Monday, February 27, 2017

Review: Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte by Carol Berkin

Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson BonaparteTitle: Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte
Author: Carol Berkin
Publisher/Publication Date: Knopf; February 11, 2014
Genre: Nonfiction; History; Biogrophy 
Source/Format: Purchased; Hardcover

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

In Wondrous Beauty, Carol Berkin tells the story of this audacious, outsized life. We see how the news of the union infuriated Napoleon and resulted in his banning the then ­pregnant Betsy Bonaparte from disembarking in any European port, offering his brother the threat of remaining married to that “American girl” and forfeiting all wealth and power—or renouncing her, marrying a woman of Napoleon’s choice, and reaping the benefits. Jérôme ended the marriage posthaste and was made king of Westphalia; Betsy fled to England, gave birth to her son and only child, Jérôme’s namesake, and was embraced by the English press, who boasted that their nation had opened its arms to the cruelly abandoned young wife. Berkin writes that this naïve, headstrong American girl returned to Baltimore a wiser, independent woman, refusing to seek social redemption or a return to obscurity through a quiet marriage to a member of Baltimore’s merchant class. Instead she was courted by many, indifferent to all, and initiated a dangerous game of politics—a battle for a pension from Napoleon—which she won: her pension from the French government arrived each month until Napoleon’s exile.

Using Betsy Bonaparte’s extensive letters, the author makes clear that the “belle of Baltimore” disdained America’s obsession with moneymaking, its growing ethos of democracy, and its rigid gender roles that confined women to the parlor and the nursery; that she sought instead a European society where women created salons devoted to intellectual life—where she was embraced by many who took into their confidence, such as Madame de Staël, Madame Récamier, the aging Marquise de Villette (goddaughter of Voltaire), among others—and where aristocracy, based on birth and breeding rather than commerce, dominated society. Wondrous Beauty is a riveting portrait of a woman torn between two worlds, unable to find peace in either—one a provincial, convention-bound new America; the other a sophisticated, extravagant Old World Europe that embraced freedoms, a Europe ultimately swallowed up by decadence and idleness. A stunning revelation of an extraordinary age...

My Thoughts:

I decided to give this one a try since it has been some time since I last read a book that was nonfiction. I read the synopsis and thought, “Hey, this might not be a bad book." And you know, after reading Wondrous Beauty by Carol Berkin I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes life is as strange as fiction. There are some things you just can’t make up, and Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson Bonaparte’s life was worth reading about. Her story perfectly illustrates the life of an ambitious woman living in the nineteenth-century.

Oddly enough, this was the first time I’ve actually heard of her.

This book opens by briefly telling about Elizabeth’s father before following her life as she was growing up, her subsequent albeit brief marriage to Jérôme Bonaparte (younger brother to Napoleon Bonaparte) and her life thereafter—all the way up until her death. Wondrous Beauty portrays the life of Elizabeth as a mixture of years spent in the limelight as somewhat of a celebrity renowned for her beauty, intelligence, and wit. The book also portrays her as a woman charmed by nineteenth-century extravagant European lifestyle with a clear disdain for her Baltimore roots. Despite all those things, she also suffered a lot of disappointment throughout her life, and it steadily changed her. I also felt that it was fascinating to see how parts of her personal ideology contradicted her actions.

This book makes use of her letters, which are quoted throughout. They were extensively detailed and offered a lot of insight into her life and how she felt about things that were happening to and around her.

Wondrous Beauty is one of those books that I enjoy because it sheds light on another part of history, a story that I might not have known about otherwise. Wonderous Beauty was simply a fantastic, thought-provoking read.

Rating 4/5

About the Author (from the back of the book)...

Carol Berkin received her A.B. from Barnard College and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University. She taught at Baruch College from 1972 to 2008 and has taught at the Graduate Center for the City University of New York since 1983. She is currently Baruch Presidential Professor of History. Berkin is the author of numerous books, among them Civil War Wives, Revolutionary Mothers, A brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution as well as articles and reviews. She lives in New York City and Guilford, Connecticut...

Friday, February 24, 2017

Review: Unfriending My Ex (and Other Things I'll Never Do) by Kim Stolz

Unfriending My Ex: And Other Things I'll Never DoTitle: Unfriending My Ex: And Other Things I'll Never Do
Author: Kim Stolz
Publisher/Publication Date: Scribner; June 24, 2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Source/Format: Purchased; Hardcover

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

An incisive, hilarious, and brutally honest memoir about life online and about how our obsessive connectivity is making us more disconnected;from former reality show contestant, MTV VJ, restauranteur, and go-to voice for millenials...

Social media and technology have fundamentally altered the way we do business, couple and break up, develop friendships, and construct our identities and our notions of aspiration and fame. We make decisions about where we'll go based on whether it's Instagrammable. We don't have friends, we have followers. For an entire generation, an experience not captured on social media might as well not have happened at all.

As someone whose identity has been forged by reality TV (as a contestant on America's Next Top Model) and social media and mobile technology, Kim Stolz is deeply obsessed with the subject. She has a hard time putting her phone down. And yet she remembers what life was like before technology-induced ADD, before life had become a string of late-night texts, Snapchats, endless selfies, that sinking feeling you get when you realize you've hit reply all by mistake. It's hard to imagine now, but there was once a time before we wasted a full hour emptily clicking through a semi-stranger's vacation pictures on Facebook, a time before every ex, every meaningless fling was a mere click away.  Unfriending My Ex (And Other Things I'll Never Do) is the first book to document the hilarity of the social media revolution from the inside; it chronicles a life filtered through our obsessive relationship with technology. The book is as eye-opening as it is entertaining as it proceeds through the various ways in which social media and mobile technology have generated empathy deficits and left us all with the attention spans of fruit flies;and the sad fact that in spite all of this, we find it impossible to switch our devices off...

My Thoughts:

I’m telling you, it took me all of two times of seeing Unfriending my Ex (and Other Things I’ll Never Do) by Kim Stolz in the store for me to finally just buy the book. I remember Kim Stolz from when she competed on America’s Next Top Model, when I still actively watched the show, which was a very long time ago. I didn’t really make the connection until I gave the synopsis a full read. I was interested. And you know what? That interest paid off, because Unfriending my Ex was a pretty interesting and surprisingly insightful book. Unfriending my Ex was the kind of book that made me really think more about the subject of what I was reading. I liked Stolz approach to the topic, and her writing was concise and engaging, which made getting into the book pretty easy. 
Unfriending my Ex was mostly about Kim Stolz and her use of internet and addiction to social media. It kind of follows her as she conducts an experiment by temporarily quitting social media. A lot of the book was spent exploring her thoughts about her experience and the lessons she learned while on her social media hiatus. The challenge that Stolz imposed on herself was interesting to read about, specifically her reaction to being without her phone for a straight week. Stolz made a lot of good points, and reading this book definitely made me evaluate the way I use social media and how often I’m logged in, if at all. Overall, I feel like I made a great choice by picking this one up.  

Rating 4/5

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

ARC Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the NightingaleTitle: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Publisher/Publication Date: Del Rey; January 10, 2017 
Genre: Fantasy
Source/Format: First to Read; eARC

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent. As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales...

My Thoughts:

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is one of my most anticipated 2017 releases. I was very excited to finally start this one and wasn’t disappointed with what I read. The Bear and the Nightingale was a fantastic book. It is my new favorite thing. The writing was descriptive and atmospheric. The story, while slow to begin, was ultimately engaging and compelling, and the setting gave the book a fairytale like ambiance. I’ve come to the conclusion that The Bear and the Nightingale was just my kind of book.

The characters, well, there were some that I just didn’t enjoy reading about as much as others, but for the most part, they were great. Vasilisa was the main character of The Bear and the Nightingale. This was her story and it showed. I liked her personality. Most of all, I liked how she was just herself despite all that happened to her. Also, the horses—I won’t get into their role too much since it would be a spoiler, but they were fantastic and I loved them.

I think what I liked most about this book was the pace of the story. Typically, if a story moves too slowly it runs the risk of losing my interest. The Bear and the Nightingale was far from boring. This story had layers of detail found in the folklore and traditions. It had a lot going on, both in the character’s everyday lives, and the story that slowly unfolded around them. Religion and faith was one of the more prominent elements of the story, and I did like how it was incorporated into the lives of the characters.

The Bear and the Nightingale isn’t that short of a book, but I felt like it flew by so quickly. It was easy to get lost in the story, and those are the best kinds of books in my opinion. By the time the book ended, I was already wishing for more. I’m really impressed with this book, and I’m definitely going to continue on with this series.

Rating 4.5/5

This copy of the book was provided by First to Read (Publisher) for this review, thank you!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!

Have A Happy, Healthy & Prosperous New Year! 
Reading on the Rocks

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Review: Key of Knowledge by Nora Roberts

Key of Knowledge (The Key Trilogy, #2)Title: Key of Knowledge
Author: Nora Roberts
Publisher/Publication Date: Berkley; January 1, 2003
Genre: Romance; Fantasy
Source/Format: Purchased; Paperback

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

Fate brings three women together for a chance to unlock their deepest desires. This is Dana’s quest…

Dana Steele has always found her greatest passion in books. But now her boss is making her job as a librarian a living hell. Luckily, she now has a Plan B. High on a hill overlooking the town of Pleasant Valley, Pennsylvania, sits the Warrior’s Peak estate. It’s where Dana was invited to meet Malory Price and Zoe McCourt—and where they learned that they were destined to find three keys to unlock a box holding the souls of three mythical demigoddesses: one an artist, one a bard, and one a warrior. With the promise of a million dollars each dangled before them, the women couldn’t refuse. And as Malory found the first key, they formed a fast friendship and decided to go into business together. For Dana, that meant her dream of owning a bookstore was about to come true. And now, as Dana finds herself on the threshold of some major life changes, it’s her turn to find a key. She has four weeks to unravel a riddle involving her past, present, and future, and to find the truth hidden among deception and lies—or succumb to her worst nightmare...

My Thoughts:

Every time I buy a Nora Roberts book, I always end up with the second book of a trilogy. This has happened twice now. I’ve heard of Nora Roberts before because my mom has a lot of her books, so I'm not totally unfamiliar with her work. I just haven’t kept up with which series was which.

Key of Knowledge is the first book I’ve actually read by Roberts, and I wasn’t disappointed. The story had a contemporary romance feel to it, but was combined with magical elements and mythology that I really enjoyed. There were gods and goddesses, prophecies, and even a little bit of a quest; romance, and a little action. Roberts knows how to set up a convincing atmosphere. There was always a sense of danger, even when the characters were going about their daily routine.

Going into the book there was a lot that I obviously missed, but it wasn’t hard to get into the story. Roberts writing was excellent, and the pace was good from start to finish. The characters were interesting. I especially liked the friendship between Dana, Malory, and Zoe. The romantic elements had a prominent role in Key of Knowledge, but honestly I didn’t mind it. I think Roberts handled that part of the story in such a good way. I liked the relationship between the characters a lot.

All-in-all, Key of Knowledge was just a great book. There was an emotional element to it that I really liked, and the story itself was great. So, I eventually want to read the rest of the trilogy, and will definitely check out other books by Nora Roberts.

Rating 5/5

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