Saturday, April 30, 2016

Upcoming Release: The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

"The Atomic Weight of Love" by Elizabeth J. Church
Releases May 3, 2016
352 pages
My rating: 4.5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

Thank you to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

The Short Of It:
I loved this gorgeously written novel of regrets, friendship, love and self-discovery set in desolate, rugged New Mexico between WWII and the Vietnam War. I highly recommend it!

The Long Of It:
They say to write what you know, and Elizabeth J. Church is intimately familiar with Los Alamos, New Mexico, the setting of her first novel; it's where she grew up. Her father, a chemist, was called there to work on the Manhattan Project -- the creation of the atomic bomb -- and Elizabeth's biologist mother later followed him there.

While the book is not about Elizabeth's parents in particular, it was inspired by the scores of women -- many of whom were extremely well-educated -- who ventured to the completely alien landscape of Los Alamos with their husbands and found themselves relegated to housewife status, essentially losing their identities as thinking women. Church gives readers a startling, fascinating peek at what it would've been like for these young women to leave studies, careers and families and relocate to remote northern New Mexico while their husbands worked ceaselessly on a project they couldn't talk about.

Our protagonist is young Meridian Whetstone, an aspiring orinthologist who falls in love with a much older physics professor and reluctantly agrees to postpone her graduate studies to follow him to Los Alamos. But as Alden gradually comes to consider Meridian a homemaker rather than a scholar of equal intellect, their relationship begins to disintegrate. Meridian feels she has no choice but to stay married to Alden -- it is the 1940s, after all -- and she spends a handful of miserable decades increasingly devoid of mental stimulation, camaraderie, love and purpose -- until in her middle age something finally happens to inject life into her dull existence.

I don't really consider myself a modern-day feminist, but "The Atomic Weight of Love" sure made me grateful for the feminists of the past who fought to change so many of the issues that plague Meridian in the novel. She remains trapped in an unhealthy marriage because of social taboo, her husband controls their finances and makes all the family's decisions. When Meridian has a medical emergency, the doctor refuses to tell Meridian what's going on, preferring instead to communicate with the man of the house -- something I as a 21st century reader find shocking and distressing. All this is despite Meridian's top-notch intelligence, and every time I read a book that portrays such realistic historical gender disparity it's a fresh reminder of how lucky I am to be a woman in 2016.

In addition to Meridian's story, I was utterly captivated by the setting and the mid-century time period. The American Southwest isn't a locale that holds particular interest for me, but I found Church's descriptions of the area to be absolutely fascinating. I had no idea that back in the 1940s New Mexico so sparsely populated, and with its rugged landscape, dry desert heat and plentiful natives, it must've seemed like another world entirely to the scientists and their wives. I loved the sense of atmosphere in the novel -- handmade turquoise jewelry, Mexican food smothered in chile sauce, the sparsely stunning rocky ravine where Meridian would escape to birdwatch.

I learned so much -- about birds (because though Meridian is forced to abandon her university studies, she never loses her passion for orinthology), about the atomic bomb, and about what life was like in Los Alamos. Meridian and the issues of marriage, identity, sacrifice, regret, love and friendship are center stage, but they're perfectly supported by the unique WWII story playing in the background. On top of that, Church's prose is beautiful. I couldn't put this book down and I urge you to get wrapped up in Meridian's heartbreaking -- but ultimately hopeful -- saga too!

P.S. After reading "The Atomic Weight of Love," I have a renewed interest in" The Girls of Atomic City" by Denise Kiernan, a non-fiction account of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, another Manhattan Project town.

Friday, April 29, 2016

2015 Travel Recap: Bristol Race, the Biltmore and the Smokies

Hello, friends! Here's part four of my long-overdue 2015 travel recap: our trip to Tennessee and the Biltmore mansion in North Carolina. Part one (Hawaii) is here, part two (Gettysburg) is here, part three (New York City) is here.

Bristol 130
In August we headed to Bristol, Tennessee, to attend the Irwin Tools Night Race. Jarrod loves any and all sports, and the Bristol night race is his favorite NASCAR event, so I surprised him with tickets for his 30th birthday. It was my first NASCAR race and I had a surprisingly good time! The track is only a half-mile, so it was a pretty intense (loud!) viewing experience!

Bristol is in the eastern part of Tennessee, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a little jaunt to Asheville, North Carolina, to visit the Biltmore, the Vanderbilts' humongous, crazy opulent mansion, which was constructed in the 1890s. Pictures aren't allowed inside, but I can guarantee it was stunning. There's a bowling alley and a swimming pool in the basement (complete with old-fashioned changing rooms), tons of lovely artwork, and the library... sigh. It holds over 10,000 books and has the biggest fireplace I've ever seen! I was also fascinated by the upstairs/downstairs facet to the tour. It was so interesting to see the servants' quarters and domain compared to the family's lavish living arrangements (especially after watching "Downton Abbey").

I was particularly excited to tour the gardens, which were designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park and was in charge of the landscaping at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair (which you can read about in the awesome book "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson). The gardens were gorgeous and I could fill up an entire blog post with flower photos, but I managed to whittle it down to just a couple.

In addition to the palatial residence and beautiful gardens, the Vanderbilts enjoyed an amazing view!

rainbow falls
From Asheville we headed over to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where we'd reserved a cabin for a few nights. We finally got around to doing the 5.4-mile roundtrip hike to Rainbow Falls, a beautiful 80-foot waterfall -- and we were lucky enough to see the rainbow!

rainbow falls collage
Salamanders abounded at the falls, and we encountered a black bear on the trail when we were hiking back down. I mean, literally on the trail in the direction we needed to go. It even growled and hissed at us a few times. It was my first up-close-and-personal bear encounter and I admit that I considered running screaming in the other direction, or peeing my pants (luckily I did neither!). The Rainbow Falls trailhead is off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, one of my very favorite things to do when we visit the Smokies. The one-way road follows the Roaring Fork River through the mountains and the scenery is gorgeous, with beautiful vistas, the rushing river and the million shades of green. It always reminds me of being in an enchanted forest.

cades cove
Cades Cove is another driving loop, and another place we visit each time we're in the Smokies. It's a a mountain valley filled with old churches and cabins to explore and lots of wildlife like black bears, deer and turkeys. We even saw a fox one time!

cades cove collage
The two pictures on the left are from Cades Cove (we spotted another black bear!) and the two on the right are from one of Jarrod's favorite fishing spots in the national park. I usually get bored when he fishes, but I could lounge on a rock reading a book and listening to the river here for hours.

Monday, April 25, 2016

10 Bookworm Delights

This week the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish are talking about bookish delights -- all the wonderful things associated with books and reading. This was a super easy and fun list to compile because books foster so many wonderful, unique experiences and perspectives and products. Reading just enhances life, darnit! So below we have my top 10 bookworm delights. What are yours?

1. Achieving that perfect "curl up with a book" ambiance -- preferably with rain or snow coming down outside, a blanket, a fireplace crackling, a warm beverage, and a soft, furry animal on your lap. Oh yeah, and a totally engrossing read!


2. Seeing as #1 can't really be accomplished in the warmer months, I also love lounging in my hammock with a good book and a glass of iced tea, birds chirping in the yard and the sun warming my skin. I just bought a fun pillow for my hammock so I'll probably be even more likely to doze off while reading now...


3. Literary tourism! How awesome is it to work some bookish fun into a vacation, like visiting Jane Austen's house, or Hemingway's residence on the Florida Keys, or the Harry Potter film studio, or staying at a book-themed hotel like this one? Recently I convinced my husband to take a little detour off I-70 so I could visit the Community Bookshelf at the Kansas City Public Library and I could not have been more excited! Below is a photo from our trip to New York City last summer, when I dragged everyone to the New York Public Library to see the stuffed animals that inspired Winnie-the-Pooh. (So cool!)


4. The joy of becoming totally immersed in another world. My fandom of choice is Harry Potter, and I was lucky enough to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando a few months ago. It was AMAZING. (That's a butterbeer mustache!)


5. New book smell and old book smell. Mmmm.

6. Bookish goods and plenty of places to buy them! I've bought some gorgeous art prints from Etsy, I have several fun t-shirts, and I recently ordered a bookish pillow from Society 6. I have my eye on many, many more things, like all those book-themed candles, bookish jewelry, a million other Harry Potter goodies...


7. One thing I love about reading is that I learn something from every single book I read, even fiction (not to mention all the new vocabulary words).  I'm an obsessive Googler and I have to look up everything I encounter reading that I'm not familiar with: green mamba snakes, Lululemon workout gear, Angkor Wat temple, the Pink Door restaurant in Seattle. And I've discovered so many places to visit, foods to try and products I'd never heard of. For instance, I added an Antarctica cruise to my bucket list after reading "Where'd You Go, Bernadette."

8. Hand-in-hand with #7, I love when a book I've read enhances a real-life experience. For instance, I read "Molokai" by Alan Brennert when we were stationed in Hawaii, and I think it made me appreciate the mule ride we took down to the leper colony of Kalaupapa a million times more, having vividly experienced life there through the novel. And after I read "The Devil in the White City," we visited the Biltmore, the gardens of which were designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, one of the book's characters.


9. When a book I love gets turned into a movie, and I actually love the movie too! ("The Martian," the Hunger Games trilogy, "Gone Girl.") I also adore all the different Sherlock Holmes iterations.

10. The joy of an intense book discussion. Bookish camaraderie. Booknerds uniting. The wonderful community -- online and in real life -- for readers. Books bringing people together.

Monday Musings from Colorado #2


Highlight of the week: I went to see a morning showing of "Allegiant" on Thursday and I was the only person in the entire theater. It was amazing! I also got a much-needed haircut and took a painting class with my mom. We go back tomorrow to finish up our aspen pictures. (If you're new here, my husband is in the Air Force and we're in the process of moving from Ohio [back] to Hawaii. I'm staying with my parents in Colorado for a month while he does some training.)

Reading: Last Monday I had just started "I'll See You in Paris" by Michelle Gable, and I ended totally loving it (review). It's a dual narrative set in the English countryside in 1972 and 2001, and it features the real-life (quite enigmatic) Gladys Deacon, 9th Duchess of Marlborough, plus uncovered secrets, wonderful characters and a little romance.

I also read "A Study in Charlotte" by Brittany Cavallaro, the first in a new YA mystery series featuring Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson, the great-great-great-grandchildren of the original sleuths (review). I wasn't completely entranced, but I enjoyed it enough that I'll definitely check out the next installment in the series.

And last night I finished a fabulous advance-read book, "The Atomic Weight of Love" by Elizabeth J. Church (out May 3), which I happily awarded 5 stars. Spanning decades, it's a character-driven novel that starts off when our protagonist, a university student and aspiring orinthologist, falls in a love with a professor who gets called away to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to work on the Manhattan Project. (And that cover -- gorgeous!) Today I'll start "Jane Steele," a gothic "Jane Eyre" retelling.

Buying: I went with my mom to pick up her library holds on Saturday and I just had to take a trip down the library sale shelf. I came away with three new books that I definitely didn't need seeing as they have to accompany me on the plane to Hawaii... but for $1 each, how was I to resist?! (I should also mention that I have three more Dublin Murder Squad books to read before I even get to "The Secret Place," but again, how could I resist?!)


Watching: My parents' cable provider had a free HBO week so I got caught up on season 4 of "Girls." Season 1 was by far the best, but I'm still enjoying the show, about the struggles and joys of being a  twentysomething in New York City. We also watched "Infinitely Polar Bear" (it was alright). And, as noted, I went to see "Allegiant." I enjoyed it, though I had the vague notion that a lot of things were changed from the book (though it's been so long since I read the books I don't remember many details).

Listening to: I've had "Madness" by Lucius on repeat this week!

Eating: Firehouse Subs and Jimmy John's -- yummy sandwich shops we won't have in Hawaii.

Looking forward to: Going with my mom to finish up our paintings. I'm excited to have a piece of Colorado to bring some mountain serenity to our new house in Hawaii. I have zero talent when it comes to drawing and painting, but the teacher is wonderful and makes everything so easy! I'm also looking forward to visiting my best friend in Dallas for a few days. I leave on Sunday!


Linking up with Kathryn of Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Book Review: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

"A Study in Charlotte" by Brittany Cavallaro
First published in 2016
Book 1 in the Charlotte Holmes series
321 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short Of It:

A fun modern-day take on a Sherlockian detective story, featuring Holmes and Watson's descendants. A little slow to start, but good enough that I'll check out the next book in the series.

The Long Of It:
I'm not a huge fan of young adult fiction, but I am a huge fan of all things Sherlock Holmes, so I was more than happy to give "A Study in Charlotte," the first in a new teen mystery series, a try. It features Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson, the great-great-great-grandchildren of the original Holmes and Watson.

The two wind up at the same Connecticut boarding school and unite in friendship and crime-solving pursuits when a murder at their school frames them as the obvious suspects. Of course, nothing is as it first appears -- and a Moriarty or two may or may not be involved.

I found the first installment of Cavallaro's series to be a bit slow and it took me about 250 pages to actually become gripped by the story. The problem, I think, was that she spent too much time introducing us to the characters and didn't dole out enough information on the mystery at hand. The fun part of a detective novel is trying to solve the crime alongside the sleuths, but Cavallaro took for-ev-er to actually give the reader any clues to even attempt to suss out the culprit and the reason behind the crimes.

Luckily, I really liked both Charlotte (typical grouchy, uncompassionate, brilliant, opiate-addicted genius) and Jamie (kind, patient, thoughtful writer and sidekick). And I also appreciated that Cavallaro paid homage to other original elements, like a slightly pudgy, extremely powerful older brother named Milo (i.e. Mycroft) and a fussy, warm and protective boarding school house mother named Mrs. Dunham (i.e. Mrs. Hudson). Plus the writing was adequate and the mystery did become intriguing toward the end.

While I felt so-so about "A Study in Charlotte," I'll definitely read the next book in the series with high hopes for a more engrossing mystery. Now that readers are acquainted with the modern Holmes and Sherlock, Cavallaro can get right to the good stuff.

Fun quote: "When I caught her taking twenty minutes to eat a single almond, I began wondering if there was some kind of Watsonian guide for the care and keeping of Holmeses." (Turns out there is!)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Book Review: I'll See You in Paris by Michelle Gable

"I'll See You in Paris" by Michelle Gable
First published in 2016
381 pages
My rating: 4.5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short Of It:
I loved this novel about mothers and daughters, secrets, love, and a (real-life!) wacky old duchess holed up in the English countryside. Fans of Kate Morton might enjoy this, though it's less heavy on the mystery.

The Long Of It:
Gladys Deacon, 9th Duchess of Marlborough, was one hell of a woman, brilliantly intelligent, cunning, cultured, eccentric and gorgeous. She once went temporarily blind from reading too much, she boasted that she'd slept with "11 prime ministers and most kings," she was pals with authors like Thomas Hardy and Marcel Proust, and she's the daughter of a murderer and a courtesan.

Gladys led a fascinating, maverick-style life, but in her later years she retired to a dilapidated manor in the English countryside, changed her name and surrounded herself with spaniels, living out her days shooting at intruders and spraying "fuck you" in weed killer on her lawn.

"I'll See You in Paris" weaves the very real story of the Duchess of Marlborough into a lovely dual narrative, set in both 1972 and 2001 -- or, more aptly as both our protagonists have sent a man to the fight, the Vietnam War and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Gladys Deacon painted by Giovanni Bodini.
In 2001, Annie has just seen her fiance Eric off to Afghanistan and, a recent English lit grad with no current job prospects, Annie is at loose ends. Her mom Laurel suggests Annie accompany her on a quick trip to England for business. They head to the little town of Banbury, where Annie falls prey to a delicious fate all bookworms have experienced -- she gets swept up in a book, a biography of the duchess, who supposedly lived out her days in the village under the pseudonym Mrs. Spencer. Annie befriends an older gentleman named Gus, and the two spend hours in the George & Dragon pub while Gus fills in the gaps in the biography.

Meanwhile in 1972, readers meet Pru Valentine, an American war widow so desperate for escape from her misery that she accepts a position of companion to Mrs. Spencer, a loony old British woman who lives in a hovel surrounded by a zillion spaniels. Before long, aspiring writer Win shows up (somehow avoiding getting shot, bludgeoned by a hammer or licked to death by dogs), determined to write Mrs. Spencer's biography and unmask her as the mysterious duchess. And, amid all the zany happenings at Mrs. Spencer, Win and Pru begin to form a bond.

The outcome of the colliding tales was pretty easy to surmise from the outset, but that didn't bother me. The book isn't advertised as a mystery with a big twist, and I just enjoyed being along for the ride as Pru befriends Mrs. Spencer and Win, and Annie explores Banbury and delves into the fascinating life of the duchess.

I really liked the "mixed-media" aspect to the novel. Not only was it told in two different time periods, but it was also occasionally presented in transcripts of conversations or tape recordings. I think that really served to move along the '70s half of the story. And interspersed in the later half are Annie's e-mails to her fiance Eric, aboard a ship en route to the Middle East.

Rather rare for me, I liked every single one of the characters. I admired Pru's bravery, smarts and make-the-best-of-it attitude, Win's self-deprecating humor and charm, Annie's curiosity and determination, Laurel's passionate love of her daughter and commitment to helping people, and Gus's kindness and dry wit.

I found "I'll See You in Paris" to be a thoroughly enjoyably read: likeable characters, one of my favorite settings, a intriguing plot that taught me something about a real person, and plenty of literary quotes scattered throughout.

Fair warning: the cover and title may lead readers to believe the book is set in Paris, but only a small portion of the story takes place there. It's predominately set in the village of Banbury, Oxfordshire, England. There is, however, a battered old book in the tale, just like the one on the cover.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Upcoming Release: The Alaskan Laundry by Brendan Jones

"The Alaskan Laundry" by Brendan Jones
Releases April 26, 2016
384 pages
My rating: 4.5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

*Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner Books and NetGalley for a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

The Short Of It:
Unique, atmospheric and awesome. The best character-driven novel I've read in a long time.

The Long Of It:
I have a bit of a thing for Alaska -- the snow-capped mountains and icy blue glaciers, the unadulterated natural beauty, the bears and eagles and orcas, the remoteness. "The Alaskan Laundry" captures that rugged, breathtaking essence while delivering a gripping tale of a young woman fighting to find herself and overcome grief, loss and anger on Archangel Island, Alaska.

South Philly native Tara Marconi is an old soul in an 18-year-old body. She's always had a rocky relationship with her father, and her mother recently passed away -- something Tara blames herself for. On top of that, she's dealing with a traumatic event she hasn't spoken about to a soul. Even boxing isn't enough of an outlet for her sorrow and rage. Desperate for escape, change and direction, she takes a job at a fish hatchery in Alaska.

Work -- and saving to buy a derelict WWII tugboat rusting away at the transient dock, a place to call home -- becomes Tara's only priority in life, and she quickly moves up the ladder from the hatchery to the processor, to fishing boats and finally to a crazy stint at the top of the line -- a Bering Sea crab boat. But along the way Tara collects friends and acquaintances -- and a dog -- who start to thaw that stubborn, angry barrier she's put up between herself and the world.

I was fascinated by the educated descriptions of the difficult, exhausting and sometimes gruesome work Tara is doing; it's clear that Jones, an Alaska resident who lives on a tugboat of his own, knows what he's talking about. His firsthand knowledge also shined through in the depictions of the harsh, magnificent land and its quirky, no-nonsense, weathered citizens.

I enjoyed that the book was set in the late '90s because it allowed for Tara to experience a level of isolation from her life back home -- her estranged father, her boyfriend -- that just wouldn't be possible today. And I liked the scattered '90s references -- Surge soda, payphones, Tara's first time using e-mail. Plus, since I'm all about letter-writing, I liked reading the occasional letters Tara penned to her sort-of-boyfriend Connor back home.

I usually gravitate more toward plot-driven novels than character-driven ones, but this was an exemplary example of a character-centered story well-done. Tara is a dynamic person with just as many admirable qualities as flaws, and she grows and evolves so much over the two years the book takes place. She works her ass off, she learns quick, she sets goals and commits to completing them, and she doesn't take shit from anybody, but at the start of the book she's also quick to aggression and anger, mistrustful, edgy and closed off.

"The Alaskan Laundry" was a great read -- it was well-written and interesting, and I learned so much about the fishing industry and life in Alaska. There are even some meaningful themes tucked into the narrative, like the value of friendships, perseverance, mending fences and finding oneself. I highly recommend this novel, which featured several of my favorite things: a unique setting, a dog and letters.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Laugh a Day Keeps the Doctor Away: 10+ Books To Make You Chuckle (or Guffaw)

We all like a good laugh, be it a giggle or a snot-and-tears side-splitter, and this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic hosted by The Broke and the Bookish is about books that make us laugh. Below are 14 lighthearted chuckle-inducing books guaranteed to brighten your day.

Jenny Lawson is the queen of humor for me. I highly recommend both of these books. "Let's Pretend" is funnier overall, while "Furiously Happy" keeps the laughs coming while educating readers about mental illness.
review // review

I've said it several times before on the blog: I'll keep reading the Stephanie Plum books til the end, but they're not what they used to be. However, perfect for this topic, the first dozen books are awesome and feature a spot-on blend of humor, suspense and romance.
"One Plus One" isn't an emotional hard-hitter like Moyes' other books (at least the ones I've read) but it is an absolutely rollicking good time. It's just downright fun and I highly recommend it when you want a lighthearted read. (review)

I really enjoyed the third book in the Bridget Jones saga, which finds Bridget as a single mum. Maybe it was a case of reading the right book at the right time, but it just tickled my funny bone. I'm super bummed that the new movie, "Bridget Jones's Baby," isn't based on this book! (review)
Well, "The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man" has a dog in it, so it was already on my good list before I started reading! Luckily it turned out to be utterly quirky and totally funny! I'm looking forward to the sequel. (review)

Bill Bryson is the master of the humorous travelogue, and my favorite book of his is "A Walk in the Woods," which details his attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. It was hilarious -- and I learned a lot too. Skip the movie (disappointing), read the book! (review)
"Where'd You Go, Bernadette" managed to get me to laugh while I was a ball of nerves waiting in the lobby of the emergency vet office a few years ago, so I can vouch for its quirky humor. Semple finally has a new book coming out in October and I can't wait to read it! (review)

"The Stupidest Angel" is hilarious, but not for the faint of heart or easily offended. Save it for when you need a release from holiday stress! (review)
Obviously funnywoman Tina Fey's memoir would be laugh-inducing. I listened to the audiobook, read by Tina, and I think that made it even better. (review)

These are all books I've laughed over with my co-workers at the library.

(One of many, many hilarious kids picture books!)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Monday Musings from Colorado


Highlight(s) of the week: The drive from Ohio to Colorado ranged from uneventful to boring to rage-inducing (looking at you, cat, who meowed all the way from Dayton to St. Louis), but I was absolutely over the moon to take a little detour in Kansas City to visit the Community Bookshelf mural painted on the parking garage of the downtown library. It features 22 larger-than-life titles suggested by the public and voted on by the board of trustees. After seeing photos floating around online, it was so very exciting to see the mural in person! I'll post more photos this week.

We arrived in Colorado late Tuesday night, and on Thursday the weather was warm and beautiful, so we decided to take advantage and head to Garden of the Gods for a little hiking and fresh air ahead of the snowstorm that hit Friday night.


Reading: I finished "Fever at Dawn," a novel partly told in letters about the unconventional romance of two Holocaust survivors (review), and I read and loved "The Alaskan Laundry" by Brendan Jones (review to come). It's about a young woman who heads to Alaska to escape the pain of her past by working her ass off at a fish hatchery -- and eventually moves up to a crab boat on the Bering Sea. I loved it -- the vivid descriptions of Alaska, the unique and interesting characters, and our main character's story of growth, forgiveness and moving on. Last night I read the first couple chapters of "I'll See You in Paris" and so far I'm impressed. It features parallel stories, one of which is based on a real person, the Duchess of Marlborough.

Watching: "Sleepless in Seattle." I hadn't seen it for years, and I was surprised how many similarities it had to one of my favorite movies, "You've Got Mail." Same actors, and the same premise of a single dad and a woman who's not sure about her engagement connecting through letters. While we were watching "Sleepless" and I was blabbering on about all this, my mom informed me that "You've Got Mail" is actually based on an old Jimmy Stewart movie, "The Shop Around the Corner," in which two gift shop employees who hate each other fall in love through a penpal exchange. I'm a sucker for anything that involves letter-writing, so I've got it on request at the library.

Listening to: Close by Nick Jonas and Tove Lo

Eating: Dan Dan Noodle Bowl at Pei Wei! I've missed eating at Pei Wei the last three years in Dayton! We also ate at Rudy's BBQ, a delicious barbecue place we discovered when we were stationed in Del Rio, Texas, several years ago. Luckily they've expanded and there's now a location in Colorado Springs, which we make sure to eat at every time we're here visiting my family. Julio's tortilla chips and Rudy's were about the only good things we got out of our time in Del Rio!

Looking forward to: Getting lots of books read this week! Today Jarrod heads to the four-week class he has to take before we move to Hawaii, so it's the start of my month of relaxation while I stay with my parents here in Colorado. I have several exciting books out from the library ("Jane Steele," "A Study in Charlotte," "All the Winters After") and several ARCs I need to read and I foresee a lovely literary week ahead of me!


I'm linking up with Kathryn of Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

New Release: Fever at Dawn by Péter Gárdos

"Fever at Dawn" by Péter Gárdos
First published in Hungary in 2010, in the U.S. in 2016
240 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

*Thank you to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for giving me a free copy in exchange for an honest review!

The Short Of It:
Holocaust survivors turned penpals make for a delightfully unconventional love story. This book wasn't perfect, but the story was definitely intriguing -- made even more so by the fact that it's based on the author's own parents!

The Long Of It:
As an avid letter-writer myself, I have a bit of a thing for epistolary novels; all the better when the story is inspired by real people -- concentration camp survivors at that -- falling in love through an exchange of letters.

"Fever at Dawn" is based on the unorthodox 1945 romance of Gárdos's parents, Miklos and Lili, Hungarian Jews who survived untold horrors during the Holocaust. They were recuperating in separate hospitals in Sweden when a letter written by Miklos sparked a penpal exchange. The two began to fall in love through their correspondence, sometimes sending two letters a day, and their bond was solidified when they finally finagled a way to meet in person.

Sometimes the essence of a novel can get lost when translated from its original language -- in this case Hungarian -- and I think that happened just a little bit here, especially in the letters, the wording of which was a bit awkward at times. But overall, I enjoyed getting a taste of a different culture (really, two cultures, since the book took place in Sweden) and a unique take on a WWII story, where the appalling things the characters endured were briefly mentioned but not the focus of the story. Instead, it was about getting well, getting home, reuniting and moving on. And, for Miklos, finding a wife.

While I definitely enjoyed the plot and the letters and the idea of the characters -- these intrepid survivors who are just trying to put the past behind them -- I never really warmed up to the characters themselves. And the book was fairly short -- too short, I thought. I wanted so much more; I wanted every event to be expounded and I was left with many unanswered questions. But perhaps Gárdos shied away from dramatizing the lives of Miklos and Lili since they're his own parents; it would be difficult to fictionalize two people you're so very close to. But at the same time, their child should be the one person who could paint a picture of their personalities better than anyone, and I didn't feel like I really knew Lili and Miklos by the end of the book.

Even with the flaws this historical fiction novel was worth a read, especially for fans of books told partly through letters. And I'm glad to know this fascinating real-life story of a letter bringing two Jewish refugees together at exactly the time they needed a little extra love in their lives.
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