Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wordless Wednesday, June 28

Today's Wordless Wednesday is of a few of the birthday cards I received this week.

The top one is from Unabridged Toddler, who, when asked what message he wanted to put in my card, said: "I'm watching you."

Ominous much??

Have a Wordless Wednesday to share? Put the link in the comments!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Book Review & Giveaway: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

First line: The first person I met in England was a hallucination.

Everyone, this book. This book!! Plot, characters, place, era, details, drama, villains, heroines, and wonderfully compelling storytelling -- everything was there that I wanted, unfolding in that delicious way that makes me just want to skip meals and read.

The novel follows Charlie St. Clair, a pregnant college student shipped to Europe to get an abortion, who yearns to find her beloved cousin who went missing during World War II. She meets Eve Gardiner, an pistol-wielding woman with a drinking problem, foul attitude, and destroyed, mangled hands. In alternating chapters, we learn Eve is recruited to work as a spy during World War I, part of the famous Alice Network, and her important but dangerous work changes her life.

Normally I'm not a dual narrative fan, but Quinn sucked me in with both stories/heroines and I really can't say which was my favorite. What I loved most about this book was its depiction of female friendship and emotional relationships between women. There's a scene between Charlie and Eve in which they're doing some hardcore emotional bonding while Eve teaches Charlie how to field strip and clean a pistol (!!!).  The scene was so incredible I had to stop and marvel -- never never have I read a book or seen a movie where two women are vulnerable in this manner.

Quinn's narrative style is magical; I wanted to read this book with an eye toward learning craft, but I kept getting lost in it. She manages to offer all the details one wants in a historical novel without it feeling clunky or awkward; she sketches up people in a manner that makes them clear, vibrant, and real. There isn't a wasted word, an overdrawn or rushed moment, or sloppily sketched caricature to be found. And she's funny, so funny -- which is welcome in this story because it is messed up and stressful (in the best way).

Quinn's readers are passionate fans for a reason: she tells a great story. This book runs about 528 pages and I'm pretty sure I downed it in two and a half days. I wouldn't have minded it being double the length. This is another top ten read for me this year and it left me with quite a book hangover -- so get it and prepare yourself to do nothing until you're done.

Title: The Alice Network
Author: Kate Quinn

Genre: Fiction (Historical / WWI / Post-WWII / Espionage / Female Friendship / Historical Figure Fictionalized)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks (6/6/2017)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Alice Network to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only (sorry!); ends 7/7. Complete rules here.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Weekend reads, or summer, summer, summer!

It's officially summer now, but Boston has been alternating between 80ish days and 40ish ones, so who knows. But I'm really looking forward to our summer plans: lots of day trips, some camping, catching up with friends, and lots of summer eats.

My weekend reads for this weekend is Christina Henry's Peter Pan retelling, Lost Boy. The cover is a leeeeeetle gory for my tastes, and I am using big stickies to keep Unabridged Toddler from seeing it, but otherwise, I'm very excited to dig in.

I've got a crazy book hangover from Kate Quinn's The Alice Network (review and giveaway next Mon!) so I'm glad I've got something else that should suck me in.

What are you reading this weekend?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Teaser Tuesday: The Alice Network

My Teaser Tuesday for this week comes from Kate Quinn's marvelous The Alice Network. I'm only a fourth through but I am hardcore in love. There are a handful of badass women who dominate the book, and Quinn's trademark mix of rich detail and delightful one-liners. (Limiting myself to one teaser today was a challenge!)

This quote is from the start of the novel, when our World War I spy Eve gets her first job at a Lille-based restaurant..

Eve could see why the Germans came to dine here. It was a civilized place to relax after a long day of stamping on your conquered populace. (p103)

What are you reading right now? Any teasers to share?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Winner!

A second whirlwind weekend, so my apologies for this late giveaway winner announcement!

The winner of my giveaway for Novel Destinations is ... Carrie of nomadreader!

Congrats, Carrie! I should have more giveaways coming up so don't despair -- be sure to keep reading!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Book Review: The Secret History of Jane Eyre by John Pfordresher

First line: We begin with a mystery.

I grabbed this book because of the cover (gorgeous) and the fact that I'm not a huge Jane Eyre fan and I kind of want to be. (I mean, it seems like a book I should be all over.) I love books about books, stories that dive into the nitty-gritty and ineffable magic of writing a novel. And I'm always up to learn more about books and how, possibly, to read them.

But this one really disappointed me.

Pfordresher's argument -- his 'secret history' -- is that Brontë mined her own life for Jane Eyre. (No duh.) But he pushes a literal person-for-person sort of equivalency that really disappointed me; while arguing for Brontë's creative genius, I couldn't help but feel like he was minimizing it in this manner.

There are also some intense leaps that just seemed a stretch to me. For example, Rochester's agonizing sexual frustration reflects "...a sexual energy Charlotte Brontë knew, daily, at Haworth," (p82), from the apparent expression of her sexually frustrated father. (Perhaps true, but also, ew. Really?)  I've got five pages of highlights of moments like that; Pfordresher is bold, I'll give him that.

My biggest takeaway of this read was a developed dislike for Brontë as a person. In Pfordresher's hands, she seems to hate other women, bubbles with barely concealed disdain for the world around her save for her beloved moors, and wanted desperately to get into a dom/sub romantic relationship with someone.

I'd love for a Brontë and/or Jane Eyre fan to read this one and share their thoughts, because I can't tell if I'm not getting it or not. It's a short read (191 pages in my edition) so someone pick it up and discuss with me!

Title: The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece
Author: John Pfordresher

Genre: Non-Fiction (Biography / Literary Criticism / Charlotte Brontë / 19th Century Literature)
Publisher/Publication Date: W. W. Norton & Company (6/27/2017)
Source: NetGalley

Monday, June 5, 2017

Book Review: Swing Time by Zadie Smith

First line: It was the first day of my humiliation.

Unbelievably, this was my first Zadie Smith. How is that possible? I'm super embarrassed by this fact, but there it is.

The novel is narrated by a young biracial woman, recounting her childhood and early adulthood, and the things -- dance, music, education -- and people -- her mother, best friend, employer -- that shaped the direction of her life.

Passionate about dance, our narrator becomes friends with the only other biracial girl in her dance class, Tracey. Tracey is gifted at dance and her mother eagerly supports her while our narrator's mother is focused on educating herself and achieving personal happiness and success. Our narrator is shuttled to better schools and ends up becoming the assistant to a massive pop celebrity, an experience that changes her life in so many ways.

I liked this book, although I don't think its blurb does it justice -- I really expected a story about two friends -- the narrator and Tracey -- but when our narrator becomes a teen, she and Tracey fall out of touch. I kept waiting for the narrator and Tracey to intersect at some point, especially since the narrator's boss does shows with background dancers, but instead, the novel veers into the pop star's problematic school in Africa.

There are many lovely themes in the novel; Smith touches on unknown dancer Jeni LeGon (fascinating and made me want more dancing/dance history to feature) as well as the implications of class, access, and education. There was clearly something with our narrator remaining unnamed, centered among big personalities such as her mother and her celebrity boss, and yet, she was also on the outer fringe, left out to just observe. I didn't mind that distance, but it did make me feel like I wasn't picking up on something in the story as she seemed to just recount and reminisce.

Gorgeous written, so not a disappointment there. Will obviously be reading more Smith in the future (any recs on what I should pick up next?).

Title: Swing Time
Author: Zadie Smith

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / UK / Biracial / Friendship / Coming-of-Age / Dance / Celebrity / Mothers and Daughters)
Publisher/Publication Date: Penguin Press (11/15/16)
Source: My public library
Reading Challenges: Read Diverse