Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review: "Juliet's Nurse" by Lois Leveen

Juliet's Nurse Lois Leveen
Published: September 23, 2014
ISBN: 9781476757445
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Goodreads First Reads Program
Rating: 4 / 5
♦♦♦♦

Summary:
An enthralling new telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet—told from the perspective of Juliet’s nurse.

In Verona, a city ravaged by plague and political rivalries, a mother mourning the death of her day-old infant enters the household of the powerful Cappelletti family to become the wet-nurse to their newborn baby. As she serves her beloved Juliet over the next fourteen years, the nurse learns the Cappellettis’ darkest secrets. Those secrets—and the nurse’s deep personal grief—erupt across five momentous days of love and loss that destroy a daughter, and a family.

By turns sensual, tragic, and comic, Juliet’s Nurse gives voice to one of literature’s most memorable and distinctive characters, a woman who was both insider and outsider among Verona’s wealthy ruling class. Exploring the romance and intrigue of interwoven loyalties, rivalries, jealousies, and losses only hinted at in Shakespeare’s play, this is a never-before-heard tale of the deepest love in Verona—the love between a grieving woman and the precious child of her heart.


In the tradition of Sarah Dunant, Philippa Gregory, and Geraldine Brooks, Juliet’s Nurse is a rich prequel that reimagines the world’s most cherished tale of love and loss, suffering and survival.

My Thoughts:
I had to really concentrate on going into this book with an open mind.  You see, I really don't like Romeo and Juliet.  I do enjoy Shakespeare, but that particular play is probably my least favorite of the ones that I've read.  It was only when several history professors told me that modern audiences had it wrong--in Shakespeare's time, the tragedy was not the death of two young lovers, but the fact that two kids died because they DID NOT LISTEN TO THEIR PARENTS--that I finally had any real appreciation of the play.

So, I went in with as open a mind as I could and, well, I was surprised.  I enjoyed this book far more than I had expected.  The main character (Juliet's nurse, obviously) is Angelica--a middle aged woman who has buried all her sons and then the infant daughter she did not know she was expecting.  As was common, Angelica is then contracted to be a wet nurse for a wealthy family's infant daughter, Juliet di Cappelletti (or, you know, Capulet).

The bulk of the book develops Angelica and her relationship to Juliet.  It's a complex one, and one that is completely heart-wrenching.  Angelica also becomes a mother figure to Juliet's cousin, Tybalt, who is also a well-drawn character (and far more interesting here than he is in Shakespeare's play).

I loved Leveen's writing.  She did an exceptional job at creating 14th-century Verona for the reader.  Her voice is lyrical and readable and I found myself drawn into her prose.

I was worried that the book would begin to drag towards the end when Leveen's narrative would meet Shakespeare's.  After all, we all know how this one is headed (answer: not well) and I didn't see how Leveen could keep momentum going as she zoomed towards and already defined ending.  Here again, I was surprised.  Leveen is able to not only avoid lagging, but also to accelerate the speed of the plot in a way that the reader can't put the book down, even though they know how it all ends.  And, even with the pre-determined ending, I found the conclusion of this book very satisfying.

I did have a few minor quibbles about the book.  I wish Leveen had flushed out Juliet's character more--she took such care with Tybalt that I was surprised that she did not do the same with a more major character.  There were also times where Leveen used lines from Shakespeare as dialogue.  While that is clever, they didn't match the dialogue in the rest of the book, which I found a little unsettling.

Those, however, are small things.  They may have kept Juliet's Nurse from being a perfect book, but they did not stop this from being a highly enjoyable book that I would readily recommend to others.

I received a copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads program.  I was encouraged, but not required, to write a review.  I received no other compensation for this post.



Juliet's Nurse
by Lois Leveen
Powells.com

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book Review: "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good" by Kathleen Flinn

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family Kathleen Flinn
Published: August 14, 2014
ISBN: 9780670015443
Genre: Memoir
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 4 / 5
♦♦♦♦

Summary: 
In this family history interwoven with recipes, Kathleen Flinn returns readers to the mix of food and memoir beloved by readers of her bestselling The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry. Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good explores the very beginnings of her love affair with food and its connection to home. It is the story of her midwestern childhood, its memorable home cooks, and the delicious recipes she grew up with. Flinn shares tales of her parents’ pizza parlor in San Francisco, where they sold Uncle Clarence’s popular oven-fried chicken, as well as recipes for the vats of chili made by her former army cook Grandpa Charles, fluffy Swedish pancakes from Grandma Inez, and cinnamon rolls for birthday breakfasts. Through these dishes, Flinn came to understand how meals can be memories, and how cooking can be a form of communication. Brimming with warmth and wit, this book is sure to appeal to Flinn’s many fans as well as readers of Marcus Samuelsson, Ruth Reichl, and Julie Powell.

My Thoughts:
We all know that there is such a thing as Comfort Food, but there is also Comfort Reading--those books that feel like a hug and restore your faith in everyday people.  Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good gives you both Comfort Food AND Comfort Reading!

The Flinn family is a typical mid-Century, mid-American family.  There are now celebrities in this family and the only one that crosses this family's path is Michael Moore in his younger years.  They aren't the saccharine kind of family that you might find on a sit-com or family drama.  No, the Flinn's are a fun and loving bunch who pull together through the ups and downs.

Folks, I want to be a part of this family.  The parents love each other (really, they are always running off on countless "second honeymoons"), they have an array of eccentrics in their extended family, and Flinn's sister actually runs away to be a clown!  Yes, a clown!

Oh, and then there is the food.  Other than Julia Child's Beouf Bourginon, we aren't talking about "fancy" food.  This is stick to your ribs and warm your soul fare.  This is the kind of food that I grew up with--my mother being a good mid-Century, mid-American woman.  And there are RECIPES!  I really wish I had the hardcopy of this book as it would be easier to go back to the recipes!

I related to this family--like Kathleen, I was the youngest by FAR and was at home long after my siblings had moved out (in my case, many of my siblings had moved out before I was born).  While my family didn't especially struggle financially while I was growing up, there were some definite hard times before I came along.

For readers who are into serious memoirs, this may be a bit light.  For everyone else--especially foodies--this is a treat.  I laughed, I sobbed, and I wanted to eat!

I received an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.



Friday, October 17, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - October 18

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

After we left De Smet, we headed east on Highway 14 to Walnut Grove, MN.  Walnut Grove is probably MORE famous for the TV show of Little House on the Prairie, which was set (but not filmed) here than Laura Ingalls Wilder's actual time in the town, which she wrote about in On the Banks of Plum Creek.

The Ingalls' land is a couple of miles out of town and is privately owned.  The story goes that after the inital publishing and success of the Little House books, Garth Williams--the illustrator--made a research trip to the area so that he could improve some of the illustrations for upcoming editions.  He found this land by studying the land records and contacted the current owners (and I believe the same family still owns the land).  They had heard about the books and were more than happy to show Williams around.  On his tour, they landowners pointed out a strange depression that they could never figure out...it turns out that was the site of the Ingalls' dugout!

The family allows people to visit the site and they've done a great job of preserving it.  There is a small parking and picnic area and some signs pointing out what is what.  Other than that, they're trying to restore the land to the natural state that Laura Ingalls Wilder would have known.

A shot of the dugout site from the other side of Plum Creek


A closer view of the dugout site

On the Banks of Plum Creek


This looks very much like what the Ingalls would have seen when they first arrived.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - October 11

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

On this particular day, it was all about Laura Ingalls Wilder!  Because of the sheer number of pictures, I'm dividing this day into 2 posts.

The first stop was De Smet, SD.  This is where the Ingalls family ultimately ended up and Laura married Almonzo Wilder.  We had planned to visit both the Ingalls Homestead and then tour the houses in town, but time got the best of us and we only made it to the Homestead--which means another trip to De Smet will be in our future!

The Ingalls Homestead is a living museum on the actual site of the land homesteaded by Charles Ingalls.  The original structures are gone and no one is sure where exactly they were, but they used Laura Ingalls Wilder's descriptions to build replicas where their best guess of the locations were.

A view of the homestead from the high ground

Another view...and yes, those are tents.  You can camp here!  If we had had room in our minivan for our camping gear, we would have camped as well!

My kids loved the barn--complete with chickens and a cow...and a litter of kittens!

My kids are apparently wild for pumping water!

The kids running down the hill...just like the opening credits of the TV show.

Checking out (a replica of) Ma's sewing machine

Pony ride!

We rode in a covered wagon over to the school house and the kids each got a chance to steer the team!

The cottonwood trees in this picture are the same ones planted by Charles Ingalls himself!

Come back next week for more of our Laura pilgrimage!


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Book Review: "The Paradise Tree" by Elena Maria Vidal

The Paradise Tree Elena Maria Vidal
Published: October 2014
ISBN: 9781500590628
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: 3 / 5
♦♦♦

Summary:
In every Eden, there dwells a serpent...

The year is 1887 in Leeds County, Ontario.  The O'Connor clan is gathering to mourn the loss of its patriarch Daniel O'Conner, an Irish immigrant.  The story of Daniel and his wife Brigit is one of great hardships, including illness, ill-starred romances, war and political upheavals, as well as undying love and persevering faith.  As Daniel is laid to rest, his grandson Fergus receives a piercing insight into what his own calling in life will be.

My Thoughts:
There are two ways of looking at this book: as a family history and as a historical novel.  As a family history, I found this a fascinating book.  Daniel O'Conner was the author's great-great-great-grandfather and Vidal does an admirable job of illustrating his life, and the lives of his descendants.  There are some fascinating stories here--Daniel's early life in Ireland and starting a new life in Canada, meeting his wife, their children.

I also liked how Vidal emphasized the importance of faith for the family.  I'm not Catholic, but Vidal was able to write about devout Catholicism in a way that Protestants and other non-Catholics could follow.  As faith was so important to the family, this was a vital part of the book.

However, as a novel, this book was not as successful.  There are so many interesting stories contained in these pages that it causes two problems.  First, I felt like there was too much going on in this book.  Secondly, Vidal rarely went as deep into these stories as I would have liked.  Reading this book was somewhat like being a stone that someone is skipping across the lake--you touch in here and there, but rarely go below the surface.  Honestly, if each of the stories in this book were developed into a full-length novel, I would read the entire series.

I admit the problem is mine and many others would not have an issues with the novel aspect of this book.  Ultimately, I did enjoy the book, even though it left me wanting more.

About the Author:
 Elena Maria Vidal grew up in the countryside outside of Frederick, Maryland, “fair as the garden of the Lord” as the poet Whittier said of it. As a child she read so many books that her mother had to put restrictions on her hours of reading. During her teenage years, she spent a great deal of her free time writing stories and short novels.

Elena graduated in 1984 from Hood College in Frederick with a BA in Psychology, and in 1985 from the State University of New York at Albany with an MA in Modern European History. In 1986, she joined the Secular Order of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Elena taught at the Frederick Visitation Academy and worked as a private tutor as well as teaching children’s etiquette classes. During a trip to Austria in 1995 she visited the tomb of Empress Maria Theresa in the Capuchin crypt in Vienna. Afterwords she decided to finish a novel about Marie-Antoinette she had started writing ten years before but had put aside. In 1997 her first historical novel TRIANON was published by St. Michaels Press. In 2000, the sequel MADAME ROYALE was published, as well as the second edition of TRIANON, by The Neumann Press. Both books quickly found an international following which continues to this day. In 2010, the third edition of TRIANON and the second edition of MADAME ROYALE were released.

In November 2009, THE NIGHT’S DARK SHADE: A NOVEL OF THE CATHARS was published by Mayapple Books. The new historical novel deals with the controversial Albigensian Crusade in thirteenth century France. Elena has been a contributor to Canticle Magazine, Touchstone Magazine, The National Observer, and The American Conservative. In April 2009 she was a speaker at the Eucharistic Convention in Auckland, New Zealand. In August 2010 Elena spoke at The Catholc Writers Conference in Valley Forge, PA. She is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and the Eastern Shore Writers Association. She currently lives in Maryland with her family.

For more information please visit Elena’s website and blog.  You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.



I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Want to know what other readers thought?  Check out some of the other stops on this tour (link goes to the blog, not the specific review):

Saturday, October 4
Review at Peeking Between the Pages

Sunday, October 5
Guest Post at Susan Heim on Writing

Monday, October 6
Review at Savvy Verse & Wit
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Tuesday, October 7
Review at Just One More Chapter

Thursday, October 9
Review & Interview at Back Porchervations

Friday, October 10
Review at Beth’s Book Reviews
Spotlight at Let Them Read Books

Saturday, October 11
Interview at Supremacy & Survival

Sunday, October 12
Spotlight at Queen of All She Reads

Monday, October 13
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews

Tuesday, October 14
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Wednesday, October 15
Review at A Book Geek
Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes

Thursday, October 16
Review at Book Nerd
Spotlight at She is Too Fond of Books

Friday, October 17
Review at Dianne Ascroft Blog

Saturday, October 18
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Monday, October 20
Review at Book Drunkard

Monday, October 6, 2014

September 2014 Monthly Wrap Up

I'm a little late with this one--life has been crazy since both kids started school....and then I was taken down with a killer cold (which, ironically, did not come from my kids!).

As I posted earlier, my reading life has taken a hit since the kids went back to school.  I'm still reading, of course, but at a slower pace.  As of right now, I have no books in the queue for solicited reviews for the rest of the year--although that may change if something tantalizing comes my way!  So, I'm just working my way through some netgalleys, some First Reads, and my backlog of books.  Other than one review coming up a little later this month (which is already written and ready to go), I have nothing "scheduled," so reviews will just come out as I finish books.

I also want to do some more non-book posting here.  Honestly, the only reason I haven't is that I've just been busy and sick recently.  But, as the reviews here will be a bit more spaced out for a while, I'm hoping to need some other posts!

So, onto the business.

In September, I read:
The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith
Rachel by Jill Eileen Smith
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary (no review)
I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary (no review)
I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira
Ramona's World by Beverly Cleary (no review--I did, apparently, get plenty of reading time with my daughter!)
Into the Free by Julie Cantrell (no review)

Right now, I'm reading:
Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Finn (been working on this FOREVER.  However, I will say that I'm enjoying this one!)
Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen (technically, I haven't started it yet...but will tonight!)
Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (a re-read for my book club.  Link goes to my original review).

In Other News:

  • It looks like I'm going to be a girl scout.  Well, a troop leader.  Growing up, I always wanted to be a girl scout and it just never happened.  Now, my daughter wants to do it and I tried to sign her up, but I was told that the only way I could get her into a Daisy troop was to start one.  So, well, that's what I'm doing.  I'm looking forward to it but, man, there is a lot of training that goes into being a troop leader!
  • In light of the bullet point above, I promise to to hit you all up for cookie sales.
  • My daughter is learning to read right now, which is fun and frustrating.  I think we readers forget how hard it was to make sense of letters and words when we were so young!  I do work with her on it, but I try not to do so much that it becomes unpleasant for her.  
  • Finally, I just want to tell you all that my son--my baby!--turns 4 today.  Where does the time go????

Friday, October 3, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - October 4

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Our original plan after leaving the Black Hills of South Dakota was to head straight over to the east side of the state.  However, once we realized how close we were to Badlands National Park, we decided to make a detour and at least drive through it.

We only covered a small part of the park, but we did get a few nice pics.




A Pronghorn Antelope...I had to get the zoom lens out for this one!



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Review: "I Always Loved You" by Robin Oliveira

I Always Loved You Robin Oliveira
Published: 2/4/14
ISBN: 9780670785797
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 3 / 5
♦♦♦

Summary:
The young Mary Cassatt never thought moving to Paris after the Civil War to be an artist was going to be easy, but when, after a decade of work, her submission to the Paris Salon is rejected, Mary’s fierce determination wavers. Her father is begging her to return to Philadelphia to find a husband before it is too late, her sister Lydia is falling mysteriously ill, and worse, Mary is beginning to doubt herself. Then one evening a friend introduces her to Edgar Degas and her life changes forever. Years later she will learn that he had begged for the introduction, but in that moment their meeting seems a miracle. So begins the defining period of her life and the most tempestuous of relationships.

My Thoughts:
I finished reading this book about a week and a half ago.  Normally, I write up my reviews within 24 hours of finishing a book, but I needed much more time with this one to decide what I actually thought about it.

Mary Cassatt is my favorite impressionist and I had heard about her relationship with Degas when I took an Art History class in college (although my professor insisted that their relationship was was platonic) so I found the subject matter attractive.  I was quickly drawn into the book, due to both Oliveria's readable voice and the fact that she so vividly brings to life late 19th-century Paris.

Oliveira does a nice job of bringing to life both Cassatt and Degas.  Cassatt is striving to excel past the boundaries defined by her gender and nationality.  I don't completely buy that Oliveira's depiction of their relationship is accurate, but it is interesting to the reader.

But, ultimately I didn't find this book to be satisfying.  I tried to figure out what the problem was and I think it is that Oliveira spends a lot of time on secondary story lines.   While I appreciated that she brought in other impressionists in more than just a mention way, I did feel that she spent too much time developing their stories and it took away from the central story.

I am glad I read this book--it reminded me how much I love Mary Cassatt's work--but I'm not sure I would recommend it to others, unless they were especially interested in Mary Cassatt or Edgar Degas.

I received an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.



I Always Loved You
by Robin Oliveira
Powells.com

Monday, September 29, 2014

GIVEAWAY: "I Shall Be Near To You" by Erin Lindsay McCabe

So, if you tuned in last Friday, you saw my review of what may end up being my favorite read of the year.  If you didn't, just click on the last part of the last sentence and you can read all about it.  I'll wait....

Okay, are you back?  For those of you who didn't click over, I'm talking about this book:


Rosetta doesn't want her new husband Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she's always worked by her father’s side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she's told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.

With the army desperate for recruits, Rosetta has no trouble volunteering, although she faces an incredulous husband. She drills with the men, proves she can be as good a soldier as anyone, and deals with the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Rosetta's strong will clashes with Jeremiah's while their marriage is tested by broken conventions, constant danger, and war, and she fears discovery of her secret even as they fight for their future, and for their lives. Inspired by more than 250 documented accounts of the women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is the intimate story, in Rosetta’s powerful and gorgeous voice, of the drama of marriage, one woman’s amazing exploits, and the tender love story that can unfold when two partners face life’s challenges side by side.

Well, guess what!  I have a copy to give away to a lucky reader (US only, sorry!).  All you have to do is use the Rafflecopter below.  Your first entry is so easy!  All you have to do is click on something.  If you'd like a better chance of winning, there are ways to get more entries.

Really, folks, this is a great book!  The give away ends at midnight (Pacific time) on Sunday, October 5th...so hurry up!



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, September 26, 2014

Saturday Snapshot - September 27

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Ah, Mt. Rushmore....it's kind of weird when you think about it....Dead white men carved into mountains deep in what was once Native American lands.  If that bothers you too much, go see the Crazy Horse monument--it isn't nearly as cool, but whatever.

That being said, I truly believe that all Americans should see Mt. Rushmore at least once in their lifetime.  This was time #2 for me (we stopped for a "look and get back in the car!" visit when I was younger).  Since my first visit, they built a new plaza and such, so it was kind of like coming back for the first time for me.

This picture was taken about 2 miles away with the zoom lens on my camera.


George

Another picture of George

Taken from the Presidential Trail at the base of the mountain


Taken as the sun was beginning to set