Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Review: The Girl Who Fought Napoleon by Linda Lafferty

I have long been fascinated with Russia. I took two years of Russian in high school (which, so many years later, leaves me capable of the names of a couple of animals, fruits, please, thank-you, "My name is...," and the like). I took a "Russian-Soviet Life" class in high school and a "Russia to 1900" class in college. I have read many of the Russian greats and a few of the banned Soviets as well. So this novel of the Russian Empire, set in the waning years of Catherine the Great, her son Paul I, and grandson Alexander I's rules, was something I knew would sustain my interest. Finding out that the premise of a girl who fled her home and joined the Russian cavalry to fight Napoleon was based on a true story made it all that much more appealing.

Nadezhda Durova is born to a Russian army officer and his Ukrainian wife. A disappointment to her mother, she grows up wild and indulged while her family follows the drum. When he father finally retires, she is suddenly faced with her mother's strictures and ideas of how a proper lady comports herself. Chafing under this contained life, Nadezhda runs away in the middle of the night on her magnificent steed, Alcides. Dressed as a Cossack, she conspires to join the army in the guise of a young boy named Aleksandr. Throughout the years, she serves with honor and bravery, eventually taking part in the horrific Patriotic War of 1812 against Napoleon. As Nadezhda grows up and joins the army, the young Grand Duke Alexander is also growing up in St. Petersburg in his grandmother Catherine the Great's household. He is groomed to become Tsar, witness to and victim of the great animosity between his father and his grandmother. Political machinations mold and form his adolescence and young adulthood as he is thrust into a position he never desired. Nadezhda escapes the life that society would impress on her but the Tsar cannot so easily run away from his responsibilities.

The novel is told from Nadezhda's first person perspective and third person limited from Alexander I's with a few short bits focused on Napoleon. Generally the shifts occur from chapter to chapter but occasionally, and slightly confusingly, they happen within a chapter as well. The narrative is not a straight chronology either, at least in the beginning when the reader needs to pay close attention to the date headings on the chapters to figure out where in history the story is, as well as which character is dominating the story line. Although the two major story lines start off quite far apart, they do eventually cross over each other in a somewhat surprising way. Despite their intersection, they still generally felt like two different novels rather than a completely integrated whole. The Russian history was well researched and seeing Alexander I's struggles with his position, his guilt over his father's death, and his almost platonic relationship with his own wife was interesting indeed. Nadezhda's story, unknown as it seems to be here in the West, was even more interesting. Her rebellion against society and the narrow life that she could expect to lead as a woman was completely understandable and her accounts of war and the suffering of the troops was brutal. The story was generally engaging with one exception: the unexpected revelation at the end of the novel comes out of the blue and although it apparently follows the very late revelation in the real Nadezhda Durova's memoir, it is confusing and disruptive for the reader. Aside from that though, anyone interested in the life of a woman who fashions herself as she wants to be or in the years of the Romanov dynasty that this encompasses will certainly enjoy this expansive novel.

For more information about Linda Lafferty and the book, follow her on Twitter. Also, check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

A Life Everlasting by Sarah Gray. The book is being released by HarperOne on September 27, 2016.

Amazon says this about the book: A donor mother’s powerful memoir of grief and rebirth that is also a fascinating medical science whodunit, taking us inside the world of organ, eye, tissue, and blood donation and cutting-edge scientific research.

When Sarah Gray received the devastating news that her unborn son Thomas was diagnosed with anencephaly, a terminal condition, she decided she wanted his death—and life—to have meaning. In the weeks before she gave birth to her twin sons in 2010, she arranged to donate Thomas’s organs. Due to his low birth weight, they would go to research rather than transplant. As transplant donors have the opportunity to meet recipients, Sarah wanted to know how Thomas's donation would be used.

That curiosity fueled a scientific odyssey that leads Sarah to some of the most prestigious scientific facilities in the country, including Harvard, Duke, and the University of Pennsylvania. Pulling back the curtain of protocol and confidentiality, she introduces the researchers who received Thomas’s donations, held his liver in their hands, studied his cells under the microscope.

Sarah’s journey to find solace and understanding takes her beyond her son’s donations—offering a breathtaking overview of the world of medical research and the valiant scientists on the horizon of discovery. She goes behind the scenes at organ procurement organizations, introducing skilled technicians for whom death means saving lives, empathetic counselors, and the brilliant minds who are finding surprising and inventive ways to treat and cure disease through these donations. She also shares the moving stories of other donor families.

A Life Everlasting is an unforgettable testament to hope, a tribute to life and discovery, and a portrait of unsung heroes pushing the boundaries of medical science for the benefit of all humanity.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review: Marrow by Elizabeth Lesser

Sisters are special people. They share your history. They are part of good memories and bad. You share both love and strife, oftentimes dating back years and years. I can't even begin to imagine what it would feel like to be told that not only does your sister have cancer but that without a bone marrow transplant, she will die, and soon. But that is the devastating news Liz Lesser got from her sister Maggie and which she chronicles in her new memoir, Marrow: A Love Story.

Liz and Maggie hadn't always had an easy relationship but Liz was as devastated as anyone when the lymphoma that they all thought Maggie had beaten seven years earlier reoccurred. And with the aggressive recurrence, Maggie's only hope was a bone marrow transplant. Each of the three Lesser sisters was tested but it was Liz who was the perfect match. So began the journey of the sisters, a journey through cancer and its treatment but also a journey through love and soul searching, a journey to reconnect as sisters, and a journey to live life fully and intentionally. This memoir, although inspired by Maggie, is more of an examination of Liz's inner life and emotions. It is a combination memoir of both the reality of terminal illness and self-help with a lean towards mysticism. Once Maggie agrees to try the transplant, she and Liz look at healing their years of misunderstandings and resentments in preparation for the transplant, hoping that coming to a forgiving and healing place together emotionally, sharing acceptance and forgiveness, will allow the harvested stem cells to thrive in Maggie.

Lesser examines her own journey, her role in Maggie's life, and discusses ways in which to get to the marrow of life and love, weaving all of these together within the same chapters. There are some brief "field notes" of Maggie's from her journal but they are fairly infrequent. And really, the focus here is more Liz than Maggie. It is more about how she viewed her sister and their lifelong relationship than it was about losing this sister she came to understand and respect so much. This made the memoir less emotional than it might otherwise have been given the subject matter. The pieces about Maggie and about Lesser's growing up years were engaging and something to look forward to. The self-help portions were definitely less so for me and dwarfed the life and relationship the book was celebrating. Lesser's spiritual beliefs are evident here but by framing the narrative the way she does, the depth of emotional impact is minimized and depersonalized. The reader needed more of Maggie and what made her who she was, a sister Liz loved and upended her life for, a mother, a wife, a nurse, an artist, an actively dying person who could say that the year after her bone marrow transplant was the best year of her life, and so much more. It would be hard to write a memoir about losing a sister without it being about love and grief and this definitely has that but it also has life, Liz's life and the ways in which making the journey with Maggie changed her forever. Those who don't mind a rather large helping of self-help with their memoirs will really enjoy this a lot.

For more information about Elizabeth Lesser and the book, check out her web page or like her Facebook page. Also, check out the book's Good Reads page or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev. The book is being released by Kensington on September 27, 2016.

Amazon says this about the book: Dr. Nikhil 'Nic' Joshi had it all—marriage, career, purpose. Until, while working for Doctors Without Borders in a Mumbai slum, his wife, Jen, discovered a black market organ transplant ring. Before she could expose the truth, Jen was killed.

Two years after the tragedy, Nic is a cruise ship doctor who spends his days treating seasickness and sunburn and his nights in a boozy haze. On one of those blurry evenings on deck, Nic meets a woman who makes a startling claim: she received Jen’s heart in a transplant and has a message for him. Nic wants to discount Jess Koirala’s story as absurd, but there’s something about her reckless desperation that resonates despite his doubts.

Jess has spent years working her way out of a nightmarish life in Calcutta and into a respectable Bollywood dance troupe. Now she faces losing the one thing that matters—her young son, Joy. She needs to uncover the secrets Jen risked everything for; but the unforeseen bond that results between her and Nic is both a lifeline and a perilous complication.

Delving beyond the surface of modern Indian-American life, acclaimed author Sonali Dev’s page-turning novel is both riveting and emotionally rewarding—an extraordinary story of human connection, bravery, and hope.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Review: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Tolstoy famously said that "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." While happy families may not be as homogeneous as he suggested, certainly all families carry different seeds of unhappiness within themselves and therein lies their story. In Ann Patchett's newest novel, Commonwealth, two families which subsequently re-form into one extended family via divorce and remarriage are certainly unhappy in their own ways.

Opening with assistant DA Bert Cousins crashing cop Fix Keating's baby daughter's christening party in order to escape the demands of his own wife and three, soon to be four, children, the novel follows the Keating and Cousins families through the transformations of the next five decades. Bert's presence at the party is the catalyst for upheaval in both homes as Bert and Beverly Keating have an affair, subsequently leaving their spouses for each other and moving from California to Virginia with Beverly's children. The six step siblings, adrift together in the summers, without much adult supervision, are forever changed by a catastrophic event. In later years, when Franny Keating, the baby of the christening party is grown up and meets a famous author in search of a story, she offers that of her family, which he will use both in ways true and untrue to the original story. It is this fictionalization of the family's life that will, in some ways, continue to define the characters well into middle and old age as they both see themselves in the tale and at the same time reject the portrayals.

This novel is very much a character driven family drama. Franny is certainly the central character in that many of the perceptions, indeed all of those passed to the famous writer, are from her perspective. But more than simply the tale of a dysfunctional pair of families, this is about relationships. It is about family, natural, blended, and extended. It is about broken people connecting, failing, but still trying to forge bonds with other imperfect people. It is about forgiveness and guilt, the way we hurt others, what we share with those closest to us, and who our stories ultimately belong to. There are large gaps of time in the narrative which can lead to a bit of temporal disorientation and certain of the characters are definitely less fleshed out than others.  But if this is not quite as strong as some of Patchett's other works, it is still a well written and introspective novel worth the read.

For more information about Ann Patchett and the book, check out her web page, visit her blog. Also, check out the book's Good Reads page or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday, September 12, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Moo by Sharon Creech

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
You Have Never Been Here by Mary Rickert
West With the Night by Beryl Markham
A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
Riverine by Angela Palm
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
I Will Find You by Joanna Connors
The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel
Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Different Kind of Daughter by Maria Toorpakai
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Marrow by Elizabeth Lesser

Reviews posted this week:

Autumn in Oxford by Alex Rosenberg

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

My Confection by Lisa Kotin
Put a Ring on It by Beth Kendrick
One Perfect Summer by Paige Toon
The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
American Housewife by Helen Ellis
The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
Closer All the Time by Jim Nichols
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Forsaken by Ross Howell Jr.
The Cosmopolitans by Sarah Schulman
The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
A Very Special Year by Thomas Montasser
Specimen by Irina Kovalyova
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod
The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera
The Boy Who Speaks in Numbers by Mike Masilamani
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas
After the Dam by Amy Hassinger
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
Umami by Laia Jufresa
The Education of a Poker Player by James McManus
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea
The Iceberg by Marion Coutts
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Remarkable by Dinah Cox
Miss Jane by Brad Watson
The Inland Sea by Donald Ritchie
The Unseen World by Liz Moore
The Silver Spoon by Kansuke Naka
Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett
The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine by Alex Brunkhorst
The Honeymoon by Dinitia Smith
The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter
The Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum
Bottomland by Michelle Hoover
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison
The Lake by Perrine Leblanc
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
If You Left by Ashley Norton
The Heart You Carry Home by Jennifer Miller
And Again by Jessica Chiarella
Man by Kim Thuy
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora
A Good American by Alex George
Bertrand Court by Michelle Brafman
When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams
The Winter War by Philip Teir
This Side of Providence by Sally M. Harper
Lost and Found by Brooke Davis
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
Course Correction by Ginny Gilder
Charmed Particles by Chrissy Kolaya
300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan
The Tsar of Love of Techno by Anthony Marra
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden
Hey Harry, Hey Matilda by Rachel Hulin
The Measure of Darkness by Liam Durcan
Finding Fraser by KC Dyer
A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold
The Drone Eats With Me by Atef Abu Saif
Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Moo by Sharon Creech

Monday Mailbox

Just one but what a one! This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Disaster Falls by Stephane Gerson came from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

How does a father, a family, go on after a child dies? This memoir should be completely wrenching but in a way, it should also keep this young boy alive and I look forward to honoring his memory.

If you want to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

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