Book Review: The Henna Artist

Vivid and compelling in its portrait of one woman’s struggle for fulfillment in a society pivoting between the traditional and the modern, The Henna Artist opens a door into a world that is at once lush and fascinating, stark and cruel.

Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…

Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.

Published March 3rd 2020 by MIRA

What did I think?

1950’s India is the setting and from word one, I felt transported to that time. Everything from the scenery, to the cultural norms of that time and place, surrounds the reader. It’s rare that a historical fiction novel captures all of that so effortlessly. I read it in just two long binge sessions- highly recommend.

Book Review- Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown

An extraordinary memoir of drama, tragedy, and royal secrets by Anne Glenconner–a close member of the royal circle and lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret. As seen on Netflix’s The Crown. Anne Glenconner has been at the center of the royal circle from childhood, when she met and befriended the future Queen Elizabeth II and her sister, the Princess Margaret. Though the firstborn child of the 5th Earl of Leicester, who controlled one of the largest estates in England, as a daughter she was deemed “the greatest disappointment” and unable to inherit. Since then she has needed all her resilience to survive the vipers of court life with her sense of humor intact.A unique witness to landmark moments in royal history, Maid of Honor at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, and a lady in waiting to Princess Margaret until her death in 2002, Anne’s life has encompassed extraordinary drama and tragedy. In Lady in Waiting, she will share many intimate royal stories from her time as Princess Margaret’s closest confidante as well as her own battle for survival: her broken-off first engagement on the basis of her “mad blood”; her 54-year marriage to the volatile, unfaithful Colin Tennant, Lord Glenconner, who left his fortune to a former servant; the death in adulthood of two of her sons; a third son she nursed back from a six-month coma following a horrific motorcycle accident. Through it all, Anne has carried on, traveling the world with the royal family, including visiting the White House, and developing the Caribbean island of Mustique as a safe harbor for the rich and famous-hosting Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Raquel Welch, and many other politicians, aristocrats, and celebrities.

Expected publication: March 24th 2020 by Hachette Books

What did I think?

This clip describes what this book is in a nutshell:

NSFW

Fans of Downton Abbey will not be shocked to learn that life within the Royal Family is not often rated G. I laughed a lot reading this memoir. But, it wasn’t all fun and horses. Her marriage was strange and mostly confusing and nearly loveless. Her husband left her nothing and she suffered the tragedy of losing two sons. It just goes to show that money can’t solve everything.

I have read a lot of books written by royal staff and this one is different because she was born into their royal circle, had she been male she would have been truly equal. The writing style made me feel like she was telling her story over tea and scones. I loved it.

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Book Review: The Splendid and The Vile

On Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally—and willing to fight to the end.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

The Splendid and the Vile takes readers out of today’s political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when, in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill’s eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.

Expected publication: February 25th 2020 by Crown

What did I think?

Everything you ever wanted to know about Churchhill and everything you didn’t know about him at all in one 500 page tome. Details that until now were dormant and lost are all compiled together in this readable play by play historical account of WW2 inside Winston Churchhill’s closest circle.

I didn’t know anything about Churchill’s daughter Mary, and the sections of her diary gives you a side that history books skip over. As Larson states in his interviews Londoners lived through an entire year of the terror that New Yorkers felt on 9/11. It is intense.

I didn’t like it as much as his previous books and I don’t know if it was this subject matter or what, but this took me a long time to read and I read the whole thing before reviewing. I think you’d have to be a die hard fan of either this author or Winston himself to give this a 5 star rating.

As always if you are buying books from Amazon, please use this link as it helps pay for this site.

Book Review: Gold Rush Girl

Newbery Medalist Avi brings us mud-caked, tent-filled San Francisco in 1848 with a willful heroine who goes on an unintended — and perilous — adventure to save her brother.

Victoria Blaisdell longs for independence and adventure, and she yearns to accompany her father as he sails west in search of real gold! But it is 1848, and Tory isn’t even allowed to go to school, much less travel all the way from Rhode Island to California. Determined to take control of her own destiny, Tory stows away on the ship. Though San Francisco is frenzied and full of wild and dangerous men, Tory finds freedom and friendship there. Until one day, when Father is in the gold fields, her younger brother, Jacob, is kidnapped. And so Tory is spurred on a treacherous search for him in Rotten Row, a part of San Francisco Bay crowded with hundreds of abandoned ships. Beloved storyteller Avi is at the top of his form as he ushers us back to an extraordinary time of hope and risk, brought to life by a heroine readers will cheer for. Spot-on details and high suspense make this a vivid, absorbing historical adventure.

Expected publication: March 10th 2020 by Candlewick Press

What did I think?

I’m a huge Avi fangirl. Some of my very favorite MG books have inspired long rabbit trails through history in our homeschool. If you have a kid who loved Charlotte Doyle or even his Oliver Cromwell books this one is a bit like that. It’s deliciously long, most MG books will cut the adventure off to make the book easier to get through for reluctant readers, not the case with Avi at all. The reader gets to read every twist and turn of the adventure as if you are a fly on the wall.

I liked Tory and was rooting for her to succeed in her quest for a more “free”? life for herself. I actually didn’t care whether she found her brother or not as he annoyed me with his constant whining. I was rooting for her and her friends and hoping they didn’t get hurt in the search. In the end the story is more centered on all of them, and it’s set up for a sequel, which is awesome.

As always if you are buying books from Amazon, please use this link as it helps pay for this site.

Book Review: The Dutch House

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives, they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested. 

Published September 24th 2019 by Harper

What did I think?

I love a long family saga and this one ended way too soon for me. I wanted to know what would happen to the next generation.

I think one of the reasons it resonated with me was the storybook atmosphere of the house, the evil stepmother, and how terrible things just kept happening. The characters in the story had a lot to deal with and they did the best they could again and again.

There’s a lot to unpack here for a discussion, the trend after WW2 to buy that big house outside the city, the dysfunctional family dynamics caused by divorce, what does forgiveness look like in real life?

The Dutch House by Ann Pratchett turned out to be the exact book I needed to break me out of a weird reading funk. I was reading, but nothing was “amazing” and for me that’s rare. I saw this book on the seven day shelf of the library and picked it up. It’s not really new, no one cared whether I read it, and most of all I was under no obligation to review it at all. Those factors along with the fact that it’s also a great story leaves me writing this review today.

If you like audio books, Tom Hanks reads this book, and I found the sample compelling. If I do a re-read it’ll be a audible book for sure.

Book Review: On Snowden Mountain

Note to parents: We’re using it in our 8th grade Home Ed curriculum this year. I’ll write up a post over at GoodEnoughHomeschool.Com with a book list this weekend.

I adore historical fiction. I’ve based my entire home education program on intertwining great stories with factual spine books, so that my kids not only get the facts of history but the heart of how people were feeling and thinking at those times.
This World War 2 story set in the American Appalachian Mountains is a quiet, moving tale of families at home. Twelve-year-old Ellen knows enough to call for help after her Dad leaves for the War and her Mom won’t get out of bed. What she didn’t realize is that Aunt Pearl will insist on moving both of them from Baltimore to Snowden Mountain. She doesn’t want to move, and yet there is no alternative.
Ellen goes through a bit of culture shock. The mountain world is new and backward to her: outhouses, the one-room schoolhouse, and the lack of electricity are just the beginning. Nearly everything is different from her life so far.
This is a middle-grade book, but I’d lean towards the older end of that age range due to some of the heavy topics that are central parts of this story. Ellen’s new friend Russell has an alcoholic, violent father, and Ellen’s mother’s mental illness is pretty much unavoidable if you are reading this aloud.
I would hand it to a kid struggling with any of these issues at home as the kids and adults involved handle the situations creatively and thoughtfully. Ellen holds a genuine fear that she may inherit her mom’s mental illness, and even though the setting is long ago, that’s still a fear of kids today.

Publication date: October 2019

Book Review- Gold Digger: The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor

This book is free right now on Kindle Unlimited, but I’d have paid to read it. Confession: this is the first book I’ve read about that period in Colorado that wasn’t for kids. It was a treacherous time to be a woman out there for sure.

In 1878, Lizzie didn’t have much choice about getting married, so she chose well, and Harvey was a good catch, his father was mayor of Oshkosh after all. They don’t love each other and Lizzie ends up divorcing him. She stays in Colorado and after a while, ends up remarrying. The book goes through most of her life, good times and bad. The research that went into the book is extensive, and I got a great feel for what life was like back then. This is a true story, and I found the whole thing so interesting. You get the details of all parts of life mining, the wealth, losses, and how people were willing to do just about anything to succeed.

This book ends with her 2nd husband’s death and the start of her new life alone with her two daughters. I’m happy to say that there is a sequel planned for later this year called Silver Dollar.