Wednesday, July 1, 2015

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 Wild Girl by Layne Mosler. The book is being released by Thomas Dunne Books on July 7, 2015.

Amazon says this about the book: One of six sisters, Dortchen Wild lives in the small German kingdom of Hesse-Cassel in the early 19th century. She finds herself irresistibly drawn to the boy next door, the handsome but very poor fairy tale scholar Wilhelm Grimm. It is a time of tyranny and terror. Napoleon Bonaparte wants to conquer all of Europe, and Hesse-Cassel is one of the first kingdoms to fall. Forced to live under oppressive French rule, Wilhelm and his brothers quietly rebel by preserving old half-forgotten tales that had once been told by the firesides of houses grand and small over the land.

As Dortchen tells Wilhelm some of the most powerful and compelling stories in what will one day become his and Jacob's famous fairy tale collection, their love blossoms. But Dortchen's father will not give his consent for them to marry and war, death, and poverty also conspire to keep the lovers apart. Yet Dortchen is determined to find a way.

Evocative and richly-detailed, Kate Forsyth's The Wild Girl masterfully captures one young woman's enduring faith in love and the power of storytelling.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Review: It's You by Jane Porter

When you have suffered the unimaginable, how do you find the strength to go on? In Jane Porter's newest novel, It's You, main character Dr. Alison McAdams has been facing this question, unable to answer it for over a year. She is emotionally frozen by the completely unexpected suicide of her fiance Andrew one year prior.  She's just barely hanging on, continuing to work in Andrew's father's dental practice, and going through the motions of life. When her father, who lives in a retirement community in Napa, calls to tell her that he fell and broke his wrist, she must take a leave from work and go check on him, despite her reluctance and their heretofore distant relationship. She was much closer to her mother but when her mother dies within months of Andrew, Ali is hit with a double whammy and left with only the father with whom she has never quite connected to fill the double hole in her heart. But the father she finds is not the father she remembers from before her mother's death. This version of her dad is extremely social and connected to others in his retirement community, especially his prickly, elderly bridge partner, Edie.

As Alison watches her father in his new life, she is forced to face her own new life.  She forges her own connections with his friends, listening to them talk about their history, both personal and general. As she listens, she starts to open herself to caring for others again, learning the inevitability of loss and grief but also the power and endurance of love. She is most inspired by the nonagenarian Edie, who has herself lived through unimaginable loss. Narrated in turn by both Ali and Edie, the novel flips from the present to WWII and back again. Once Ali and Edie make their tenuous connection to each other, Edie doles out the story of her past and her beloved husband Franz in small dibs and dabs, testing the water to see if Ali can be open-minded hearing about her love story with a Nazi officer. As the story unspools and Ali comes to understand the unexpected depths of it, she learns by example how to find the strength to start over and to really examine what she wants out of her life.

The characters are richly developed and Ali for sure shows a large amount of personal growth. Porter has done a good job organically weaving in the unusual angle of the German Resistance and the 20 July Plot into a story line centered on love, healing, and looking forward. There is just a tiny hint of potential romance here, making it firmly women's fiction with historical overtones rather than a romance. For longtime Porter readers, there is a brief mention and cameo of a previous character from one of her older novels as well. The story overall is a sad, often depressing, one centered on loss and grief and being left behind but, in the end, it also offers hope for the future, for repairing relationships, and for the peace that comes with forgiveness or understanding. The reasons for Andrew's suicide are never fully explored but the resulting effect on Ali's life is unmistakable, regardless of his reasons. Ali and Edie's relationship often feels tentative, making it seem a bit strange that this very private woman opens up and shares her unhappy past with this young woman she isn't always certain she likes (and who she certainly doesn't want for her great-nephew). But the emotional impact of Edie's tale, her lost love and the way she chose to live her life beyond it, is the only thing that helps Ali re-evaluate her own stasis. The novel is a very quick read, one that is a generally satisfying addition to your summer reading.

For more information on Jane Porter and the book, visit her webpage, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Instagram or Twitter. Check out the book's GoodReads page. For others' opinions on the book, check it out on Amazon.

Thanks to the publisher and BookSparks PR for sending me a copy of the book for review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme has been hosted by Sheila at Book Journey and I hope will be again one day.

Books I completed this past week are:

It's You by Jane Porter
Maybe In Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Spinster by Kate Bolick
Newport by Jill Morrow

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Door by Magda Szabo
Love Maps by Eliza Factor Migratory Animals by Mary Helen Specht

Reviews posted this week:

A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison
Summer Secrets by Jane Green

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

The Surfacing by Cormac James
The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
George's Grand Tour by Caroline Vermalle
Washing the Dead by Michelle Brafman
Sweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky
Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell
Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim
Making Nice by Matt Sumell
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
It's You by Jane Porter
Maybe In Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Spinster by Kate Bolick
Newport by Jill Morrow

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrivals:

It's You by Jane Porter came from Berkley and BookSparks PR for a blog tour.

About a woman gutted by tragedy who goes home to take care of her father and finds in his community, friendship, caring, and hope, this sounds just lovely.

Girl In Glass by Deanna Fei came from Bloomsbury.

The story of how a baby born at 5 1/2 months gestation survived and became the face of a firestorm over employee benefits as the "distressed baby" who caused the need for cuts, this sounds both terrible and triumphant.

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert came from Gallery Books.

For some reason, cakes are all the rage on covers lately. And I find myself unable to walk past any of them (this might be why they are all the rage--not just me but all the other salivating readers out there too) but this one about a chef and a restaurant critic looks completely delectable above and beyond the cover.

Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson came from William Morrow.

When a southern boy goes to Berkley for college, makes friends, and lets slip the fact that his hometown does a Civil War re-enactment, he sets in motion some serious havoc in this novel that promises big ideas and contentious issues.

Weightless by Sarah Bannan came from St. Martin's Griffin.

A novel about bullying, this makes me nervous but it's important to keep reading about it and talking about it so I try not to shy away from it.

Crooked Hearts by Lissa Evans came from Harper and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

An orphaned evacuee from the bombs raining down on London is placed with an unscrupulous widow and the two of them come together to profit off of the war in this intriguing novel described as a black comedy.

Landfall by Ellen Urbani came from Forest Avenue Press.

The combination of two mothers, their daughters, and a fatal car accident with Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it wreaks sounds really unusual and makes me incredibly curious to see how this comes together.

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.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

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.

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont. The book is being released by Random House on July 7, 2015.

Amazon says this about the book: Jack Shanley is a well-known New York artist, charming and vain, who doesn’t mean to plunge his family into crisis. His wife, Deb, gladly left behind a difficult career as a dancer to raise the two children she adores. In the ensuing years, she has mostly avoided coming face-to-face with the weaknesses of the man she married. But then an anonymously sent package arrives in the mail: a cardboard box containing sheaves of printed emails chronicling Jack’s secret life. The package is addressed to Deb, but it’s delivered into the wrong hands: her children’s.

With this vertiginous opening begins a debut that is by turns funny, wise, and indescribably moving. As the Shanleys spin apart into separate orbits, leaving New York in an attempt to regain their bearings, fifteen-year-old Simon feels the allure of adult freedoms for the first time, while eleven-year-old Kay wanders precariously into a grown-up world she can’t possibly understand. Writing with extraordinary precision, humor, and beauty, Julia Pierpont has crafted a timeless, hugely enjoyable novel about the bonds of family life—their brittleness, and their resilience.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Review: Summer Secrets by Jane Green

Alcoholism is an illness. It occurs across race, class, and gender. It is influenced by both nature and nurture, or more properly genetics and environment. The World Health Organization estimates that just over 4% of the world's population older than 15 are alcoholics. As large a number as that works out to be, alcoholics don't only just affect themselves but they affect all the loved ones around them so the number of people touched by this difficult and pervasive disease is exponentially higher than just 4%. And it is incredibly difficult for an alcoholic to get and stay sober as they have to confront all the things that drove them to cope with alcohol in the first place and to do it without the long term crutch they are working to beat. Such a weighty and difficult topic is not one that readers often come across in books touted as summer beach reads, in part perhaps because the topic itself is sobering but also because it is hard to do the damage it causes justice. But the impact alcoholism has on families and relationships actually makes it perfect for examination in family dynamics stories like Jane Green's newest novel, Summer Secrets.

Cat is a freelance writer living in London. She's a divorced, single mother who works everyday to maintain her hard-won sobriety. As she walks the 12 step program, she knows that she must make amends to those she's hurt through her drinking starting with the ex-husband she still loves, her daughter, and her mother. But there's another part of her family to whom she must atone as well and dredging up the memory of the unforgivable thing she did to them makes this set of apologies particularly difficult.

After Cat's emotionally cold and unloving father dies, her mother, witnessing yet another aftermath of Cat's hard partying and drinking lifestyle, tells Cat that the man she thought was her father was not. Her father was an artist on Nantucket with whom her mother had a brief fling one summer and that one of the reasons she didn't leave her husband for him was because of his excessive drinking, the same troubling drinking that she now sees in her daughter. All Cat can focus on, though, is that she has a father and two younger half sisters, Ellie and Julia, she never knew about and she is eager to meet them. Despite her fledgling attempt to get sober for Jason, the wonderful man she's met in London, when she goes to Nantucket to meet her other family, she slides back into social drinking first and ultimately into excess, blacking out and committing an unforgivable act that estranges her from the family she's just found.

The novel jumps between several different times in Cat's life and also includes her mother's summer on Nantucket as well. Current day Cat must face the demons of her past in order to overcome them, remembering the devastation she left in her wake not only in Nantucket that summer but also in her marriage and her daughter's young life. She must examine the reasons she has had in the past for giving up drinking and why this time is different for her, why she can't go back to burying herself deep in a bottle of vodka, why alcohol can never again be her coping mechanism. Most of all, if she intends to live a sober life, she must apologize for and own her past actions. And so she, her daughter, and her gay best friend Sam, make the pilgrimage to Nantucket so that Cat can say she's sorry.

Green has done a good job capturing the pain of the alcoholic and of those around the alcoholic. She makes Cat go through the hard challenges accompanying sobriety, makes her suffer the relapses and the wish to change for all the wrong reasons, and has her hit rock bottom. The cast of secondary characters illustrate very clearly many of the different sorts of reactions people have to their alcoholic loved one, from Cat's mother's worry for her, to husband Jason's resigned sadness over her inability to change which drives him to divorce, from half-sister Ellie's anger and fury, to friend Sam's partial understanding while still believing that it isn't quite as bad as all that. But ultimately the focus is on Cat and her own honest reactions to her past drinking, the pain she's caused others, and the way forward. This is very definitely a family drama but one complicated by alcohol and the havoc it wreaks in so many lives. It is also a story of forgiveness, both from others but also forgiving and accepting yourself regardless of the past, as Cat must learn to do. The ending was a bit tidy and convenient compared to what came before it but, in general, it was a fast and engrossing read. It's a little weighty for a summer beach read, but don't let that dissuade you from tucking it into your beach bag.

For more information on Jane Green and the book, visit her webpage, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. Check out the book's GoodReads page. For others' opinions on the book, check it out on Amazon.

Thanks to the publisher and BookSparks PR for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Review: A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison

How long does the past haunt us? How long does it have the power to hurt us? How long must we pay for mistakes we made so long ago? And who determines when the debt is paid? Jan Ellison's tautly paced debut novel, A Small Indiscretion, asks these questions and more.

In Annie Black's current life, she is a married mother of three in the Bay Area who owns a light fixture store, crafting unique fixtures from recycled materials and found objects. In her complicated and youthful past, she lived and worked in London. When a solarized photograph from that time arrives in her mailbox without a return address, she is thrust back into the memories of that time, never guessing how it will ultimately impact her present. But when her nineteen year old son is left in a coma after a terrible car accident, Annie starts writing a confessional letter to her son, teasing out the ways in which her past and present have twined together in him and the unthinkable situation their family now faces.

Told in the second person narration of an intimate letter to son Robbie, Annie recounts the story of her older, married boss cum lover Malcolm, his wife Louise, and Patrick, the photographer artist with whom both she and Louise have a relationship. The telling jumps back and forth in time from this distant past, when Annie had a rather reckless disregard for consequences and other people, and the present in which her long-time marriage to husband Jonathan is fraying at the seams thanks, in no small part, to the unrevealed past she has unthinkingly kept from him. As Annie tells her story, trying to figure out how this past can still be extracting payment in her present, her recounting is sometimes emotionally distant, as if she has any deep feelings on a very tight rein, unwilling to allow them full expression and giving the narration a sort of repressed feel. Annie as a character is sometimes frustratingly passive and her narration can be disjointed, as would any mother's given the harrowing pressure and uncertainty under which she is living.  She is the center of every piece of the story leaving the secondary characters to be just that, secondary. The rising sense of impending disaster and complete discovery is masterfully done, even if the denouement is ultimately predictable for careful readers. For those who don't guess the truth because they are barreling through the pages, there is a slow reveal as Annie's lies of omission come to light. The writing is smooth and the story is a gripping one tinged throughout with the mildly disturbing feeling of things hidden and menacing. Ellison has created a tense tale of obsession, forgiveness, secrets, and consequences that will haunt the reader long after the last paged is turned just as Annie's past haunts her.

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

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