Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hard Choices - Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hard Choices
Title: Hard Choices
Author: Hillary Rodham Clinton
Publication Date: 6/10/14
Pages: 635
Genre: Political / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: The author has been in the press a bit lately
Date Completed: 11/12/15

Summary: Clinton discusses her work as Secretary of State during President Obama's first term.

What I Thought: Let me say up front, I recognize Clinton is a current candidate for president at the time of this review and public opinion about her is divided. Whichever camp you fall in regard to her candidacy or her as a person, be willing to open your mind and think critically for yourself. I tell it to my students all the time: don't blindly accept what any one source tells you. Read, research, explore, and be informed! Only then are you qualified to add to the discussion.

That being said, reading Hard Choices is part of my effort to become increasingly informed. There are many things in this world about which we, the public, will never have the full story or truly know the motives and actions of others. Still, it is our responsibility to learn all we can and listen to both sides of a story before we draw any conclusions. The most obvious example in this instance is the attack on our diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. I'll get to that.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray
Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruth Sepetys
Publication Date: 3/22/11
Pages: 344
How I Found It: Not sure
Date Completed: 10/22/15

Summary: Lina is taken from her home by Russian soldiers before she can even change from her pajamas. Along with her mother and younger brother, she is placed on a train and sent off to Siberia to endure terrible conditions and manual labor - all because the Soviet government suspects their family of subversion. 

What I Thought: The humanitarian tragedy which occurred under Stalin and other leaders of the USSR often gets brushed over when studying the era, largely because WWII tends to dominate the historical landscape of that era. So many people are unaware of the huge numbers of Russians sent to prison camps for little or no real purpose. Their stories are not told with the same frequency or fervency as those who suffered and died in the Holocaust. Both stories deserve to be told, both as cautionary tales of brutal governments and as memorials to the millions who died at their hands. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

All the Stars in the Heavens - Adriana Trigiani

All the Stars in the Heavens
This week, I'm partnering with TLC Book Tours to bring you a new book every day! They span a wide range of genre, so make sure to check back each day for a new review; you're bound to find something you'll enjoy.

Title: All the Stars in the Heavens
Author: Adriana Trigiani
Publication Date: 10/13/15
Pages: 464
Genre: Historical / RomanceFiction
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours
Date Completed: 10/25/15

Summary: In the Golden Age of Hollywood, "luster, drama, power, and secrets...thrive in the studio system." Trigiani takes real stars from the era and adds to and invents the details of their lives. She paints Loretta Young and Clark Gable as star-crossed lovers and supports them with a colorful cast of family and friends.

What I Thought: As someone who spends admittedly too much time reading celebrity gossip, it's easy to see why this book appealed to me. Hollywood stories of love and scandal are abundant, yet I know little about the stars of Hollywood's early days. When I started the book, I did not realize that Trigiani had used real personalities upon which to base her novel. That aspect certainly made the book more intriguing and, in a way, reminded me a little of how Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan fictionalized the love story of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for their recent novel, The Royal We. That book has easily been one of my favorites this year, so I had high hopes for Trigiani's work as well.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Indifferent Stars Above - Daniel James Brown

The Indifferent Stars Above
This week, I'm partnering with TLC Book Tours to bring you a new book every day! They span a wide range of genre, so make sure to check back each day for a new review; you're bound to find something you'll enjoy.

Title: The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party
Author: Daniel James Brown
Publication Date: 4/28/09
Pages: 352
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours
Date Completed: 10/5/15

Summary: Brown follows the story of the infamous Donner party through his engaging narrative nonfiction style. 

What I Thought: As most people in America, I had a vague knowledge of the Donner party. "They ate each other to survive winter in the mountains, right?" Yeah, that's pretty much what it boils down to (no pun intended), but Brown takes this story far beyond its historical hook. Brown explores the lives and personalities of the people who were part of the doomed party traveling west to California and, more than anything, he looks at the chain of events that led them to their fateful decision. 

Brown focuses specifically on young newlywed Sarah Graves and her family. Sarah and her brand new husband decided to make the trek along with her parents and siblings, all hoping to start a new life together in the prosperous west. Focusing on Sarah specifically gave the book a lovely emotional base. It's easy to identify with Sarah and her young heart full of love and hope as she sets out on the journey. It makes the end result that much more tragic and impactful. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Food Whore - Jessica Tom

Food Whore
This week, I'm partnering with TLC Book Tours to bring you a new book every day! They span a wide range of genre, so make sure to check back each day for a new review; you're bound to find something you'll enjoy.

Title: Food Whore: A Novel of Dining and Deceit 
Author: Jessica Tom
Publication Date: 10/27/15
Pages: 352
Genre: Food / Fiction
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours
Date Completed: 11/1/15

Summary: New to NYC, Tia is hoping for a graduate internship with her idol, food writer Helen Lansky. Instead, she finds herself working the coat check at a prominent Manhattan restaurant and being pulled ever deeper into a world of secrets she had never anticipated. Designer clothes, fancy meals, and professional connections all dangle before her, so long as she stays quiet about her real work.

What I Thought: First and foremost, let's address that title. Despite the suggestive name of the book, Tia does not prostitute herself - at least not in the traditional sense. The book's back cover defines a "food whore" as someone who would do anything for food. Tom seems to placing Tia in that category, although I would mount a strong argument that Tia's morally questionable actions are driven by professional ambition, not her love of food. While Tia does not offer up her body for prestige and power, she does basically sell her loyalty, her trustworthiness, her relationships, and, in many ways, her true identity. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mendocino Fire - Elizabeth Tallent

Mendocino Fire
This week, I'm partnering with TLC Book Tours to bring you a new book every day! They span a wide range of genre, so make sure to check back each day for a new review; you're bound to find something you'll enjoy.

Title: Mendocino Fire
Author: Elizabeth Tallent
Publication Date: 10/20/15
Pages: 272
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours
Date Completed: 10/7/15

Summary: A collection of short stories.

What I Thought: As I mentioned recently, short story anthologies have occupied a tenuous ground for me for many years. Lately, though, I have been willing to give them more of a shot and have been trying to realign my thinking about short stories.

Tallent's collection reminded me of the beauty of writing and the skill needed to capture characters without the benefit of hundreds of pages of dialogue and decisions. Her writing is absolutely beautiful, if a bit mired down at times by the theoretical. There isn't a lot of action, but this isn't that type of book. To truly enjoy Tallent's writing, you have to be willing to devote some of yourself to it. This is one of those books where you get back as much as you are willing to put in. Spend the time and energy truly absorbing her words, and you will find them rich and rewarding. Try to skim through for the action and the high points and you'll be left wanting. I can admit to using both, depending on the day I picked up the book. Experiencing such satisfaction on the days I gave the book my full attention makes me want to go back and read the stories which did not receive the same my first time through.

Monday, November 2, 2015

After Alice - Gregory Maguire

After Alice
This week, I'm partnering with TLC Book Tours to bring you a new book every day! They span a wide range of genre, so make sure to check back each day for a new review; you're bound to find something you'll enjoy.

Title: After Alice
Author: Gregory Maguire
Publication Date: 10/27/15
Pages: 288
Genre: Fantasy / Fiction
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours
Date Completed: 10/16/15

Summary: In his now well-known style, Maguire takes a classic tale and approaches it from a completely fresh angle. Timed neatly with the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll's classic tale, Maguire sends some new children down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass after Alice, while also capturing the experiences of those above ground who are searching for the missing adventurers. 

What I Thought: When TLC offered me the chance to read Maguire's latest work, I knew I wanted in. I actually haven't read much of his catalog; he has an extensive one. I have only read Wicked - you know, that book that was turned into a hugely successful, Tony-winning musical? I enjoyed the book and I absolutely adore the musical, so I figured another venture into Maguire's unique perspective on classic stories would be fun.

I should have realized right out of the gate that reading Lewis Carroll's classic books Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass first would have helped immensely. It's hard to appreciate Maguire's work fully if you are unfamiliar with the source material. It's like watching an SNL skit without being up on recent pop culture or news. I, of course, am vaguely familiar with Carroll's work. I know the general story of Alice in Wonderland; I have, after all, seen the Disney adaptation. That, however, is pretty much where my knowledge ends. I have not read the books and I have no clue what happens in Through the Looking Glass, other than a return trip to Wonderland (I think).