Monday, April 29, 2013

Glow Winner!!!!

The winner of a copy of Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli is......


Dawn, email me your mailing address as soon as you can so we can send you your copy of Glow!

Thanks everyone for entering the contest.  Watch for more in the future!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey by Wendy Wax

I had to take a break from all the heavy fiction I've been reading, so I picked this novel up at the bookstore and finally sat down and finished it yesterday.  Wendy Wax has written a lot of novels, usually a bit lighthearted and enjoyable stories about women, life changes, and potential love interests.  

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey takes place in the Alexander, a historic apartment building in Atlanta.  The Alexander is a very nice place to live--it even includes a concierge, Edward.  He's there to do whatever the owners of the apartments need or want him to do.  He's also a main character in the novel.  He decides to start a Sunday evening showing of Downton Abbey so that people can meet each other and become friends.  Enter Samantha, Brooke, and Claire.  Each women has just moved into the Alexander and hasn't made friends with anyone else.  Samantha has been married for 25 years to a very wealthy man and has the most expensive and luxurious apartment in the building.  She spends her days exercising, having lunch with her snooty mother-in-law, and tries to keep her adult brother and sister from ruining their lives through pure laziness.  Did she do them wrong marrying her husband at a weak moment in her life?  Her attitude of gratefulness towards her husband for rescuing her all those years ago is slowly becoming an unsatisfactory state of marriage.

Brooke is newly divorced with two small girls.  Her husband dumped her after she put him through medical school, and now has a shiny new girlfriend who is everything Brooke never was--and her ex is a grade-A jerk.  She's feeling lost and completely alone with no direction.

Claire is an empty-nester who sold her home and moved into a compact little apartment at the Alexander.  She's taking a year off to write her third romance novel while her daughter attends college in Chicago.  Her problem?  A major case of writer's block.  

Slowly, through Sunday nights watching Downton Abbey and Wednesday pizza nights, the three women get to know each other, become friends, and support each other through a year of changes and unexpected surprises.  Edward is their guiding force, using his expertise as a concierge to work wonders and help each woman find happiness.  

This novel was entertaining, but nothing was a surprise.  I was particularly irritated after awhile with Samantha.  Speak up, woman!  God!  And Claire, who spent all her time walking around parks and ignoring her computer.  I get that a person can be stuck while writing, but she never even tried to write anything down for her novel and instead just kept panicking until she started to ignore her issue and lied to everyone about her progress.  Just being honest would have pushed her along much quicker towards a resolution.

I will read more Wendy Wax novels.   This one was just fine, but no fireworks or edge of your seat happenings.  

Rating:  6/10 Hopefully, there will be another novel featuring Edward.  His story is not finished.

Available in paperback and e-book.

Two days left to enter my Glow giveaway here!
Check it out!!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli: Review and Giveaway!

If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know I love to read historical fiction set in the South.  Glow has now been added to my collection of favorite Southern novels.

Glow follows the story of the family tree of Solomon Bounds, a white man who settles in the mountains of Georgia is the early 1800's. What makes this novel special is that as you read, you go back up the family tree, not down.  The story starts with young Ella McGee and her mother, Amanda.  They live in Washington, DC in 1941.  Amanda--a mix of Cherokee and Scotch-Irish descent, is working  on racial equality and making herself very unpopular in the community around her.  A rock thrown into her home one night makes her realize leaving is the only option.  But--she can only get one bus ticket out that night.   Reluctantly, she puts Ella on the bus to Georgia, with instructions on where to get off and who to meet.  

But things go wrong, and Ella is left injured on the side of the road in Georgia.  Two elderly women, Willie Mae and Mary-Mary, find Ella and take her to their cabin in the woods to heal her and her dog.  In doing so, Ella's family tree and Willie Mae's family tree connect.  We begin the stories of Amanda's life as a child in the same region--her loving parents, her elder brother Bud, and her love for Obidiah Bounds, a young black boy who's father is the only black person around to own a large farm.  Amanda's childhood stories are interspersed with Ella's time at the cabin with Willie Mae and Mary-Mary.  It is important to look at the chapter titles--each chapter is the name of the character you will be reading about.  If you don't it can get you off track and a bit confused.  I found it helped me reset my mind to go back to a particular character's history.  There is also a family tree at the beginning of the book to help you keep track of each character and where they are in the history of this family.

This novel is chock full of superstition, racial tension, and the beauty of the Georgia mountains.  Jessica Maria Tuccelli is an amazingly descriptive writer.  Her ability to write about the color of a river, the smell of flowers, and the blazing colors of the leaves are a gift to savor.  And the heartbreak and happy times for each storyteller are simply told yet pack a power punch of emotion.  

You too, will fall in love with Ella and, most of all, young Amanda.  She really is the voice of this novel and seeing things through her young eyes makes them even more poignant.  The love of mothers for their children, the mix of Cherokee, white, and black histories, and the drive for the human spirit to never give up are all themes that run throughout each and every story--from Ella all the way back to Willie Mae's early life as a slave.  

Did I tempt you?  How about a chance to win a copy of Glow?  You can!
Just add a comment to this post and I will pick a winner on Monday, April 29th.  *open only to US residents*

Rating:  8/10 Compelling story about the history of  Hopewell County and one of the founding families.  Beautifully written novel for a first time author.  Perfect for book clubs!  Fans of The Kitchen House will like this one.

Available in paperback, e-book, and audio.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bristol House by Beverly Swerling

If you read enough historical fiction, you learn pretty quickly that there can be a wide range of historical in the fiction.  Some historical fiction is light and entertaining, and you learn a few things.  Other historical fiction is like a juicy steak that you can sink your teeth into--and that's just what Bristol House is--a perfectly done steak when you're ravenous for some beef.

Beverly Swerling delves into the London of 1535, when Henry the 8th was in power, Jews were forbidden to live in England, and monks were being defrocked and killed by Henry's minions.  The 16th century is neatly tied into today's world by Annie Kendall, an architecture historian who is given a second chance at a career by being hired to travel to London and find evidence that a man known as the Jew of Holborn actually existed in London during Tudor times.  What made this man so special was what he brought with him:  priceless Jewish relics of worship from the original Temple in Jerusalem.  Where did they go?  How can they be found?  Is it all just a myth?  

Annie soon finds out that some people aren't being honest with her, and her "boss", Philip Weinraub may have much darker motives.

Annie is pretty darn smart, and she's soon partnering with the handsome Geoff Harris, a TV personality in London who likes to dig into political issues.  He's also a dead ringer for the ghostly  monk that keeps appearing in the back bedroom of Annie's apartment.  

Have I sucked you in yet?  Do you feel the need to rush out and read this novel?  Yes?  Good.  Cause it is really really enjoyable, and the more you read, the more complex it gets.  The story is a giant puzzle, and it slowly comes together into a fascinating story of faith, history, and the supernatural.  

This novel is great for anyone who likes Tudor history, codes, Jewish history, and a great, meaty historical tale.  Beverly Swerling is a great writer and neatly ties the past into the present.  What does a recovering alcoholic have in common with a ghostly monk from the 16th century?  Plenty.  Read and find out!

Rating:  8/10 for a complex historical novel that shows a lot of research into the subject; likeable characters, and an entertaining thriller.

Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett

Thanks to Barnes and Noble, I got a review copy of this novel, which was a perfect read for what's turning out to be a very wet, stormy April.  A book about books?  Sign me up!

The Bookman's Tale is a love letter to the world of books--not e-books, not read 'em and toss 'em paperbacks, but books that have survived hundreds of years in dusty old bookstores, on the shelves of manor houses, and in some cases--tombs.  

There are three stories in this novel, but the main character throughout is Peter Byerly, a young widower who makes a living as a rare book dealer.  He buys them, fixes them up, and sells them to those who collect old books.  It's a passion he discovered while attending college at Ridgefield in North Carolina.  There he also met his other passion:  Amanda, the young student who would become his wife and the love of his life.  

Peter has moved to a small village in England to escape the pain of losing Amanda.  He's naturally a very shy, withdrawn man, and his doctor has given him a list of things to do to move through his grief and start living again:  meet new people, keep in touch with old friends, start his career again.  Get up and eat meals, make an effort.  Peter doesn't much feel like doing any of these things, but one day he finds himself in a bookstore thumbing through an old book.  And what he finds--a watercolor of a woman who looks exactly like his deceased wife, Amanda--starts him on a journey that includes murder, family feuds, Shakespeare, and potentially the greatest literary find of the century.  

Who painted this watercolor?  Who is B.B?  And how is his wife connected to a painting clearly made over a hundred years ago?  This begins Peter on an adventure that will change his life, open up a new world for him, and help him rediscover his passion for books.

Another story line includes the journey that the Pandosto takes through the 1600's to present day.  What's the Pandosto?  It's a small booklet that became the basis for Shakespeare's play Winter's Tale.  And it has handwritten notes in the margins from Shakespeare himself--thereby proving he was the author of his plays.  To prove this is an authentic Shakespearean item means a huge deal in the rare book world, and will finally shut down all the nay-sayers who for centuries have doubted Shakespeare actually wrote any plays at all.  It's the holy grail of the rare book world--and the author does a superb job tying the Pandosto into Peter's world of 1995.  But, is what Peter discovered the real deal, or a clever forgery?  

The action picks up about midway through the novel, as the story switches back and forth between Peter and the journey of the Pandosto.  And it's the tale of the men who each own the Pandosto through the centuries that help Peter solve the puzzle of the watercolor he found of the mysterious woman.  

I enjoy a good story that involves solving an age-old mystery, and this novel has it all--a likeable main character, a good back story, and a clever plot that twists and turns until the satisfactory ending.  You find yourself rooting for Peter, as he slowly picks himself up from his never ending grief and begins to live again.  

This book will be available at the end of May in hardcover, audio, and e-book format.  

Rating:  7/10.  I liked the mix of mystery, forgery, and Shakespeare with the contemporary world of rare books.  I also liked Peter and, through back stories, Amanda.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag

Ah, another novel chock full of magical realism.  I love these books!  The House at the End of Hope Street is a sweet novel perfect for a weekend read, or a good reason to go to bed early during the week.  It's the kind of novel that requires a bit of hot tea, a sweet treat, and coziness.  

The House is a magic place, where women find themselves staying when they have reached a point in their lives that requires making a decision.  Each woman can stay for only 99 days.  In that time, the house itself works to help nudge them into finding their true passion, healing broken hearts, and finding direction.  Peggy's family has owned this house for a few centuries, and it has been passed down through her female side--one woman stays and takes care of the women who come in and out of the house.  And there are some interesting women--Dorothy Parker, Liz Taylor, Sylvia Plath, and so many other great women who worked hard over the past few centuries for women's rights: to education, to vote, and to live their best lives.  Even Virginia Woolf hangs around the house.  The walls are lined with photos of all the women who have stayed in the home, and there are a lot.  And they talk to those who stay at the house, giggle, and offer advice.  The house itself is pure magic:  notes float down from the ceiling, books fill rooms overnight, and there's a magic garden out back that only Peggy can see.  The house is a major character, and a charming one at that.  

Alba, Greer, and Carmen all find themselves staying at the house:  Alba has fled her promising university track; Greer is a down and out actress who found her fiancee in bed with a younger woman; Carmen finds herself in England after fleeing her home under mysterious circumstances.  Alba is the main character; she is an incredibly brilliant young woman who finds herself pursuing a PhD at Cambridge. She can also see colors when people talk, see and talk to ghosts, and experiences the world in a way that no one else does.  But this has also confined her and limited her life.  What secrets does she hold?  Where does she come from?  Can Greer get her life together and find some peace?  And Carmine.  Lush, lovely, earthy Carmen.  She loves music, but it's connected in a bad way to her lover--and that story unfolds into the darkest part of the novel.  But even the darkest parts spark with magic.

Fans of Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen will certainly enjoy this novel.  I myself found a craving for chocolate cake--Peggy likes to eat birthday cake most every day for breakfast.  Her story is another part of this novel that reminds us  it is never too late to love, change your life, and grow.  

Rating:  7/10.  Clever storyline; Alba is a character that shows great promise and growth, and the house itself is a wonderful part of this novel.  Magical.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Seduction by M.J. Rose

Really, why wouldn't you want to pick up this book with that glorious cover?  I was happy to receive an ARC of this book, which is out in early May.  Thanks to Atria/Simon & Schuster for feeding my M.J. Rose addiction.

Seduction continues the story of Jac L'Etoile, a young woman who we first met in the previous equally fantastic novel The Book of Lost Fragrances.  I would suggest reading that book first; you will definitely have a few loose ends if you read Seduction alone since there are characters from the first novel that play roles in this one; story lines do run over a bit, too.  

Jac flies to the Isle of Jersey, in the Channel Islands, to revisit old friend Theo and explore all the Celtic monoliths and sites around the island.  Jac is famous for a show she produces about investigating the origins of myths, and this is a perfect opportunity to dig into a new place and find untapped Celtic myths.

Her background with Theo is complicated.  Both first met as young teens when they attended Blixer Rath, a clinic for troubled young people in Switzerland.  This place is a bit out of the ordinary; it treats teens who have extraordinary issues and uses hypnosis and past life therapy among other treatments to get to the root of problems.  Here, Jac and Theo form a bond that sees them experiencing the same dreams, and drawing the same symbols in art class--independent of each other.  Just what is their connection?

Oh--and enter Victor Hugo, he of the Les Miserables fame.  Yep. He's a big part of this story, too.  He lived on Jersey in the 1850's, and dabbled in seances, desperately trying to contact his dead daughter, who drowned in a boating accident.  He comes in contact with something called The Shadow of the Sepulcher--could it be the Devil himself?  Whatever it is, it beckons Hugo with a tempting offer--sacrifice someone else, so his daughter may live again.  

How is Jac tied to Theo and the island?  Theo's family lives in Wells in the Wood house, which is such an extraordinarily described home that I really want it to exist.  I would live there if I could.  His wife has recently died; he has a very prickly relationship with his brother, Ash, and his two aunts are troubled by everything past and present that has affected the family.  Oh, what a mix of mysteries!

Jac's extraordinary sense of smell plays a big part in this novel.  Her family business of perfumery is again part of this story; it has connections to Jersey that will unfold as the story moves along.  There is a lot going on in this novel; it's a great one for readers who enjoy unraveling a mystery cloaked in a bit of the supernatural--and reincarnation.  It explores the theory that we are all haunted by past lives and actions taken that must be addressed and put to rest.  We come back to fix things; we come back with the same people because karma demands it.  I will say I loved how it all ends--and thought it very clever how Jac finally realizes her gift, and what to do with it.  

Fans of Susanna Kearsley, Barbara Erskine, and anyone who enjoys historical fiction with some paranormal elements  will enjoy M. J. Rose.  She writes a great story, and you can tell she has taken much time to research and craft a story that's hard to put down.  

This book will be available in early May in hardcover, and as an e-book.

Rating:  7/10.  I would recommend reading The Book of  Lost Fragrances first, to introduce you to Jac and other characters that show up in this novel.  I would consider this a series, and this is the second novel.  

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

I've been eagerly awaiting this novel and have decided that everyone in my city needs to read it, and planned accordingly.  My manager has graciously allowed me to plant a table in our cashwrap line, pile this book on it, and sell the hell out of it.  

And it isn't hard to do, because it's a wonderful novel.  I loved it and can't wait to tell my book groups about it.  

This novel is about two young girls, decades apart, who share so much in common:  both have experienced tragedy in their lives; both are left to fend for themselves in a world that doesn't seem to care about them at all; both have been changed by their experiences and fight to keep their true selves alive and well through all of their heartbreak.

Molly is a teenager in the foster system who lives in a small Maine town. She's been in and out of many foster homes, and currently lives with a couple who don't get along with her at all.  She's a Penobscot Indian, and has lost her father to a car crash and her mother to a life of crime and drugs.  She's tough--her exterior Goth look hides someone who is very sensitive and just wants to find a safe place to land.  

Molly has to serve 50 hours of community service and with the help of her boyfriend, Jack, she meets Vivian, a 91 year old widow living in a large home in town.  Vivian has an attic full of trunks, boxes, and a lifetime of "stuff" and needs help cleaning it out.  Molly and Vivian meet, and a tentative bond is formed.

Vivian is a very interesting character, and so much like Molly--when she was a young girl heading West on an orphan train in 1929.  Vivian--actual name Niamh (pronounced Neev)n is an immigrant from Ireland who has lost her family to a fire in their apartment in New York City.  She finds herself on an orphan train with only the claddagh necklace her grandmother gave her to keep her memories of her family alive.  She literally has nothing, and is going to an unknown life.  Vivian's life is told from 1929 to 1943; memories are shared with Molly as they go through the attic--a mustard colored coat, a brown dress, letters from a soldier.  Vivian and Molly slowly begin to connect, as Molly realizes Vivian understands what it is like to be alone in the world, and how it affects a person's ability to be themselves.  Both keep so much inside; both learned to smile and nod, and not share themselves in order to protect themselves from hurt and disappointment.  

Molly and Vivian are great characters.  Your heart just aches for both of them and all they go through when they are so young.  The plight of the orphan train children  is a fascinating tale, and one that is uniquely American.  Orphan trains ran from 1864 to 1929 and sent over 200,000 children away from the East Coast and into the Midwest, to be adopted by families and have a new life.  While many did find happy homes, so many others were treated poorly, worked  like adult laborers, and often ran away.  So many had heartbreak and disappointment, and lost everything connecting them to their original families.  
This novel may very well propel you into reading all you can about the orphan trains.  

I so enjoyed this novel.  Christina Baker Kline wrote a novel that touches your heart while not being maudlin at all.  You find yourself eagerly reading about Vivian's journey. Molly's journey takes her away from anger and disappointment and into the belief that she can be what she wants to be; there are people out there who do care about her.  Her metamorphosis from feeling like a victim to becoming empowered in her decisions is a part of the novel that I so enjoyed--and she pulls Vivian along with her, too.  You are never too old to come to terms with the past and move to a place of acceptance, grace, and peace.  

This was a quick read--I finished it in a day or so  (in between work, exercise, and life!).  I think high school students should read this, as well as anyone in the foster care system.  Book clubs would also find this a great discussion novel.  I would also recommend reading Mercy Train by Rae Meadows if you haven't already!  

Rating:  8/10 for two great characters--Molly and Vivian.  Both have fascinating stories that will grab you and not let go until the last page.  And this book makes you think about who we are, and how our experiences shape us.  

Available in paperback and as an e-book.

Friday, April 5, 2013

What I'm Reading Now--And Life Interruptions

Somehow this week has been chock full of everything but reading for me, and my crabby factor is inching up to full on whininess.  I haven't been able to read much at all this week!  Do you ever have those kind of weeks?  

I am working on a few things, and I love them all so far.  Here's what I'm reading--and hope to finish very soon, so I can share them with you:

A young teen helps an elderly woman relieve her past

 About halfway done and loving it!  Jersey, Druids, and reincarnation.

The quote:  "for fans of Kate Mosse" had me hooked immediately.  This one is 
fantastic--lost Jewish history in Henry the 8th's England haunts a woman
trying to solve a mystery in present day.  

I'm making headway on all of these books and enjoying the unfolding stories.  Now, if I can just have some peace and uninterrupted quiet to finish them!

What are you reading this week?