Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Winner of the 2011 Newbery Award.
The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby. I closed my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I’d seen only in Gideon’s stories: Manifest—A Town with a rich past and a bright future.

Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.
Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”
Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.

Powerful in its simplicity and rich in historical detail, Clare Vanderpool’s debut is a gripping story of loss and redemption.

Continuing on my quest to read Newbery Award winners, this was the 2011 winner, I don't think that I would have picked it up otherwise. I am so glad that I did, what a wonderful debut. Again this was an audio for me and the reader brought the story to life. I could picture the train tracks, the front porches, the tree house and so much more. The story itself I enjoyed immensely, a charming coming of age story. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Queen's Vow by C.W. Gortner

"No one believed I was destined for 
So begins Isabella’s story, in this evocative, vividly imagined novel about one of history’s most famous and controversial queens—the warrior who united a fractured country, the champion of the faith whose reign gave rise to the Inquisition, and the visionary who sent Columbus to discover a New World. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner envisages the turbulent early years of a woman whose mythic rise to power would go on to transform a monarchy, a nation, and the world.

Young Isabella is barely a teenager when she and her brother are taken from their mother’s home to live under the watchful eye of their half-brother, King Enrique, and his sultry, conniving queen. There, Isabella is thrust into danger when she becomes an unwitting pawn in a plot to dethrone Enrique. Suspected of treason and held captive, she treads a perilous path, torn between loyalties, until at age seventeen she suddenly finds herself heiress of Castile, the largest kingdom in Spain. Plunged into a deadly conflict to secure her crown, she is determined to wed the one man she loves yet who is forbidden to her—Fernando, prince of Aragon.

As they unite their two realms under “one crown, one country, one faith,” Isabella and Fernando face an impoverished Spain beset by enemies. With the future of her throne at stake, Isabella resists the zealous demands of the inquisitor Torquemada even as she is seduced by the dreams of an enigmatic navigator named Columbus. But when the Moors of the southern domain of Granada declare war, a violent, treacherous battle against an ancient adversary erupts, one that will test all of Isabella’s resolve, her courage, and her tenacious belief in her destiny.

From the glorious palaces of Segovia to the battlefields of Granada and the intrigue-laden gardens of Seville, The Queen’s Vow sweeps us into the tumultuous forging of a nation and the complex, fascinating heart of the woman who overcame all odds to become Isabella of Castile.

 C.W. Gortner has a way of writing that not only grabs hold of you, but you can feel the emotions in his characters.  I noticed this more so in The Last Queen (which I LOVED and one of these days will write a review for it).   One can't help feel what Isabella was going through, the scenes were easy to visualize and the story flowed right along.  I know very little about Spanish history, other than what I can remember from grade 6 history, which went along the like of 'in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue'.  This book opened my eyes to the mother of Katherine of Aragon and Juana.  I read The Last Queen first (since it is about Isabella's daughter Juana), but I wish that I had read this one first, it was hard going into this book with an opinion of Fernando that wasn't all that nice. This book did soften my feelings for him somewhat.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

After a childhood of poverty and petty crime in the slums of London, William Thomhill is sentenced in 1806 to be transported to New South Wales for the terms of his natural life. With his wife Sal and children to tow, he arrives in a harsh land that feels at first like a death sentence. But his first glimpse of land for the taking awakens in him a desire he never had before: to own that land, no matter the cost to his soul. From the winner of the 2001 Orange Prize

My first HF that takes place in Australia, the first book in a trilogy and my first book by Kate Grenville.

The author has a really nice way of describing the outback, I could visualize the country, the Aborigines and even the little hunts with the bark flaps. This is one of those books that stays with you even when finished. The story was centered around William, but I think I would have liked to have gotten to know Sal's thoughts and feelings, especially towards the end. The ending was a little predictable, but that's ok.  I look forward to reading the next one.

I do have one con for this book, not the writing but the ebook format.  I read this on my Kobo (it was cheap and I had a coupon code - what can I say I am cheap).  It's been a while since I have been in school, but this book had no quotation marks, not one, in the whole book.  For the dialogue everything was in italics. Is that something new?  Very confusing, I usually take italics to mean a thought or something unspoken, this was the opposite.  Once I figured that out I was good to go, though I did regressed a few times. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

The world knows Madame Tussaud as a wax artist extraordinaire . . . but who was this woman who became one of the most famous sculptresses of all time? In these pages, her tumultuous and amazing story comes to life as only Michelle Moran can tell it. 


The year is 1788, and a revolution is about to begin. Smart and ambitious, Marie Tussaud has learned the secrets of wax sculpting by working alongside her uncle in their celebrated wax museum, the Salon de Cire. From her popular model of the American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson, to her tableau of the royal family at dinner, Marie's museum provides Parisians with the very latest news on fashion, gossip, and even politics. Her customers hail from every walk of life, yet her greatest dream is to attract the attention of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI; their stamp of approval on her work could catapult her and her museum to the fame and riches she desires. After months of anticipation, Marie learns that the royal family is willing to come and see their likenesses. When they finally arrive, the king's sister is so impressed that she requests Marie's presence at Versailles as a royal tutor in wax sculpting. It is a request Marie knows she cannot refuse--even if it means time away
from her beloved Salon and her increasingly dear friend, Henri Charles.
As Marie gets to know her pupil, Princesse Elisabeth, she also becomes acquainted with the king and queen, who introduce her to the glamorous life at court. From lavish parties with more delicacies than she's ever seen to rooms filled with candles lit only once before being discarded, Marie steps into a world entirely different from her home on the Boulevard du Temple, where people are selling their teeth in order to put food on the table.
Meanwhile, many resent the vast separation between rich and poor. In salons and cafes across Paris, people like Camille Desmoulins, Jean-Paul Marat, and Maximilien Robespierre are lashing out against the monarchy. Soon, there's whispered talk of revolution. . . . Will Marie be able to hold on to both the love of her life and her friendship with the royal family as France approaches civil war? And more important, will she be able to fulfill the demands of powerful revolutionaries who ask that she make the death masks of beheaded aristocrats, some of whom she knows?
Spanning five years, from the budding revolution to the Reign of Terror, "Madame Tussaud "brings us into the world of an incredible heroine whose talent for wax modeling saved her life and preserved the faces of a vanished kingdom. "From the Hardcover edition."

Paperback, 605 pages
Published 2011 by Quercus 
from personal library

Here is a book where I didn't like the cover, neither of them, more so after I read the book because I just don't feel that either of the covers matches the picture I have in my head of Marie Tussaud

Again another audio for me, and again a wonderful reader. Felt like Marie was sitting there telling me the story herself.

The only reason I really even read this book was because it was by Michelle Moran.  I loved Nefertiti and Cleopatra's Daughter and even though I love HF, the French Revolution doesn't interest me, well at least it didn't.  Now I am interested and will be reading more.  The author has a wonderful way of portraying life in those times, she has done a lot of research into her subject and it shows. Michelle has a writing style that is easy to follow while learning history at the same time. Her words flow so smoothly that it was hard to put down at times.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Changling by Philippa Gregory

Dark myths, medieval secrets, intrigue, and romance populate the pages of the first-ever teen series from #1 bestselling author of The Other Boleyn Girl.

Italy, 1453. Seventeen-year-old Luca Vero is brilliant, gorgeous—and accused of heresy. Cast out of his religious order for using the new science to question old superstitious beliefs, Luca is recruited into a secret sect: The Order of the Dragon, commissioned by Pope Nicholas V to investigate evil and danger in its many forms, and strange occurrences across Europe, in this year—the end of days.
     Isolde is a seventeen-year-old girl shut up in a nunnery so she can’t inherit any of her father’s estate. As the nuns walk in their sleep and see strange visions, Isolde is accused of witchcraft—and Luca is sent to investigate her, but finds himself plotting her escape.
     Despite their vows, despite themselves, love grows between Luca and Isolde as they travel across Europe with their faithful companions, Freize and Ishraq. The four young people encounter werewolves, alchemists, witches, and death-dancers as they head toward a real-life historical figure who holds the boundaries of Christendom and the secrets of the Order of the Dragon.
     The first in a series, this epic and richly detailed drama is grounded in historical communities and their mythic beliefs. It includes a medieval map of Europe that will track their journey; and the interior will include relevant decorative elements as well as an interior line illustration. And look for a QR code that links to a note from the author with additional, detailed information about the setting and the history that informed the writing. With Philippa Gregory’s trademark touch, this novel deftly brings the past—and its salacious scandals—vividly and disturbingly to life.

I will admit that I am a sucker for book covers.  This one grabbed me right away.  What can I say, Philippa Gregory started my HF journey with The Other Boleyn Girl and given my love for YA, it just called my name.

So what did I think of the book?  I wanted to love it right away, I wanted it to grab me and not let go. I was home alone and just wanted to get lost in this book, didn't happen and I was disappointed.  It just felt flat to me, even to the point where I forced myself to continue reading.  Finally about half way through it picked up, and finally I couldn't put it down. The characters just seem to lack emotion, feeling or whatever I couldn't connect with any of them, though Freize ended up being my favorite.  Even now 3 weeks after I finished reading nothing stands out that I can remember.  Will I continue with this series, I guess maybe I will see what the cover looks like :)