Saturday, August 31, 2013

Decatur Book Festival 2013

This morning I headed for the Decatur Book Festival to see my graduate school professor Author Elaine Neil Orr, whose fiction debut, A Different Sun, I reviewed a couple months ago. She was paired with Margaret Wrinkle, whose book Wash I purchased (as well as several other things).

The pair discussed writing about slavery and spirituality, as both of their books include these two themes. I can't wait to read Wash and feel already that I need to reread A Different Sun afterward.


The Wren's Nest and KIPP Strive Academy debuted their latest collection, Into Bright Tomorrows, this morning at the Festival, and I picked up a copy.

So it appears the summer is over since it's Labor Day weekend. Here's to lots of happy reading this fall!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review: In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl

In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl
Published by: Penguin Books
Published on: August 27, 2013
Page Count: 454
Genre: Historical fiction
My Reading Format: ARC paperback
Available Formats: Paperback and Kindle versions

My Review:

Iris and Tom Crane, siblings in Australia as World War I breaks out in Europe, watch the conflict unfold. Tom, only 15 years old, confides to Iris that he'd like to fight for Great Britain. Iris, proud that her brother wants to make a contribution as such a young age, encourages him to join the army. It's not long after Tom has left that their father's grief at Tom's absence makes Iris regret her support of her brother. To put their father's mind at ease, Iris heads for France herself. In a chance encounter at a train station, Iris, a nurse, is convinced by Frances Ivens, a Scottish doctor working to establish a field hospital for French soldiers in an abbey called Royaumont, to join her cause. Almost immediately, Iris is named Miss Ivens' assistant and spends the war years tending to wounded soldiers with her fellow medical staff and helping with hospital administration. Iris gets sucked in by the work: she feels useful and enjoys the camaraderie the doctors and nurses (all female) share. Some time goes by before Iris is able to take leave and seek out Tom, who since he is so young is a postal carrier for the army rather than a soldier on the battlefield, much to Iris' and their father's relief.

Iris tells her story as an elderly woman looking back on her time as a nurse in France, and tells her present-day story, which takes place in 1978 in Australia where she lives near her granddaughter Grace and her family. Grace, an obstetrician balancing career and motherhood, has a voice in the book as well, and the two women's three story lines blend beautifully.

In Falling Snow is a story about women and the choices they make: career v. family, attend to duties at home v. travel, and making the right judgment calls along the way. It's a story about forgiving those who have done wrong in the past, and how to move ahead, and a story about making choices for oneself and deciding when to make decisions for someone else. And it's about how one acts under pressure.

Though decades have come and gone between Iris' time as a young women as a talented nurse and Grace's time as a doctor, the struggles they face in their careers in what's more a man's world than a woman's (even in obstetrics and gynecology) are surprisingly similar. And, both women realize that both family and career are what's important to them. 

Though I can't relate to working in the medical profession, I found Iris and Grace to be likable characters I still felt I could identify with. They are both honest and real. They make mistakes and they strive to overcome them. They feel a strong sense of duty and that's what leads them through their lives. I liked the intergenerational approach to the story, and the fact that Iris got to tell her story as a young woman and as one nearing the end of her life. I also liked that even though Grace has a lot on her plate, MacColl gave her a supportive husband, when some authors might have been tempted to let Grace's job and family pressures strain her marriage. I liked David as a character and the role he played in the story.

I was so engrossed in this book from the first page, which involved Iris' early days in nursing during the war, that at first I was speed-reading through Grace's parts just to get back to Iris, not sure if Grace would hold my interest as well as Iris was. After a few chapters I caught on to what MacColl was doing by mirroring the two women's stories and relished them both.

This book is one my favorites from 2013.

Five out of five stars (only a handful of books get this rating from me each year!)

If you liked this book, you’ll like the movie A League of Their Own, the nonfiction book by Leslie Bennetts called The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, Z by Therese Ann Fowler, and The Paris Wife by Paula McClain.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Book Review: The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler
Published by: Gallery Books
Published on: August 20, 2013
Page Count: 352
Genre: Fiction
My Reading Format: ARC provided by NetGalley for my Kindle
Available Formats: Paperback and Kindle editions


My Review: 

Esme is a 23-year-old PhD candidate at Columbia University in art history. A British native, she's been in busy New York City for a few months living alone in her apartment, attending lectures, writing papers and making a few friends. When the book begins she has been dating Mitchell for just a few months and realizes she's become pregnant. Mitchell, an economics teacher at a posh Manhattan private school, makes time for Esme only on his own schedule. When Esme finally meets up with him to share the news, he breaks up with her before he hears what she has to say. The secret is kept from him for some time while she decides how to proceed; then Mitchell comes back into the picture. 

During all of this, Esme has landed a part-time job at a used book store near her apartment called The Owl. There she is the lone female among a cast of characters that fall into one of two categories: bookish or homeless. The group welcomes Esme and looks out for her during her pregnancy, warning her to stay clear of Mitchell. Mitchell and Esme's off-again-on-again relationship continues throughout the book until finally Esme must stand on her own. 

I don't know that I've ever read a book where I am so angry at the characters right from the start that I decide I might need to stop reading. I didn't and maybe I should have. I kept hoping Mitchell would be less of a jerk and realize that Esme loved him and wanted him to be an active part of their child's life. I kept hoping Esme would come to her senses, grow up and stop letting Mitchell dictate their relationship. These things never happen. Mitchell continues to be one of the most detestable characters I've ever read about and Esme never does stop pining after him, which is a real shame because I really wanted to like this studious British young woman. I never could get past her naivete of believing that Mitchell would come around and all of her friends and family would also begin to like him. This isn't the case. 

The book got slightly better and more well-written in the last third when Esme begins preparing for the birth of their baby on her own, and leaning more heavily on her friends at The Owl, particularly one of them named Luke (and I kept hoping they'd get together. Also not the case). 

My preference for reading books about books, fun stories about women living life in the city, and serious stories about the choices characters have to make was what kept me pushing through. Unfortunately, this one just never delivered what I was hoping.

One out of five stars

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Recent Reads: Night Falls on the City and The Journey That Saved Curious George

I'm just back from a wonderful family vacation where, unlike my usual vacation reading behavior, I only read one book. It was a long one, related to the trip, and I enjoyed it immensely. It's called Night Falls on the City by Sarah Gainham, and it's historical fiction about Vienna from 1938-1945 during Nazi occupation and World War II. The central character is a prominent Viennese stage actor named Julie who is married to a Jewish lawmaker. He's forced to go into hiding soon after the Nazis make their entrance into Austria, and Julie and their housekeeper Fina have to keep everything under wraps. While in hiding Franzl leads a monotonous existence but spends most of his time writing a book that Julie and a friend named Georgy risk everything to publish without putting Franzl at risk.

I began reading this book on the plane on the way over. The trip culminated in Vienna, so I read the book before bed each night as I looked forward to seeing this elegant city in person (in the meantime there was quite a lot to behold in Munich, Innsbruck, Salzburg, and a few Austrian and German small towns in between). I finally finished the book the day after our return, having read about half of it on the plane ride from Vienna back to the States. It very nearly received five stars from me, and would have been one of the few to get that distinction from me all year. Without Julie and her theater company's too-long and too-drawn out residence in Poland, which didn't relate quite enough to the crux of the book for me, it would have gotten a perfect rating. Nonetheless, it was a fantastic book and I raved about it to my family the whole time we were away.

Then, just after finishing Night Falls on the City I read The Journey that Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H. A. Rey by Louise Borden. As a child I read and loved the Curious George books, but I had no idea all the authors had to go through to get them published. The couple had to escape Paris on bicycles with their manuscripts as the Germans invaded France during World War II. Their first stop was Rio de Janeiro before they settled in New York City. Borden traces their steps across the continents by car, bike and ship, and you realize all the things that could have gone wrong, causing the Reys to lose their Curious George manuscripts. It's really an amazing journey, and both books are wonderful reads.

Here are a few photos from Vienna:

 Schoenbrunn Palace, the Habsburgs' summer residence
 St. Stephen's Cathedral
 The Habsburgs winter residence
Beethoven and me

Monday, August 5, 2013

Recent Read: Mrs. Lincoln: A Life by Catherine Clinton

For a variety of reasons, I've been really intrigued lately by Abraham Lincoln, and I've read several books about the wives of famous men. A friend loaned me a copy of Mrs. Lincoln: A Life by Catherine Clinton and I breezed right through it over the July 4 weekend when it wouldn't stop raining in Atlanta. It was a fascinating read. A lot of what's in it sounded somewhat familiar from the recent historical fiction book I reviewed called Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, which was about Elizabeth Keckly, Mary Lincoln's dressmaker and assistant who turned out to be one of her only friends near the end of Mary Lincoln's life.

Even so, there was plenty I learned about Mary Lincoln by reading this book that were just too interesting not to share. For one, it sounds like the First Lady was a bit difficult to handle throughout her life. She had a mind of her own as a child and continued to do things the way she wanted for the rest of her life. That meant advising her husband on politics in a way that wasn't done (or at least done more privately). A Kentucky native and an Illinois resident for much of her life, Mrs. Lincoln continued to keep one foot, so to speak, in the South and one in the North for all her days. She had family members who served on both sides of the Civil War, and had to do quite a balancing act while her husband was president. I think most of all, two things bothered me about Mrs. Lincoln's life after her husband's assassination: her mental illness (real or supposed) and her financial troubles.

I can't imagine what it would be like to deal with the kind and amount of loss Mary Lincoln experienced in her lifetime: her mother at a young age, three of her four sons and her husband, the president, right before her eyes (well, she was shoved out of the room and missed being by him as he passed). No one can take that kind of loss without being changed in some way. Her changes, though, just made me sad. It seems like she was a lot for her remaining son Robert to handle. His solution was, at times, to have his mother live with him and his new wife, have her kept at a mental institution and to manage her finances the best he could (I'm not saying his choices were right or wrong. I'm sure he did what he felt was best.). It also sounds like Mrs. Lincoln was a compulsive spender. Even when she knew she couldn't afford it, she shopped and spent money lavishly, owed her creditors tons of money and continued to spend further. 

This book was very well written. It reads more like a novel than a dry biography; I liked Clinton's writing style. I learned a lot and still want to know more about the Lincolns. What a truly interesting couple.

If you want to review what I've read and written about the Lincolns previously, here are a couple posts to check out:

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini
Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini
Lincoln, Inc.: Selling the Sixteenth President in Contemporary America by Jackie Hogan 
John Wilkes Booth: Beyond the Grave by W. C. Jameson
Book review: John Wilkes Booth: Beyond the Grave by W. C. Jameson - See more at:
Book review: John Wilkes Booth: Beyond the Grave by W. C. Jameson - See more at:

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Royal Reading List

I spent last week stalking Twitter, CBS and CNN for any news of the royal baby. None of you will be surprised to read that I have an obsession with the British royal family. This is nothing new. I watched the wedding of Prince Andrew to Fergie with my grandmother on her 13-inch black-and-white TV while eating ice cream. I had Princess Diana paper dolls. This is deep-rooted stuff. In the spirit of all things royal, here are a few of my recommended books for more on British royalty.

Becoming Queen Victoria: The Tragic Death of Princess Charlotte and the Unexpected Rise of Britain's Greatest Monarch by Kate Williams

The King's Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi

Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey

Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith

Dearest Vicky, Darling Fritz: The Tragic Love Story of Queen Victoria's Oldest Daughter and the German Emperor by John Van der Kiste

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett