Book Reviews

Book Review: THE FAMILY ROMANOV

RomanovTitle: THE FAMILY ROMANOV: MURDER, REBELLION, AND THE FALL OF IMPERIAL RUSSIA
Author: Candace Fleming
Publication Information: Schwartz & Wade, 2014
Pages: 304
Source: Library – author backlist
Genre: Young Adult – Biography
Warnings: Non-graphic discussion of the family’s execution
Rating: 4 stars
Recommended For: People looking for an introduction to the Romanov family and/or the Russian Revolutions of 1917.

Here is the tumultuous, heartrending, true story of the Romanovs—at once an intimate portrait of Russia’s last royal family and a gripping account of its undoing. Using captivating photos and compelling first person accounts, award-winning author Candace Fleming (Amelia Lost; The Lincolns) deftly maneuvers between the imperial family’s extravagant lives and the plight of Russia’s poor masses, making this an utterly mesmerizing read as well as a perfect resource for meeting Common Core standards.

(Summary from Goodreads)

Fleming’s take on the fall of the Romanov dynasty is extremely readable, which would make this an excellent pick for readers who normally shy away from biographies. It would also be an interesting perspective to include, since she is more critical of the Romanovs than some Romanov historians are wont to be. Additionally, the inclusion of numerous “interludes” focusing on events going on outside the palace walls – told from the point of view of ordinary Russians – both provided contrast to the lifestyle of the imperial family and provided important context for the events that unfolded toward the end of the Romanovs’ lives.

THE FAMILY ROMANOV is very much an introductory-level book, though. If you’re at all familiar with the Russian Revolutions – or even if you’ve just seen the animated ANASTASIA movie – you probably won’t learn anything new from reading this book. As an introduction, though, I thought it was fairly comprehensive, and Fleming includes photographs and quotes from multiple family members’ letters and journals. Those more familiar with this particular period in history would be better served reading a different book on the topic.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: OF FIRE AND STARS

F&STitle: OF FIRE AND STARS
Author: Audrey Coulthurst
Series: Of Fire and Stars, #1
Publication Information: Balzer + Bray, 2016
Pages: 389
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult – Fantasy
Warnings: Light violence, some sexual content
Rating: 5 stars
Recommended For: Tamora Pierce fans, people who like books with arranged marriages and/or forbidden magic, political intrigue lovers.

Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine—called Mare—the sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two become closer, Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. And soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

(Summary from Goodreads)

I was really excited about this book when I first real the deal announcement, so I’m glad I wasn’t disappointed. It has some of my favorite tropes: an arranged marriage, an arranged marriage being derailed by one of the parties falling in love with someone else, forbidden magic, enemies (sort of) to lovers. And it was all done with characters I loved as well as immersive world building. So, wins all around.

There was INTRIGUE and SECRETS which are two more of my favorite things to read about. Denna has to keep her Affinity a secret, which becomes harder when her powers start leaking out of her control, not to mention people suspect something is up and she has to try even harder to hide them. There were also some shady things going on in regards to diplomatic relations with another country, and someone gets assassinated, and all of it may or may not be related to both each other and to the magic thing. And because of all of this, people spend a lot of time in libraries, which is another thing I am okay with.

I loved the romance (see: sort-of enemies to lovers). Denna and Mare had a lot of chemistry, and I thought their romance developed really naturally. I also loved that the obstacle to the two of them being together wasn’t that both of them were women, since any and all relationships in this world are acceptable and valid; instead, the obstacle was that Denna was already engaged to Mare’s brother. Which, to be honest, was way more interesting, anyway, especially since Denna didn’t actually dislike her betrothed.

I can’t wait for the next book.

Book Reviews

Book Review: UNBECOMING

unbecomingTitle: UNBECOMING
Author: Jenny Downham
Publication Information: Scholastic, 2016 (first published 2015)
Pages: 389
Source: Overdrive (ebook) – Stonewall Honor list
Genre: Young Adult – Mystery, Family Drama
Warnings: Non-graphic sexual content, legal alcohol consumption, homophobia
Rating: 4 stars
Recommended For: People who like family dramas and multiple storylines set in different time periods. Also has crossover appeal with adult readers.

Katie’s life is falling apart: her best friend thinks she’s a freak, her mother, Caroline, controls every aspect of her life, and her estranged grandmother, Mary, appears as if out of nowhere. Mary has dementia and needs lots of care, and when Katie starts putting together Mary’s life story, secrets and lies are uncovered: Mary’s illegitimate baby, her zest for life and freedom and men; the way she lived her life to the full yet suffered huge sacrifices along the way. As the relationship between Mary and Caroline is explored, Katie begins to understand her own mother’s behavior, and from that insight, the terrors about her sexuality, her future, and her younger brother are all put into perspective.

(Summary from Goodreads)

I really enjoyed UNBECOMING, despite how slowly it felt like it moved. It took me a little while to get into it, but I was sucked in by the mystery about halfway through as I kept reading to find out what had happened between Caroline and Mary all those years ago to led to their estrangement. I also really enjoyed watching Katie develop a relationship with her grandmother even as I rooted for her to stand up for herself to her mother and her schoolmates.

There are a lot of things packed into this book, and I think Downham wove them together masterfully. There’s the main storyline, with Mary winding up on Katie and Caroline’s doorstep with dementia and trying to care for her while Caroline wrangles with the healthcare system to get Mary placed into a home, but then there are actually multiple storylines, as Mary’s story and Katie’s story are woven together to paint a picture about Mary and Caroline’s estrangement. We get to see Mary as a young woman who refused to be unashamed of her sexuality and her decision to give up Caroline for adoption. We also get to see Katie’s struggles to define herself despite Caroline being controlling, not to mention the bullying she faces at school because she kissed a female frenemy – which complicates things for Katie, who is questioning her sexual orientation. That particular storyline I thought was handled sensitively, and I thought Downham did a respectable job capturing how confusing it is not to understand that particular facet of one’s identity.

My main complaint is that while there’s a lot of focus of Mary and Katie, we barely glimpse Caroline’s perspective. While intellectually I could understand why she might be controlling and cold as a person, I never really felt sympathy for her. A lot of that might have to do with the fact that she was cast largely as a villain in both Mary and Katie’s storylines: she was the daughter who rejected her mother, and the mother trying to enforce her will on her eighteen-year-old daughter. This could’ve been softened if we’d gotten more of her voice.

And Then Life Happened

John & Hank Green: Turtles All the Way Down Tour

IMG_4548I saw John and Hank Green (for the second time!) when they stopped by my alma mater, Western Washington University, on John Green’s book tour for TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN. Which I haven’t actually read yet, because I’ve been reading library books and also things for class. But SOON.

Anyway, one thing to know about their tours – which they also did jointly for the release of TFiOS – is that it’s really a variety show. John talks about his book and reads from it, but then we also get Hank singing songs about science, and they do things together. This time, they answered pre-submitted questions in a sort of podcast format. (Which – it was news to me they have a podcast now? I’m out of the loop.)

The evening as a whole was really fun. They both do a great job getting the audience IMG_4550excited and involved, despite hating audience participation, according to John. Thinking about it, I guess there really wasn’t any audience participation involved. They just did a great job making it SEEM like we were participating, simply because they made sure we had fun. And I will say, while I felt a little weird being a lone adult attendee, it was cool seeing how many teenagers convinced their parents to take them, and how many of them were singing along with Hank’s science songs, and generally being excited about nerd stuff.

John also took some time to talk about his OCD, and how it made him less creative because not taking care of it made it harder for him to write, and he urged the audience to get help if they, like him, felt like their brains were spinning out of control and were feeling scared. Given how many people in the audience were teenagers, I’m glad he spoke about his experience so honestly, because a lot of those kids who were there really look up to him, so his words have the potential to have a really big impact on them.

Book Reviews

Book Review: ANNE OF GREEN GABLES

AnneGGTitle: ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
Author: L.M. Montgomery
Series: Anne of Green Gables, #1
Publication Information: Puffin Classics, 2008 (first published 1908)
Pages: 429
Source: Library – student recommendation
Genre: Middle Grade – Classic
Warnings: None
Rating: 4 stars
Recommended For: People who like girls who are unabashedly smart and imaginative, and who maybe don’t play by the rules at all times.

Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are in for a big surprise. They are waiting for an orphan boy to help with the work at Green Gables – but a skinny, red-haired girl turns up instead. Feisty and full of spirit, Anne Shirley charms her way into the Cuthberts’ affection with her vivid imagination and constant chatter. It’s not long before Anne finds herself in trouble, but soon it becomes impossible for the Cuthberts to imagine life without ‘their’ Anne – and for the people of Avonlea to recall what it was like before this wildly creative little girl whirled into town.

(Summary from Goodreads)

I never read ANNE OF GREEN GABLES as a child (I know! SHAME.), so I figured better late than never. One of my elementary school students read it and couldn’t stop telling me how much she loved it, so I went to the library and checked it out. And she was right (and is probably done with the entire series at this point).

Anne, the titular character, was plucky and imaginative and won me over probably the same way she won over all of the characters: she’s a little much at first, but grows on you the more time you spend with her. I think part of the reason she’s had so much staying power is that a lot of girls can still relate to her. She’s self-conscious about her bright-red hair, she forgets about her chores because she’s so lost in her imagination, and she loves her friends and family.

I also loved how Green Gables, and all of its inhabitants, came to life so clearly. It felt like a warm sweater I didn’t want to take off when the book ended. Which it did too fast, in my opinion. The book’s events span the course of several years – all of Anne’s teenage years, essentially – and it felt a little fast to me sometimes. But then again, that could just be because I didn’t want it to end.

Verdict: I’ve been checking ANNE OF AVONLEA out from the library for months now and returning it unread because I can’t get to it in time. So, you know, read it.

And Then Life Happened

Currently…[November 2017 Edition]

IMG_4302
In July, my sister and I went on a casual stroll through a chasm with our mom and grandma.

So, um, I guess I haven’t updated this blog since May? In all honestly, I have so much going on so much of the time, that this tends to get pushed all the way onto the very far back back burner. I don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon, but I’ll make sure to update with a post or a book review or something every once in awhile. (Probably mostly book reviews, because I’ve been doing way more reading than writing lately.)

And now, here’s what I’m currently…

Loving

Colourpop. Specifically, their lipstick. I got one of their Lippie Stix in one of my Ipsy bags, and it was AMAZING, so I ordered a couple more. They’re matte, super pigmented, and SUPER long-lasting, which was all super surprising because they’re also only $5 each.

Reading

Right now, I’m juggling a few different things. Right now I’m focusing mainly on All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson because I have to return it to the library. It’s a

IMG_4396
In August, we were ENGULFED BY WILDFIRE SMOKE.

middle grade graphic novel about an eleven-year-old girl trying to navigate the wilds of middle school while also working with her family at a Renaissance Faire on the weekends. I love everything about it.

I’m also working my way through The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It’s an absolutely gut-wrenching story about family and identity, and what it means to be black in the United States. I can’t recommend it highly enough…and I’m only halfway through.

The other book I’m working on is Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas. Which I’m enjoying, but also have mixed feelings about. As always, I love how richly imagined the world is, but at the same time, I’m only 200 pages in (out of almost 700) and I’m pretty over Chaol thinking about his “manhood,” and there are some overlong descriptions and internal monologues that feel unnecessary.

Watching

The boy and I started Twin Peaks and got about three episodes in, but I keep falling asleep so I’m not sure when we’ll finish it. I think we’re mostly waiting for The Crown to come back at this point.

IMG_4515
I baked some stuff.

We also watched Harlots and The Handmaid’s Tale last spring, and I strongly recommend them both. Harlots was created, written, and directed entirely by women, and it really shows.

Listening To

I’ve been listening to the new Taylor Swift album today and I’m not sure what I think of it yet? I feel like I don’t like it as much as her other albums, but “Look What You Made Me Do” and “…Ready For It?” really grew on me after I listened to them a few times, so that could change.

That being said, “I Did Something Bad” IS MY JAM. So.

Thinking About

Getting through the rest of this quarter. There’s only a month left and now the big projects are really picking up. In my Information and Society class, my group has to write a white paper about student privacy while accessing information at school, and how it intersects with digital access at home, and how both of these factors interact with privacy policies. And then for my Multicultural Youth Resources class, I’m trying to fundraise so I can donate a few #ownvoices books about POC to a middle school classroom.

Anticipating

So, in my last Currently… post, which was back in December, I said I was anticipating

IMG_4548
I saw John Green again. I am actually planning to post about that soon.

2017 because “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.” I’m just going to present that without comment.

What I’m actually anticipating is going to the Northwest Chocolate Festival again this weekend. Chocolate? CHOOOOOOC-LAAAAAAAAATE.

Making Me Happy

So, in August, while in the process of moving in with the boy, we took out the broken wood stove taking up entirely too much space in the middle of the living room after one of the toddlords fell and cracked his head on the bricks. (He was fine, just had staples in his head, and a noticeably depleted supply of f**** once said staples were in his head. Which is fair.)

Anyway, one of the thoughts that occurred to us was that, now that there’s no stovepipe for the cold air to come in through during the winter, maybe the house will stay warmer this winter. And so far, we appear to be right. So that’s pretty happy-making, because I really hate being cold.

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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.