from our visits to Orchard House, and my wife and I tripped over an exhibit of May's art at the Concord Public Library by accident some years ago. But I never thought more about her; I just assumed the girl portrayed by Louisa was more or less that vain and silly.

Yeah, I'm the silly one.

I inhaled this novel in a matter of days. The May portrayed here is an ambitious young woman who wants more than her family expects; and worse, she's made to feel bad for wanting it all -- a husband, a family, an artistic career, money, a home. Teaching art to young w…

Readathon Mini Challenge: Cover Escape!

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I'm so thrilled to be hosting a Readathon mini challenge this morning!

It's a brisk 40-something degrees outside, and we're supposed to go camping tonight.

And while I do love some nature and all that, this endeavor is more my wife's speed than mine. I couldn't help but indulge in a little daydreaming as I cast my eye over my books, which gave me the idea for this challenge!

The Challenge

Dig through your shelves and share with us a book cover you'd like to escape into! Doesn't matter if the subject, plot, or genre isn't typically your thing; in this case, we're totally judging the book by its cover!

Leave a link to your Cover Escape (posted to your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram) so we can all oooh-and-aaah over your selection. 

The Prize

I'm thrilled to offer a book of choice from the Book Depository (up to $15) to one lucky participant, chosen randomly. This is open to any readathon-er that Book Depository delivers to and will end at …

Weekend reads and it's a long one...

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I took today off to give myself a decadently long weekend, and to add extra luxury, have indulged in a brownie for breakfast. Feeling pretty great already...!

I'm working on some posts for Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon, which takes place next weekend. I won't be able to participate, but I plan to cheerlead the heck out of folks who are. And of course, am slowly chipping away at the seemingly neverending pile of reviews I need to finish, le sigh. Although, victory, I did finally review Karen Abbott's marvelous Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy.

My weekend read is Twain's End, Lynn Cullen's newest, a historical novel about Mark Twain's relationship with his secretary Isabel Lyon. After blessing her marriage to his business partner, he then wrote a 429-page screed accusing them of all kinds of dastardly things, slandering her publicly! Plus, there's some juicy details about an apparent love triangle that Helen Keller was involved in! Could there be a more pe…

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

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Title:Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
Author: Karen Abbott

First line: In the town of Martinsburg on the lower tip of the Valley, a seventeen-year-old rebel named Belle Boyd sat by the windows of her wood-frame home, waiting for the war to come to her.

Review: My one word review: WOW.

This chunky non-fiction book about four women who worked undercover during the American Civil War made numerous top ten lists when it was released last year; it has a ringing endorsement from Erik Larson, among others. It reads like a novel, featuring women doing some jaw-dropping stuff, and renders the Civil War and the world of that era vibrantly.

I don't often read non-fiction -- too dry for me, and it takes me forever to finish -- but in this case, I finished reading this in about a month, and it was anything but dry.

Abbott details the adventures of four women who took a particularly active role in the Civil War: there's Belle Boyd, a teenager who decides to become a spy for the Confederacy and w…

Mistress of the Court by Laura Purcell

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Title:Mistress of the Court
Author: Laura Purcell

First line: Pain cracked across the back of Henrietta's skull, filling her vision with white light.

Review: Purcell's previous novel, Queen of Bedlam, made my top ten of 2014; it was a compelling, sympathetic look at a royal family not often featured in fiction, and it kindled in me a renewed interest (and sympathy) for royal women.

In this book, Purcell tells the story of Henrietta Howard, courtier in the Hanover court of George II and Caroline. Trapped in a violent marriage, Henrietta moves her abusive, gambling husband to Germany in hopes of bettering their lives. Her obvious plight touches Caroline, and the two develop an intimate friendship of sorts.

So loyal is Henrietta that when asked by Caroline, she becomes the King's mistress. And from there, Henrietta is plunged into even more emotional tumult. What privilege and comfort she got from that romance was countered by the loss of her friendship with Caroline as well as…

Weekend reads and not really reading...

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Thank you, everyone, for your kind words the last few weeks; I'm behind on responding, but am appreciative of your support and cheerleading (and reassurances I'm still a great blogger despite being behind on reviews!).

Am a bit gloomy on a brilliantly sunny Friday here in Boston --  I've got a vicious migraine (allergies, I suspect) -- but have a weekend alone with the baby as my wife is away taking a class.

Obviously, the best way to comfort myself over my inability/lack of time to read is by piling up my books and crafting an ambitious To Be Read pile.

Although I can't really stand to look at a screen, I'm starting Andrea Berthot's YA debut, The Heartless City, a novel that imagines the world following Dr. Jekyll's transformative discovery. Having read and enjoyed Hyde last year (another review long owed!), I'm eager for this one.

What are you reading this weekend?

Weekend reads and falling seriously behind...

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I'm sorry I've been so absent from this blog; as before, I wish I could claim crazy work success or non-stop reading, but mostly, I'm just tired. (Who isn't?!)

I've got about six reviews I need to write, including a few that are of top ten reads for this year, and I'm not sure why I'm so paralyzed about that. Perhaps because so much time has passed? Do you all have any tips for getting out of the review-writing funk?

I'm ambitiously juggling three current reads at the moment, but all three are so good I can't stop any of them to focus on one.

I'm more than half way through Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, which reads like a novel, it is so good; and about a third of the way through Little Woman in Blue, a novel about May Alcott (Amy from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women). Little Woman in Blue is responsible for a bout of out-loud laughter on my commute this morning. And I've just started Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend because I&#…

Weekend reads and winding down...

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Today is my last day of sabbatical!

I wish I could announce I finished the second draft of my novel, but I didn't; I wish I could brag I read a dozen books, but I think I managed two. Instead, I spent almost all my time with Unabridged Baby, and I'm so grateful for that. I'm going to miss this face when I return to the office on Monday!

I am looking forward to resuming my routines, however. My long commute is great for both reading and knitting, and there's an active craft group at my office -- which means I'll knit over lunch and breaks, too. (This is important as I've got a long queue of things to knit -- holiday presents, more items for the baby before he outgrows them, and a few things for myself!)

I'm still nursing a book hangover from Naomi J. Williams' amazing Landfalls (which I need to review, but for now, just imagine me squee-ing and flailing) but have started Karen Abbott's Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil…

Cover Reveal: America's First Daughter

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I'm so excited for this release! Stephanie Dray, one of my favorite authors, has paired up with Laura Kamoie to pen a novel about Thomas Jefferson's daughter Patsy. I'm absolutely on pins-and-needles for this one as I love Colonial/Revolutionary-era historical fiction and I'm so curious to see how Dray and Kamoie deal with Jefferson's complicated legacy. Read on to learn more about the book and the authors, and be sure to enter the giveaway to receive early access to a review copy!

America’s First Daughter
By: Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
Releasing March 1st, 2016
William MorrowIn a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.
From her earliest days, Martha “…

Enchantress of Paris by Marci Jefferson

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Title:Enchantress of Paris
Author: Marci Jefferson

First line: Footmen threw open the front doors of my casa, my sanctum of peaceful exile in Madrid for nearly a decade, and a whiff of spices and the gleam of moonlight filled my front hall.

Review: I'd been dying to get my hands on this book solely because I adored Jefferson's debut novel, Girl on the Golden Coin. And while I loved that book, I think I might love this one more. It has another charming, convincing heroine whose voice sealed my adoration from the first page, evocative historical details, and a dramatic plot that made me race to the last page.

Set during the reign of the young Louis XIV, the titular enchantress is Marie Mancini, an Italian noblewoman and niece of the powerful Cardinal Mazarin. She and her beautiful sisters are better known as the Mazarinettes for their obedience to their ambitious uncle, who is the close personal adviser to King Louis.

Mazarin has no qualms about throwing his nieces into the king…

Book Release: Enchantress of Paris

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My swoony review for this will come tomorrow but ohemgee, I just loved Marci Jefferson's newest historical novel, Enchantress of Paris. A delicious hist fic featuring a charming, captivating heroine -- Marie Mancini, mistress to the Sun King -- and loaded with fab details and dripping with drama, I hung on every word and prayed that somehow, Jefferson would change Marie's fate, I was that caught up in Marie's story. I'm thrilled to share this book release blast -- read on to learn more about this book and be sure to enter the giveaway!

Enchantress of Paris: A Novel of the Sun King's Court
by Marci Jefferson

Publication Date: August 4, 2015
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press
Hardcover & eBook; 336 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

READ AN EXCERPT.




Fraught with conspiracy and passion, the Sun King's opulent court is brought to vivid life in this captivating tale about a woman whose love was more powerful than magic.

The alignment of the stars at Marie Manci…

Winners!

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Oops, super late with this -- have had a bonkers weekend with a baby that is just flat out refusing to sleep. It's made my wife and I all kinds of sleepy and slow! Without further ado...

The winner of The Visitors is ... Jane S.!

The winner of The Wild Girl is ... Lindsey S.!

Congrats to the winners! Folks have until the end of day Wednesday to respond to my email; after that, I'll draw new winners. Be sure to check out my open giveaway -- more coming!

Weekend reads and enjoying free time...

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Somehow, I'm at the end of my second week of sabbatical, and I don't have much to show for it, writing-wise. However, I've enjoyed spending days with Unabridged Baby, doing the things I can't when I'm working and I'm grateful for this time.

I have gotten in scads of reading, though, which is just lovely. Still behind on reviews, but this, as with so much else, is my new normal.

I'm reading Marci Jefferson's Enchantress of Paris: A Novel of the Sun King’s Court, which is just gripping. French court drama, lesser known historical figures, witchcraft, and a not-typically-gorgeous heroine. I'm super in love.

What are you reading this weekend?

Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor

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Title:Miss Emily
Author: Nuala O’Connor / Nuala Ní Chonchúir

First line: July and there is crisis.

Review: This lovely, slender novel imagines a friendship between poet Emily Dickinson and their Irish maid Ada Concannon.

I was immediately taken with this book, as both Ada and Emily are charming and captivating. The chapters alternate between their viewpoints, as the story of their friendship and the dramas around them unfold. 

O'Connor's Emily grabbed me immediately, an intellectually curious woman happy to be in her home, moved by the wilds of nature and the passions of the heart. She hovers in the kitchen for sweets and bakes as a way to shower love on those around her; she composes in secret and doles out her poems carefully.

Ada is a willing audience, a teenager fresh from Ireland, bemused by Emily. The Dickinsons are a kind family to work for, and she thrives in their home, yet heartache still hits her. It is Emily who rallies to defend her and who helps her gain some meas…