July 26, 2012

Dear Followers

To all my wonderful followers,

              As you may have noticed, I haven't been around the blogosphere much recently. Ever since my promotion in September, I've had less and less time to update my blog and fill everyone in on the ins and outs of the Scientific Housewife life. I've been trying to maintain my enjoyable task of reviewing books for book tours but I am also running into trouble finding time to read the great books I receive and give them the reviews they deserve. Due to all of this, I have decided that I will no longer be regularly updating my blog nor will I take part in future book tours. I simply don't have the energy or time to devote to this wonderful blog and I want you to be the first to know. I will continue to keep the blog up and may stop by to say hi and give updates. I want to thank all of you for your unwavering support over the past 3 years. I've made some great friends from here and I hope I don't lose contact with all of you. I am still on Twitter at @SciHousewife as well as on Facebook. Keep in touch and I wish you all the very best!


July 2, 2012

Book Review: Beautiful Ruins

Title: Beautiful Ruins
Author: Jess Walter
Publisher: Harper
Book: Hardcover, 352 pages
Buy: Amazon.com

             The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

             And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

            What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion—along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow. Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a story of flawed yet fascinating people, navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.

           Once again, I chose a book with another beautiful cover that invites me to travel halfway across the world to hear a story. This novel is truly eye-opening and wonderful to behold; it tells two stories at once, one set in the past and one during present day featuring a colorful cast of characters. The setting of Porto Vergogna, Italy sounds like a beautiful and quaint little town set on cliffs overlooking the sea. In the 60's, it's easy to envision a beautiful actress going there to vacation. But she is not there on holiday; she has been sent there to be hidden away due to her "condition". She easily makes friends with the proprietor, Pasquale, who instantly falls in love with her beauty and naivety. He finds out what is wrong with her and who sent her away and seeks to make everything right.
           In present day Hollywood, a producer is trying to salvage his career while his assistant is trying to figure out what to do with hers. A man trying to pitch a movie idea happens upon an old Italian gentleman who brings the past back to the producer and sets them all on a journey of discovery and adventure.
           I absolutely loved the novel and how both stories were told in parallel to combine decades of lives into one cohesive tale. Pasquale is looking for the one that got away, Shane is trying to catch a break, Claire is trying to figure out if she is on a sinking ship, and the adventures of a troubled son of movie stars is what brings everything, and everyone, together. 
           The complexity of the characters was what made this story so interesting to read and what kept me from putting it down. I wanted to know what happened next, both back in Italy and in the present day, and I was happy with the ending and how all the characters found what they were looking for, both physically and figuratively. It was a vacation, adventure, and drama all put into one beautifully written book. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher in order to create this review. The opinions expressed are of my own. Thank you to Trish at TLC Book Tours


June 12, 2012

Book Review: The Cottage at Glass Beach

Title: The Cottage at Glass Beach
Author: Heather Barbieri
Publisher: Harper
Book: Hardcover, 352 pages
Buy: Amazon.com

           Married to the youngest attorney general in Massachusetts state history, Nora Cunningham is a picture-perfect political wife and a doting mother. But her carefully constructed life falls to pieces when she, along with the rest of the world, learns of the infidelity of her husband, Malcolm.

          Humiliated and hounded by the press, Nora packs up her daughters—Annie, seven; and Ella, twelve—and takes refuge on Burke's Island, a craggy spit of land off the coast of Maine. Settled by Irish immigrants, the island is a place where superstition and magic are carried on the ocean winds, and wishes and dreams wash ashore with the changing tides.

         Nora spent her first five years on the island but has not been back to the remote community for decades—not since that long ago summer when her mother disappeared at sea. One night while sitting alone on Glass Beach below the cottage where she spent her childhood, Nora succumbs to grief, her tears flowing into the ocean. Days later she finds an enigmatic fisherman named Owen Kavanagh shipwrecked on the rocks nearby. Is he, as her aunt's friend Polly suggests, a selkie—a mythical being of island legend—summoned by her heartbreak, or simply someone who, like Nora, is trying to find his way in the wake of his own personal struggles?

         Just as she begins to regain her balance, her daughters embark on a reckless odyssey of their own—a journey that will force Nora to find the courage to chart her own course and finally face the truth about her marriage, her mother, and her long-buried past.

          When I saw this book, I immediately thought that it would be the perfect summer read. Not only does it have a cover that makes me want to get away to the beach, but the synopsis also sounded very promising. If you're looking for a romantic summer read, you won't find it here, but you will find a beautiful story about a woman trying to turn her life around and protect her family from things that haunt their every day existence.
Nora is lucky that her childhood cottage is available for them to stay the summer, getting away from the busy city life and reconnecting with her aunt whom she hasn't seen in years.
           Just when you think the novel will drag with the tale of how they spent their summer laying by the sea, a stranger shipwrecks and changes their whole look on the summer. He brings with him mystery, protection, attraction and company that Nora desparately needs. A romance for Nora may not be the most appropriate thing given that she is there with her kids who miss their father very much and display anger for being separated.
           One aspect of the story I love is the reconnection with her aunt, who is sweet and thoughtful and wants to take Nora on a journey into the past to tell her what her mother was like before she disappeared. She discovers things she never knew and comes across relics from her past. She also has to endure restless children who set out on their own adventure and leaves their family worried and scared.
           Maybe some say it's not right to run away and hide when things are tough, but when you have children to protect and a husband that doesn't deserve your kindness, what can you do but get away? Nora did what she thought was best for her children and herself and spent the summer with ghosts of her past and experiences that will last a lifetime. I truly enjoyed this book and the adventure it took me on. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher in order to create this review. The opinions expressed are of my own. Thank you to Trish at TLC Book Tours. 

June 1, 2012

Book Review: An Uncommon Education

Title: An Uncommon Education
Author: Elizabeth Percer
Publisher: Harper
Book: Hardcover, 352 pages
Buy: Amazon.com

           A young woman tries to save three people she loves in this elegant and remarkably insightful coming-of-age debut.

           Afraid of losing her parents at a young age—her father with his weak heart, her deeply depressed mother—Naomi Feinstein prepared single-mindedly for a prestigious future as a doctor. An outcast at school, Naomi loses herself in books, and daydreams of Wellesley College. But when Teddy, her confidant and only friend, abruptly departs from her life, it's the first devastating loss from which Naomi is not sure she can ever recover, even after her long-awaited acceptance letter to Wellesley arrives.

          Naomi soon learns that college isn't the bastion of solidarity and security she had imagined. Amid hundreds of other young women, she is consumed by loneliness—until the day she sees a girl fall into the freezing waters of a lake.

          The event marks Naomi's introduction to Wellesley's oldest honor society, the mysterious Shakespeare Society, defined by secret rituals and filled with unconventional, passionate students. Naomi finally begins to detach from the past and so much of what defines her, immersing herself in this exciting and liberating new world and learning the value of friendship. But her happiness is soon compromised by a scandal that brings irrevocable consequences. Naomi has always tried to save the ones she loves, but part of growing up is learning that sometimes saving others is a matter of saving yourself.

          An Uncommon Education is a compelling portrait of a quest for greatness and the grace of human limitations. Poignant and wise, it artfully captures the complicated ties of family, the bittersweet inevitability of loss, and the importance of learning to let go.

           The first thing that drew me to this book was the beautiful cover. You don't know it yet, but each picture is a symbolic representation of the events that go on in Naomi's life. These symbols control her life and set her on a path through grief, friendship, loss, and discovery. The novel's plot is written beautifully and allows you to really relate to the characters and to the experiences they are going through.
            I also love the use of history in this novel. One of the main experiences Naomi has is visiting the Kennedy's birthplace in Brookline, which is a museum that can be visited and where you here Rose Kennedy's voice describing the rooms and what memories they shared there. It is here that her adventures seem to begin and change her life forever. There is also history unfolded at the Shakespeare Society, which sounds like a fun honor society immortilizing one of the most famous playwrights. Plays are done each semester and friendships are made, as well as romance.
            I would say one of the biggest themes for this novel is loss; Naomi experiences a sudden loss at an early age as well as a gradual loss of her mother over time. Both of these lend a different experience to Naomi and seem to shape her character and her decisions.
           I really enjoyed this book and all the thought-provoking and soul-searching it lent. It made me want to pick up a Shakespeare and read, as well as kiss my parents and tell them I love them, and spend time with my friends. It makes you remember what is important and to hold on to what is dear to you. I highly recommend this story for those who want to get away and be drawn into a different kind of story. It was also selected as one of Amazon's top 10 books of May 2012, which lends it some much-deserved accolades. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher in order to create this review. The opinions expressed are of my own. Thank you to Trish at TLC Book Tours. 

May 29, 2012

The Flair Exchange Pin It to Win It Contest

Hello everyone! My dear friend Carmen over at The Flair Exchange is having a great Pinterest contest right now that I knew my followers would love to participate in.

What you'll do is go on your Pinterest account and create a board titled "The Ultimate Summer Party". You'll pin items you think would make the ultimate summer party, including at least one thing from The Flair Exchange site. You'll need to make sure you use #theultimatesummerparty in your pin descriptions so they are easy to find. You'll also need to head to her contest post here and comment with the link to your Pinterest board.

Once you've done all that, judges (including myself) will take a look at all the boards and declare winners. The grand prize is a $50.00 gift card to Pier One. The most followed board will get a $50.00 Poolside Sunshine Party pack. The most repinned item will receive a $30.00 gift certificate to The Flair Exchange. The contest ends June 8th so start pinning!

Doesn't this sound like such a fun contest? Make sure to follow The Flair Exchange and myself on Pinterest :)

May 24, 2012

Book Review: The Uninvited Guests

Title: The Uninvited Guests
Author: Sadie Jones
Publisher: Harper
Book: Hardcover, 272 pages
Buy: Amazon.com

         One late spring evening in 1912, in the kitchens at Sterne, preparations begin for an elegant supper party in honor of Emerald Torrington's twentieth birthday. But only a few miles away, a dreadful accident propels a crowd of mysterious and not altogether savory survivors to seek shelter at the ramshackle manor—and the household is thrown into confusion and mischief.
         The cook toils over mock turtle soup and a chocolate cake covered with green sugar roses, which the hungry band of visitors is not invited to taste. But nothing, it seems, will go according to plan. As the passengers wearily search for rest, the house undergoes a strange transformation. One of their number (who is most definitely not a gentleman) makes it his business to join the birthday revels.

         Evening turns to stormy night, and a most unpleasant parlor game threatens to blow respectability to smithereens: Smudge Torrington, the wayward youngest daughter of the house, decides that this is the perfect moment for her Great Undertaking.

         The Uninvited Guests is the bewitching new novel from the critically acclaimed Sadie Jones. The prizewinning author triumphs in this frightening yet delicious drama of dark surprises—where social codes are uprooted and desire daringly trumps propriety—and all is alight with Edwardian wit and opulence.

         This novel sounded like one of those old-school dinner mystery type of stories. Even the cover, which is beautiful, invokes a certain dark sense of the book and seems to allude to what is inside. All Emerald wanted to do was have a lovely dinner party for her birthday, but fate had other plans. The accident that occurs not far from their secluded house brings unexpected guests by the masses and they are forced to not only put them up in their rooms, but feed them as well. As the night continues, the guests become even more unwelcome and the birthday celebrations have to be put on hold to accomodate the wanderers.
          You feel a sense of pity for Emerald and her family, who have this unfortunate thing happening to them on such a special night. Yes, the guests were in an accident, but the author paints them as annoyances more than troubled people finding a place to go. You should feel the most bad for the accident victims, but in this novel, they are merely an inconvenience.
          Smudge, Emerald's little sister, has plans of her own while all of this is happening and decides to pull off a big stunt that will eventually bring everyone together to solve the mess she got herself into. One of the accident victims, who seems to be of higher rank, decides to join the party himself and becomes a most unwelcome addition, throwing the whole celebration into turmoil and upsetting the lady of the house.
           This novel has adventure, distress, drama, humor, and resolve, which are all bound together to make an interesting book. I definitely enjoyed some parts of it; the house sounded beautiful from the way it was described and each character certainly had their part to play. I wasn't as drawn in as I had liked to be as a lot of the characters were not endearing or easy to relate to. When the uninvited guests came, it felt like they were coming in on my party I was so annoyed. The author certainly writes well and follows through to the very end and gives us a totally new story to share. I give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher in order to create this review. The opinions expressed are of my own. Thank you to Trish at TLC Book Tours. 

May 10, 2012

Book Review: I, Iago: A Novel

Title: I, Iago: A Novel
Author: Nicole Galland
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Book: Paperback, 400 pages
Buy: Amazon.com

           From Nicole Galland, acclaimed author of The Fool's Tale, comes a marvelous evocation of a distant time and place . . . and a breathtaking reexamination of one of literature's classic villains

           From earliest childhood, the precocious boy called Iago had inconvenient tendencies toward honesty—a failing that made him an embarrassment to his family and an outcast in the corrupt culture of glittering Renaissance Venice. Embracing military life as an antidote to the frippery of Venetian society, Iago won the love of the beautiful Emilia and the regard of Venice's revered General Othello. After years of abuse and rejection, Iago was poised to achieve everything he had ever fought for and dreamed of . . .

         But a cascade of unexpected deceptions propels him on a catastrophic quest for righteous vengeance, contorting his moral compass until he has betrayed his closest friends and family, and sealed his own fate as one of the most notorious villains of all time.

         Inspired by William Shakespeare's classic tragedy Othello—a timeless tale of friendship and treachery, love and jealousy—Galland's I, Iago sheds fascinating new light on a complex soul, and on the conditions and fateful events that helped to create a monster.
         This novel grabbed me right from the very start. The story of Iago as a boy and then a man in miliary life in Venice is enthralling and adventerous. He meets a beautiful woman, becomes the General's best friend and confidant, and seems to have the world at his feet. But jealousy and desire take over his life and affects everything that is dear to him and the ending is as Shakespearean as you can get.
         I loved how the novel was put together and that it was told from Iago's point of view. The detail and imagery were very descriptive and it took me to Renaissance Venice every time I picked it up. Some people think it's easy to retell a story that's already been told, but to do it from another angle and enhance it as much as the author did takes skill.
          I love the descriptions of the masquerade balls and how Iago never let society change who he was or how he acted. Imagining how daunting and intimidating Othello must have seemed to everyone else was an important aspect of the story. He totally rattles Venice society but soon after earns their love and respect. All the events that transpired afterwards made this a page turner.
          I highly recommend this book to Shakespeare fans, historical fiction afficianados, or anyone who wants to be taken back in time to a shiny, elegant, and militaristic Venice. This is definitely a book to keep and cherish for a long time. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher in order to create this review. The opinions expressed are of my own. Thank you to Trish at TLC Book Tours.