Hello fellow bookworms! It’s Tuesday and that means it is time for another Top Ten Tuesday post!
This week’s theme is…
April 23: (First Ten) Books I Reviewed (These do not have to be formal reviews. A small sentence on a retailer site or Goodreads counts, too! Submitted by Rissi @ Finding Wonderland)
» The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes
The smallest items can hold centuries of secrets…
Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt’s island estate when she finds an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in the house. As she peels back layer upon layer of the secrets it holds, Inara’s life becomes interwoven with that of Mei Lein, a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before. Through the stories Mei Lein tells in silk, Inara uncovers a tragic truth that will shake her family to its core — and force her to make an impossible choice.
Inspired by true events, Kelli Estes’s brilliant and atmospheric debut serves as a poignant tale of two women determined to do the right thing, and the power of our own stories.
This was actually the first book I ever reviewed! Not just here on the blog, but in general. It was also my first ever post on the blog… and you can definitely tell lol The review isn’t bad per se, but I have come a long ways in my reviewing. As much as I wanted to go in and edit it, I left it so I can remember where I started.
Excerpt from my review:
Right from the start I became immersed in the stories of Mei Lein and Inara. The book toggles back and forth between the two women. Mei Lein’s story takes place in the late 1800s and Inara’s story is set in the present. At first, the two stories seem un-related, but as the author spins her tale, we learn there is a deep connection between the two. I felt the author did a wonderful job transitioning between the two time periods and that the book flowed very nicely. I was engaged the entire time and was invested in finding out the secrets of the silk sleeve.
You can read my full review here ⇒ The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes
» Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
The author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be delivers her most ambitious and powerful novel to date: a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.
Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from “aging out” of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.
Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.
The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.
Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.
This was my second book review. This book has a special place in my heart since my first ever author event was to see Christina Baker Kline talk about this book.
Excerpt from my review:
I was appalled at how these kids were treated. They were looked down upon as having tainted blood, and therefore treated as no more than property. The psychological implications of being treated this way was a huge theme in the book. Kline did an incredible job conveying the emotions and feelings that these kids went through. Feelings of shame, worthlessness, incompleteness, being unloved, being unwanted, being looked down upon, etc.
You can read my full review here ⇒ Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
» The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes #1) by Laurie R. King
Long retired, Sherlock Holmes quietly pursues his study of honeybee behavior on the Sussex Downs. He never imagines he would encounter anyone whose intellect matched his own, much less an audacious teenage girl with a penchant for detection. Miss Mary Russell becomes Holmes’ pupil and quickly hones her talent for deduction, disguises and danger. But when an elusive villain enters the picture, their partnership is put to a real test.
I totally forgot about this one! I actually really enjoyed this one. I should probably continue on with the series…
Excerpt from my review:
I was intrigued with the premise of the book being about Holmes taking on a apprentice, and that apprentice being a 15 year girl none the less. I decided that this may not be so bad after all!I am so glad that I overcame my reservations and took the plunge. This book kept me interested and wanting to know what was going to happen next. For me, the author had just the right amount of mystery, without over-doing it. The cases were the stereotypical “Sherlock Holmes types of cases” where things are not what they seem, which keeps you guessing. This book isn’t graphic or gory, which I liked. I also liked how the book was not just about the cases, but also about Holmes and Russell and their evolving relationship. The witty banter and dry humor between Russell and Holmes was entertaining.
» The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.” In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation, if not survival, lies with the other
1878 Paris. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.
Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.
Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.” In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation, if not survival, lies with the other.
This book is not going to be for everyone since it is very slow paced. I highly recommend the audiobook if you are going to give this one a go!
Excerpt from my review:
It was heartbreaking, and often disturbing, to read about what some of these girls did to elevate themselves in the French opera. I will forewarn any potential readers that this book has some graphic scenes. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy more tragic historical fiction, those interested in learning more about the French opera in the late 1880’s, and anyone who enjoyed Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.
You can read my full review here ⇒ The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
» The Red Queen (Red Queen #1) by Victoria Aveyard
This is a world divided by blood – red or silver. The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change. That is until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power. Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime. But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart.
My first time reviewing a book I did not care for!
Excerpt of my review:
Honestly, my biggest hang up about this book was not being able to get past all the parallels with The Hunger Games… arena fights, love triangle (square?), unfair class system, narcissistic tendencies of the upper class, government oppression of lower class, uprising of oppressed lower class, government using lower class girl to pacify the uprising, the “rebels” using that same girl as the face of their rebellion, etc etc. I understand that lots of books have these common elements, but Red Queen was just too comparable. Had there not been so many similarities, my opinion of this book would have drastically improved.
You can read my full review here ⇒ Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
» The Orchard by Theresa Weir
THE ORCHARD is the story of a street-smart city girl who must adapt to a new life on an apple farm after she falls in love with Adrian Curtis, the golden boy of a prominent local family whose lives and orchards seem to be cursed. Married after only three months, young Theresa finds life with Adrian on the farm far more difficult and dangerous than she expected. Rejected by her husband’s family as an outsider, she slowly learns for herself about the isolated world of farming, pesticides, environmental destruction, and death, even as she falls more deeply in love with her husband, a man she at first hardly knew and the land that has been in his family for generations. She becomes a reluctant player in their attempt to keep the codling moth from destroying the orchard, but she and Adrian eventually come to know that their efforts will not only fail but will ultimately take an irreparable toll.
I STILL think about this book… It is still one of the better memoirs I’ve ever read.
Excerpt from my review:
As much as this novel is about Theresa, it is also about the environmental implications of chemicals used by farmers during this time. Theresa sheds light on a very important perspective here, not of the consumers, but of the farmers who used these chemicals. Again, I can’t say too much, but I think the story she has to tell is an important one.
This is definitely not a light hearted read. Tragedy is at every twist and turn, reminding me of a gothic style novel. Please don’t let that scare you off. This book is one of those books that leaves an impression and makes you think long after you are finished. Theresa has a story to tell. Her story is honest, raw, devastating, and above all, important.
You can read my full review here ⇒ The Orchard by Theresa Weir
» Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica
A chance encounter sparks an unrelenting web of lies in this stunning new psychological thriller from national bestselling author Mary Kubica
She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head…
Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.
Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow’s past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.
Excerpt from my review:
How much can one person physically and mentally endure before they go off the deep end? In Pretty Baby Kubica pushes her characters to the limit, then goes one step further. For the majority of the book, you will think you know what is going to happen next. Just when you think you have everything figured out, Kubica completely switches gears and throws you for a loop.
If I had to sum up Pretty Baby in one word, it would be intense. While listening to this book, there were parts where I felt a knot in the pit in my stomach. I was experiencing physical effects of anxiety. You know the author is a talented writer when they can generate a physical response in their reader. I also found myself shouting at my phone a few different times, as if the characters could actually hear me… Maybe some of the craziness of this book was rubbing off on me 🙂
You can read my full review here ⇒ Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica
» Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal
When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets.
For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places.
For fans of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and The Help, Dollbaby brings to life the charm and unrest of 1960s New Orleans through the eyes of a young girl learning to understand race for the first time.
By turns uplifting and funny, poignant and full of verve, Dollbaby is a novel readers will take to their hearts.
A Top Ten Finalist for Best Historical Novel, Goodreads Choice Awards, and a LibraryReads and Okra Pick
A big-hearted coming-of-age debut set in civil rights-era New Orleans—a novel of Southern eccentricity and secrets
This was one of my favorite books of 2016! I absolutely adored the setting, eccentric characters, and plot twist!
Excerpt from my review:
I loved that this novel took place in New Orleans. With its culture, beautiful architecture, diversity, celebratory atmosphere, and friendly people, New Orleans has always been on my bucket list of places to visit. Even though I have never visited New Orleans, I know McNeal’s portrayal did the great city justice, which isn’t surprising since she is a native. Actaully, McNeal wrote Dollbaby as a tribute to New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
What I loved most about Dollbaby were the characters. The eccentric personalities and the relationships between the characters are what makes this novel great. McNeal created characters so vibrant that they felt real to me. It has been a long time since I have connected with characters as deeply as I did with these characters. As much as this is Ibby’s coming of age story, it is also Fannie’s story. Fannie is a complex character whose past slowly unfolds over the course of the novel. At first, it seems as if Fannie is just crazy, but as the plot thickens, we learn of the personal tragedies that haunt her. Fannie’s hired help, Queenie and Dollbaby, are just as much apart of the journey. They are the glue that hold Fannie together, and take part in the raising of Ibby. The lesson here is that family is more than just blood, it’s the people who love you. McNeal weaves a brilliant mystery that is like a slow burn. You will keep turning the pages, desperate for more. The plot twist at the end… left me speechless. It is THAT good. Trust me on this one. You will thank me.
You can read my full review here ⇒ Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal
» Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
Audrey can’t leave the house. she can’t even take off her dark glasses inside the house.
Then her brother’s friend Linus stumbles into her life. With his friendly, orange-slice smile and his funny notes, he starts to entice Audrey out again – well, Starbucks is a start. And with Linus at her side, Audrey feels like she can do the things she’d thought were too scary. Suddenly, finding her way back to the real world seems achievable.
This book was just “meh” for me. I was anticipating more from Kinsella, who I had only heard high praise for…. I haven’t tried any of her other books.
Excerpt from my review:
I think Kinsella did a wonderful job expressing what it is like to suffer from anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression are such taboo topics these days, so it is refreshing to see an author shed some light on these tough issues. She was able to create a story centered around a “heavy topic” but still managed to keep the book light hearted.
Overall, I felt like the book was cute, but I wanted a little more. There was a big part of the book that was left unresolved. This was done intentionally by the author, so the reader could come up with their own interpretation. Normally I like this tactic, but for this book I felt that adding this key component would have made the book more compelling. It also could have been used as an effective tool for teaching a very important lesson.
You can read my full review here ⇒ Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
» Mr. Mercedes (Bill Hodges Trilogy #1) by Stephen King
In a high-suspense race against time, three of the most unlikely heroes Stephen King has ever created try to stop a lone killer from blowing up thousands. “Mr. Mercedes is a rich, resonant, exceptionally readable accomplishment by a man who can write in whatever genre he chooses” (The Washington Post).
In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.
In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.
Brady Hartsfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again. Only Bill Hodges, with two new, unusual allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.
Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.
Probably one of the better narrated audiobooks I’ve listened to! No one writes messed up characters like King.
Excerpt from my review:
What do you get when you bring together a 60+ retired detective, a 17-year-old Ivy League bound kid, and a 40-something mentally unstable woman? A crime fighting trio probably didn’t come to mind, but this is the mystery solving dream team in Mr. Mercedes. I enjoyed the diversity between the characters and how each brought something different to the plate. I’m a sucker for a book with unlikely heroes. It was easy to like these characters and to root for them. The playful banter between them was light hearted and was a necessary break from all the heavy parts in this book.
Speaking of heavy parts. Wowza. I didn’t expect any less from the mind of Stephen King. I can honestly say there were multiple occasions where I was genuinely disturbed. There were two scenes in particular where I had to stop listening in order to compose myself before continuing on. This book should come with a disclaimer: Stomch churning may occur, keep Pepto-Bismol handy… If you have read this book, you probably know which scenes I am referring to.
You can read my full review here ⇒ Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King