Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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.

Palmetto Moon by Kim Boykin. The book is being released by Berkley Trade on August 5, 2014.

Amazon says this about the book: June, 1947. Charleston is poised to celebrate the biggest wedding in high-society history, the joining of two of the oldest families in the city. Except the bride is nowhere to be found…

Unlike the rest of the debs she grew up with, Vada Hadley doesn’t see marrying Justin McLeod as a blessing—she sees it as a life sentence. So when she finds herself one day away from a wedding she doesn’t want, she’s left with no choice but to run away from the future her parents have so carefully planned for her.

In Round O, South Carolina, Vada finds independence in the unexpected friendships she forms at the boarding house where she stays, and a quiet yet fulfilling courtship with the local diner owner, Frank Darling. For the first time in her life, she finally feels like she’s where she’s meant to be. But when her dear friend Darby hunts her down, needing help, Vada will have to confront the life she gave up—and decide where her heart truly belongs.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: The Sea Garden by Deborah Lawrenson

Deborah Lawrenson's novel, The Sea Garden, is composed of three short stories which are seemingly unconnected but which ultimately come together in unexpected ways. The first story, called The Sea Garden, centers on Ellie Brooks, a young woman arriving on the French Mediterranean island of Porquerolles to work on a garden commission. As Ellie sketches out her ideas, she is bothered by misgivings about the elderly woman who found and convinced her son to hire Ellie and she feels as if her only ally in the increasingly menacing situation is an elusive war historian. The second story, called The Lavender Field, tells the story of a young blind French girl who works at a perfume factory and discovers that the family who has taken her in works in a Resistance cell. Marthe must decide whether she has the courage to join in with this dangerous work as well, especially after a tragedy threatens to derail long held planning. And the third story, A Shadow Life, is also set during WWII. In it, a junior British intelligence officer named Iris falls in love with a French agent. When the war ends, Iris is determined to discover what happened to her lover, despite accepted evidence that he was possibly a double agent.

Each of the stories is completely self-contained but toward the end of the third story, the other two stories are tied in to the mystery of whatever happened to Iris's lover. The first story, set in the present day, has a gothic feel to it with a rising tension and hints of the paranormal. There are some plot aspects that aren't resolved entirely satisfactorily until the third story and there are one or two things that are raised, like the suicide of the young man on the ferry in the opening of the story, that are used for atmosphere but need a bit more to be fully realized in the story. The second and third stories are significantly different in tone than the first story, completely lacking the threatening tone that pervades the first. These latter two stories tell of different aspects of the war and are representative of the many stories that make up the whole of the war. They are fascinating in a historical sense and interesting for the personal touch they bring to the Resistance and to British intelligence. Lawrenson has done a phenomenal job in connecting all three individual stories in the end and in revealing the mystery and secrets behind the whole.

The descriptive passages here are very visual and evocative and Lawrenson's managed to conjure up the scents to which Marthe, as a blind woman, would have been so very sensitive. Each of the stories are atmospheric and well researched, from gardening to the war and the main characters are all strong women, appealing and intelligent. The structure was an interesting one that required a little work on the reader's part to remember well each story and make the connections that tied the whole together. Historical fiction readers, specifically those with an interest in WWII, and those who enjoy mysterious fiction will enjoy this novel immensely.

For more information about Deborah Lawrenson and the book, check out her website, Facebook page, and her blog. 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.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I am on vacation, which means I have vry limited internet access. This means lots of reading and very little reviewing gets accomplished so I'll have to play catch-up when I get home. It also means that this is more than one week's worth of stuff. This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Traitor's Wife by Allison Pataki
Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks
The Sea Garden by Deborah Lawrenson

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Geometry of Love by Jessica Levine
Gemini by Carol Cassella
The From-Aways by C.J. Hauser

Reviews posted this week:

Losing Touch by Sandra Hunter
Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert
The Union Street Bakery by Mary Ellen Taylor

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

Mimi Malloy, At Last by Julia MacDonnell
The Innocent Sleep by Karen Perry
Strings Attached by Joanne Lipman and Melanie Kupchynsky
Palmerino by Melissa Pritchard
If Not For This by Pete Fromm
The Lady From Tel Aviv by Raba'i al-Madhoun
Angels Make Their Hope Here by Breena Clarke
Ishmael's Oranges by Claire Hajaj
Neverhome by Laird Hunt
Burial Rights by Hannah Kent
Euphoria by Lily King
The Blessings by Elise Juska
The Traitor's Wife by Allison Pataki
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks
The Sea Garden by Deborah Lawrenson

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review: The Union Street Bakery by Mary Ellen Taylor

Daisy McCrae never imagined her life as it is right now. She's lost her job as a financial manager, broken up with her fiancé, and moved home to live in the tiny attic room above her family's bakery. She's trying to help untangle the bakery's finances and take some of the stress off of her family while she figures out where her life should go next. In this interim, Daisy would also like to find out something more about her mother, the woman who abandoned her at the bakery as a three year old.

This early abandonment has marked Daisy hard. She feels like she isn't a real McCrae even though the family formally adopted her and folded her into their hearts. She has a fairly tense relationship with her sisters and that makes her current situation in the bakery that much tougher. When a long time elderly customer who seems to know quite a bit about Daisy dies, she bequeaths an 1850s diary to Daisy without any word of explanation. Daisy has no idea why she's been given this historical document written by a slave girl named Susie when it's one of her sisters who is interested in history. The diary is, in fact, a treasure trove of history, personal and public, and it holds the answers to a lot of Daisy's questions, as she discovers as she delves deeper into its contents. It also brings the presence of a slightly malevolent feeling ghost into the bakery and into Daisy's attic in particular.

The insecurity that Daisy feels as a result of her abandonment and subsequent adoption is very well handled. The fact that she is loved and accepted in her family helps some but doesn't completely mitigate the result of the deep trauma on her. That she stays somewhat aloof and doesn't share important things in her life like her engagement and the subsequent breaking off of that engagement with her family is understandable given her feeling of outsider status. But the love and acceptance that the McCrae family offers her is unrelenting despite her holding back. The mystery of Daisy's origins is revealed slowly and tied into general history quite well. As Daisy learns about Susie and her connection not only to herself but to the McCrae family, she also learns more completely what it takes to be a fully fledged member of a loving family such as the McCraes.

The story was an interesting one with multiple threads running through it, the current day story, the historical angle, and the paranormal as well. Daisy's character is a sympathetic one, desperately wanting to fit in, mourning the loss of the man she loves, and trying to save the bakery despite the dire financial situation. The rest of the McCrae family isn't quite as fleshed out as Daisy is, perhaps a reflection of her own feeling of distance from them.  The paranormal element here is more of a distraction than a necessary piece of the plot.  This is the first in a planned series and there may be more plot and character development in future books and the paranormal may tie in more necessarily as well. A fast read, this tackles some deeper issues in an easy and engaging way.

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

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

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.

Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya. The book is being released by Riverhead Hardcover on July 31, 2014.

Amazon says this about the book: A dazzling debut novel about a Russian immigrant family living in Brooklyn and their struggle to learn the new rules of the American Dream.

In this account of two decades in the life of an immigrant household, the fall of communism and the rise of globalization are artfully reflected in the experience of a single family. Ironies, subtle and glaring, are revealed: the Nasmertovs left Odessa for Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, with a huge sense of finality, only to find that the divide between the old world and the new is not nearly as clear-cut as they thought. The dissolution of the Soviet Union makes returning just a matter of a plane ticket, and the Russian-owned shops in their adopted neighborhood stock even the most obscure comforts of home. Pursuing the American Dream once meant giving up everything, but does the dream still work if the past is always within reach?

If the Nasmertov parents can afford only to look forward, learning the rules of aspiration, the family’s youngest, Frida, can only look back.

In striking, arresting prose loaded with fresh and inventive turns of phrase, Yelena Akhtiorskaya has written the first great novel of Brighton Beach: a searing portrait of hope and ambition, and a profound exploration of the power and limits of language itself, its ability to make connections across cultures and generations.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Review: Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert

Mothers and daughters can have all sorts of relationships. Some are close and loving while others are distant or estranged. Some mothers raise their children while other children are basically abandoned to raise themselves. And yet no matter what our relationship with our mothers, not knowing any other way of life, we assume our experience is the common one. We crave love, acceptance, attention, and acknowledgement from our mothers. In Rebecca Rotert's novel, Last Night at the Blue Angel, set in 1965 Chicago, Naomi, a single mother, sings in a  rundown nightclub and strives for an ever elusive fame while her innocent but wise ten year old daughter, Sophia, aches for Naomi's attention as she tries to hold her talented but fragile mother together.

The novel opens on the night that Naomi finally becomes famous but the spotlight of the narrative is very quickly and firmly on the precocious Sophia perched on her stool in the wings watching the mother she adores. Sophia worries about life after a nuclear bomb and she keeps lists of the necessary things that she will have to reinvent in the event of such a major disaster. Her world is not perfect but it is her world and she wants nothing more than to preserve it as it is. Since Naomi is too consumed with her career and self-involved to be a particularly attentive mother, Sophia is lucky to be surrounded by an extended family of her and Naomi's own making. Jim, a photographer documenting the ruins of old Chicago architecture before it is forever lost and in love with Naomi, helps Sophia manage her mother and acts as a steadying influence and surrogate father. Sister Eye is a teacher at Sophia's school who has known Naomi since before she left her small Kansas town, driven out by small minded prejudice. And it is with Sister Eye and Rita that Naomi lived while she found her footing, when she discovered she was pregnant with Sophia, and who are as much Sophia's family as if they shared blood.

The novel eventually alternates between Sophia and Naomi's narration with Sophia telling the tale of the immediate past and Naomi filling in the even further past events that led her to flee Kansas. When Naomi tells her tale, it fills the gaps and explains things in Sophia's narrative in some unexpected ways. Even so, Sophia's narration is the stronger, more sympathetic one. Sophia is an appealing character, accepting and winsome, and her fierce love for her mother is poignant while her loyalty and love for the others in her life is overwhelming. Naomi has been battered by life far more than her daughter but some of that battering is a result of her own choices. Most of the relationships are well developed here but there are two incredibly important ones, with David and with Laura, that are underdeveloped and scant despite their significance to the story as a whole. The ending is bittersweet and gives a hint of how Sophia will face growing up to match the maturity she already possesses.

The novel, like I imagine Naomi's voice, is sultry and full of longing for real beauty and for love and family. It is well written, telling a story that is both beautiful and tragic. Tackling prejudice, racism, sexuality, the terrible price of fame, and durability versus vulnerability, this novel is a slow, jazzy paean, heart-wrenching and languid.

For more information about Rebecca Rotert and the book, follow her on Twitter. 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.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: Losing Touch by Sandra Hunter

Every generation grows up in a different world than the one before them. But when a family emigrates from one country to another, all the familiar touchstones of the parents' world are lost so they must parent in a world completely unlike their own, even as they try to adapt and adjust themselves. In Sandra Hunter's novel, Losing Touch, the Kulkani family has immigrated from India to England and some of them are trying hard to hang onto their cultural heritage while others are doing their best to lose it and to assimilate into English society.

Father Arjun is a strict and traditional Indian father, wanting to impress upon his children the importance of embracing their Indian identity. Mother Sunila just wants to be as British as possible, aiding her children in leaving behind all that their father values. Children Murad and Tarani feel misunderstood by their father and are, like so many immigrant children, caught uncomfortably between two worlds. The family is wracked with tension and unhappiness. And as the novel opens, they are also grieving for the loss of Arjun's happy younger brother, Jonti, who has died from a hereditary degenerative disease, leaving behind a young family. Arjun's grief is compounded by the fact that he suspects that he too is in the beginning stages of the family's degenerative wasting disease.

Each chapter of the novel takes place a year further on from the previous chapter and a year further into Arjun's slow slide into disease himself. This helps capture the small moments, the failings, and difficult love that make up a family life and highlights the inexorable march of time. The chapters focus on different characters although throughout the main focus remains on Arjun, the progression of his disease, and its impact on the family, as well as the progression of the family's assimilation. His loss of physical dexterity echoes the emotional loss and fraying connection to his own culture; Arjun is losing touch both literally and figuratively.

All of the characters are realistic, fully rounded, and generally sympathetic. The two parts of the novel, separated by thirty years, have two different feels to them, highlighting the changes to the once hale, hearty, and athletic Arjun into a gentler, less physical man than he used to be. Rather than a traditional novel, this has the feel of intimate snapshots in the life of this family. It is chronological, yet skipping large swathes of time. The pacing is relaxed and the novel is gracefully written, a quick and appealing read.

For more information about Sandra Hunter and the book, check out her website or her 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 Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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