Monday, April 13, 2015

The Cake Therapist by Judith Fertig

After the turmoil of Hausfrau, I decided I needed to either eat cake or read about it.  I decided to go the hip-friendly route and read The Cake Therapist by Judith Fertig.  I'll preface my review with two warnings:  this book will make you drool, and it doesn't come out til June. 

Neely O'Neil flees her crumbling marriage to a pro football player in New York to her hometown of Millcreek Valley, Ohio.  She comes ready to open her bakery, Rainbow Cake.  Neely is an experienced professional baker, and she's got an added bonus:  she can "read" people and match flavors to their moods.  She's a psychic with a dash of cake.  She usually blocks it out, but uses it to create a successful reputation as a delicious baker, capable of delivering just the right cake.  If you didn't know Judith Fertig has a career as a cookbook writer, you figure it out pretty quickly reading this book.  Only someone with a background in all things baking would be able to write so well about buttercream, chocolate, and flavor pairings.  I'm drooling now just thinking about chocolate and coffee entwined together in a rich swirl of frosting.  Yum.

Neely's move back to her hometown hasn't stopped her estranged husband from trying to get her back, however.  He continually bombards her with gifts, phones messages with songs, and rag magazine stories.  But Neely has too much going on at Rainbow Cake, and she's surrounded by people who all have desires and secrets of their own.  Including Mrs. Amici, the grumpiest, most sour lady walking a dog you'll ever meet.  Surprisingly, Mrs. Amici's past plays a big part in this book, and the storyline flips between present day and the mid 20th century.  You'll have to read to find the connection!

What Neely really wants is a home, a safe place to land, and someone she can trust with her heart.  Can she find it in Millcreek Valley?

This novel was just plain fun.  Perfect for what ails you.  I have to apologize for the big time gaps between reviews in the past 5 months.  I'm finishing up grad school, and I'm in my last few weeks.  It has been an intense and very crazy 2 years of my life, and it has made a huge dent in my reading time.  I never thought I'd say it, but it's true:  there aren't enough hours in the day for me to read whatever I want whenever I want.  That will change in about 30 days, and then look out!  I'll be returning to a much richer review schedule.  So until then, thank you all for following, leaving comments, and being patient.  I've got piles of books to read and review; this summer promises to be a big book summer!

Rating:  7/10 for a fun, magical story about love, cakes, and memories. 

Available in June in paperback and e-book.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

It's hard to read a book when the main character is unlikeable and unsympathetic.  Hausfrau is one of those books that sucks you in even as you wonder aloud "Why am I reading this book?!"  

Anna Benz is an American living in Switzerland with her Swiss husband Bruno and her three children:  Victor, Charlie, and baby Polly Jean.  She's lived there for 9 years, and still doesn't drive and struggles with the language.  

Anna also has lots of affairs with pretty much every man she meets, and is extremely unhappy in her life.  It's a head scratcher, to be sure.  She's got a husband who loves her, three great kids, and a pretty sweet life.  But she's not happy, and Anna really has never been happy her whole life.  A past affair looms large in her mind as her perfect love.  But was it, or is she projecting too much on a brief affair that ended years ago?  And what exactly is she so darn unhappy about?

I can tell you Anna is not someone you really care about.  She acts without thinking about the consequences, and wanders through her days in a fog.  She sees a therapist, who struggles with Anna to find a breakthrough.  And Anna plays her part, pasting a smile on her face, and going through her life unable to share any of her secrets with anyone around her.  Not even her therapist knows what Anna's been up to in her life.  

It's inevitable that Anna is on a collision course, but as the reader, you have no idea what or when.  You just know it's coming, and you can't put down the book until you find it.  And it's a doozy.  Maybe, at the end, you shut the book and think, "Well, I saw that coming from the beginning."  And maybe you won't.  I'll say the last half of the book is particularly sad as Anna deals with the inevitable crumbling of herself and her life.  I was surprised at how much the last part of Anna's story affected me emotionally.  It was, quite simply, painfully heartbreaking.  

Be prepared for an emotional roller coaster ride.  Love Anna, hate Anna, understand or not, Anna's journey as a hausfrau is one you will want to discuss with others.  It would make an excellent reading group pick.  

Rating:  8/10 for a main character that will force you to engage in her life whether you care for her or not.  Some graphic sexual language, but it fits into the scheme of this novel.  The end will haunt you.  

Available in hardcover and e-book.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O'Neill

Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O'Neill is a novel with a bit of romance, a bit of self-empowerment, and a large amount of fairy dust.  

Kate McDaid lives and works in Dublin.  She's just had her 26th birthday, and with that comes a letter stating that she's the sole benefactor to her great-great-great-grand aunt's will.  But there's a catch:  Kate has to publish seven poems called The Seven Steps in order to inherit the estate.  The letters claim to be a call from the fairies for the modern world to recognize them again and be kind to the natural world we've abused and neglected.

No big deal, right?  At first they seem pretty harmless.  Kate puts the first poem on an abandoned web page, but it's quickly discovered and word spreads around Ireland and the world about the Seven Steps.  Kate is called a witch, a spiritual guru, the answer to everyone's prayers.  Her life becomes one of hiding out in her apartment, being stalked by paparazzi, and watching her parents go on every talk show on TV to talk about the Seven Steps.  Her parents are a kick--they're embracing their newfound fame and even hawking self-tanning lotions (even if they do turn you orange).  

But is there a darker spin to the Seven Steps?  And what of the original Kate McDaid, the one called the Red Hag? What starts out as an innocent plea from the fairies to be kind to nature and each other takes an ominous turn the closer Kate gets to publishing the seventh letter.  With so many people waiting breathlessly for a life changing seventh letter, what will Kate do?  

This was a fun and very different kind of read. It was refreshing to read a "chick-lit" story set in Ireland and involving the mythology of fairies and village tales of magic and mystery.  A great mix of contemporary life and the underlying ribbon of culture that keeps us all tied together.  

Those of you who love anything Irish will enjoy this novel.  I fondly remember spending 10 days in Ireland in 2005 and can't wait to go back, sit in a pub, and relax a bit with a pint of cider.  Just don't get your Disney fairies confused with the Irish fairies.  

Rating:  7/10 for a completely different and refreshing chick-lit novel that blends cultural mythology with contemporary social media and our obsession with the latest "fad". 

Available in paperback and e-book.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wild Wood by Posie Graeme-Evans

It was a Saturday at the bookstore, and I was shelving new fiction.  Half-way down the cart, I spied this.  I'm not proud of my reaction.  I think I actually squealed and, clutching the book to my chest, I jumped up and down.  I'm relieved to say I  think only one customer saw me do this.  She grabbed the book and bought one that day.  

I've been waiting for another book by Posie Graeme-Evans ever since the wonderful Island House came out a few years ago.  It didn't matter that I was in the throes of mid-terms at school; this was my link to sanity!  And I have to say, Wild Wood delivered.  

Wild Wood takes place in the summer of 1981, just before Charles and Diana's huge wedding in London.  Jesse Marley has arrived in London from Australia with one mission:  to find her birth parents.  This decision began back in Australia, when applying for a passport revealed the truth:  Jesse had two birth certificates.  Unable to cope with the disappointment of her parents never telling her she was adopted, she leaves for London.  While in London, Jesse finds out she was born in Jedburgh, a small village in the borderlands between Scotland and England.  Before she can make plans to travel there, she's hit by a motorbike and lands in the hospital with a fractured skull and broken bones.  Floating in and out of consciousness, Jesse sees and hears things that make no sense.  Is she imaging them, or are they real?  Her doctor, Rory Brandon, asks Jesse why she drew those drawings of a castle.  Since her right hand is unable to function in a sling, Jesse thinks it's impossible.  Yet Rory realizes the drawings are of a place he knows very well:  Hundredfeld.  

Built by a Norman warlord hundreds of years before, Hundredfeld is still occupied by a descendant of the Dieudonne family.  And Rory grew up at Hundredfeld, his mother a servant on the property.  What's the connection between Jesse and Hundredfeld?  Who is her birth mother?  

Jesse travels to Hundredfeld with Rory in order to uncover the mystery of the drawings.  She finds much more than she bargains for--and it's all connected to the land, and Hundredfeld's long history.  

This is a dual history novel; you travel between 1981 and 1321, when Hundredfeld's family of brothers:  Maugris, Bayard, and Godefroi, come together at Hundredfeld to battle those who wish to see them destroyed.  Godefroi's new wife, the Lady Flore, has many believing she's evil and a witch.  Lady Flore has an otherwordly feel about her; is she there to destroy or save?  

This book was great!  Just what I needed to read in March.  Both stories are compelling, and yes, they do tie together.  The Scottish land, superstitions, folklore, and family mysteries all play together nicely and keep you turning the pages.  At first you're a bit confused, but stay with it, and it will all become clear.  

If you want to read Posie Graeme-Evans' other fantastic novel, The Island House, click here for my review.  

Fans of Susanna Kearsley, Diana Gabaldon, and Mary Stewart will love both novels.  A bit of history, a bit of folklore, a bit of romance, and a reminder that where we come from is deeply imbedded in our psyche and shapes us all.  

Rating:  8/10 for a unique story combining local history, Scottish folklore, and Charles and Diana's wedding.  Yes, all three.  

Available in paperback and e-book.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sisters of Shiloh by Kathy & Becky Hepinstall

The Civil War has been popping up all over my bookshelves the past year and I'm happy to say I've managed to finish one of the many books waiting for me at home.  There is something about the Civil War that fascinates me and I can't remember a time when I didn't love to read about it. Perhaps I saw Gone with the Wind too many times as a child!  

Kathy and Becky Hepinstall have written a tale of two sisters fighting for the Confederates in the Civil War.  Sisters of Shiloh is a beautifully written novel that captures the horrors of a war where sacrifices for love were made every day, both at home and in battle.  

Josephine and Libby are two sisters; Libby is the beautiful younger sister; Josephine is the "plain one".  Libby marries Arden, who I'm convinced would have become a horrible abuser if he'd survived the Civil War.  Unfortunately, he signs up on the Confederate side, and during the Battle of Antietam, he's gravely injured.  Libby, convinced she must see him to make sure he's safe, pulls Josephine along and into the thick of the battle.  Josephine finds Arden in the woods, dying.  Before Libby can make it to his side, he's dead.  Only Josephine knows what really happened:  did she help him on his way, or did he die from his wounds?  Libby becomes obsessed with avenging Arden's death and decides she will join the Confederate army disguised as a boy, and kill 21 Yankees--one for every year Arden lived.  Josephine won't let Libby go alone, so both cut their hair, practice their deep voices, and join the Confederate army.  Will they survive?

There's much more to this story, of course.  I won't tell you everything, you've got to read it to discover what happens to Josephine and Libby.  Does Arden continue to haunt Libby in her quest for revenge?  Will Josephine ever reveal what happened that day in the woods?  I loved this book!  The Hepinstall sisters write so beautifully, it's hard to put down.  I found myself lingering over the pages.  The destruction of war is played out against the love of family, the love of country, and the love of sisters who may be at odds with each other, but will do whatever it takes to help each other survive.  

Rating:  8/10 for a powerful story of love and revenge set against the American Civil War.  

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.



Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor

Here's what I love about historical fiction:  each novel is a mini-history lesson that leads me on a search to find out more about the subject.  Sometimes I read historical fiction already familiar with the historical background of the novel, other times it's a brand new bit of history I've never heard of before.  Such is the case of A Memory of Violets.  It is the story of the London flower girls during the late Victorian and Edwardian Eras.  The exact opposite life of Downton Abbey.  

This novel is told in two parts; one by diary, the other by Tilly Harper, who travels from her home in the Lake District to London in 1912 to become a housemother at one of Mr. Shaw's Training Homes for Watercress and Flower Girls.  It's quite a mouthful!  Mr. Shaw, a social activist of his time, rescues crippled and blind flower girls off the streets of London.  He has a row of homes in which the girls live, and a factory where they create silk flowers to sell.  Their skills are remarkable, and the flower girls have a reputation for quality and beauty in their work.  All of these young ladies have come from desperate situations, living in the most horrific and dangerous conditions.  This is their chance to have a happy, productive life. 

Tilly Harper has left her home and come to London because of a terrible accident that injured her younger sister and left Tilly full of blame and completely shunned by her mother.  She leaves hoping for a new life and some happiness.  Once at Violet House, she discovers a diary hidden in her room and soon becomes engrossed in the lives of Flora and Rose, two young flower girls from 1876.  Written by Flora, it reveals the heart wrenching details of Flora's search to find Rose, her younger sister.  Rose, only four at the time--and blind, was wrenched out of Flora's hands one day while they were out selling flowers.  Flora, crippled and unable to walk without a crutch, can't find Rose.  She never finds Rose.  Flora is rescued by Mr. Shaw, and becomes a housemother at Violet House.  She dies without ever knowing what happened to Rose. Can Tilly finish the search for Flora, and find out what happened to Rose? 

At the heart of this novel is the love of sisters and family, whether it's a family you're born into, or a family you create.  It is about being brave enough to look for answers in places that may cause pain, but ultimately are cathartic and healing.  It is about good people doing what they can to help others less fortunate, with no wish but to bring comfort, happiness, and hope.  

If you're interested in more information about the flowers seller of London, click on this link:http://spitalfieldslife.com/2010/10/11/the-flowergirls-of-1851/ .  It's a short bit of history on the flower girls.  

I enjoyed this novel.  I'd recommend it to fans of English history, flowers and gardening, and historical fiction. Hazel Gaynor is also the author of The Girl Who Came Home.  

Rating:  7/10 for a unique subject, a storyline that flows quickly, and characters that tug at your heart. 

Available in paperback and e-book.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Need a Little Romance? Some of My Favorite Romantic Reads

Valentine's Day is here.  I myself prefer spending the day laying on my couch, covered in a blanket, and reading a good book. Today the wind is howling outside, which makes it a perfect "leave me alone I'm reading" kind of day.  

Here are a few of my favorite romantic reads.  There's historical fiction, contemporary, young love, heartbreak, and happy endings.  We all know the path of love is never smooth--especially when you finally find it!  Whether you're in the mood for something light or something with a bit more heft, I've got you covered.  In no particular order, here are some of the books that have made my heart go pitter patter:

One of my all time favorite pioneer novels.  All I can say is Jack!!

If you've never read this novel, please do.  It is delightful. 

Stuck on an island....older woman, younger man.  Good stuff.

Teen love done very very well.

Historical fiction with an excellent romantic tale.

Considered a classic romance--time travel and a knight!

The true story of Ree Drummond and her Marlboro Man.