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Friday, June 23, 2017

Review: Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Title: Brooklyn
Author: Colm Tóibín
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Scribner
Publish Date: April 29, 2009

Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "
Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America -- to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood "just like Ireland" -- she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.

Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future."

My Two Cents:

"Brooklyn" is a book that I started a couple years ago and couldn't finish. I don't exactly remember why I didn't finish it but initially but I couldn't quite get into the book. I picked it up again after having seen the movie about a year ago. This time I enjoyed the story a little bit more.

In this book, Eilis is a young woman who leaves behind everything she knows in Ireland to go to New York City in the 1950s. She leaves her tightknit family behind and isn't sure how long she'll be able to connect with them after she leaves. Most of the book is involved with Eilis learning to be by herself and to come into her own.

She has to navigate her new country and brand-new city and make several stumbles along the way. She has dreams of doing something more than working in the store where she works and isn't sure she'll be able to find anything better in America. She ends up falling in love with an Italian and is torn between her old world and her new world. You feel for her plight throughout the book.

I think one of the things about this book that may have turned me off the first time is that even with all that happens in the book, it's still a relatively quiet book and a bit predictable. There are some turns and we do get to see how Eilis changes and grows throughout her journey. The changing definitely kept me a little bit more engaged. Overall, this was nice take on an immigrant story.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Review: The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach

Title: The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
Author: Scott Stambach
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: August 6, 2016
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Seventeen-year-old Ivan Isaenko is a life-long resident of the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. For the most part, every day is exactly the same for Ivan, which is why he turns everything into a game, manipulating people and events around him for his own amusement.

Until Polina arrives. 

She steals his books. She challenges his routine. The nurses like her. 

She is exquisite. Soon, he cannot help being drawn to her and the two forge a romance that is tenuous and beautiful and everything they never dared dream of. Before, he survived by being utterly detached from things and people. Now, Ivan wants something more: Ivan wants Polina to live."

My Two Cents:

"The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko" is the story of Ivan, a teen born with physical disabilities and in Belarus, physical disabilities often force parents to give up their children so his home is the hospital he has lived in long term. He's bored. He's angry. He hates the hospital and wants to leave until he meets Polina, a gravely ill teen who changes Ivan's outlook and gives him something to hope and live for. This book is along the same lines as "The Fault in Our Stars" but is more stark and harsh. 

Both the characters of Ivan and Polina are what really make this book. Even though Ivan spends most of his time causing chaos in the beginning of the book before Polina makes her appearance, you fall for him. The author is able to easily elicit feelings of wanting something better for Ivan, for his circumstances to be different. Polina is a bright light that seems to take her diagnosis in stride. Ivan is the natural king of the hospital but Polina isn't afraid to challenge him and shake his world up. 

I love reading books set in places that I don't know a lot about. This book gives us an introduction to Belarus. Ivan has physical disabilities caused by his parents being exposed to the Chernobyl explosion. Although that explosion happened in Ukraine, much of the toxic air blew into Belarus and affected many people there. This book gives readers a look into how that country is coping with the people affected as well as the sad situation of many of the hospitals there.

I enjoyed this book. Although parts of it are dark, the main message seems to be to look for the beauty even in dark times and even if it is fleeting. Not a bad message!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Book to Movie: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

There are some books that you recommend over and over and over again. A couple years, that book for me was "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." It's a great non-fiction book about the woman behind the infamous HeLa cells, which have helped scientists do everything from create vaccines to create new treatments. It was the first immortal human cell line, developed way back in the 1950s. It is used worldwide still to this day. Now because cells come from humans, HeLa had to come from somewhere and it came from an African American woman named Henrietta Lacks, who had no idea that her story would live on this way as the cells may have been taken without her permission

It is a fantastic story and it has been turned into a movie by HBO. I am so happy that I got the chance to watch it!

The movie stars Oprah Winfrey as Henrietta Lacks' daughter who is still not sure what her mother's legacy really means. It also stars Rose Byrne as Rebecca Skloot, the author who wrote "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." The book does focus on Lacks' family but it really doesn't focus on Skloot and how she wrote the book. The movie does focus on the making of the book, which I really enjoyed. 

Skloot has to go through a lot to gain the trust of the Lacks family. They are very distrustful of anyone that comes around asking about there mother. Rightfully so as any time anyone comes around, they seem to be interested in making a buck off the family. They still feel that they are owed something as their mother's cells are still being used so widely.

The movie explores the complicated relationship between science and race and between people being uneducated about certain subjects and how others take advantage of that when they should know better. I loved the movie's treatment of all of that! 

The acting in the movie is really good. Although Skloot does talk about what Henrietta was like, you get a much better sense of who she was as a person through the movie, which I loved. Throughout the movie, there are flashbacks to when Henrietta was alive and when she got diagnosed with cancer. We also get a good sense of who her family is and what her family has been through. I loved the intersection between science and the personal way that it can affect people. 

This was a great movie and I fully recommend it! Thanks to ThinkJam and HBO for a copy in exchange for my honest review!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

TLC Book Tours: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Title: News of the World


Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself."

My Two Cents:

In "News of the World," Captain Kidd is a news reader. He brings the news of the world to the people of Texas who otherwise may never know what is going on in the world. To some degree, he enjoys his solitude as he travels from place to place. His world is up-ended when he is asked to return a young girl, Joanna, to her family many years after she was stolen away from members of the Kiowa tribe.

The relationship between Captain Kidd and Joanna is at the center of this book. They develop a really amazing friendship that illustrates why our connections to other people are so important as we make our way in the world. No man is an island and we get so much out of interacting with others as the Captain and Joanna show in this book. Joanna doesn't speak much English at all so Captain Kidd dedicates himself to trying to teach her all sorts of different words so she will be ready to go back to her family. While teaching her words, he teaches her a lot about the way the world works and she becomes fascinated with his work and gives him the support that he didn't realize he was missing.

This is a very quietly written story that packs a big punch. For history and historical fiction lovers, it gives a lot of insight into the time period in the United States just after the Civil War. The country is still trying to rebuild as it expands westward. Texas is the proverbial "wild west" with outlaws and bandits and very few restrictions as we see with some of the things that happen to Joanna and Captain Kidd throughout the book. This is a great historical fiction!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: The Voice of America: Lowell Thomas and the Invention of 20th-Century Journalism by Mitchell Stephens

Title: The Voice of America: Lowell Thomas and the Invention of 20th-Century Journalism
Author: Mitchell Stephens
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: June 20, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Few Americans today recognize his name, but Lowell Thomas was as well known in his time as any American journalist ever has been. Raised in a Colorado gold-rush town, Thomas covered crimes and scandals for local then Chicago newspapers. He began lecturing on Alaska, after spending eight days in Alaska. Then he assigned himself to report on World War I and returned with an exclusive: the story of "Lawrence of Arabia."

In 1930, Lowell Thomas began delivering America's initial radio newscast. His was the trusted voice that kept Americans abreast of world events in turbulent decades - his face familiar, too, as the narrator of the most popular newsreels. His contemporaries were also dazzled by his life. In a prime-time special after Thomas died in 1981, Walter Cronkite said that Thomas had "crammed a couple of centuries worth of living" into his eighty-nine years. Thomas delighted in entering "forbidden" countries--Tibet, for example, where he met the teenaged Dalai Lama. The Explorers Club has named its building, its awards, and its annual dinner after him.

Journalists in the last decades of the twentieth century--including Cronkite and Tom Brokaw--acknowledged a profound debt to Thomas. Though they may not know it, journalists today too are following a path he blazed. In The Voice of America, Mitchell Stephens offers a hugely entertaining, sometimes critical portrait of this larger than life figure."

My Two Cents:

"The Voice of America" is the story of Lowell Thomas, a journalist whose life seemed to follow the news through its different forms of presentation: paper, radio, television. He was once the most well-known journalist in the U.S., truly the Voice of America, well before the likes of Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw.

It's no secret that there are a lot of questions about journalism and media these days. Have a certain opinion? There is probably a news outlet or "news outlet" that will cater to your opinion without making you think critically or examine your beliefs. Back when Lowell Thomas first started writing, he was very much interested in giving people the "just the facts, ma'am" treatment of the news in a thorough yet entertaining way. He is the journalist that brought us the story of Lawrence of Arabia (frankly, I don't think I knew that was a true story before this book)! As you get to see in the book, he was not afraid of getting his hands dirty and going to the places where the news was being made.

I also found it fascinating how his career spanned the different popular news resources of the 20th century. He first wrote his stories before moving on to the radio. The way that the author shows how his career changed as the medium changed was fascinating. The author gives a lot of detail of how Thomas was able to continue to be relevant for decades by adapting to new technology while still telling good stories.

This book was fascinating! Although I never lived through those times truly, this book made me long for the day of news based on what was actually happening rather than a talking head's lens of what was happening. This is a good pick for history lovers!


Friday, June 16, 2017

Author Interview: Kate Quinn, Author of The Alice Network

I am very excited to welcome Kate Quinn to A Bookish Affair today. As you can see from my review yesterday, I loved her latest release "The Alice Network." Now she's here!

  1. "The Alice Network" takes place in the 20th century, a new time for you. What drew you to write about World War I and the period just after World War II?

I love ancient Rome and Renaissance Italy, where my previous six novels are set, and I'd love to write more books there someday, but I've always had ideas for stories in a wide array of historical periods. When I saw the huge recent boom in popularity for 20th century war fiction, it made sense to revisit some of those old plot ideas, and see if anything grabbed my imagination. It did! And when in my reading I came across the Alice Network—a ring of World War I informants in German-occupied France, many of them female, run by a petite Frenchwoman whose skill and success earned her the nickname “The Queen of Spies”—I knew I had to tell that story.

2. A little birdy told me that you were able to get your hands on some pretty cool research for this book. Can you tell us about some of the sources you were able to look while writing?

I'm lucky enough to count among my good friends a multi-lingual history buff named Anna who is my go-to source whenever I need language assistance. She has family ties in both Germany and France, and was thrilled when I started writing "The Alice Network" since her French ancestors come from the Lille area where much of the book is set. Anna had great-great-uncles and aunts who endured the German occupation in World War I, and she knew her French relatives were just starting to go through the family papers and archives. She translated old letters for me over time; we were only hoping to find period detail about wartime life under German rule, but eventually we found something much better: several of Anna's ancestors not only knew the Queen of Spies, but very probably helped in the Alice Network! It was a thrilling bit of research, and with the family's permission I wove several of their ancestors into the book as minor characters. 

3. Who is your favorite character in the book and why?
I love my heroine Eve as she appears in the 1947 timeline: a former soldier and spy who swears like a sailor, drinks like a fish, and drops sarcastic bon mots everywhere she goes. I love writing battleaxe women with biting wit.

4. What scene was the most fun to write?
The scene where a very smart, very arrogant villain finally realizes how thoroughly he has been fooled by a woman he has fatally underestimated. I took a glorious satisfaction in wiping the smug look off his face on the page.

5. Can you tell us what's next for you?
I'm working on another dual timeline story focused around World War II. Tentatively titled "Darkroom," it involves a hunt for Nazi war criminals in post-war America, and the incredible true story of the female Russian bomber pilots known as the Night Witches...

6. If you could bring three people, fictional or non-fictional, with you to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?
My husband, because he has survival skills. Homer's Odysseus, because he could easily McGyver all of us off a desert island given time. And Siri, because once off the island, neither Odysseus nor my husband nor I can be relied upon for directions. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

TLC Book Tours: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Title: The Alice Network
Author: Kate Quinn
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: June 6, 2017
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies", who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy's nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth matter where it leads.

My Two Cents:

"The Alice Network" is the story of two women. There is Charlie in 1947, a young woman who goes to England to begin searching for her missing cousin. Eve is a young woman in 1915 who becomes a spy during World War I as a part of the infamous Alice Network. Both of these women are haunted by ghosts. In Charlie's case, it is her beloved cousin Rose who is missing without a trace. Eve is haunted by Lili, the leader of the Alice Network. Both women desperately believe they may be able to change the outcome for Rose and Lili. This is a stunning story that has so many twists and turns. The way that Charlie and Eve's stories intertwine with each other is fantastic.

It's hard to know where to start with a book like this. There's no wrong place so I'll start with the standard - characters! The characters in this book are fantastic. Charlie is headstrong and committed to finding Rose even when Rose's family has seemingly given up. She is indecisive about keeping her baby even though she really doesn't know who the father is. As the story goes on, we see her mettle and what she is really made of. As a reader, it was so great to see this transformation. When we meet Eve in 1947, she is a grumpy old woman who seems quite bitter and really ready to be done with it. As the story unfolds, we see what led up to this. We see what transformed her from an unsure girl who seems relatively happy into an old woman who can't seem to find happiness anywhere. And these are only our two main characters! The supporting characters are amazing too. One thing that I love about Kate Quinn's books is that all of the characters, main and secondary, are so detailed and so stand out! They quickly begin to feel like people that you could possibly know in real life.

The story is filled with fantastic historical details. While many characters in the story are fictional or based on a collection of people, there are a lot of characters that are real like Lili. Her story as a spy during WWI is fascinating. I loved how the author went into some detail about how spying was done during WWI. That being said, with as much historical detail as there is, it never feels like the book is a laundry list of cool historical facts. They are truly woven throughout the story, which makes for a really rich read.

Perhaps one of the biggest marks of a great book for me is when I am alternating between reading as fast as I can because I have to see what happens and reading oh so slowly so the book doesn't end. It was hard to decide what to do. In the end, this book is one to savor. You savor the connection between all of the different characters. You savor the rich detail. You savor the ways the that events happen and how they are connected throughout the book. All of it is meant to be savored (as hard as it was for me to do that). This is such a good book and I have a feeling that it is quickly going to become one of my favorites to recommend to other people!

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