Friday, November 29, 2019

Fiction/Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: The American Duchess Edition

American Duchess by Karen Harper (2019)

Consuelo Vanderbilt, of the famous Vanderbilt family, is forced into a marriage with an English duke by her mother - however, she won't let an unhappy marriage define her.

I am fascinated by the families of the Gilded Age - the wealth beyond belief, the spectacular homes, the extravagant parties - and Consuelo is the perfect example of daughters of the time period.  Even though her marriage to the Duke of Marlborough wasn't a love match, Consuelo found ways to enrich her life.   I admired her charitable spirit and how she helped, often hands-on, the people of her husband's estate and neighboring village.  She also wasn't afraid to divorce her husband, knowing that it might wreck her socially, although it took over 20 years of marriage, more than half of them separated, to do so.  After that, it really seemed that Consuelo started her second act, much happier and finally marrying for love.

The book was an easy, quick read, although the language and dialogue didn't feel particularly indicative of the era; at times it almost felt thoroughly modern.  While it was interesting to learn about Consuelo's life, it wasn't altogether riveting, although the last section of the book, set during World War II, did ramp up the action.  Apparently, Consuelo was on the Nazi ransom list and had to continue moving about to avoid kidnapping!  4 stars

The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York by Anne de Courcy (2017)

At the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century, an interesting social phenomena was occurring - American heiresses began marrying into the British upper class at a high rate.  Who were these women, and why was the British aristocracy opening itself up to an American invasion?

Anne de Courcy tackles this interesting subject in The Husband Hunters, but I can't say it was a total success for me, unfortunately.  I enjoyed learning about the individual American women, and I thought de Courcy did a great job delving into the reasons why these marriages occurred.  Some were love matches, but more were marriages of convenience.  Some American women wanted a title and others used the marriages to raise the social status of their families.  For the British men, the money these women brought to the unions helped save family estates, but there was also the allure of these "foreign" brides, so different from the women they had grown up with.  However, there were a lot of names to keep track of and the non-linear structure of the book was often hard to follow.  Also, for a short book, there was a lot of extraneous material.  I wanted more about the lives of these "American Duchesses" in England and less about their families in America and how much money they were spending on things such as lavish parties.  3.5 stars

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Lady Clementine

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Lady Clementine
Marie Benedict
Expected publication date: January 7, 2020
New from Marie Benedict, the New York Times bestselling author of The Only Woman in the Room! An incredible novel that focuses on one of the people who had the most influence during World War I and World War II: Clementine Churchill.

In 1909, Clementine Churchill steps off a train with her new husband, Winston. An angry woman emerges from the crowd to attack, shoving him in the direction of an oncoming train. Just before he stumbles, Clementine grabs him by his suit jacket. This will not be the last time Clementine Churchill saves her husband.

Lady Clementine is the ferocious story of the brilliant and ambitious woman beside Winston Churchill, the story of a partner who did not flinch through the sweeping darkness of war, and who would not surrender either to expectations or to enemies. - from Goodreads
Winston Churchill is obviously a very famous historical figure, but I know nothing about his wife, so this novel sounds very intriguing!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Nonfiction November 2019: New To My TBR!

I can't believe it's already the last week of Nonfiction November!  I've had a fantastic month of reading - I've finished seven nonfiction books and still have a couple more going!  This final week is hosted by Rennie at What's Nonfiction? and it's a good one - a recap of all the new books we've added to our TBRs.  I managed to add 13 books to my TBR, which is wonderful because my list was getting a little light on nonfiction.  Here are the books I've added and the bloggers I got the recommendations from:





Thanks, everyone!

Friday, November 22, 2019

DNF&Y #2

DNF&Y is a feature hosted by Lindsi at Do You Dog-ear?  According to Lindsi, "DNF&Y is used to explain why I gave up on certain books, and what about them just didn't work for me. What I disliked about a book might be something you love, so it helps to share your thoughts even when they're negative!"  Since I tend to DNF quite a bit, I thought it would be fun to participate!

 This Lie Will Kill You by Chelsea Pitcher (2018)

In this book, five teens arrive at a mansion to compete for $50,000, but really they've been lured there so someone can get revenge on them for the part they played in a teen's death the year before.  I was intrigued by the "I Know What You Did Last Summer" vibe of this, but I ended up DNFing at 27% of the audiobook.  All the drama over who is in love with who got tiresome quickly, and even just a short way in, it was obvious that this would be the type of book where the killer is completely omniscient and knows everything about the teens and their lives, even going so far as to have pictures they never showed anyone before or destroyed years earlier.  It just made me roll my eyes!

 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne (2019)

This book wasn't even on my TBR, but I saw it at the library and grabbed it.  I know the author is pretty beloved for her previous book, so I figured I'd try it.  I ended up DNFing at page 72.  I was paying attention to the story, but I felt lost - I had no idea what was going on, like I was missing critical information.  Everything felt so choppy with no transitions whatsoever.  The main character Darcy just seemed like she was trying so hard to be cool and edgy, and it felt disingenuous.  I also didn't like the way she behaved towards her love interest - she's been in love with him for years, but as far as she knows, he has a girlfriend, yet she has no qualms saying really inappropriate things to him.

Have you read either of these books?

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Husband Material

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Husband Material
Emily Belden
Expected publication date: December 30, 2019
Sometimes love is unpredictable…

Twenty-nine-year-old Charlotte Rosen has a secret: she’s a widow. Ever since the fateful day that leveled her world, Charlotte has worked hard to move forward. Great job at a hot social media analytics company? Check. Roommate with no knowledge of her past? Check. Adorable dog? Check. All the while, she’s faithfully data-crunched her way through life, calculating the probability of risk—so she can avoid it.

Yet Charlotte’s algorithms could never have predicted that her late husband’s ashes would land squarely on her doorstep five years later. Stunned but determined, Charlotte sets out to find meaning in this sudden twist of fate, even if that includes facing her perfectly coiffed, and perfectly difficult, ex-mother-in-law—and her husband’s best friend, who seems to become a fixture at her side whether she likes it or not.

But soon a shocking secret surfaces, forcing Charlotte to answer questions she never knew to ask and to consider the possibility of forgiveness. And when a chance at new love arises, she’ll have to decide once and for all whether to follow the numbers or trust her heart. - from Goodreads
Charlotte sounds like a really interesting character, and I want to know what happens to her in this novel!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Nonfiction November 2019: Nonfiction Favorites

It's Week 4 of Nonfiction November - this week is hosted by Leann from Shelf Aware and it's all about our nonfiction favorites!  What makes a book one of your favorites - the subject matter, the writing style, the tone? 

For me, I generally like reading about people, places, and history.  Some of my recent favorite nonfiction books have been about women, particularly women that history has kind of ignored or we just don't really know about.


As a former historian with a focus on architectural history, I'm also drawn to books about iconic buildings.  I love nonfiction books that are able to bring a place to life through its stories.

I generally enjoy narrative nonfiction as opposed to more technical or academic writing.  It's not dry, it has more of a story-telling feel and reads like a fiction book.  I like to be entertained when I'm reading!  Erik Larson's books are perfect examples of narrative nonfiction.

Even in school I was never really interested in science; however, if the tone is light and the author is able to make the subject matter understandable, I can get on board!

What are some of your favorite nonfiction books?

Friday, November 15, 2019

Mini-Reviews: 2019 Releases

The Babysitter's Coven by Kate Williams (2019)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets The Babysitter's Club in this fun story about two teenage girls who realize they're witches that need to protect the world from danger.

Esme and her best friend Janis formed a babysitter's club years ago, and now the new girl in school, Cassandra, wants to join.  Strange things seem to be happening around Esme, but maybe Cassandra can help explain them.  The girls discover that they are witches, and they'll have to learn quick because something evil is coming.

I wanted to like this book more, although it was a fun and cute story.  At the beginning, I was a little thrown off by Esme's "voice" - I'll admit, I haven't been a teenager in a long time, but I felt like the author didn't really capture the teenage feel very well.  It felt like how an adult thinks teenagers talk - or maybe kids today really do just talk in acronyms?  It smoothed out as the book went on, though.  The pacing was a little off, too.  It took a long time for the action to start, and then there wasn't really enough of it.   However, this is the first book in a series, and I'm interested to see where the story goes next, because there were some good threads that were introduced - the potential is definitely there.  I especially liked the storyline with Esme's mother.  It was also fun seeing the girls learn to use their powers and perform spells.  3.5 stars

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig (2019)

 A retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," House of Salt and Sorrows tells the story of Annaleigh, one of twelve daughters of a duke of an island in the sea.   When we meet Annaleigh, four of her sisters have died, and she begins to wonder if something sinister is at work.

This book was the creepy story I was looking for this fall.  At turns gory, eerie, and spooky, it didn't shy away from the darkness, but rather embraced it and made it a part of the story.  I appreciated that the author wasn't afraid to push boundaries.  Annaleigh was a bit of unreliable narrator - she was haunted by ghostly visions and seemed convinced that at least one of her sisters had been murdered, although no one else seems to believe her.  The sheer amount of sister characters was overwhelming at times and only a couple of them really stood out to me, but I thought the author did a good job of creating a sense of unease and fear in the girls, especially as they are convinced that they're cursed and doomed to die early deaths.  As the story goes on, a few twists are revealed, and although I didn't really expect the religious aspects, I liked the way the story played out.  If you're looking for an atmospheric retelling, this is it!  4 stars

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Wicked Redhead

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

The Wicked Redhead (The Wicked City #2)
Beatriz Williams
Expected publication date: December 10, 2019
In this follow-up to The Wicked City, New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams combines past and present in this delicious Jazz Age adventure featuring a saucy redheaded flapper, the square-jawed Prohibition agent who loves her, and a beautiful divorcee trying to remake her life in contemporary New York.

New York City, 1998: When Ella Gilbert discovers her banker husband is cheating on her, she loses both her marriage and the life she knew. In her new apartment in an old Greenwich Village building, she's found unexpected second love with Hector, a musician who lives upstairs. And she's discovered something else, just as surprising—a connection to the mesmerizing woman scandalously posed in a vintage photograph titled Redhead Beside Herself.

Florida, 1924: Geneva "Gin" Kelly, a smart-mouthed flapper from Appalachia, barely survived a run-in with her notorious bootlegger stepfather. She and Oliver Anson, a Prohibition agent she has inconveniently fallen in love with, take shelter in Cocoa Beach, a rum-running haven. But the turmoil she tried to leave behind won't be so easily outrun. Anson's mother, the formidable Mrs. Marshall, descends on Florida with a proposition that propels Gin back to the family's opulent New York home, and into a reluctant alliance. Then Anson disappears during an investigation, and Gin must use all her guile and courage to find him.

Two very different women, separated by decades. Yet as Ella tries to free herself from her ex, she is also hunting down the truth about the captivating, wicked Redhead in her photograph—a woman who loved and lived fearlessly. And as their link grows, she feels Gin urging her on, daring her to forge her own path, wherever it leads. - from Goodreads
I will read ANYTHING that Beatriz Williams writes; her books always have amazing female characters, and I'm excited to see where Gin Kelly heads next!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Nonfiction November: Be The Expert - The Nature Edition

Week 3 of Nonfiction November is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, and this week's theme is Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert.  In the past, I've mostly asked for recommendations during this week of #NonficNov - this year, I'm going to try being the expert! 

If you peruse my blog a little, you can see that I love the outdoors, so that's where I'm going to take inspiration from.  Nature can be a wonderful, beautiful thing - but it can also be terrifying and dangerous.  This collection of books touches on the dual nature of... well, nature!


The Ledge: Two friends are climbing Mount Rainier when they fall into a crevasse, leaving one fatally injured and one struggling to survive.

Dead Mountain: The author tries to piece together what happened to a group of hikers who mysteriously died in the Ural Mountains.

The Perfect Storm: A nor'easter tears through the Atlantic, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

Into Thin Air: A journalist describes his first-hand account of a devastating climbing expedition on Mt. Everest.


Braving It: A father guides his daughter through the Alaskan wilderness.

Isaac's Storm: The author pieces together a deadly hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas in 1900.

In Harm's Way: A story of survival after the USS Indianapolis is torpedoed in the South Pacific during WWII.

Have you read any of these?

Friday, November 8, 2019

Try It, You Might Like It #10: Space Opera

"Try it, you might like it" - it's what someone says when they present you with some food you've never had before or your mom wants you to try on some clothes she picked out for you.  I'm using it here on the blog as inspiration to choose books in genres I don't normally read; to branch out from my reading comfort zones; and to maybe find some new favorites!  One of my goals this year was to bring this feature back, so here we go!

I read a lot of books set in space, but I've never read a space opera, so I thought it would be a great genre to try.  So, what is a space opera?  According to Wikipedia, a space opera "is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, chivalric romance, and risk-taking. Set mainly or entirely in outer space, it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons, and other sophisticated technology."  A classic example of a space opera movie would be Star Wars.

The first book that came to mind was The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (2014).  I have Greg at Book Haven to thank for this because he has mentioned this book several times!  I'm so glad I finally listened to him, because I really enjoyed this book!

Most of the books I read about space are pretty limited to humans doing exploration of some kind or maybe starting a new civilization on a distant planet because Earth is no longer inhabitable.  This book, however, is set on a bigger scale - in the future, humans have colonized Mars and Earth is a distant memory.  Humans aren't the only beings in the universe, either - there are countless races of aliens, and by this point, many have learned to co-exist.  That brings us to the crew of the Wayfarer - a motley mix of humans and aliens who live and work together.  It was so interesting to learn about the different alien cultures and backstories for all the crew members.  Becky Chambers is so creative and inventive - each character felt well-rounded and fleshed out.

The main storyline deals with the crew being hired for a tunneling job out in deep space, potentially dangerous but very lucrative.  We follow the crew as they get ready for the job; at some points the story felt a little slow, but it was also a good chance to introduce us to the characters and be immersed in the world-building.  The action starts building up near the end, and the story has a bit of an open ending that makes me want to continue the series and learn more about this world!

What's your favorite space opera?

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Clergyman's Wife

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

The Clergyman's Wife
Molly Greeley
Expected publication date: December 3, 2019
For everyone who loved Pride and Prejudice—and legions of historical fiction lovers—an inspired debut novel set in Austen’s world.
Charlotte Collins, nee Lucas, is the respectable wife of Hunsford’s vicar, and sees to her duties by rote: keeping house, caring for their adorable daughter, visiting parishioners, and patiently tolerating the lectures of her awkward husband and his condescending patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Intelligent, pragmatic, and anxious to escape the shame of spinsterhood, Charlotte chose this life, an inevitable one so socially acceptable that its quietness threatens to overwhelm her. Then she makes the acquaintance of Mr. Travis, a local farmer and tenant of Lady Catherine..

In Mr. Travis’ company, Charlotte feels appreciated, heard, and seen. For the first time in her life, Charlotte begins to understand emotional intimacy and its effect on the heart—and how breakable that heart can be. With her sensible nature confronted, and her own future about to take a turn, Charlotte must now question the role of love and passion in a woman’s life, and whether they truly matter for a clergyman’s wife. - from Goodreads
I love Pride & Prejudice retellings, and the fact that this one is about Charlotte Lucas, one of the smaller characters in the original, makes me want to read it even more!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Nonfiction November 2019: Fiction/Nonfiction Pairings

It's Week 2 of Nonfiction November and this week's topic is hosted by Sarah at Sarah's Book Shelves!  I think this week is my favorite of all the themes of Nonfiction November - fiction/nonfiction book pairings!  I was so inspired by this topic during my first time doing #NonficNov that I now regularly try to incorporate it into my blogging and book reviews during the rest of the year.  So, here are the pairings I came up with!

Have you read any of these?