2014 · 5 stars · historical fiction

The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki

The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki
Pub. Date: February 17, 2015
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Howard Books!!)
Summary: The year is 1853, and the Hapsburgs are Europe’s most powerful ruling family. With his empire stretching from Austria to Russia and Germany to Italy, Emperor Franz Joseph is young, rich, and read to marry.
Fifteen-year-old Sisi – Elisabeth, duchess of Bavaria – travels to the Hapsburg court with her older sister, who is betrothed to the young emperor. But shortly after her arrival, Sisi finds herself in an unexpected dilemma: she has inadvertently fallen for and won the heart of her sister’s fiance. Intrigued by Sisi’s guileless charm and energetic spirit, not to mention her unrivaled beauty, Franz Joseph reneges on his earlier proposal and declares his intention to marry Sisi instead.
Plucked from obscurity and thrust onto the throne of Europe’s most treacherous imperial court, Sisi has no idea what struggles and dangers – and temptations – await her. She upsets political and familial loyalties in her quest to win, and keep, the love of her emperor, her people, and the world.

Genre: Historical fiction
Recommended for: Fans of biographical fiction, court life, rich details, and fantastic storytelling!

When I grabbed Pataki’s debut, The Traitor’s Wife completely by chance last year, I had no idea just how hard I would fall for this new author. Her storytelling blew me away and she took a person I knew very little about (Peggy Shippen, socialite bride of Benedict Arnold) and gave her life. Over the course of a few hundred pages, Pataki took this complete stranger and turned her into someone I not only cared about, but craved further knowledge of (and bless her for a fantastic list of research material/books compiled at the end!). So when I heard about her upcoming novel – this time taking place in the mid-1800s in the Hapsburg court – it was a no-brainer: I needed this book.

The lovely people at Howard Books are too, too good to me and they sent along a review copy my way. I received it in November, I read it in November. That right there should tell you a little something. Can an author be declared a favorite after only one book? What about two? While I don’t believe there exists a magical number for this, it’s clear Allison Pataki has carved a special place for herself in my heart and I guarantee you I will read anything she puts out!

Rich, powerful, and young, Emperor Franz Joseph is the most eligible bachelor in the world. When word is sent to Bavaria that he seeks the hand of the eldest duchess, it certainly comes as a shock – a rather liberal approach to parenting hasn’t exactly groomed the children for life as nobility let alone royalty! Helene is a meek, pious girl and horrifically shy, so it comes as no surprise when Franz Joseph finds himself captivated by bold, opinionated Sisi. As the pair spend more time together, their favorite outing traveling the countryside on horseback, Franz’s interest deepens and he reneges on his earlier proposal – much to the dismay of his mother Sophie. Through her son, Sophie essentially rules the empire and she is not pleased to discover her choice for bride has been turned down. If only Sisi had realized just what she was getting herself into.

Still in her teens, Sisi is virtually on her own; Sophie has made her feelings clear and Franz always sides with his mother. As the once-happy marriage begins to crumble – and the longed-for heir never arrives, just daughter after daughter – the pressure takes its toll. It’s not until a trip to Hungary that Sisi receives the love and respect she’s been craving and it’s this country and these people that will play a vital role in Sisi’s life.

What constitutes as a spoiler when it comes to historical fiction? Halfway through the novel I was so enchanted by this family and these characters that I wanted to know more. I should have known better than to head over to Wikipedia, but my history buff heart was a-flutter. Things don’t end well for anyone involved and The Accidental Empress gives a hint of things to come. As much as I held out hope for Sisi, I knew her decline was imminent. In her later life she became somewhat fanatical about her weight and the barest of whispers were evident here. Sophie took Sisi’s children away, dictated every waking second of her life. It really is remarkable Sisi managed to hold out for so long.

Because this is historical fiction, there are a few changes made and Pataki discusses this. Personally I enjoyed the story immensely, minor reworkings and all – at least here Sisi found a few moments of happiness.

The Accidental Empress proves Allison Pataki is not a one-hit wonder; this woman is here to stay and, my goodness, does she have stories to tell! As with The Traitor’s Wife, I savored every chapter, relished over every paragraph when I normally would race to the end. Here, however, I took my time and when I finally finished (only four days later – and to be honest, I’m surprised I finished that quickly: this is a big book that demands a lot of attention) I felt hollow. I wasn’t ready to let go and give up these people I had come to care for. Pataki describes the Hapsburg court in such vivid detail it was jarring to look up and realize I was in my living room (sadly, nowhere close to being anything as grand as a palace).

As much as I love chatting about books I adore, I absolutely dread having to review them. The Accidental Empress hit me hard and I’m still reeling from the blow. I laughed, I teared up, I wanted to swoop in and save this child from her horrible future (not to mention awful mother-in-law). Pataki positively shines in this novel and there isn’t a single sentence I can string together that could fully describe how much I loved this book. The Accidental Empress is a story to cherish and absolutely, positively a book I’ll be recommending whole-heartedly.

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5 stars · contemporary · fiction

Lost & Found by Brooke Davis

Lost & Found by Brooke Davis
Pub. Date: January 22, 2015
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Dutton!!)
Summary: Millie Bird is a seven-year-old girl who always wears red wellington boots to match her red, curly hair. But one day, Millie’s mum leaves her alone beneath the Ginormous Women’s underwear rack in a department store, and doesn’t come back.

Agatha Pantha is an eighty-two-year-old woman who hasn’t left her home since her husband died. Instead, she fills the silence by yelling at passers-by, watching loud static on TV, and maintaining a strict daily schedule. Until the day Agatha spies a little girl across the street.

Karl the Touch Typist is eighty-seven years old and once typed love letters with his fingers on to his wife’s skin. He sits in a nursing home, knowing that somehow he must find a way for life to begin again. In a moment of clarity and joy, he escapes.

Together, Millie, Agatha and Karl set out to find Millie’s mum. Along the way, they will discover that the young can be wise, that old age is not the same as death, and that breaking the rules once in a while might just be the key to a happy life.
Genre: Adult, Fiction, Contemporary
Recommended for: Readers looking for an emotion, heartfelt tale with a fantastic cast of characters – be sure to have a box of tissues!

I totally judge books by their covers. I’m not ashamed of this at all – nope, no sirree. That beautiful cover – the striking font and bold, vivid colors – are what initially caught my eye, but I’m VERY pleased to say the loveliness doesn’t end there; the inside is just as incredible. When I discussed Lost & Found with the publicist, she mentioned it was an office favorite and, now that I’ve read it (even before I was finished!) I completely understand why.

Seven-year-old Millie Bird finds herself abandoned inside a department store, obediently waiting in the spot where her mother said to wait for her return…only her mother never came back. Leaving a trail of THIS WAY, MUM and BE RIGHT BACK, MUM notes in her wake, Millie eventually ventures out into the rest of the store, hiding when she can and befriending a mannequin (fully believing, in only the way a lost seven-year-old can, that this mannequin is alive and saved her after collapsing onto a night guard inches away from discovering Millie’s hide-out). In the food court her life becomes entwined with that of an elderly man, Karl.

Karl the Touch Typist’s fingers are always moving, always typing. On the run after breaking out of his nursing home, Karl now spends his days roaming about, waiting for a grand adventure to whisk him away. Although he never meant to befriend a little girl, there’s something about Millie that instantly connects the pair and when Millie is ultimately caught and held while the police are called, Karl knows it’s time to act.

Agatha hasn’t left her home since her husband died nearly a decade ago. Since then her days are lived with a military-like precision: she wakes up at precisely this time, slips on her sensible skirt not a second later than normal, follows her daily ritual of sitting in her Chair of Resentment to shout complaints at the neighbors. One day, without Agatha’s permission, her routine is interrupted. The woman across the street is long gone at that point and her little daughter has been fending for herself. Millie’s arrival at Agatha’s doorstep breaks her solitude and she’s not at all pleased.

Travel itinerary in hand, Millie asks for Agatha’s help in finding her mother. She now knows where she went and, silly Mum, she left before remembering to pick up Millie. Agatha, this woman who hasn’t been out of the house in nearly ten years, decides to track down this heartless woman and, after teaming up with Karl, the pair set off across the country on a life-changing (and eye-opening) journey.

In a note to the reader Brooke Davis discusses how Lost & Found came to be: while in her twenties, she went on a backpacking trip across Asia. After receiving a message from her brother telling her to call home immediately, she learned her mother has unexpectedly passed away and without a moment’s hesitation, she’s on a plane. Her anger and hurt and confusion became Lost & Found and the novel was written for her PhD thesis on grief. I’m not sure if that note will be included in the finished copy, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. If I hadn’t read it, I’m sure I would have still loved Lost & Found, but because I was given that background info, these characters took on another meaning for me. Their fears and worries were Brooke’s fears and worries and that’s really what took this book to a new level and set it apart from others.

This is a review I’ve been sitting on for weeks. I tore through the book the week before Christmas, but only recently sat down to gather my thoughts. While Lost & Found isn’t a memoir, it’s still an extremely personal experience and, because of that, I’m having a hard time critiquing it (just as I hard a hard time discussing brown girl dreaming, one of my top reads last year). Even now, despite having a wealth of points I want to make and scenes I want to discuss, I’m at a loss and that is how I know a book has affected me. As with my other favorite novels, I’m finding myself struggling over what to say – I don’t want to give away too much, but I also want to shout about it from the rooftops.

A month and several books later, I’m still finding myself thinking back on these characters. Millie and her boots. Karl the Touch Typist’s love for his wife that will never fade. Agatha’s daily measurements of arm wobblage. Yes, Lost & Found can be described as quirky, but there’s also so much love and pain and at multiple times throughout their journey I wanted to pull each character into my arms and tell them everything will be okay. I am NOT a re-reader, but Lost & Found is a novel I just can’t shake and I know I’ll be returning to in the future. This is a beautiful, beautiful novel I’ll be pushing hard on customers and friends.

5 stars · horror · thriller

#hailtotheking: Revival

Revival by Stephen King
Pub. Date: November 11, 2014
Source: a gift from Cass!
Summary: In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs. Jacobs; the women and girls feel the same about Reverend Jacobs — including Jamie’s mother and beloved sister, Claire. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond based on a secret obsession. When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of thirteen, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family’s horrific loss. In his mid-thirties — addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate — Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings.
Genre: Thriller, Contemporary, a hint of Sci-Fi
Recommended for: SK fans, readers looking to become engrossed in a richly woven story with a huge payoff at the end, SK newbies who want to try a novel without diving into Horror

So my first #hailtotheking read. Guys, this book is over 400 pages and I read it in ONE DAY. That alone speaks volumes to King’s mastery of his craft and his power over words. The jacket hails Revival as a throwback to Classic King, with shout outs to Gothic powerhouses like Melville and Poe, with “the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written.” While I didn’t quite get that (and I was VERY disappointed I didn’t lose sleep over the ending – this is Stephen King we’re talking about!), Revival was a damn fine novel and one that left me feeling both mentally and emotionally drained upon finishing.

Over the course of fifty years, Revival follows Jamie Morton as he grows from a little boy playing with army men to a guitarist in a high school band to a guitarist in bar bands that never stood a chance. As that little boy in Maine, Jamie met Charlie Jacobs, the easygoing and friendly new minister the entire Morton family (entire town, for that matter) instantly took a liking to. However, tragedy struck and with the Terrible Sermon, Minister Jacobs walked out of Jamie’s life. Years later as a coke-addicted adult, Jamie finds his path crossed with Charlie’s once more and, over the coming decades, their lives interlock in ways Jamie could never imagine.

It takes so much more than one paragraph, a mere four sentences, to fully sum up Revival. It reads like a memoir of sorts, a fifty-year character study into Jamie Morton’s life. From what I understand, King has done other coming-of-age tales and if they’re anything like this one, you can bet I’ll be reading them! Revival has many definitions, nearly all of which are explored in these pages. Religion, death, identity – Stephen King shies away from nothing and tackles each topic expertly.

Charlie, the electricity-obsessed Minister who lost his faith, was fascinating and I could have read another 400 pages devoted solely to him. He was in his early twenties when he left Maine and when Jaime meets him again decades later, he has completely reinvented himself, taking on a new identity and adopting a backstory. Over the next few decades, he goes through multiple names, multiple personas, all the while keeping his eye on one goal – a goal he needs Jamie’s help with, though he’s tight-lipped about the details.

Revival is a sweeping 400-page buildup to its final conclusion and, I’ll admit I had a hard time getting into it. I expected non-stop action and spine-tingling scenes from the very first sentence instead of a quiet little town full of church-going families. Within a few chapters, however, I was golden and 100% along for the ride. I refuse to say anything about the ending (I had my theories about what the Big Reveal could be and wasn’t entirely wrong), but I will say it was a little disappointing. I think the ending will make or break this book for readers. Revival is a LONG and meticulously-plotted journey and I really feel that if the ending doesn’t work for a particular reader, it’ll ruin the entire experience. Although I had hoped for something truly scare-my-socks-off eerie, I still enjoyed this novel immensely. I’ll just have to head back to early King for my nightmares!

2014 · 5 stars · fiction

GoodReads Recs: Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli

Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli
Pub. Date: March, 2012
Source: Library (though we have the gorgeous paperback at work and I think it’s calling my name!)
Summary: October 1941. Eleven-year-old Ella McGee sits on a bus bound for her Southern hometown. Behind her in Washington, D.C., lie the broken pieces of her parents’ love story—a black father drafted, an activist mother of Scotch-Irish and Cherokee descent confronting racist thugs. But Ella’s journey is just beginning when she reaches Hopewell County, and her disappearance into the Georgia mountains will unfurl a rich tapestry of family secrets spanning a century. Told in five unforgettable voices, Glow reaches back through the generations, from the red-clay dust of the Great Depression to the Blue Ridge frontier of 1836, where slave plantations adjoin the haunted glades of a razed Cherokee Nation. Out of these characters’ lives evolves a drama that is at once intimately human and majestic in its power to call upon the great themes of our time—race, identity, and the bonds of family and community.
Genre: Fiction, Southern, Family Saga
Recommended for: fans of sweeping epics, family histories, the American South, readers who loved Steal the North

Last week I started a new feature called GoodReads Recommends where I take a look at the books the site suggests based on other books I’ve read. One of the books mentioned was Glow and it sounded so fantastic, I immediately requested it from my library and bumped it to the very top of my stack. I started reading the moment I got my copy and I’m absolutely thrilled to say it did not disappoint!

Told in multiple voices, Glow tells an incredible tale of a family and spans over a century from a plantation in the 1830s to a Southern town in the throes of racial tension on the cusp of World War II. Although the story opens in a very sweet way with Amelia and her daughter, it soon turns frightening with an act of violence (while Amelia is White and Cherokee, the man she loves is African-American) and it’s that fear that has Amelia packing her daughter’s belongings and sending her off to her brother in their hometown. But Ella doesn’t show up when Buddy comes to collect her and it’s then we learn about this remarkable family from the very beginning.

Glow is one of those novels that’s SO difficult for me to review. I don’t want to say the wrong thing, but I also want to say all the things. This is a beautiful, lovely, wonderful, haunting, heartbreaking novel and I delighted in every word. Every single character shines – from the good to the vile – and the voices were so strong. I had no trouble differentiating between the narrators (though I suppose it helped each chapter was labeled with a name ha!), and I adore any and all jumps in time.

Race is a huge theme in this book and it brought to mind Steal the North, one of my top reads this year. A comparison to that novel is NOT one I make lightly, but while reading, I couldn’t get StN’s characters and story out of my head. No, the plots aren’t similar at all, but the Big Pictures are: religion, race, humanity. Glow met each one head-on and wasn’t afraid to pull back the curtain to tell it like it is. Many atrocities are committed in the name of hate, but Glow shows that love is just as powerful, that one single emotion can be so strong (whether it’s for a child, a parent, a spouse) that it can move mountains and that faith is a force to be reckoned with. Life isn’t clean-cut or fair, but good does prevail and actions are held accountable.

It’s rare that in a novel with multiple narrators I don’t favor one voice over the rest, but here, each one held her own story and brought something to the book the others didn’t. These characters are all connected, either by blood or marriage, and their stories wove together beautifully. I feel as though I keep repeating myself, but Glow is just that good. It’s powerful and raw and it hurt something fierce when I was done. I wanted to race to the end, but the minute I reached that final page, those last words, I wasn’t ready to let go. I wanted more from these characters. I wanted to watch Ella grow just as I got to see Amelia and Willie Mae become women. I wanted to see what the future held for George and if Lovelady ever found peace. The excitement of the biplane, the stark horror of witnessing prominent men in the town come together and hang a man, hanging onto the hope that there will be one more letter from a soldier gone off to fight. Every emotion I felt was real and vibrant. Tuccelli did a fantastic amount of research and it shows.

Glow is the kind of novel I want to shout about, the kind of novel I want to shove into the hands of complete and total strangers. I’m floored that it’s a debut (again, just like Steal the North!) and I’m a tiny bit angry with myself for not discovering it sooner. This is a book written for me. A family deep-rooted in the South, heavy-hitting themes tackled respectfully but without sugar-coating anything, a well of faith, and just a hint of magic. Glow is a phenomenal novel that left me breathless. Not only will I be itching for whatever Tuccelli happens to write next, but you can bet I’ll be pushing this novel on whoever gets within shouting distance! Do yourself a favor, guys. Read this book.

2014 · 5 stars · historical fiction

The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki

The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki
Pub. Date: February 11, 2014
Source: Library (though I’ve ordered a copy ♥!)
Summary: Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold’s age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as military commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride’s beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John Andre. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former love and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Recommended for: Fans of biographical fiction, those curious about the Revolutionary War and the man who betrayed his country

Oh, this was lovely. Absolutely wonderful. I spent a little longer than I would have liked reading The Traitor’s Wife, but I wanted to savor it, to really get down deep into these characters’ lives. While I liked it when reading, the more I think about it since finishing, the more I love it – and I’ve already ordered a copy to keep on my shelves! That’s certainly saying something about this book; even when I love a story, I rarely – RARELY – purchase my own copy. The Traitor’s Wife is definitely a special story.

Peggy Shippen, the youngest daughter of the respected Shippen family, is the socialite. She’s beautiful, smart, and charming – and she knows it. While there are a few other debutantes in her Season, none are of Peggy’s caliber. Every night is spent at another dance and Peggy is never without a man happy to be seen with her on his arm. At seventeen she’s in no rush to settle down, though there are plenty of suitors who would love to have Peggy Shippen as his wife. Instead, she regularly breaks curfew, preferring to spend her time hidden in the shadows with John Andre, a Major in the British Army. She’s certainly attracted to him, but I wonder if Peggy’s rebellious nature didn’t also play a part in their relationship (Peggy’s father, Judge Shippen, refused to side with either the Colonists or the British).

While The Traitor’s Wife is absolutely, positively about Peggy, the story itself is told through the eyes of a young maid, Clara Bell. On her deathbed, Clara’s grandmother made arrangements for her granddaughter to have a position in the Shippen household. Once she arrives, Clara is told she’ll be the handmaid to the Shippen daughters…though, naturally, Peggy takes her all for herself. As a maid, Clara is virtually invisible, allowing her to hear every single secret whispered among the household.

When Andre leaves, Peggy is heartbroken, though she quickly finds solace in the much older Benedict Arnold. Over time, the two further their relationship, ultimately ending in marriage. Through it all Clara is right by Peggy’s side, from the first encounter with Arnold to the initial hints at something sinister to come.

I honestly cannot say enough about The Traitor’s Wife. I loved it while reading, I love it even more in retrospect. Everything about it was wonderful: the vivid details, the setting, the fantastic characters – both good and bad. Pataki’s characterization of Peggy was delightful. She’s definitely a character readers will love to hate. When we first meet her she’s a bratty, selfish teenager…and she really doesn’t change much at all. As an adult she’s still bratty and selfish, only thinking of herself and the gains she could make. When he first met her, Benedict Arnold had a limp from a war wound. Peggy led him on for months until announcing she would no longer have anything to do with him since he was old and couldn’t even dance. Arnold’s love for this girl was so great he all but overcame his disability, rehabilitating himself until he no longer needed a cane. Even still she refused to marry him until he could buy her one of the largest estates in America. He did, but it left him all but destitute.

While I’m not sure how much of the actual plot is based in fact, in The Traitor’s Wife, treason was entirely Peggy’s idea – and I completely believed it. She wanted wealth and a fancy title and would do anything she could to get them. I certainly don’t think Arnold was innocent, but he was definitely sympathetic here.

While I adored the characters (everyone, from the servants to George Washington himself, was absolutely perfect), there were two issues I had that could have been easily fixed and would have made this a five-star read (because it definitely was). I noticed a number of typos and errors. There was one sentence that stuck out in my mind where it read understand instead of understood. A quick edit would have eliminated these. The other issue was a factual error. There’s a scene where someone is hurt and the servants are told to check for a pulse. Not a single one has any idea what that means. Yes, they’re servants, but they can all read and write – they’re educated. I’m supposed to believe an entire household staff (who are no strangers to butchering the livestock for meals) wouldn’t know what a pulse was? Read up on medical history: doctors in the Middle Ages, China, Ancient Egypt were all familiar with pulses.

Apart from those two easily-corrected errors, The Traitor’s Wife was perfect. I loved every minute of it – even better, it gave me a fantastic starting point for further research on my own!

2014 · 5 stars · mg · non-fiction · ya

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Pub. Date: August 28, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin!!)
Summary: In vivid poems, award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South. Raised in South Carolina and later New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place, and she describes the reality of living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the civil rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.
Genre: YA/MG, Memoir, Verse
Rating:

Writing a review for brown girl dreaming doesn’t seem fair at all. How does someone rate a memoir? A biography? A young girl’s life so beautifully-written and heartbreaking it steals your breath away? brown girl dreaming is so much more than I could ever say and my words could never compare to Woodson’s.

Initially I was a bit hesitant to try out a novel written in verse. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to ‘get it,’ that I wouldn’t be able to get a real feel for the characters and the setting. ..haha! Ms. Woodson stomped all over my reservations and I tore through this book in a day. I was floored by the power of her words and as I’m writing this review I’m noticing the effect it’s had: my normally long-winded and flowery sentences and short and direct. Half a sentence in some cases! A month later brown girl dreaming still lingers in my mind and made a lasting impression.

Jacqueline was born in Ohio and moved to South Carolina a few years later. Even as a child she noticed the differences between the North and the South. In South Carolina she could only visit certain restaurants, use certain restrooms. Her grandparents were her rock, however – particularly her beloved grandfather, Daddy. The way she wrote about these two wonderful people it was clearly evident she thought – and still thinks! – the world of them. They were her stable footing in a world vastly different than the one she had come from. When her mother became a part of the civil rights movement and left for New York, Jacqueline and her siblings stayed behind, always looking forward to the phone calls and that far-away day when their family would be reunited.

Ms. Woodson writes openly about death, prison, race. That she’s so matter-of-fact about it, this is how it is is shocking and painful. As a Middle Class White girl, so many things Jacqueline dealt with on a daily basis have never been set before me and to see the world from her perspective brought me to tears multiple times. I’m still struggling to gather my thoughts; brown girl dreaming was that bittersweet and beautiful.

Nothing I say could possible do this gorgeous story justice. brown girl dreaming is an emotional, raw, heart-wrenching look into a young girl’s life and it broke me. I didn’t tear up, I sobbed. I cheered Jacqueline on as she discovered her love of writing, I laughed right along with her as she played with her best friend. Any worry I had about the verse format completely and utterly vanished and I feel silly for ever having worried in the first place. Jacqueline Woodson has solidified her place in literature and I’m ashamed and embarrassed to say brown girl dreaming is my introduction to her work. Her books have won multiple awards: the Newbery, the Caldecott, National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, a lifetime achievement award, the list goes on and on. Now that I’m aware of her work (and their impact) I’ve got some catching up to do.

brown girl dreaming is a book I need to own in hardback; a review copy just won’t cut it. This is a story I want to cherish and share and I want it to have a permanent place on my shelves. There are so many words I keep repeating: gorgeous, beautiful, raw, heart-breaking, and although I feel like a broken record, brown girl dreaming IS all of these things – and so, so much more. I cannot say enough about this memoir. Go out and buy a copy now.

NOTABLE QUOTES

I want to write this down, that the revolution is like
a merry-go-round, history always being made
somewhere. And maybe for a short time, we’re a part of that history. And then the ride stops
and our turn is over.

Even the silence
has a story to tell you.
Just listen. Listen.

2014 · 5 stars · fiction

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
Pub. Date: July 8, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Atria!)
Summary: The Awakening of Miss Prim is a charming debut novel about a young woman who leaves everything behind to take a librarian job in a remote village of France. Though proud and self-assured, Prudencia Prim’s four advanced degrees make her a little overqualified. Nevertheless, there is something glimmering beneath the surface of the picturesque town of San Ireneo de Arnois that cannot be learned from books. Little by little, the peculiar and unconventional ways test Miss Prim’s world vision, her most intimate fears, and her most profound convictions.
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating:

Close your eyes. Picturesque. Charming. Quaint. What do you see? Offbeat. Unconventional. Quirky. This is exactly what you’re getting from The Awakening of Miss Prim. There’s something decidedly old-fashioned about this story – and that’s certainly high praise! One part The Village (bear with me here), one part The Sound of Music, this novel was just plain good and this is a review that scares me. Despite sitting on my thoughts, I’m still unable to come up with the right words to say (apart, of course from I LOVE IT).

Prudencia Prim has more degrees to her name than I have fingers on my hand. With a blatant disregard for a firm “graduates and postgraduates need not apply” and ignoring the “preferably without work experience,” Miss Prim marched up the hydrangea-lined path to inquire about a posting for a librarian position. The Man in the Wingchair (a man never named throughout the duration of the novel) decides to hire her on and Miss Prim quickly comes to realize San Ireneo is a town unlike any other.

The tiny village was founded as a refuge of sorts for those seeking to get away from the intensity of city life. In San Ireneo, values are sacred, gardens are perfectly tended, any goods are produced locally, education is prized (the Man in the Wingchair’s nieces and nephews – all under the age of 11 – are able to recite ancient Greek and Latin works and hold their own in philosophical debates). What makes this town different is that the school teacher? The bookseller? None of these positions are filled by professionals. Shops open simply because the town lacks a particular ware. Miss Prim comes to learn this way of thinking came largely out of the want for the town’s children to have an unbiased education, they learn the basics from the school teacher, but the bulk of their education is learned at various homes, largely the Main in the Wingchair’s private library (which Miss Prim has recently taken to organizing).

The Awakening of Miss Prim is such a delightfully sleepy tale, exactly the kind of story I adore. There wasn’t much in the way of action; instead, there’s a wealth of character development and depth. A variety of topics are explored – religion, philosophy, there’s even a debate on the merits of Mr. Darcy. While I’m relatively unfamiliar with the main bulk of 18th-Century British Literature (sorry, Janites!), The Awakening of Miss Prim felt right at home with those works. The Man in the Wingchair is a gentleman in every aspect of the word, San Ireneo itself had an old, primitive feel, the characters are all exceedingly formal. I loved every minute.

In addition to the story, the storytelling was beautiful too. Entire passages gave me pause and there were pages I read and reread because the language was so breathtaking. What boggles my mind is not only that this is a debut, but it’s also a translation. That a translation could be this gorgeous is nothing short of amazing! It pains me to say that I feel The Awakening of Miss Prim will go unnoticed by the majority, but those of you who actively seek out under-the-radar novels will find a true gem. Fiercely character-driven, intensely thought-provoking, and with an ending that left me wanting more (I need to know!!), The Awakening of Miss Prim is a fantastic debut that I eagarly look forward to revisiting again. If you like your characters prim and proper (Prudencia Prim is a most apt name) with more than a hint of quirk, do yourself a favor and read this book.