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?