Sunday, November 30, 2014

Your Sunday Book Reviews, Continued!

Hello Once Again to my Faithful Thirteen Followers! (and hopefully more of you who will soon sign up to follow my blog!)

It's Sunday, and that means, yep, more book reviews. Well, five more, at any rate. So, once again, here are five more books that I've read in 2014 that have won the full 5 stars from me, the dear and gentle reader. If you read any of my recommendations based on this blog, I would love to hear from you!

Happy Sunday, and enjoy! (All synopses borrowed with gratitude from Goodreads.)

1.  (Historical Fiction/Romance) My Lady of Cleves: A Novel of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves (Harlequin Romance # 169) by Maragaret Campbell Barnes

Written by world-renowned historical novelist Margaret Campbell Barnes, My Lady of Cleves gives readers an intimate portrait of the warm, unpretentious princess who never expected to become Queen of England. Knowing the king's ravenous desire for a son, and aware of the disastrous consequences of not bearing an heir, Anne of Cleves bravely took on the duty of weathering the Tudor King's temper, whims, arrogance, and irresponsible passions--and won the hearts of his subjects in the process. A treat for readers of Tudor fiction and those fascinated by the complex relationships of Henry VIII and his wives, My Lady of Cleves leads readers into a world of high drama and courtly elegance.

(Linda's Note:  As I began to read this novel about Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of Henry VIII, I wasn't sure I'd like it, as the "fictional" part took quite a stretch from what I've read in various biographies on Henry VIII. But I reminded myself that heck, The Tudors mini-series used many inconsistencies with the truth, and I loved it anyhow, so I continued on with the novel. I'm glad I did. The best compliment I can give an author is to read a line they wrote, sigh and wish I had written it. There were several instances in this novel where I felt that way. The story about Anne, who had the fortuitous misfortune (she outlived all of Henry's other wives) of Henry's dislike, is riveting start to finish, albeit the fictitious possible romance between her and painter, Hans Holbein, a reference  to Henry sleeping with Anne after the divorce, and oh yes, a flirtation between Anne and Thomas Seymour. Still, if you're a fan of historical fiction, especially the Tudor period, this is a don't miss!)

2.   (Non-Fiction) The Three Faces of Eve by Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley

The Goodread's synopsis was in German, so I'll skip posting that and just give a brief overview of the book in my notes below. Thank you.

(Linda's Note: This book is the factual account of the authors' treatment of Chris Costner-Sizemore, a woman with Multiple Personality Disorder and upon which the movie "The Three Faces of Eve" was based.

After watching "The The Three Faces of Eve", and realizing it was based on a true incident, I had to read the book. I was not disappointed by either movie or book. Actually the movie did the best it could given the time frame it had, but I was completely mesmerized by the book and the account of  Chris Costner-Sizemore (referred to in the book as Eve White), a woman with three personalities. Written by her psychiatrists, we follow Eve's journey as she presents as a troubled and meek housewife, yet, over time, reveals her other personalities in the forms of lively Eve Black and mild-mannered, Jane. The book explains in detail how the doctors got to know each personality, each "woman's" troubles and quirks, and how, through patience, diligence and understanding, helped integrate them back into one person. Although not as horribly traumatic as the Sybil story we've read, Eve White's plight to help her selves become whole again is a fascinating read and one I could not put down.)

3.  (Non-Fiction) Kitchen Privileges: A Memoir by Mark Higgins Clark 

In her long-awaited memoir, Mary Higgins Clark, America's beloved and bestselling Queen of Suspense, recounts the early experiences that shaped her as a person and influenced her as a writer.Even as a young girl, growing up in the Bronx, Mary Higgins Clark knew she wanted to be a writer. The gift of storytelling was a part of her Irish ancestry, so it followed naturally that she would later use her sharp eye, keen intelligence, and inquisitive nature to create stories about the people and things she observed. Determined to care for her family and to make a career for herself, she went to work writing scripts for a radio show, but in her spare time she began writing novels. Her first, a biographical novel about the life of George Washington titled "Aspire to the Heavens," found a publisher but disappeared without a trace when the publisher folded. (Recently it was rediscovered by a descendant of the Washington family and was reissued under the title "Mount Vernon Love Story.)" The experience, however, gave her the background and the preparation for writing "Where Are the Children?" which went on to become an international bestseller. That novel launched her career and was the first of twenty-seven (and still counting!) bestselling books of suspense.As Mary Higgins Clark has said when asked if she might consider giving up writing for a life of leisure, "Never! To be happy for a year, win the lottery. To be happy for life, love what you do." In "Kitchen Privileges," she reflects on the joy that her life as a writer has brought her, and shares with readers the love that she has found.
(Linda's Note: I would like to thank my friend, Jennifer Das, for recommending this memoir to me! Mary Higgins Clark not only writes great suspense novels, but a highly entertaining memoir as well. Starting from humble beginnings and rising to the famous novelist she became, I enjoyed reading how her life and writing career progressed. You'll laugh, you'll cry...give this book a try.)
4.  (Non-Fiction) The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin
Now a major motion picture directed by Ralph Fiennes, co-starring Fiennes and Felicity Jones with Michelle Fairley, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Tom Hollander: the unforgettable story of Charles Dickens's mistress Nelly Ternan, and of the secret relationship that linked them. When Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan met in 1857, she was 18: a professional actress performing in his production of The Frozen Deep. He was 45: a literary legend, a national treasure, married with ten children. This meeting sparked a love affair that lasted over a decade, destroying Dickens's marriage and ending with Nelly's near-disappearance from the public record. In this remarkable work of biography, Claire Tomalin rescues Nelly from obscurity, not only returning the neglected actress to her rightful place in history, but also giving us a compelling and truthful account of the great Victorian novelist. Through Dickens's diaries, correspondence, address books, and photographs, Tomalin is able to reconstruct the relationship between Charles and Nelly, bringing it to vivid life. The result is a riveting literary detective story—and a portrait of a singular woman.
(Linda's Note:  I saw the movie "The Invisible Woman" first, and it really intrigued me into this true, but debated issue, that, for many years, Charles Dickens had a mistress whom he kept hidden away. This account goes into much more detail than the movie could, and I found it an amazing look into the societal morals and thinking of Victorian England in the 1800's. Actresses were akin to prostitutes, and so when Dickens fell in love with one, he divorced his wife (in a most ugly fashion) and kept his mistress hidden in homes in England and France and supported her mother and sisters for their silence, thus remaining the respected and honored author. Equally fascinating, was that after he died, his mistress, Nelly Ternan, was able to completely reinvent herself to live the life she then wanted, while still keeping her secret identity. I was completely absorbed in this book, and now want to see the movie again. Fascinating account.)  
5.  (Fiction) The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling
When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils ... Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

(Linda's Note:  I have yet to read a Harry Potter book. That said, should J.K. Rowling continue her journey into writing adult novels, consider me a fan. "The Casual Vacancy" had me hooked from the start, although at the beginning, I almost needed a spreadsheet to keep all the various characters straight. Once I got a bit further into the book, however, each character became so well-defined, each with his or her own goals, that they came alive on the page. I very much enjoyed this novel; it's a page-turner, but be's dark. It's not a happy story, but I became deeply engrossed, none-the-less. The ending fell a bit short for some of the characters, but perhaps this might be the set-up for a sequel? If so, I'd be first in line to buy it.)

That's it for this time, friends. See you next week! Happy Belated Thanksgiving to you all!



Monday, November 24, 2014

More Five Star Book Reviews

Hey Friends!

I meant to get this blog out yesterday, but you know how life goes sometimes. The best intentions...and all that. So, without further ado, here are another five books that I gave the highest ratings to in the past year! Again, feel free to comment if you've read them and if you agree with my choices, or respectfully disagree. I'd love to hear from you!  Again, all synopses are borrowed from Goodreads, with my personal comments following after. Enjoy!

1.  (Historical Fiction) The Forgotten Queen by D.L. BogdanMarried by proxy to James IV, Margaret Tudor, the daughter of Henry VII, becomes the Queen of Scotland and, after a tragic loss, falls victim to the attentions of the ambitious Earl of Angus.  (Linda's Note:  I hadn't read anything by this author before, but will certainly again.  I hadn't read much on Margaret either, and this novel paints her as neither saint nor sinner, providing a highly entertaining glimpse into the turbulent, and often tragic, life she must have led. And now, of course, I want to read more about Margaret, a compliment to this novel's author!)

2.  (Non-Fiction)  Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed:  A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again. At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. (Linda's Note:  This is one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE books read so far in 2014. I didn't even expect to like it, as I thought it would be all about hiking, but it's not. It's so much more. It's also about a woman's emotional journey through grief to healing. Whether hiking interests you or not, this is still a must-read. Put it on your "To Be Read" list now. 

3.  (Fiction-Mystery)  So Pretty It Hurts (Bailey Weggins Mystery #6) by Kate White: 
Bailey Weggins, the Manhattan-based thirtysomething true-crime journalist, is in a good place. She's enjoying her regular gig at Buzz, a leading celebrity magazine, getting freelance work, and hoping her first book will garner attention. In the love department, she's finally back in the game with her recently-turned-exclusive boyfriend, Beau Regan. When Beau heads out of town one early December weekend, Bailey accepts an invitation from her office friend Jessie to a music mogul's house in the country, hoping for a fun, relaxing getaway. But a weird tension settles over the houseguests--a glamorous crowd that includes the famously thin supermodel Devon Barr. An impending snowstorm only adds to the unease. So when Devon's lifeless body is found in her bed, Bailey immediately suspects foul play: she can't stop thinking of the day before, when a frightened Devon shivered in the woods and pleaded, "I have to get out of here. . . . It's not safe for me." When Bailey starts to nose around, she finds herself a moving target--running closer to the truth and straight into danger. (Linda's Note: This is the last novel (so far anyway, I have hopes for more!) in the Bailey Weggins murder mystery series by author, Kate White. I've read all of them, and once again, I enjoyed this novel even better than the last. I've also enjoyed Ms. White's single title "The Sixes" and look forward to reading her latest novel, "Hush". If light mysteries are on your reading radar, you must give this series a try. Finishing this last novel feels like I'm saying good-bye to an old friend, and that speaks volumes, as mysteries are not usually a genre I read.)

4.  (Historical Fiction)  To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn (Ladies in Waiting #1) by Sandra Byrd: Meg Wyatt has been Anne Boleyn's closest friend since they grew up together on neighboring manors in Kent. So when twenty-five-year-old Anne's star begins to ascend, of course she takes Meg along for the ride.Life in the court of Henry VIII is thrilling... at first. Meg is made mistress of Anne's wardrobe, and she enjoys the spoils of this privileged orbit and uses her influence for good. She is young and beautiful and in favor; everyone at court assumes that being close to her is being close to Anne.But favor is fickle and envy is often laced with venom. As Anne falls, so does Meg, and it becomes nearly impossible for her to discern ally from enemy. Suddenly life's unwelcome surprises rub against the court's sheen to reveal the tarnished brass of false affections and the bona fide gold of those that are true. Both Anne and Meg may lose everything. When your best friend is married to fearsome Henry VIII, you may soon find yourself not only friendless but headless as well. (Linda's Note: One of the best historical fiction novels I've read. Told from the point-of-view of the fictional Meg Wyatt, we are given a first hand look into the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn. Meg is a childhood friend of Anne's, and follows her to court to become one of her ladies. The writing is spot-on, the voice engaging and the pacing perfect. I also liked how the author didn't paint Anne Boleyn as either sinner or saint, which in my mind was the correct way to go. An excellent and enjoyable read.) 

5.  (Historical Fiction) The Other Queen (The Tudor Court #6) by Philippa Gregory:  
This dazzling novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory presents a new and unique view of one of history's most intriguing, romantic, and maddening heroines. Biographers often neglect the captive years of Mary, Queen of Scots, who trusted Queen Elizabeth's promise of sanctuary when she fled from rebels in Scotland and then found herself imprisoned as the "guest" of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, and his indomitable wife, Bess of Hardwick.The newly married couple welcome the doomed queen into their home, certain that serving as her hosts and jailers will bring them an advantage in the cutthroat world of the Elizabethan court. To their horror, they find that the task will bankrupt them, and as their home becomes the epicenter of intrigue and rebellion against Elizabeth, their loyalty to each other and to their sovereign comes into question. If Mary succeeds in seducing the earl into her own web of treachery and treason, or if the great spymaster William Cecil links them to the growing conspiracy to free Mary from her illegal imprisonment, they will all face the headsman. (Linda's Note: Philippa Gregory can do no wrong when she writes of the Tudors. This novel just proves it again. I could not put it down. Highly recommended!)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Book Reviews!

Hello Friends:

Believe it or not, I haven't blogged since March of this year (2014). Mostly, I just didn't feel like I had anything entertaining to say. But now I do. Or, at least, I hope I do!

I love to read and always have. I taught myself to read at the age of four, which, back in 1962, was a BIG DEAL, but today, let's face it, kids are coming out of the womb knowing how to read. 

I realized, as I recently perused my Goodreads lists, that I have read some FANTASTIC novels over the years, and decided that I might use my blog informatively to share these discovered gems with you, in hope that you might also find a novel or two from my picks that you will enjoy. I read a lot of everything with a few exceptions, but you will mostly find here fiction, nonfiction, historical fiction and non-fiction, biographies of all sorts, and the classics and contemporary novels.  

So, without further ado, I'll begin to share some of the more recent reads I've enjoyed. I will limit each blog to about five novels (non-genre specific) so as not to overwhelm.  I would love to hear from you if you read, or have read, these novels, and perhaps we can start our own little blog book group!  At some point later,  I'll also talk about some books I didn't care for, but for now, let's just stick with the positive!

These first five books I read throughout 2014 and have awarded five out of five stars on Goodreads. (Narratives of books are also lifted from Goodreads; my personal comments follow.)

1.  (Fiction) "The Husband's Secret" by Liane Moriarty - Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .
Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

2. (Fiction)  "The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike #1)" by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)  -
After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.
(A note from Linda:  I haven't read any of Ms. Rowling's Harry Potter books, but have read both "adult contemporary" books she's written. Consider me a fan!)

3.  (Non-Fiction) "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief" by Lawrence Wright -
We learn about Scientology's esoteric cosmology; about the auditing process that determines an inductee's state of being; about the Bridge to Total Freedom, through which members gain eternal life. We see the ways in which the church pursues celebrities, such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, and how young idealists who joined the Sea Org, the church's clergy, whose members often enter as children, signing up with a billion-year contract and working with little pay in poor conditions. We meet men and women "disconnected" from friends and family by the church's policy of shunning critical voices. And we discover, through many firsthand stories, the violence that has long permeated the inner sanctum of the church.In Going Clear, Wright examines what fundamentally makes a religion a religion, and whether Scientology is, in fact, deserving of the constitutional protections achieved in its victory over the IRS. Employing all his exceptional journalistic skills of observations, understanding, and synthesis, and his ability to shape a story into a compelling narrative, Lawrence Wright has given us an evenhanded yet keenly incisive book that goes far beyond an immediate exposé and uncovers the very essence of what makes Scientology the institution it is.
(A note from Linda:  If you're even flirting with the idea of giving Scientology a try, this book will scare you straight out of that idea and most likely with good reason.)

4. (Historical Fiction): "Queen's Gambit" by Elizabeth Freemantle -
 Widowed for the second time at age thirty-one Katherine Parr falls deeply for the dashing courtier Thomas Seymour and hopes at last to marry for love. However, obliged to return to court, she attracts the attentions of the ailing, egotistical, and dangerously powerful Henry VIII, who dispatches his love rival, Seymour, to the Continent. No one is in a position to refuse a royal proposal so, haunted by the fates of his previous wives' two executions, two annulments, one death in childbirth, Katherine must wed Henry and become his sixth queen. Katherine has to employ all her instincts to navigate the treachery of the court, drawing a tight circle of women around her, including her stepdaughter, Meg, traumatized by events from their past that are shrouded in secrecy, and their loyal servant Dot, who knows and sees more than she understands. With the Catholic faction on the rise once more, reformers being burned for heresy, and those close to the king vying for position, Katherine's survival seems unlikely. Yet as she treads the razor's edge of court intrigue, she never quite gives up on love.

5.  (Non-Fiction) "Wave" by Sonali Deraniyagala -
On the morning of December 26, 2004, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in the tsunami she miraculously survived. In this brave and searingly frank memoir, she describes those first horrifying moments and her long journey since. She has written an engrossing, unsentimental, beautifully poised account: as she struggles through the first months following the tragedy, furiously clenched against a reality that she cannot face and cannot deny; and then, over the ensuing years, as she emerges reluctantly, slowly allowing her memory to take her back through the rich and joyous life she’s mourning, from her family’s home in London, to the birth of her children, to the year she met her English husband at Cambridge, to her childhood in Colombo; all the while learning the difficult balance between the almost unbearable reminders of her loss and the need to keep her family, somehow, still alive within her.
(A note from Linda: This was one of the most heartbreaking but bravest books written that I've ever read. I  wish Ms. Deranivagala many blessings in her future.)