Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Local Library
Read: September 17, 2014

The most successful may not be the smartest or hardest working. Shift rather to where they are from. What is their culture, family, generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing? Where and when were they born? From Asian maths students to the British Beatles, stereotypes can be addressed through different eyes.

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I came to Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers with little more than vague interest. I couldn't sleep and at two in the morning the premise seemed intriguing enough to pass the time, but the book quickly proved more than a temporary diversion.

Gladwell's thesis is simple enough. Success is not the product of an individual's innate ability, but the sum of effort, opportunity and the hidden advantages of one's cultural and socioeconomic background. Personally I found this a very interesting idea, but I feel the value of Outliers is not the author's argument, but in how his views challenge his audience to reevaluate conventional perception.

To be clear, Gladwell's research wasn't entirely convincing and his tendency to oversimplify doesn't sit well with me, but I don't feel his theory entirely without merit and greatly enjoyed the provocative quality of his underlying theme.

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“Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don't. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky - but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.”
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Monday, September 15, 2014

Writers Between the Covers: The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes, and Cads by Joni Rendon & Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: July 11, 2013

What happened off the page was often a lot spicier than what was written on it... Why did Norman Mailer stab his second wife at a party?  Who was Edith Wharton’s secret transatlantic lover? What motivated Anaïs Nin to become a bigamist? Writers Between the Covers rips the sheets off these and other real-life love stories of the literati—some with fairy tale endings and others that resulted in break-ups, breakdowns, and brawls. Among the writers laid bare are Agatha Christie, who sparked the largest-ever manhunt in England as her marriage fell apart; Arthur Miller, whose jaw-dropping pairing with Marilyn Monroe proved that opposites attract, at least initially; and T.S. Eliot, who slept in a deckchair on his disastrous honeymoon. From the best break-up letters to the stormiest love triangles to the boldest cougars and cradle-robbers, this fun and accessible volume—packed with lists, quizzes and in-depth exposés—reveals literary history’s most titillating loves, lusts, and longings

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I picked up Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon's Writers Between the Covers on a whim. I wanted a break from my usual fare and I'll just say it, the jacket description spoke to my somewhat perverse sense of humor. It was one of those right place, right time sort of things and though I was familiar enough with most of the affairs they details, I thought the book an amusing diversion. 

Schmidt and Rendon expose a litany of titillating secrets and erotic intrigues within this volume, but what I liked about it is the perspective the book brings to classic literature. Most of us approach Lord Byron, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Arthur Miller with a sort of reverence and I think it really interesting to look back on their work after seeing where they were and what they were dealing with when they put pen to paper. 

A blush-inducing foray into the passions behind the prose, Writers Between the Covers is a witty, and at times ridiculous romp through the strange and scandalous lives of literary legends. A wickedly diverting read that peeks behind closed doors and reignites forgotten flames.  

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It's practically a job requirement that writers live with greater intensity than the average joe. It shouldn't surprise us, then, that someone unshackled from the confines of traditional morality is more likely to turn out innovative, courageous prose than a kinder Ward Cleaver with a standing Saturday "date night." After all, Lord Byron didn't worry about a few shocking line in his poem Don Juan, having bedded his sibling and been publicly dumped by his wife. On the contrary, he got a rush from scandalizing society with his prose as much as with his libidinous activities.
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Spotlight: The Crystal Cage by Merryn Allingham

Flashlight Commentary and Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours are pleased to celebrate The Crystal Cage by Merryn Allingham!

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Captivated…or captured?Appearances don’t always reveal the truth. Grace Latimer knows this better than most. Illusions of commitment and comfort have her trapped—until bohemian adventurer Nick Heysham charms his way into her world. Commissioned to recover a Great Exhibition architect’s missing designs, he persuades her to assist in his research. The mystery of the Crystal Palace seduces Grace, and once she discovers clues about a forbidden Victorian love affair, she’s lured into the deep secrets of the past…secrets that resemble her own. As Grace and Nick dig into the elusive architect’s illicit, long-untold story, the ghosts of guilt and forbidden passion slip free. And history is bound to repeat itself, unless Grace finds the courage to break free and find a new definition of love…

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The historical background is brilliantly drawn but doesn’t detract from the main story, and I particularly liked the descriptions of the Great Exhibition. The author skilfully combines two love stories, one in the present, one from the past, which makes for a very enjoyable and satisfying read.
- Charlotte M., Amazon Reviewer

The relationship between the two main characters, Grace and Nick was compellingly believable and the switch between their romance and the love story going on in the time slip made the novel all in all, a compulsive read.
- CM, Amazon Reviewer

Merryn Allingham has written a book that will not only appeal to the romance lovers, but to the mystery lovers as well. This is a well-told story that will leave you wanting more long after you read the last page.
- Marcie at To Read, Or Not To Read

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My father was a soldier and most of my childhood was spent moving from place to place, school to school, including several years living in Egypt and Germany. I loved some of the schools I attended, but hated others, so it wasn’t too surprising that I left half way through the sixth form with ‘A’ Levels unfinished. I became a secretary, as many girls did at the time, only to realise that the role of handmaiden wasn’t for me. Escape beckoned when I landed a job with an airline. I was determined to see as much of the world as possible, and working as cabin crew I met a good many interesting people and enjoyed some great experiences – riding in the foothills of the Andes, walking by the shores of Lake Victoria, flying pilgrims from Kandahar to Mecca to mention just a few. I still love to travel and visit new places, especially those with an interesting history, but the arrival of marriage and children meant a more settled existence on the south coast of England, where I’ve lived ever since. It also gave me the opportunity to go back to ‘school’ and eventually gain a PhD from the University of Sussex. For many years I taught university literature and loved every minute of it. What could be better than spending my life reading and talking about books? Well, perhaps writing them. I’ve always had a desire to write but there never seemed time to do more than dabble with the occasional short story. And my day job ensured that I never lost the critical voice in my head telling me that I really shouldn’t bother. But gradually the voice started growing fainter and at the same time the idea that I might actually write a whole book began to take hold. My cats – two stunning cream and lilac shorthairs – gave their approval, since it meant my spending a good deal more time at home with them! The 19th century is my special period of literature and I grew up reading Georgette Heyer, so when I finally found the courage to try writing for myself, the books had to be Regency romances. Over the last four years, writing as Isabelle Goddard, I’ve published six novels set in the Regency period. Since then, I’ve moved on a few years to Victorian England, and I’ve changed genre too. The Crystal Cage is my first novel under the name of Merryn Allingham. The book is a mystery/romantic suspense and tells the story of a long-lost tragedy, and the way echoes from the past can powerfully influence the life of a modern day heroine. The next few Allingham books will see yet another move timewise. I’ve been writing a suspense trilogy set in India and wartime London during the 1930s and 1940s, and hope soon to have news of publication. Whatever period, whatever genre, creating new worlds and sharing them with readers gives me huge pleasure and I can’t think of a better job.

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Format: eBook
Publication Date: August 4, 2014
Released by: eHarlequin
Length: 264 pages
Genre: Historical Romance

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Check Out All The Stops on The Crystal Cage Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, September 15
Review at To Read or Not to Read
Spotlight at Flashlight Commentary
Spotlight & Excerpt at Romantic Historical Reviews
Tuesday, September 16
Review at A Bookish Affair
Excerpt at Casual Readers
Wednesday, September 17
Excerpt at CelticLady’s Reviews
Interview at What Is That Book About
Thursday, September 18
Review at Turning the Pages
Friday, September 19
Review at Queen of All Reads
Excerpt at Just One More Chapter
Monday, September 22
Review at Bibliotica
Spotlight at Layered Pages
Tuesday, September 23
Interview at SOS Aloha
Spotlight at Historical Fiction Connection
Wednesday, September 24
Excerpt at Passages to the Past
Thursday, September 25
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Excerpt at Princess of Eboli
Friday, September 26
Review at Unshelish
Spotlight at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, October 15
Review at The Worm Hole

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Enter to Win a Copy of The Crystal Cage

To win an eBook of The Crystal Cage please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Two copies are up for grabs. Giveaway is open internationally.
Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on October 15th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on October 16th and notified via email.
Winner have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Circle of Spies by Roseanna M. White

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 21, 2013

This exciting and adventurous romantic spy novel is the third book in the Culper Ring series from Roseanna M. White. Circle of Spies combines fascinating cloak-and-dagger secrets with a tale of love and intrigue at the end of the Civil War. Baltimore, 1865--Marietta Hughes never wanted to be a spy... but espionage is thrust upon her as the War Between the States rolls on. Unbeknownst to her, a Confederate secret society bent on destroying the Union she loves has been meeting in her basement. When she discovers the plots and papers covering her walls, she feels as though she is losing her world. Slade Osborne, an undercover Pinkerton agent, is determined to do whatever is necessary to help end the conflict between the North and the South. When he infiltrates this secret cell, it isn't just their inner workings that baffle him--it's the beautiful woman who seems to be a puppet for the new leader and yet... somehow not an enemy of the Union. Can he trust her? Will she trust him? Will their shared faith sustain them? And can Marietta and Slade stymie the enemy long enough without being discovered to see their beloved country reunited? 

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Circle of Spies is the third installment of Roseanna M. White's Culper Ring series, but don't worry over reading the books in order. I didn't tackle them as written and had no trouble whatsoever appreciating the novel as a standalone publication. 

White's heroine interested me for a lot of reasons. Marietta is passionate, flirtatious and inquisitive, but not flawless. She makes mistakes, is prone to both fear and doubt and not to point fingers, but that's not something I'm used to seeing in Christian fiction. 

Another thing I liked about the book was how natural White's religious message felt within the context of the novel. She introduces her theme slowly and allows it to grow in a realistic fashion which is something I always appreciate, but again, isn't something I'm accustomed to in this genre. 

Historically White does some very interesting things with railroad culture and the Pinkertons, but what really stood out to me was her treatment of Lincoln's presidency and how the war really changed the perceptions and abilities of our nation's leader.

The pacing slowed from time to time and there were instances in which I felt White wandered too far from the central story, but I enjoyed Circle of Spies just the same and look forward to reading the rest of the series. 

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“My brother gave his life for the Union. How can you question where I stand?”
“Your cousin gave his life for the Confederacy in the very same battle. How can I help but question?”
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The Kindred of Darkness by Barbara Hambly

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: November 19, 2013

When James Asher and his wife Lydia's baby daughter Miranda is kidnapped by the Master Vampire of London, the stakes are high: blindly follow the Master Vampire's instructions, keep out of the way of the human networks that serves the vampires, destroy the interloper who seeks to seize control of the London Nest, and find the key to the Nest's tortuous inner workings: The Book of the Kindred of Darkness. Even with the vampire Don Simon Ysidro on their side, there's no guarantee that anything - or anyone - is who or what they appear to be. Nor is there any certainty that they'll see their child again - or survive the experience themselves.

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My experience with Barbara Hambly's The Kindred of Darkness wasn't exactly ideal. Had the book been written as a standalone, I might have felt differently, but as it stands I spent most of my reading trying to piece together a story I was ill-prepared to enjoy.

That said, I like how Hambly built on her previous novels. Obviously I was at a disadvantage in appreciating the development of her characters and story, but even I acknowledge admiration for her style and tone. The story is appropriately dark and she definitely veers away from the more common vampiric archetypes and themes. 

Not my favorite read, but I firmly believe my detachment from the characters and events to be the cause. I'd certainly read Hambly again, but caution readers to tackle the James Asher chronologically. 

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As Death’s shadow changes all things, so the vampire is no longer man or woman. Blood he seeks, and without the kill he loses that facility which he has, to cast a glamour on human sight and human dreams. Yet even when he has fasted only a short while, still he hungers for the kill with the lust of starvation. No other thing is to him so important as this: not the love of family nor honor, neither learning nor art. Having given up his soul for the promise of more life, he finds that without the soul, all that remains is appetite. All which colored life takes on the single hue of blood.
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