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Review – The Storms of War by Kate Williams

Hi,

Don’t judge a book by its cover! This sentence holds especially true for Kate WilliamsThe Storms of War. Don’t expect your usual light historical/romantic fiction fare. Why? Just read my review.

Thank you Orion Books for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

The Storms of War

Image provided by Orion Books¹

Synopsis quoted from Orion Books¹:

In the idyllic early summer of 1914, life is good for the de Witt family. Rudolf and Verena are planning the wedding of their daughter Emmeline, while their eldest son, Arthur, is studying in Paris and Michael is just back from his first term at Cambridge. Celia, the youngest of the de Witt children, is on the brink of adulthood, and secretly dreams of escaping her carefully mapped-out future and exploring the world.

But the onslaught of war changes everything and soon the de Witts find themselves sidelined and in danger of losing everything they hold dear. As Celia struggles to make sense of the changing world around her, she lies about her age to join the war effort and finds herself embroiled in a complex plot that puts not only herself but those she loves in danger.

My Thoughts:

Kate Williams’ The Storms of War is set during the Great War in England and France and the detailed descriptions of the various settings help you to envision what the war must have been like. While Williams paints a clear picture of the gruesome wartime at the Western Front in France, she doesn’t forget to also write about the state of her settings before and after the war. One of these places is Stoneythorpe Hall, the home of the de Witt family, and I really enjoyed reading about how it changed during the war.

In my opinion, this novel is the coming-of-age story of Celia de Witt, our main character. She is the youngest of the de Witt children and after the war breaks out she has to grow up very fast. Child-like, dreamy and naive Celia soon adapts to the harsh reality of the wartime and turns into a practical young woman. Only later in the book, she somehow seems to be out of character for a short while. I could write a lot about the other characters. They all seem to have their own story to tell which isn’t surprising, as this is the first book in a trilogy.

As I said before, when I saw the cover of The Storms of War, I expected light historical/romantic fiction. What I didn’t expect is a novel that is filled with blood and causes so much pain. I was glad it turned out that way. The Storms of War is a well-researched book that I’d recommend to everyone who can stomach a hefty dose of war and its consequences on people’s lives.

4beans

¹ https://www.orionbooks.co.uk/books/detail.page?isbn=9781409139881

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Review – Paddington Helps Out by Michael Bond

Hello everyone,

Today we’re having a look at a classic for children and those who are young at heart: Michael Bond‘s Paddington Helps Out. It is the second book in a series of 13, so you will most definitely see more of Paddington.

Synopsis quoted from HarperCollins Children’s Books¹:

“Oh dear,” said Paddington, as everyone turned to look at him accusingly. “I’m in trouble again.” Somehow trouble comes naturally to Paddington.

What other bear could upset the whole cinema by standing on his seat to boo the ‘bad guy’ in the cowboy film? Or drip ice-cream on the people down below? Or flood the launderette and saw Mr Curry’s kitchen into little pieces? Only Paddington! But when Paddington’s head is so full of ideas, some things are bound to go wrong!

My Thoughts:

Like A Bear Called Paddington, the first instalment in the Paddington series, Paddington Helps Out is set in London, UK. Again, Michael Bond takes us to familiar places like the Browns’ home, the market, or Mr Gruber’s fascinating shop. We are, however, also introduced to new locations like a fancy restaurant, or the launderette and, as always, we see them like Paddington, as utterly exciting and strange.

By now you should all be familiar with our main character Paddington. The young, charming and naive bear from the darkest Peru always means well and has a big heart. It is just wonderful to see the world through his eyes.

Like all the books in the series, Paddington Helps Out is divided into short stories that are connected to each other. The stories in this book are about Paddington trying to help out, but it wouldn’t be him if things would go as planned. Paddington Helps Out is a fun and entertaining read that teaches us that even a bad situation can turn into something good in the end.

4beans

¹ http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/titles/9780006753445/paddington-helps-out

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Review – Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

Happy Hump Day,

Today I’ll review J. M. Barrie’s classic Peter Pan. I’ve been planning to read this book for ages and now that I’ve bought the beautiful Puffin Chalk edition with rough cut (oh I love rough cut), I finally felt ready to do so. First off, I have to admit that I’m heavily biased by Disney’s 1953 animated film Peter Pan, so reading the original came as a shock. But see for yourself.

Peter Pan

Image provided by Penguin US¹

Synopsis quoted from Penguin US¹:

One starry night, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell lead the three Darling children over the rooftops of London and away to Neverland–the island where lost boys play, mermaids splash and fairies make mischief. But a villainous-looking gang of pirates lurk in the docks, led by the terrifying Captain James Hook. Magic and excitement are in the air, but if Captain Hook has his way, before long, someone will be walking the plank and swimming with the crocodiles…

My Thoughts:

As we all know, Peter Pan is set in London and Neverland. Neverland is a special place that looks different for every child. Barrie compares its map to the map of a child’s mind. As far as setting goes, the description of Neverland is the most outstanding part of this novel. I also like how Barrie writes about the Lost Boys having to find the right hollow tree stump as a personal entryway into their underground home.

But now, the truth will be revealed: Our main character, famous Peter Pan, is an unlikeable, selfish fellow. I really came to hate him. And Wendy isn’t much better, because she just doesn’t get that Peter is using her. She is a very naive little girl who desperately wants to be a wife and a mother. The only characters I did like are the Lost Boys. They are a lot of fun to be around and remind me of a real bunch of boys quarrelling and having fun. Of course, all this doesn’t mean that J. M. Barrie was a bad writer, it just means that I grew up with a different version of Peter Pan and it’s hard for me to adjust to the harsh reality.

The first half of Peter Pan actually is so boring I was thinking of quitting the book. I am, however, not a quitter, so I read on and it did get better. You should know that this book is very different from what you see in the 1953 Disney movie. Neverland isn’t a shiny happy place with a couple of silly pirates causing trouble. It’s cruel. And Peter is too. So don’t read this book to small children. What Peter Pan does is, it gives a good impression of late 19th, early 20th century views on women and of what was expected of little boys and girls. So read it if you are interested in that, or if you want to score more points on all those 100-books-you-should-read lists.

3beans

¹ http://www.penguin.com/book/peter-pan-by-j-m-barrie/9780147508652

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Review – My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young

Hi,

The month is almost over and I’m a little behind on reviews. ;) Today you’ll get another review that fits the Great War Centenary topic. I read Louisa Young‘s My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You which was shortlisted for the 2011 Costa Novel Award.

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You

Image provided by Harper Collins UK¹

Synopsis quoted from Harper Collins UK¹:

A letter, two lovers, a terrible lie. In war, truth is only the first casualty.

While Riley Purefoy and Peter Locke fight for their country, their survival and their sanity in the trenches of Flanders, Nadine Waveney, Julia Locke and Rose Locke do what they can at home. Beautiful, obsessive Julia and gentle, eccentric Peter are married: each day Julia goes through rituals to prepare for her beloved husband’s return. Nadine and Riley, only eighteen when the war starts, and with problems of their own already, want above all to make promises – but how can they when the future is not in their hands? And Rose? Well, what did happen to the traditionally brought-up women who lost all hope of marriage, because all the young men were dead?

My Thoughts:

Louisa Young’s historical novel My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You is set in early 20th century England and France. While Ms Young did thoroughly research the time the book is set in, I had problems envisioning the setting, especially the scenes that are set at the Western Front, even though I am familiar with what it looked like from pictures.

The novel’s main characters are Riley Purefoy, Nadine Waveney, Peter and Julia Locke as well as Rose Locke, but those who most stand out are Riley and Julia. Riley, whose life we witness from his boyhood onwards, goes through a lot of changes and there comes a time when he even turns into a quite unlikeable fellow. Nevertheless, his character always stays believable. Julia Locke is the perfect characterization of a wife without purpose. Staying at home, nobody thinks her capable of doing something useful, so she slowly begins to lose her mind.

My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You starts out slow-paced but picks up so much speed in the second half that I wasn’t able to put it down. The novel switches between England and France, home and the Western Front. All main characters get their share of attention and so the reader is able to see the war and its effects from different perspectives. My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You gives us a glimpse of human tragedy and hope during the Great War and to add a little special something, Louisa Young provides insight into the history of the first successful plastic surgeries.

4beans

If you are interested in more info on the plastic surgeries done by Sir Harold D. Gillies, you can read his book Plastic Surgery of the Face online here: (Warning: Contains images of facial gunshot wounds): https://openlibrary.org/books/OL7141634M/Plastic_surgery_of_the_face

¹ http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/titles/9780007361441/my-dear-i-wanted-to-tell-you-louisa-young

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Review – Now I See You by Nicole C. Kear

Hi,

Today is the publication day of Nicole C. Kear‘s memoir Now I See You. I’ll introduce you to it down in my review. Thank you St. Martin’s Press for providing me with an e-galley!

Now I See You

Image provided by St. Martin’s Press¹

Synopsis quoted from St. Martin’s Press¹:

At nineteen years old, Nicole C. Kear’s biggest concern is choosing a major–until she walks into a doctor’s office in midtown Manhattan and gets a life-changing diagnosis. She is going blind, courtesy of an eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa, and has only a decade or so before Lights Out. Instead of making preparations as the doctor suggests, Kear decides to carpe diem and make the most of the vision she has left. She joins circus school, tears through boyfriends, travels the world, and through all these hi-jinks, she keeps her vision loss a secret.

When Kear becomes a mother, just a few years shy of her vision’s expiration date, she amends her carpe diem strategy, giving up recklessness in order to relish every moment with her kids. Her secret, though, is harder to surrender – and as her vision deteriorates, harder to keep hidden. As her world grows blurred, one thing becomes clear: no matter how hard she fights, she won’t win the battle against blindness. But if she comes clean with her secret, and comes to terms with the loss, she can still win her happy ending.

My Thoughts:

Where I live, you don’t often meet blind or visually impaired people walking the streets with the aid of a stick, but when I do happen to cross paths with them, I’m often at a loss because I don’t know how to react. Should I just pass them in a normal way? Should I stand back, so it’s easier for them? Or would acting normal make it easier? Can they hear me? What would it be like if I were this blind person? I guess I’m not the only one asking themselves these questions.

When I encountered Nicole C. Kear’s Now I See You, I thought, “You have to read this book”! How often do you get an opportunity to read a memoir by someone who loses their sight? What’s more, Nicole C. Kear is an avid reader. Just think about that for a minute. You are gradually losing your sight and you love to read. That’s a hefty blow.

Now I See You is a memoir that is as engaging and easy to read as a novel. It tells Kear’s story from the moment she learned that she would lose her eyesight up until the moment she learned to live without it. The author shares everyday situations as well as very personal and intimate moments like the birth of her children. Her first child’s birth is told especially vivid and with a good portion of humor. The latter is what I liked very much about this book – it shows that Nicole C. Kear might have lost most of her eyesight but not her sense of humor.

No matter if you feel insecure around the visually impaired or not, I can only recommend that you read this insightful memoir. Now I See You opened my eyes.

4beans

¹ http://us.macmillan.com/nowiseeyou/NicoleCKear

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Recipe – Homemade Frozen Yogurt

Hi,

It’s awfully hot here these days, so today I decided to make use of our overstock of yogurt to cool myself down a little. Of course, I could have taken another trip to the ice cream parlor, but I wanted to go for something low-calorie instead.

You need (serves 1 or 2 depending on their appetite ;) )
  • a freezer
  • 2 freezer bags
  • about 250g (~8.5oz) plain yogurt (that’s the smallest unit you can buy over here)
  • optional: vanilla, sugar, fruit, cookies,…
How it’s done
  1. Put the yogurt into one of the freezer bags.
  2. If you want to, you can add some sugar, vanilla, fruit puree, cookie crumbs, or whatever else comes to your mind.
  3. Seal the bag and check if it’s really closed.
  4. If you added something to the yogurt, mix carefully kneading the bag with your hands.
  5. Put the bag with the yogurt into the second bag. (This is just to make sure nothing leaks). Seal the second bag.
  6. Find a safe place in the freezer and freeze for 1-2 hours. You should quickly knead your yogurt bag every 10-15 minutes to get a smooth texture. You have to be especially attentive once you notice the yogurt freezing. Things go fast from there.
  7. Your frozen yogurt is done when the whole bag contains a smooth frozen mixture.

Bon Appetite!

Frozen Yogurt

Plain and Chocolate Chip Cookie Frozen Yogurt with Chocolate Chip Cookie Topping

 

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Review – The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

Hi,

It’s publication day and I’ve been waiting for over a month to share this review with you. The book I’m talking about is The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez and you are definitely in for a treat. Thank you Canongate for providing me with an ARC and for making it possible to share my enthusiasm with all the people out there!

The Book Of Unknown Americans

Image provided by Canongate¹

Synopsis quoted from Canongate¹:

We had been planning our life here for so long. Filling out papers, hoping, praying, waiting. We had all of our dreams pinned on this place, but the pin was thin and delicate and it was too soon to tell whether it was going to hold much of anything at all.

When Alma Rivera arrives in Newark, Delaware she is brim full of the promise and possibilities of her new American home. Hope that her luminous daughter Maribel will be helped by the specialist education the US can provide, and faith that her husband Arturo will flourish in a country that celebrates the hard-working and the talented.

But the reality of life without status, money, family and friends soon becomes apparent. And when violence casts its shadow, Alma realizes that her biggest mistake was assuming that everything that could go wrong in their lives already had . . .

My Thoughts:

Newark, Delaware is the unspectacular setting of Cristina Henríquez’ novel The Book of Unknown Americans. A small, average, American city that could be just around the corner from where you live. A wonderful choice of setting for a novel full of immigrant tales that stand for so many real immigrant tales out there. Cristina Henríquez knows how to create setting. One of my favorite scenes happens right at the beginning, when the Riveras walk down the main road trying to find a supermarket and finally have to buy groceries at the gas station instead. Within less than a page, Ms Henríquez manages to create the perfect US-American scenery, at least as it appears to strangers.

The Book of Unknown Americans focuses on the story of Maribel and Mayor (a boy from Panama) but it is alternately told from the viewpoints of Mayor and Maribel’s mother Alma. Alma is a very powerful character. She knows and loves her daughter the way only a mother does. In addition to that, Alma is the one who suggested emigrating to the United States and now she gives the reader the chance to live through all her doubts and worries. Interspersed between Mayor and Alma’s accounts, you will find an abundance of secondary characters telling their own stories. These little biographies fit in perfectly and help to understand the secondary characters’ personalities.

Like many other novels dealing with the topic of immigration, The Book of Unknown Americans starts out with the Riveras’ arrival in the United States, but where Ms Henríquez takes it from there is somewhere a little different. This book might not nearly sum up all the varying immigrant biographies out there, but it can give us a taste of what it can be like to come to a new country where most people will be prejudiced against you. The Book of Unknown Americans tells a story full of hopes and dreams and when I think of it, I’m still getting goosebumps. Cristina Henríquez wrote a novel that takes time to digest and you won’t and shouldn’t forget about it all too soon. The Book of Unknown Americans is an important book, a book that, in my opinion, should become an obligatory part of the US American high-school curriculum. Read it!

5beans

¹ http://www.canongate.tv/the-book-of-unknown-americans-trade-paperback.html