The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

the secret chordRating: **** (4/5)

Published: Viking, October 2015

Format: ARC

Genre: Biblical Fiction

Source: Amazon Vine

The Bible’s King David is a complex character, and it is his prophet Natan who narrates David’s turbulent life. From his humble beginnings to his giant-slaying heroics, he was a bandit, a warrior, and finally a king. But David’s reign came at a great cost. Much blood was shed to unite his kingdom, and he didn’t exactly make the wisest decisions along the way (ahem, seducing Batsheva, the wife of Uriah). While blessed and anointed by God, he was cursed when he sent Uriah to his death. He was a good king, but a bad father, and the indulgence of his sons led them to be rapists, murderers, and usurpers. I find it ironic that David’s one decent child was his son by Batsheva, and Shlomo (Solomon) would become his heir and Israel’s greatest and wisest king.

The book had its ups and downs, especially after a relatively slow start. But by the time of Shlomo’s birth and Natan’s tutelage of the boy, I found the groove. Brooks’ narrative is elegant, but there are so many characters (generals, offspring, wives, etc), that it took me a while to keep them all straight. Otherwise, it was a powerful portrayal of a flawed but talented ruler. I really appreciated Natan’s insider perspective as David’s counselor and prophet. Even more effective, though, were his divine visions and his ability to see the consequences of David’s actions. It’s a story that has endured millennia, and it remains a timeless tale of power, ruthlessness, and redemption.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program.

Also by Geraldine Brooks:  Year of Wonders, People of the Book, Caleb’s Crossing

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Mid Year Recap

markerboardI don’t typically do recaps (monthly or otherwise), but the motivation to glance back at the first half of the year hit me, so I couldn’t ignore it.  (And I wanted to give you a glimpse of my reading progress marker board.)  So here goes:

Looking forward to the second half of the year, I have a few tours and ARC obligations to finish.  But I can’t wait to get back into the Inkheart trilogy and read more of the Gabriel Allon series.  Then we’ll see what else comes my way!

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Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

edge of eternityRating: **** (4/5)

Published: Dutton Adult, September 2014

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Personal collection

The decades of the Cold War unfold in this captivating conclusion to Follett’s Century Trilogy. The descendents of the characters from the previous two books are living in a world where communism is the greatest threat known to man. It also depicts the struggles of civil rights in America and human rights in the Soviet bloc.

Here are some highlights:
-JFK is not painted in the most flattering light. His womanizing and mild racism make him seem human but weak.
-With nuclear missiles in Cuba, half of the characters think World War III is inevitable and they anticipate their own demise. It’s a powerful statement of how scary the Cuban Missile Crisis was.
-East Berlin Stasi agent Hans Hoffmann is one of the most deplorable villains ever!
-I was surprised that the Space Race was not elaborated on at all. Considering the p*ssing contests between the superpowers, barely a mention was made of the rivalry between the US and Soviet Union in their quest to outmaneuver each other in the technological advances of space exploration.
-I was glad the book didn’t dwell too much on Jasper’s tour in Viet Nam. It was just enough to get the point across about the war’s atrocities, but it wasn’t too cumbersome.

Though the historical aspects of the narrative came as no surprise, I loved how Follett incorporated his fictional characters into world events. From civil rights activists hobnobbing with MLK Jr, to aides working under Bobby Kennedy and Khrushchev, senators, journalists, rock stars, actresses, et al, each person was cleverly linked to one another through politics, family ties, or random circumstance. Though occasionally bogged down with the minutiae of politics and economics, it is the moral and emotional struggles of the individuals involved that provide the story’s momentum.

I found the conclusion incredibly moving, and the portrayal of the fall of the Berlin Wall was so emotionally charged. It’s ironic that after all that America did to fight communism, it collapsed on itself (in Eastern Europe, at least, with a little help from Gorbachev’s reforms). This was a great finale to a long but worthwhile series and Follett again demonstrates that he is a king of historical fiction.

Books 1 & 2 in the series:  Fall of Giants & Winter of the World

Other books by Ken Follett that I highly recommend:  The Pillars of the Earth & World Without End

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Phoenix Rising by Hunter S. Jones

phoenix risingRating: **** (4/5)

Published: MadeGlobal Publishing, May 2015

Format: Trade Paperback

Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Told from multiple perspectives primarily on the day of Anne Boleyn’s death, this novella captures the various views of a queen’s demise. Anne herself has a vague hope that Henry will rescue her from the scaffold and has only gone this far to teach her a lesson. Henry is already besotted with Jane Seymour, though he admits he would rather see Anne dead that with another man. There’s Cromwell and his sense of duty, Jane’s pride, Cranmer and his regret, Lady Boleyn’s sorrow. It is an interesting portrayal, especially the inclusion of prophesies and the narrative of a seer, but it’s not entirely seamless. It is a concise, well researched account of Anne’s downfall and any Tudor aficionado will appreciate it.

phoenix rising sign

I received a complimentary copy of this book via Historical Fiction Book Tours.


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Celebrating: My dad.  We spent yesterday with him at his pool and it was so relaxing and fun. I got him a copy of The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns.  I thought he’d enjoy the gardening aspect and the stubborn main character.

My dad reading to baby Julz, Rainbow Bright, and Barbie

My dad reading to baby Julz, Rainbow Bright, and Barbie

Cooking: I made a nice chicken salad with grapes, celery, almonds, and a dash of curry to serve on croissants for a light pool-side lunch.

Sunday-ing: Catching up on things around the house (laundry, dishes, all those boring obligatory domestic things). But this afternoon I’m going to head over to Home Depot to get my flowers and plant a few pots on the balcony.

Anticipating: A four day week followed by a long weekend at the farm with one of my dearest friends.  I love escaping civilization, and our host even built a fire pit for us!

fire pit

Scratching: My head.  I can’t believe I got a conservative Japanese tweet discrediting my review of The Rape of Nanking. (Although I think it’s pretty funny that “Nanjing” is in quotes)


Thanks Kim for the inspiration for today’s post!

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The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang

rape of nankingSubtitle:  The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II

Rating: ***** (5/5)

Published: Penguin Books, 1998

Format: Trade Paperback

Genre: Nonfiction

Source: Personal Collection

This is a horrific but essential account of one of the worst atrocities in modern warfare. Chang presents the brutalities that the Chinese suffered at the hands of the Japanese in frightening detail. What’s even more infuriating is the perpetrators’ denial of any wrongdoing. For decades the Japanese have either downplayed or outright denied the rape and murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians when they conquered Nanking. Despite the testimony of witnesses, including respectable foreigners present in the city, the world turned a blind eye to the savagery. But there are also stories of courageous selflessness. Even one Nazi who oversaw the International Safety Zone could be considered a hero. He wielded his swastika to prevent rape and torture, and one observer described him as a “splendid man” with a “tremendous heart.”

Chang’s meticulous research and engrossing narrative seeks to make the West aware of this deplorable chapter in history. Her approachable style makes a difficult subject accessible. But it is still the stuff of nightmares and it is utterly maddening that such a thing ever occurred.


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Bookish (and not so bookish) Thoughts

  • Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for Those Girls by Chevy Stevens!
  • Thank GOD for remote access.  There was no way I was going to fight the hordes today and venture downtown during the Blackhawks parade and rally.  I did it in 2010 and 2013 and I have learned my lesson…
  • We watched the first episode of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on BBC America and I have high hopes!  Now that all of the introductions have been made, I think the next 6 episodes are going to be great.  I love that mixture of history and magic, I only wish I had reread the book before watching.
  • I am about halfway through with The Edge of Eternity and it’s good so far, but schlepping it around in my bag is making my shoulder sore!
  • I am excited for some upcoming obligatory reads.  I have a very short Tudor book, Phoenix Rising for a tour and had some great Vine scores:  the new Geraldine Brooks book, The Secret Chord, and Safekeeping, which I snagged after a recommendation from Relentless Reader Jennifer.
  • Next weekend, we are heading to Possum Lodge (my friend’s farm in Ohio) for a nice escape from civilization.  I hope to get a ton of reading done during the drive, since The Hubs is basically insisting on driving  the whole way in the new car.
  • I attempted making an omelette after watching this video, and it turned out pretty damn decent!  Lesson learned: use less cheese so it won’t be so oily, and add BACON.
  • The Hubs had a gruelling 18 hour work day with travel on Tuesday, so I actually had the house to myself.  I can’t remember the last time I had an evening home alone, so I got quite a bit of reading done.  But then I got bored, so I hid cards and love notes all over the house for him to find the next day. Aren’t I too cute?

As always, Thanks Christine!


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