Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Review: The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "In the ancient town of Ephesus, Mary lives alone, years after her son's crucifixion. She has no interest in collaborating with the authors of the Gospel—her keepers, who provide her with food and shelter and visit her regularly. She does not agree that her son is the Son of God; nor that his death was “worth it;” nor that the “group of misfits he gathered around him, men who could not look a woman in the eye,” were holy disciples. Mary judges herself ruthlessly (she did not stay at the foot of the Cross until her son died—she fled, to save herself), and is equally harsh on her judgment of others. This woman who we know from centuries of paintings and scripture as the docile, loving, silent, long-suffering, obedient, worshipful mother of Christ becomes, in Toibin’s searing evocation, a tragic heroine with the relentless eloquence of Electra or Medea or Antigone. This tour de force of imagination and language is a portrait so vivid and convincing that our image of Mary will be forever transformed."

Review:  When the long list for the Booker Prize came out, I saw The Testament of Mary and was pretty intrigued by the idea of Mary's story and what she might have had to say about her son's life and death.  Having visited Ephesus and the home that is believed to have been Mary's home, this all felt like a story that really was waiting to be told by someone.  The question was whether someone could tell it in a way that would feel honest and with the right tone, not fearing the backlash that might come from taking on such a character. 

We pick up the story after Christ's death, with Mary reflecting on her son's life and those who she seemingly felt might have pushed and pulled him along the way.  Her tale is a sad one, filled with the words a mother might speak about her lost child; however, in this case, that child is one whom she has lost in a most horrifically jarring way.  Yes, he was a religious figure, but she was his mother.  Her thoughts are a mother's thoughts, and we see her filled with anguish over the mortal actions and decisions surrounding her child.  Mary speaks not as a mother heralding the Son of God, but as a mother concerned for a child who might have been pushed and pulled in too many directions in his short life.

I found this short novella to be incredibly moving, and an interesting tale to be told.  Granted, this was a piece of fiction, and not a piece of Biblical writing, and yet the title and characters lend themselves to that immediate and strict judgment and comparison.  I simply couldn't do more than listen to the story being told and consider how Mary, as presented, really felt.  Wouldn't her isolation, hiding, frustration, and deep sorrow make sense to any person at this point in the story?  Her lines were haunting to read, but so interestingly moving and thought-provoking.  This is one of those stories that will stick with me and have me thinking for some time.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Blog Tour Stop & Giveaway: R for Rebel by Megan Mulry

Yesterday I featured Megan's fourth in the Unruly Royal series about the youngest sister Abigail, HEREToday, I'm excited to welcome Megan Mulry back to talk about her newest installment.

Megan:  Hi Becky! Thanks for having me at One Literature Nut.

Becky:  I'm always excited to have you here!

I have loved that your first two novels were about the male royals and now the last two are from their sisters' perspectives.  What story spark drew you to putting together these American + British royal couples?

Megan:  The first spark was this desire to do a Regency romance in a contemporary setting, and because some of my favorite Regency romances (like early Judith McNaught) had a feisty American heroine who knocked the socks off a British aristo hero, that's what I did first.

After I got the seed of the idea, I started researching contemporary British aristocrats and one thing led to another. I'd always been a complete anglophile, so it wasn't really a stretch. Throughout his life, my father sent me clippings and obituaries about eccentric Brits, and this one about the 17th Duke of Norfolk never left me.  That became the inspiration for the fictional Northrop family.

Becky:  You have such a fun social media presence on twitter (@meganmulry).  Which of your characters do you think would have an active online media presence, and which ones would absolutely avoid it?   (Just FYI, for some reason, I keep thinking all of the American ones would have one.  Why is that?!?  I don't think Twitter is totally gauche or anything, but I've thought someone like Claire, for instance, would avoid it, while many of the others might actively participate.)

Megan:  I love this question! Obviously Bronte is a total media whore, so she would be on Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Tumblr, Facebook—you name it—all the time. (I picture Max throwing her cell phone into the Thames on a regular basis).

I think Devon would probably have a secret Twitter account so he could stalk everyone without having to actually put himself out there.

Sarah would have a business account for the shoe company, but I don't think she'd feel totally comfortable with the self-revelatory nature of that kind of social media; maybe she'd have a Tumblr with lots of shoe shots from fashion shows and awards dinners.

I think Claire would actually thrive on Pinterest; her love of color and design and fabrics is a perfect match for that. One of my childhood friends who reminds me of Claire--temperate, creative, loving--surprised me when I learned about her very extensive social media presence.

I think Abby would hate it all. She barely carries a cell phone, except to sext Eliot, and I think she'd inherently dread putting herself before her cause for any reason. Eliot probably has some super stylish twitter account with a mix of cool philosophical sayings and candid pictures of Italy and Paris and Miami mixed in, with about 300,000 followers.

I think Ben would say, "I'm too old for Twitter."

Becky:  Oh my goodness, I love it!  :)  If it wouldn't take an inordinate amount of time, I'd love to see an account from any of these characters.  To be honest, the end of R is for Rebel had a nice spot for some blabbing on social media by some of these folks and a few others!  It would have been hilarious to see what they were thinking.

Megan:  Thanks so much for having me!

Thank you again so much to Megan for stopping in and sharing a little bit more with us about her Unruly Royals series and R is for Rebel.  Check out the series and this newest release.

About the Author:

Megan Mulry writes sexy, modern, romantic fiction. She graduated from Northwestern University and then worked in publishing, including positions at The New Yorker and Boston magazine. After moving to London, Mulry worked in finance and attended London Business School. Mulry is a member of RWA. She has traveled extensively in Asia, India, Europe, and Africa and now lives with her husband and children in Florida. Her latest book is R Is For Rebel, out now.

Now for a little giveaway:  
I'll make this simple this time around!  Do you have a thing for British royals/aristocrats in a story or not and why?  Respond to this simple little question before Monday, February 17th by midnight (MST) with your response and email address for the chance to win one copy of R is for Rebel, U.S. & Canada only.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Review: R is for Rebel by Megan Mulry

Tomorrow I'll be featuring a Q&A with author, Megan Mulry, along with a book giveaway for her newest in her series.  Read more about her book below and then stop by tomorrow to hear from Mulry, herself!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Abigail Heyworth is a rebel heiress, bucking the restrictions of her royal family every chance she gets. After ending a long-term relationship, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the sophisticated American, Eliot Cranbrook. Despite all their differences-he's a self-made businessman; she's a royal hippy-they fall hard for each other. When the intensity of their affair escalates and Abigail is forced to look at the nature of her rebellion, she has to decide if she has an entirely different kind of courage."

Review:  We enter the 4th in the series with the decided relationships of Abigail's three older siblings firmly in place and Abigail simply trying to figure out what direction she wishes to go in her life.  The book starts off with a solid friendship with her brother's business partner Eliot Cranbrook, but their romance seems to frighten Abigail and make a relationship that seems simple from the outside more complex and filled with problems than either of them could have expected.

When I started reading this fourth installment, I was a little startled at how quickly this couple jumped all-in to their romantic relationship.  I wondered where the conflict was at, and I feared what I couldn't see ahead.  Surely they liked one another too much, too soon?  Sure enough, there was so much more coming, and that really was what kept me reading.  

Abigail is a difficult character to wrap my mind around, and I'm sure she must have driven Eliot batty.  Although she has all of this strength of character and experience with philanthropy, she reserves her own heart and fails to express what she is really feeling and shuts people out.  It was infuriating at times.  Honestly though, I wonder if Eliot would like Abigail in the long-term if she wasn't a bit more of a fight, as odd as that sounds.

By the last third of the book, there is a crazy, dramatic twist that you just can't see coming. In some ways, it would have felt like a romantic comedy with its twists and turns if the heightened emotions weren't so gut-wrenching.  I ended up enjoying the way Mulry handled it, but do wonder if she had a few other endings that she played with a bit.  While Abigail was once a bit of a rebel, I think she just refused to ever do anything in her life half-hearted, include love.  Thankfully, I don't think that will be her problem!

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on an advanced review copy of the book.  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

As an AP Lit. teacher, I'm always trying to keep current with the newest books out there, and yet that's NOT why I read Khaled Hosseini's newest novel And the Mountains Echoed.  I read this newest novel, because to not read his any one of his novels would feel to me like a deprivation.  To say that I've loved his novels would mean that I've enjoyed them, which isn't really the right word choice.  In fact, I think the correct way of describing my reading experience with each of Hosseini's novels would be provoking.  I mean that in a moving and meaningful sort of way, but in a manner that always leaves me feeling something deep and thoughtful.  For that, I am always drawn to anything Hosseini has published, and I was not disappointed by And the Mountains Echoed.

Review:  The story begins with a tale or myth of sacrifice that parents might recount to their children as some type of bedtime story.  In this opening chapter, the father in the story tells his young son and daughter this myth as he walks across a vast desert--the young son only along on the journey because he wants to help push his much-beloved younger sister into the city.  Little did he know that the sacrificial story his father told him would echo into his own life.

In marvelously poetic language, each chapter is woven like a thread in the tapestry of the tale, adding another character that is important and touches the lives of the original brother, sister, or impoverished father.  We travel from the farmland that the father took his children across the desert into the city, into the streets of Paris, across the sea into Greece, and even farther into the busy streets of California, each adding a character and another layer to the story of this family.

While the constant change in direction can feel jarring in the beginning, it soon becomes apparent that these tales each play a vital role in the development of the plot.  In essence, the storyline is linear and circular all at the same time, if the reader will only be patient enough to see it through.  We meet many different characters who intersect in the journey of these two little children at the beginning of the book, or who impacted them in some way, and what made these people into who they were in the present moment.  In short, Hosseini reminds the reader that we shouldn't judge until we have walked in someone else's shoes.

One of my favorite chapter-tales was story of the American doctor who arrived in Afghanistan to do foreign aide work and service.  During his time, he realized how selfish he was and even how selfish his own children were back home.  Without giving away the entire story, I was blown away by how easy he was to relate to and how completely he affected me.  Why?  Because he returned home and ever so slowly grew numb again to all that he had awakened to in his time in Afghanistan.  I sobbed into those pages and felt the air crush from lungs, because I could see so clearly how mind-numbingly easy we are to forget.  We. Simply. Forget.  Rather than hang onto our endeavors to change the world and make things better, it's easier to forget and grow numb; it's easier to live in our simple lives and forget that life is not so easy for others.  In short, this chapter hit way too close to home.  The mirror was held up to me, and I cried.

After that chapter.  I had to set the book aside for about two weeks.  I would look at it and close my eyes with real sadness.  What power Hosseini had used in language, words, and story to show me my own weaknesses.  That chapter wasn't just about mankind.  It was about me, and I've thought about it ever since.

In short, I was blown away by And the Mountains Echoed.  While some readers have felt the narrative thread was not as cohesive as they would like, in that it was not a linear story with the main characters followed throughout, I have to say that I thought this was his most powerful novel to date.  The echoes of what human connection, family, and kindness can do were not lost on me.  This was a game changer in a novel and whispered of action in ways that telling me never would have done.  Brilliant.  Just brilliant.

Have you read Hosseini's newest novel? If so, which of the chapter tales most stood out to you?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Review: Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Meet Sloane Emily Jacobs: a seriously stressed-out figure-skater from Washington, D.C., who choked during junior nationals and isn’t sure she’s ready for a comeback. What she does know is that she’d give anything to escape the mass of misery that is her life.

Now meet Sloane Devon Jacobs, a spunky ice hockey player from Philly who’s been suspended from her team for too many aggressive hip checks. Her punishment? Hockey camp, now, when she’s playing the worst she’s ever played. If she messes up? Her life will be over.

When the two Sloanes meet by chance in Montreal and decide to trade places for the summer, each girl thinks she’s the lucky one: no strangers to judge or laugh at Sloane Emily, no scouts expecting Sloane Devon to be a hero. But it didn’t occur to Sloane E. that while avoiding sequins and axels she might meet a hockey hottie—and Sloane D. never expected to run into a familiar (and very good-looking) face from home. It’s not long before the Sloanes discover that convincing people you’re someone else might be more difficult than being yourself."

Review:  In this fun story, the seemingly implausible becomes plausible.  What if you really didn't want to face a challenge that everyone expected of you and there was another person with your name and looks to take your place?  Okay.  So it seems, as I mentioned, implausible; however, in Being Sloane Jacobs, we get to run with the possibility.  One Sloane wants to escape the high pressure of figure skating, while the other thinks a break from hockey camp might be nice.  Why not just switch places?  They'll both be on ice, right?

Although it felt far-fetched at times, the story and characters were so fun that I quickly got lost in the idea and just threw that aside and went with it.  I liked these "Sloane" characters and genuinely wanted to see what this experience did for both of them.  My prejudice going into it said that I wanted Sloane Devon, the hockey player, to have some big epiphany, but Sloane Emily was interesting to watch as she went from ice skating into hockey.  I loved watching their preconceived ideas about one another crumble, while other character traits they had obviously ignored start to flourish a bit more. 

This really was a fun book.  While you felt you knew where things were headed at times, you still couldn't know for sure and had to keep flipping pages to find out.  These characters came to life and were fun to watch.  I had a great time reading this book and almost felt like I needed to go put in a good session at the gym after all their training sessions!  Thankfully, I won't need to take body slams from anyone or have to do flips on a single blade--as entertaining as that might be for anyone watching.  Overall, I have to say this was a great read.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mini Reviews: YA Catch Up

Here are some YA novels I need to play catch up on.  I thought I'd do some short mini reviews in an effort to share what I've been reading.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth--In book two of the Divergent series, we find the fall out from the simulation and Tris trying to deal with her initiation into Dauntless.  Book two picked right up where the first left off and there is a lot of back and forth in this one.  We learn more about the role of the other factions and find that there is still a lot of intrigue confusing Tris about who is good and who is bad, who could be right and who could be wrong.  I really liked this installment, but will say that at times I was exhausted by what was not shared between Tris and Four.  I found myself yelling at Tris to just trust Four and tell him what was really going on!  Since I have just started Allegiant, I happen to know that will come up again, so I will be hearing more about that later on...  Still, an amazing read.  The last 75 pages or so really locked this one in for me.

Everbound by Brodi Ashton--Yet another second book in a series, this is the next in the Everneath series.  Book one, based on the Persephone story continues here with Nikki grieving her boyfriend Jack and his sacrifice for her into the Everneath.  How can she explain his disappearance and how can she get him back?  In this installment, Nikki has to enter the Everneath and figure out how to stay connected to Jack.  While I sometimes got confused with the layout of the Everneath at times, by the end, I was shocked and flipping pages like crazy to find out what was going to happen!  This is an exciting follow up to book one and not a disappointing sophomore follow up at all.  In fact, I'm eagerly waiting for the third book.

Out of Line by Jen McLaughlin--Technically considered "New Adult" more than Young Adult, this was a book I had seen discussed a bit online, so I decided to read it and give it a try.  I'm not sure I should have done that though, as my reading experience was a bit painful.  The story was about Carrie, the daughter of a Senator being tailed by Finn, the Marine.  However, Carrie thought she was away at college and free, not realizing that she was being tailed by secret protection.  Finn and Carrie became friends and then more than friends, but then how could Finn tell Carrie that he was being paid to protect her? Honestly, I really should have stopped reading this book around page 50.  The story became pretty predictable and I found it irritating that the lies and sexual tension were the main crux of the story.  I understand that the heightened tension, adult situations, and age of the characters all put it in the category of New Adult, but I can't shake the predictability of the story or the non-stop lies that kept the story rolling. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Review: The Passions of Dr. Darcy by Sharon Lathan

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "While Fitzwilliam Darcy is enjoying an idyllic childhood at Pemberley, his vibrant and beloved uncle, Dr. George Darcy, becomes one of the most renowned young physicians of the day. Determined to do something more with his life than cater to a spoiled aristocracy. George accepts a post with the British East India Company and travels in search of a life of meaning and purpose.

When George Darcy returns to Pemberley after many years abroad, the drama and heartbreak of his travels offer a fascinating glimpse into a gentleman's journey of self-discovery and romance."

Review:  In previous novels by Sharon Lathan, we've been introduced to George Darcy, and yet we've known very little about his back story.  In this stand alone novel, we finally learn about the talented doctor and why he gave Fitzwilliam the advice he gave him in the other books--his life is an obvious collection of love and pain that he tidily tucks away and uses judicially.

As a young doctor, George set off for India to serve there and learn.  He is taken on by an amazing Indian doctor and taught local medical practices that go beyond any of his western medical training.  Over time, George grew in talent and respect as a doctor, yet love continued to be elusive in a traditional sense.  We find that over time, George has almost a series of experiences that we follow with him.  He experiences love and loss, along with professional success, and yet stays in India far from his English home until his story intercepts with Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth's and he returns home with an ocean of experiences in his heart.  As readers, it now makes perfect sense why he is the person we have read about in previous installments of Lathan's series.

In characteristic, romantic fashion, Lathan has crafted another beautiful tale.  In the beginning I was sad for what seemed like continual changes to George's life, but I could see that over the course of the novel how the experiences George had, created the self-assured man that he was in the end.  The journey seemed long and painful at times for poor George, but I think that while fictional, he definitely became real to us as readers.  Once again, I enjoyed Lathan's tale of the Darcy clan.  These are romances with romantic moments, but so worth it for readers.