Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

I used to write and receive a lot of letters. I am sad to say that I have let that go by the wayside for the most part, only writing a Christmas letter anymore. Early on in my letter writing career though, I used to keep every letter I ever received. I think I had some sense that if any of my long distance friends became famous, it would be good to have their words for posterity. Yes, I was a weird kid, honestly thinking about this before I even hit double digits! So far none of the friends I spent years writing to have become famous though, which is probably a good thing since their letters have long since found their way to the recycle bin. When you move a million times, unfortunately there's just no good justification for holding onto all of these sentimental things. It actually does make me a little sad thinking about all those lost words sent specifically to me though. Although epistolary novels aren't written to me specifically, I do still love reading through the letters in them and appreciating the idea of all those words tied up in ribbon for posterity so I was delighted to read Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb's new WWI novel, Last Christmas in Paris.

Opening in 1968 with an ill and elderly Tom Harding making plans to go to Paris for his last Christmas where he plans to open one last letter, the bulk of the novel is a collection of letters and telegrams from WWI arranged, with one notable exception, in chronological order. When WWI is declared, Evie Elliott promises to write to her beloved older brother Will and his best friend, also a friend of hers, Tom Harding. Tom writes back consistently while Will is a less reliable pen pal. The 1914 letters are buoyant and certain of a quick finish to the war with Evie reminding Tom that the two of them, Will, and Evie's close friend Alice will reunite in Paris for Christmas. As the war continues on, the letters take a darker turn, showing the melancholy and despair that crept in but also showing as Evie and Tom opened up their very souls to each other. Evie not only reminds Tom of the good about the home front, but she also details the frustrations of not being able to do anything substantial (she's an appalling knitter) and the way that small but important opportunities start to open up to the women left behind in order to free more men to fight. Tom's letters tell of his anguish at losing his men and his friends as well as some of the truths that the government is suppressing in order to keep support and morale high at home. Other letters, beyond Evie and Tom's, add substantially to the plot as well. Evie writes to her friend Alice, a woman who enlists as an ambulance driver and nurse near the front, adding to Evie's feeling of being trapped and useless at her family's home but offering another perspective of "the war to end all wars."  Tom's father's accountant, who is trying to help Tom keep the family newspaper, The London Daily Times, afloat while Tom is mired in mud at the front and Harding Sr. is ill writes to him about various issues with war time reporting, conflicts with Tom's cousin over the running of the paper, and his father's decline.   More letters, to or from others, are sprinkled throughout the novel as well. 

The epistolary nature of the novel makes for a limited view and few side plots but the letters outside of the bounds of Evie and Tom's correspondence allow the reader to see beyond their own cautious, carefully considered words to each other and see them falling in love through words even if they remain uncertain of each others' depth of feeling. The early letters are naive and hopeful while the later letters show the progress of the war in their aching and uncertainty, freighted with so much that cannot be said. The novel is emotionally full despite the restraint in the letters themselves. Students of history will anticipate some of the events and will cringe as they read certain place names in Evie's letters, making the tale both personal and global. The novel shows the importance and power of words and represents the "un-silencing" of women at home through Evie's newspaper column. It touches on the emotional cost of war, for soldiers and civilians, beyond the obvious loss through death. Jumping back to 1968 and Tom's need to be in Paris at Christmas to read the last letter following each succeeding year of war time letters reminds the reader that life, full of all its attendant love and sorrow, has gone on after the atrocities that played out in France, not once but twice. Evie and Tom are characters with whom the reader will find it easy to become invested and the history is well researched and included organically. Frustratingly, Tom's rancor and lack of trust towards his cousin John is mentioned obliquely many times but the history of these feelings is never quite revealed, a newer incident being the stand-in for why he's not all he appears. And a final surprise toward the end of the novel isn't really much of a surprise for astute readers. The novel is well-written and engaging and will definitely suit epistolary novel fans, those who enjoy reading about WWI, and general historical fiction buffs.

For more information about Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb and the book, check out Hazel's website or Heather's website, like Hazel or Heather on Facebook or follow Hazel or Heather on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
Lawyer for the Dog by Lee Robinson
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviao
Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Reviews posted this week:

The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo
Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Inhabited by Charlie Quimby
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain
The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
You and I and Someone Else by Anna Schachner
Meantime by Katharine Noel
The Portrait by Antoine Laurain
So Much Blue by Perceval Everett
The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel Davis Huber
Mothers and Other Strangers by Gina Sorell
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell
How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
Between Them by Richard Ford
Kinship of Clover by Ellen Meeropol
The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman
The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker
Morningstar by Ann Hood
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Song of Two Worlds by Alan Lightman
The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell
The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig
A Season of Ruin by Anna Bradley
Incontinent on the Continent by Jane Christmas
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar
The Little French Bistro by Nina George
Sourdough by Robin Sloane
A Paris All Your Own edited by Eleanor Brown
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
Living the Dream by Lauren Berry
Lawyer for the Dog by Lee Robinson
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

When you've enjoyed the first two books in a trilogy, there's a happy, comfortable feeling when you open the third to revisit the characters and places you've already gotten to know. When the characters and the place are as delightful and lovely as those in Jenny Colgan's Little Beach Street Bakery trilogy, it is pure pleasure to meet them again. In Christmas at the Little Beach Street Bakery, we have the chance to check in again with Polly, Huckle, Neil the domesticated puffin, Kerensa and Reuben, and all of the inhabitants of the isolated little fishing village of Mount Polbearne in Cornwall.

At the end of Summer at the Little Beach Street Bakery, Polly has overcome several major challenges but once again, happily ever after isn't the way that life works outside of fairy tales and she stumbles into new and different challenges, in her relationship with Huckle, in her friendship with Kerensa (and Reuben), and in her own personal history. Each of these new challenges affects each other and ratchets up the stress in Polly's life, as if it wasn't hard enough for her to be perpetually broke and worried about the people and animals around her.

Polly is as warm and wonderful a character as she has been in the previous two novels. She is again brought low emotionally by things that are both beyond her control (Kerensa's secret and her missing father's abrupt appearance in her life) and by things within her control (misunderstandings with Huckle over marriage and babies and her relationship with her mother) but she never loses the giving nature that so endears her to readers.  The secondary characters are much as they were in previous books as well, giving readers a comfortable feeling of coming home when they open these pages.  As in the other books, there are some darker themes addressed like infidelity, abandonment, the price of loyalty, and fear, and Polly has to face the lack of a large and full family in her life that she's never quite come to terms with. Despite these weighty themes, the novel offers as much delight as a warm loaf of Polly's freshly baked bread and ends on a cheery, uplifting, and beautiful note of love, friendship, and reconciliation. I'm sorry the story is over but I'm glad I got to spend a little more time in Mount Polbearne and I'll definitely look forward to Colgan's next series.

For more information about Jenny Colgan and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

House of Shadows by Nicola Cornick.

The book is being released by Graydon House on October 17, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: The wooded hills of Oxfordshire conceal the remains of the aptly named Ashdown House—a wasted pile of cinders and regret. Once home to the daughter of a king, Ashdown and its secrets will unite three women across four centuries in a tangle of intrigue, deceit and destiny…

In the winter of 1662, Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen, is on her deathbed. She entrusts an ancient pearl, rumored to have magic power, to her faithful cavalier William Craven for safekeeping. In his grief, William orders the construction of Ashdown Estate in her memory and places the pearl at its center.

One hundred and fifty years later, notorious courtesan Lavinia Flyte hears the maids at Ashdown House whisper of a hidden treasure, and bears witness as her protector Lord Evershot—desperate to find it—burns the building to the ground.

Now, a battered mirror and the diary of a Regency courtesan are the only clues Holly Ansell has to finding her brother, who has gone missing researching the mystery of Elizabeth Stuart and her alleged affair with Lord Craven. As she retraces his footsteps, Holly's quest will soon reveal the truth about Lavinia and compel her to confront the stunning revelation about the legacy of the Winter Queen.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo

In a war the size of WWII, a war that threatened to swallow the entire world whole, there are endless stories to tell about it. There are traditional war stories about the soldiers and the generals. There are stories about the civilians and the way that their cities and lives exploded while the world was seemingly self-destructing. And there are the stories of the non-combatants like the field medics, the surgeons, and the nurses who enlisted and did the terrible, necessary jobs that war demands, the people whose stories are so often untold. Teresa Messineo's debut novel tells the story of two enlisted nurses, in two different theaters of this agonizing war as they struggle to survive themselves while still ministering to others. It is a powerful, visceral, and crucial tale to tell.

Jo McMahon is an Italian-Irish girl from the Bronx who enlisted after she finished nursing school. As the novel opens on the European theater, she is preparing to move out with the rest of the staff and patients in her hospital unit due to the shifting front line.  It turns out she has to remain behind with six injured men and an elderly doctor whose grasp on reality is questionable when there proves to be no room in the caravan for all of them, but it should only be a short wait until the trucks return. When the trucks don't come back, Jo and the men are stranded, alone and cut off from the rest of the hospital unit. She vows to keep the men alive even in the face of ongoing tragedy, increasing danger, diminishing food supplies, and almost constant, if numbing, terror. Meanwhile, her best friend from nursing school, Kay Elliott, a small town Midwestern girl, has been posted to the Pacific where the rounds of parties and fun stopped abruptly with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. With the war not going well, Kay, her fellow nurses, and patients have taken shelter in the dark and claustrophobic Malinta Tunnel, a place that cannot hold out in the face of the advancing Japanese. and so she ends up in a POW camp, starving and witnessing the appalling atrocities during and after the Bataan Death March but still determined to serve others in her capacity as a nurse.

Both Jo and Kay faced huge losses personally because of the war but their dedication to their calling and those who depended on them was unflagging, even if it was done with damaged and aching hearts. The narration alternates between Jo's and Kay's experiences, detailing the overwhelming horrors of the war, showing the difficult and unthinking bravery that the women showed, and chronicling the suffering and loss that today we almost cannot imagine. Messineo has thoroughly researched life for combat nurses in WWII and has brought this life into stark detail on the page. The characters of Jo and Kay are both broken and heroic. As the war winds down and finally ends, the immediacy of the novel tapers off but it still shows, through Jo and Kay, the lingering effects of having been to war and witnessed inhumanity on a grand scale and also showcases what life outside of the intensity and survivalist mode that war necessitates looks like, giving the ending a very different tone than the first three quarters of the novel. Jo and Kay's stories only overlap very minimally, generally in flashbacks to their time in nursing school, so the novel is not so much a novel of friendship as it is of love and loss, bravery, and amazing endurance. Fans of WWII novels, those who appreciate strong but imperfect female characters, and those who enjoy gritty historical fiction will find this to be well worth the read.

For more information about Teresa Messineo and the book, check out her website or like her on Facebook. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I didn't manage to post this last week as I was Italy (poor me, right?!) so this is two weeks' worth of stuff. This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Caroline by Sarah Miller
The Crows of Beara by Julie Christine Johnson
The Little French Bistro by Julie Christine Johnson
Sourdough by Robin Sloane
A Paris All Your Own edited by Eleanor Brown
The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
Living the Dream by Lauren Berry

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviao

Reviews posted this week:

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper
Caroline by Sarah Miller
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
A Florence Diary by Diana Athill
The Crows of Beara by Julie Christine Johnson
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could Have Done Better by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell
The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
Good Karma by Christina Kelly

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Inhabited by Charlie Quimby
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain
The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
You and I and Someone Else by Anna Schachner
Meantime by Katharine Noel
The Portrait by Antoine Laurain
So Much Blue by Perceval Everett
The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel Davis Huber
Mothers and Other Strangers by Gina Sorell
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell
How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
Between Them by Richard Ford
Kinship of Clover by Ellen Meeropol
The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman
The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker
Morningstar by Ann Hood
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Song of Two Worlds by Alan Lightman
The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell
The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig
A Season of Ruin by Anna Bradley
Incontinent on the Continent by Jane Christmas
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar
The Little French Bistro by Julie Christine Johnson
Sourdough by Robin Sloane
A Paris All Your Own edited by Eleanor Brown
The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
Living the Dream by Lauren Berry

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman came from William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

Thanksgiving can bring out the worst (or best) in people so this novel about two strangers bonding on this family, secrets, and tension filled day appeals to me a lot.

The It Girls by Karen Harper came from William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

There's just something about the time around the nineteen teens and twenties, isn't there? I can't wait to read this novel based on two real-life ambitious sisters who make it big in their own worlds (fashion and Hollywood) in this crazy era.

Travels in Mauritania by Peter Hudson came from me for a traveling the world through books challenge I'm participating in.

Obviously I'll be reading this one for the country of Mauritania but I have always thrilled to travelogues of places I've never even given a passing thought to so I am looking forward to this.

My Heart Will Cross This Ocean by Katiatou Diallo came from me for a traveling the world through books challenge I'm participating in.

This memoir is for Guinea in my book challenge, chronicling life in the African country before it crosses the ocean to the US after the author's son was shot in New York City.

Million Dollar Baby by Amy Patricia Meade came from me for me.

A mystery writer stumbles across a body and must delve into the history of the mansion where the body was found and solve the murder? This sounds like a mystery I might even like!

If you want to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Review: Good Karma by Christina Kelly

It used to be unusual to find a book centered on older characters but in recent years there seem to be more and more books that acknowledge that neither aging out of your twenties nor living past the child rearing years means that life is over. In fact, the books coming out now show that not only are people still living interesting lives, they are grabbing hold of that life, still growing and changing no matter what their physical age. Christina Kelly's novel, Good Karma, with a cast of kooky characters and major life disruptions shows just this.

Catherine and her husband Ralph have retired, moving from New Jersey to Georgia. Their marriage had already grown distant but retirement really highlights just how little they connect anymore, and Catherine at least is hoping this move to a gated community called Seven Oaks outside of Savannah* will bring them closer together again. But it soon becomes clear that they are looking for different things out of retirement. Catherine wants companionship while Ralph might want the brassily alluring real estate agent they're working with to buy their home. When Catherine takes her Boston Terrier Karma to the dog park, she meets Fred and his lovely Great Dane named Sequoia. Fred is a widower, having lost his beloved wife Lissa to cancer less than a year previously and he's been struggling with grief and depression ever since. These two lonely people start to build a friendship with the help of some truly nutty characters, their dogs, and Lissa's ghost.

This is a generally sweet book and Catherine and Fred are sympathetic characters. Most of the rest of the characters are more than a little crazy. There's Ida Blue, the pet psychic who discovers that she actually can see the dead thanks to Lissa's ghost. There's the pushy and rather unpleasant realtor who only acquired a dog because she thought it made her look good. There's Amity, a young woman going through a divorce who breaks into people's homes (she calls it "creeping"), not to steal anything but to imagine herself in a different life. There's Ralph, a man clearly having a late mid-life crisis who is every cliche in the books.  And there's even a named alligator who lives in the lagoon behind the realty building.  The main plot line is obviously concerned with Catherine and Fred and what their future looks like, as friends or as more, but there are a multitude of secondary plot lines which aren't as well developed as they could be. The climax right before the end is a bit Three Stooges slapstick but most of the comedy in this is far less obvious and over the top. In general this is a sweet novel, maybe a little too sweet, about starting over, growing out of a marriage, loss, and love and those who don't mind a little paranormal mixed in with their sugar and looking for older protagonists will be happy to "creep" into these characters' lives for a time.

*Anyone familiar with Savannah will recognize Seven Oaks as The Landings on Skidaway and there seems to be no good reason to have changed the name of the community.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Review: The Mortifications by Derek Palacio

From the Bay of Pigs invasion to the Cuban Missile Crisis, from the Mariel Boatlift to Elian Gonzalez, from diplomatic ties cut off to ties renewed, Cuba has long loomed large in the American imagination. Cuba lies just 103 miles off the Florida Coast and until travel between the two countries became possible again, every year there were news reports of people risking their lives to make that crossing, to land in the US and the Cuban expat and Cuban-American community in Miami is a large, vibrant, and thriving one. But not all Cuban immigrants ended up in Miami; some went much farther afield. In Derek Palacio's novel The Mortifications, the Encarnacion family, mother Soledad, and twins Isabel and Ulises flee their country in the Mariel Boatlift, leaving behind father and political rebel Uxbal as they work their way north to the city of Hartford, Connecticut.

The family settles into life in the US, unable to truly leave behind their memories of Cuba and Uxbal. Each of the characters is haunted by the past even as they grow and change in the present. Soledad meets Willems, a Dutch tobacco farmer, who becomes her lover. Isabel, nicknamed the Death Torch in her community, finds a strange connection to death, helping the dying to the other side, and eventually goes deep into the religion of her father. The bookish Ulises grows to gigantic proportions and almost inhuman strength as he helps Willems nurture tobacco in the unlikely soil of Connecticut. Years into the family's exile, a letter arrives from Uxbal and each of the three Encarnacions is pulled by the Cuban past none of them has ever broken free of.

The novel is a complex and philosophical character study and the third person narration moves focus from Soledad to Isabel to Ulises allowing the reader insight into each of these unusual characters. The characters all suffer their own mortifications, sacrifices that mark them indelibly. This is not magical realism but it is certainly in that tradition; it has a Catholic sensibility with a mythical feel to it. Palacio has captured the loneliness and longing of each of the characters, their reaching for a connection, for home, and for family that has never been completely forgotten. Each of them is desperately seeking a happiness that eludes them, their melancholy burrowing deep in their flesh and bones. The writing is well done but somehow the story feels flattened and the reading of it is slow and deliberate. There are no quotation marks around dialogue here, causing speech to run into thought and vice versa. Because of the strange ponderousness of the tale, this is really only suited for big fans of literary fiction.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Review: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could Have Done Better by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell

We've all been dumped at some point in our lives. If you haven't, and you've always been the dumper rather than the dumpee, I don't think you're my kind of person. Those of us who have been the dumpee (or were driven to be the dumper by horrible circumstances), we can probably tell you the story of our most terrible break-up. That's what Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell's small illustrated book, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could Have Done Better, is: short, anonymous tales of break-ups illustrated by basic, quirky cartoons.

The stories run the gamut from funny to heartbreaking, from cringe worthy to mean spirited. They are all incredibly brief, some just a few sentences long and some of their emotional weight is lessened by their brevity. Some of the people reporting their break ups come across as a little too pleased with themselves when they are in fact exxposing themselves as jerks. The art work accompanying the stories is simple and often very literal, offering no additional insight into the vignettes. The book did make me reflect on the ends of my own past relationships but mostly they are places I didn't want to revisit. That said, the book is one that works for when you need to be able to pick up and put down your book and when you don't want to think too hard about what you're reading. There are entertaining bits but you'll lose some faith in humanity when you read about how horrible people can be to other people, especially when hearts are on the line, though if you are into schadenfreude, this might be the book for you.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

The Dirty Book Club by Lisi Harrison.

The book is being released by Gallery Books on October 10, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Clique series comes a novel about the importance of friendship, and, of course, the pleasure of a dirty book.

M.J. Stark’s life is picture-perfect—she has her dream job as a magazine editor, a sexy doctor boyfriend, and a glamorous life in New York City. But behind her success, there is a debilitating sense of loneliness. So when her boss betrays her and her boyfriend offers her a completely new life in California, she trades her cashmere for caftans and gives it a try. Once there, M.J. is left to fend for herself in a small beach town, with only the company of her elderly neighbor, Gloria, and an ocean that won’t shut up.

One afternoon, M.J. discovers that Gloria has suddenly moved to Paris with her friends to honor a fifty-year-old pact. And in lieu of a goodbye, she’s left a mysterious invitation to a secret club—one that only reads erotic books. Curious, M.J. accepts and meets the three other hand-selected club members. As they bond over naughty bestsellers and the shocking letters they inherited from the original club members, the four strangers start to divulge the intimate details of their own lives… and as they open up, they learn that friendship might just be the key to rewriting their own stories: all they needed was to find each other first.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Review: The Crows of Beara by Julie Christine Johnson

Sometimes you don't create a new life for yourself because you want to but because you have to. Second chances aren't always welcome as much as they are necessary. Julie Christine Johnson's novel, The Crows of Beara, pairs necessary second chances with an environment versus economy plot to create a gentle tale of love, making the right choices, and acceptance.

Annie is a recovering alcoholic. Her marriage is crumbling thanks to her own destructive actions and her job in PR hangs by a thread. She's not certain she even wants to keep any semblance of her old life but she is afraid to let it all go, so she lobbies for a job in Ireland, a place she has visited and loved before. Her job will be to convince the small community on the Beara Peninsula to accept copper mining in their area, both on and off shore. The mines will provide jobs to an area that is struggling economically and help keep the young people in the community instead of leaving for jobs as they do now. It should be a fairly easy sell but Annie hasn't been told how badly the company has already bungled public relations, that there's a grass roots campaign in the town to oppose the mines, or that the mines will most probably destroy one of the Red-Billed Chough's last remaining protected Irish habitats, nor has she counted on meeting James, the head of the Irish subsidiary, a man who makes her uncomfortable and who seems strangely secretive given that he's hired her for a PR job where she needs to be knowledgeable about all aspects of the issue. But Annie needs this job and she can't afford to bungle it. When Annie arrives in Ireland, she is immediately comforted by the place, as she'd hoped and she starts to meet people in the area the mines will affect. Daniel is a local guide and a copper artist whose sister is helping organize the resistance to the mines. He is as damaged a person as Annie is but the two of them feel an immediate pull to one another.  Meeting Daniel and his sister Fiana, Annie comes to understand that she might be on the wrong side of the environment versus economics fight. As she faces the demon of "The Addict" in her, she must also decide what she wants going forward and what the right decision is morally, not only for herself but for the beautiful and unspoiled but economically struggling area.

While the major external conflict of the novel is that of the copper mines potentially destroying the landscape and the chough's habitat, the internal conflict and love story between Annie and Daniel, with all of their attendant baggage really dominates the story. There's no doubt in the reader's eyes which side of the environmental/economic debate that Annie should be on, despite her attempt at acknowledging there are two sides with reasonable arguments, and the characterizations of those on the wrong side of the debate are drawn in ways that make it clear that they are not working for the forces of good. The story is lyrically told and the scenery as described is breathtaking. There's a mystical element (this is about Ireland after all) in the weaving in of the legend of the Hag of Beara and the inclusion of the Mise Eire poem about Irish nationalism. The feel of the book is very romantic even as it addresses darker issues of alcoholism, guilt, the environment, and self-discovery. There's a coincidence that is a little unlikely and Annie's unburdening to Fiana that remains a mystery to Daniel should probably have come out between Annie and Daniel, not Annie and Fiana. But over all, the writing is engaging and the story flows well. Johnson's love for Ireland shines in this complicated love story, a love for a place and it's creatures and between characters who are each being given a second chance if they can just accept it.

For more information about Julie Christine Johnson and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Review: A Florence Diary by Diana Athill

Diana Athill is a publisher and noted memoirist but she's apparently only written one diary in her life, that chronicling her two week train trip to Italy and specifically to Florence, a trip she took just after WWII with her cousin Pen. In a time when two young single women (Athill was 30) didn't go on foreign adventures alone, Athill and Pen were unusual and lucky when they were gifted with a trip to Florence by Athill's aunt.

Opening with an introduction from Athill musing on her many fabulous foreign holidays, the experiences she's had traveling, and why she so loves the possibility of a trip, the introduction is a delightful piece of reading and the perfect opener for the rather brief diary. Athill is a quite observant of the places and the people they encounter and she has recorded some rather pithy observations. For instance, mentioning fellow train passengers, one of whom only spoke English and one of whom only spoke French, she remarks that their baby "not unnaturally, was turning out a late speaker." The recounting of the trip and especially the gallant and gentlemanly men they met on it is lively and entertaining to read. The picture that Athill draws of Florence and the trip is over all charming although she does record minor irritants in the pages as well. But her chatty and engaging narration makes the reader wish to have been along on that long ago trip too. This is a beautifully written small gem of a book, almost briefer than Athill and Pen's two week holiday. Armchair travelers who enjoy light reads will thoroughly enjoy this for the hour or two it takes to read and enjoy.

Thanks to the publisher for giving me a copy of the book to read and review.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review: The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine

Most of us don't dwell on our fears if we can help it. If we did, it might paralyze us. Ask any parent, especially parents of young children, to think about it seriously though and one of their looming fears to do with their children is likely to be that their child will be kidnapped. We all know of child abduction cases that happened in our state or even our town.  They are widely reported on the news and disseminated across the globe through our Facebook feeds.  We see the ones that end well (very few) and the ones that end tragically. And too, we see the ones that have no closure even years later. Debut author, Jane Haseldine, in her thriller, the first in a series, The Last Time She Saw Him, exploits this fear, not just once but twice over.

Julia Gooden is a successful crime reporter who is taking a leave of absence from her job after a case comes up that is too close to her own past, triggering what few memories she has of the last day she saw her brother. When Julia was seven, her nine year old brother and protector, Ben, was snatched from the bedroom they shared. Julia doesn't remember anything about the awful night itself and Ben was never found. She's never given up searching for him and the terrible thing that happened has changed the way she lives her life. Now 37, Julia has two young sons of her own, Logan and Will, and her extreme overprotectiveness of them, her inability to allow them any freedom at all, has crippled her, embarrasses her older son, and is tearing her marriage apart. On leave from her job and newly separated from her husband, Julia takes the boys to their lake house but, even there, she can't block out the horror in her past or conquer the fear with which she has always lived.

If Julia thought the lake house would be safer for her boys, she soon finds she's mistaken and the unthinkable happens. Thirty years to the day that her brother was taken, her 2 year old son Will is also snatched from his crib. Certain that her brother's long ago abduction and Will's abduction are connected because of a similarity at the crime scene, Julia is frantic to beat the clock and locate her baby before something even worse can happen to him. She uses all of the skills she's honed over the years as an investigative reporter to try and help the police track down Will and his abductors. The inspector in charge of the case is an old lover, and now friend of long standing, of Julia's, Ray Navarro. A pedophile TV evangelist, Reverend Cahill, who is in jail in large part thanks to Julia's dogged research into his crimes, claims he's received letters about Will's abduction. A psychic is called in to consult on the case, much to Julia's dismay, and her long estranged, scam artist of an older sister also shows up to complicate Julia's waking nightmare.

Julia as a character is determined and strong but also forever marked by the tragedy of her brother's kidnapping. She barrels through the investigation, certain of her own hunches and refusing to be shut out. Even the reader can find her brusque and foolhardy at times. She narrates her own story so it is a little bit strange that the beginning of the novel feels so slow and draggy, not picking up until well after Will's abduction. Julia herself is a well fleshed out character but the other pivotal characters in the novel aren't as fully drawn, perhaps because they are presented from Julia's point of view. The tension of the novel does pick up as it moves along, eventually reaching a crescendo. The ending turns into a nightmarish farce of insanity and pure evil that ends up being totally unsatisfying given the believability and tautness of the plot up until that point. Despite the madness and unbelievability of the ending, there is some promise here for readers of mysteries and thrillers who want to see how Haseldine progresses as a writer.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this to review.

Sunday Salon: October Is National Reading Group Month


Did you know that October is National Reading Group Month? If you've been reading this blog for any time at all, you probably know it because I bang the drum every October. This year isn't going to be any different! In Women's National Book Association chapters all around the country, there are wonderful sounding events occurring to celebrate this tenth year of the program.

If you're in Charlotte, you can come to the 8th annual Bibliofeast with me!


Participating authors:

Jodi Lynn Anderson, author of Midnight at the Electric

Sarah Creech, author of The Whole Way Home

Sebastian Matthews, author of Beginner's Guide to a Head-on Collision

Bren McClain, author of One Good Mama Bone

Jim Minick, author of Fire Is Your Water

Michel Stone, author of Border Child

Caitlin Hamilton Summie, author of To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts

Leah Weiss, author of If the Creek Don't Rise











Tickets can be purchased here.

Local events are not the only thing about this month though. WNBA also publishes a carefully curated list of Great Group Reads, those books that will be wonderful for book clubs to read and discuss together.  (See below.)  The books are well written, topical, and will keep everyone talking about the book instead of car pool pick-ups and the like well beyond the first glass of wine. I am the Manager of the Selection Committee and I have to tell you, we're pretty proud of our list this year. These are some pretty amazing books and I hope you'll pick up one, two, or all of them! Happy Reading!!!

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