Art, forbidden love, and France.

Girl in the Afternoon by Serena Burdick
Pub. Date: July 12, 2016
Source: ARC + finished copy via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!)
Summary: Born into a wealthy Parisian family at the center of Belle Epoque society, 18-year-old Aimée Savaray dreams of becoming a respected painter in the male-dominated art world; and secretly, she also dreams of being loved by Henri, the boy her parents took in as a child and raised alongside her.

But when Henri inexplicably disappears, in the midst of the Franco-Prussian war, the Savarays’ privileged lives begin to unravel. Heartbroken, Aimée tries to find him, but Henri doesn’t want to be found—and only one member of the family knows why.

As Aimée seeks refuge in the art world, mentored by the Impressionist Édouard Manet, she unwittingly finds her way back to Henri. With so many years gone by and secrets buried, their eventual reunion unmasks the lies that once held the family together, but now threaten to tear them apart.

Genre: Historical Fiction

A few years ago I discussed my love of art novels. Novels of painters, novels of paintings, rediscovered masterpieces, forgeries, you name it, I’ve read it. (Since that post I’ve furthered my obsession – there might be a part two on its way!) There’s just something so romantic about art that instantly calls me to it and Girl in the Afternoon is no exception: when it arrived unannounced at my door one day, I was immediately intrigued with its talk of scandal and France and Manet.

Aimee Savaray and Henri were raised as siblings after her wealthy parents took the boy in as a child. As they grew they developed a passion for drawing and painting and over time, that constant closeness led to passion elsewhere. A secret kiss, a whispered I love you and suddenly Henri was gone without a trace. Try as she might, Aimee slowly realizes that if Henri doesn’t want to be found, there’s nothing she can do to change that.

Art brings Aimee both comfort and sorrow and it’s under Edouard Manet’s training that she stumbles upon a clue that could lead her back to Henri. With their reunion, however, comes long-held secrets that could destroy the family and tear them apart for good.

I inhaled this book. From page one I lived and breathed its words, its imagery. The relationship Aimee and Henri had as children – they know the other better than they know themselves – to the afternoons spent sitting for one of Manet’s paintings, everything about Girl in the Afternoon was so rich and vibrant that it felt as though I was watching a movie instead of reading.

The circumstances surrounding Henri’s disappearance were definitely shocking and scandalous and the numerous attempts as reconciliation were all too heartbreaking. Naturally I loved every minute.

This is a fairly haphazard, slapdash review, but know that I though Girl in the Afternoon was stunning. With its fantastic setting to the secrets and lies scattered through these characters’ lives, I was absolutely captivated and tore through this debut! This was one of those rare novels where, when I wasn’t reading it, I was counting down the minutes until I could get back to it. I swooned, I gasped, I was thoroughly enchanted.

Gemini by Sonya Mukherjee

Gemini by Sonya Mukherjee
Pub. Date: July 26, 2016
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers!)
Summary: Seventeen-year-old conjoined twins Clara and Hailey have lived in the same small town their entire lives—no one stares at them anymore. But there are cracks in their quiet existence, and they’re slowly becoming more apparent. Clara and Hailey are at a crossroads. Clara wants to stay close to home, avoid all attention, and study the night sky. Hailey wants to travel the world, learn from great artists, and dance with mysterious boys. As high school graduation approaches, each twin must untangle her dreams from her sister’s, and figure out what it means to be her own person.
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Fiction

Back in March Gemini caught my attention – and how could it not: conjoined twins in the senior year of high school, one wants to move away and experience the world while the other wants to stay in their quiet hometown where they no longer received strange looks. Since then, this book has been one of my most anticipated reads of the summer and when I was able to get my hands on a copy it was all I could do not to drop everything that very second and dive in!

Clara and Hailey aren’t like normal sisters. They’re not like normal twins for that matter. They’re conjoined, forever attached by a strip of skin and a shared lower spine; if Hailey stubs her toe Clara feels the sting. For the past seventeen years it had been ingrained into their minds that they can do everything other girls can…apart from driving a car, of course, or riding a bike. Even learning to walk was a struggle. And the whole dating thing? Awkward.

Clara is perfectly content to stay in their tiny town and attend college where their father is a professor. In a town like theirs, everyone knows each other and they no longer receive shocked looks or have to hear whispers behind their backs. Hailey, however, relishes in the attention. Pink-haired and a forever black wardrobe, Hailey lives and breathes art, a program their local college doesn’t offer. She would love to travel the world and see artists’ masterpieces in person, rather than through her computer screen, but she knows Clara would never be able to handle it. With their senior year of high school rapidly coming to an end, Clara and Hailey have some extremely tough decisions to make – and fast.

I cannot say enough about this book. I loved it. Absolutely, whole-heartedly l-o-v-e-d it. Even though these girls are twins, they couldn’t be more different and Mukherjee did an amazing job at giving each one her own personality, her own individuality. Each chapter alternates between Clara and Hailey and although the girl’s name is listed at the start to signify whose chapter and perspective it is, I could easily tell whose story I was reading. Each girl has her own voice and I was SO impressed by how flawlessly Mukherjee pulled this off! Trust me – you’re not going to mix up these girls.

The incredible amount of research that went into this novel is astounding. Little details I never thought about and everyday tasks I take for granted were called out. While they share a part of their spine, each girl had two arms and two legs. They need to be coordinated in everything they do, from walking to sitting at the dinner table. What fascinated me the most was their sleeping arrangement: they have to sleep on their sides and once they’re settled in for the night, that’s it. If one girl wakes up in the middle of the night and needs to go to the bathroom, for example, she has to wake up the other girl so they can both get out of bed. In one scene Clara’s arm was uncomfortable from the way she was laying, but there was no way she could possibly move. I never really considered how such trivial moments in life – like changing sleeping positions to get comfortable – could be such a struggle and Gemini truly opened my eyes. It would be a lie to say I read this in a single sitting, however. So many times I had to pause and go off and do research of my own! How many fiction novels can boast that?

Hailey is by far the more outgoing of the pair and when a Sadie Hawkins dance is announced she wastes no time in asking a cute boy from her art class to go with her. Dating is awkward enough on its own, but with a conjoined twin…? I love how Mukherjee explored every possible topic in this book. (plus the romance was super cute ♥)

Gemini is definitely a book I could wax poetic about for days. It’s so much more than a coming-of-age novel, it’s so much more than a sister novel. Its intriguing premise was what initially lured me in and within a few pages I was utterly captivated. A mindblowing amount of research, a seriously fascinating story, and magnificently crafted characters all came together to make up this wonderful, wonderful book. It had been one of my most anticipated summer releases and I’m so thrilled to say it didn’t disappoint one bit. Instead it went above and beyond every single expectation. I’m positively floored that this is a debut, but you better believe I’ll be right there when Sonya Mukherjee releases another book (right now, pretty please ♥!)

weekly wrap-up 7/24

↠ My brother and his band finally released their EP!! I couldn’t be more proud of them! It’s less than the price of a cup of coffee, so head over to itunes and get yourself some new music.

↠ I love Hemingway. I love Roald Dahl. The universe somehow managed to bring them both together in a photo I had never seen before! Happy birthday, Papa!

↠ This week also saw the anniversary of the Romanov assassination. A few years ago I made a Get Your Fix post focusing on the family – fiction, non-fic, it’s all there.

READING REPORT Last week I was at 104 books read for the year, 69 written by women, 35 written by men. This week I’m at 106 books read, with a new tally apiece for both sides: 70 women, 36 men.

WHAT I FINISHED I tore through Sonya Mukherjee’s Gemini in a day. I’ve been talking about this one a LOT since I first heard of it: conjoined twins in their final year of high school, one wants to move away and experience the world, the other wants to stay in their quiet hometown where they no longer get strange looks. I’m so thrilled to say it’s every bit as excellent as I had hoped! I also finished my audio of Stephen King’s Cujo. OMG SO GOOD although I admit I cried more than once ha!

CURRENTLY READING Life got in the way and I had to push back Girl in the Afternoon, so I’m only just now getting to it. Art, France, scandal. Loving it!

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? We unboxed our July BarkBox!

Tailored for Trouble by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
I typically don’t receive contemporary romance for review, so when this showed up it was such a pleasant surprise! Summer is the perfect time for a swoony romance, so I’m VERY excited to dive in. After being fired by a ruthless, cold CEO, Taylor started a training program for big shot execs – her course will teach them to become more human, more down-to-earth. What she never expected was for one particular CEO – Bannett, the boss who just fired her – to sign up. Thank you, Ballantine!

Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst
I received an e-ARC last week and the publicist was awesome and sent a finished copy my way as well. Being lazy and pasting my blurb from last week #sorrynotsorry: A family drama where a daughter begins to exhibit traits of genius, but also social incompetence. With Tilly kicked out of yet another school, her mother Alexandra is out of ideas and turns to a camp retreat with a child behavior guru. I’m especially curious about this one because the book isn’t told through Tilly’s eyes. Instead, her sister is the voice of the novel. Thank you, Pamela Dorman Books!

The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler
I had this one on my To Read list and Maggie came to town this week – the perfect excuse to buy the book, right? World War II, a female pilot, second chances decades later. This is a total Leah read ♥

July 2016 BarkBox unboxing!

Today the blog gets handed over to Baylor for our July 2016 BarkBox unboxing! If you don’t know, BarkBox is a monthly subscription for your pup!

Each box is themed: our first box was New York, our second was Country Fair, and our third was The Great Outdoors. There are three sizes depending on your dog’s weight and for an additional $9 a month you can add a premium toy! There are also allergy-free boxes for those pups with sensitive tummies. :)

Best of all is that BarkBox works with over 3,000 shelters and non-profits across the US and Canada!

THE PRODUCTS

Our theme this month was World Chompians, an Olympic-esque box. There was even a punch-out gold medal included to stick to your dog’s collar. Too cute!

THE TREATS
Just Chew It Turkey Jerky $7
Turkey jerky! These all-natural chews are made in the US and are grain-free. Bay loves these – maybe because they’ve very smelly. Not in a bad way, but in a way that leaves your hands smelling like turkey!

Gold Medal Dog Snacks $6
Another all-natural, grain-free (as well as gluten- and soy-free!) snack. These are lamb and cheddar flavor and Bay’s a big fan of these too!

Liver Chew $4
In each box there’s one individual snack and these are the ones Bay devours first. She LOVED this chew! This crunchy beef liver chew is made in the US and is grain-free.

THE TOYS
I-Vanna-Not-Fall-Ova $14
This gal features a squeaker (and we all know Bay loves her squeaky toys!) and rope arms. It’s also stuffing-free which is a huge plus for us, since she likes to tear apart her BarkBox toys. This toy is a bit heavier and hefty – unfortunately the arms didn’t last very long.

Dog Paddlin’ Dave $10
Oh, Dave. Poor, poor Dave. His full-body squeaker and crinkly limbs didn’t stand a chance against Bay. This toy is adorable and hilarious, but he was the first to be destroyed.

Hairy the Torch $12
This Olympic torch has it all: rope, nylon, AND a squeaker!

OVERALL

Again, EXCELLENT theme with a ton of adorable items. Unfortunately, once again the toys were almost immediately destroyed. 18 minutes after unboxing Bay managed to rip apart Dave’s legs – and this was our premium toy! 1.5 hours after unboxing two toys were destroyed. The following morning the torch was down to a stump. Yet again I’m disappointed with the quality and durability of these toys – especially since Bay isn’t all that big! We get her the large size which is for dogs 50lbs and up. She’s only 50lbs. There are dogs WAY bigger…I can’t imagine their toys would last any longer.

THAT SAID BarkBox actually reached out to me and provided me with a coupon for a free toy, so I’m excited for that!

I mentioned last month that a treat only box would be perfect for us. As much as Bay loves these toys they just don’t hold up!

weekly wrap-up 7/17

↠ Earlier this week we celebrated our 11-month adoptionversary! We’re planning on having a big cook-out next month for our one year and it’s been so fun planning it :)

↠ This week we seriously kicked butt on our walks. My sister tagged along Monday through Thursday and it was a blast. Friday we only did half our usual loop, rested on Saturday, and this morning did almost our full route – over 30 miles for the week is not too shabby!

↠ I’ll do a full unboxing post next week, but yesterday we received our July BarkBox box and – spoiler alert – two toys were destroyed within an hour and a half. This morning claimed the third toy :(

READING REPORT Last week I had read 101 books for the year with 66 written by women, 35 written by men. I’m currently at 104 books for the year with 69 books written by women, still 35 written by men. The ladies killed it this week!

WHAT I FINISHED Irina Reyn’s The Imperial Wife was full of Imperial Russia and scandal! While I enjoyed it, it definitely wasn’t as great as I had hoped and there was one storyline I couldn’t wait to get back to – for my full thoughts check out the review linked below! I also finished the audio of Kimberly McCreight’s Where They Found Her and I thought it was EXCELLENT! A baby’s body is discovered on campus grounds and there are multiple narrators – my favorite – and online news articles and who’s baby is it?? The whole thing was so well done and the audio was great. I also finished Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris and it was magnificent and FIVE STARS and I cannot wait to share my review!!

CURRENTLY READING I began the audio of Stephen King’s Cujo and am loooving it ♥ I’ve been waiting forever for it to finally become available at the library (because he was in town recently his stuff has been super popular) and one day I randomly check and sure enough it was there! I immediately pounced and have been devouring it. I also just started Gemini by Sonya Mukherjee. I mentioned it a few months ago in a recently added post and have since been lucky enough to score a review copy! I’m only a few chapters in but I’m fascinated by its premise – conjoined twins are in the senior year of high school and one wants to move away for college while the other wants to stay in their safe little town where everyone knows them and doesn’t treat the pair as freaks – and already the girls’ voices are great and wholly unique.

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? Irina Reyn’s The Imperial Wife alternates between the present day and 1700s Russia. A medal believing to have belong to Catherine the Great is discovered and the auction house who holds it could be making the biggest sale it’s ever seen. I enjoyed the book but never cared about Tanya’s character. I especially didn’t care about her marriage troubles and instead couldn’t wait to return to Sophie’s story as she leaves her homeland to go to Russia where she’ll be marrying the heir to the country. I also shared a new recently added post and highlight three books that sound excellent!


  

We Are All Made of Stars by Rowan Coleman
A husband recently returned from Afghanistan and suffering from PTSD. A wife who would rather spend all night at the hospice where she’s a nurse. I don’t know much about this book but Rowan has been compared to Jojo Moyes and I have a feeling I’ll be ugly crying. Thank you, Ballantine!

Family Tree by Susan Wiggs
I was contacted about this one and thought it would be the perfect introduction to Susan’s books! Annie has it all: a great job as the producer of a popular cooking show, a loving husband, a beautiful house, and now she’s pregnant with their first child. Everything changes with the accident that leaves Annie in a year-long coma. In an attempt to deal with her grief, Annie moves back to her hometown in Vermont and rediscovers the life she left behind. There’s food, family drama, the whole works and I can’t wait to dive into this one! Thank you, William Morrow!

One Was Lost by Natalie D. Richards
I mentioned this one last week in a GoodReads Recommends post and afterwards noticed it was on netgalley! A senior camping trip turned deadly as half the group goes missing and strange words are left behind. This sounds like such a fun read!! Thank you, Sourcebooks!

Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst
One of my absolute favorite publicists told me about this one and she has hooked me up with some seriously AMAZING books in the past. Another family drama where a daughter begins to exhibit traits of genius, but also social incompetence. With Tilly kicked out of yet another school, her mother Alexandra is out of ideas and turns to a camp retreat with a child behavior guru. I’m especially curious about this one because the book isn’t told through Tilly’s eyes. Instead, her sister is the voice of the novel. Thank you, Pamela Dorman Books!

recently added.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably got a To Read list a mile long. And, if you’re like me, you probably keep finding AMAZING books to keep adding to it!

Serafina and the Twisted Staff by Robert Beatty
July 12, 2016

I really enjoyed the first Serafina novel, Serafina and the Black Cloak – bursting with history (the Biltmore Estate!) a touch of paranormal, and a TON of charm – and now the sequel is out!

In Black Cloak Serafina discovered the truth about who she is: she’s the daughter of a shapeshifting mountain lion and now, just a few weeks later, this 12-year-old is thrown into yet another whirlwind adventure as she finds out more about where she came from.

The book trailer doesn’t really do much in the way of explaining what’s going on, though it does a magnificent job of evoking that Victorian, dripping-with-money feel!

Home Field by Hannah Gersen
July 26, 2016

Friday Night Lights meets My So-Called Life. I am SO there. A small, rural Maryland town won the state championship and the football coach is declared a town hero. Dean’s life couldn’t be better until his wife (his high school sweetheart) commits suicide and suddenly Dean’s world is thrown into a tailspin.

It’s not just Dean who’s hurting either. Dean and Nicole’s three children, 8-year-old Bry; 11-year-old Robbie; and 19-year-old, just-left-for-college Stephanie, are left to make sense of their new life without their mother.

I’m a big fan of family dramas and quiet character studies and it sounds like Home Field fits the bill perfectly.

With Love from the Inside by Angela Pisel
August 9, 2016

Grace is on death row for murdering her infant son and she knows the exact moment she’ll take her last breath. Out of appeals, and with her death looming ever closer, Grace wants to make amends and reconnect with the daughter she left behind. Sophie lives a picture perfect life. Her husband is a plastic surgeon, they live in a sprawling house, and their bank account is even bigger. What Sophie’s husband doesn’t know, however, is the truth about her childhood, the truth about what happened to her baby brother and the unforgivable things her mother did.

When Sophie returns to her hometown, Grace’s execution even nearer now, she uncovers startling new evidence that could potentially set her mother free…but completely destroy her marriage.

Again, I love a good family story and this one sounds absolutely heartbreaking and oh so GOOD.

Imperial Russia! Art! Scandal!

The Imperial Wife by Irina Reyn
Pub. Date: July 19, 2016
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Thomas Dunne Books!)
Summary: Two women’s lives collide when a priceless Russian artifact comes to light.

Tanya Kagan, a rising specialist in Russian art at a top New York auction house, is trying to entice Russia’s wealthy oligarchs to bid on the biggest sale of her career, The Order of Saint Catherine, while making sense of the sudden and unexplained departure of her husband.

As questions arise over the provenance of the Order and auction fever kicks in, Reyn takes us into the world of Catherine the Great, the infamous 18th-century empress who may have owned the priceless artifact, and who it turns out faced many of the same issues Tanya wrestles with in her own life.
Genre: Historical Fiction

When I first heard about The Imperial Wife, I knew it was a book I wanted to read; it was basically a checklist of everything I love in a novel: Russia, art, drama, real figures from history. Recently Matt spent the weekend in Baltimore visiting family and I took full advantage of an empty house. I settled in, eager to be transported back to the glitz and glamour of Russia.

The Imperial Wife is told in two voices: Tanya in the present day (a rising specialist in a New York auction house who’s about the make the biggest sale of her life) and 15-year-old Sophie in the 1700s (traveling the Russia to meet her betrothed and later come into her own as Catherine the Great). While both stories kept me invested – and turning the pages – it was Sophie’s chapter I looked forward to, her chapters that I took my time reading and savoring. Here is this young girl plucked from Germany and sent to a country where she hardly speaks the language. Her soon-to-be husband clearly isn’t the least bit fit to rule and instead prefers playing with his toy soldiers. Once they’re finally married, Sophie is expected to produce an heir, stat, and as the years go by without a child, Sophie’s worth rapidly declines until the Empress finally (and secretly) sends word to Sophie, in total desperation, that she knows Peter is all but useless, but they need an heir, regardless of how that happens…for any child of Sophie’s will automatically be welcomed into the fold.

Centuries later Tanya is gaining the recognition she spent years fighting for, only to have the future of Worthington’s Russian Art department hang in the balance. Suddenly everything changes when an extremely rare piece of history turns up, a medal that very well could have belonged the Catherine the Great herself. All it needs it to be authenticated – looking good so far! – and already the heavy hitters are clawing to take a look, hoping to be the one to bid high enough. While her professional life couldn’t be brighter, her home life is another story. Her husband recently decided to move out and there’s no telling if their marriage can or will be saved.

I usually tend to enjoy both story lines in books like this, but with The Imperial Wife I couldn’t wait to dive back into Sophie’s world. Tanya’s story just couldn’t cut it for me – to be honest I didn’t care about her marriage troubles one bit. That side of the story felt tacked on at the last minute as a way to have Tanya’s story relate to Sophie’s. Instead it came off feeling rushed and unpolished; nearly all of Tanya’s time is spent remembering bits and pieces of their relationship, from the night they met to when she was introduced to his parents to the bestselling novel that drove a wedge between them. Carl didn’t seem like that great of a guy to begin with: his background is in Russian studies and every scene with him felt phony, like he was more interested in Tanya’s ‘Russianness’ than he was in her as a person. The same with her parents and how Carl treated them.

There was a slight twist at the end that I enjoy immensely, but overall, The Imperial Wife was just okay. I actually think I would have enjoyed this one more had it been strictly historical fiction and focused solely on Catherine the Great. As it was, I didn’t care for Tanya – particularly her marriage drama, that will he/won’t he leave her that was ever-present throughout the book.