Wednesday, February 26, 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.

My Wish List by Gregoire Delacourt. The book is being released by Penguin on March 25, 2014.

Amazon says this about the book: The #1 bestselling international phenomenon that asks, If you won the lottery, would you trade your life for the life of your dreams?

Jocelyne lives in a small town in France where she runs a fabric shop, has been married to the same man for twenty-one years, and has raised two children. She is beginning to wonder what happened to all those dreams she had when she was seventeen. Could her life have been different?

Then she wins the lottery—and suddenly finds the world at her fingertips. But she chooses not to tell anyone, not even her husband—not just yet. Without cashing the check, she begins to make a list of all the things she could do with the money. But does Jocelyne really want her life to change?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

It wouldn't take a genius to be able to peg my reading interests, even when I feel like I am going off script. Secret society, conspiracy, code breaking, computers and technology. All of these things would generally leave me cold. But take them and set the story in a bookstore. Oh boy! When can I read it? Can I read it now? I held out longer than usual with Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore but eventually the bookstore angle pulled me in (and I convinced my book club to read it so I would definitely get to it). And I am so glad it did because despite the tech angle to it, there is a reverence for old fashioned books and their continuing place in our world that is simply enchanting.

Clay Jannon lost his job when the San Francisco bagel company for whom he did marketing and web design went under. He had no idea that his next job would be so very different than what he was used to but on his ramblings through the city, he stumbled on a tall, narrow bookstore whose window had a Help Wanted sign in it. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore was nothing like any bookstore Clay had ever experienced before and he was fairly certain that it was a front for something else. After all, it sold almost no books, ever. Even adjusting for the fact that Clay staffed the store overnight, they sold next to nothing. And then there were the strange older people who came in and borrowed books from the store. Borrowed, not bought. And the books themselves were strange; aside from a few shelves at the front of the store with regular books, the books for borrow were unreadable. Without much to occupy himself, Clay decides to try and see if he can uncover the mystery of the books and the people who are slowly working their way through them. He uses his computer and modeling programs and what he and his friends uncover is just the beginning.

The beauty of this story is that it isn't really all that far fetched. It's not fantasy or set in a future world. It is now and it acknowledges and celebrates the interconnectedness of the long enduring technologies of the past and the rapidly changing technologies of right now. It is a paean to the possibilities of the future and the vast reaches to which our own human imaginations can push the machines we have but without declaring the premature death of the things that have given us joy and information for centuries. And in the end, the novel holds up human genius as the ultimate thing. Like Kat, the enthusiastic Google employee, we project into the future carried along by our passions to discover and to invent but we not only pay homage to the past, we integrate it into our future, cherishing it, if only for the pleasure it brings. We are indeed a very online world anymore but that is not all we are and as this book suggests, there's much benefit to disconnecting and to seeing technology as only one tool among many in our happy lives. Immortality, however you define it, may be the end goal for each individual person, but there are many, many valid permutations of it and even more ways to find it.

Reading this novel is easy and smooth. There are some awfully convenient bits and an unbelievable scene or two but over all, this is well done without the need for pyrotechnics or outlandish situations. It is very much a book of our time right now and might come to feel dated but in this very immediacy, it captures beautifully the dichotomy of old knowledge (books) and new knowledge(computers) at a historically significant crossroads. Will the new overtake and snuff out the old? Or will they be able to coexist, and even if we don't have Google or certain computer programs or apps ten years from now, we will still look back to these years as those that determined the course of our path to knowledge and human ingenuity, making the story more timeless than its pop culture references might suggest. The mystery of the purpose of the bookstore and the unveiling of the final answer drives the story, pleasantly sweeping the reader through its pages. If a tale so heavily dependent on technology can capture me, an avowed Luddite, it should appeal to anyone who loves and cherishes books. And the final, lovely line of the book is sure to resonate with all readers everywhere.

Monday, February 24, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This past week was a difficult one. I wasn't doing much reading at all for whatever reason. And then my grandmother died. And I couldn't do anything but read because it kept me from having to think about the new and permanent hole in my life. It does seem however, as if every book I picked up to read this week (and even the ones that came in the mail) all had death in them to a greater or lesser extent. Not fair. Not fair at all. This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck
The House of Memories by Monica McInerney
Eyestone by D. R. MacDonald
Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall
The Pleasures of Autumn by Evie Hunter

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Quiet by Susan Cain
Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley

Reviews posted this week:

The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena
Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck

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

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
The House of Memories by Monica McInerney
Eyestone by Dr. R. MacDonald
Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall
The Pleasures of Autumn by Evie Hunter

Monday Mailbox

This week's mailbox arrivals:

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall came from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

A memoir about a white woman who hired an African man to tend her yard and ended up with a friend, this sounds lovely.

Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen came from Doubleday.

A novel about food and family, rivalry and change, this one sounds completely delicious.

Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman came from Simon and Schuster.

How fascinating to look into the ways we try to cure animals of the same sorts of mental illnesses we get.

The Dead Wife's Handbook by Hannah Beckerman came from Penguin.

A novel about a woman who died a year ago and finds that she can't let go of the family she left behind, even if it is painful to see them moving on without her, this sounds emotional and poignant and heart breaking but also good.

Delicious by Ruth Reichl came from Random House and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

I've drooled over her memoirs so I am anxious to see what she does with a novel.

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, February 23, 2014

In memorium for my lovely, gentle grandmother

Eleanor Schweikert 4/9/1920-2/20/2014

I didn't want to write this post but I find I can't write anything else without acknowledging the terrible gut wrenching loss of my beloved grandmother this week. I didn't expect to lose her. I know; that's a ridiculous statement. She's been frail for years. She was more than 50 years older than I am and I'm no longer any spring chicken myself. So the fact that I am stunned that she is gone is completely irrational. I know that. And yet... And yet...

I have been obsessively looking around the internet for poems to help ease the grief. Because words help heal, right? Only they don't. She's gone and I don't want her to be a ship sailing out of sight, or a rose growing on the other side of the wall, or any number of lovely nature images. I do not want to miss her and let her go. I just want her to be here, no matter how selfish that is. She's in a better place. But I don't care. I just want her here. Not there. Here.

These are things I know: I was very lucky to have my grandmother in my life for so long; and my children were lucky too, to know their great grandmother so well. Of course, she had already lived a lifetime before we came along and we didn't know that person. I didn't know her as a child, a young woman, or a new mother. I only knew her as my grandmother, the presence of pure, unconditional love.

She was the one who sat and fed the goldfish in the pond with me. She was the one who brushed dead leaves away from a tree trunk in the woods to show me the purple of new spring violets. With my grandfather, she was the one who taught me to swim out in front of the cottage. She was the one who showed me the hidden space beneath the branches of the towering stand of pines in the side yard that was perfect for a child and her imagination. She gave big hugs that often hurt because she'd forget that her glasses were on a chain around her neck and they'd inevitably poke you in the chest. Actually, she lost her glasses all the time, finding them perched on top of her head or on that chain but dangling down her back instead of her front. She made tapioca pudding for us. I love tapioca pudding. Her macaroni and cheese casserole can't be beat. She loved chocolate. And peanut butter. And she was the first person to teach me to eat peanut butter on a spoon straight from the jar. She sometimes left things so long in her fridge that they were fuzzy and unrecognizable when they were finally pulled out. She read a lot. She picked books off of her own shelves for me to read and took me to the library, encouraging my habit. She loved dogs, especially the one she permanently borrowed from my parents. She fed birds and tried to outwit squirrels. She hugged teddy bears. She loved tiny, decorative, little trinket boxes. She cherished my children. She danced with my oldest son in his Johnny-Jump-Up. She let my stand-offish child, the one who inherited her curls, warm up to her great-grandmother on her own terms. She was thrilled when this same child did what I did as a baby in her arms, giggling as she tugged on her great-grandmother's curls. She read the same book over and over and over again to my youngest, never tiring of it and always looking at him with a special sparkle in her eye. She was incredibly caring, working for decades as a hospital volunteer. She was a member of the Women's Power Squadron and could strip down an engine and drive a boat. She built stone walls and transplanted snow on the mountain and wore great straw hats. She personified grace and loyalty and love. She was beautiful inside and out. If I wrote for a hundred years, I could never capture everything that she was and I am, without the shadow of a doubt, the poorer for her loss.

For a couple of years when I was small, we lived near to my grandparents and on weekends we would hike nature trails as a family with my grandmother sometimes joining us. One of those years we lived close, when I couldn't have been any older than 9, I had a school assignment that must have been something like "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" and I wrote about our hiking. The final line told the reader that all of us had hiked the whole trail, "even my old grandma." I'm so very grateful that "my old grandma" had so many more years after that with me, years in which to truly grow old. And although I know that hiking with me was decades in her past and that she's now reunited with my grandfather and her parents and all those who went before her and who loved her long before I did, I would give anything for one more hike, one more hug, one more word with my old grandma.

I will love and miss you forever, Eny.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Review and Giveaway: Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck

What could be more fitting on Pulitzer Prize winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay's 122nd birthday than a book about the poet herself and the young woman who so understood the heart of Millay's poetry that she created the exquisite costumes that Millay wore on her readings around the country.

It's 1928, the middle of Prohibition, the Roaring Twenties and the era of flappers, a seemingly wild and giddy time where licentiousness laughs and thumbs its nose against the strict convention and staid morals of much of the era. Laura Kelley is just nineteen. She works in the dress shop that her parents started in the sleepy little town of Austerlitz, NY. She's generally a good daughter, but she has one secret. She's in love with a man she cannot have. And as the novel opens, she sneaks out of the home she shares with her widower father and her younger sister to meet this man and to see the scandalous Ziegfeld Follies. The evening is magical and Laura is swept up in it.  But it has repercussions that last forever.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, who preferred to be called Vincent, is living nearby to Austerlitz at Steepletop House. Neither she nor her husband cares to hide the parties and debauchery that take place there from the judgmental town, bringing friends and lovers to their mountaintop retreat as often as the muse requires. Vincent is in search of a new lover who will inspire her words and enflame her body. She finds such a lover in a young poet named George Dillon but he is neither as compliant nor as accommodating to the famous poet as her previous lovers have been.

A couple of years further on in the midst of the Great Depression, Laura is struggling to support her daughter in the dress shop and is still keeping the baby's father's name secret. She has retreated from the town as much as the town has branded her for her indiscretion. Vincent glimpses Laura on the day that her sister marries. She is standing to the side of the bride and groom with a lonely and melancholy expression on her face and she captures the imagination of the poet, who is still struggling with her lover's intransigence. Eventually introduced to Laura's sister Marie and her husband, Everette, a rising politician, Millay invites them to Steepletop to one of her famous parties where she intentionally entices Everette into her bed, an invitation he does not refuse. And with this action, she forges a bond between herself and Laura, one built on anger and loyalty but also ultimately desperation and creative desire.

Robuck has drawn Millay as a sensuous, extravagant, demanding woman. She lives a bohemian life without care for the mores of society but she feels deeply and is easily wounded. She loves with her whole heart but can be unthinking and capriciously cruel. She is a study in opposites. Laura, on the other hand, is a mostly conventional woman whose only transgression ends up defining her. She dreams of more but is bound first by the opinion of the town and then by her loyalty and love for her family, so she pushes that dream down under the more prosaic need to feed and clothe herself and her daughter. Her capacity for love is boundless but she has been damaged by her secret lover's silent disavowal of her and their daughter, losing the ability to trust openly and learning to fear the withholding of forgiveness.

Robuck has taken two very different, and yet in some ways similar, "fallen beauties" whose lives intersected in interesting ways and contrasted them with each other. Even the structure of the novel reflects that contrast, narrated in the first person first by Laura and then by Vincent in each chapter. This gives the reader insight into what drives each character and how they view not only their own lives but those of the people around them. And it showcases both the cost of convention and the cost of creative freedom. Robuck has done a good job of describing and detailing what it cost women in particular to live in the 1920s and 30s. She's created a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of Millay, who despite her oftentimes selfish and unthinking excesses flouting society's tight rules, was actually a fragile and emotionally insecure genius who craved love and devotion. Although each woman's back story was necessary, especially to show Laura's fierce determination to avoid Millay and then extreme reluctance to do as bidden despite her desperate financial straits, in terms of narrative pace, it took too long for the women to meet. Once they did though, the pacing picked up and although the reader knew that Laura must eventually ignore her scruples and make the luscious creations asked of her, the tension of the interactions between Laura and Vincent and how their relationship would eventually play out was compelling. A tale of creativity, redemption, and convention, readers intrigued by Millay and her scandalous lifestyle as well as those who are fascinated by the cost that society extracts on those who ignore its rules will quite enjoy this historical fiction.

For more information about Erika Robuck and the book, check out her website, her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter, take a look at her historical fiction blog, Muse, or read her contributions to the fiction blog Writer Unboxed. And look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Would you like to win your very own copy of this book?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Please be sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour for more reviews and additional chances to enter to win a giveaway copy of Fallen Beauty:

February 17: A Patchwork of Books and Maurice On Books
February 18: Jenn’s Bookshelves, Burton Book Review, and Leah's Thoughts
February 19: Great New Books
February 20: Chick Lit Plus and Girls Just Reading
February 21: Book Dilettante, Chefdruck: French, and Bookfoolery
February 22: Entertainment Realm and Two Classy Chics
February 24: Laura's Review Bookshelf and Crystal Book Reviews
February 25: Literally Jen and Confessions of a Book Addict
February 26: Literate Housewife and LitChat
February 27: Anita Loves Books, To Read or Not To Read, and Kayla's Reads and Reviews
February 28: Silver's Reviews, A Novel Review, and The Write Teacher(s)
March 3: Alison's Book Marks
March 4: Biblio File, Sincerely Stacie, Minding Spot, and Bookalicious Mama
March 5: Teresa's Reading Corner, Book Addict Katie, and So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
March 6: Entomology of a Bookworm, Steph The Bookworm, and Kritters Ramblings
March 7: My 5 Monkeys and Traveling With T

Thanks to Courtney from Berkley/NAL for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review: Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

I read Treasure Island as a child and was completely captivated by it. It was a magnificent adventure tale that fired my imagination. And although I didn't search out much about author Robert Louis Stevenson's life, somehow it entered my knowledge base that he had traveled extensively, eventually dying and being buried on a mountain in Samoa under an inscription of his own writing. More thrillingly romantic information. So when I heard about Nancy Horan's fictionalized tale of Stevenson and his American wife, Fanny's life together, I couldn't resist the chance to learn more about this intriguing man and the woman he loved.

Opening in 1875 before the married Fanny Osbourne met the younger, aspiring novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, the novel delves deeply into Fanny's life and her relationship with the man who would become her second husband. Fanny Osbourne fled California to escape the soul destroying cheating and philandering of her first husband, taking her three children to Antwerp so that she and her daughter, Belle, could study art and so that they could all start a new life. But the prejudices of the time thwarted her artistic dreams and then, more tragically, young Hervey Osbourne sickened with TB and died. It was when Fanny took her surviving children, Belle and Sammy, to the French countryside in an effort to recover from the grief and strain of Hervey's long death that she met a rowdy and engaging group of artists and writers, one of whom was the Scotsman, Robert Louis Stevenson.

Louis Stevenson fell for Fanny immediately but she was more reserved about this young man more than ten years her junior in age and even younger than that in experience. Eventually she fell for him as well though, first embarking on an affair with him, and then after a failed attempt at reconciliation with her husband, obtaining a divorce in order to marry Louis. Their marriage was a peripatetic one as they traveled around trying to find the perfect atmosphere for the sickly and often deathly ill Louis.  Fanny, a vibrant, strong, and artistic woman herself, repressed many of her own wants and needs in caring for her fragile, talented husband. She repressed her own artistic ambitions to nursemaid Louis, often serving as his best, first reader and muse as well as ensuring his bodily health. They were not without conflict and stress in their relationship though. Louis's casual and cruel dismissal of Fanny's talent, her sometimes volatile conflicts with his friends, and their always looming financial difficulties caused discord and disharmony between them.

The story focuses mainly on Fanny; she is the character most alive on the page. Her famed husband is mostly seen through her eyes and oftentimes comes across as a particularly obstinate child. The story of their life and their travels is comprehensive but perhaps because there was so much time and ground to cover, the tale dragged in places and yet skimmed lightly through other times that seem like they should have carried more weight. Horan has captured the alternating tension and loving care between Fanny and Louis that was evident throughout the story and the ending is as heart breaking as Stevenson's epitaph has always made it seem. But I still missed the high emotion and gripping narration that I expected. And maybe that's unfair since this is a book about Fanny and Louis and not one of his riveting own tales. If it didn't quite satisfy completely, I did appreciate learning more about Stevenson's life and the woman who completed it.

For more information about Nancy Horan and the book, check out her website, her Facebook page, or take a look at her Pinterest boards. 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.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Review: The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena

A house that has been in a family for generations becomes the heart of that family, housing memories and secrets and providing a familiar retreat. It is not just a house, but a home, and it looms large in the minds of all who grew up there or spent extended amounts of time there. In Katharina Hagena's novel, The Taste of Apple Seeds, newly translated from the German, a house and all of its secrets and memories is very central to this eccentric tale of family, love, and loss.

When quiet librarian Iris's grandmother Bertha dies, she leaves Iris an unexpected inheritance, one that might more properly have been given to Iris's mother or aunts: the family home. Iris isn't sure she wants this emotionally freighted offering, choosing to live in the house for a short time before deciding whether or not to reject the gift. As she wanders the halls and rooms of the old and unconventional home, she recalls not only her own childhood visit to Bootshaven, but her grandmother's slow slide into dementia, her aunts', Harriet and Inga, lives in the house, her grandfather Hinnerk's authoritarian presence, and the early, tragic loss of her older cousin Rosmarie plus the mystery still surrounding her death. She tells what she knows for certain and imagines what she doesn't, offering up the magical and the mundane both. As she wanders aimlessly through her family's past, she stumbles into the present as well in the person of Max, a lawyer and the younger brother of Rosmarie's best friend, a man to whom she is reluctantly attracted.

The novel meanders through time, moving forward and back as memories surface and recede and spark other memories in turn. Iris narrates the tale, actively avoiding the most painful memory contained in the house, that of her cousin's death so many years ago. Seeing everything through Iris feels as if the reader is viewing it all through a dreamy fog where the present is intimately intertwined with the shades of the past, leaving behind a distinct feeling of melancholy. There are things that are overtly magical (currant berries turning from their usual shade of red to white and tasting of tears after the death of a young girl, apple trees bearing fruit in June after an illicit tryst beneath their branches, a woman whose very touch is electric) and there are atmospheric flourishes that feel magical (the search for meaning behind the arrangement of books on shelves, Iris wearing ball gowns discovered in trunks in lieu of her own disheveled clothing) here as well. Some of the imagery is breathtakingly written but there are any number of dropped or undeveloped plot threads as well, frustrating gaps by an author who clearly knows how to use language. Although this was a very slight book, it is chock full of symbolism, serpentine narration, and half obscured or hidden meanings and while this could add up to a literary treasure, somehow here it only resulted in an unfulfilled feeling and missed chances.

If you speak or read German, for more information about Katharina Hagena and the book, check out her website. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

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

Tempting Fate by Jane Green. The book is being released by St. Martin's Press on March 18, 2014.

Amazon says this about the book: Gabby and Elliott have been happily married for eighteen years. They have two teenaged daughters; they have built a life together. So why does forty-three-year-old Gabby feel like she has only three more minutes left of youth? Why do her friends so desperately try to hang on to their attractiveness? And why does she ever even look at the handsome guy—ten years younger—at the other end of the bar one night? Gabby is the last person to have an affair—a physical one, at least. But Matt makes her feel sparkling, fascinating—something she hasn't felt in years. Surely there's no harm in continuing a long-distance friendship? Surely there's no harm in an emotional affair? As Gabby steps ever deeper into the allure of attraction and attention things turn perilous. If she makes one wrong move she could lose everything--and find out what really matters most.

Monday, February 17, 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 Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena
Mad About the Earl by Christina Brooke
Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
The Wedding Favor by Cara Connelly
Mr. Penumbras 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Quiet by Susan Cain
Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck

Reviews posted this week:

Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas
This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash
Billy Budd and Other Tales by Herman Melville
House of Miracles by Ulrica Hume
Mad About the Earl by Christina Brooke
The Wedding Favor by Cara Connelly

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

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
Mr. Penumbras 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Monday Mailbox

Winter Storm Pax really bolloxed up our mail delivery this week. We missed getting anything at all for days. But now that the snow is finally melting and the roads are clear, one book did make its way out of the logjam to me. This week's mailbox arrival:

The Idea of Him by Holly Peterson came from William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

A novel about a woman who has it all...or maybe she doesn't, this looks like a light read about marriage and being true to yourself.

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, February 16, 2014

Review: The Wedding Favor by Cara Connelly

I don't generally like cowboys in my romances. They are not the kind of romantic hero that makes my heart beat a little faster. A cowboy hat, jeans, and boots have nothing on elegantly folded cravats in my imagination. But sometimes my predictable little world needs shaking up. So I grabbed Cara Connelly's contemporary romance, The Wedding Favor, with a lawyer and a cowboy as the hero and heroine and settled in.

Victoria Westin is a lawyer. She's just lost a big case for a lot of money.  Her opponent in the case, Tyrell Brown, has come to some conclusions about the petite blonde as a result of her demeanor during the trial that dredged up horrific memories of his beloved wife's terrible, drawn out death. He thinks Victoria's got ice in her veins and that she is, plain and simple, a horrible, cold bitch. So he's more than put out to discover that he is trapped on a plane from Houston to Paris next to this woman he loathes. Vicky is equally appalled to discover that Ty is her seatmate. She's still trying to process the fact that she lost the case and let down her toxic mother. The case was supposed to be a walk in the park with an unpolished cowboy as her opponent but Ty is more than just some rube. He's smart (a PhD) and gorgeous (women melt at the sight of him) and the jury had no trouble believing his very real relived anguish over his young wife's death at the hands of a spoiled drunk driver. He's harboring real animosity towards Vicky for her questioning of him despite the fact that she was just doing her job.

What should have been an incredibly uncomfortable and long flight to Paris was mellowed by the fact that Ty got screamingly drunk, Vicky's hormones did cartwheels in his presence, and she confided in him a bit about her difficult mother and cheating ex-fiance. But things didn't progress as they might have and once the plane lands, Ty can't wait to get out of her sight until it turns out that both of them are in France for the same reason. Vicky's younger half-brother, Matt, is marrying Ty's good friend and ex, Isabelle. So they can't avoid each other. In a bid to keep their antagonistic, professional relationship from Matt and Isabelle, they agree to pretend not to have met before. And Ty even agrees to flirt with Vicky to make Isabelle happy. But the flirting gets intense as both Ty and Vicky find it hard to keep their hands off of each other.

Their potential physical relationship is complicated by so many things. There's the appeal on the case Vicky lost and the chance for the appearance of impropriety. Her mother, Adrianna, wants Vicky to give her slimeball, cheating ex another chance and has invited him to the wedding in order to force the issue, plus she never loses a chance to diminish Vicky if she can. There's another bridesmaid who works as a stripper and who has set her sights on the delicious Ty. There's Vicky's fear that she's frigid. And there's Ty's fear that he can't give her a future, that everyone he loves is doomed and that she'd be better off without him.

As all of the outside influences pile up, Vicky and Ty's sexual chemistry is still explosive. They banter back and forth and the zingers fly. Both have some substantial emotional baggage to overcome in order to be together. But there are definitely some things in the end that come too easily. Vicky's lifelong, contentious relationship with her mother is healed with just one small vote of support. Ty has the perfect opportunity fall into his lap to be close to Vicky in NYC thanks to a character who has not appeared in the book until the moment he needs to go and personally apologize to Vicky. I like a happily ever after as much as anyone, but this one was unbelievable and out of character. Luckily, the humor and the sparring and the entertaining situations generally override the problems in the last bit of the story and the sparks and Ty's honeyed drawl make for a seriously sexy read if you can forgive the easy redemption of the ending.

Sunday Salon: How to spend an unexpectedly snowy week

I promise I'm not going to post any pictures of snow, even though snow is rarer than a tulip in July here. But I will tell you how we transplanted Southerners handle snow once the panic attack subsides:

Make sure to look at every weather prediction possible to tap into the full sense of hysteria. And then curse like Yosemite Sam when you realize this storm will in fact mean your three children will be home from school (again) for many unexpected days in a row. Consider finding the superintendent's house and making a personal plea but ultimately dismiss it as too much work and the fact that no one looks good in mug shots, especially flashed up on the tv screen as yours would certainly be if you did confront the man in person.  And restraining orders are so restrictive.

Concede that your policy of going to the grocery store almost daily will mean you too have to brave the frantic hordes at the grocery store. Shake your head and chuckle at the barren bread, egg, and milk shelves but curse like Yosemite Sam when you discover that there's no cumin because apparently everyone has had the same bright idea about chili that you did.

Blow up the air mattress and lay in new flashlights and batteries in case of the predicted power outage that requires you to sleep as a family in front of the rather ineffectual gas fire. Curse like Yosemite Sam when you can't find the key to turn on said ineffectual fire.

Settle in as snow comes down and down and down. Admire how pretty it looks, especially since snow only lasts for a day in the south. Curse like Yosemite Sam when it is still coming down two days later.

Send the stir crazy children out to play in the snow despite the lack of weather appropriate gear. Apologize profusely to a neighbor who has trudged through the snow looking for a can of condensed milk. Instead offer her the choice of some books to take home to read in case the power goes out (ice is now predicted on top of the snow) and her Kindle is non-functional. Smile happily as she loads up for the remainder of the week and then turn attention back to children gamboling in snow and apparently wearing your old winter weather gear. Curse like Yosemite Sam when you see how wet and disgusting they've gotten all of your things, ensuring you can't leave the house unless you enjoy being frozen and wet.

Do laundry. Do more laundry. Do even more laundry, rushing to get it all finished before the power dies. Curse like Yosemite Sam when you find yet another soggy pile of clothing deposited in a lump by the washer just when you thought you were finished.

Spend a lot of time flitting from book to book, being unable to settle into one. Feel dissatisfied with the book options available to you (all 10,000 plus) and waft around the house feeling trapped. Find other things to do to stay occupied that aren't reading and curse like Yosemite Sam that your best and favorite pastime has deserted you when you need it most.

Shovel the driveway so that you can make a break for it as soon as the roads are even close to clear. Bribe children, who are by now bored with the snow, to help you. Curse like Yosemite Sam when you wake up the next morning and can barely move for being sore.

Realize that you've done nothing for your husband for Valentine's Day and that you just can't muster up the oomph to care. Feel guilty when he presents you with a crème brulee making set (kitchen torch, butane, ramekins) and feel badly for him that the rest of his presents (a crème brulee cookbook and bouquet of tulips) are trapped somewhere on a UPS truck and he's having no luck tracking them down. Both of you curse like Yosemite Sam at "Brown."

Decide to brave the roads as chocolate stash is gone and toilet paper stash is getting dangerously low. Almost get sideswiped by a woman who thinks that because there is still some snow on the ground, staying in her own lane on a turn is completely optional and she's welcome to come into yours to avoid the small ridge of snow in hers. Curse like Yosemite Sam and lay on the weenie horn in your car for emphasis to make your point.

Email the teacher who had requested a conference about your child and ask her what to do about the meeting you all carefully scheduled for Friday so as to avoid the bad weather in the middle of the week. Have her come back and offer to meet you at 6:30 am before school next week. Do not curse like Yosemite Sam; do it up properly and turn the air positively blue with curses that would make a sailor blush but agree to rescheduled meeting.

And finally curse some more when you remember that these three snow days this week mean not only no President's Day long weekend but have now carved two days off of Spring Break as well.

Now that the snow is gone from the roads and only hanging around in patches (like my shady yard), I have one final thing left to do as a result of this unlikely Southern snowstorm. I feel the need to visit a bookstore to remedy the unsatisfying choice problem at my house.  Maybe I'll look for a book on cursing.

If you were trapped (or still are trapped) at home by snow, how did you spend your week?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Review: Mad About the Earl by Christina Brooke

There have been Beauty and the Beast stories and variations probably almost from the instant that the first telling was finished. It's a good story, that what's on the outside doesn't reflect what's on the inside and that everyone is deserving of love. It's romantic and hopeful with a happy ending, everything that a good romance is as well. So it's not a surprise that as a trope, it is very common in romances. Christina Brooke's historical romance, the second in the Ministry of Marriage series, Mad About the Earl, is one of those beauty and the beast stories.

Lady Rosamund Westruther has definite ideas about how her betrothal is going to happen. She may be entering willingly into an arranged marriage but there's still going to be romance and accord if her daydreaming is anything to judge by. So she's shocked when her intended doesn't even meet her upon her arrival at his home.  She's even more shocked when she discovers that he has no interest in marrying her aside from placating his evil bully of a grandfather. For his part,  Griffin deVere can't believe that the stunning and self-possessed young woman he meets in the stable yard is to be his wife; he can't begin to imagine that she wants to marry him and that she's not repulsed by his scarred countenance and massive body. They share one incendiary kiss that bodes well for their physical compatibility but then they go their separate ways.

Rosamund has romanticized everything about Griffin and yet when he still hasn't claimed her in marriage three years after their betrothal she realizes that she can't wish this arranged marriage into fairy tale status, that real relationships, whether chosen for or by one, take work and a mutual respect. So when Griffin, now the Earl of Tregarth, is in need of a wife to give his sister the London season he wants for her and demands that Rosamund return immediately to the wilds of Cornwall to marry him, she tells him in no uncertain terms that she will not marry him without a proper courtship. Like a bear with a sore head, Griffin gives in and travels to London, where he comes to know Rosamund and her family and they him.

Neither Griffin nor Rosamund have had loving or caring upbringings. Griffin was humiliated, belittled, and abused by his grandfather his whole life. His self-esteem is almost non-existent. His social skills were crippled by the hate and ridicule heaped on him by the old man and he is a prickly loner who finds intimidation to be the best way to get what he wants. He has been little loved in his life. Rosamund was luckier than Griffin in that after her father's death, her guardian, the Duke of Montford, removed her brother and her from their mother's poisonous influence. But her mother, beautiful, icy, and demeaning has never been completely out of Rosamund's life.  And it is by watching her mother that Rosamund knows she wants something better out of marriage; she intends to find something better with Griffin.

Both of the main characters are judged by their outward appearance and have to overcome people's preconceived notions of them. They each have to learn to trust the other as well, revealing their true and loving natures. Both are constrained by reputation, whether real or imagined. And most importantly, they must learn to be together with respect and trust between them. As they are learning this, and failing at times, they are surrounded by either Rosamund's family or by Griffin's sister and neighbor. The secondary characters are intriguing and help to push Rosamund and Griffin together.

While both Griffin and Rosamund are damaged by their upbringing, it seems Griffin gets a pass to be thoughtless and never have to apologize or make amends for his continued, inexplicable abandonments while Rosamund is always the gracious and understanding woman who tames the beast. Their sexual tension is terrific but their personal interactions were just a bit too one sided to be completely enjoyable. The happenings outside of their interactions with each other were often given short shift when they should either have been skipped completely or have made more of an impact on the story. Over all, this was fine for a couple of hours' diversion but it wasn't as complete or balanced as I could have hoped.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Review: House of Miracles by Ulrica Hume

Love is not effortless. Love fails. It causes pain. It fades into memory. It changes and fluctuates. Sometimes it's conditional. And sometimes it's not enough. But sometimes, despite all its flaws, it is forever. Ulrica Hume's collection of interrelated short stories, House of Miracles, examines love in all of these permutations.

Starting with an ensemble cast of seemingly unrelated characters, Hume eventually connects each of them through one of three characters whose relationship to each other and the others runs as a thread through all of the stories. Janet is a young woman living with her boyfriend, Jack, but having an affair with a co-worker and uncertain of the direction of her life and her heart. She is kind to her elderly neighbor Mrs. von Meurs, a woman at the end of her life who looks back on her experiences and her loves from a different perspective. Each of the short stories in the collection either adds another character or builds on Janet's, Jack's, or Mrs. von Meurs' past, slowly building each character and the reasons why they react to love the way that they do. The stories are full of heartbreak, sadness, and a poignancy for loves that don't end the way that movies do. There's a realism here, a quiet beauty in the writing, and an acknowledgment of the way in which the human heart continues to endure and strive for that forever love, whether it be between lovers or friends or family.

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

Be my bookish Valentine

To all of my readers:

Like me, I know your heart is in books.

Sometimes it's hard to contain all the love I feel for books and it just spills out here.   I know you feel that way too.

Have a very Happy and bookish Valentine's Day from me to you!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Review: Billy Budd and Other Tales by Herman Melville

When a friend of mine from high school couldn't sell this book back at the end of the year and threatened to throw it out instead, I happily offered to take it off of his hands and save it from the bin. I mean, I have always been a fan of free books and I prided myself on being able to read and enjoy literature that frustrated and bored others. It turns out I should have let him throw the book in the trash can no matter how free it was. If Ahab had been real (and yes, I know that this is not Moby-Dick, which I, in fact, read long ago, and Ahab plays no part here), I would have begged him to take off his wooden leg and beat Melville around the head until he was too insensible to write any more of his dreadfully boring and tormenting works. In case I'm being too subtle, this is a roundabout way of admitting that I loathed this novella and short story collection and it took me well over a year to work my way through it, forcing myself all the way, unwilling to let it defeat me.

The longest section of the book is the novella, Billy Budd. The story of a sweet, comely, exceedingly strong, and perfect sailor who in a moment of passion, accidently kills his accuser and therefore must be condemned to hang as per naval law, the tale is full of digressions and philosophical weavings and quite honestly, I was ready to hang this paragon of virtue myself by the end of it all just to be finished. Interpreting Billy as Adam, sinning through no fault of his own but doomed to be punished heavily for that sin or as a Christ figure, making the ultimate sacrifice in order that goodness might triumph over evil, did nothing to make the story more appealing or enjoyable. Perhaps I just don't like allegories, having had this visceral reaction to others as well. But the other stories in the collection were almost as tedious as Billy Budd with the slight advantage that they were shorter. And while I fully appreciate Melville's place in the American literature canon, I'd be happy to be the one to light the fuse and blow him away over the yardarm. (And yes, before any smug and pretentious defenders of literature come out of the woodwork, I do know the difference between canon and cannon and made a deliberate choice here.)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review: This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

Wiley Cash earned rave reviews for his first novel,A Land More Kind Than Home, proving that he's a force to be reckoned with on the Southern fiction scene. His newest novel, This Dark Road to Mercy, reinforces his mastery of gothic undertones and characters on the edge. In his latest, a gritty road trip tale, he tackles themes of family, redemption, and second chances as his characters travel down their own dark roads to mercy.

Easter Quillby, named for one of her mother's favorite things, lives in a children's home with her younger sister, Ruby. The girls have been in the home for a short while following their mother's drug overdose when their feckless, former baseball minor leaguer father reappears. Wade Chesterfield is an ex-con as well as a former pitcher and despite having renounced his parental rights to Easter and Ruby years ago, he wants a second chance with his daughters now. But Wade doesn't have the time to go through the proper channels to reclaim his daughters and Easter isn't sure she wants him to either. Even with her reservations, she and Ruby climb out the window of the children's home and into Wade's car, running just ahead of hired thug Bobby Pruitt. Pruitt is a cold, psychopathic character, another former baseball player and ex-con, disfigured and nursing an enormous grudge against Wade.  Pruitt is more than willing to kill Wade and his girls over money missing from a small time, small town crime boss after an armored car robbery. Brady Weller, the girls' guardian ad litem and a former cop who is haunted by his own failures as a father is just as determined as Pruitt to find Wade but he only wants to bring the girls back safely.

As Wade, Easter, and Ruby drive down the southeastern seaboard trying to stay one step ahead of Pruitt, they just as avidly follow along as Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa race to beat Roger Maris' single season homerun record. And just as no one could know which heavy hitter would come out on top, there is no foregone conclusion in the novel over whether the brutal Pruitt or the determined Brady will find Wade and the girls first. The novel is narrated in fairly equal parts by Easter, Brady, and Pruitt, offering different perspectives on the same set of circumstances. Each of the three has something in the past that has shaped them and continues to haunt them and drive them. The tension is palpable throughout the novel and increases at a measured pace as the ultimate, inevitable showdown comes ever closer. Cash has written a formidable, engrossing second novel rife with vengeance and suspense, baggage from the past and fresh starts, atonement and forgiveness, failure and a sort of redemption. I can't wait to see what he does next.

For more information about Wiley Cash and the book, check out his website, his Facebook page, or follow him 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 Trish from TLC Book Tours and 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.

The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh. The book is being released by Crown on March 4, 2014.

Amazon says this about the book: After their mother's probable suicide, sisters Olivia and Jazz take steps to move on with their lives. Jazz, logical and forward-thinking, decides to get a new job, but spirited, strong-willed Olivia—who can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights—is determined to travel to the remote setting of their mother's unfinished novel to lay her spirit properly to rest.

Already resentful of Olivia’s foolish quest and her family’s insistence upon her involvement, Jazz is further aggravated when they run into trouble along the way and Olivia latches to a worldly train-hopper who warns he shouldn’t be trusted. As they near their destination, the tension builds between the two sisters, each hiding something from the other, until they are finally forced to face everything between them and decide what is really important.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Review: Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas

My high school aged daughter had to read this book this year for her English class. When she first brought the class syllabus home, I noticed that I had read most of her required reading myself and generally enjoyed it. This title, though, was one of the few I hadn't already read although I certainly owned it. So I made a point of pulling it off my shelf and reading it before my daughter did. Dumas' memoir about being Iranian in America, growing up as not one thing or another but a sort of hybrid who feels out of place is funny and entertaining but thoughtful and insightful as well.

Dumas' family emigrated to the US for her father's engineering job in the early 1970s, when very few people in the US had heard of the Middle Eastern country. Told in short, funny, self-contained chapters, Dumas captures the slightly out of kilter life of an immigrant and the way that the US perception of Iranians changed after the Iranian hostage crisis and the Iranian Revolution. She focuses on life within her family, how her parents adapted (or didn't) to their new home, the cultural misunderstandings, and the ways in which they maintained ties to their familiar culture even half a world away. Covering many years, from her childhood to young adulthood and her eventual marriage to a Frenchman, Dumas' brief chapters showcase her lovable and quirky family, the kindness and the suspicion she encountered as an Iranian, and the entertaining, oftentimes self-deprecating, results of culture clash.

This slight memoir is light, filled with a sense of humor, and is, as the title promises, truly funny. Dumas recounts her relatives' quirky foibles and the ways in which they try to adjust to American culture. She recounts her memories with love and her stories highlight a universality amongst human beings no matter which part of the world they hail from and where the wind takes them. She is forgiving of the ignorance of people about her homeland and the clueless way that some people treat immigrants. Many of the chapters offer brief glimpses into life in pre-revolutionary Iran as compared to life in the US and Dumas has managed to strike a nice balance between the good and positive in each place even as she acknowledges imperfections and prejudices, offering only brief nods to the politics of the day then and now. A warm, endearing, and affectionately written memoir, this is a delightful look at difference, ethnicity, and culture.

Monday, February 10, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

When You Wish Upon a Duke by Isabella Bradford
Billy and Me by Giovanna Fletcher
This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Quiet by Susan Cain
The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena

Reviews posted this week:

Better Than Fiction edited by Don George
The Wedding Bees by Sarah-Kate Lynch
I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
When You Wish Upon a Duke by Isabella Bradford
Billy and Me by Giovanna Fletcher

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

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday Salon: Darn you, Algonquin Books!

I love getting the mail. I still squeal like a 5 year old on Christmas getting my first glimpse of presents whenever there's a book shaped package in my mailbox. That unopened package is just so full of potential pleasure. But there are many days when I don't get books in the mail. Most days there are just bills or junk mail, which dims the delight of a trip down the driveway. Sometimes there's something better than the bills and junk even if its not a book. Sometimes there's a real live letter from a friend or the drool-worthy goodness that slid quietly into my mailbox this past week: a catalog of a certain publisher's upcoming releases.

I have loved Algonquin Books' offerings since before I ever consciously thought about publishing as an industry. Way back when they were a fledgling independent press and I was still in high school, I looked for their unconventionally sized paperbacks on the shelves of my local bookstore whenever I scraped up enough money to go on a binge, certain that whatever they'd published would be to my liking. And it was. I still have many of those almost square books nestled on my shelves (some still unread, because, well, I've long been incapable of reading as fast I purchase--and I read rather quickly) and I still know that the Algonquin colophon on the spine (a large letter A atop a book) promises a good read. As I leafed through the latest catalog, I was heard to curse the good people at Algonquin because they have managed to put out another outrageously enticing line-up for spring and summer release and I want to request almost every book in the catalog but I don't want to seem greedy. Plus I'm afraid to overcommit and have them stop sending me my 21st century adult version of the Sears and Robuck catalog. I think I dog-eared every page, or if not, I only skipped some because I had already heard that those books were coming out and so they are already on my wish list.

I had already added the much-praised The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry to my list. And because I loved Michael Parker's The Watery Part of the World, his newest, All I Have in This World was also already on my must have list. The inimitable Lee Smith's Guests on Earth had already hit my radar and I have an old, original copy of Lewis Nordan's Music Of the Swamp (still unread) so I didn't need to turn those corners down either. But the ones I hadn't yet heard of? There are rather a lot. There are memoirs like My Accidental Jihad and The Late Starters Orchestra. There are novels like A Dangerous Age and The Third Son. There's even a collection of stories from Ellen Gilchrist called Acts of God. There's more, of course, but I wouldn't want you to miss the joy of turning the pages of your own catalog and discovering surprises for yourself. In the meantime, all I can say is, "Darn You, Algonquin Books people. There are too many good ones from which to choose. How could I only request one and not regret those I didn't get? I can't and so my bank account curses you too."

In addition to salivating over the Algonquin catalog, my reading this week took me into the new marriage of a conflicted Duke and his young Duchess; it took me along as an introverted woman fell in love with a actor on the fast track to fame; and I rode along with a father who kidnapped his daughters as they raced to stay ahead of a hit man and the girls' guardian ad litem. Where did your reading take you this past week?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Review: Billy and Me by Giovanna Fletcher

Have you ever wanted to be famous? Or maybe you'd just like to be in the orbit of someone famous. It looks like a glamorous life with all those perks and parties and people wanting to be you, doesn't it? But there is a price to celebrity and it's not an easy price to pay, especially for someone not used to the spotlight, the manipulation, the egos, and the all-consuming drive for publicity and career advancement. How can you possibly build a normal, healthy relationship in the midst of all of this? In Giovanna Fletcher's sweetly romantic novel, Billy and Me, she examines just this very situation.

Sophie May lives in the small Kent village of Rosefont Hill and works at the local tea shop. Having lost her dad at eleven, her entire world changed and she became withdrawn, quiet, and reserved. She's been content to stay at home with her mum and work at Tea-on-the-Hill with the gossipy but lovable Molly, a sort of second mother and best friend to her. This settled, quiet life suits her and has allowed her to come out of her shell a little bit. When Rosefont Hill is chosen as the location for a new film of Pride and Prejudice, Sophie meets Billy Buskin, the teen heartthrob who has been cast as Mr. Darcy. She doesn't know who he is to start and he is charmed by her very normal outlook on life. She steps out of her comfort zone and the two of them fall into a relationship quite quickly. But dating Billy brings with it a life she's never expected, with people taking pictures of her and digging into the past she's buried so deeply.

Billy is a sweet, warm, and caring boyfriend although he has lapses where he forgets just how his industry and the piranhas surrounding it come across to outsiders. He is blind to the slights Sophie faces and never considers if she'd want a life beyond just as Billy Buskin's girlfriend. As his star continues to rise, Sophie sublimates herself to him and his career, growing steadily more miserable. Their relationship was a whirlwind affair with Billy sweeping Sophie off her feet and away from her comfortable life in Kent but neither of them gave enough thought to the long term implications of their very different worlds. And those implications grow from bumps in the relationship to mountains they might not be able to climb.

This is a simple and charming bit of chick lit with the added bonus of a thorough insider's view of life in the film industry and the pressures that fame and the public eye place on relationships. Told in the first person by Sophie, the reader is privy to her feelings of exclusion and growing realization that she's shelved her dream of one day buying Molly out of her tea shop in order to be the accommodating girlfriend of a star. Billy does come across as oblivious to Sophie's need for a quiet life once he's tucked her into his busy existence but Sophie's sensitivity to things that are just a part and parcel of his job can be a tad over the top.  Many of the descriptions were very much like a screenplay directing actors what to do and how to look so less necessary here in the written medium of a novel than in something designed to be translated to screen. In terms of one of the climactic moment of the novel, well Sophie's big secret, the one she didn't want anyone to know, wasn't really surprising or even of a magnitude to create such shame so many years on. But these are little hiccups in a generally pleasing novel that lovers of chick lit will find to be a quick and delightful read about being true to yourself and being open to love and the hard work of caring deeply for another person.

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

Friday, February 7, 2014

Review: When You Wish Upon a Duke by Isabella Bradford

Although the concept of the "angel in the house" refers to the Victorian ideal of a wife, the attributes recognized and lauded in such a paragon were espoused and looked for by men long before the label came into being. Isabella Bradford's Georgian set historical romance, When You Wish Upon a Duke, plays with both the idea of the proper angel in the house and the angel's counterpart in the bedroom.

Lady Charlotte Wylder is the eldest daughter of an Earl but she, her sisters, and her mother have lived in a remote house in Dorset since her father's early death. She has been able to grow up far from the strictures of proper society, running a bit wild and climbing trees. She vaguely remembers the deep and abiding love between her parents and on the rare occasions she thinks of her future, she hopes to find that too. When a solicitor arrives at Ransom Manor, Lady Charlotte discovers that her future has long been settled and now all she must do is to meet it. Her father and the late Duke of Marchbourne agreed to the marriage of their children when Charlotte was an infant and March, the current Duke, was all of eight. The impetuous, impulsive, but engaging Charlotte will be a Duchess, with all the propriety that entails.

The Duke of Marchebourne is a model of comportment. He is a bit of a stickler for appearance because he still suffers from the stain of his family's history. The first Duke of Marchbourne was the illegitimate son of the King and an actress. And March's father was an unrepentant and rapacious womanizer. So March does everything in his power to maintain decorum and bely not only his base origins but to not avoid behaving like his father. But even the proper March cannot wait until the officially set introduction to meet his prospective bride. Riding to intercept her carriage, he discovers his future wife high in the branches of a tree, rescuing her sister's cat, not exactly the place a future Duchess should be.  March, misunderstanding the situation, climbs into the tree himself to rescue Charlotte and finds himself captivated by and definitely attracted to his future bride. From this unconventional meeting, blossoms a lusty courtship and a quick marriage. It is only after their marriage that March and Charlotte face struggles about how to behave both publically and privately with each other. And when each of them seeks advice about their difficulties, what they are told is all wrong.

Charlotte wants to behave with the decorum expected of a Duchess and a lady but privately she is unsatisfied and unhappy. March is worried that he is treating his young, eager to please wife like a lowborn whore rather than the angel in the house. And neither of them can bear to discuss their worries or desires with the other, leading to most of their misunderstandings and low level misery. The conflict between them is slight and they slide fairly easily from arranged marriage into an honest love for each other, so Bradford adds in a baddie and a not entirely necessary plot twist to create more tension between Charlotte and March.

The historical context here is wonderful and knowledgeably detailed. The internal struggle March faces seems to go on a bit long and it is hard to believe that his mentor, Brecon, was once married given the advice he offers his uncertain friend. It also does seem a tad odd that Charlotte is not comfortable talking about sex and pleasure with her husband but will approach her strict and proper Aunt Sophronia, with whom she has not previously had any relationship, to find answers. Quibbles aside, it was interesting to read a romance where the main characters not only liked each other from the start, had a sexual spark (or conflagration), but were also determined to be happy together and love each other rather than constantly sparring.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review: I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

Perhaps you're aware of the fact that during the Civil War, brother fought against brother. You probably also knew that boys falsified their age in order to go off and fight. But did you know that women also fought in the Civil War, disguising themselves as men in order to fight alongside fathers, brothers, husbands? Well, they did. And we know this because of the letters they sent home to loved ones. In Erin Lindsay McCabe's debut novel, I Shall Be Near to You, she has imagined what drove one woman to fight for the Union Army.

Rosetta Edwards has never felt terribly compelled to act the way a girl is expected to act. She's always preferred farm work with her father to parlor work with her mother. She'd rather be out of doors in nature than trapped inside with mending, and she's always trying to fill the gap her father feels as a result of having no sons. Although she may not meet the usual standards of young women in her small New York community, being mocked and shunned by the conventional girls, including her younger sister, for her less feminine pursuits, she is not willing to be forced into the constraints of her sex.

When the love of her life, Jeremiah, decides, with a group of friends, to join up with the Union Army, she is furious. He promises that he is simply joining to earn the $150 enlistment bonus so that when he gets back from the war, he and Rosetta will have the money to head west and buy their own farm. Insisting that Jeremiah marry her before he heads out, Rosetta comes up hard against the chafing expectations for women once more when Jeremiah leaves. As unwilling to knuckle under to convention as a wife and daughter-in-law as she had been as a daughter, Rosetta makes the drastic decision to cut off her abundant hair and disguise herself as a young man in order to follow Jeremiah and join up with the army herself.

Going by the name Ross Stone, Rosetta does find Jeremiah and the boys from her home town. But they are not pleased to see her, only grudgingly willing to keep her secret and allow her to stay with them through training. Both Rosetta and Jeremiah struggle with her decision, what that means for them as a couple, and how far either of them are willing to carry her charade. And when they start to see fighting, they are forced to confront their own mortality and the fact that no future is ever guaranteed.

McCabe has used the real life experiences of women brave enough to go to war to great effect in creating Rosetta, a woman who knows her heart and happiness depend on her being close to Jeremiah, not waiting at home for news of him and pretending to be the dutiful daughter-in-law. Her stubbornness, determination, and her doubts as well are very realistically drawn. Jeremiah's dismay at his new wife's arrival in the camp is also well done. And the way they have to come to terms with both of their needs and wants, both shared and in opposition to the others', during this horrific and monumental time intensifies their feelings. While they do love each other, they also hurt each other, have disagreements, and treat each other carelessly at times, which makes their relationship very realistic. McCabe doesn't minimize the appalling horrors of the war and she doesn't spare her characters either, forcing them to see the waste and destruction, the devastating loss of life, and the unnecessary and brutal suffering that war creates. There are a few small bits that seem anachronistic but in general this is a well researched and well written historical look at the women of the Civil War.

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

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Review: The Wedding Bees by Sarah-Kate Lynch

I first discovered Sarah-Kate Lynch when I read Blessed Are the Cheesemakers many years ago. That was a book that left me with a smile on my face and a good and contented feeling in my heart. So I was eager to pick up her latest novel, The Wedding Bees.  And I'm happy to say that Lynch has written another charming and whimsical novel of finding yourself, opening your heart, and loving.

Sugar Wallace is a good and cheerful soul who cares about everyone around her, striving to make their lives happier and better. She's not a saccharine Pollyanna, just the caring, giving kind of person who is a pleasure to be around. But Sugar can't seem to lighten her own heart as she moves hither, thither, and yon around the country every year, never putting down roots, forever fleeing her past. Each year, Sugar, who fled her native Charleston so many years ago, severing ties with everyone she loved, takes the queen from her bee colony, places her on a map, and moves wherever the queen stops. This year, Sugar and the bees have landed in Alphabet City in Manhattan in an apartment building filled with eccentric, quirky, and emotionally battered folks.

The very day that Sugar moves in, she meets George, an elderly man she initially assumes is homeless, and Theo, the cell phone absorbed, Hawaiian shirt wearing man George stumbles into. Immediately intervening to make sure that George is not injured, Sugar makes her first friend and, although she doesn't know it yet, meets her fate. Her highly attuned bees can tell that something has happened though as Sugar settles in, has George (who is not homeless but just feeling useless) instated as the building's honorary doorman, and meets the rest of her neighbors: fragile, anorexic Ruby; excruciatingly shy Nate, who is a talented chef; single mom Lola trying to make ends meet and to do the right thing for her small colicky boy; Mrs. Keschl, a cantankerous old woman; and her counterpart with whom she has an ongoing feud, the crotchety, complaining Mr. McNally. Sugar fits into this odd assortment of people and slowly and quietly helps them to see the goodness in each other and in humanity. And just as each of them finds sanctuary in the genuine caring warmth of Sugar's friendship, they each play a part in helping her to accept her own past and to move forward into a bright and honeyed future.

This is a gently romantic and magical novel about helping the lost, treating others with respect and love, and moving past hurts to embrace all of the wonderful possibilities out there. Sugar is a lovely character and her ability to find the goodness in everyone who comes into her life is truly a gift. She has her own demons and has to find the courage to face them but with a little assist from friends who care and bees who can feel her destiny in every quiver of their bodies, she'll find the happiness with which she has blessed so many others. The secondary characters are enjoyable in their own rights and their growing care for Sugar is splendid to read. Sweet, enchanting, and fanciful, for readers who want to read a novel with a smile on their faces, this ray of sunshine, drizzle of honey, confection of a novel will fit the bill perfectly.

For more information about Sarah-Kate Lynch and the book, check out her website or her Facebook page. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

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

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