Wednesday, November 25, 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 Song of Hartgrove Hall by Natasha Solomons. The book is being released by Plume on December 29, 2015.

Amazon says this about the book: Natasha Solomons’s breathtaking new novel has it all: a love triangle, family obligations, and rediscovering joy in the face of grief, all set against the alluring backdrop of an English country estate perfect for fans of Downton Abbey

It's a terrible thing to covet your brother’s girl

New Year’s Eve, Dorset, England, 1946. Candles flicker, a gramophone scratches out a tune as guests dance and sip champagne— for one night Hartgrove Hall relives better days. Harry Fox-Talbot and his brothers have returned from World War II determined to save their once grand home from ruin. But the arrival of beautiful Jewish wartime singer Edie Rose tangles the threads of love and duty, and leads to a devastating betrayal.

Fifty years later, now a celebrated composer, Fox reels from the death of his adored wife, Edie. Until his connection with his four-year old grandson - a music prodigy – propels him back into life, and ultimately to confront his past. An enthralling novel about love and treachery, joy after grief, and a man forced to ask: is it ever too late to seek forgiveness?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review: The Black Velvet Coat by Jill G. Hall

You can never predict what seemingly ordinary item will catch your fancy and not let it go. Muse and inspiration are a mystery and as individual as snow flakes. But once something has captured your imagination, following it where it leads can make surprising connections or even change the trajectory of your life. In Jill G. Hall's debut novel, The Black Velvet Coat, muse and inspiration do both.

Anne McFarland is a struggling artist in San Francisco when she sees a black velvet coat in the front window of a thrift shop. Inexplicably she spends some of the very little money she has, money she'd earmarked for her rent, on the coat and the lovely sparkling snowflake pin pinned to it. Throwing on the beautiful garment, she heads off to her job as a hotel valet, one of the small jobs she's taken to try and keep her head above water while she waits for her big break in the art world. When she stumbles across a 1960s era picture of a local heiress wearing what appears to be the same coat and pin, Anne is captivated and determined to uncover Sylvia Van Dam's story. In the picture, Sylvia is leaving her engagement party with her debonair fiance but there's something about the expression in her eyes, an unhappiness, that draws Anne to her story and she starts working on a collage series that could very well be the best thing she's ever produced.

Alternating with Anne's story is Sylvia's story and what's behind the look in her eyes. Orphaned at a young age, Sylvia is a shy and unassuming young woman. Even before her parents died, she never felt she measured up to expectations and her lack of confidence in herself is heartbreaking. When she meets the flashy and charismatic Ricardo, she is entranced, falling for him quickly and ignoring the warnings all of her nearest and dearest give her about his character. When those warnings turn out to be based in truth, catastrophe strikes and Sylvia runs from the consequences.

The novel starts with Sylvia on the run from a crime the reader knows was committed but doesn't yet understand. And its genesis will only become clear over the course of the novel. The chapters alternate between Anne in the present day and Sylvia in the 1960s. As Anne uncovers more about Sylvia's life through newspaper accounts of the time, the chapters centered on Sylvia flesh out this minimal information that Anne has read. And it is the mystery of this seemingly glamorous woman that inspires Anne in her work. Anne is still struggling, suffering from her own insecurities based on rejections from an uninspired and tradition bound gallery owner and the opinions of people who are, in truth, really only tangential to her world. She needs to learn to find an inherent internal value to herself and her art. In fact, her character is an odd combination of neediness and courage and the two didn't always mesh. Sylvia too needs to stop viewing herself through the eyes of others and recognize her own value. She is deserving of being loved, something that she only comes to appreciate in her flight and through the kindness of strangers. There are several romantic relationships in the novel, for both Anne and Sylvia, and they are rather flat and one dimensional feeling. The Sylvia story line felt much more historical than the 1960s; it almost had a Roaring Twenties air about it. The two different stories, Sylvia's disappearance and Anne's conflictedness about her life choices, were both compelling though and wondering how they'd come together keeps the reader turning the pages. The conclusion of the novel was too fast and a bit unfinished, especially given all the detail given in the beginning and middle of the novel. Full of issues like inspiration and its source, believing in yourself and creating your own happiness, learning courage, a reminder to look beneath the facade to find reality, and the grace of giving to others, over all, this was a fast and pleasurable read.

Thanks to the publisher and Book Sparks PR for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday, November 23, 2015

It''s Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

not one thing   :-(

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Resurrectionist by Jack O'Connell
The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro
The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs by Matthew Dicks

Reviews posted this week:

Whistling Women by Kelly Romo
Be Safe I Love You by Cara Hoffman

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

Migratory Animals by Mary Helen Specht
Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner
Girl in Glass by Deanna Fei
Orphan Number Eight by Kim van Alkemade
Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet
The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories by Wendy J. Fox
The Door by Magda Szabo
Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
Landfall by Ellen Urbani
This Must Be the Place by Kate Racculia
Henna House by Nomi Eve
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy Reichert
Bread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks
Fishbowl by Bradley Somer
The Woman in the Photograph by Dana Gynther
Beneath the Bonfire by Nickolas Butler
The Baker's Apprentice by Judith Ryan Hendricks
X Marks the Scot by Victoria Roberts
Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Collier County by Amy Hill Hearth
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
The Bees by Laline Paull
A Peach of a Pair by Kim Boykin
Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
The Sea Keeper's Daughter by Lisa Wingate
My Unsentimental Education by Debra Monroe
Minerva by M.C. Beaton
What Is Visible by Kimberly Elkins
Katherine Carlyle by Rupert Thomson
Two Dogs and a Parrot by Joan Chittister
The Last Season by Stuart Stevens
Mrs. Sinclair's Suitcase by Louise Walters
Forever Your Earl by Eva Leigh
Speed Kings by Andy Bull
Slightly Foxed, The Real Reader's Quarterly #46 edited by Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood
We That Are Left by Clare Clark
Famous Baby by Karen Rizzo
Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker
Making Babies by Anne Enright

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Salon: Speeding towards the holidays

I haven't read much at all this week. Pick your jaws up off the floor; it's still me. I've just been busy and tired and tired and busy. The middle school musical, my baby's last musical performance was this week, with shows from Wednesday until Saturday. He was Ed the Dumb Hyena and he was outstanding in the role, if I do say so as a completely unbiased observer. We haven't stopped teasing him that none of his lines contained words and that it was the easiest casting choice ever. Good thing he can take a joke! In addition to helping with the make-up for several of the shows, I also had two interesting book related events this past week. The first was a panel on the topic of "I'm Published. Now What? Making Money With Your Writing." It was quite different than I expected it to be and much broader in scope than I imaged but it was both interesting and informative. Then I had dinner and went to an author event with B.A. Shapiro, who is touring for her newest novel, The Muralist. Barbara was a delight and if you have a chance to see her on her book tour, you absolutely should.  Once I was through all of that, I had a moment to breathe and realize that the holidays are coming at an alarming clip. I have most of the fixings for our Thanksgiving meal but we also host an After Thanksgiving Party where people in town for the holiday and their house guests come over and get a break from each other. Sometimes 3 or 4 days is just too long to look at the same people over the dinner table, you know? I've finalized the all-appetizer menu and pushed send on the invitations so there's no backing out of it now! Even R. has asked if she can invite a friend to the party. I pick W. up from college on Tuesday and bring him home. I was reduced to sending him a text threatening to leave him at school to have turkey and mashed potatoes there if he didn't text or call me. It'll be so nice to have him home, ignoring us in the same zip code instead of from a distance! I've already started looking for Christmas presents, especially for the particularly hard to buy for (all males in the family, I'm looking at you!). If I make it through this next week of constant cooking and cleaning and entertaining, I will likely hole up with my books for the foreseeable future to try and recover. Either that or you'll find me in the fetal position sucking my thumb. ;-)

For this week's reading travels, I will cut and paste this from last week: "I am still at the medical clinic with a father hoping to have his son "resurrected." I am also still entrenched in upper class Britain between the wars with a family modeled after the Mitfords."  I also added a couple: I am in Christie's looking through a box of paintings that are possibly from the WPA era and potentially early works of very famous artists and I just dropped the f-bomb at a PTA meeting, which is completely unlike me and appears to herald a new me. Where have your reading travels taken you this week?

Wednesday, November 18, 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.

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton. The book is being released by Penguin Books on December 1, 2015.

Amazon says this about the book: In the tradition of Memoirs of a Geisha and The Piano Teacher, a heart-wrenching debut novel of family, forgiveness, and the exquisite pain of love

When Amaterasu Takahashi opens the door of her Philadelphia home to a badly scarred man claiming to be her grandson, she doesn’t believe him. Her grandson and her daughter, Yuko, perished nearly forty years ago during the bombing of Nagasaki. But the man carries with him a collection of sealed private letters that open a Pandora’s Box of family secrets Ama had sworn to leave behind when she fled Japan. She is forced to confront her memories of the years before the war: of the daughter she tried too hard to protect and the love affair that would drive them apart, and even further back, to the long, sake-pouring nights at a hostess bar where Ama first learned that a soft heart was a dangerous thing. Will Ama allow herself to believe in a miracle?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Review: Be Safe I Love You by Cara Hoffman

We ask those in the military to leave their homes and families and go all over the world to ensure our safety. People choose to accept this request for any number of reasons but whatever the motivation is, it's not an easy thing we ask of them. And unacknowledged or unknown by the civilian population, it's also not an easy thing for these soldiers to come home again, to re-immerse themselves in everyday life, to leave the things that they saw, troubling or disturbing or horrifying, behind them. It is a combination of what happens out there in the field, what those serving internalize and bring home, and the ways in which regular society fails our returned military in terms of mental health and support that keeps so many of the people who put their own lives on the line for us every day in the news in such negative ways. PTSD is very real and it is a terrible thing. The percentage of returned soldiers who commit suicide is staggering. If we are going to ask people to witness the terrible things that they see and to risk themselves every day, until we can solve war, we owe it to them to find a way to help them live productive lives after their tours of duty are finished. In Cara Hoffman's latest novel, Be Safe I Love You, readers follow Lauren Clay, a young woman just back from Iraq and suffering from PTSD as she looks with changed eyes on her family, friends, and the town in which they live.

Lauren Clay comes home from a tour in Iraq to no fanfare. She wanted to surprise everyone she loves so she didn't tell them she was coming. She's especially eager to see her younger brother Danny, for whom she was the caretaker for so many years after their mother abandoned them and their father sank into a deep depression. A naturally gifted singer, Lauren gave up a chance at further training in order to enlist to ensure Danny a better, more secure life than the one she lived. When she comes back into town, she is somehow different in ways that no one can quite explain. Thinking that she just needs time to readjust, no one worries or wonders about the pent up anger she is clearly carrying. The town is full of military and former military so they understand that reentry will be a prolonged and personal experience for her as she comes to terms with all the changes that her five years gone have wrought. But ex-boyfriend Shane, best friend Holly, voice teacher Troy, her father, and her 13 year old brother all overlook, or maybe just don't want to acknowledge, the fact that Lauren isn't okay and she carries deeper, darker scars than they can even imagine. In fact, she is spiraling out of control, hallucinating and confusing reality with memories and stories, and she needs help.

When Lauren comes back to the US, she's been fast tracked through her out processing because she doesn't show any signs of being at risk. She has plans for the future and a family waiting for her. But what she discovers at home bears little resemblance to what she left when she enlisted. Her brother is a typical teenager. He spends hours on his phone and his computer. The mother who abandoned them as children is interested in their lives and willing to be present for both Danny and Lauren if they want.  Ex-boyfriend Shane went off to college and his world perspective no longer matches Lauren's.  And the biggest change of all, her father is no longer depressed. When she discovers that it only took a couple of months on anti-depressants to regulate him and pull him out of bed after she left, she is angry and bitter that he didn't solve this problem before. But his re-emergence also serves to strip her of the caretaker role she fully expected to reassume when she came home. Having her expectations collapse, even for a good reason, leaves her floundering to define her new role. And it is in this life of uncertainty, one that she can't quite believe is safe, that Lauren starts to exhibit more and more signs of PTSD.

Lauren as a character is frozen and remote from everyone, including the reader. She does show flashes of fire when her anger erupts occasionally, when she cannot keep it tamped down in the place where her memories from Iraq are stored. She works so hard to keep that fire contained, not letting it melt and consume the stark, white blankness inside of her, because she doesn't want to remember the terrible things she did or the tragedy she saw. Running off to the Jeanne d'Arc Basin in the middle of winter, on her way to meet up with Daryl, the fellow soldier and close friend with whom she made future plans, accurately reflects her inner mental state. She is a character who needs the reader's sympathy but whose inexplicable rage towards those she cares about tests that sympathy time and again. There are a couple of secondary plot lines that don't add much to the story and seem either out of place or just filler doing nothing to illuminate the main story line, including Lauren's best friend Holly's relationship with Patrick; Troy, Lauren's voice teacher's oft repeated locally accepted lack of intelligence; and ex-boyfriend Shane's discussion with his current girlfriend about Lauren. And there were pieces missing from the story. What Lauren experienced and saw in Iraq had such a horrific effect on her but the telling of that story is saved for the end of the novel where it is not really explored in depth at all. The epilogue is promising but too easy, leaving out all the hard work of getting to that place mentally and emotionally. But the book as a whole is an important one, shining a light on PTSD, and PTSD in a female soldier at that. It feels like a very real, very raw situation and doesn't allow the reader to turn away from the results of soldiering that don't show on the surface but that lurk deep in the psyche. Emotional wounds are no less vital to treat than the physical ones and Hoffman has made that incredibly clear in the heartbreaking and broken character of Lauren.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Review: Whistling Women by Kelly Romo

How do you repair a family relationship, one broken by terrible actions? What does it take to earn forgiveness and to whom is it owed? Addie Bates is thirty and she's been running from her past for fifteen years. Something so terrible happened in her past that she left her home and her older sister, ending up living in the Sleepy Valley Nudist Colony and having no contact with her family for fully half of her life but always mourning that loss. When the colony agrees to exhibit themselves and their way of life at the 1935 World's Fair, she is forced to return to San Diego where her young life first seemed like it was finally going to go well and then went so terribly, terribly wrong.

Addie and sister Wavey lost their parents at a young age. The older Wavey was taken in by their aunt and uncle but Addie, too young to help on the farm, was sent to an orphanage. When Wavey married, she and her husband sent for Addie to come and live with them and help with the baby that Wavey was expecting. Addie was thrilled to leave the orphanage and join her adored sister and new brother-in-law, Ty, but she soon discovers that life under the abusive and predatory Ty's roof is more nightmare than dream. Only her love for her sister and baby Mary brighten her days. When she makes a spur of the moment decision in defense of her sister, both their lives are shattered and Addie must flee. She's been aching for Wavey's forgiveness ever since. As she is aging and coming up on a time when her naked body is no longer a visual commodity for the colony, her future there is limited and uncertain. So Addie thinks that she will try to reconnect with her sister, in person this time, rather than simply sending more letters like those that have been marked return to sender throughout the years. If Wavey can forgive her, maybe Addie will have a future outside the colony after all. But reconciliation won't be easy and even after fifteen years as a nudist Addie is still learning to be comfortable in her own skin, to accept herself as she is, and to forgive herself. The question is whether Wavey can and will do the same.

Instead of Wavey, when Addie first goes to her sister's home, she encounters Mary, all grown-up, and another niece she didn't know about, Rumor. Once Rumor uncovers who the woman outside their house is, she is dogged in her determination to meet her aunt, despite her misgivings knowing that Addie is a nudist. The colony and those in it are considered an abomination and scandal by decent folk in San Diego and it will be a challenge for Rumor to see and talk to Addie as a result. Addie's re-appearance and Rumor's persistence in making a connection will bring all of the family secrets to the surface, will force Wavey and Addie to acknowledge the horror of the past, and will make them look the present squarely in the face. The truth will challenge what Mary and Rumor know about themselves and their family and is the only thing that can start to repair the damage done in so many lives fifteen years ago.

The narration is third person limited alternating from Addie's and Rumor's points of view. The chapters centered on Addie move backwards and forwards in time, giving the reader both flashes from the past, ultimately leading up to what caused the sisters to fall out and Addie to leave San Diego, and her present day situation in the fairgrounds nudist colony exhibit. Rumor's chapters are all from her present and clearly show her to be a rebellious and inquisitive teenager. The plot is set up to reveal the mystery of what happened in Wavey and Addie's past very slowly. In fact, the mystery is not really much of a mystery, easily guessed although circumstances around it are more complicated than the reader perhaps initially expects. As the two foci, Addie and Rumor are the best fleshed out characters and all others are seen through their eyes. Addie's character is engaging and sympathetic; it is clear she has suffered. Rumor is curious and loyal but can be as immature as would be expected of her age. Mary is a bit of a milk sop character; even though she's the older, she is definitely less adventurous and open-minded than her sister. Wavey is a strange dichotomy of a character. She's a neglectful mother at times, going out dancing and drinking nightly and spending days hungover and sleeping, and fiercely protective at other times. There is a large supporting cast of characters here and although they, with a few exceptions, are truly secondary, they are surprisingly three dimensional, not all good nor all bad. The story is one that starts off with a dark, hinted at secret but it grows even darker with rape, domestic abuse, violence, murder, and pedophilia all contained within it. The pacing is uneven, with the beginning drawn out slowly followed suddenly by major revelation after major revelation all coming on top of each other in the last quarter of the book. Even with this imbalance, the reader will push on, wanting to see how the need to protect those we love from harm plays out between both Addie and Wavey and Wavey and her daughters. It is a tale of estrangement, secrets, lives derailed, and the bonds between sisters. Those who like historical fiction will be fascinated by the setting and time of this novel and fans of family dynamics stories will find much to engage them as well.

For more information about Kelly Romo and the book, take a look at her web site, her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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