Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review: The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

When I was in college, I wrote a collection of short stories for my senior independent study thesis. I remember that the stories came to me hard and fast and I was not terribly popular amongst my friends when I admitted I was finished with the I.S. long before it was due (my college required this of everyone). Since that time though, really the only writing I've done has been here on the blog and I don't really consider myself a writer in the way that so many other people are writers. But that doesn't mean I haven't sometimes wanted to be a real writer, someone who is compelled to write, not someone who just tosses off a blog entry here or there when the spirit moves me. And then I remember how much work it is to write, rewrite, and revise, revise, revise. Sounds arduous and lonely, doesn't it? It isn't always though. Many writers have a writing group of some sort, a group of trusted readers and fellow writers who make their solitary work not so solitary and help them resolve problems and make their work shine. This is just the sort of group the main characters in Meg Waite Clayton's novel, The Wednesday Sisters, create.

It is the 1960s in Palo Alto, California and Frankie has just moved to town with her husband. In hopes of combatting her loneliness in this new place, she takes her kids to the local park looking to make friends with the group of women who appear there daily. The women are a varied bunch who initially come together at the playground over their children. There's Allie, Kath, Linda, and Brett. Though they are different politically and from different backgrounds, they become friends thanks to their shared love of books, meeting at the playground, getting together to watch the Miss America pageant, and even creating a writing group after Frankie suggests it, each of them working at her own pace towards writing a novel. The women become a tight group of friends who weather not only the amazing time in history they live through, but also the sorts of large and small events that fill each of their lives: divorce, infidelity, infertility, cancer, standing up to the prejudice against interracial marriage, deploring the lack of opportunity for women in athletics, and more. The Wednesday Sisters group is not just a writing critique group, they are a group of friends who are ready and waiting for the nascent move toward more options for women beyond simply being wives and mothers.

Clayton has created a lovely tale of female friendship and creativity peppered with the changing times of the sixties and the seventies. All of the women are forging new lives for themselves, stretching themselves beyond the expected roles imposed on them by society and their husbands. Each of the women is very distinctive as Frankie tells the story of the group through the years so that there's no confusion over which of the friends is the one around whom the group is rallying at any given point in the narrative. The characters seem to each represent a different aspect of feminism, which could be a bit clichĂ©d, but the genuine, caring support system, one not without its clashes incidentally, they create for each other makes the portrayals feel more real than the stereotypes would suggest. The plot is evenly paced and while there's no real surprising climax, there doesn't necessarily need to be one. A heartwarming, nice tale, this is an ode to the importance of women's friendships and to nurturing creativity, over all a lovely and empowering novel.

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 Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison. The book is being released by Random House on January 27, 2015.

Amazon says this about the book: For readers of Amy Bloom, Meg Wolitzer, and Lorrie Moore, A Small Indiscretion is a gripping and ultimately redemptive novel of love and its dangers, marriage and its secrets, youth and its treacherous mistakes.

A Small Indiscretion fixes an unflinching eye on the power of desire and the danger of obsession as it unfolds the story of one woman’s reckoning with a youthful mistake.

At nineteen, Annie Black trades a bleak future in her washed-out hometown for a London winter of drinking to oblivion and yearning for deliverance. Some two decades later, she is married to a good man and settled in San Francisco, with a son and two daughters and a successful career designing artistic interior lights. One June morning, a photograph arrives in her mailbox, igniting an old longing and setting off a chain of events that rock the foundations of her marriage and threaten to overturn her family’s hard-won happiness.

The novel moves back and forth across time between San Francisco in the present and that distant winter in Europe. The two worlds converge and explode when the adult Annie returns to London seeking answers, her indiscretions come to light, and the phone rings with shocking news about her son. Now Annie must fight to save her family by piecing together the mystery of her past—the fateful collision of liberation and abandon and sexual desire that drew an invisible map of her future.

A Small Indiscretion is a riveting debut novel about a woman’s search for understanding and forgiveness, a taut exploration of a modern marriage, and of love—the kind that destroys, and the kind that redeems.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Review: Life Drawing by Robin Black

Some books have first lines that really draw you in. Even when the line tells you the outcome of the book, you read along curiously, wanting to know how the book will come full circle to the outcome already contained in its very first words. It gives you expectations and for those of us, like me, who can't help ourselves, it challenges us to figure out how the author is taking us on this ride, drawing attention to the underlying structure of the story, the craft of the writing itself. Robin Black's novel, Life Drawing, is a book that does just this. It is a careful, character driven novel that opens with the intriguing line, "In the days leading up to my husband Owen's death, he visited Alison's house every afternoon." As hooks go, it's a pretty big one.

Gus and her husband Owen live in the Pennsylvania countryside, remote and solitary by choice. Gus is a well received painter whose specialty is the quality of light on still lifes and landscapes and Owen is a critically acclaimed writer who has never quite found commercial success. They have retreated from their busy city life, to this house in the middle of nowhere to recover emotionally and professionally from Gus' affair with the father of one of her students. Owen has been unable to write in the handful of years since Gus' compulsive revelation of the affair, while Gus, by contrast, has lighted upon a new and energizing idea, wanting to capture the local WWI dead whose newspaper obituaries, with pictures, she has found crumpled up and used as insulation in the old farmhouse. But as the putative reason for Owen's writer's block, she cannot discuss her bubbling ideas with Owen, too aware that her productivity highlights afresh his own blank pages. When a teacher on sabbatical moves into the ramshackle place next door, Gus finds a confidante of sorts in Alison, herself a painter. Gus finds the emotional intimacy in her relationship with Alison that she is so unconsciously missing in her marriage so she confides perhaps more than she should to this virtual stranger. When Alison's daughter, Nora, comes to visit, the balance of everyone's relationships changes. Nora is a budding writer and she venerates Owen, spending hours in his company out in his converted barn, where he has done little writing thus far.

The novel is quietly intense and like many character driven novels, doesn't present much action to move the story, relying instead on the psychological drama of the main characters. Gus narrates the novel from her position as the guilty party, sharing with the reader her desire to finally exonerate herself, her need to appear magnanimous to Owen, and her quest to seek understanding and absolution even as her art reflects her unstated, and perhaps unconscious, thoughts on the difference between potential and consequences, not only in reference to the boys dead so young and long ago but also in her own life and choices. With the focus entirely from Gus' point of view, there is the looming question of just how well she actually knows her husband and what drives him but ultimately, she is the only one left to tell the story after his death. Although little happens in the way of plot, there is a rising claustrophobic feeling to the novel, a subtly increasing tension that pulls the reader inexorably along ever closer to the fact of Owen's death. Black has written a stunning tale of jealousy, betrayal, and the treacherous undercurrents of a marriage already bowed to the breaking point by stress. As for the challenge of the ending? It ended in the only way that it could, an explosive release to the pent up tension of this carefully constructed tale. (Yes, I figured it out before the end. Will you?)

Monday, December 29, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Good heavens! I should just assume that I will accomplish nothing this time of year, neither reading nor reviewing. ::sigh:: This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller
The Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride by Victoria Alexander

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman

Reviews posted this week:

none

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

Burial Rights by Hannah Kent
Euphoria by Lily King
The Traitor's Wife by Allison Pataki
Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks
All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner
Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen
We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride
The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Mr. Tall by Tony Earley
Gemini by Carol Cassella
The Bride Insists by Jane Ashford
A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford
A Fork in the Road edited by James Oseland
Marching to Zion by Mary Glickman
Reluctantly Royal by Nichole Chase
The Geometry of Love by Jessica Levine
The Wednesday Daughters by Meg Waite Clayton
Highland Scandal by Julia London
Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight
Starting Over by Sue Moorcroft
Falling For Max by Shannon Stacey
Christmas Brides by Suzanne Enoch, Alexandra Hawkins, Elizabeth Essex, and Valerie Bowman
The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison
To Marry a Scottish Laird by Lynsay Sands
The Way North edited by Ron Riekki
Z by Therese Anne Fowler
While the Gods Were Sleeping by Elizabeth Enslin
Inn at Last Chance by Hope Ramsey
The Wedding Guests by Meredith Goldstein
Talk Dirty to Me by Dakota Cassidy
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron
Gentlemen Prefer Curves by Sugar Jamison
Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes
Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof
The Rake's Handbook by Sally Orr
A Rogue in Sheep's Clothing by Elf Ahearn
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera
The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh
Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santo
Life Drawing by Robin Black
Ruby by Cynthia Bond
The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller
The Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride by Victoria Alexander

Monday Mailbox

Because I had gifts arriving even at my parents' house, I got two more gifts for myself delivered this past week before Santa even arrived. I think that might put me on the naughty list. This past week's mailbox arrivals:

The World of Rae English by Lucy Rosenthal came from me because one of my book clubs is reading it soon.

One of the Women's National Book Association's "Great Group Reads" for this year, this little known novel about the former wife of a jailed politician who goes to the Iowa Writer's Workshop intending to become a writer sounds delightfully entertaining.

The Martian by Andy Weir came from me because another of my book clubs is reading it even sooner than the above book.

Since my book club likes to try and read different types of books throughout the year (but few of us actually like to read sci-fi), we latched onto this highly lauded book about an astronaut who is left behind on Mars without enough oxygen to last him until the next mission arrives.

If you'd like 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.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sunday Salon: The Gift Edition

I must have been pretty good this year (although the rest of the family was apparently better since they all got more books than I did from Santa). Actually, my sister said that she has more books for me but they were delivered to her house after they'd already left for my parents' house so there should be a few more heading my way (probably in February when my parents come to visit us again--any bets on how many of those gifts will be previously enjoyed before making their way to me? ::grin::)  But what I did find in my stocking and under the tree was this pile:



I also got a book of 52 cards from my teenaged daughter (yes, the title is already starting to wear off):



There are some highly entertaining reasons why she loves me in my bound deck of cards where each card lists a different reason she loves me. One of them is because I help her spell things. (She's truly atrocious at spelling.) Another is that I only correct her grammar every other time. (Any more frequently and I guess she couldn't love me for it.)

Did you find any books under your Christmas tree or beside your menorah?

With the busy-ness of this time of year, I have barely read anything at all. As I've mentioned before, I was concentrating on finishing up my books in progress so I'll start the new year with only one. So this past week, when I wasn't preparing for or celebrating Christmas, I followed along as an author made a concerted effort to better himself through actually finally reading books he has long claimed to have read (but hadn't) and I watched as a widow learned that love is indeed a vital component in considering a second marriage. Now I am back to learning about the psychology of animals and the varied, and sometimes sad, ways in which their minds can be akin to ours. What have you been reading as the year winds down to a close?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas From Our House to Yours

I was seriously considering not writing the annual letter this year. Then I realized that might be the nicest gift I could possibly give you all. And that would send the wrong message—namely, that I’m that nice. Knowing that my reputation was at stake, I had to write it again. So here you are, the much anticipated (or dreaded, depending on your perspective) 2014 K. year in review.

January: As the year started off, D. had some training to do for his job. Since the training was in San Francisco including over a weekend, K. flew out to join D., bravely leaving the kids home alone. We suspect they only knew we were gone when no one told them to go to turn off the video games and go to bed. Once home from SF, this month saw D. working from home for the first time. This is not ideal in K.’s world. She firmly believes that children go to school and spouses go to work (outside the home) so that mama can have alone time. Having D. around 24/7 makes hiding the bonbon eating that much harder. We also replaced the carpet all over the house this month. It looked great and felt cushy at least until…

February: when the dog barfed on it for the first (and certainly not last) time. This month saw the sunny South get walloped by Snowmaggedon, trapping us all at home for an unpleasant and unprecedented amount of time. Schools were closed for so long that the kids were losing vacation days and teacher work days right, left, and center to make up for the closings. Luckily the roads cleared just as the last roll of toilet paper got dangerously close to being finished. This month was also a hard one for us as we lost K.’s beloved grandmother, Eny.

March: T. turned 12 this month, moving us dangerously closer to having three teenagers living under one roof. And K. celebrated yet another birthday at yet another dance competition for R. The things we do for our children.

April: This month, the whole family went to Wooster for D.’s fraternity reunion. While D. channeled his long buried inner frat boy, K. subjected the kids to a college tour (given by K., the former tour guide, natch) and outlet shopping. Although the reunion happened on W.’s 17th birthday, K. showed proof of age and maturity (!) and declined to allow W. to party with anyone trying to relive his own youth, including his father.

May: In May, K. went to New Orleans with a couple of friends to go to the Romantic Times Convention. What could be better than learning all about the taboos in romances, laughing through cover model karaoke, and playing in NOLA? The weekend away, booked many months in advance, coincided with W.’s junior prom and R.’s dance recital. This left D. in charge of pictures and the logistics of getting everyone where he or she needed to be. The latter happened with a little help from friends but not surprisingly, there are only two pictures of the prom goers.

June: K. traveled again this month. (See what having Dave home 24/7 drives her to do?!) She went to Detroit for the Women’s National Book Association National Meeting since she is still President of the Charlotte chapter, at least until someone else volunteers to take it over.

July: K. and the kids headed down to Florida for dance before heading up to Michigan for a much needed break. With so much driving, K. wanted a long book to listen to so she chose Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. She had high hopes that the kids would all sleep through the sexier bits (and there are some seriously sexy bits) but that clearly didn’t happen as W. started calling the book 50 Shades of Scotland and finding it very awkward to listen to it with his mother. You just never know what kind of interesting education you’ll get in the car.

August: School started this month; we now have a senior, a junior, and a seventh grader. This can’t possibly be right.

September: K.’s 25th high school reunion was this month and based on the success in January leaving the kids home alone, we tried that again. Obviously, the last time was a complete fluke. First, R. was stranded with no way to get to her dance class (one phone call with a hysterical child and many follow up phone calls with friends who stepped in and fixed it for me), then the kids set off the alarm letting the dogs out of the house and didn’t answer the phone when the alarm company called to verify they were okay. Yep, police at the door. Then, because bad things come in threes, T. broke his arm on Saturday but we didn’t know it until Monday (nor did he go to the doctor until then either). Best yet, it was a break in such an unusual place, it indicated the possibility of abuse. Not sure how much better it looked to admit we were 1,000 miles away without having left a responsible adult in charge but this fact somehow seems to have spared us a Child Services report.

October: R. competed in the Miss Dance of South Carolina competition and finished as second runner up this month. This should really mess with the heads of those of you who have finally learned that Charlotte is in North Carolina. Yes, we live in NC but she dances in SC so the SC competition is the one for which she is eligible. How she’s going to explain that discrepancy on college applications so they don’t think her geography is atrocious, I don’t know. Also this month, K. took W. on his first college visit. Luckily it wasn’t a college he has any interest in attending because he wore a t-shirt that said “I’m Just One Big Freaking Ray of Sunshine, Aren’t I?” and cargo shorts, didn’t shave the shadowy fuzz on his chin or upper lip, and when asked what he was looking for in a college, named everything that this particular college wasn’t. Driving home, K. offered some gentle constructive criticisms of his appearance and interview skills. When W. said he really didn’t want to listen anymore, she turned 50 Shades of Scotland back on. Mom for the win!

November: R. turned 16 in September but had no interest in getting her license until she realized that W. and D. would be in Ohio on college visits for several days before Thanksgiving and she’d have to take the bus to school if she couldn’t drive herself. Suddenly getting her license was *very* important and we are now going to be selling plasma as we have to insure two teenaged drivers. This month also saw T. in the middle school musical. He was Cubby the Lost Boy in their version of Peter Pan Jr. He seriously disliked wearing eye liner and was less than impressed when K. discovered that she had no makeup remover to get it off. It was still on when he went to school the next morning. Maybe that’s what the fortune teller in New Orleans was seeing when she said one of the kids was going to be Goth. Just before W. and D. left (where W. had the gall—and lack of diplomacy—to say that the official Wooster tour was better than the one K. gave him in April), W.’s first college acceptance letter arrived. You’ve never seen such celebrating! (And this means the basement will be available for visitors next year if any of you are so inclined.)

As 2014 comes to a close, we hope that all of you are surrounded by family, peace, love, and happiness now and throughout the coming year.

Wednesday, December 24, 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.

The Undertaker's Daughter by Kate Mayfield. The book is being released by Gallery Books on January 13, 2015.

Amazon says this about the book: What if the place you called “home” happened to be a funeral home? Kate Mayfield explores what it meant to be the daughter of a small-town undertaker in this fascinating memoir evocative of Six Feet Under and The Help, with a hint of Mary Roach’s Stiff.

The first time I touched a dead person, I was too short to reach into the casket, so my father picked me up and I leaned in for that first, empty, cold touch. It was thrilling, because it was an unthinkable act.

After Kate Mayfield was born, she was taken directly to a funeral home. Her father was an undertaker, and for thirteen years the family resided in a place nearly synonymous with death. A place where the living and the dead entered their house like a vapor. The place where Kate would spend the entirety of her childhood. In a memoir that reads like a Harper Lee novel, Mayfield draws the reader into a world of Southern mystique and ghosts.

Kate’s father set up shop in a small town where he was one of two white morticians during the turbulent 1960s. Jubilee, Kentucky, was a segregated, god-fearing community where no one kept secrets—except the ones they were buried with. By opening a funeral home, Kate’s father also opened the door to family feuds, fetishes, and victims of accidents, murder, and suicide. The family saw it all. They also saw the quiet ruin of Kate’s father, who hid alcoholism and infidelity behind a cool, charismatic exterior. As Mayfield grows from trusting child to rebellious teen, she begins to find the enforced hush of the funeral home oppressive, and longs for the day she can escape the confines of her small town.

In The Undertaker’s Daughter, Kate has written a triumph of a memoir. This vivid and stranger-than-fiction true story ultimately teaches us how living in a house of death can prepare one for life.

Monday, December 22, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Good heavens! I should just assume that I will accomplish nothing this time of year, neither reading nor reviewing. ::sigh:: This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

Life Drawing by Robin Black
Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman
The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller
The Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride by Victoria Alexander

Reviews posted this week:

none

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

Burial Rights by Hannah Kent
Euphoria by Lily King
The Traitor's Wife by Allison Pataki
Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks
All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner
Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen
We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride
The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Mr. Tall by Tony Earley
Gemini by Carol Cassella
The Bride Insists by Jane Ashford
A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford
A Fork in the Road edited by James Oseland
Marching to Zion by Mary Glickman
Reluctantly Royal by Nichole Chase
The Geometry of Love by Jessica Levine
The Wednesday Daughters by Meg Waite Clayton
Highland Scandal by Julia London
Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight
Starting Over by Sue Moorcroft
Falling For Max by Shannon Stacey
Christmas Brides by Suzanne Enoch, Alexandra Hawkins, Elizabeth Essex, and Valerie Bowman
The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison
To Marry a Scottish Laird by Lynsay Sands
The Way North edited by Ron Riekki
Z by Therese Anne Fowler
While the Gods Were Sleeping by Elizabeth Enslin
Inn at Last Chance by Hope Ramsey
The Wedding Guests by Meredith Goldstein
Talk Dirty to Me by Dakota Cassidy
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron
Gentlemen Prefer Curves by Sugar Jamison
Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes
Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof
The Rake's Handbook by Sally Orr
A Rogue in Sheep's Clothing by Elf Ahearn
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera
The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh
Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santo
Life Drawing by Robin Black
Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Monday Mailbox

A couple of review books plus I was apparently a bit overzealous about the one for you, one for me Christmas present buying I did made for a full mailbox this past week. Oops! This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Dear Miss Darcy by Laura Briggs and Sarah Burgess came from me because I was already ordering Christmas presents and decided I needed it.

Have I mentioned before what a sucker I am for Jane Austen inspired books? Yeah, another one. ;-) This one is about Elizabeth and Darcy's descendent who becomes a love advice columnist even though she's never had a successful relationship herself. Sounds enticing, no?!

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum came from Random House.

A bored and unfulfilled housewife tries to fill her days with classes, therapy, and affairs but she finds it incredibly hard to extricate herself emotionally from the latter.  How titillating!

A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie came from me because I was already ordering Christmas presents and decided I needed it.

I have thoroughly enjoyed two of Kamila Shamsie's beautiful previous novels so this one about Turkey, a long lost treasure, an archaeological dig, WWI, and two people who are both searching for something is incredibly appealing to me.

A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev came from me because I was already ordering Christmas presents and decided I needed it.

Just putting Bollywood in the title drew me in but the tale of a twenty-four year old woman married at age four to a man she has never seen since and the Bollywood director younger brother of that man who is trying to get a divorce for his brother looks plenty entertaining as well.

The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana Soli came from St. Martin's Press and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

Soli writes gorgeous novels and I am really looking forward to this one about a group of people on a remote South Pacific island who are all looking to reinvent their lives.

If you'd like 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, December 17, 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.

After the War Is Over by Jennifer Robson. The book is being released by William Morrow Paperbacks on January 6, 2015.

Amazon says this about the book: The International bestselling author of Somewhere in France returns with her sweeping second novel—a tale of class, love, and freedom—in which a young woman must find her place in a world forever changed.

After four years as a military nurse, Charlotte Brown is ready to leave behind the devastation of the Great War. The daughter of a vicar, she has always been determined to dedicate her life to helping others. Moving to busy Liverpool, she throws herself into her work with those most in need, only tearing herself away for the lively dinners she enjoys with the women at her boarding house.

Just as Charlotte begins to settle into her new circumstances, two messages arrive that will change her life. One, from a radical young newspaper editor, offers her a chance to speak out for those who cannot. The other pulls her back to her past, and to a man she has tried, and failed, to forget.

Edward Neville-Ashford, her former employer and the brother of Charlotte’s dearest friend, is now the new Earl of Cumberland—and a shadow of the man he once was. Yet under his battle wounds and haunted eyes Charlotte sees glimpses of the charming boy who long ago claimed her foolish heart. She wants to help him, but dare she risk her future for a man who can never be hers?

As Britain seethes with unrest and post-war euphoria flattens into bitter disappointment, Charlotte must confront long-held insecurities to find her true voice . . . and the courage to decide if the life she has created is the one she truly wants.

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh
Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santo

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Ruby by Cynthia Bond
Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman
Life Drawing by Robin Black
The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

Reviews posted this week:

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
The Language of Hoofbeats by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Neverhome by Laird Hunt

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

Burial Rights by Hannah Kent
Euphoria by Lily King
The Traitor's Wife by Allison Pataki
Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks
All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner
Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen
We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride
The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Mr. Tall by Tony Earley
Gemini by Carol Cassella
The Bride Insists by Jane Ashford
A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford
A Fork in the Road edited by James Oseland
Marching to Zion by Mary Glickman
Reluctantly Royal by Nichole Chase
The Geometry of Love by Jessica Levine
The Wednesday Daughters by Meg Waite Clayton
Highland Scandal by Julia London
Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight
Starting Over by Sue Moorcroft
Falling For Max by Shannon Stacey
Christmas Brides by Suzanne Enoch, Alexandra Hawkins, Elizabeth Essex, and Valerie Bowman
The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison
To Marry a Scottish Laird by Lynsay Sands
The Way North edited by Ron Riekki
Z by Therese Anne Fowler
While the Gods Were Sleeping by Elizabeth Enslin
Inn at Last Chance by Hope Ramsey
The Wedding Guests by Meredith Goldstein
Talk Dirty to Me by Dakota Cassidy
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron
Gentlemen Prefer Curves by Sugar Jamison
Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes
Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof
The Rake's Handbook by Sally Orr
A Rogue in Sheep's Clothing by Elf Ahearn
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera
The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh
Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santo

Monday Mailbox

At this time of year my mailbox has mostly played host to Christmas presents for others so it gives me much happiness when I find books for me in it instead. One even came with other goodies too. Joy! This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Dog Crazy by Meg Donohue came from William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

I am owned by dogs so I am a huge sucker for books with dogs on the cover. This one about a pet bereavement counselor who searches for a dog that has been stolen, learning about love in the process, looks right up my alley.

My Own Miraculous by Joshilyn Jackson came from Joshilyn Jackson herself. (It also arrived with two small tins: bourbon smoked sea salt and bourbon smoked paprika. Yum!)

I won a contest on Jackson's Facebook page and this short story and the bourbon smoked goodies was my prize. That it is a companion piece to Someone Else's Love Story, focusing on Natty from that novel, is icing on the cake.

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller came from Harper Perennial.

A memoir about reading and the way that those fifty two books transformed Miller's life is just exactly the sort of read I love.

Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay came from me because I was already ordering Christmas presents and decided I needed it.

Two sisters named for Austen's heroines, one of whom comes home to care for the other when she is diagnosed with cancer, this sounds like a very interesting Austen inspired story.

If you'd like 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.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Salon: Finishing What You Started

As the year draws to a close, I find myself trying to wrap up the reading I've done for the year too. I am one of those people who reads several books at once. Sometimes I have them going at roughly equal speeds. Sometimes one takes precedence over the others. And sometimes I start a book and set it aside for months at a time (luckily my memory is decent enough that a quick skim of one of these brings it back to me and I can pick up where I left off). Because I am just as likely to have a bookmark in five books as one at any given moment, I often have unfinished books piling up on my bedside table. And every year as we get closer and closer to a new calendar year, I try to clean up and finish as many of the unfinished as I can. It may not be a New Year, New Me but it is a New Year, New Read thing. (Well, because I rarely conveniently finish a book at 11:59 pm on Dec. 31, I try to go into the New Year with only one in progress book. As of right now I have winnowed my stack to only three in progress books, one of which I am reading slowly on purpose with a group discussing it by chapter chunks, one of which I abandoned this summer, and one I started but set aside last month as other more pressing review books took precedence. Will any of these three be the one carry-over to next year? I wouldn't bet on it but then again, knowing my reading whims, I wouldn't bet against it either. Do you try to finish the year by clearing off the bedside table? Or do you have any other strange end of the year reading habits (that maybe I should adopt too)?

My reading adventures this past week were interrupted by a lot of Christmas shopping. But needing to recover from the mall, I did travel to the cranberry bogs in West Virginia with two sisters as they processed their mother's death in different ways and I watched three cousins renovate a spite house in Memphis as each of them faced her own troubles. Where did your reading take you this past week?

Friday, December 12, 2014

As If I'm Not Bad Eough Just Mouthing Off Here...

I've been given another space on the Internet in which to spread my own kind of Christmas cheer. ::snort:: The lovely Rebecca of I'm Lost in Books asked me to write a post for her Holiday Extravaganza Event. You can see my snarky guest post, check out the other guest posts, and enter to win a whole lot of wonderful books she's giving away. Today's is called Soulless by Amber Garr. I'm hoping there's not a sly nod in my direction when she chose that title for today! Anyway, go check it out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review: Neverhome by Laird Hunt

Women have been in combat probably as long as there have been wars. But they used to have to disguise themselves as men in order to fight. In the Civil War alone, there are 400 some documented cases of women dressing as men and going off to fight, and sometimes die, for their cause. The reasons these women did this were as varied as the women themselves. In Laird Hunt's captivating and elegantly written novel, Neverhome, one such woman left her home and her husband to fight for the Union.

Constance is the stronger spouse so she is the one who dons the uniform and marches off to war leaving Bartholomew at home to tend the farm. And so Constance becomes Ash, wife becomes soldier, woman becomes man. Narrating her own story, Constance/Ash tells of her skill with a rifle, the hard life and rough conditions that the soldiers endure even when not fighting, the horror and brutality of war, the relationships that spring up between the men, including the petty fighting, the jealousy, and the stealing, as well as the fellowship, and of her own emotional remoteness from her fellow soldiers and from the terrible events she witnesses. Ash reflects not only on her current situation but also looks back at the way her mother's life and death left an indelible mark on her own life and consciousness.

The writing here is vivid and absolutely incandescent. With the novel entirely narrated in Ash's steady and sometimes seemingly emotionless voice, readers are immediately drawn into her head, wanting to understand her motivations and feelings of duty and desire, and allowing them to experience the gritty reality of the Civil War through her. She details battles from a dreamy remove, gets sent to the hell of wartime prison, and wanders through the carnage of both battlefield and makeshift field hospital. Hunt deftly renders history on these pages without falling into the anachronistic in order to draw a strong, complex woman. Ash is compelling right from the start but the seeming inconsistencies in her character in the end make her just that much more fascinating and change the reader's perception of the events of the book. The novel as a whole is quite short but it still manages to be epic in feel as it turns the convention of the quest tale on its head. Beautifully written and imagined, this is a spectacular and unusual Civil War novel, one that readers of historical fiction and of literary fiction will be so glad they've read.

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

Tell by Frances Itani. The book is being released by Grove Press/Black Cat on January 6, 2015.

Amazon says this about the book: The international debut sensation Deafening launched the story of Grania, deaf from the age of five, and her sister Tress, who helped to create their secret language. Tell picks up from the return of the sisters’ husbands from the war, and follows Tress’s partner Kenan, a young shell-shocked soldier who confines himself indoors, venturing outside only at night to visit the frozen bay where he skated as a boy. Saddened by her altered marriage, Tress seeks advice from her Aunt Maggie. But Maggie and her husband, Am, have problems of their own. Maggie finds joy singing in the town's newly created choral society. Am, troubled by the widening gulf in his marriage, spends more and more time in the clock tower above their apartment. As the second decade of the twentieth century draws to a close, the lives of the two couples become increasingly entwined. Startling revelations surface as layers of silence begin to crumble.

Told with Itani’s signature power and grace, Tell is both a deeply moving story about the burdens of the past, and a beautifully rendered reminder of how the secrets we bury to protect ourselves can also be the cause of our undoing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Review: The Language of Hoofbeats by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Family. Most of us are lucky enough to have a pretty good, rather innocuous family life. But there are lots of kids out there who aren't so lucky. They can't live with their parent or parents for a variety of reasons. The luckiest among them are placed in loving foster situations but even the luckiest are indelibly marked by the experiences in their earlier lives that pulled them away from their mothers and landed them in the uncertain limbo of being a foster child. The best foster families are the ones who truly become families, embracing the children living with them for as long as they need a stable and safe home. But even these created families aren't always the right fit for a child, no matter how much love and tolerance they find. Catherine Ryan Hyde writes of one unconventional family with two moms, an adopted son who was once their foster child, and two foster children, one of whom is new to their family and a handful to boot in her new novel The Language of Hoofbeats.

Jackie and Paula, along with their three children and their crazy menagerie of animals are moving to rural California so that Paula can take up a new veterinary practice. Jackie is leery of the place, worried about judgments (she and Paula are married), struggling with their newest foster child, Star, who is angry and standoffish, and unimpressed by the nasty, cantankerous, unhappy neighbor, Clementine, across the street. Star is prickly but when she sees the high strung, neglected horse across the street, she feels called to him. She knows that he needs to be cared for more than Clem is willing or capable of doing. Clem is terrified of Comet but since he was her late daughter's horse, she is not willing to let go of him. She too knows that the horse needs more than she can give but she forbids Star to come around, warning her off the property. The only recourse Star can see is to take the horse and disappear with him, give him the chance to run, to be free. With Star and Comet's disappearance and the ongoing search for them before something terrible happens, Clem must draw closer to the family across the road despite her misgivings and prejudices.

The novel is narrated in turns by Jackie and by Clem, neither of whom is a fan of the other. Jackie's narration allows the reader to see inside their family's life, to know sweet Quinn, who is terrified of losing his J-Mom and P-Mom like he lost his late biological parents, and to know Mando who is hurting and reluctantly thawing out for Paula and Jackie when he realizes that want him to be reconciled with his mother, who has done nothing wrong besides be the victim of racism which unfairly landed in jail. Jackie's narration also allows the reader to see the kind and gentle love that she and Paula offer to the kids who live with them as well as the regular and normal family life they lead together. Clem's narration shows the tragedy of her daughter's suicide and the shock of her husband's leaving her because of her inability to be happy or to like anything. It gives a reason for her attachment to the neglected horse pacing a corral in her front yard and it shows her revelation, by fits and starts, that she is disliked, feared, and avoided by pretty much everyone in town, a revelation that inspires her to want to change if she can.

The novel is chock full of current issues: lesbianism, racism, mental illness, suicide, foster care, the judicial system, and adoption to name a few. With so many, it's hard to delve into each of them to the extent that they deserve. But each issue highlights the need, hard as it sometimes is, for tolerance and acceptance, to look beyond the surface and to help each person in this world feel their full worth as a human being. This is a tale of broken hearts healed by love, how we define family, the importance of community, and finding what we need in this world. It is a nice, feel good read that reminds us we all have unhappiness in our lives but we also have the ability to find a way through those trials with the help of those around us and that help finding our place comes in many different forms.

For more information about Catherine Ryan Hyde and the book, take a look at her web page, Facebook page, follow her at Twitter or read 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.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Review: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

There's a reason you should not choose your own nickname. You could be choosing something that others don't see in you, you could have trouble living up to your choice, or you could outgrow the moniker and be stuck with it. In the case of the friends in Meg Wolitzer's newest eponymously titled novel, the problem with dubbing themselves "The Interestings" is, as a later character who is not an original part of the group says, they are not interesting. Unfortunately this holds true from a reader's perspective as well, despite the skill with which Wolitzer crafts her sentences.

Jules Jacobson goes to Spirit-in-the-Woods arts camp the summer after her father dies. She is stunned and pleased and more than a little surprised to discover herself a member of a group of talented fellow fifteen and sixteen year olds who all aspire to lives in the arts. Jules, who secretly fears that she might be boring, wants to be a comedic actress. The incandescent and beautiful Ash also wants to act. Homely Ethan is an animator. Jonah is a gifted musician whose mother is a famous folk singer. Buxom Cathy is a dancer. And Goodman is just Goodman, the shiny, popular kid around whom everyone wants to orbit. The summer is absolutely magical for Jules and she will spend the rest of her life wanting to escape back to it with all of its promise and potential. For the next forty years, Jules, Ethan, Ash, and Jonah will maintain friendships that ebb and flow but they will always come back together because they knew each other when they were still so unformed; they are each others' pasts and presents.

The group is torn asunder not long after their magical summer by the accusation of violence and unquestioning assumptions of guilt and innocence. The remaining four grow up and launch themselves into life, with their hopes and dreams still intact. Over the long years of the novel, the realities of real life intrude for some while others achieve more than they ever expected. Much of the novel's narration focuses on Jules, telling not only of her own grown-up life as a therapist but also of the lives of Ethan and Ash, who become rich and successful as animator/cartoonist and director respectively, and Jonah, who inexplicably gives up his music to become an engineer. The group's individual goals have diverged drastically and their lifestyles are vastly different too.  Jules is incredibly jealous at almost every turn. Her focus on the others, specifically Ethan and Ash, is tainted by the lens of extreme envy and a sad dissatisfaction with her own life which is hard to read. It's almost as if she stopped maturing emotionally the day she stepped foot at Spirit-of-the-Woods. Ethan's lifelong, unrequited desire for Jules, despite the outward blessings of his life, is inexplicable and makes him a little bit pitiful as a character. Wolitzer knows how to write but the dry whininess of her characters and the monotony of the story arc conspire against her. While Wolitzer may be an accomplished writer, her occasional sex scenes are ghastly. They add nothing to the book, driving the plot not at all, and quite frankly are incredibly unappealing to read, taking the reader firmly out of the story with a shiver. There are interesting nuggets about creativity and talent, the mechanism of success, the importance of connections, and the responsibility of wealth buried in the plot but with Jules and Ethan being the major focus of the narration, it is hard to see the novel as anything but a study in disappointment. Certainly they, and the book, are not really all that interesting.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
The Language of Hoofbeats by Catherine Ryan Hyde
A Rogue in Sheep's Clothing by Elf Ahearn
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Ruby by Cynthia Bond
Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman
Life Drawing by Robin Black
The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh

Reviews posted this week:

'Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma
The Blessings by Elise Juska
I Take You by Eliza Kennedy

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

Burial Rights by Hannah Kent
Euphoria by Lily King
The Traitor's Wife by Allison Pataki
Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks
All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner
Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen
We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride
The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Mr. Tall by Tony Earley
Gemini by Carol Cassella
The Bride Insists by Jane Ashford
A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford
A Fork in the Road edited by James Oseland
Marching to Zion by Mary Glickman
Reluctantly Royal by Nichole Chase
The Geometry of Love by Jessica Levine
The Wednesday Daughters by Meg Waite Clayton
Highland Scandal by Julia London
Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight
Starting Over by Sue Moorcroft
Falling For Max by Shannon Stacey
Christmas Brides by Suzanne Enoch, Alexandra Hawkins, Elizabeth Essex, and Valerie Bowman
The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison
To Marry a Scottish Laird by Lynsay Sands
The Way North edited by Ron Riekki
Z by Therese Anne Fowler
While the Gods Were Sleeping by Elizabeth Enslin
Inn at Last Chance by Hope Ramsey
The Wedding Guests by Meredith Goldstein
Talk Dirty to Me by Dakota Cassidy
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron
Gentlemen Prefer Curves by Sugar Jamison
Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes
Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof
The Rake's Handbook by Sally Orr
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
The Language of Hoofbeats by Catherine Ryan Hyde
A Rogue in Sheep's Clothing by Elf Ahearn
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Review: I Take You by Eliza Kennedy

Modern marriage presupposes monogamy. But there are always voices out there arguing that monogamy is not natural, that we are genetically programmed to practice polyamory instead. Whether we should stay faithful to one person or be free to find multiple partners will probably remain up for debate for a long time. There's no debating though, that when discussing infidelity, there is a vast difference in how we think of women who cheat versus men who cheat. Eliza Kennedy's novel, I Take You, looks, on the surface, like fluffy chick lit, but it is also a deeper examination of our societal expectations and requirement for monogamy for women in a relationship.

Lily is getting married. Her fiancé Will is perfect, handsome, and loving. Lily is flighty, cheeky, and a serial philanderer. She's not sure if she loves Will or not. If she loved him, wouldn't she be willing and able to give up all the other guys she just can't keep her hands off of? Maybe she's not ready to get married after all. As her wedding looms ever closer, she has these small panic attacks about what the right thing to do is. Add to that the fact that her job as an attorney in a big New York law firm is crazy right now and her boss, with whom she is sleeping (naturally), has asked her to postpone her wedding so she can be the lead on a vitally important deposition that could cost the firm's client big time. Even Lily's collection of irreverent, kooky, eccentric family (her mother, several stepmothers, and her grandmother) think she should call off the wedding. But Lily is stubborn. She might be waffling herself, and trying to seduce members of the wedding party while she's at it, but if so many people think she shouldn't marry Will, it makes her all the more determined to go ahead with it.

As Lily careens from one sexcapade to another, she is also sweating it out over her job and the jeopardy it is in when she meets with the worst witness possible given the client her firm is defending. In order to get what she needs from the deposition, she will have to learn to be true to herself and to trust her own crazy instincts, the same lesson she needs to learn in her relationship life. Lily is generally a silly character, one who wants to examine the idea of love and the importance of fidelity but who doesn't quite come across as smart enough to do so. It's hard to be sympathetic to her when she's faced with losing Will because of her repeated infidelities but this difficulty on the reader's side highlights the sexual double standard to which we hold women. Lily may be over the top but in many ways, she's behaving in ways that we would excuse in a man. Lily's father's inability to stay monogamous comes across as comedic where her own similar behavior leads to censure and to great unhappiness on her part, something patently unfair. The setting of Key West helps further the rather wacky, outlandish feel to the novel. And the end, with its unexpectedness, feels completely appropriate to this novel. The issues of monogamy, how to really recognize love, truth, and trust make this an interesting read. Be warned though that Lily is a partier and a hook-up queen, and she is likely to offend some sensibilities for sure.

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

Sunday Salon: The Gift Edition

Thanksgiving came late this year. So now it seems as if Christmas is barreling towards me like a freight train and I might not even have time to brace myself for the impact. I have my children's and my husband's Christmas wish lists, not that any one of them needs one darn thing. And I'm not feeling very inspired to get gifts this year. Bah humbug. I even spent the other day walking around the bookstore listlessly and came away with no ideas. But I always get books. It's sort of my thing (duh!). I just don't have any ideas on what to get them since they've gotten to be pickier about books than I am (because let's face it, if you bind pages between two boards, there's a pretty good chance that I'll be interested in it). Here's where you all come in. Throw your best suggestions at me. My 17 year old son has actually asked for one book, the latest in the Iron Druid Chronicles. He tends to like WWII and some dystopian fiction. My 16 year old daughter likes realistic fiction (she loved If I Stay), teenaged chick lit, and some time travel stuff (the latest she enjoyed was Time's Edge by Rysa Walker). My 12 year old son is the hardest. He sometimes likes dystopian stuff but sometimes not. He's not big on realistic fiction but also not on over the top fantasy. He likes the Greek gods. Happy soul that he is, he does like books that make him laugh. And finally, my husband, I try to find something that hasn't come across his radar yet to surprise him amidst the books he's actually asked for. So thrillers or well-written mysteries or great histories that maybe haven't gotten a whole lot of buss are the sorts of things I'm looking for. Any ideas?

This past week I have been reading a lot. It's like I have to speed up and cram as many books into the end of my year as possible or something. Weird. In any case, my bookish travels have taken me back to Regency England twice to visit with both a rake and a rogue as they each fell in love with completely unsuitable women. I went to an artsy summer camp and then to New York City with a group of friends. I traveled out to California with an unconventional family and the neighbor they antagonized with their happiness. I stayed in California as a woman figures out what is most important in her life and her marriage. I went to Sri Lanka to see the unrest, the fighting, and the personal cost of their civil war. And of course, there are the page places that I am still visiting. Where have your bookish travels taken you this past week?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Review: The Blessings by Elise Juska

There is a well known poem that says the most important part of life is what happens in the dash between the birth and death dates on a gravestone. How you live your life and the people you share that time with are more important than the beginning and the end. Everything that defines a person is contained within that dash. The other is just two dates on a calendar. In Elise Juska's latest novel, The Blessings, she captures the everyday and the extraordinary moments of the dash in many of the people in a close-knit family in Philadelphia.

The Blessings are a large, chaotic, Irish Catholic family living just outside of Philadelphia. They are three generations of a family like any other. They are a community related by blood, one where the members share their lives but also keep secrets from each other. They struggle and they celebrate. They suffer tragedy and they rejoice. In short, they are extraordinary for being so common. Moving through time, the novel is really self-contained short stories about different family members all threaded together by their common experience and the pull of kinship. The major shared touchstone for the Blessing family seems to be the early death from cancer of one of the sons, John Blessing, who leaves behind a wife and small children. John's death resonates through the rest of the stories even decades after it occurred, continuing to have an impact on his siblings, nieces, and nephews as well as his own immediate family.

With each chapter focusing on a different member of the family and their own personal struggles within the larger context of the family, there is a lack of clear narrative arc here. And while connecting everyone through John's death is a good idea, sometimes it is a little forced to make clear how that pivotal event applies to each family member and their continuing choices. The life situations that the Blessings face are those that so many of us face: birth, life, death, marriage, divorce, infidelity. There is some happiness but more sadness and resignation than anything.  In many of the chapters, the characters feel weary, as if life and circumstance has bowed them. The writing about it all though, is beautiful and well done. Juska has created a family that is incredibly familiar, full of characters like people to whom all of us are related. And there is a love and heart to the family, even if their collective feeling is based more in sadness and sympathy than in joy. What Juska has done beautifully is to illuminate the dashes in all of her characters lives.  She show that real life is in the small details more than the big moments but it is the big moments that come to define us, as it does in the Blessing family.

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

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Things Thanksgiving Taught Me

Now that the dust has settled, the carcass has been picked clean (even though the leftovers still linger in the fridge), and the guests are all gone, I thought I'd reflect back on the lessons I learned this year.

First, buy the pie crusts. That Pillsbury dough boy knows his stuff. Me? Not so much. And when you've never attempted pastry before, making it for a holiday is absurd. It won't hold together well enough to transfer it to the pie plate so you'll have to mash and squeeze it all back together to have one piece of crust instead of many raggedy bits. This is not pretty. Then, when you cook it, it will likely char on one side only. (Yes, I know this is more likely an oven issue than a pie crust issue but there's no salvaging the crust when this happens since I defy you to put tin foil on one half of the crust and not have the convection oven blow it the heck off the pie.) Furthermore, store bought will taste better than the tired, overworked, and pitiful looking thing you've created.

Next, when you forget to pull the pecans out of the toaster oven because you get distracted (squirrel!), they will burn. Quickly. And irretrievably. And speaking of squirrels, they do not like burned pecans any better than people do.

If, like me, you not only get distracted, but you are incapable of going to the grocery store for ingredients only once, you need to know that a trio of trips to several different grocery stores all in one day is a bit of a red flag for credit card companies. They will call you to verify your purchases and you will feel like a complete idiot admitting that yes, you've been to three stores in less than eight hours and made six or so trips in 24 hours. Apparently the overly suspicious credit card folks have never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner themselves or maybe they are just far better at writing shopping lists than I am. And when they fluster you by questioning all those charges, you will forget to go back a fourth time and buy the whipped cream for the charred pies anyway, a fact which will distress your children no end.

When you only have one oven, there's no reasonable way to have all dishes hit the table as hot as you might have liked. And someone will helpfully mention this to you. Hopefully when you are not holding a carving knife. Personally I consider it a win if the turkey's hot since food borne illness is not my goal. The rest of it? Well, that's what microwaves are for, right?

If you aim to serve your turkey at lunchtime, you can have pie for a midafternoon snack and everyone will be comfortably passed out in their food comas by 6 pm. Makes for an appealingly short day.

Only crazy people host a party the Saturday after Thanksgiving. (Full disclosure: we are those crazy people but I keep doing it anyway; yes, I am the definition of insanity.)

You will be overly tired from all the Thanksgiving prep and now the myriad of appetizers you have been cooking for days so when you preheat your oven (again), make sure you haven't left something in there to cool for lack of counter space. You will only discover your oversight after the entire tray has been incinerated beyond recognition. And there goes your carefully planned menu.  Pretty sure the squirrels would have even less interest in blackened cranberry brie pastry bites than in burned pecans.  Maybe I'll test that hypothesis another time though.

Consider banning red wine at any large holiday gathering unless you want your kitchen and family room to look like someone mugged a red wine merchant or messily tapped a barrel in there. And when your friends all know where you keep the cleaning supplies because they have spilled so much, it's past time to send everyone home.  Suggesting that recalcitrant drunks get down on hands and knees to wash the floors will get them moving out of the door pretty well.

Pizza is a perfectly acceptable dinner choice following a large holiday and then a large holiday party, especially when you don't want to lay so much as an eye on anything you've cooked again at least until next year. But remember there's no room in the fridge for leftover pizza so order carefully.

And finally, make sure to have just one more smaller event that same week to help clear the fridge of any leftover appetizers unless your family likes leftovers better than mine does.  Apologies in advance to my book club who will be seeing the After the Holiday nibbles redux tonight.

Wednesday, December 3, 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.

The Dress Shop of Dreams by Meena van Praag. The book is being released by Ballantine Books on December 30, 2014.

Amazon says this about the book: For fans of Alice Hoffman, Sarah Addison Allen, and Adriana Trigiani, The Dress Shop of Dreams is a captivating novel of enduring hopes, second chances, and the life-changing magic of true love.

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires.

Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. Cora’s studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her forever. Determined not to allow Cora to miss her chance at happiness, Etta sews a tiny stitch into Walt’s collar, hoping to give him the courage to confess his feelings to Cora. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry. After Walt is spurred into action, Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review: 'Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma

There's something a little bit exotic, a little bit magical about Trinidad. And it's not a place that appears often in fiction, or at least not in fiction that I've read. So I was intrigued by the setting of Lauren Francis-Sharma's debut novel set mainly in Trinidad, capturing life on the island, and filling in little bit of the history and politics of the mid-twentieth century as Trinidad moved towards independence and self-governance. But more than a Trinidadian story, this is a family story, a strong woman story, a mother and children story all told with the unique flavor of the place.

In 1943 in Trinidad, Marcia Garcia is just a teenager raising two small boys she calls her brothers and trying her best to keep food on the table for the three of them. She is a talented seamstress but her family obligations weigh on her and prevent her from being as successful as she might otherwise have been. Marcia is a beautiful mixture of many of the races of people on the islands and she catches the eye of an Indian police officer, Farouk Karam, who becomes enchanted with her to the point that he visits an Obeah woman whose black magic and herbs can guarantee him that he will find his way into Marcia's heart. Although their relationship starts under the cloud of the disappearance of Marcia's twin brothers, they quickly come to find happiness together. Marcia falls pregnant and she and Farouk marry. But his proper, successful family is horrified by Marcia and Farouk denies her and accuses her of actually being the mother of the two missing boys she loved so dearly and having an incestuous relationship with her father. Despite his family's vocal disapproval and these terrible allegations, he cannot quit her so while they remain married, they never do live as husband and wife; Farouk visits only occasionally, enough for them to produce four children, Patsy, Jacqueline, Wesley, and baby Yvonne. Marcia struggles along, working to support her growing family, persevering despite hardships. At the same time, Farouk is rising in the police force, seeing corruption and vice within the ranks, even extending to Marcia's powerful, wealthy, mostly estranged uncle who is high up in government. And when there is a huge scandal, it leaves no one in the family untouched.

The heat and magic of the island is coupled here in the novel with the subsistence and borderline poverty in which Marcia and the children live.  Within these pages, there is the Trinidadian version of voodoo, the political corruption of the 1940s through the 1960s, drugs, prejudice, education and the drive to better one's lot, and above all the importance of family. Marcia is strong and a survivor despite the terrible hand she's been dealt by life. She, Farouk, and Jacqueline, their second daughter, each narrate portions of the story, sharing their hopes and dreams and the reality of their lives. Much of the dialogue is in a sing-songy dialect but once the reader gets used to it, it is easy enough to follow. When the story takes Marcia to the US, the plot becomes disorienting and a little confusing but that mirrors Marcia's own experience as an immigrant, abused, held captive, and taken advantage of. Trinidad plays a large background role through most of the book but when Marcia finally leaves it, her desire is not for the land of her youth but for her family, for them to join her and to make a new life with her. Francis-Sharma has captured a dysfunctional family in all its ups and downs, the fates that hold it back, and the ways in which each character is always a part of the same fabric even when life doesn't go quite as planned. The story is well written and if there's no happily ever after but instead a concession to reality, it feels true and genuine and possible.

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

Monday, December 1, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

With family in town, Thanksgiving, and our annual after Thanksgiving party (with sixty plus guests), I had no time to do anything besides cook and sleep. Now I just have to get the Christmas decorations up and I'll be finished for the rest of the holidays so I can read to my heart's content. Thank heaven! It makes me squirrelly to have so little book time. This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

Not one blamed thing

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Ruby by Cynthia Bond
Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Reviews posted this week:

Ishmael's Oranges by Claire Hajaj
We'll Always Have Paris by Jennifer Coburn

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

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
Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks
All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner
Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen
We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride
The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Mr. Tall by Tony Earley
Gemini by Carol Cassella
The Bride Insists by Jane Ashford
A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford
A Fork in the Road edited by James Oseland
Marching to Zion by Mary Glickman
Reluctantly Royal by Nichole Chase
The Geometry of Love by Jessica Levine
The Wednesday Daughters by Meg Waite Clayton
Highland Scandal by Julia London
Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight
Starting Over by Sue Moorcroft
Falling For Max by Shannon Stacey
Christmas Brides by Suzanne Enoch, Alexandra Hawkins, Elizabeth Essex, and Valerie Bowman
'Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma
The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison
To Marry a Scottish Laird by Lynsay Sands
The Way North edited by Ron Riekki
Z by Therese Anne Fowler
While the Gods Were Sleeping by Elizabeth Enslin
I'll Take You by Eliza Kennedy
Inn at Last Chance by Hope Ramsey
The Wedding Guests by Meredith Goldstein
Talk Dirty to Me by Dakota Cassidy
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron
Gentlemen Prefer Curves by Sugar Jamison
Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes
Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof
The Rake's Handbook by Sally Orr

Monday Mailbox

Just one again. This past week's mailbox arrival:

Life Drawing by Robin Black came from me for me because it's important to gift yourself sometimes.

The One Book One Facebook group is reading it right now and I am intrigued by the premise of a toxic friendship that affects and possibly interferes with a long marriage.

If you'd like 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.

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