Sunday, June 26, 2016

Enchanted August Giveaway--Enter to Win!


Here's your chance to win a copy of Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen, for sale the week of July 5th.  I'm 100 pages in and loving it.  Four lost souls spend the month of August at Hopewell Cottage, a lovely summer home on Little Lost Island off the coast of Maine.  Away from their busy lives and problems, each of the four have a chance to reexamine their lives while breathing in the fresh salt air, wandering the island, and finding the magic that lives in Hopewell Cottage.

Contest runs Monday, June 27th through Thursday, June 30th at midnight.  Winner and a review of the book will be posted on Friday, July 1st.

To enter, click below (US residents only, please)
a Rafflecopter giveaway






To wet your appetite, here's an interview with the author, Brenda Bowen:

About the Book: 

It’s an unusually rainy summer in Park Slope, Brooklyn, when Lottie Wilkinson and Rose Arbuthnot spot a battered index card on their children’s preschool bulletin board:

Hopewell Cottage
Little Lost Island, Maine.
Old pretty cottage to rent on a small Maine island.
Springwater, blueberries, sea glass.
August.

Neither of them can afford to take a month away from their spouses and kids, but one look at Hopewell Cottage online and they are smitten. To share expenses, they find two unlikely companions to join them: Caroline Dester, the damaged, beautiful darling of the independent movie scene, and Beverly Fisher, a retiree recovering from a heartbreaking loss. Though they get off to a rocky start, soon the four begin to relax into island life. And, as the sea breeze works its magic, they rediscover the best versions of themselves, and find, to their surprise, that they can indeed be happy, and with the people they least expect.

About the Author: 
Brenda Bowen is a literary agent. She lives in New York, and spends as much of her summer as she can on an island much like Little Lost Island in Maine. ENCHANTED AUGUST is her adult debut.

A Conversation with Brenda Bowen,
author of ENCHANTED AUGUST
(Penguin Books; on-sale July 5, 2016; $16; 9780143108078)

Q:  How did the idea for ENCHANTED AUGUST develop?

In 1991, I saw the movie Enchanted April, which transported me to Italy, a place I love, and made me feel as if life could be very magical indeed, if only for a short while. It wasn’t till the credits rolled on the movie that I realized it had been based on a book, THE ENCHANTED APRIL, by Elizabeth von Arnim. I read the book, fell in love with it; saw the movie again (and again), and loved it more each time. And every time I saw the film or read the story, I felt: “This could be happening now.”

For many years as an editor and publisher and agent, I’ve given authors and artists ideas for books. Usually the ideas are very vague, and the author then takes the idea and makes it into a bona fide story. I was thinking about giving the idea of an updated ENCHANTED APRIL to an author, so I started roughing out a story to see if it could work. Then I kept going. And gong. And now…it’s a book under my own name, which is thrilling indeed.

Q: Your book is based on a 90-year-old novel, which was made into an Oscar-nominated film. Did you feel apprehensive taking on such a well-loved work? What are the differences between your novel and the original ENCHANTED APRIL? Why did you move the story to Maine, and to August?

I didn’t actually feel apprehensive, though in retrospect I should have. THE ENCHANTED APRIL is a bit of a well-kept secret: those who know it tend to adore it; but many do not know it at all. The story seemed to be crying out to be replayed by women (and men) who move in the modern world.

When I started the book, it was called APRIL, ENCHANTED, and it took four bedraggled New Yorkers to an island based on St. Lucia over spring break. I loved the idea of setting the new book in the Caribbean because the colors and fragrances are so strong, as they are in the von Arnim original. But I didn’t really know the place, in my bones, so the manuscript didn’t work at all. Plus, I couldn’t imagine a month-long spring break. I talked to my agent, the wonderful Faith Hamlin, about my dilemma, and proposed to her that I take the characters to Maine, where I’ve spent summers for many years. She said, “Yes, get them up to Maine and leave them there a month, and then send me the manuscript.” So I did.

Q: You seem to have a great affection for Maine. Have you spent a lot of time there? Do you have your own “Hopewell Cottage?”

I do love Maine. I went to Colby College, in Waterville, where I learned to tough it out in wintery, inland Maine. I never even visited the coast of Maine till my last week at Colby, and then, like everyone else, I fell in love with it. A friend of mine has a family cottage on one of Maine’s thousands of islands, and I spent many summers with her there in my twenties and thirties. Then I had a family, and we started renting a cottage of our own. I have my own Hopewell, the place we go year after year, though, like the characters in ENCHANTED AUGUST, it’s only mine to rent. But that’s enough. “My” Hopewell doesn’t have two turrets, but in every other respect it’s as charming, peaceful, evocative, and breathtaking as the cottage in ENCHANTED AUGUST.

Q: Besides THE ENCHANTED APRIL, what were your literary (or non-literary) influences while writing this book?

I’m such a magpie: I steal everything. So I’m influenced by the words and actions of people around me. I just take whatever they say and put it into my stories. I love many of the 19th-century writers: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, E. M. Forster, Henry James, J. M. Barrie.  I’m not crazy about Dickens and I can’t read Trollope (I’ve tried!). I love Philip Roth’s books: they are so different from what I like to write but they are just what I like to read. I am very influenced by movies – screwball comedies in particular. Mistaken identities, mixed signals, tiny lies that turn into big trouble – those are the stories I most adore. I go to the theater as much as I can. I like to hear the sound of stage dialogue: like real life, but heightened. When I get stuck, I read Mary Wesley. 

Q: Could you talk about your writing process? How did you get in the “Little Lost” mindset?

I spent three years writing the first third of ENCHANTED AUGUST, and then – once I had a publisher and a deadline -- six months writing the second two thirds. I do a lot of my writing at the Hungarian Pastry Shop in New York City, where there is no wi-fi and there are no electrical outlets. You can’t go online, and you can only use your computer for as long as it keeps a charge. The computer I wrote the book on only kept a two-hour charge, so I’d write for two hours and then stop, wherever I was. 

When I had to step things up to meet the deadline, I’d do two writing sessions of 40 minutes each in the very early morning before I went to work at 8:30AM. Then I’d write for a half-day on Friday and as much time as I could on Saturday and Sunday. I also spent most of August of last year finishing the novel on my own Little Lost Island.

I generally put on headphones to write. I play birdsong or sounds of the forest or the ocean as my writing soundtrack. When I write a rainy scene, I play a rainstorm on the headphones. I’m always shocked I’m not drenched to the skin when the scene is done. 

Q: You have spent many years in the publishing world. What’s it like being an author, rather than an agent or publisher?

This could be a really REALLY long answer, or a short one, so I’ll go with the short one: I love being an author. As Neil Gaiman says, “I get to make up stories all day and someone pays me.” That is a great thing. I am grateful for every reader, every bookstore owner, every librarian who touches my book. I know what it takes to get a book to market and I am deeply appreciative of everyone who has a hand in it.

Q: What would your perfect summer day look like? If it includes reading, what would you read?

Start on a Maine island. Get up early. Make coffee very quietly so as not to wake up the cottage. Heat up a sticky bun from the farmer’s market; vow to eat only half. Sit on the porch with coffee and sticky bun. Break vow. Watch the water. Pick up a book from the cottage bookshelves and dip in. Go inside and realize three hours have passed.

Put on some clothes, many of which are the same as clothes worn yesterday. Walk to the other side of the island in the sun. Watch the kids play tennis with the olds. Knit a little. Eat something for lunch. Read on the porch: I am very susceptible to the latest summer novel, or else I’m rereading a favorite classic like The Great Gatsby or Vilette (great book; bad title). Or my darling Mary Wesley. Notice there are no more sticky buns; bake a blueberry cake for tomorrow.

Maybe take the boat into town to get groceries. Go to a friend’s cottage to contribute to a communal feast of a dinner, usually involving fresh fish on the grill and always involving vegetables from the garden. Also involving pie. Eat. Talk. Drink. Walk home under the stars with no flashlight, if it’s not too dark. Go to bed early. Get up with the first bird and do it all over again.

Q: Will you write another book about Little Lost Island? 

A lot of readers have asked me that question! Someday I'd like to write a book about Max and Kitty, and their on-again/off-again romance. I love that they're from different worlds but they've grown up together, and the possibility for conflict (and attraction) there. But for now I'm at work on another, very different novel. More on that to come....

Q: If you could have your own Hopewell Cottage who would your ideal houseguests be? They can be living or deceased.

NOTE: Shakespeare would get a whole summer of his own.  

Fellow writers: 
Elizabeth von Arnim
Mary Wesley
Jane Austen, though I fear the journey would tire her
Mary Shelley
Charlotte Bronte
(I’d save Philip Roth for a winter retreat – too bracing for a summer cottage)

In the drinkers’ corner:
Jimmy Joyce 
Dylan Thomas
Richard Burton

So that we’d have some artists to go with the scribblers:
Henri Matisse
Toulouse Lautrec
Rogier van der Weyden
Modigliani

And some photographers to go with the artists:
EJ Bellocq
Weegee
Walker Evans
Dorothea Lange

For my husband: 
Samuel Johnson 

For me: 
Rafa Nadal

Musicians:
Dave Frishberg
George & Ira Gershwin
Fanny & Felix Mendelssohn
Ella Fitzgerald 
Louis Armstrong
João Gilberto

On the grill: Bobby Flay

At the stovetop:
Julia Child
Mrs. Beeton

More writers:
P.G. Wodehouse
Jonathan Ames
Gary Shteyngart
Maria Semple

Hollywood types: 
Billy Wilder
Preston Sturges
Emma Thompson
Richard Curtis
I. Freleng

Around the fire: 
Garrison Keillor
W. B. Years
Ira Glass

Moony poet: Johnny Keats

My New York friends
My island friends, especially the more eccentric
My beloved family

That’s it for one summer.




Saturday, June 25, 2016

Throwing in the Towel: DNF's for June


Struggle bus


I definitely had the front row on the struggle bus this week.  I've decided I just have to move on from two novels I've been trying to read the past few weeks.  So, The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge 



and Finding Fraser by KC Dyer, I'm sorry.  


I've given up on you for now.  

I'm about 100 pages from the end of The Lie Tree and I just can't put any more energy into being patient and reading it.  I read reviews on this, a Costa Book of the Year Winner and every one of them was glowing.  Awesome, I thought.  This is going to be sooo good!  I may be missing something, but I just can't get into this novel about a young woman who wants to be a scientist in 1860's England, but is constantly forced to dumb herself down in a world where ladies are to be seen and not heard.  This all involves her father, a famous scientist, a scandal, and his death.  Faith is convinced her father was murdered due to a mysterious plant (the lie tree) he has in his possession.   If you tell lies, and they are believed, the plant produces a fruit that when eaten gives you the truth about whatever you want.  It can be the way to finding the true about life's greatest mysteries--and dangerous in the wrong hands. 

I was annoyed at Faith's constant dumbing down; I was not engaged in the story, and felt the storyline was vague and not compelling enough for me.  

Finding Fraser.  Sorry Jamie, you're going to have to be lost a bit longer for me.  Emma, the main character, decides to travel to Scotland to find her very own Jamie Fraser, that wonderful hero of the Outlander series by Diane Gabaldon.  I was all on board for this book, and thought I would zip through it with a big smile on my face.

Nope.  I've made it to page 109, and I'm ready to set it aside and move onto something else.  Emma is annoying to me, and incredibly naive for a young woman of 29.  I'm not patient enough right now to finish this tale, so I'll say DNF for now, but I'll pick it up again eventually and finish it.  This is not my time to find Fraser.  

So...June is ending.  I'm working on Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard, and that review will be up next week.  Then I'll have a new batch of books coming up for review in July.  

Look for a chance to win a copy of this novel coming up this week:





Stay cool, stay hydrated, and keep reading! Give me air conditioning, a comfy couch, and a fresh new story to start.  I'm a happy gal.  

Sue  AKA The Bookalicious Babe

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

This novel snuck up on me and once I'd checked it out of the library I had to quickly read it in between the books I've planned on reading in June.  It was an endearing tale that revolves around a charm bracelet and a man's discovery of his wife's life before they met and married.

Arthur Pepper is 69 years old; his wife Miriam has been dead for a year.  He has a routine to his days:  he wears the same clothes, eats the same breakfast (at the same time every morning), and hides in his house to avoid Bernadette, a neighbor who brings sausage rolls and pies to Arthur every week.  His children rarely call; Lucy is a teacher and lives in the same town as Arthur; his son Dan lives in Australia and was too busy to even come back for Miriam's funeral.  It's a lonely and colorless life.  

Arthur decides on the one year anniversary of Miriam's death that it's time to clear out her closet.  In her boot, he finds a charm bracelet that he's never seen before.  It is obviously of high quality gold with delicate charms:  an elephant, a ring, a flower, a book, a heart, a tiger, a gold thimble,  and a paint palette.  Why didn't Miriam ever wear this around Arthur?  What do the charms mean?  Arthur begins his quest to understand what each charm means and where they came from. He learns that the Miriam he was married to for 40 years had a colorful and eventful life before she settled down to a quiet married life and motherhood.  But was she happy with the life she chose with Arthur?  Did she have any regrets?

Arthur steps out of his comfort zone in many ways during his adventures to uncover the meaning behind the charm bracelet.  He's a deeply thoughtful person who thinks back on his behavior with Miriam over the years, and how he could have done things differently.  It is poignant when he realizes the mistakes he made and how his wife was always graceful and kind no matter what Arthur did or didn't do.  Arthur is a likable character who isn't afraid to reflect, accept blame, and change.  Anyone who is in a relationship nowadays understands the person they know had a life full of experiences, places, and people before the life they have now.  We know that, but do we really think about who they knew, where they went, what they experienced without us?  How it shaped who they are, and why they made the choices they made?  Do you share it all with your loved ones, or do you keep a bit back just for you?  

Rating:  7/10 for a delightful novel about moving on from the death of a spouse, and discovering a bit about their past that helps you embrace life after loss.  A sweetly poignant tale.  It would make a great movie. 

Available in hardcover and e-book. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

I have been eagerly waiting to read the latest by Simone St. James.  She's the author of four previous novels, all set in England, all revolving around World War I and the supernatural.  I've reviewed The Haunting of Maddy Clare , An Inquiry into Love and Death,  Silence for the Dead, and The Other Side of Midnight. Just click on each title to find my reviews.  As you can see, I'm a big fan of Simone St. James.  She has the mix that I can't resist:  history, a bit of mystery, and enough paranormal creepiness to keep me glued to the pages but not afraid to turn out the light at night. 

In her latest novel, Simone's heroine, Jo Manders is living in 1921 England.  She's the paid companion to Dottie Forsyth.  This job is all that stands between Jo and poverty.  Her husband Alex was listed as missing in action during World War I after his plane was shot down over Germany and his body was never found.  Jo is alone in the world, except for her mother.  But, her mother is institutionalized and doesn't really know who Jo is, and lives completely in her imagination.  Dottie is Alex's Aunt, and in a roundabout way, the closest thing to family Jo has besides her mother. But that doesn't stop Dottie from taking advantage of Jo's situation.  

Jo travels with Dottie to the family estate in the countryside outside of London.  Wych Elm House is a bit neglected and was the site of the suicide of Dottie's fifteen year old daughter Frances.  Three years previously, Frances had jumped to her death from the top of the Wych Elm House.  Village stories of Frances and her demon dog haunting the woods around the estate cast a eerie miasma around the home and all who lived there.  

It doesn't help that Jo sees Frances sitting in the parlor on her first day at Wych Elm.  Yes, Frances is dead.  And Jo just saw a ghost.  Why is Jo seeing Frances around Wych Elm?  Why is Frances trying to get Jo's attention?  

Jo's intuition tells her that Frances didn't commit suicide, but was murdered.  But by whom and for what reason would someone kill a fifteen year old girl?  Was it her own mother, Dottie?  Or perhaps Martin, Frances' older brother, who is recovering from terrible wounds suffered in battle, and addicted to morphine. Or was it the stranger found dead in the woods the same day Frances died?

To top it all off, Jo is haunted by not knowing what happened to Alex, the love of her life.  She's convinced she doesn't know the whole story, and Alex's role in the military was more than she realized.  This becomes even more complicated in Jo's mind when she finds out Alex was at Wych Elm House the day Frances died, when he never told Jo he was even in England.  Why the secrets?  

I've got to say Frances' presence in this one is a bit creepy only because her appearances seem random and she never says anything.  Frances makes things move around, appear and disappear. The atmosphere at Wych Elm House is cold and unwelcoming, even though it is a beautiful country home.  You read the book and can feel that damp fall weather and bone chilling cold that keeps Jo struggling to stay warm.  Even reading  this in very hot temperatures and uncomfortable mugginess (summer in Iowa!) made me want to grab a blanket for warmth and comfort.  

I've really loved all of Simone St. James' books, but I have to say this was my least favorite.  I can't put my finger on it, but I felt her previous novels had a more solid storyline and were definitely up a notch in the paranormal element.  I will certainly keep reading anything Ms. St. James has to offer in the coming years; I just hope she keeps giving me chills in the middle of  the summer.  

Rating:  6/10 for an interesting story line, but one that could have had more paranormal creepiness.  Historical background was very interesting, and you can tell the author does her homework.  

Available in paperback and e-book.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Flight Patterns by Karen White

Karen White is one of my go to Southern writers.  I've been reading her novels for years and always look forward to her newest tale of family intrigue.  She has a blend of contemporary issues, damaged family dynamics, and a bit of history mixed together that has me picking up all of her novels without even thinking twice.  

In Flight Patterns, Georgia Chambers is a thirty-something woman living in New Orleans, working as an expert in fine china for a local auction house.  She lives a solitary life, away from her family home in Apalachicola, Florida.  There, her 94 year old grandfather, her mother Birdie, her sister Maisy, and her niece Becky live in the family home.  Her grandfather is a beekeeper; her mother Birdie lives in a silent world where no one but Becky can communicate with her.  It's hard to pinpoint what exactly is wrong with Birdie, but Karen White did the reader a huge favor by alternating chapters between Georgia, Maisy, and Birdie, so you get an inside peek at what Birdie's mind is like.  If it had been left to only see Birdie from the perspective of other characters, nothing much would have made sense.  

Georgia has been gone from home for 13 years when she is given the task of figuring out the origin and price of an unusual Limoge china set brought to her attention by James, a man from New York who has plenty of his own heartbreak to work through.  It's an very different set of china:  it has bees in the pattern, and sparks a memory in Georgia:  she's seen that pattern before, in a soup cup her mother kept hidden in her closet.  Is the china set part of a generally produced pattern, or was it specially made by Limoge for a smaller audience?  And is Georgia's hunch that the cup and James' set belong together correct?

To find out, Georgia's boss tells her she must go back home and search for the cup.  James tags along, intrigued by the mystery (and Georgia).  Georgia reluctantly goes home to face the heartbreak and misunderstandings that sent her running--with a promise to Maisy to never come back--all those years before.  

This is a story with many layers, and the layers move back and forth between the two sisters, Birdie, and her grandfather.  It took me awhile to get into this book; mostly because I was distracted by life and couldn't concentrate.  So that made me feel like it was dragging on; I suspect that wouldn't have been the case if I'd read it more quickly.  It picks up steam about half-way through and moves to an ending that didn't surprise me, but I was glad to finally see Georgia and Maisy put all the pieces together and finally figure out what made Birdie live in her own world, and why their grandfather was so upset with the unfolding events and the search for the soup cup.  Bees are a big part of this novel; their predictable patterns, their loyalty, their ability to defend to the death what they hold dear.  All of it comes together at the end.  There are many moving parts to this story, and I don't know if the story would have suffered if maybe there weren't quite so many issues to wade through.  

I always enjoy Karen White's novels, and this was a satisfying read.  

Rating:  6/10 for a wonderful setting and an intriguing storyline.  I felt there were too many issues for one family story, but the author capably tied them all together at the end.  

Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.  


Thursday, June 9, 2016

Happy People Read and Drink Coffee by Agnes Martin-Lugand

I'm a sucker for a book title that marries coffee and reading.  This novel, translated from French, was completely not what I was expecting; it was an excellent read that packed an emotional wallop.

Diane lives in Paris.  She smokes cigarettes, drinks wine, and doesn't leave her apartment.  Her husband and young daughter were killed in a car accident the year before, and since then she has been incapable of doing anything.  Her literary cafe, Happy People Read and Drink Coffee is suffering in her absence and under the terrible management of her best friend, Felix.  She is simply not functioning at all and pretty much lives in her pajamas.  Life has no meaning to her and she simply doesn't care.  

Felix's announcement that they are going to take a trip somewhere, anywhere to help reset her life spurs Diane into deciding that she will take a trip, but not with Felix.  His idea of a trip involves lots of parties, drinking, and people.  Diane settles on Ireland, and a small town where nothing happens.  Her husband had wanted to go to Ireland, and so that's where she will move for the next few months.  To be alone, to mourn, and to try and move out of her grief.  She packs her possessions, says goodbye to her apartment and life in Paris, and flies to Ireland.  

In Ireland, Diane settles into a small cottage near the beach.  There's another cottage right next door, and an incredibly grumpy and unfriendly photographer lives there.  Edward is pretty pissed there's a neighbor.  Like Diane, he wants nothing to do with anyone else.  The two of them dislike each other the first time they meet.  Edward has no idea why Diane is there, and she's not willing to share her story with anyone.  She truly is in the depths of the worst grief that I've ever read about or experienced.  This is a woman who will sit in a chair and stare out the window for hours.  She smokes like a chimney and barely eats.  

Slowly, Diane and Edward work towards a friendship.  That is the bulk of this novel.  It may not seem like much happens, but so much does!  It's not an action-packed story, but emotionally it is so full.  Your heart just aches for Diane, but at the same time you just want to shake her.  And in the end, she makes a decision that just kills you, but you know it's the best one she can make.  

Good news, though.  There is a sequel coming out next year.  It's already out in French, but the U.S. version Don't Worry, Life is Easy isn't slated to be published until 2017.  I will be first in line to read it.  This was a short novel, but really touched me and is one of my top reads so far for 2016.  I guess because grief has been a constant companion in my life for the past 4 years that it hit home:  we all grieve in different ways, and there is no time limit on it.  But there comes a time where you have to start living and stop feeling guilty and regretful.  The best thing you can do is live a happy, full life in memory of those you've lost.  

Available in hardcover and e-book.  

Rating:  8/10 for a book that has just a few characters and is simply told, but is unforgettable.  You will not soon forget Diane and Edward. 



 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Upcoming Reviews for June: A Little Bit of Everything

I'm trying to be disciplined and attack my TBR piles with some kind of plan.  Focus, Sue!  Here's what I'm reading in June.  It's a mix of non-fiction, fiction, young reader, and teen.  

I haven't read a teen book in a long time so I'm looking forward to diving into The Lie Tree.  Karen White is a favorite author of mine--yay she has a new book out for the summer!  Destiny of the Republic has been on my radar for a few years so I'm glad to finally be reading this look at President Garfield's assassination and the incompetence that lead to his death.  

Without further ado, here's what I'll be reviewing in the month of June:







I can't tell you what will be reviewed when, but I can assure you all will be reviewed in June.  What are you reading in June?