Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review: The House of Hawthorne

The House of Hawthorne
by Erica Robuck

Why did you choose this book? the cover drew me in
When did you read this book? May 2015
Who should read this book? lovers of classic literature
Source: Penguin First To Read
Here is a synopsis of The House of Hawthorne from Penguin First To Read

The House of Hawthorne explores the tension within a famous marriage of two soulful, strong-willed people, each devoted to the other but also driven by a powerful need to explore the far reaches of their creative impulses.

From Erika Robuck, bestselling author of Hemingway’s Girl, comes a brilliant new novel about a literary couple. The unlikely marriage between Nathaniel Hawthorne, the celebrated novelist, and Sophia Peabody, the invalid artist, was a true union of passion and intellect.…
Beset by crippling headaches from a young age and endowed with a talent for drawing, Sophia is discouraged by her well-known New England family from pursuing a woman’s traditional roles. But from their first meeting, Nathaniel and Sophia begin an intense romantic relationship that despite many setbacks leads to their marriage. Together, they will cross continents, raise children, and experience all the beauty and tragedy of an exceptional partnership. Sophia’s vivid journals and her masterful paintings kindle a fire in Nathaniel, inspiring his writing. But their children’s needs and the death of loved ones steal Sophia’s energy and time for her art, fueling in her a perennial tug-of-war between fulfilling her domestic duties and pursuing her own desires.
Spanning the years from the 1830s to the Civil War, and moving from Massachusetts to England, Portugal, and Italy, The House of Hawthorne explores the tension within a famous marriage of two soulful, strong-willed people, each devoted to the other but also driven by a powerful need to explore the far reaches of their creative impulses. It is the story of a forgotten woman in history, who inspired one of the greatest writers of American literature…

My Review

I saw this one was available through the First To Read program and the cover really drew me in. Just look at that cover! It leads me right into wanting to know more about these people and why the woman on the cover is watching the man walk away!

Even though I love the cover, the book didn’t really live up to my expectations. It took me a LONG time to get into the story. The writing is actually beautiful and very detailed, and to me, it felt much like I was reading a classic. And that is one of the problems. I don’t usually enjoy classics! (Though ironically,  I did enjoy The Scarlet Letter, authored by the subject of the novel, Nathaniel Hawthorne!) After trudging through about a third of the book, I did get to the point that I felt the story flowed, and I liked it enough to continue reading. Like all good historical fiction, this book caused me to take frequent ‘Google breaks’ to learn more about what I was reading!

The book tells the story of the marriage of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Sophia Peabody. In many ways Sophia’s experience parallels the experience of modern women, who often feel pulled between career and family. When Sophia makes the decision to set aside her career for a domestic career as wife and mother, she is taken to task for making that choice, even though she appears to be very happy with the choice.

One thing I really enjoyed about the book was the interaction of other historical characters with the Hawthornes. They ran around with a pretty impressive circle of friends; Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau to name just two! They would gather with their friends to discuss ideas and to discuss their art, though Nathaniel Hawthorne was more a listener than a talker. It reminded me very much of the Bloomsbury Group salons in Vanessa and Her Sister (which I still need to review!), except that these characters were much more likeable!

Though this will not be a memorable book for me, I did like it, and I learned from it. I think lovers of classic literature will love this book and rate it much higher than I did.

My Rating:  ★★★     3 Stars

I received an advanced review copy of this book through the Penguin First To Read program in return for an honest review.
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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tuesday Memes: The Cherry Harvest

Every Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Jenn at A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along!

Today I am spotlighting The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna

A memorable coming-of-age story and love story, laced with suspense, which explores a hidden side of the home front during World War II, when German POWs were put to work in a Wisconsin farm community . . . with dark and unexpected consequences.

The war has taken a toll on the Christiansen family. With food rationed and money scarce, Charlotte struggles to keep her family well fed. Her teenage daughter, Kate, raises rabbits to earn money for college and dreams of becoming a writer. Her husband, Thomas, struggles to keep the farm going while their son, and most of the other local men, are fighting in Europe.

When their upcoming cherry harvest is threatened, strong-willed Charlotte helps persuade local authorities to allow German war prisoners from a nearby camp to pick the fruit.

But when Thomas befriends one of the prisoners, a teacher named Karl, and invites him to tutor Kate, the implications of Charlotte's decision become apparent--especially when she finds herself unexpectedly drawn to Karl. So busy are they with the prisoners that Charlotte and Thomas fail to see that Kate is becoming a young woman, with dreams and temptations of her own--including a secret romance with the son of a wealthy, war-profiteering senator. And when their beloved Ben returns home, bitter and injured, bearing an intense hatred of Germans, Charlotte's secrets threaten to explode their world.


    The rain came again, harder this time. Charlotte pulled her knit hat tight, pushed up the collar of her gray wool coat, and stared through the chicken wire at the rabbits. Kate’s prize rabbits.
     She entered the pen and chose a plump one, furry and warm in her cold hands. Its heart thumped like a tiny sewing machine. Charlotte brought it into the dim barn and stroked its fur until it calmed, trusting. She hesitated a moment—stealing from my own daughter—then picked up the butcher knife.

My Teaser

    Kate stiffened at the thought of personal messages between this man and her daughter. But before she could respond, Kate said, “In the barn. I’ll tack my homework to the rabbit hutch.”
page 78

So...what do you think? Is this one you would pick up? Leave a comment below!

(These quotes are from uncorrected advance proofs. Please refer to the final printed book for corrected quotes!)
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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Review: The Sound of Glass

The Sound of Glass
by Karen White

Why did you choose this book? Loved the cover!
When did you read this book? April 2015
Who should read this book? reader’s of women’s fiction who enjoy a mystery
Source: Penguin First To Read
Here is a synopsis of The Sound of Glass from Penguin First To Read

Sometimes, it's the deepest secrets that force us to face our fears and find the healing we need.
The New York Times bestselling author of A Long Time Gone now explores a Southern family’s buried history, which will change the life of the woman who unearths it, secret by shattering secret.

It has been two years since the death of Merritt Heyward’s husband, Cal, when she receives unexpected news—Cal’s family home in Beaufort, South Carolina, bequeathed by Cal’s reclusive grandmother, now belongs to Merritt.

Charting the course of an uncertain life—and feeling guilt from her husband’s tragic death—Merritt travels from her home in Maine to Beaufort, where the secrets of Cal’s unspoken-of past reside among the pluff mud and jasmine of the ancestral Heyward home on the Bluff. This unknown legacy, now Merritt’s, will change and define her as she navigates her new life—a new life complicated by the arrival of her too young stepmother and ten-year-old half-brother.

Soon, in this house of strangers, Merritt is forced into unraveling the Heyward family past as she faces her own fears and finds the healing she needs in the salt air of the Low Country.

My Review

I picked this one up because I liked the pretty cover. I love the soft blues and greens. But I really was apprehensive about reviewing this one because I’d never read Karen White before. While sometimes I enjoy a fluffy romance, I have to be in the right mood for it. I usually prefer a little more substance to a book. I am very happy to say that I was completely mistaken about Karen White. This book had plenty of substance to it, and will leave you thinking about it for days. This will be a great pick for book clubs!

The book is starts with a horrible plane crash in Beaufort, South Carolina. No one really knows what caused the plane to crash. This was back in the 1950s before black boxes were common. So we start out with an intriguing mystery. There is also a recurring theme in this book of domestic abuse. And of course, just to make this fun, there is a bit of romance!

The story is told from alternating points of view. Merritt is a young woman who was raised in Maine, and who lost her mother when she was still a child. She has also recently lost her husband, and and has inherited his grandmother’s house in South Carolina. Loralee is Merritt’s young, attractive step-mother, who has also recently lost her husband, Merritt’s father. Loralee has a ten year old son, Merritt’s half-brother, whom Merritt has never met. Loralee decides it is high time they did meet, and takes off for South Carolina, seemingly on a whim. I loved the character of Loralee. She is smart, and not afraid to be pretty, too! I love her southern mannerisms and phrasings. She was so much fun to be around!

This is one of those books that I lost sleep over, reading late into the night, and when I was done, I was left with ‘book hangover’! This will make a great book club selection with topics of domestic violence, step-parenting, grief, and many others. I haven’t yet found a reader’s guide, but I’m sure there will be one out soon. You won’t really need it though. Your discussions should flow very easily from the story! Enjoy!

Visit the author's website to read an excerpt or to learn more about The Sound of Glass. You can view a book trailer of Karen White discussing her book below.

My Rating:  ★★★★1/2     4-1/2 Stars

I received an advanced review copy of this book through the Penguin First To Read program in return for an honest review.
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Monday, May 11, 2015

Review: Diamond Head

Diamond Head
by Cecily Wong

Why did you choose this book? what a pretty cover!
When did you read this book? May 2015
Who should read this book? readers who like family drama
Source: TLC Book Tours
Here is a synopsis of Diamond Head from TLC Book Tours

A sweeping debut, crossing from China to Hawaii, that follows three generations of a wealthy dynasty whose rise and decline is riddled with secrets and tragic love—from a young, powerful new voice in fiction

Frank Leong, a prominent shipping industrialist and head of the celebrated Leong family, brings his loved ones from China to Hawaii at the turn of the twentieth century, abandoning his interests at the port of Tsingtao when the Japanese invade. But something ancient follows the Leongs to the islands, haunting them—the parable of the red string of fate. According to Chinese legend, the red string binds one to her intended beloved, but also punishes for mistakes in love, twisting any misstep into a destructive knot that passes down through generations.

When Frank Leong is murdered on Oahu, his family is thrown into a perilous downward spiral. Left to rebuild in their patriarch’s shadow, the surviving Leongs attempt a new, ordinary life, vowing to bury their gilded past. Still, the island continues to whisper—fragmented pieces of truth and chatter—until a letter arrives two decades later, carrying a confession that shatters the family even further.

Now the Leongs’ survival rests with young Theresa, Frank’s only grandchild. Eighteen and pregnant, Theresa holds the answers to her family’s mysteries and is left to carry the burden of their mistakes. On the day of her father’s funeral, as the Leongs gather to mourn the loss of their firstborn son, Theresa must decide what stories to tell, with whom to side, and which knots will endure for another generation.

Told through the eyes of the Leongs’ secret-keeping daughters and wives—and spanning the Boxer Rebellion, Pearl Harbor, and 1960s Hawaii—Diamond Head is an exploration of whether there’s such a thing as a legacy of the heart. Passionate and devastating, it is a story filled with love, lies, loss, and—most astounding of all—hope.

My Review

I picked this one up because of the beautiful cover, and because the setting sounded like a vacation! I also thought the family drama, with the secrets to be revealed, sounded riveting. While I did enjoy the book, I have to admit, I found it hard to get involved with the story at the beginning. The story actually takes place over just a few days, shortly after the death of Bohai Leong. His mother, wife, and daughter are preparing for his funeral. As they prepare, memories are triggered for each, and gradually the past is revealed. This is not told in a lineaer fashion, but instead, is more like a conversation you would have at a family gathering, with different events triggering memories that are told by the person remembering.

One thing that made the story a little hard for me to follow was that Amy, the wife of Bohai, and Lin, his mother, in many ways were the same person. Both were girls from very poor families, ignored and mistreated by their fathers, who were ‘forced’ into marriage to a man with money. As they told their stories, I sometimes lost track of who was speaking.

There were times that Amy was not a very likeable person, and times I felt she was making some very bad choices, which made it hard for me to sympathize with her.  One character I really did enjoy was Hong, the sister-in-law of Lin Leong. She was a quiet presence in the story, but a source of strength for the family, and especially to Theresa, the daughter of Bohai and Amy. Ultimately I enjoyed the story, but I did feel there were issues left unresolved, particularly regarding Theresa.

This would make a good book club selection as you discuss topics ranging from the historical role of women in China, the role of money and love in relationships, and how choices affect destiny. There is a discussion guide available on the author’s website.  If you enjoy family drama with a backdrop of beautiful scenery, pick this one up!

About Cecily Wong

Cecily Wong is Chinese-Hawaiian. She was born on Oahu and raised in Oregon. Diamond Head grew from family stories told to her by her parents and grandparents. Wong graduated from Barnard College, where the first pages of this novel won the Peter S. Prescott Prize for Prose Writing. She lives in New York City.
Find out more about Cecily at her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

My Rating:  ★★★1/2    3-1/2 Stars

This book review is included in a tour by TLC Book Tours. I was provided a copy for review purposes and have written an honest review which appears above..

Cecily’s Tour Stops
Tuesday, April 14th: The Book Binder’s Daughter
Wednesday, April 15th: From L.A. to LA
Thursday, April 16th: Literary Feline
Friday, April 17th: Broken Teepee
Monday, April 20th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Wednesday, April 22nd: Ms. Nose in a Book
Thursday, April 23rd: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Tuesday, April 28th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, April 29th: Fuelled by Fiction
Monday, May 4th: Kritters Ramblings
Tuesday, May 5th: Mom’s Small Victories
Wednesday, May 6th: Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, May 7th: Unshelfish
Monday, May 11th: Time 2 Read
Tuesday, May 12th: Doing Dewey
Thursday, May 14th: Drey’s Library

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