Thursday, August 27, 2015

(Review) Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Title: Almost Famous Women
Author: Megan Mayhew Bergman
Published: January 2015 (Scribner)
Rating: ★★★★☆
Format: Hardcover, borrowed from the library
Summary:The fascinating lives of the characters in Almost Famous Women have mostly been forgotten, but their stories are burning to be told. Now Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise, resurrects these women, lets them live in the reader's imagination, so we can explore their difficult choices. Nearly every story in this dazzling collection is based on a woman who attained some celebrity—she raced speed boats or was a conjoined twin in show business; a reclusive painter of renown; a member of the first all-female, integrated swing band. We see Lord Byron's illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde's troubled niece, Dolly; West With the Night author Beryl Markham; Edna St. Vincent Millay's sister, Norma. These extraordinary stories travel the world, explore the past (and delve into the future), and portray fiercely independent women defined by their acts of bravery, creative impulses, and sometimes reckless decisions.

The world hasn't always been kind to unusual women, but through Megan Mayhew Bergman's alluring depictions they finally receive the attention they deserve. Almost Famous Women is a gorgeous collection from an "accomplished writer of short fiction" (Booklist).
I will preface this review by saying that I don't tend to like short stories. I am all about the characters and getting to know them, and when one has less than 40 pages (sometimes less than 10), there simply isn't an opportunity do so. But I stumbled across this collection when I was at the library the other day, and I was too intrigued to let the opportunity pass me by.

I went ahead and picked it up, and then I took the plunge and began reading it. I am immensely thankful that I did.

Megan Mayhew Bergman's writing is absolutely stunning. She weaves together similes and adjectives and the most unlikely strings of words on occasion, but they all somehow coalesce into a moving reading experience. Whether you are experiencing joy or revulsion or compassion, the words are there to make each moment just that much more poignant.

Her stories are all compelling, though each is completely unique. It is difficult to compare a story about a multiracial swing band to that of a cross-dressing heiress who owns her own island and races boats. What I can say about all of these stories is that they all explored human nature in the most interesting ways and from all different angles.

The idea of taking real women from history and writing fictional stories about them is risky, but the author pulls it off splendidly. I felt like I was immersed in each woman's life from the very first sentence of each segment. While it is not an uplifting read – the stories tend to be rather dark in subject matter – it never feels cumbersome or depressing. It is more like seeing each woman when she is most human, whether viewing her in a single moment or in brief snapshots throughout the course of a life.

If I have a single complaint, it would be that “The Lottery, Redux” did not fit with the rest of the stories, being based on a fictional work. I have not, in fact, read “The Lottery,” (or if I have, it's been quite a long time), so reading a *cough*fanfiction*cough* “cover story” on it did not interest me at all. The author does say in her notes, however, that McSweeny's specifically asked her to write a cover story of a classic, so apparently someone felt that it was needed.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this collection, the writing in particular, and I will definitely be checking out Mayhew Bergman's previous short story collection soon.
Let me tell it, I said.
No, you're a liar and a drunk, she said. Or I said.

L is choreographing in her head again, making mental diagrams: the arch of a back, a lunge, a flexed foot. Her own bare feet tap the floor of the rented flat. She wants to stumble upon an invisible idea and render it with her body, amplify it. She feels something savage and raw inside and wants to show it on the stage, or in a patron's garden. She wants to begin a discussion underneath the orange trees.

Time didn't matter on Whale Clay. You did what Joe wanted to do, when Joe wanted to do it. That was all.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Top Ten Books On My Historical Romance 101 Syllabus

Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
This Week's Topic:
Top Ten Books On My Historical Romance 101 Syllabus
I only started reading historical romance 3 years but its now my favorite genre to read and its almost becoming the only thing I read. I never tire of it and I've made my way through the classics musts and newer releases so I do consider myself an expert! Let us begin:

01.  Lisa Kleypas
We will begin the semester by reading The Empress of Historical Romance, to get a feel of the amazingness to come. There are plenty of amazing series to choose from, Wallflowers, Hathaways, Gamblers, Bow Street Runners, so much rich material!

Next we need to establish something early on: heroines. Heroines with agency who do things and who are so amazing they outshine the hero. Also, looking for a historical romance set outside a London ballroom? Loretta Chase is the perfect example.

03. Julie Anne Long
Want a long complex series with two rival families to lose yourself in and want to get invested in EVERY SINGLE COUPLE? The Pennyroyal Green series is your best friend.

04. Sherry Thomas
Lets get back to studying heroines shall we? Sherry Thomas also pushes boundaries with her heroines and the amazing research that goes into her books. 

05. Jennifer Ashley
Switching it up by going for Scottish Hunks, Jennifer Ashley's MacKenzies and McBrides series brings the hot, sexy and the highlands!

06. The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt
Moving away from aristocrats and titled hero, how about a lady of a ton who falls for her steward? Yes please. 
07. Nearly a Lady by Alissa Johnson
Are you looking for a  tomboy heroine in an era where such a thing was taboo? This is your book.

08. A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant
Are you looking for bad sex? Or a book that shows romance needs more than automatic and guaranteed excellent sex to bring a couple together? This is your book.

09. Yours Until Dawn by Teresa Medeiros
Read it and find out why *wink*.

10. Confessions from an Arranged Marriage by Miranda Neville
Hate-to-love is an excellent trope and this is how it's done right! 
Did I nail it or forget someone? Leave me your list below!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

(Bout of Books 14) Sharon's Goals & Updates

My Goals for Bout of Books 14

   • Read 6 books
   • Discover some awesome new blogs and friends
   • Participate in both Twitter chats
   • Participate in four or more challenges

Books To Read
Any books! All books! Anything that's not fanfiction, which is what has been stealing all of my time and feels as of late. My 2015 book count is looking really, really sad and needs some boosting! I would also like to actually read a few books I own.


Books Read Today:
The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs (208 pages)
Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe (128 pages)
Rat Queens, Vol. 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'rygoth by Kurtis J. Wiebe (128 pages)
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (232 pages)
Ruthless by Carolyn Lee Adams (256 pages)
My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick (40 pages)
Challenge: Fictional World Travel @ Between Library Shelves

A photo posted by Sharon (@starsaloft) on

Total Books Read: 5.1
Total Pages Read: 992

Books Read Today:
  Completed: My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick (354 pages)
  In-Progress: The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick (213 pages)
Challenge: Bookish Scavenger Hunt @ The Book Monsters

A photo posted by Sharon (@starsaloft) on

Total Books Read: 6.5
Total Pages Read: 1559

Books Read Today:
  Completed: The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick (219 pages)
Challenge: MASH @ Rocky Top Real Talk

A photo posted by Sharon (@starsaloft) on

I met my husband Wes Baker while we were both at SDCC (hey, at least I get to go in my dreams!). We got married while I wore a lime green wedding dress. We now live in a house in Lucky Harbor with our 4 kids and our pet thestral. We drive a DeLorean, and I work as a caterer.
(SO MANY FLASHBACKS. I have such an undying love of this game, not even gonna lie.)
Total Books Read: 7
Total Pages Read: 1778

Books Read Today:
  In-Progress: You Wish by Mandy Hubbard (200 pages)
Challenge: Alas, I did no challenges today. *sigh*
Total Books Read: ~7.66
Total Pages Read: 1978

Books Read Today:
You Wish by Mandy Hubbard (104 pages)
All the Ways to Ruin a Rogue by Sophie Jordan (384 pages)
Lumberjanes, Vol. 1 by Noelle Stevenson & Grace Ellis (128 pages)
  In-Progress: Wildthorn by Jane Eagland (14 pages)
Total Books Read: 10.1
Total Pages Read: 2608

Books Read Today:
  Completed: Wildthorn by Jane Eagland (345 pages)
  In-Progress: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (66 pages)
Challenge: Road Trip Challenge @ In Wonderland

A photo posted by Sharon (@starsaloft) on

My Road Trip:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (England)
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins (California)
Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda (France)
Forever And a Day by Jill Shalvis (Washington. Though if Lucky Harbor itself decided to pop up on a map, I would be there in a heartbeat.)

Featuring Special Appearances By:
Oh, the Places You'll Go! (It seemed appropriate.)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling + Narnia boookmark (Because, duh.)
Total Books Read: 11.1
Total Pages Read: 3019

Books Read Today:
  Completed: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (257 pages)
Challenge: None today.
Total Books Read: 12
Total Pages Read: 3276

Final Wrap-Up

I am so, so happy with this round of Bout of Books! Despite my horrible failing and forgetting about the second chat on Saturday (which I'm still bummed about), this was one of my best readathons in a while! I actually made a huge dent in my 2015 reading goal. I read books I owned. I read my first full graphic novel - 3 of them, in fact. It was great! And there was MASH. You can never go wrong with MASH!

Also there was the fact that I DOUBLED my reading goal. Yeah. Pretty proud of that. :D

Thank you to all the super awesome people who made this such a good time! I can't wait until next round!

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 17th and runs through Sunday, August 23 in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team