Bookish Thursdays: Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

Summary from GoodreadsIn this breathtaking novel—rich in history and adventure—The New York Times bestselling author Diana Gabaldon continues the story of Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser that began with the now-classic novel Outlander and continued in Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager. Once again spanning continents and centuries, Diana Gabaldon has created a work of sheer passion and brilliance…. It began at an ancient Scottish stone circle. There, a doorway, open to a select few, leads into the past—or the grave. Dr. Claire Randall survived the extraordinary passage, not once but twice. Her first trip swept her into the arms of Jamie Fraser, an eighteenth-century Scot whose love for her became a legend—a tale of tragic passion that ended with her return to the present to bear his child. Her second journey, two decades later, brought them together again in the American colonies. But Claire had left someone behind in the twentieth century—their daughter, Brianna…. Now Brianna has made a disturbing discovery that sends her to the circle of stones and a terrifying leap into the unknown. In search of her mother and the father she has never met, she is risking her own future to try to change history … and to save their lives. But as Brianna plunges into an uncharted wilderness, a heartbreaking encounter may strand her forever in the past … or root her in the place she should be, where her heart and soul belong….

I loved Drums of Autumn. Almost as much as I loved Outlander. Almost. Even though I didn’t love Voyager, I read Drums of Autumn because it was there and I felt compelled to keep reading Claire and Jamie’s story. I’m glad I did. Drums of Autumn restored my faith in the series and I am now quickly moving through The Fiery Cross.

Once again, Gabaldon delivers a strong novel about love, relationships and family.

This time the Frasers are in America – the new world. And what a fierce world it is. Claire and Jamie battle the political landscape, wilderness, poverty, and the knowledge that war will once again find them with ferocious courage and determination to make a good life for themselves.

Any romantic notions about time travel are quickly dissolved in this novel. Gabaldon paints a picture of a very hard life. The struggle to survive is the focus of each day. The constant preparation for long winters is exhausting. I wouldn’t last a month.

I loved Brianna’s journey in this book – both literal and metaphorical – and absolutely loved when she finally finds her parents and meets Jamie. The adventures in this book are vast and full of unexpected turns. My mouth fell wide open with shock at certain points and I just could not put the book down.

I thought Gabaldon did a nice job of developing Jamie and Brianna’s father/daughter relationship.  They disagree on most things; their views on life and gender are completely alien to one another due to being from wildly different centuries. Yet, the love they have for each other helps them to bridge the abyss no matter how unforgivable their actions may seem.

This book highlights new characters and conflicts that Jamie and Claire bravely face together. It also manages to maintain the deep love and romance between Jamie and Claire without being redundant or overly dramatic. I really loved the growth in Brianna’s character as well.

Drums of Autum was so much fun read. It was entertaining and had just enough romance, intrigue, violence and adventure to leave one fully satisfied and ready to read the next installment upon closing the book.

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Bookish Thursdays: The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley

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from Goodreads

Summary from GoodreadsFor fans of The House at Riverton and Rebecca—a debut spanning from the 1930s to the present day, from a magnificent estate in war-torn England to Thailand, this sweeping novel tells the tale of a concert pianist, Julia, and the prominent Crawford family whose shocking secrets are revealed, leading to devastating consequences for generations to come. As a child Julia Forrester spent many idyllic hours in the hothouse of Wharton Park, the great house where her grandfather tended exotic orchids. Years later, while struggling with overwhelming grief over the death of her husband and young child, she returns to the tranquility of the estate. There she reunites with Kit Crawford, heir to the estate and her possible salvation. When they discover an old diary, Julia seeks out her grandmother to learn the truth behind a love affair that almost destroyed Wharton Park. Their search takes them back to the 1930s when a former heir to Wharton Park married his young society bride on the eve of World War II. When the two lovers are cruelly separated, the impact will be felt on generations to come.

I read The Orchid House in August. It was on display at the library and I just grabbed it on the way out. I love stories that span generations so I really got into this book quickly. For the most part I enjoyed the novel, however there were parts that left me feeling a little uncomfortable.

The plot opens approximately 7 months after the main character, Julia, faces the tragic loss of her husband and two year old son in a car accident. I found it very hard to believe that her sister, who happens to be a mother of 4, is rallying Julia to “get on with her life” a mere 7 months after the destruction of her family. Immediately, I found that hard to believe but carried on with the reading in order to give the book a chance.

I was easily swept into 1930s London. I loved reading how youth at the time cavorted and frolicked. I quickly became a fan of Olivia. She is sweet, loyal and yearns for love. It is easy to be on her side when she falls madly in love with Harry Crawford, heir to Wharton Park. They stumble a few times, but I really bought it when he commits to her and claims to love her. I feel like the true tragedy in this novel is his betrayal of her. (Sure he’s a P.O.W during WWII and all that…but poor Olivia!)

As the story unfolds and secret after secret is revealed, I can’t say I was really surprised by any of them…except perhaps one about Julia’s dead husband…but that was just absurd…it was about at this point that The Orchid House lost me and I finished it because I had to see how the whole thing finished.

For the most part, the novel was entertaining, the characters not all that complex and the plot – at first, had me hooked – but then slowly released me and left me feeling not all that interested. Reading about wartime London and how women were involved in the war effort was also pretty interesting (again, more points in Olivia’s favour!) If you enjoy stories about family secrets affecting generations that follow and how these secrets are slowly revealed during the simultaneous self discovery of a hero as she pieces her life back together after a tragedy and everything ends splendidly for all involved, then you’ll enjoy The Orchid House.

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Bookish Thursdays: Cinderella Ate My Daughter

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Summary from GoodreadsSweet and sassy or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as the source of female empowerment. And commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages. But how dangerous is pink and pretty, anyway? Being a princess is just make-believe; eventually they grow out of it . . . or do they? In search of answers, Peggy Orenstein visited Disneyland, trolled American Girl Place, and met parents of beauty-pageant preschoolers tricked out like Vegas showgirls. The stakes turn out to be higher than she ever imagined. From premature sexualization to the risk of depression to rising rates of narcissism, the potential negative impact of this new girlie-girl culture is undeniable—yet armed with awareness and recognition, parents can effectively counterbalance its influence in their daughters’ lives.

I read this book in the summer…the beginning of the summer.  While I have forgotten many of the details of what I read, I do recall how it made me feel.

I encountered a spectrum of emotions actually. I can’t quite decide whether my first emotion was fear of the world in which I will raise my daughter or the all-encompassing “duh?” of what seems to be common sense…you know, like I know this stuff already because I’ve lived it and continue to live it every day.

I felt disarmed because Orenstein offers so much insight into a culture that I feel will swallow my daughter and I have no defense against it. As my dear friend (whom recommended this book) wisely reminded me (I’m paraphrasing here): “It is the crux of feminist social analysis…the problems are clearly laid out…but there never seems to be a solution”.

Once I grappled with this feeling of powerlessness and got a grip on my fear and self-righteousness, I devoured the book. It is thoroughly researched and each argument for and against girly-girl culture is well presented and supported. While my tendencies are feminist and I believe in raising my daughter with an empowered voice and sense of self, I am also the first to buy her a cute pink outfit with cute bow to match…I mean she has gorgeous creamy skin and dark silky hair…how can I not?!?

And there is the dilemma. Or the irony. Or whatever you want to call it…moms of this “post-feminist” (in quotations because can we ever really be post-feminist?), post-girl-power age have a fine line to walk. We understand the importance of looking our best and the danger of succumbing to media-fueled images of female sexuality. We understand that being true to ourselves does not always look like the cookie-cutter version of femininity. But how do we pass along this knowledge to our daughters and help them navigate the incessant messages of what they’re supposed to be in favour of just being who they are?

This book will not offer any solutions. Not a one. But it does clearly explain the root of the marketing machine and the power of the bottom-line in the hopes that our decisions for our daughters will at least be informed ones. More importantly, it really sends the message that your support and guidance are vital when she is making her own choices.

This a quick read that will get you thinking. I highly recommend it.

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Bookish Thursdays: The Husband’s Secret Fizzled Fast

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Summary from Goodreads: At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read. My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died… Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret. Acclaimed author Liane Moriarty has written a gripping, thought-provoking novel about how well it is really possible to know our spouses—and, ultimately, ourselves.

**spoiler alert: I will implicitly allude to the conclusion of the novel and John Paul’s secret**

I finished this book a while ago, so this review will not be as thorough as I normally would like.

I could not write about The Husband’s Secret right away because I strongly disliked the ending and I didn’t want to let the book’s conclusion taint the rest of it…because I actually liked the book. Until the last 2 chapters. And the epilogue. If there was one epilogue that did not need to be written…it was the epilogue to The Husband’s Secret.

I really enjoyed the three different plots in the novel and was kept intrigued about how they would finally intersect. Cecilia, Tess and Rachel’s stories were all equally compelling for me. I liked the way Moriarty brought me into her characters’ most intimate thoughts, some of them not very flattering or appropriate. This made the characters real and easier to relate to. I didn’t necessarily like all the characters though. I found Cecilia annoying with her perfect life and Rachel is a tough one because she is so (understandably) bitter that she alienates her son.

Once the secret was finally revealed…I was not all that surprised…still, what does a person do if they discover such a monumental thing about their spouse? I don’t know. Cecilia’s near nervous breakdown makes sense. And how narcissistic is this guy who believes he can cover up his actions with self-punishment? That whole “don’t judge a book by its cover” cliche screams at you throughout this novel. It makes you actually wonder about that perfect family in your own neighbourhood…what kind of secrets are they hiding?

Ok, so now what? Secret revealed. Cecilia a mess. Rachel still angry. How does Tess fit into all this? She does in a roundabout way…which bothers me because what’s the point of her plot line? Really, you could take out Tess’ entire story and the plot would pretty much remain intact…why make her such a main character when she doesn’t really fit in?

Once Cecilia begins to live a chaotic, anxious life now that she holds the secret, you know that tragedy looms. Moriarty nicely creates so much tension that the book is ready to explode. And, it does. Oh, the tragedy! The least deserving person, the most innocent person is the one who falls victim to all of these characters’ flaws, faults and sins. I was speechless.

Alright. So the secret is finally revealed and Rachel knows the truth about John Paul. Cecilia knows the truth about Rachel. John Paul and Rachel are sorry and devastated by their actions. It is gut wrenching because both Rachel and John Paul have paid a very high price for their actions, but the question remains…is it enough? Should they be punished by law or is the guilty self-hatred they carry and their self-inflicted punishments enough? I wish I could decide.  Oh and once again, what does Tess have to do with this?

The answer is kind of in the epilogue. An epilogue which could have served as an outline for a whole other novel. The purpose of it is not lost on me. Moriarty wants to show us how split second decisions can affect an entire life…how one person’s universe can become topsy-turvy because of another’s actions (lack of)…except…I don’t want to know that John Paul’s secret is not really his secret. That there were other forces at work when he acted upon his anger…really? It made everything that happened in the novel so much more tragic and to a certain degree pointless.

Would I recommend this novel? Surprisingly, yes. You would think not because I’ve written pretty negatively about the conclusion, but I didn’t feel that way until the very end. I was absorbed by these characters and plot for almost the entire novel. Their stories and conflicts really drew me in. The book is easy to read and moves quickly. And, perhaps you may appreciate Moriarty’s presentation of the way life can completely alter it’s course because of the actions (or not) of people you know and people you don’t more than I did. Any book that makes me feel this strongly about how it ends is a worthy read.

Did you read The Husband’s Secret? Would love to read your thoughts!

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Mommy Mondays: Bottle or Breast? This Time, Breast.

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Where do I even begin?  The past (almost) 7 weeks have been blissfully beautiful. Seriously.  I’m not sure if it’s the knowledge that this is my last baby or the fact that I’m an “experienced” mom or the gripping nostalgia for my son’s babyhood every time I look at my placid baby girl – whatever it is, I have never been more happy, nor felt more complete.

If you’ve read recent posts then you are aware that my breastfeeding experience with my first born was difficult at best. After having had my daughter, I can clearly see why.

The day before my daughter was born, the universe was really looking out for me because it brought into my lap this book:

courtesy: accustomedchaos.com

It was handed over by a dear friend who recently had twins and was able to breastfeed both.  She became my nursing hero and guru – especially once I witnessed her in her customary hurricane-style whip out a nursing pillow, plop each baby down beside her and latch them on comfortably within seconds at our friends’ house then proceed to chit chat and catch up with all of us as we stared in awe.

The day before delivery, I passed by her home and she passed along this book.  I was not feeling well that day and so laid on the couch for the rest of the day and perused The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.  I didn’t want to get too engrossed because one of two things would happen: I would feel overwhelmed and put the breaks on nursing before even having my baby or I would tap into my neurotic self, memorize every detail and then drive myself crazy because things were not going as described in “the book”.

The book is pretty hard-core and I felt intimidated.  However, one passage resonated.  One passage stuck with me and I knew I would take it with me into the delivery room (little did I know that that would be about 12 hours later!)

The book naturally sings the praises of skin-to-skin – which I thought I had done with my son.  According to the book, skin-to-skin should occur immediately after birth where the naked infant is placed on the mother’s bare chest. It is a calm, peaceful and quiet introduction of you to your baby. It should take as long as you need – not as long as the hospital deems necessary or appropriate.  I immediately saw flashes of my son being shoved onto my chest, then quickly whisked away to be cleaned, checked etc. only to be returned to me swaddled in blankets.  I shuddered and vowed the same would  not occur with my daughter.

According to The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, during skin-to-skin time the following occurs:

When a baby is born, his instincts and reflexes help him crawl to the nipple and latch on, even if you don’t help at all. […] As she recovers from the journey from womb to world, she’ll begin to think about sucking, usually sometime in that first hour.  She may start by drooling, or making sucking movements with her lips or bringing her fist to her mouth and bob her face on and off your skin. You can help her move closer to the breast or support her as she finds her way down. […] At some point, when her face is near your nipples, she’ll lift her head, open her mouth wide, latch, and begin to suck. She’s breastfeeding! (page 63-64)

Another flash of a nurse shoving my son’s face and mouth onto my breast.  She tried to latch him on and when he didn’t want to latch on (who would with that kind of treatment?), she blamed me for not preparing my nipples for nursing!  I was like WTF???  How was I supposed to prepare my nipples?  How come that never came up in the birthing course? That nurse set my son and I on a path toward breastfeeding disaster.  Again I vowed: the same would not occur with my daughter.

6 hours later, after I had put my son to bed, labour began.  It was a calm, easy (albeit painful), labour and delivery. My daughter entered this world with serenity, a short cry and eager to know me.  We lounged with each other for hours.  She was cleaned up, checked and brought back to me in her adorable naked glory and she laid on my chest forever.  We chatted and met each other face to face.  And, before I knew it, my perfect little girl began her downward wiggle.  Her head bobbed and her body moved and I let her do what she needed.  She got herself to my breast and with little help from me, she found what she was looking for and ate.  I was stunned.  It actually happened as described in the book!

From that moment forward I knew I would be able to nurse my baby. It was not easy. I had sore nipples, engorged breasts and after pains (the lovely labour-like pains that accompany breastfeeding with second and subsequent children). I fed her every three hours to get milk production going – which meant about an hour and a half of sleep between feedings. My phone was always within reach so I could text my “nursing-coach-mama-of-twins” and my mother was always within reach to hug me, reassure me and bring me water, tea or her delicious, Colombian “colada de pan” because breastfeeding made me so bloody hungry at three a.m.

It has been 6.5 weeks and we are successfully breastfeeding. I have (mostly) dealt with my mommy guilt of not being able to see breastfeeding through with my son who is now 4 and awesome. I hope my experience can help one mom out there as she begins her breastfeeding journey or one pregnant woman out there who is considering breastfeeding. It is after all a very personal journey.

My Lessons Learned:

  1. Empower yourself and read parts of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. 
  2. Skin-to-skin is not only essential, it is the most beautiful moment you can experience. After hours of pain, breathing, waiting, pushing it is a most calming, joyful reward to simply be with your newborn. If you have complications and cannot do skin-to-skin immediately after birth, then as soon as you have your baby in your arms, unswaddle her, bare your chest and snuggle her onto you. Get under a warm blanket. Enjoy.
  3. Natural birth or not…it is up to you.  Everything I’ve heard or read points to natural birth and I was all for “natural birth” when I had my son.  5 cm in I got an epidural and watched Meet the Parents until it was time to push.  He was a sleepy baby that fell asleep at the breast…so I thought maybe I shouldn’t have succumbed to a pain-free delivery. I got an epidural at 3 cm with my daughter, and took a 2 hour nap before it was time to push.  She was not sleepy and ate well from the start. Same epidural – two completely different experiences. Just make sure you own your labour/delivery experience. The rest will fall into place.
  4. The first few weeks of breastfeeding are hell.  I’m no expert.  I haven’t polled thousands of women. The women I know who have breastfed basically concur.  However, we also all agree – it really does get easier! Every time you think “I can’t do this” picture a video of your future self telling you “Don’t give up! It does get easier. I promise. The pain will go away, your nips and breasts will heal and your baby will feed.”
  5. Stay hydrated. Eat well. Sleep as much as you can.
  6. Have a breastfeeding partner – someone who you know will be there for you every step of the way without putting an ounce of doubt in your mind. Now is not the time for negativity or reverse psychology. Besides, you’ll need another pair of hands to pass you your water or phone or tissue etc.
  7. Surrender. This is temporary.  It will not always be this demanding. It will pass. The more relaxed you are and accepting that this new normal will be over soon the easier it will be. (This was the toughest lesson for me because I love to be in control of my environment).
  8. Housework. Cooking. Laundry. Can. All. Wait.
  9. Say yes to all offers of help.
  10. Seek assistance…breastfeeding clinics, lactation consultants, other moms, friends etc. If the advice of one does not help you, seek another.  If you can, have a few phone numbers stored or websites bookmarked before baby arrives.  Or have your breastfeeding partner do some research for you while you sleep.

My next mission: pump and store. I hope a few bottle feeds a week will give me more sleep and offer me a little more freedom.

Lastly, if it doesn’t work for you – it doesn’t work.  Find a way to feed your baby that will give you peace of mind and don’t look back. I formula fed my first after 5 weeks of breastfeeding hell and am now breastfeeding my second after 6 weeks of not-so-bad and I know I’m a good mother to both.

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