A Hundred Summers Read Along


I might have raved about Beatriz Williams on this blog once or twice. Her newest book, A Hundred Summers, just went on sale last Thursday. I was lucky enough to snap up a galley of this beauty in February, and I read the entire thing in one sitting; I was so wrapped up in Lily’s story and so enchanted by the characters and the settings of Rhode Island in 1938 and New York City in the 20s that I was loath to put it down. Not to mention it banished the dreary winter weather we were having and made me look forward to summer. As with Overseas, I couldn’t wait to read it again.

The perfect opportunity to do so came when Jennifer from Literate Housewife announced that she was planning a read along for July. When she brought it up to the Hashtag Book Club, our three-month-old Twitter discussion group, all of us jumped on board and tried to think of a fun way to get the word out, and the blog hop was born.

I chose this quote because it comes at a point in the book where both the physical and emotional storms that have been brewing are about to break, not to mention it gives you an idea of just how incredible Beatriz’s writing is.

I hope you’ll join us for the read along! Check out the discussion schedule, and for further inspiration, visit my fellow bloggers and see what quotes they chose:

May 28 — Teresa’s Reading Corner

May 29 — Girls Just Reading

May 30 — Anita Loves Books

June 1 — Linus’s Blanket

June 2 — The Red Headed Reader

June 3 — Poof… books.


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Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

verity Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Synopsis from the publisher:
Oct. 11th, 1943–A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

First, allow me to address the concerns of those who might shy away from this because it’s technically classified as Young Adult — Code Name Verity reads like an adult novel. The complexity of the story, the caliber of research, and the characterization of both Verity and Maddie are as well done as any adult historical fiction novel you will read this year. Read it. You’ll thank me, I promise.

Code Name Verity is a beautiful story of friendship set against the harrowing background of WWII. It explores two areas that I wasn’t really familiar with: the Air Transport Auxiliary and the Special Operations Executive, a.k.a. the spy unit. I loved learning about the civilian flight organization that ferried planes and spies for various missions, often at considerable risk, and about the intricacies of the SOE. By the end, I wanted to read through the research books that the author cited in her bibliography and learn more about these brave women.

Of course, in covering two of the riskiest branches of the war effort, the stakes would need to be pretty high, and Elizabeth Wein has absolutely no problem with conveying these stakes from the very beginning with Verity’s words: “I have two weeks…You’ll shoot me in the end no matter what I do, because that’s what you do to enemy agents.” Throughout Verity’s interrogation, where I wondered whether each dispatch was going to be her last, and then the later scenes with the Résistance in France, where the fighters were literally lurking in the Nazis’ backyard, my heart was in my throat. The twists and turns and moments where certain plot points became clear were also masterfully done.

But this story would be nothing if not for Verity and Maddie. Their story of friendship in wartime and the respect and strength each gathers from the other’s courage and bravery adds a deeply human element to everything that occurs. There were several times where I wondered if I would have the wherewithal to act as these girls did if I was thrown into their situation, and then realized that they were both younger than me.

Code Name Verity is a gripping and emotional read that will leave you weeping. I highly recommend it.

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Circles of Time by Phillip Rock

circles Circles of Time by Phillip Rock

Summary from the publisher:
A generation has been lost on the Western Front. The dead have been buried, a harsh peace forged, and the howl of shells replaced by the wail of saxophones as the Jazz Age begins. But ghosts linger—that long-ago golden summer of 1914 tugging at the memory of Martin Rilke and his British cousins, the Grevilles.

From the countess to the chauffeur, the inhabitants of Abingdon Pryory seek to forget the past and adjust their lives to a new era in which old values, social codes, and sexual mores have been irretrievably swept away. Martin Rilke throws himself into reporting, discovering unsettling political currents, as Fenton Wood-Lacy faces exile in faraway army outposts. Back at Abingdon, Charles Greville shows signs of recovery from shell shock and Alexandra is caught up in an unlikely romance. Circles of Time captures the age as these strongly drawn characters experience it, unfolding against England’s most gracious manor house, the steamy nightclubs of London’s Soho, and the despair of Germany caught in the nightmare of anarchy and inflation. Lives are renewed, new loves found, and a future of peace and happiness is glimpsed—for the moment.

I hadn’t heard of Phillip Rock or the Abingdon trilogy until a read along was announced at Book Club Girl. I had so much fun participating in the Bess Crawford read along and I was intrigued by all the comparisons between the Abingdon trilogy and Downton, so I signed up immediately.

I pretty much inhaled the first book in the series, The Passing Bells. It felt like Downton had come alive on the page, and I loved meeting the Greville family and the characters below stairs. I also enjoyed seeing the English aristocracy through the eyes of a somewhat impartial observer: the Greville’s American cousin, Martin Rilke, who ultimately becomes the narrator as World War I breaks out and the comfortable world of Abingdon is turned upside down. And I thought Rock gave a really great sense of where the war took each character, and the consequences of each journey. The only reservation I had was that some of the relationships were rushed, but with so many characters and the war and two more books coming, I was willing to let it slide.

The discussion at Book Club Girl was thought-provoking, as always, and left me more than ready to tackle Circles of Time, which is being discussed today.

Circles of Time picks up in the Roaring 20s, and people are trying desperately hard to move on from the war, even as another is brewing across the Channel. Much like on Downton, the Greville parents are trying to return to pre-war standards but are finding the world and their children too changed for such a thing to be possible. Thankfully, instead of behaving like Lord Grantham, Anthony Greville tries his best to adapt to the situation and accept the paths his children have chosen, while his wife has a much more difficult time accepting certain things, most notably Alexandra’s “unlikely romance.”

At the same time, Martin Rilke makes it over to Germany in time to witness the nascent days of the Nazi party and the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. As with The Passing Bells, he gives an outsider’s perspective of the tensions bubbling under the surface in a Germany that’s being squeezed by reparation payments, but also a perspective that’s slightly affected by familial proximity, as one of his German Rilke relatives happens to be a major supporter of the fledgling Nazi party. Martin is horrified by his cousin’s politics, but, as the cousin keeps saying, it’s impossible for Martin to understand. The book leaves off on an uncertain note that is very reflective of the time.

It was nice to continue the Greville’s story, but I felt that Circles of Time lacked the character development and conflict that made The Passing Bells so interesting. It felt like everything moved a little too fast and that the story lines were a little too pat, and, again, there were certain relationships and plot lines that began but ultimately fizzled out with little explanation. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Circles of Time — I did! I loved getting better insight into Willie, the youngest Greville, and I was so happy to see Charles come out of his shell shock, which was one of the events from the first book that really affected me. And Alex’s romance was enjoyable, and very reminiscent of Downton. I also thought Rock did a great job of conveying a sense of place, particularly the underground clubs in London’s SoHo, where flappers and bright young things danced and drank the night away, and the scenes in Germany.

The third book in the trilogy, A Future Arrived, is out today. I can’t wait to read it and find out what World War II has in store for the Grevilles.


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The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

outlander Readers, I have a problem.

My name is Farin, and I’m addicted to Outlander.

It started rather innocuously with a pre-Thanksgiving conversation with a few bookish folks on Twitter. Someone had just read Overseas, which you all know I love, and she said how much it reminded her of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Outlander. When I admitted I hadn’t read either, there was an immediate chorus of “Oh my god! You have to read Outlander!” With the knowledge that the Twitter book community rarely steers me wrong, I grabbed a copy of the book straightaway and started reading it on Thanksgiving Day, and I didn’t stop until I’d finished it on Sunday night.

I’m going to add my voice to the chorus now: Oh my god! You have to read Outlander!

Not only that, but you should also have a list of the series order handy, because you’re going to want to have the second book on deck for when you finish. Maybe the third. That’s Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager respectively, just to save you time.

For those who are unacquainted with the series, it begins in 1946, when Claire Beauchamp Randall, a former WWII nurse, comes across a circle of standing stones while vacationing in the Highlands with her husband and walks through them to land in the 18th century, right before the Stuart Rising. After nearly being raped by Black Jack Randall, a British officer who happens to be one of her husband’s ancestors, Claire is rescued by a band of Scots and taken to the seat of Clan MacKenzie at Castle Leoch. When Black Jack threatens to take Claire prisoner for being a spy, she’s forced to marry Jamie Fraser, a kinsman of the MacKenzies with a price on his head. Despite the fact that Claire still wants to return to her husband, she finds herself falling in love with the man she was forced to marry, and thus begins an epic saga that spans countries and generations.

The series is the most wonderful mix of historical fiction and romance, with a bit of sci-fi thrown in with the time travel element. Diana Gabaldon knows both her characters and the period inside out, and each book is a meaty tale filled with the trials, tribulations, and dangers of living in the 18th century in both Scotland and America. It’s impossible not to become completely invested in Jamie and Claire’s story as they get thrown together when she first passes through the standing stones at Craigh na Dun, then as they attempt to change history leading up to the battle at Culloden, and the wrenching events that follow in subsequent books. The characters go through hell and are constantly tested, and even though they usually come through, things don’t automatically go back to normal when they do, and that grounds what could be a rather fantastic story in truth. And then there’s the love that Jamie and Claire have for one another, which is so palpable that it takes my breath away at points, cheesy as that sounds. It’s been a gift to watch their relationship grow and change in each book, and the need to know that they’re still alive and all right is what keeps me coming back for more and made me unable to consider any other reading material from the moment I started the series.

I just finished An Echo in the Bone today, and even though I know the next book, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, is due out in the fall, I’m more than a little bereft.

Like I said, I have a problem. But not a bad problem to have, I think.

Plus, it’s not like I’ve gone out in search of haggis or a tartan or picked up a guidebook to Scotland, or anything like that.*
(*okay, I might have done one or two of these…)


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Summer Round Up

She lives!

I’m sorry, I’ve been neglectful, and I have new found respect for all the real book bloggers out there, because after a full day at work, it’s difficult for me to muster the energy to turn on my laptop, let alone write up a book review. You guys are amazing.

The new job is great. I’m learning a ton and feel more secure in my duties with every passing day. Everyone I work with has been incredibly welcoming and so helpful, and I’m lucky to be a part of such a smart team of publicists.

Thanks to my long commute, I’ve been able to get in a lot of pleasure reading and read nearly every book on my Summer 2012 list on Pinterest. Unsurprisingly, much of what I read was in the mystery/thriller genre, which I love all year round but which is particularly good in the summer. I did manage to get in some contemporary fiction, historical fiction, and romance in between murders, though!

I reviewed quite a few of my summer reads on the blog, but here are a few others that I really enjoyed, in capsule. I’m so excited for fall!

Continue reading


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The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen

The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen

Summary from the publisher:
All her life, Mary has been a slave to the wealthy Van Lew family of Richmond, Virginia. But when Bet, the willful Van Lew daughter, decides to send Mary to Philadelphia to be educated, she must leave her family to seize her freedom.

Life in the North brings new friendships, a courtship, and a far different education than Mary ever expected, one that leads her into the heart of the abolition movement. With the nation edging toward war, she defies Virginia law by returning to Richmond to care for her ailing father—and fight for emancipation. Posing as a slave in the Confederate White House in order to spy on President Jefferson Davis, Mary deceives even those who are closest to her to aid the Union command.

Just when it seems all her courageous gambles to end slavery will pay off, Mary discovers that everything comes at a cost—even freedom.

The moment I heard The Secrets of Mary Bowser was based on a true story, I had to get my hands on it. I knew absolutely nothing about the slaves and abolitionists who gathered intelligence on the Confederacy for Lincoln and was eager to see the Civil War from that point of view. I was also intrigued by Mary herself, a woman about whom very little survives, but who, according to historical documents, was a vital part of the spy network. Luckily, Ms. Leveen provides ample insight into all of these things in this sweeping, meticulously researched novel.

The historical side of The Secrets of Mary Bowser made my inner nerd sing. The book spans a twenty year period where we see the South undergo drastic changes as they struggle to hold on to the institution of slavery and fight and lose a devastating war. At the same time, we get a glimpse of life in the North, where free blacks often encountered the same discrimination they did in the South—sometimes from their own people. Ms. Leveen maintains a strong sense of time and place throughout, and the little details she includes really make the story come alive. The scenes that took place inside the Confederate White House, a.k.a. the Grey House, were especially fascinating in the way they revealed the underpinnings of the government and how the Southern politicians often sidled up to their president’s wife to get their requests heard, but also gave an idea of how the Davises behaved when they weren’t hosting strategy meetings and dinner parties. It really brought home the fact that the abolitionist spy ring succeeded largely because the Davises regarded their slaves as little more than furniture.

The true heart of the novel, though, is the title character. Mary’s voice won me over from the very first page, and it was a pleasure to go on this journey with her as she gained her freedom, left her parents to study in Philadelphia, struggled to fit in with Northern society, and eventually returned to a much more dangerous Virginia to help end slavery. It was really interesting to watch her mature from someone who quickly jumped to conclusions, to someone who saw that, in the abolitionist cause and in spying, nothing is simple. Her final words to President Lincoln warmed my heart and gave me chills.

I so enjoyed disappearing into the world of The Secrets of Mary Bowser, to the point where, even after I’d read the abundant bonus materials, I still didn’t want the book to be done. A wonderful addition to an already rich summer of historical fiction.

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We interrupt our regularly scheduled reviewing to bring you some very exciting news:

I got a job!!!!!

(and yes, that photo is an accurate depiction of what I did when I found out)

As of Wednesday, July 25, I will be working in the marketing and publicity department at Gotham and Avery, which are two non-fiction imprints at Penguin. I’m so excited to join the team over there and to be back in the offices where I interned last summer!

I’m so grateful to all of the people I’ve met in publishing over the last year, who have been so helpful and encouraging. I’m especially thankful to the incredible book community on Twitter, because you guys always knew what to say when I was feeling low and made me genuinely believe I’d get here!

This blog will continue as normal, i.e. I will try to post reviews as often as I can and will probably continue pasting a synopsis from the publisher, rather than write my own. And maybe I’ll post a bit about what it’s like to work in publishing, too!

We now return to our semi-regularly scheduled posting.

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