Sunday, October 23, 2016

I'm Back from Vacation...and I read The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg

I had a wonderful vacation:  two weeks in Italy with friends.  We traveled to Rome, then the seaside town of Salerno, and finished up in Venice.  The weather was beautiful, the food was great, and it was a trip of a lifetime.  

Of course, I had my books with me, and got some reading done on the plane rides and at night before hitting the sack (but not much--full days of walking everywhere had me tired and ready for sleep!).  I'll be posting my review of three Heather Graham Krewe of Hunters novels later this week.  Simon Green will have to wait...but in the meantime, I did read the new Fannie Flagg novel that's being published at the end of November.  I got sucked into it and read it on the flight home.  9 hours in various planes gives you time to get some serious reading done!

I must confess this is my first Fannie Flagg novel.  I have a few on my bookshelves, bought with the intention of reading them right away.  But of course life and other books got in the way, and they remain unread.  I'm happy to say that won't be for long, because I was delighted with The Whole Town's Talking.  

This novel takes place in Elmwood Springs, MO, and traces the history of the town from it's earliest beginnings in the late 1890's through 2021.  It all begins with Lordor Nordstrom's quest to find a bride.  He enlists the help of his friends in town and places an ad in a paper.  Soon the beautiful Katrina answers, and eventually comes to Elmwood, meets Lordor, and falls in love.  Their marriage, and successful dairy farm, are the center of the story and their beloved town.  We see the town start off small, with a core group of people, and through the years, as Lordor leads the town as mayor, it grows, thrives, and becomes a town that everyone sees as that perfect piece of Americana. Small town life is pretty sweet, gentle, and full of all the quirky characters that make each town unique. 

There's more to the story, of course, as we see what happens to Lordor, Katrina, and so many other townspeople, as they die and are put to rest in the town cemetery, Still Meadows.  All of these folks remain part of the town, as they rest and chat with each other up on the hill.  It's a peaceful place, and a wonderful "in-between" spot for those souls before they go on to.....where?  That's the fun part of the novel; Fannie Flagg's take on where we go after we leave our bodies.  The connectedness of families, the love that never ends are big themes, as well as the circle of life.  I loved the ending, and how it all is neatly tied up in a lovely bow.  It is a gentle reminder that those we love are always with us.

So, Christmas (yes, I said that word) is coming soon!  And I can heartily recommend this novel as an excellent holiday gift to Moms, Grandmas, Aunts, and anyone who enjoys a read filled with gentle humor and delightful characters you'd like to have as your neighbors.  I'm so glad I had the opportunity to read Fannie Flagg's The Whole Town's Talking.  I will pick up her books without hesitation from now on whenever I need something down home and gentle to sooth my frazzled self.  

This novel will be published in hardcover November 29, 2016.  It will also be available in e-book and audio formats.  

Rating:  7/10 for a delightful read to help bring my unforgettable vacation to a close.  I found myself grinning, chuckling out loud, and enjoying the people of Elmwood Springs, Missouri.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

It's That Time Of Year: Witches and Romance. I Know. It Sounds Odd.

It doesn't look like a romance, but it is--and it leaves you wondering just which fine handsome man she'll end up with by the end of this series!

Would Be Witch is the first in a trilogy (there may be more after that) by Kimberly Frost.  Tammy Jo Trask lives in the small town of Duvall, Texas with her Aunt and Mom.  She also has a family ancestor, Edie, who lives in a locket.  Edie is a 1920's stunner, and a powerful witch even in death.  She's always around to give Tammy Jo some advice.

Tammy Jo is the only one in her family that doesn't have the special witchy powers that run through each generation.  She does, however, have a spectacular talent for making baked goods.  If you're on a diet, please ignore the references to cupcakes, torte, and cream cheese frosting that are sprinkled throughout the novel.

Tammy Jo is divorced from her childhood sweetheart, a local deputy (and serious hot guy) Zach.  They still have 'sleepovers' and act like a couple, but they are in fact divorced--thanks to Zach's ability to make Tammy Jo feel ignored in their short-lived marriage.  It's clear they still love each other, but right now the relationship is still up in the air.
There's also the gorgeous Bryn Lyons--a rich man who moved to Duvall as a teen and has always intrigued Tammy Jo.  But her family has told her there are witch rules, and one of them is that she is strictly forbidden to mess with the Lyon family.  Ever.  She doesn't know why, but figures the rule is in place for a good reason.

Bryn, however, is a powerful wizard in his own right, and the attraction he's always had for Tammy Jo is pretty hot.  Living in Duvall together makes the sparks fly, jealousy run rampant, and attracts all sorts of supernatural creatures.  Werewolves are out to kill Tammy Jo, and she's clueless.  And whether she understands or not, she really is a witch and must be apprenticed to someone before she does something really stupid.

Tammy Jo is under the gun to solve a few robberies in town, escape from werewolves, and most importantly--find the locket containing Edie.  If she doesn't, Edie will be tormented forever.

There is a lot going on in this novel--two gorgeous men vying for her attention--and she's got the hots for both of them.  Who's behind the robberies?  And just what does Tammy Jo's attempts at magic attract to Duvall?

It's  a fun beginning to a trilogy.  There's enough humor in the novel to keep you flipping the pages, and the scenes between Tammy Jo and Bryn sizzle.  But then you like Zach, and you're torn.  I don't know how Tammy Jo will decide!

The next novel comes out in December, followed by the third in March 2014:

There's plenty of hot romance, with the potential for much more in the next two novels.  I would say fans of Charlaine Harris will enjoy this new heroine--she's funny, feisty, and slightly clueless.

Rating:  7/10 for a twist on the typical romance.

Available in paperback and e-book.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I've never had the pleasure of reading a Kate Atkinson book before.  Now I know what I've been missing.  

Life After Life is her latest novel--coming out in April.  I was lucky to receive an ARC.  This novel has so much in it, I can't possibly tell it all--and anyway, it would spoil the whole story if I did.  So be prepared for lots of vagueness in this review.  It's for your own good. 

Ursula Todd is born during a snow storm in England in 1910.  And she dies.  Then she's born again, but this time survives.  This happens repeatedly during Ursula's life--or lifetimes.  And you keep going back and starting over again at a certain point in Ursula's life, where things are just a bit different--and so Ursula's life takes a different direction.  I've likened this to an adult version of Create Your Own Adventure books, and for those who have no idea what they are--the movie Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow.  Just one change in a choice or a reaction starts Ursula on a whole new life path.  

This novel is brilliant.  Ursula and her family--her father Hugh, her mother Sylvie, her siblings--especially Pamela--are just such a wonderful group of people.  Their comedic one-liners, their droll sense of humor, their obvious love for each other (except for Maurice--the eldest brother who is a complete boor) is so much a part of what makes this a book you can't put down.  Taking place over 35 years--during World War I, and during World War 2, you see the progression of the family as the children grow up, move along in life, and struggle to survive in a world that seems to have gone mad.  

And Ursula.  I'm so glad I read about her early in the year, so I can think about her character all year and enjoy her spunk, smarts, and struggle to make sense out of what her life seems to be, but may not be.  It's a dizzying swirl of what might have been and what could be.  Her life is a prime example of how each one of us impacts those around us--how our actions can turn everything around to a happy outcome or a disaster.  Happiness, bliss, or sadness and grief?  Circles, circles, circles.  Ripples in the water.  

I loved this book.  I have found another author to read!  What an incredibly smart book to create.  I can't imagine how hard it was to write this.  It's like a writing exercise where you have to re-write the same scene over and over again, but change it each time in subtle but crucial ways.   Amazing.  

One more thing:  you must be patient while reading this book.  Do not give up.  Just keep reading.  You'll get into the rhythm quickly.  Consider this a challenge for you this year.  Just read it.  Seriously.  And reading groups?  Hello.  This will keep you talking for months. 

Rating:  9/10 for sheer brilliance, wonderful characters you don't want to say good bye to, and just the right touches of comedy and seriousness.  

Available in paperback, e-book, and audio.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Good American by Alex George

I've read two amazing books so far this year, and it's only mid-February.  I can only hope this streak continues through the rest of 2013.  Life After Life by Kate Atkinson was superb; A Good American was so darn enjoyable I was reluctant to finish it and say goodbye to the Meisenheimer family.

I should also add that this book has another meaning for me.  In my book group at work--which consists of fellow employees meeting once a month to just talk about books--we decided to start off this year by putting a title in a "hat" that we wanted someone else in the group to read this year.  It could be any title you wanted.  We all had a bit of a time, since talking about books to each other means most of the time many of us have read the same books.  But, I was lucky--so very lucky!--to pick this title out of the "hat".  It just so happened to have been released in paperback that week, so I quickly bought it and dived in this week while on vacation.  

What can I say about this novel?  It starts out with Frederick and Jette; living in Germany, and falling in love.  Their passion gets the best of them, and they soon must flee a disapproving mother and quickly board a ship bound for New Orleans.  It was the only ship leaving for America quickly, and time was of the essence.  Jette is 7 months pregnant, and the trip is very taxing on her.  They have very little money, the clothes on their backs, and no plan of what they will do once they arrive in New Orleans.  And neither speaks a lick of English.  It is 1905 and the world is wide open.

The story continues as Frederick, with his magical singing voice, and Jette, feeling completely homesick, learn to find their way in America, ending up in Beatrice, Missouri.  Jette's giving birth helps them decide where they will stay.  

The rest of the novel follows the generations of the Meisenheimers as they live, love, and work in Beatrice.  Frederick's absolute love and gratitude towards America sets the tone for the sacrifices, opportunities, and tragedies that follow Frederick, Jette, and their children.  

It truly is a wonderful novel.  I was quickly sucked in, and couldn't put it down.  I always find it amazing that people will leave all they know for a complete unknown place--and so many millions did it to come to America and start a new life.  The courage that takes is astounding to me--someone who doesn't like driving in a city where I'm unfamiliar with the roads.  I feel like a complete wimp!  

This book will certainly be a top ten read for me this year, and it's so early in the year!  But I can't help it.  It is one of those novels that you hate to finish.  

Thanks to Kirk! for recommending this book to me.  I never read it in hardcover, and am so glad I finally picked it up in paperback.  Most definitely will be a staff recommends title for me at the bookstore.  And a staple for my book talks in the next few months.  

Rating:  9/10; wonderful characters that experience the same growing pains as America does from the early 1900's through the 1960's; written with just the right touches of humor and sadness that make this novel so unforgettable.

Available in paperback, hardcover and as an e-book.  Also has a book club discussion guide at the end of the paperback.  I would strongly suggest this as a book club read!  

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths: I am Loving this Mystery Series!

I am a big nerd girl when it comes to archaeology. If it involves finding long buried cities, bodies, or lost civilizations, I am all over it.  I would be a female Indiana Jones; but instead I'm a bookseller and I have to live my adventures sitting on my couch flipping the pages.

A friend at work told me about this novel and said she had started it.  I quickly bought the book, and devoured it today.  It took me a few weeks to actually pick it up--but once I did, I read it quickly.  I am a fan of this series and am going to buy the next one tomorrow--yeah pay day!

Ruth Galloway is a 39 year old slightly overweight single woman who teaches archaeology at a small college in Norfolk.  She lives in a cottage on the salt marsh, a desolate place where the earth and the sea meet.  It full of crazy storms, violent winds, and tides that rush in and out, creating a dangerous yet beautiful place.  Ruth loves the peace and wildness of the place, and is quite content to teach and live with her two cats.

Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson asks for her help identifying bones found on the salt march--a place where ancient man had lived and left human sacrifices to the Gods.  Nelson hopes these are the bones of Lucy Downey, a young five year old who disappeared ten years before and hasn't been seen since.  Nelson has been haunted by this case and has never given up on finding Lucy.  

Ruth and Nelson quickly become a team; another young girl, Scarlett, is snatched from her back yard.  Now it's a race against time to find Scarlett and hopefully solve the mystery of Lucy.  How does the salt marsh and its ancient history tie into these unsolved cases?  Who sent Nelson all those taunting letters about Lucy?  And how does Ruth's expertise in bones help Nelson solve the crimes?

I loved Ruth.  She's smart, confident in her abilities, and content with being alone.  She's had her share of love and loss, but doesn't need a relationship to feel her life is complete.  Nelson is a tough cop who admires Ruth for her ability to focus and be absolutely professional in the case.  He's a cop who never gives up, and stays in contact with Lucy's family, always trying to solve the case.

This is the first in the Ruth Galloway series.  As I've said before, I'm not much of a mystery reader, and I'm trying to change that.  This series is right up my alley.  If I had the second in the series here right now, The Janus Stone, you'd better believe I'd be reading it tonight!  Lucky for me, there are 4 more still waiting for me.  I like Ruth.  Can't wait to see what else she has in store for me!

Rating:  7/10 for a great central female character, history and archeology mixed with contemporary unsolved cases, and a neatly put together whodunnit.  

Available in paperback and e-book.


Friday, October 7, 2016

The Bookalicious Babe is Going on Vacation! And Yes, I'll be Bringing Books

This is the first time in years that I have taken a deliberate break from blogging.  I'll be enjoying myself with friends, drinking wine and soaking up the beauty of Italy.  In the meantime, I will be reposting reviews from the past few years on books that were favorites of mine.

October is one of those months where I really love to hunker down and begin my cold weather reading.  I especially love to read slightly darker, more paranormally (not an actual word, but I'm going with it) novels.  It's just a short hop to Christmas, too.  I'm a sucker for a fun Christmas romance.  

With the advent of e-readers, most people who travel just take that with them, and read on the go.  I'm a bit of an old fashioned creature, and I prefer having paperbacks with me when I travel.  They don't need recharging, I can read them anywhere, and I usually will leave them behind when I'm finished.  I have two with me on the plane, and the rest packed in my luggage.  I sit down, buckle up, and start reading.  

So what am I taking with me on this trip?  I've been wanting to start the Jim Butcher series The Codex Alera, so book one: The Furies of Calderon is coming with me.  I'm a fan of Heather Graham's Krewe of Hunters series and I've got three to read; I'm a bit behind!  Another series I really enjoy is Simon Green's Ghost Finders.  It's darker, for sure, but I love it.  It would make a pretty good BBC series.  And I just might toss in a romance to even it all out.

 Luckily, I am traveling with friends who are equally enamored with books and reading--we all met working at a bookstore, so I think you'll probably understand our mindset.  

And who knows, my e-reader may just come with me, too.  

I'll be back with fresh reviews in a few weeks! Ciao!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin by Stephanie Knipper

Well.  I'm a few days late getting this read and reviewed for my September reads, but better late than never!  I had a friend recommend this to me.  She knows I love Sara Addison Allen and that wonderful genre of magical realism.  And she was right about this one, too.

Lily and Rose Martin are two sisters who grew up on the family flower farm in Kentucky.  Rose's daughter Antoinette is ten years old and on the severe end of the autism spectrum.  She also has an amazing ability to heal.  As in, putting her hands into dirt and making flowers bloom, touching birds and healing broken wings.  She can hear the music of the earth and every living creature.  She can't talk, but her mind is as clear as a bell.  Her body doesn't obey her mind, and what others see as a profoundly challenged child screaming and biting is in actuality a frustrated child limited by the physical prison of a body that won't obey her commands. The only problem is that when Antoinette really goes in deep with her healing, it causes severe seizures that are in danger of killing her. 

Rose takes care of the flower farm, and finally calls Lily home after years of exile.  Rose is dying.  She's had a heart condition since the day she gave birth to Antoinette, and her time is running out.  Lily must come home to take care of Antoinette and the flower farm.  Rose is not willing to put her daughter in harm's way by trying to cure her heart condition.  It's time to say goodbye.  

Seth, Lily's childhood love, continues to live next door, and has taken part ownership in the flower farm to help Rose.  He's got a connection to Antoinette that helps keep her anchored and calm.  When Lily arrives, Antoinette is angry, frustrated, and definitely not a fan of Lily.  

Geez, this sounds like an incredibly sad story.  It is sad, but it's also pretty wonderful.  It's all about family, friends, love, sacrifice, and understanding.  I for one loved peeking into Antoinette's personality, and seeing the person she really is inside that physical body.  Rose and Lily love each other, but have lots of issues.  And Lily's love for Seth has never faded, but she's afraid to trust him again.  

I haven't even mentioned Will...the doctor who lives next door to Lily and is competition for Seth.  Oh, he'll break your heart.  

Flowers, magic, flower lore, healing, love.  The sister bond.  What a lovely little gem of a book.  

Rating:  7/10 for a novel that has many compelling characters; a story line that may require tissues, and a cover that was hard to resist.  

Available in hardcover and e-book.