Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Winter Palace

The Winter Palace
Author: Eva Stachniak
Source: A Chapters buy
Days to read: 10 days

I picked this book up at Chapters while I was shopping for a birthday gift for a friend. I think I have mentioned this before but historical novels are my FAVOURITE!!! More specifically, I love reading about women in history. Cleopatra, Josephine Bonaparte, Anne Boleyn to name a few! After reading the inside flap I knew it would be a goody!

This novel follows the life of Varvara, a young girl, in the Russian court. Because of a promise made by the Empress to her late father, Varvara is taken into the court and cared for. Her role is to be one of the many “tongues” to the Empress, listening, watching and reporting back to her majesty. She learns to be invisible, to read people and to know what the Empress is thinking, feeling and wanting to hear.

But when young Sophie (destined to become Catherine the Great) is brought to court to marry, Varvara finds in her, a friendship that she has been longing for. Varvara begins to align herself with Catherine and slowly forgets all that she has learned at the Russian Court. Power comes with a big price.

The only thing lacking in this book was a love interest for Varvara. She is the narrator of the story but I felt that she was too much on the sidelines. I really began to care for Varvara so I wanted some good things to happen to her and not just Catherine. But other than that I loved the book!

I ended up buying it for my friend Lauren; I wonder what she will think of it! Next time I am in Chapters I will pick up some other books by Eva Stachniak.
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The Lost Girls

The Lost Girls
Author: Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, Amanda Pressner
Source: Our book club book, chosen by Lauren
Days to Read: 2 weeks

Lauren picked our next book club book, The Lost Girls. This book is a journal of sorts in which 3 women decide to take a year-long trip around the world. I wasn’t sure if I would like this book. I thought there was the potential for it to be kind of boring but I was pleasantly surprised. Now it isn’t in my top 10 favourite books but for non-fiction it was pretty entertaining.

The 3 women have tons of adventures and visit some really interesting places. In one chapter, I actually thought to myself that I would like to visit this place they were describing (I think it was Lima, Peru).
One other thing to note was that it was really smooth switching between chapters/writers. All the chapters are written similarly so you don’t feel that it is really choppy or that you have to get re-accustomed to the new author’s voice.
I wonder what my fellow book club members will think! Our next meeting is July 18th so I will find out soon enough!

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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Under the Hawthorn Tree

Under the Hawthorn Tree
Author: Ai Mi
Source: Another random Chapters buy
Days to Read: 6 days 

Before starting this book I asked my coworker about it because as I read in the novel, the original book was discovered on a blog, was published, and was a huge success in China. The book was translated into English and has been made into a feature film. Ai Mi is an alias as the real author is unknown. My coworker had not read the book but had heard of the film and the story. 

I was immediately drawn into this book. I love a good romance, especially one that occurs in a different culture or time period. This book was so different from any I had read in that the innocence of the young girl Jingqiu was very extreme. The story takes place during China's Cultural Revolution (socialism was being enforced across the country). Jingqiu is sent to the country along with several other students to interview the villagers and write a textbook. While living in the village, Jingqiu falls in love with Old Third, an army general's son. Jingqiu comes from a family that has been disgraced as her father was branded a Capitalist so the relationship would never work. However the two find time to meet and spend time with each other. In a stark contrast to todays societal norms, Jingqiu is naive and cautious in her courtship with Old Third. She is also conflicted between her love and personal desires and the political climate at the time. Falling in love and marrying for love were not for the greater good and were considered selfish. 

The story is a typical love story but the complexities of the culture provides the reader with a a new perspective. You can't help but adore Jingqiu and the other characters in this novel.

I highly recommend it! 

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Alone In The Classroom

Alone in the Classroom
Author: Elizabeth Hay
Source: Random Chapters buy
Days to Read: I don't remember!

I usually have pretty good luck picking books from Chapters. I feel fairly confident when I read the back of a "Heather's Pick" and buy it that it will be a decent read. Now I don't remember if this was a "Pick" or not, but unfortunately this was one book I was anxious to finish so I could start another!

The book is narrated by Anne who is on a journey to discover more about her mother and her aunt Connie's past. Connie was a teacher living in the prairies in the 1920s and is not a conventional woman. She takes a particular interest in a struggling student, Michael Graves and they develop a relationship that lasts a lifetime. Other than that I am not really sure what else to take away from this book. 

When I read the back of the book it sounded really interesting; mysterious deaths, the strange behaviour of a principal and passionate relationships. These all pointed to a good read. However, I found this book extremely difficult to follow. It jumps around from Anne the narrator in the present, to Connie in the 1920s. I could not figure out the significance of Anne's story line or really grasp what it even was. The book felt like a bunch of events that are loosely strung together by the recurrence of the characters but with no real or deep connection to anything. 

I would have to say that I do not recommend this book, it just didn't make the cut!
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