Bookish Thursdays: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

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from goodreads

Summary from deborahharkness.com:  When historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library it represents an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordinary life. Though descended from a long line of witches, she is determined to remain untouched by her family’s legacy. She banishes the manuscript to the stacks, but Diana finds it impossible to hold the world of magic at bay any longer. For witches are not the only otherworldly creatures living alongside humans. There are also creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires who become interested in the witch’s discovery. They believe that the manuscript contains important clues about the past and the future, and want to know how Diana Bishop has been able to get her hands on the elusive volume. Chief among the creatures who gather around Diana is vampire Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin. Together, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. But the relationship that develops between the ages-old vampire and the spellbound witch threatens to unravel the fragile peace that has long existed between creatures and humans—and will certainly transform Diana’s world as well.

This book is long. As much as I would’ve loved to make it a marathon and just read into the wee hours of the night, my lifestyle (ha! what lifestyle? I’m on maternity leave)…anyway, it wasn’t possible.

So each time I opened the book, I allowed myself to just enjoy the writing and let Deborah Harkness spin her tale and wrap me in it. 

I loved the mix of historical fiction/fantasy. Harkness’ background as a scholar really comes through in her writing. It is thorough, and my guess would be in the historical fiction part of it, accurate – and if not, it felt accurate. Which in a work of fiction is probably more important.

Each character is flawlessly created and distinct. I really felt that I was shown the layers that make up each character – no matter how minor and I loved that! It is a rich, rich story that truly offers readers the chance to get lost in a story.

So, it wasn’t until I finished the novel and shook my head a little, that I realized that there were a few things that bothered me. I found Diana very immature. Her reluctance to accept her legacy was thoroughly annoying. I mean she has all this power – just learn how to use it already! And, why is it that an intelligent female character always has to be low-maintenance? Maybe it’s the Latina in me but women can take care of themselves, appreciate their own beauty and be intelligent. Don’t know why it bothered me so much…perhaps since the narrator always makes sure to tell us what she’s wearing and it’s usually not all that appealing…

I also thought Matthew was a little too controlling. And his pet name for Diana “ma lionne” was too much…sure she survived being tortured by a fellow witch, but other than that I wouldn’t call this character brave…at least not yet.

My annoyances with the characters were minor and didn’t really affect my overall opinion of the book. I liked A Discovery of Witches. I enjoyed the slightly different portrayal of vampires and witches. The writing and character development were superb. And, I loved the way Harkness weaved history and major historical events into the plot and the lives of the characters. It was fun to see the love story between Matthew and Diana develop thought at times it was a bit juvenile (I fell in love with you before you fell in love with me). The narrator treated the reader with maturity so it was easy to overlook instances like those. A Discovery of Witches was a little dense at times, but I think it worked.

I will definitely be reading book two of the All Souls Trilogy, Shadow of Night.

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Bookish Thursdays: Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

Summary from GoodreadsIn this breathtaking novel—rich in history and adventure—The New York Times bestselling author Diana Gabaldon continues the story of Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser that began with the now-classic novel Outlander and continued in Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager. Once again spanning continents and centuries, Diana Gabaldon has created a work of sheer passion and brilliance…. It began at an ancient Scottish stone circle. There, a doorway, open to a select few, leads into the past—or the grave. Dr. Claire Randall survived the extraordinary passage, not once but twice. Her first trip swept her into the arms of Jamie Fraser, an eighteenth-century Scot whose love for her became a legend—a tale of tragic passion that ended with her return to the present to bear his child. Her second journey, two decades later, brought them together again in the American colonies. But Claire had left someone behind in the twentieth century—their daughter, Brianna…. Now Brianna has made a disturbing discovery that sends her to the circle of stones and a terrifying leap into the unknown. In search of her mother and the father she has never met, she is risking her own future to try to change history … and to save their lives. But as Brianna plunges into an uncharted wilderness, a heartbreaking encounter may strand her forever in the past … or root her in the place she should be, where her heart and soul belong….

I loved Drums of Autumn. Almost as much as I loved Outlander. Almost. Even though I didn’t love Voyager, I read Drums of Autumn because it was there and I felt compelled to keep reading Claire and Jamie’s story. I’m glad I did. Drums of Autumn restored my faith in the series and I am now quickly moving through The Fiery Cross.

Once again, Gabaldon delivers a strong novel about love, relationships and family.

This time the Frasers are in America – the new world. And what a fierce world it is. Claire and Jamie battle the political landscape, wilderness, poverty, and the knowledge that war will once again find them with ferocious courage and determination to make a good life for themselves.

Any romantic notions about time travel are quickly dissolved in this novel. Gabaldon paints a picture of a very hard life. The struggle to survive is the focus of each day. The constant preparation for long winters is exhausting. I wouldn’t last a month.

I loved Brianna’s journey in this book – both literal and metaphorical – and absolutely loved when she finally finds her parents and meets Jamie. The adventures in this book are vast and full of unexpected turns. My mouth fell wide open with shock at certain points and I just could not put the book down.

I thought Gabaldon did a nice job of developing Jamie and Brianna’s father/daughter relationship.  They disagree on most things; their views on life and gender are completely alien to one another due to being from wildly different centuries. Yet, the love they have for each other helps them to bridge the abyss no matter how unforgivable their actions may seem.

This book highlights new characters and conflicts that Jamie and Claire bravely face together. It also manages to maintain the deep love and romance between Jamie and Claire without being redundant or overly dramatic. I really loved the growth in Brianna’s character as well.

Drums of Autum was so much fun read. It was entertaining and had just enough romance, intrigue, violence and adventure to leave one fully satisfied and ready to read the next installment upon closing the book.

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Bookish Thursdays: The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley

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from Goodreads

Summary from GoodreadsFor fans of The House at Riverton and Rebecca—a debut spanning from the 1930s to the present day, from a magnificent estate in war-torn England to Thailand, this sweeping novel tells the tale of a concert pianist, Julia, and the prominent Crawford family whose shocking secrets are revealed, leading to devastating consequences for generations to come. As a child Julia Forrester spent many idyllic hours in the hothouse of Wharton Park, the great house where her grandfather tended exotic orchids. Years later, while struggling with overwhelming grief over the death of her husband and young child, she returns to the tranquility of the estate. There she reunites with Kit Crawford, heir to the estate and her possible salvation. When they discover an old diary, Julia seeks out her grandmother to learn the truth behind a love affair that almost destroyed Wharton Park. Their search takes them back to the 1930s when a former heir to Wharton Park married his young society bride on the eve of World War II. When the two lovers are cruelly separated, the impact will be felt on generations to come.

I read The Orchid House in August. It was on display at the library and I just grabbed it on the way out. I love stories that span generations so I really got into this book quickly. For the most part I enjoyed the novel, however there were parts that left me feeling a little uncomfortable.

The plot opens approximately 7 months after the main character, Julia, faces the tragic loss of her husband and two year old son in a car accident. I found it very hard to believe that her sister, who happens to be a mother of 4, is rallying Julia to “get on with her life” a mere 7 months after the destruction of her family. Immediately, I found that hard to believe but carried on with the reading in order to give the book a chance.

I was easily swept into 1930s London. I loved reading how youth at the time cavorted and frolicked. I quickly became a fan of Olivia. She is sweet, loyal and yearns for love. It is easy to be on her side when she falls madly in love with Harry Crawford, heir to Wharton Park. They stumble a few times, but I really bought it when he commits to her and claims to love her. I feel like the true tragedy in this novel is his betrayal of her. (Sure he’s a P.O.W during WWII and all that…but poor Olivia!)

As the story unfolds and secret after secret is revealed, I can’t say I was really surprised by any of them…except perhaps one about Julia’s dead husband…but that was just absurd…it was about at this point that The Orchid House lost me and I finished it because I had to see how the whole thing finished.

For the most part, the novel was entertaining, the characters not all that complex and the plot – at first, had me hooked – but then slowly released me and left me feeling not all that interested. Reading about wartime London and how women were involved in the war effort was also pretty interesting (again, more points in Olivia’s favour!) If you enjoy stories about family secrets affecting generations that follow and how these secrets are slowly revealed during the simultaneous self discovery of a hero as she pieces her life back together after a tragedy and everything ends splendidly for all involved, then you’ll enjoy The Orchid House.

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Bookish Thursdays: Cinderella Ate My Daughter

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Summary from GoodreadsSweet and sassy or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as the source of female empowerment. And commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages. But how dangerous is pink and pretty, anyway? Being a princess is just make-believe; eventually they grow out of it . . . or do they? In search of answers, Peggy Orenstein visited Disneyland, trolled American Girl Place, and met parents of beauty-pageant preschoolers tricked out like Vegas showgirls. The stakes turn out to be higher than she ever imagined. From premature sexualization to the risk of depression to rising rates of narcissism, the potential negative impact of this new girlie-girl culture is undeniable—yet armed with awareness and recognition, parents can effectively counterbalance its influence in their daughters’ lives.

I read this book in the summer…the beginning of the summer.  While I have forgotten many of the details of what I read, I do recall how it made me feel.

I encountered a spectrum of emotions actually. I can’t quite decide whether my first emotion was fear of the world in which I will raise my daughter or the all-encompassing “duh?” of what seems to be common sense…you know, like I know this stuff already because I’ve lived it and continue to live it every day.

I felt disarmed because Orenstein offers so much insight into a culture that I feel will swallow my daughter and I have no defense against it. As my dear friend (whom recommended this book) wisely reminded me (I’m paraphrasing here): “It is the crux of feminist social analysis…the problems are clearly laid out…but there never seems to be a solution”.

Once I grappled with this feeling of powerlessness and got a grip on my fear and self-righteousness, I devoured the book. It is thoroughly researched and each argument for and against girly-girl culture is well presented and supported. While my tendencies are feminist and I believe in raising my daughter with an empowered voice and sense of self, I am also the first to buy her a cute pink outfit with cute bow to match…I mean she has gorgeous creamy skin and dark silky hair…how can I not?!?

And there is the dilemma. Or the irony. Or whatever you want to call it…moms of this “post-feminist” (in quotations because can we ever really be post-feminist?), post-girl-power age have a fine line to walk. We understand the importance of looking our best and the danger of succumbing to media-fueled images of female sexuality. We understand that being true to ourselves does not always look like the cookie-cutter version of femininity. But how do we pass along this knowledge to our daughters and help them navigate the incessant messages of what they’re supposed to be in favour of just being who they are?

This book will not offer any solutions. Not a one. But it does clearly explain the root of the marketing machine and the power of the bottom-line in the hopes that our decisions for our daughters will at least be informed ones. More importantly, it really sends the message that your support and guidance are vital when she is making her own choices.

This a quick read that will get you thinking. I highly recommend it.

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Bookish Thursdays: The Husband’s Secret Fizzled Fast

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The-Husbands-Secret

Summary from Goodreads: At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read. My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died… Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret. Acclaimed author Liane Moriarty has written a gripping, thought-provoking novel about how well it is really possible to know our spouses—and, ultimately, ourselves.

**spoiler alert: I will implicitly allude to the conclusion of the novel and John Paul’s secret**

I finished this book a while ago, so this review will not be as thorough as I normally would like.

I could not write about The Husband’s Secret right away because I strongly disliked the ending and I didn’t want to let the book’s conclusion taint the rest of it…because I actually liked the book. Until the last 2 chapters. And the epilogue. If there was one epilogue that did not need to be written…it was the epilogue to The Husband’s Secret.

I really enjoyed the three different plots in the novel and was kept intrigued about how they would finally intersect. Cecilia, Tess and Rachel’s stories were all equally compelling for me. I liked the way Moriarty brought me into her characters’ most intimate thoughts, some of them not very flattering or appropriate. This made the characters real and easier to relate to. I didn’t necessarily like all the characters though. I found Cecilia annoying with her perfect life and Rachel is a tough one because she is so (understandably) bitter that she alienates her son.

Once the secret was finally revealed…I was not all that surprised…still, what does a person do if they discover such a monumental thing about their spouse? I don’t know. Cecilia’s near nervous breakdown makes sense. And how narcissistic is this guy who believes he can cover up his actions with self-punishment? That whole “don’t judge a book by its cover” cliche screams at you throughout this novel. It makes you actually wonder about that perfect family in your own neighbourhood…what kind of secrets are they hiding?

Ok, so now what? Secret revealed. Cecilia a mess. Rachel still angry. How does Tess fit into all this? She does in a roundabout way…which bothers me because what’s the point of her plot line? Really, you could take out Tess’ entire story and the plot would pretty much remain intact…why make her such a main character when she doesn’t really fit in?

Once Cecilia begins to live a chaotic, anxious life now that she holds the secret, you know that tragedy looms. Moriarty nicely creates so much tension that the book is ready to explode. And, it does. Oh, the tragedy! The least deserving person, the most innocent person is the one who falls victim to all of these characters’ flaws, faults and sins. I was speechless.

Alright. So the secret is finally revealed and Rachel knows the truth about John Paul. Cecilia knows the truth about Rachel. John Paul and Rachel are sorry and devastated by their actions. It is gut wrenching because both Rachel and John Paul have paid a very high price for their actions, but the question remains…is it enough? Should they be punished by law or is the guilty self-hatred they carry and their self-inflicted punishments enough? I wish I could decide.  Oh and once again, what does Tess have to do with this?

The answer is kind of in the epilogue. An epilogue which could have served as an outline for a whole other novel. The purpose of it is not lost on me. Moriarty wants to show us how split second decisions can affect an entire life…how one person’s universe can become topsy-turvy because of another’s actions (lack of)…except…I don’t want to know that John Paul’s secret is not really his secret. That there were other forces at work when he acted upon his anger…really? It made everything that happened in the novel so much more tragic and to a certain degree pointless.

Would I recommend this novel? Surprisingly, yes. You would think not because I’ve written pretty negatively about the conclusion, but I didn’t feel that way until the very end. I was absorbed by these characters and plot for almost the entire novel. Their stories and conflicts really drew me in. The book is easy to read and moves quickly. And, perhaps you may appreciate Moriarty’s presentation of the way life can completely alter it’s course because of the actions (or not) of people you know and people you don’t more than I did. Any book that makes me feel this strongly about how it ends is a worthy read.

Did you read The Husband’s Secret? Would love to read your thoughts!

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Mommy Mondays: Bottle or Breast? This Time, Breast.

Mommy Mondays WM

Where do I even begin?  The past (almost) 7 weeks have been blissfully beautiful. Seriously.  I’m not sure if it’s the knowledge that this is my last baby or the fact that I’m an “experienced” mom or the gripping nostalgia for my son’s babyhood every time I look at my placid baby girl – whatever it is, I have never been more happy, nor felt more complete.

If you’ve read recent posts then you are aware that my breastfeeding experience with my first born was difficult at best. After having had my daughter, I can clearly see why.

The day before my daughter was born, the universe was really looking out for me because it brought into my lap this book:

courtesy: accustomedchaos.com

It was handed over by a dear friend who recently had twins and was able to breastfeed both.  She became my nursing hero and guru – especially once I witnessed her in her customary hurricane-style whip out a nursing pillow, plop each baby down beside her and latch them on comfortably within seconds at our friends’ house then proceed to chit chat and catch up with all of us as we stared in awe.

The day before delivery, I passed by her home and she passed along this book.  I was not feeling well that day and so laid on the couch for the rest of the day and perused The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.  I didn’t want to get too engrossed because one of two things would happen: I would feel overwhelmed and put the breaks on nursing before even having my baby or I would tap into my neurotic self, memorize every detail and then drive myself crazy because things were not going as described in “the book”.

The book is pretty hard-core and I felt intimidated.  However, one passage resonated.  One passage stuck with me and I knew I would take it with me into the delivery room (little did I know that that would be about 12 hours later!)

The book naturally sings the praises of skin-to-skin – which I thought I had done with my son.  According to the book, skin-to-skin should occur immediately after birth where the naked infant is placed on the mother’s bare chest. It is a calm, peaceful and quiet introduction of you to your baby. It should take as long as you need – not as long as the hospital deems necessary or appropriate.  I immediately saw flashes of my son being shoved onto my chest, then quickly whisked away to be cleaned, checked etc. only to be returned to me swaddled in blankets.  I shuddered and vowed the same would  not occur with my daughter.

According to The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, during skin-to-skin time the following occurs:

When a baby is born, his instincts and reflexes help him crawl to the nipple and latch on, even if you don’t help at all. […] As she recovers from the journey from womb to world, she’ll begin to think about sucking, usually sometime in that first hour.  She may start by drooling, or making sucking movements with her lips or bringing her fist to her mouth and bob her face on and off your skin. You can help her move closer to the breast or support her as she finds her way down. […] At some point, when her face is near your nipples, she’ll lift her head, open her mouth wide, latch, and begin to suck. She’s breastfeeding! (page 63-64)

Another flash of a nurse shoving my son’s face and mouth onto my breast.  She tried to latch him on and when he didn’t want to latch on (who would with that kind of treatment?), she blamed me for not preparing my nipples for nursing!  I was like WTF???  How was I supposed to prepare my nipples?  How come that never came up in the birthing course? That nurse set my son and I on a path toward breastfeeding disaster.  Again I vowed: the same would not occur with my daughter.

6 hours later, after I had put my son to bed, labour began.  It was a calm, easy (albeit painful), labour and delivery. My daughter entered this world with serenity, a short cry and eager to know me.  We lounged with each other for hours.  She was cleaned up, checked and brought back to me in her adorable naked glory and she laid on my chest forever.  We chatted and met each other face to face.  And, before I knew it, my perfect little girl began her downward wiggle.  Her head bobbed and her body moved and I let her do what she needed.  She got herself to my breast and with little help from me, she found what she was looking for and ate.  I was stunned.  It actually happened as described in the book!

From that moment forward I knew I would be able to nurse my baby. It was not easy. I had sore nipples, engorged breasts and after pains (the lovely labour-like pains that accompany breastfeeding with second and subsequent children). I fed her every three hours to get milk production going – which meant about an hour and a half of sleep between feedings. My phone was always within reach so I could text my “nursing-coach-mama-of-twins” and my mother was always within reach to hug me, reassure me and bring me water, tea or her delicious, Colombian “colada de pan” because breastfeeding made me so bloody hungry at three a.m.

It has been 6.5 weeks and we are successfully breastfeeding. I have (mostly) dealt with my mommy guilt of not being able to see breastfeeding through with my son who is now 4 and awesome. I hope my experience can help one mom out there as she begins her breastfeeding journey or one pregnant woman out there who is considering breastfeeding. It is after all a very personal journey.

My Lessons Learned:

  1. Empower yourself and read parts of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. 
  2. Skin-to-skin is not only essential, it is the most beautiful moment you can experience. After hours of pain, breathing, waiting, pushing it is a most calming, joyful reward to simply be with your newborn. If you have complications and cannot do skin-to-skin immediately after birth, then as soon as you have your baby in your arms, unswaddle her, bare your chest and snuggle her onto you. Get under a warm blanket. Enjoy.
  3. Natural birth or not…it is up to you.  Everything I’ve heard or read points to natural birth and I was all for “natural birth” when I had my son.  5 cm in I got an epidural and watched Meet the Parents until it was time to push.  He was a sleepy baby that fell asleep at the breast…so I thought maybe I shouldn’t have succumbed to a pain-free delivery. I got an epidural at 3 cm with my daughter, and took a 2 hour nap before it was time to push.  She was not sleepy and ate well from the start. Same epidural – two completely different experiences. Just make sure you own your labour/delivery experience. The rest will fall into place.
  4. The first few weeks of breastfeeding are hell.  I’m no expert.  I haven’t polled thousands of women. The women I know who have breastfed basically concur.  However, we also all agree – it really does get easier! Every time you think “I can’t do this” picture a video of your future self telling you “Don’t give up! It does get easier. I promise. The pain will go away, your nips and breasts will heal and your baby will feed.”
  5. Stay hydrated. Eat well. Sleep as much as you can.
  6. Have a breastfeeding partner – someone who you know will be there for you every step of the way without putting an ounce of doubt in your mind. Now is not the time for negativity or reverse psychology. Besides, you’ll need another pair of hands to pass you your water or phone or tissue etc.
  7. Surrender. This is temporary.  It will not always be this demanding. It will pass. The more relaxed you are and accepting that this new normal will be over soon the easier it will be. (This was the toughest lesson for me because I love to be in control of my environment).
  8. Housework. Cooking. Laundry. Can. All. Wait.
  9. Say yes to all offers of help.
  10. Seek assistance…breastfeeding clinics, lactation consultants, other moms, friends etc. If the advice of one does not help you, seek another.  If you can, have a few phone numbers stored or websites bookmarked before baby arrives.  Or have your breastfeeding partner do some research for you while you sleep.

My next mission: pump and store. I hope a few bottle feeds a week will give me more sleep and offer me a little more freedom.

Lastly, if it doesn’t work for you – it doesn’t work.  Find a way to feed your baby that will give you peace of mind and don’t look back. I formula fed my first after 5 weeks of breastfeeding hell and am now breastfeeding my second after 6 weeks of not-so-bad and I know I’m a good mother to both.

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Allegiant by Veronica Roth

allegiantSummary from Goodreads:  The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories. But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love. Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

I liked Allegiant.  I didn’t devour it like I did Divergent and Insurgent.

Why?  Allegiant felt forced, too contrived, too long, too many plot points were resolved far too conveniently.  The concept was solid, however it was too 1984 and The Chrysalids and even A Brave New World…it borrowed from many classics…which is alright, I mean can you really reinvent a genre?  I also had a tough time buying that a sixteen year old girl could do what Tris does and behave as she does.  I bought it in the first two novels, but in this one it seemed a bit far-fetched (mind you, I totally bought what Katniss Everdeen does in The Hunger Games trilogy).

I also found that the characters didn’t grow.  I really enjoyed the evolution of major and minor characters in books one and two.  In book three all of the characters were stagnant.  They were stuck in this perpetual dead-end search for freedom, for a life that was ripped away from them, for peace – both inner and social.

It almost seemed as if Roth had more than one book left inside her and tried to mash it all into Allegiant. The plot didn’t read as tightly as the first two and I think that’s where she lost me.

At first I thought the dual first-person narrative was a great idea.  It was a chance to get into Tobias’ head, but after a while he and Tris sounded the same.

I like the creativity of the story and its comment on the effects of the pursuit of perfection (genetic perfection). I like the relationship between Tris and Tobias – she captures the insecurities and passion that drive teen love. The teens act too much like adults though.  On one hand it is understandable because they are forced to grow up quickly; on the other, it is not believable that they can be so in control of their feelings all the time.

Overall, if you have started this trilogy it is worth reading Allegiant to give the story a conclusion.  The book does provide a conclusion, it will not leave you hanging.  I liked the end of the book.  I thought it was appropriate given the nature of the characters.  I just don’t think it will be the same fast paced, continually changing, fun experience that the first two books in the trilogy offered.

Has the conclusion to a trilogy ever left you feeling less than excited?

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The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Bookish Thursdays WM                                       Bookish Thursdays WM                                         Bookish Thursdays WM

I loved Eat, Pray, Love

Summary from Goodreads:  In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist—but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life. Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe—from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who—born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution—bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert’s wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers.

I read The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert in a week.  That’s right, in 7 days.  For old, pre-motherhood me – this would be no surprise.  For me now? An absolute and utter reading feat!  I borrowed it from my public library for that length of time because it is a new release – and, so I took the plunge and read.

This is my first Gilbert fiction read.  I devoured Eat, Pray, Love (even sat through the movie…meh) and that is why I decided to try Gilbert’s return to fiction.

Immediate reaction?  It’s o-kay.  Not bad.  Interesting.

More thoughtful response? (Alert! There are a few, small spoilers…)

Gilbert is fantastic at creating characters.  From the stoic, determined Henry Whittaker to his equally stoic, bordering on robotic wife.  These two show disdain for any kind of emotional response, ever, to any situation.  Emotions make one weak.  Intelligence, rational thinking and reason are prized above all else – and they pass this along to their daughters, Alma and Prudence.

One of my favourite pieces of advice that Alma receives from both of her parents is never to explain herself for it makes her appear weak.  Strength is valued, controlling emotions is valued – these are the traits that will ensure success and self-preservation.  As in the natural world as well – this fact was not lost on this reader.

All of the characters in this novel are finely developed.  Their love of science, people, understanding, exploration is refreshing.  Always underlying every interaction, issue and development is the need to understand why and how.

When I read the summary I assumed that the love between Ambrose Pike and Alma Whittaker would be far more earth-shattering, if you will.  The romantic in me was disappointed. I wished for Alma to be more affected, perhaps more radically changed – more spiritually challenged.  I wished for Alma to have the most incredible sex of her life! There were so many things I wished for her and perhaps when they weren’t happening that’s when I felt let down and like I couldn’t keep reading.

This book was about 500 pages long and I was right there with the characters and plot until about page 390.  Alma goes to Tahiti in search of Ambrose and what it was he wanted, what it was he believed in.  I just couldn’t understand why.  I stopped caring.  I could not care less about any character or event than I did the 100 pages or so that Alma was in Tahiti.  I didn’t care about the Reverend, or Tomorrow Morning, or the village, or the kids, or the women, or Alma’s experiences.  I couldn’t get away from Tahiti fast enough.

And, then it just became a race to the end so I could return the book in the time frame allowed for new releases. I must admit that I skimmed the last 100 pages.  

Overall, this is an incredible story of how one very poor boy became a prince through science and pharmacology.  It’s crazy to see the sinister beginnings of how pharmaceutical companies profit from illness.  It is also a fascinating story about science and women’s contribution to the natural sciences.  It is so thoroughly researched that the reader feels like she is truly experiencing moments in history when scientific discovery was changing the way people lived.  It is also the story of a brilliant woman who reasons, who believes in fact and investigation and ends up sacrificing so much of her womanhood because of it.

Is it a sacrifice?  Is sexual, sensual, emotional, passionate expression/understanding a necessary part of being a woman?  I always thought so and have related to characters who think so/do so too.  Perhaps this is why I found Alma so challenging.  Alma is all mind and tries to reason her heart…when she gives into her heart she ends up being burned. Badly.  And, then becomes obsessed with discovering why and how she was burned.  I admired Alma, but found it very difficult to relate to her.

Would I recommend this book?  Yes.  Why?  Because Elizabeth Gilbert writes beautifully.  Her characters are flawless and her plot (regardless of how I reacted to it) is pretty tight.  And, it’s a pretty fascinating subject too.

I just wish Alma had had great sex…I’m sure it would’ve changed everything 🙂

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Review: The Lightbearers by Nora M. Garcia

Bookish Thursdays WM                    Bookish Thursdays WM                      Bookish Thursdays WM

I was asked by the author to read and review The Lightbearers for this blog.  It was my second time reading a self-published work  – and, I truly wish to support every author who decides to self-publish because the traditional route is wrought with difficulty and let’s face it…it is so difficult to break in.

Nonetheless, I think any author who is going to publish a work must do so without hurry; they should fine tune their craft and find a great editor who will help them to seamlessly bring together a believable story.

Now, onto my thoughts on the novel in question.

Will be interviewing author for this one!

At its core, The Lightbearers has a great concept.  It is highly creative and weaves interesting aspects of ancient Egypt and its people into the modern era.  Garcia creates distinct characters who clearly want different things.

I really wanted to like this book.  But, I had so much trouble with it.  The exposition felt confusing and disorganized – I feel that Garcia was going for intrigue and perhaps trying to hook her readers – but I felt annoyed that the motivation of the characters presented was not made clear.  The character descriptions felt more like character sketches – seems that Garcia fell into the trap of telling her readers about her characters instead of showing her characters.  There were too many interruptions in the plot to describe a character or to provide back story to the present events.  It almost seemed as if the novel should have started at a different point in time.

The mission of the lightbearers, their purpose and goals wasn’t made clear early enough in the novel – and even when made clear, I found the description of humanity pretty condescending.  What is it that the lightbearers are saving humanity from?  Government? Capitalism? Materialism? Religion? Their own selfishness and greed?  We never truly know!  Nor are we convinced that humanity needs saving. There’s just one really despicable man who conveniently gets away with everything because he’s wealthy enough to pretty much buy everyone…because every police officer, educational leader, social/cultural leader and politician is for sale.

I liked the isolated stories of how the lightbearers started (ancient Egypt), of when they reincarnated in France and even Jerusalem (Jesus’ story)…but these stories were superfluous – the plot was not affected in any way whatsoever by these stories.  There was no thematic link to the main plot either except to show that the lightbearers have done this before.  They decide when/where to incarnate, live out their life, try to change (bring light to) humanity and die trying without changing all that much.

I really disliked the sharp turns the book takes.  They are unnecessary…the protagonists die, then the characters that become protagonists die, then the antagonist becomes the protagonist and ruins people’s lives, then the lightbearers return as different people (more character descriptions!) and then they die…the plot twists didn’t feel fluid or logical.

I read every page waiting for the wow moment.  Waiting for the moment that it would all just work and I wouldn’t feel so guilty about my opinion of it.  It never happened.

The plot is poorly developed, it makes jumps that are unrealistic and messy situations are too neatly/easily wrapped up.  The entire things reads like a draft – not a final, polished, finely edited and written version.

I feel I need to remind my readers that I am a fan of fantasy and historical fiction.  I read YA dystopian novels and some pretty far-reaching romance novels.  I am very good at suspending reality and buying into the world an author creates for me – but in The Lightbearers there are too many holes in that world where I fell through and couldn’t climb back in.  

My issues with the novel remained the same – beginning to end.  Unfortunately, due to my opinion of the book, Garcia chose not to conduct the author interview on Book Marks – which I understand.  I gave her the option and told her my opinion beforehand.

The Lightbearers is a good attempt, but it didn’t quite do it for me.  I can’t say I would recommend this book to anyone.  Bummer start to my Bookish Thursdays, but there it is.

Have you read any books that tried really hard to like and just couldn’t?

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Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

Almost done...

From Goodreads

Summary from Goodreads:  From the author of the breathtaking bestsellers Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, the extraordinary saga continues.  Their passionate encounter happened long ago by whatever measurement Claire Randall took. Two decades before, she had traveled back in time and into the arms of a gallant eighteenth-century Scot named Jamie Fraser. Then she returned to her own century to bear his child, believing him dead in the tragic battle of Culloden. Yet his memory has never lessened its hold on her… and her body still cries out for him in her dreams.  Then Claire discovers that Jamie survived. Torn between returning to him and staying with their daughter in her own era, Claire must choose her destiny. And as time and space come full circle, she must find the courage to face the passion and pain awaiting her…the deadly intrigues raging in a divided Scotland… and the daring voyage into the dark unknown that can reunite or forever doom her timeless love.

I like Gabaldon’s books.  I don’t love them.  When I am in the mood for adventure, outrageous coincidences and a male protagonist who is, well, perfect, Gabaldon’s books work. When not, I have to admit, they feel a little like torture.  At least Voyager did.

In Voyager, Claire returns to the past to find Jamie.  Over twenty years have passed – Claire and Jamie are middle-aged and still madly in love with each other.  It’s sweet.  They have a romantic reunion, followed closely by dangerous and crazy circumstances that only Claire and Jamie can manage to create.

I find it very difficult to relate to Claire.  I almost see her as an ignorant tourist.  You know the ones who go to other countries and expect to find all the luxuries and conveniences they left at home; those who become irate when they can’t find said conveniences and get angry when others do not speak their language?

This description is a bit unfair to Claire because she has a good understanding of the century to which she travels and knows what to expect.  However, she also brings with her many of her beliefs from the 20th century about women, education, and people of different races – and though I can’t blame her anger in the face of sexism, classism and racism, what does she expect? To change the people around her because she knows more?

I need a good long break from Claire and Jamie – I’ve read the first three books of the series consecutively, so perhaps I judge harshly due to fatigue from the same scenarios over and over.  Claire and Jamie cannot live without each other.  Claire discovers secrets about Jamie’s past.  Jamie deals with said secrets like a knowledgeable self-help guru of the 21st century.  They encounter danger – Claire is headstrong and dives into impossible situations from which Jamie must always save her (on a few instances, she does save herself).  Blah blah blah…Yes, I definitely need a break. 

I also find the books needlessly long.  There are SO MANY scenes and entire chapters in Voyager that could’ve been dropped from the novel and the plot would’ve remained intact.  I flipped through 10-12 pages at a time out of boredom without compromising my knowledge of the plot and characters.

I know it sounds like I dislike Gabaldon’s series; but I honestly don’t!  I was very happy with the resolution to Voyager and am actually looking forward to reading book 4, Drums of Autumn which has Claire and Jamie’s daughter, Brianna, making the trip back in time.  She will (hopefully) be a refreshing change and I am sure her reunion with her father will be a touching one.

Anyway, I won’t read about that for a while because there are other books on my list to tackle.

Have you read Voyager? What did you think?  

Have you come across books in your reading life that you liked, but skipped scenes and chapters along the way?

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