What’s Ashley Reading?: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

First line: A girl is running for her life.

Summary: It’s 1714 in a small village in France. A young woman of twenty-three is being forced to marry but she does not want to be tied down. She wants to live and see the world. So she makes a bargain with one of the old gods. She promises her soul for the chance to live forever. But there is always a catch. No one will remember who she is.

For centuries she lives her life by stealing, lying and relying on “strangers.” Love has come and gone for Addie but nothing ever lasts when everyone she meets forgets her as soon as she is out of sight. Until one day she meets a young man who remembers her.

My Thoughts: At the beginning I was enthralled by the story and the idea of this book. How can a person live when no one knows who you are? While I was reading I kept thinking that things wouldn’t be hard to live like this until I remember that from one minute to the next every person becomes a stranger again. You could not have an apartment, a job, friends, or anything really. Sounds terribly lonely.

I liked being able to see Addie change and make her way through the turbulent 300 years from the beginning of her curse and meeting Henry. She learns very quickly how to get by on her wits and luck. But as I continued through the story I felt it getting a little repetitive. The author did throw in some twists to the story which helped liven up some of the slower parts.

But the ending was the best part of all. It was imaginative and perfect for this story. I won’t spoil it but I will say that I cannot think of a better way to end the story.

FYI: Language, death, curses.

Xochitl’s Book Thoughts: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood by Fred Rogers

First line of the book: Once upon a time, a little boy loved a stuffed animal whose name was Old Rabbit.

Summary and thoughts: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was a read that left me in tears in some parts and left me doing a lot of self-reflection at the end. The book begins with an essay written by Tom Junod, a journalist who spent time with television star Fred Rogers, better known as Mr. Rogers. Junod follows Rogers around New York City and his hometown. It details what Rogers likes to do, how he maintains his weight and why, just stuff that makes him Fred Rogers. Rogers tells Junod about his upbringing and the charitable deeds being a celebrity has offered him the chance of doing. Advice from Mr. Fred Rogers took over after the essay. It is split up into different parts so the right advice would fit under a certain category. The guidance he offered were rarely more than a couple of sentences, a paragraph at most. He talks about how to reflect on your own childhood, how to form meaningful connections with your child and their educators/caretakers, discipline, and adulthood.

The essay was a beautiful read as we see that Rogers really is one of the rare few who are the same off-screen as they are on-screen, maybe even better. I liked that the essay was good at showing the human aspects of Fred Rogers. The advice portion was my favorite part. What I adored was that a lot of the advice tied to love. Whether it be showing love to others or to yourself, he emphasizes the importance of both. As long as you are surrounded by love from childhood to adulthood, you will be just fine. This resonates with me as I find lack of love to be prevalent in this world. I appreciate how he goes into compassion, empathy, meaningful relationships, and accountability in such a sensitive and careful way that it is easy for anyone to understand. This was a cute and needed read. It made me want to be better for myself.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Borgia Confessions

The Borgia Confessions by Alyssa Palombo

First line: The day I learned of my father’s plans for me, I was but nine years old.

Summary: In the summer of 1492 in Rome Cesare Borgia sees his father rise to the become the newest pope. Cesare has been forced to follow his father into the church but he knows that he is destined for something more. He has a strong military mind and passion to rule. However, his father is blinded by his ambitions to consider what Cesare wants.

Maddalena Moretti has come from the country to work in the Vatican. As a servant she sees into the world of powerful men who rule Europe. When she catches the eye of the handsome cardinal, Cesare Borgia, their lives become entwined as Rome and the rest of Italy fight the changes that are coming for them all.

My Thoughts: I love Alyssa Palombo. She is such a talented writer. She brings her stories to life and makes the characters believable. Even though many of the characters in this story are not likeable she does a fantastic job of getting the reader to at least understand them. I have been fascinated by the Borgia’s since picking up The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis. I was very excited when I saw that Alyssa Palombo’s newest book would be centered on this notorious family.

I love the intrigue and drama of the Borgia family. They were people who schemed for everything they got but were at the center of religious power in Europe. I am very familiar with their story so there was not much that surprised me in the narrative but I loved the naughty bits which were more prominent in this novel compared to her other ones. I liked seeing the world from the eyes of a servant. At the end the author discussed how she wanted to look at the events from someone of power and someone without power. I agree it makes it much more interesting to see both sides.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Wolf Wants In

The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh

First line: A bitter wind sheared through the darkness, biting into my exposed flesh and lashing my hair across my face.

Summary: Sadie Keller is determined to find out what happened to her brother on the night he died. She does not believe the story told to her by his wife, Crystle. But the police do not believe that there is enough evidence to allow them to look deeper into the events.

Henley is hoping to escape from her small Kansas town. Her family are involved in some dangerous activities and she wants to leave before she is sucked into them.

My Thoughts: I loved the author’s previous book Arrowood. It was thrilling. This was sold to be a thriller but it really fell flat. I was hoping for more but it took almost 60% of the book to get to the more interesting pieces. The beginning was about the town, its people and the life in small town Kansas. This made it easy to connect with at least, as a girl from a small town in Kansas.

I liked the characters but they needed something more. We got glimpses into Sadie’s past with her brother. I would have liked more of that. Henley seemed like a filler character. She did reveal some information that lead to big reveal but her story was blah.

FYI: Read Arrowood!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The First Mistake

The First Mistake by Sandie Jones

First line: “Sophia, let’s go,” I call out from the hall.

Summary: Alice’s life is beginning to come back to normal. She has remarried after the death of her first husband. She has two beautiful daughters and a successful business. But when her husband, Nathan begins acting strangely she turns to her best friend, Beth. As they talk about the situation Alice begins to wonder who she can trust anymore.

My Thoughts: This by no means is anything groundbreaking or new to the genre but it was a lot of fun to read. It went by very fast and kept me interested the whole way. I liked how it was divided into sections for each of the women. We got a look into each of their lives and pasts which helps build up to the conclusion. I had so many theories flying through my head as I read. Each became more twisted with each passing page.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes a fun thriller. It is a perfect summer read!

FYI: Sandie Jones’ first book, The Other Woman, is fantastic as well!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Woman 99

Woman 99 by Greer MacAllister

First line: Goldengrove devoured my sister every time I closed my eyes.

Summary: Charlotte Smith is the daughter of a wealthy San Francisco business man. She is engaged to a respectable man. Her manners and comportment are perfect. However, her sister Phoebe has fits of depression or energy. Her parents do not know what to do with her. Their only hope is to send her to a respected asylum for women called Goldengrove. Charlotte loves her sister and is determined to get her out of the asylum. She devises a plan to be admitted to the asylum in order to find and rescue her sister. When Charlotte arrives at Goldengrove she realizes that her plan may not be as easy as she originally thought.

My Thoughts: The story took a little while to gather momentum. The first several chapters were devoted to giving a little backstory but once Charlotte enters the asylum everything picks up. Quoting one of the reviewers I follow on Goodreads, “…the chick in this book is cray cray!!” Why do you think that walking an insane asylum is going to be easy. She figures that she can just waltz out with her sister once she finds her. Even though her main goal is to find her sister, she learns a lot about the struggles that women have to face out in the world. She was raised very sheltered and wealthy where these hardships are not shared. I loved seeing her growth.

Most of the story is told through Charlotte’s thoughts rather than interactions and conversation. This style makes the reading a little slower but as a reader you can tell that the author did a lot of research in order to fill out her novel. Everything down to the specific treatments to the activity at docks in San Francisco.

The other women at the asylum though were hands down my favorite part. Each of them had a story to tell even though we get it in bits and pieces. Hearing how easily a wife, daughter or sister can be discarded is so sad. If you wanted to do or be anything other than what was expected you were clearly “insane”. It makes me want to scream at the injustice that they faced. And the women that were truly disturbed did not get the help they needed. Be ready for a look into a cruel world but it will also give you the feels for how much Charlotte and Phoebe truly care for each other. I hope that I would do something this crazy for my sister if the time ever came around.

FYI: Greer MacAllister’s first book, The Magician’s Lie, is phenomenal! Read it. Please!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

History has been my favorite subject since middle school.  I loved the stories of people’s lives and how they shaped the world we live in today.  I read a lot of historical fiction novels.  When I was younger my interest was on World War II and the Holocaust.  It was and is hard to imagine what happened and reading about it helped me to understand it better.

We have some wonderful databases that are useful when studying history.  It covers world and American history.  There are links to articles and journals that are helpful for writing research papers.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

First line: Lale tries not to look up.

Summary: Based on the true story of Lale Sokolov, a Jew from Slovakia, who spent several years in Auschwitz as the Tatowierer. His job was to tattoo the numbers onto the arms of all incoming inmates. He witnesses shocking things every day. It is hard to imagine a happy world after the atrocities of the camp. When he meets a young woman, Gita, he uses his influence to keep her alive and safe.

Highlights: This story is heartbreaking but also beautiful. Lale is put in the most terrifying place but somehow keeps his spirits up in hopes of a brighter future. He learns quickly how to navigate life in Auschwitz. He “befriends” an officer who gives him news of the camp. The job of tattooist is a stroke of luck bringing him privileges which he uses to help out his fellow inmates. He was a good and honest man who did much to keep people alive and strong. It shows how being kind can lead to good things. I love his relationship with Gita. Even in such a horrible place he found the love of his life.

The writing was very simple but the story is powerful. It is shocking to hear the stories of survivors of such a place. I cannot even imagine living through those conditions. Read the author’s notes at the end where she discusses the interviews over years where Lale told his story.

Lowlights: Like I said before the writing is very simple. Sometimes it seemed a little choppy but if you can get past that the story is well worth the read.

FYI: If you found this interesting then check out The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe.

What’s Ashley Reading?: An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason

Some of the classics are hard to read.  Either we do not understand the language or the story is not as fast paced as the latest thriller.  However, there are so many great things about them.  They have survived the times.  The stories still speak to readers today.  One of greatest is the bard, William Shakespeare.  I read several plays during high school English, my favorite being Hamlet.  Do you have trouble with Shakespeare?  Trust me sometimes I do too.  Check out Alyssa’s blog post about her recent interest in the works of Shakespeare.

An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason by Virginia Boecker

First line: It is not the usual interrogation.

Summary: When Katherine’s father is killed in front of her she vows that she is going to take revenge on the person responsible, Queen Elizabeth I. She travels to London dressed as a boy to meet with fellow Catholic conspirators to hatch a plan to kill the Protestant queen. Toby, an agent of the queen, is on the lookout for any assassination plots. When he teams up with William Shakespeare and his company of players, he sets a trap for the would-be assassins. However, Katherine and Toby are drawn to each other complicating both of their missions.

Highlights: Assassination plots and William Shakespeare?! Yes please! I found the story to be lots of fun from the very beginning. I enjoyed both of the main characters. Katherine is a strong willed young girl who is determined to avenge her father. Toby is a heartbroken playwright working as a spy for the queen. I loved watching Katherine throwing off her inhibitions as she took on the role of a man. She gets to see things that women would not be privy to normally. As their relationship progresses I got more and more nervous about how the story would end. This story was fit for Shakespeare with the mistaken identities, daring murder attempts and tragic love.

Lowlights: I would have loved more Shakespeare. Any time he entered the story it became even better! His patron even mentioned how he liked to make up words, which he does throughout the story. Such a nice little historical tidbit to add into the dialog.

FYI: Perfect for fans of A Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Marilla of Green Gables

As a kid I remember walking the one block down to our local library.  My sister and I would spend hours every week browsing the shelves and picking up more items.  One of my favorite items was Anne of Green Gables starring Megan Follows.  Anne was so imaginative and fun.  I wanted to be her or at least be her best friend.  I watched the VHS all the time.  I was so happy when I started working here that we have a copy on DVD, which I have checked out multiple times.

When I saw that there was going to be a “prequel” to the Anne novels, delving into the girlhood of Marilla Cuthbert, I was immediately interested.  I needed to read this!  I hope that if you love Anne as much as I do that you will enjoy this look into life at Green Gables.

Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

First line: It’d been a rain-chilled May that felt more winter than spring.

Summary: Before Anne there was Marilla of Green Gables. Marilla is an intelligent and strong willed young woman. She is just starting to venture into adulthood and a budding relationship with the handsome, John Blythe. When her mother dies in childbirth Marilla is left as the matriarch of the Cuthbert home. Even with her new responsibilities, Marilla ventures forth into the world and sees that there is more than just Avonlea.

Highlights: I recently read the books for the first time and enjoyed following Anne through her imaginative life.  McCoy’s book is a perfect companion to the original story. We get to know Marilla in a completely new way. She was young and was in love. I remember hearing Marilla talk about how John Blythe was her beau, which always made me wonder what happened. I am so happy that I was able to take a look into her past.

The writing was very well done. The author stayed true to the times and added little details to flesh out the Cuthbert’s lives on Prince Edward Island. I never realized how much Canada was involved in the Underground Railroad and the path to freedom for so many escaped slaves. As a narrative and a historical fiction book, this is a fantastic read!

Lowlights: It was so short! I could have read so much more in this world. Maybe it is time to revisit Anne and Gilbert?

FYI: Perfect for fans of Anne of Green Gables!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

There are many different versions of Frankenstein.  They range from the classic film with Boris Karloff to hilarious Young Frankenstein starring Gene Wilder.  It has been 200 years since his first appearance.   What fascinates us with this monster? 

On a trip to Germany in 2002, my family and our German family visited Frankenstein Castle outside of Darmstadt, Germany.  Even though it is not the actual home of the monster it is still very formidable.  I could easily picture the Gothic tale happening in the ruins.

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White

First line: Lightning clawed across the sky, tracing veins through the clouds and marking the pulse of the universe itself.

Summary: In this retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein, we see the story unfold through the eyes of the Frankenstein family’s ward, Elizabeth. She is brought to Frankenstein manor as a playmate and helper to the strange eldest son, Victor. As they grow up the two become dependent on each other. However, when Victor disappears with no word, Elizabeth must search for him and bring him home. When she finally finds Victor, she learns the truth of what he has been doing those many months he has been gone. She has kept his secrets for years but can she keep this one?

Highlights: Kiersten White did a great job of fleshing out the story and adding to the original. I think that she made it even darker than the original. Which I really loved. I liked the character of Elizabeth. She was secretive, cunning and not shocked by the things that Victor did. For a woman of the time she relied on the men in her life. She tried to guarantee that she would be taken care of by any means necessary.

Lowlights: I read Frankenstein several years ago and was not as impressed as I had wanted to be. I love to read classics. I love Dickens and Stoker. I listened to the audio version and it was rather slow moving for the first two thirds. There is more description and little conversation. The last third was more engaging and fast paced. I would recommend reading this one instead of listening to the audio.

FYI: If you love Frankenstein then you should read this!