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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WWW Wednesdays

The weekly meme at shouldbereading.wordpress.com asks 3 questions every Wednesday. This is where I’m at in my reading these days:

What are you currently reading? I’m continuing my reading of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series with The Fiery Cross.

from amazon

What did you recently finish reading? A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness; I will be posting my review of this book for Bookish Thursdays tomorrow.

from goodreads

What do you think you’ll read next? The next book in the All Souls Trilogy is on hold at the library as I write.

from ew.com

Wanna participate? Go to MizB’s blog via links above or leave comments below.

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Mommy Mondays: Gentle Parenting

Mommy Mondays WM

I am going to link today’s post with the meme Musing Mondays by MizB at Should Be Reading. On Musing Mondays she asks several questions about books and reading. Today I will answer this question in my Mommy Mondays post:

What book did you recently buy for yourself and why you chose it

from amazon

One of the books I recently purchased is Raising Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe. Keep reading for the why I did:

The words of wisdom passed along by other mothers when I was pregnant did nothing to prepare me for the way an infant, and then toddler and then preschooler would uproot me into a topsy-turvy world that in no way resembled what was once the serene landscape of my calm, orderly life.

I feel better prepared for the waves of change that my second child has started. Smug. That’s it. I am actually smug at how well I have adapted to said changes and how well I have managed a new life with baby #2.

Now that my first born is well into age 5, I feel caught in a storm of change. Again.

My son is very articulate. He reads. He adds and subtracts with ease. He does simple multiplication. He has mad soccer skills…is social and boisterous and sweet and fun and respectful and outspoken. He is everything I dreamed my five year old son would be…and everything I didn’t.

Wow. The Rage. Impatience. Frustration. The sheer force of emotion that I feel. Yes. Those are my emotions when his will is unbending, unyielding, impregnable just because he can say no and mean it. It’s impressive really. And, when I am sane again I can’t help but admire his tenacity – his strong sense of self.

Except, when I am sane again, I also can’t help but feel…like I should handle this better. How on earth can one little 5 year old with gorgeous brown eyes whom I simply adore bring me to my knees with frustration? After a few episodes of intense disagreement…every cell in my body screamed at me that my relationship with my son would suffer greatly if I kept us on this path of daily confrontation.

I needed a way to connect with him again. To remind him that I’m on his side. To remember that he is getting older and I have to adjust my parenting.

And the universe responded by bringing into my life the philosophy of gentle parenting.

Gentle parenting is not about giving in…it’s about tuning in. It’s about authentic connection with your child so he feels validated – not controlled, not belittled, not unimportant. I honestly believe that emotional health is critical to a child’s well being and education. It is my responsibility to ensure that my children are emotionally healthy – and that starts at home…with me…with their dad. As a family we can connect and do this without so much struggle.

It all sounds so lovely on paper – validate, connect, empower. And, it is. It is. It is easy during …well during the easy times.

I just hope I can remember to breathe and create the space within me to help us through the stressful, challenging times because I refuse to let the beautiful and amazing experiences I’ve had with my son turn into daily battles and power-struggles.

Will it work? I hope so. Will it solve all the challenges that parenting brings? I wish it so.

In any case, I love the idea of raising my children without the gripping frustration that they can so innocently (and not so innocently) cause. There will be hits and misses…I just hope the hits will make the misses easier to bounce back from.

I don’t believe any one book or any one strategy will solve all parenting dilemmas. I do believe that the more educated I am then the more resources and tools I will have to at least feel like I can give my children the best of myself and help them along their path. And, when all else fails…there’s always that stash of chocolate in the pantry that makes us all smile.

Have you tried any gentle parenting strategies? Any advice?

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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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Friday Five Favourite: TV Shows I’ll Lose Sleep For

My Friday Five Favourite Things WM

Sleep has been a quite the commodity for me since last December…when my baby girl was born! For the past nine months I have let many things go in my life to make time for sleep whenever I can get it. Nonetheless, there are times when I will forgo an early bedtime and force my eye lids open so I can watch tv and feel somewhat normal (sometimes). And at least I’ll have something to say when I occasionally get together with friends other than recounting baby girl’s nap times, feeding times, amount of solids consumed, whether or not she’s constipated etc.

Here’s my top 5 shows that I’ll force myself awake to watch. (Yes, I realize that some of these start at 9 pm and only last an hour…but any nursing mommy with a baby that wakes multiple times during the night will tell you that 9 pm feels like 1 am to normal people.)

1.  Game of Thrones – violence, betrayal, sex, power, scheming…the perfect way to escape the daily routine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Ray Donovan – a man who fixes everything yet his family is in shambles. Does the law not exist for Ray Donovan? Nope. And it’s so fun to watch.

from tvrage.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Outlander – I love that these books were finally brought to the screen! I will be reviewing the show soon and I will add another review of the series since I recently finished Drums of Autumn. It’s a must watch if you’re a fan of the books.

from entertainmentdemocracy.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. The Voice – I’ve written about why I love this show in the past. I fall for the banter of the judges as they fight each other for the members of their team. I am enamored of the rivalry between Adam and Blake – oh those two! Mostly, I love the positive vibe of the show.

from blogsexpression.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Modern Family – funny, funny, funny! Oh, and the Colombian characters and references to the country and culture really help too.

 

 

 

 

 

A little laughter, a little drama, a little reality – it all keeps me entertained when I am drained from mommyhood. Do you watch any of these? What are your thoughts? What are your television guilty pleasures?

Have a great weekend!

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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: Reading With Your Child

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My son has been looking at books since he was four months old (read more about that here). My daughter is now doing the same. It is the most special time of the day to have my baby on my lap as we read the alphabet, count to ten, or flip through a cute and cuddly touch and feel board book. Or to laugh out loud at the antics of Captain Underpants as my son now proudly takes on some of the reading himself.

It is the book-lover in me and the English teacher in me that drove me to instil a love and respect for books in my son and I hope to continue that with my daughter.

There is something about reading that teaches us to slow down, to appreciate the written word and to use our imaginations in ways that modern society does not challenge us to do in our every day lives.

The importance of reading to children and babies is firmly supported by a plethora of journals, researchers, parenting websites etc etc etc.

I do not pretend to be well versed in this research – but, I do know that as a mother of two my heart is warmed by my son’s excitement when we discuss our favourite parts of a book and  my 7 month old’s little fingers grasping at her book when I say “turn the page”.

I admit that as an English teacher, I am aware of the connection between being a good reader and being able to inquire, research, deduce, create and write well. So instilling a love of books is as much about their education as it is about loving the written word. This is easy for me because I love reading. But what about those adults who don’t? If you’re at a loss for how to give your child something that you may lack, but you know is important, here are a few tips that might help:

watermarked children and books

They deprive me of sleep, push me to the borders of irrational rage, squeeze every last bit of patience out of me – but when we sit to read everything dissolves around us. My children and I willingly lose ourselves in the magic of the words and pictures.

Love for reading is a gift that will last forever. Teach it with passion. Give it with abandon. Your children will thank you.

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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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Wednesday Quotables: Being Unapologetic

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In the spirit of today’s post I will not apologize for my long absence from my blog. I will say that I missed it and am glad to be back.

I was scrolling through twitter this morning and found this awesome article posted by Women’s Health.

 

If you have a minute, watch the video clip. It’s not long and although it is ultimately a Pantene commercial, it still carries a pretty great message: stop saying sorry for everything! What a perfect topic for quotables. Here are some inspiring quotes about being yourself, owning yourself and being unapologetic about it.

 

 

 

 

 

Isn’t this the most wonderful message? Be you. No apologies. What a great lesson to pass along to our daughters. Hold on to your power, listen to your inner voice and proceed with confidence.

Have a great and unapologetic Wednesday!

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