Book Reviews

Book Review: IN FARLEIGH FIELD

FarleighTitle: IN FARLEIGH FIELD
Author: Rhys Bowen
Publication Information: Lake Union Publishing, 2017
Pages: 398
Source: Kindle First selection
Genre: Adult – Historical Fiction, Mystery
Warnings: Light torture, references to war violence, light sexual content
Rating: 4 stars
Recommended For: People who think Downton Abbey could’ve used a little more espionage.

World War II comes to Farleigh Place, the ancestral home of Lord Westerham and his five daughters, when a soldier with a failed parachute falls to his death on the estate. After his uniform and possessions raise suspicions, MI5 operative and family friend Ben Cresswell is covertly tasked with determining if the man is a German spy. The assignment also offers Ben the chance to be near Lord Westerham’s middle daughter, Pamela, whom he furtively loves. But Pamela has her own secret: she has taken a job at Bletchley Park, the British code-breaking facility.

As Ben follows a trail of spies and traitors, which may include another member of Pamela’s family, he discovers that some within the realm have an appalling, history-altering agenda. Can he, with Pamela’s help, stop them before England falls?

(Summary from Goodreads)

I found IN FARLEIGH FIELD very enjoyable thanks in large part to the strong resemblance it bore to Downton Abbey, one of my favorite shows. Like Downton, it was set in a large country estate and followed the exploits of an upper class family during wartime.

The book follows multiple points of view as the Westerhams and the people in the nearby village wait for the surely inevitable German invasion. While some of the characters grated on me – Dido, the second-youngest daughter, particularly – I really enjoyed reading the chapters from Pamela, Ben, and Margot’s points of view (which was, fortunately, most of them). Phoebe, the youngest daughter, was also a delight and I would’ve loved more chapters from her point of view.

Central to the story’s plot is a mystery – who is the soldier who parachuted into the field at Farleigh, and who was he trying to contact? I figured it out pretty early on, but I cared about the characters enough that I didn’t really mind too much. I also loved the world Bowen crafted, both the upper class dinner parties and the intelligence bureaus Pamela and Ben worked for.

Verdict: Predictable mystery made up for with solid characters and setting.

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And Then Life Happened

Life Lately

It’s been a really long time since I posted! I’m happy to report that while this quarter sucked, I survived it. Here are some of the things I was up to when the state of the world didn’t leave me paralyzed by anxiety and/or depression:

Women’s March

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The sun came out for the Women’s March and the Women’s March alone.

I went to our Women’s March with the boy and his toddlords, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen so many people in one place in Bellingham. The energy was really positive and I’m glad I slacked off on homework for the day to go.

Western Washington University Children’s Literature Conference

I took advantage of having weekends off (and the student discount) to go to the annual Children’s Literature Conference at my alma mater and I’m so glad I was finally able to make it! The speakers were all incredible, although Laurie Halse Anderson (!!!) almost made me cry. Christian Robinson’s talk made me laugh so hard I almost cried. I’ll definitely be going to the conference again next year.

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Q & A panel with Rita Williams-Garcia, Laurie Halse Anderson, Christian Robinson, and Matt Phelan.

I loved all of the discussions of each author/illustrator’s process. My favorite advice was from Laurie, who said that she always tells people to write fifteen minutes a day, on anything, just to stay in the practice of writing. It made me feel better that, while I’ve been writing, I haven’t necessarily been writing on my WIPs.

Doug Ericksen Town Hall

In the interest of being more involved in local politics, the boy and I took a nice, romantic drive out to the County to go to our state senator’s town hall a couple weeks ago to politely inform him we disapprove of the job he’s doing. It was a very tense atmosphere, as many of the people who attended were people who drove up from Bellingham who were also displeased with him, and that irritated many of the people from the rest of the county who keep reelecting him. Senator Ericksen was very articulate and, for people unfamiliar with his Facebook posts, sounded very reasonable. He kept his cool even as people heckled and booed him (although not like the clips going around the internet from Mitch McConnell and Jason Chaffetz’s town halls). He gave very scripted-sounding answers to questions about well rights, climate change (which he believes is up for debate), his double duty (continuing to serve as our state senator while working for the EPA transition – which is what many people are angry about up here), and education funding, among other things. The only point at which I became well and truly angry was when he discussed how unfair it is to experts that if they want to teach in a public school in our state, they’re required to get a teaching certificate just like everyone else. His tone as he explained his position to my NBCT colleague felt dismissive, not to mention his response betrayed a profound lack of knowledge about the fact that teachers are experts in so much more than content. (I spent a good two hours later that afternoon crafting a letter in response to that position that was simultaneously polite and shade-filled. As expected, my wayward senator has not responded [another thing people in Bellingham are angry about].)

And Then Life Happened

Goodbye, 2016

2016, you were a dumpster fire in so many ways. But there were parts of you that weren’t that bad.

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February: This breakfast pizza my bestie and I encountered was not that bad.
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March: This coffee mug I bought was not that bad. (This selfie subsequently went on my Tinder profile to root out the weak.)
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June: This view of Niagara Falls was not that bad.
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September: Starting library school was not that bad.
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November: Eating free samples of chocolate was not that bad.
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December: Borrowing my parents’ dog when his favorite (my dad) was unavailable was not that bad.

Here’s hoping we can make it through the rest of 2016 in one piece.

Book Reviews

Book Review: SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK

serafinaTitle: SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK
Author: Robert Beatty
Series: Serafina, #1
Publication Information: Disney*Hyperion, 2015
Pages: 293
Genre: Middle Grade – Historical Fantasy, Mystery
Warnings: Some scary images, mild violence
Rating: 3.5 stars
Recommended For: Readers who love atmospheric settings and don’t mind being scared a little.

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity . . . before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.

(Summary from Goodreads)

SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK was a nice fusion of historical fantasy and mystery elements, all revolving around the mysterious forest surrounding the Biltmore estate and twelve-year-old Serafina, who ventures into the forest to save the children kidnapped from the estate by an evil man wearing a black cloak.

My favorite part of this book was the setting. It’s set in North Carolina in the late 1800s, and the Biltmore estate – and the surrounding forest – really came to life in an atmospheric way that was deliciously creepy.

Another thing that kept me reading were the dual mysteries at the heart of the plot. The main mystery is the identity of the man in the black cloak – Serafina is sure it’s someone from the estate, but she has to figure out who it is. There’s also the mystery of who her mother is; Serafina was raised in the basement of the main house by her father, and she’s always wondered about her mother. I think both mysteries were woven together really well and the pacing was just right.

I also loved how much of this book was a story about friendship. In the course of unraveling the mystery of the man in the black cloak, Serafina befriends Braeden, the nephew of the estate’s owner. Neither of them has had a real friend before and it was lovely to watch them figure out what it means to be a true friend in a way that wasn’t overly sappy.

TL;DR: An atmospheric + deliciously creepy story about saving kidnapped children and what it means to be a friend.

And Then Life Happened

Currently…

img_3667Loving

Grad school. It is SO MUCH WORK (which I expected and still signed up for), but I love being around people who are so passionate about things like children’s books and wanting to make the world a better place. This quarter, I especially loved my children’s lit class. I don’t know as much about picture books and middle grade and everything in between, so it was really fun to read all sorts of new books, not to mention apply all of the things I’ve been learning to the elementary school kids I work with all the time.

My other class last quarter was a research methods class, which was a little more challenging for me because it was all based on social science research methods, and as a humanities person, most of it was completely new to me.

Anyway, that’s where I disappeared to. Grad school and also working two jobs and trying to, like, sleep. I’m hoping to get more writing done now that I have a better handle on things and I’m actually in the process of launching a Patreon where I’ll post the random things I write (like short stories and poems) and some behind the scenes things.

Reading

Right now I’m reading The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. I love that, while Kvothe is clever, it’s more a source of trouble than it is anything else. He’s an extremely clever university student and gifted musician, but he’s also a teenage boy.

 

Watching

I just finished The Crown on Nextflix, which was like Downton Abbey in the 1950s. I wanted Queen Elizabeth’s entire wardrobe.

I also saw Rogue One on Wednesday and loved it. I’m so glad little girls have Rey and Jyn to look up to. I had Padme. Who was awesome until she got with Anakin, but at least she had a fabulous wardrobe, I guess?

Listening To

I’ve been intermittently listening to Welcome to Night Vale but since I usually listen to it before bed, I mostly end up falling asleep and having to re-listen to episodes.

Thinking About

All of the bad things in the world and how powerless I feel as more and more things pile up. I mean, I know it’s not physically possible to do EVERYTHING and to focus on the things I can do, but it’s still disheartening.

Anticipating

2017. While 2016 was a good year for me personally…well, AT WHAT COST? I would like to think things will be at least marginally better for the world in 2017. But who knows? Maybe we’re in for a crappy sequel.

Wishing

I had a Time Turner because I always have so much I want to do and so little time to do it in.

Making Me Happy

img_3654I went to the Northwest Chocolate Festival last month and it was so much fun! The panels and tastings were a little lackluster because they were held in a giant, echoey room with no walls so it was hard to hear. But the exhibits were nice. It was like Costco with chocolate, at least as far as free samples went.

Also, we’ve been getting snow these past couple weeks. We don’t generally get that much – once or twice a year, and then it melts by afternoon – so having it stick around was a treat…at first. It’s getting a little old now, but I guess it’s nice to look at.

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