Wednesday, April 30, 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.

Eight World Cups by George Vecsey. The book is being released by Times Books on May 13, 2014.

Amazon says this about the book: On the eve of the 2014 World Cup, New York Times sports columnist George Vecsey offers a personal perspective on the beautiful game

Blending witty travelogue with action on the field—and shady dealings in back rooms—George Vecsey offers an eye-opening, globe-trotting account of the last eight World Cups. He immerses himself in the great national leagues, historic clubs, and devoted fans and provides his up-close impressions of charismatic stars like S√≥crates, Maradona, Baggio, and Zidane, while also chronicling the rise of the U.S. men’s and women’s teams.

Vecsey shows how each host nation has made the World Cup its own, from the all-night street parties in Spain in 1982 to the roar of vuvuzelas in South Africa in 2010, as the game in the stadium is backed up by the game in the street. But the joy is sometimes undermined by those who style themselves the game's protectors.

With his characteristic sharp reporting and eye for detail, Vecsey brings this global event to vivid life and has written a perfect companion for the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review: Recklessly Royal by Nichole Chase

After reading the cute and entertaining Suddenly Royal earlier this year, I was looking forward to the next installment of the trilogy. Recklessly Royal is not a Cinderella story like its predecessor though. In this contemporary romance, Cathy might be looking for her Prince Charming, but she's already a princess by birth and that changed the whole tone of this one.

Catherine has spent her whole life safeguarding her reputation and her heart. She is thrilled that her oldest brother has found the love of his life and while she too would love to find love, she is wary of men looking to take advantage of her simply because she is a princess royal. She wants what her brother has, someone who loves her in spite of her title, not because of it. When she takes her hair down and really lets loose at Samantha's private bachelorette party, Cathy meets and embarrasses herself in front of David, an old friend of Sam's and a guy who definitely doesn't give two blue beans about her title. While the two of them are immediately attracted to each other, they move very cautiously and for a while other things in Cathy's official life are as, if not more, important than their potential relationship.

Cathy's long time assistant Selene is getting older and is starting to allow others to help her in her job. Cathy isn't sure she entirely likes Tabitha, the young junior assistant who seems to be pushing to take over for Selene, but when Selene has a medical crisis, Tabitha takes advantage and steps in despite Cathy's misgivings and gut feelings. All of this happens just as Cathy and David are getting to know each other and having a lot of trouble keeping their hands off of each other. Can Tabitha be trusted to protect their budding relationship from the press?

Cathy's concerns are certainly valid given her position as a princess and her concern and care for her assistant is nice but most other times in story, she comes off as spoiled and immature. There's little there that would explain why the charming, smart, and seemingly perfect David would have any interest in this woman and the glass house of her life. David comes across as ideal but there's not a lot of depth to the portrayal of his character and certainly no insight into his feelings. The first book in the trilogy was pure confectionary delight but this one failed to live up to its predecessor. Although not all I'd hoped, it was still an interesting look at the loyalty and discretion surrounding royals and what cost to a private life a life lived so in public can be.

Monday, April 28, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's been a busy week here with me playing tennis 5 days in a row and driving to Ohio for my husband's fraternity reunion and then back again. Not much reading happened at all while he (and I) were reliving some of our college years, visiting with friends, and showing our kids the campus on this very unofficial college visit. This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose

Reviews posted this week:

A Rather Charming Invitation by C. A. Belmond
The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore
Quiet by Susan Cain

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

Recklessly Royal by Nichole Chase
Where Somebody Waits by Margaret Kaufman
Dinner With the Smileys by Sarah Smiley
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Monday Mailbox

This week's mailbox arrivals:

Where Earth Meets Water by Pia Padukone came from Harlequin Mira.

A man who unwittingly cheated death in the Twin Towers in 2001 and then in the tsunami in 2004 searches for answers, traveling back to India where he meets his girlfriend's wise grandmother. This pairs deep questioning with one of my favorite locales and I can't wait.

Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro came from St. Martin's Press and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

A group of thirty-something couples gathered together at a beach house and the rising tension of the weekend, this sounds like a phenomenal read.

Ishmael's Oranges by Claire Hajaj came from Oneworld.

When an exiled Palestinian and an English Jewish whose family survived the Holocaust fall in love, is it possible for them to have a future or will their cultural pasts create a rift that can't be bridged? I love generational novels and this sounds like it has some fascinating aspects to it that many others don't.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent came from St. Martin's Press.

A woman accused of murdering her master is sent to live out the days before her execution on a remote Icelandic farm where the family charged with housing her discover there might be more than one side to the story they've heard. A novel about the power of stories and even more so about the power of the storytellers, this sounds fascinating.

If Not For This by Pete From came from Red Hen Press.

A novel about two river guides, Maddy and Dalt, who fall in love, start their own business, have a family, before they discover that Maddy has MS, this looks wonderful all the way around.

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.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

My book club chose to read this look at introverts and the challenges facing them months ago. I started the book but when I realized I wasn't going to be able to go to the meeting, I just left it sitting, partially read, on my bedside table for a terribly long time. I admitted to another member that I was having trouble motivating myself to pick it back up and read it again. She suggested that I wasn't driven to read it because I'm not an introvert. I probably gave her a completely dumbfounded stare. I am the introvertedest of introverts (wink to Charlie Brown). There's never been a personality or psychological profile ever that hasn't pegged me as an extreme introvert and family and friends who know me well would certainly agree. But apparently I fake it or hide it well. And when I finally did pick the book back up and continue, I learned why. In fact, when I picked the book back up the second time, I was completely engrossed in it.

Cain offers up real world experiences that extroverts face. She profiles famous people who are surprisingly (and not so surprisingly) introverts. She discusses the cultural significance of being a person who feels a real need to escape the social to recharge. She details studies about whether introversion is a learned trait or an inborn genetic gift. She talks about the different ways that introverts and extroverts are stimulated by what they see and hear and how those differences result in things like very different managerial styles. She offers suggestions for parenting introverted children and how to use your or your child's introversion positively. She debunks myths about introverts. And she confirms things that those of who fall into this category (and those who live with or love an introvert) have long suspected without any proof. In short, she covers a huge amount of ground in this concentrated look at introversion.

As a book intended to be a discussion of the strengths of introverts and ways in which to learn to put yourself more out in the world when the world requires it, this is very successful. Cain has covered all her bases, using scientific studies as well as anecdotal evidence to discuss theories and confirm that introversion is not a defect or a lesser way of being than extroversion, despite the fact that culturally, we as Americans, are taught to venerate and emulate extroverts more often. As I read through this, I kept seeing myself in the pages and caught myself thinking that my extroverted husband should really read this to understand me better. This is well written and very detailed although it occasionally veers towards sounding like a Master's Thesis or other academic paper, especially when Cain writes that she will go into more depth on a particular subject in X chapter before continuing with her primary argument for the chapter in which she is currently writing. In general though, this is a fascinating look at a subject not often covered by the non-academic world (and often not covered there either). Those who are introverts will appreciate this confirmation that they are not weird or broken but that they have specific strengths and skills which just happen to be different that the majority. And those who are not introverts might find this an interesting read to help them understand the quieter folks among them.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

Fuckstockings. If that odd expletive offends you, Christopher Moore's books are not for you. On the other hand, if you find that to be an invaluable addition to your turn the air blue vocabulary, you should pick his books up immediately. If you are undecided, well, put some pants on and pick a side. Because there's no middle ground with a Moore book. He writes about vampires (human and animal), zombies, Jesus's childhood, the art world and artists, a dumb angel, demons, Shakespeare's characters, Native American myths, and more. This eclectic collection probably does not sound like something I'd read at all, aside from the inventive and genius swearing thing, because I do love a thumping great curse word. And yet, I love Moore's works. He's smart and witty and twisted in the best sense of the word. The Serpent of Venice, Moore's latest and a sequel of sorts (not really) to his earlier novel, Fool, may not be my favorite of his books but it has all the important hallmarks of a classic Christopher Moore. An inventive and head-spinningly complex mash-up of The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and Edgar Allan Poe's The Cask of Amontillado, The Serpent of Venice brings back Pocket the Fool from Moore's King Lear inspired novel.

Pocket is in Venice. He left his beloved Queen and wife Cordelia at her own behest to travel to Venice and prevent the start of another Crusade. His strength in negotiating is his very annoying manner, his irreverence, and his instinctive mocking lewdness. While the doge appreciates Pocket, the rest of Venice does not and his stance on another Crusade makes him and England very unpopular. When the novel opens, he is traveling to a clandestine dinner that promises much bawdiness. Instead, he finds plotters who want him as dead as his Queen, who they admit to poisoning. He is drugged with an old Amontillado and walled up in the basement dungeon of Brabantio (yes, Desdemona's father) and left to die. But Pocket is not so easily killed and he vows revenge for the death of his love.

With the help of a dragon, Shylock and his daughter Jessica, Othello and Desdemona, and even Marco Polo, Pocket will wreak vengeance on a whole cast of Shakespeare's baddies and their cohorts, Brabantio, Antonio, Iago, and more. Moore has tied well known Shakespeare plays up in knots but he has managed to rope his disparate source material together well, grounding his novel in a firm and legitimate knowledge of the works in question. The originals may be completely intertwined but they are still recognizable and his use of famous lines and speeches reinforces their presence. His Pocket the Fool is still a raucous and debauched character fond of willy waving and outright innuendo. His scheming machinations throughout the novel prove that revenge Moore-style is a dish best served cold. Shakespeare's characters remain true to their originals, for the most part, and somehow they fit in beautifully even when Pocket is wading through the deepest canals of vulgarity.

The novel is accomplished and entertaining, the sort of rollicking farce that readers have come to expect from Moore. Moore's end note about the original works and how he structured this warped mash-up is interesting indeed. Knowledge of the originals is not strictly necessary but helpful in catching all the allusions and nods. Likewise, a previous reading of Fool is not necessary either but again enhances and adds to the depth of the playing about here. There are moments where the plot stalls a bit and Pocket's long simmering plan for revenge can be a little over long but in general, Moore's latest version of the Bard on hallucinogens will satisfy fans and the not easily offended quite a bit.

For more information about Christopher Moore 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.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: A Rather Charming Invitation by C. A. Belmond

I first made the acquaintance of Penny Nichols and Jeremy Laidley in the first novel in this fun and frothy caper series, A Rather Lovely Inheritance and was pleased to revisit them again in this third book in the quartet, A Rather Charming Invitation. As a novel, it lives up to its title, being charming indeed.

As the story opens, Penny and Jeremy are engaged and living in London, having set up their own discreet business tracking down art and treasures when a previously unknown young cousin of Penny's arrives on their doorstep in the company of the police. Once the misunderstanding is cleared up, they are resolved to take Honorine back to France and her family. In so doing, they meet Penny's French relatives, who have a genteelly decaying manor house, gorgeous flower fields, and a perfumery. While there, they sense the hidden tensions in Honorine's family and Penny's Tante Leonora offers to let them marry beneath the gorgeous, antique, bridal tapestry woven by Oncle Philippe's ancestor, all the while assuming that they will be married in France. When they head back to England, with Honorine still in tow to work as their office assistant, they must also face Jeremy's rigid and proper upper crust grandmother, who naturally assumes that they will be married in England in the church of her choosing.

With so many people weighing in, Penny agonizes and dithers over the wedding particulars, unable to pin anything down, including which country they'll be married in, and uncertain why she's suddenly so indecisive. What it boils down to is that she's got cold feet. When she does finally overcome her concerns and come up with the perfect compromise that still reflects Jeremy's and her taste and feelings, things start to go tits up. The priceless tapestry is stolen and it is up to Penny and Jeremy to find it and get it back, not only to maintain family harmony, but also so that they can get married underneath it as planned. That the elaborate tapestry appears to be telling a story long thought to be apocryphal and that makes it that much more valuable to whomever can decipher its meaning first ups the ante on the search.  Add in the fact that the time frame to find it is rapidly shrinking almost to nothing and you know you're in for another careening search a la Nichols and Laidley.

Penny and Jeremy as characters are as appealing as ever. They clearly love each other and their relationship is supportive and sweet without being sappy. Their lifestyle is definitely glamorous and luxurious and that gives it a sort of golden age feel although technology firmly grounds it in the here and now. Penny's worries about other people telling her that marriage spells the end of love does seem a bit far-fetched given that her own parents are still so happily married and that fact that many people who offer this sort of advice are joking but that's a minor quibble for this lighthearted and delightful romantic caper. Those who have read the others in the series will enjoy this one as well and those who haven't yet read the preceding books should.

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

Graduates in Wonderland by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale. The book is being released by Gotham on May 6, 2014.

Amazon says this about the book: Two best friends document their post-college lives in a hilarious, relatable, and powerfully honest epistolary memoir.

Fast friends since they met at Brown University during their freshman year, Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale vowed to keep in touch after their senior year through in-depth—and brutally honest—weekly e-mails. After graduation, Jess packs up everything she owns and moves to Beijing on a whim, while Rachel heads to New York to work for an art gallery and to figure out her love life. Each spends the next few years tumbling through adulthood and reinventing themselves in various countries, including France, China, and Australia. Through their messages from around the world, they swap tales of teaching classes of military men, running a magazine, and flirting in foreign languages, along with the hard stuff: from harrowing accidents to breakups and breakdowns.

Reminiscent of Sloan Crosley’s essays and Lena Dunham’s Girls, Graduates in Wonderland is an intimate, no-holds-barred portrait of two young women as they embark upon adulthood.

Monday, April 21, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

Quiet by Susan Cain
Recklessly Royal by Nichole Chase
Where Somebody Waits by Margaret Kaufman
Dinner With the Smileys by Sarah Smiley
The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Reviews posted this week:

Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen
Encounters with Animals by Gerald Durrell
Wash by Margaret Wrinkle

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

A Rather Charming Invitation by C.A. Belmond
Quiet by Susan Cain
Recklessly Royal by Nichole Chase
Where Somebody Waits by Margaret Kaufman
Dinner With the Smileys by Sarah Smiley
The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

Monday Mailbox

I came home from the kids' spring break and Easter to an embarrassment of riches. Happy, happy me! This week's mailbox arrivals:

Long Live the King by Fay Weldon came from St. Martin's Griffin.

The second in an Edwardian trilogy about a noble family in the exciting time leading up to Edward VII's coronation, this sounds perfectly delectable.

The Bear by Claire Cameron came from Little, Brown.

A five year old whose parents are killed by a bear while on a family camping trip must find a way for she and her brother to survive after they escape the raging animal. I suspect that this one will keep me up at night hoping for a good outcome (and because I'm guaranteed to be a scaredy pants).

Angels Make Their Hope Here by Breena Clarke came from Little, Brown.

I'm very curious to read about a racially tolerant community in the Civil War era and the young black woman who escaped to live there until something terrible drove her out.

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose came from Harper and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

Paris in the fabulous 1920s and 1930s. Need I say more?! Ok, a bit more. This is also about art and love and evil, an intoxicating combo, no?

Mimi Malloy, At Last! by Julia McDonnell came from Picador.

About an elderly divorced Irish Catholic woman starting to have memory problems who faces life, her family, love, and the long-buried memories that suddenly make a reappearance, this looks like it features one of those main characters you just take to your heart.

The From-Aways by C.J. Hauser came from William Morrow and LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Two Maine outsiders shake up their small Maine town. Doesn't the thought of all that "from-away" turmoil make you want to pick this up and read it?

Marrying Mr. Darcy: The Pride and Prejudice Card Game came from Marrying Mr. Darcy.

Because I helped fund the Kickstarter campaign for this game, I got my very own copy in the mail. Yes, a Jane Austen card game. Swoon! Now to find someone to play it with me.

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.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review: Wash by Margaret Wrinkle

You probably think you know about all the atrocities committed under slavery, right? You've heard about the appalling physical abuse, even murder, of a people kept subjugated as property. But what about the breeding of slaves, using a man, a fellow human being, as a stud for hire, charging for the use of his fertility and for the potential attributes he will pass along to offspring? Margaret Wrinkle's novel, Wash, details just such a practice from the perspective of both slaveholder and slave.

Richardson is a veteran of both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. After his first war, he was hoping that slavery would be abolished but when that didn't come to pass and economic necessity pushed him, he reluctantly abandoned his principles and joined the ranks of slaveholders. He justifies owning slaves as necessary to fulfill his deep seated desire to make his father proud by building the Western Tennessee town of Memphis into a successful empire. Richardson buys Wash's mother, Mena, a so-called "saltwater" slave because she sees something in him that makes her capture his interest and this same spark of something draws Richardson to her son Wash.

Wash, having been badly beaten and scarred by another owner leasing him while Richardson was at war, is never temperamentally suited to working in the fields but he does have an affinity with horses, landing him in Richardson's stable. Perhaps it was his proximity to the stallions used for stud that first put the idea in Richardson's mind or perhaps it was an acknowledgement of Wash's bad boy appeal to so many of the slave women and girls but when Richardson needed a financial infusion to continue to fund his dreams for Memphis, he turned this prized slave of his into a stud no different from his horses, maintaining a stud book and carefully watching the offspring that result from Wash's forced couplings. But Wash is of value to Richardson for more than his stud fees, being Richardson's chosen listener as he talks through the experiences of his life and his beliefs many nights when he cannot sleep.

For his part, Wash holds tight to the teachings of his mother and his early mentor the blacksmith Rufus, as he endures the indignity of what he must do. He perfects the ability to escape inside his own soul to a place where he cannot be touched and to tap into his ancestors' strength in the ways so important to his own sense of self. Inside himself, in this place, he is free and unenslaved. In the only relationship he is allowed to choose for himself, his connection to and comfort with the healer, Pallas, another damaged soul, he finds a balm and offers her the same in return.

Wrinkle doesn't shy away from the brutality and inhumanity, physical and emotional, inherent in owning human beings and denying their personhoods. She details the philosophy and justification for slavery unflinchingly here, making them as multi-faceted as they must have been but without glorifying or accepting them as right or true. As Richardson talks to Wash, his views come across loud and clear but so does Wash's deeply hidden desire to destroy this man even as he is forced to listen without action, his complete negation as a human being. Flipping from point of view to point of view offers Wrinkle the chance to tell her tale from each character's perspective, sometimes blind to the other characters' deepest held feelings and sometimes in full recognition of them. As careful and beautifully well written as the novel is, though, it is a ponderous and slow read. The plot is simply Wash's life, and as such there's not much driving the story along. There is a muted feel to the events it details, slightly lessening the impact of even those so horrific they should inspire range and an outcry. While beautiful, this novel carried more promise than it delivered.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: Encounters with Animals by Gerald Durrell

I first stumbled across Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals several years ago and loved it. And while I didn't track down the Masterpiece Theater piece of that book as threatened, I did track down another of his books, serendipitously found in the "free" box at a used bookstore. Encounters with Animals is a collection of essays culled from Durrell's BBC broadcasts about animals and animal behaviour over the years.

Each of the essays is fairly short and describes Durrell's collecting of animals for zoos, how certain exotic animals behave in wild, and the always entertaining bits about the animals the Durrell family has lived with in their home. Because these essays are pulled from radio broadcasts, they are very descriptive in drawing the animal in question in the reader's (and originally, the listener's) mind's eye. Durrell is an entertaining writer, personifying the animals about whom he writes but also being mindful of their natural lives. The essays are homely and sweetly humorous and provide a gentle introduction to exotic animals, their habits, and their habitats. Durrell is, as always, an accessible, lovely writer but this collection seems as if it would be more satisfying if it was listened to, as originally conceived, rather than read. Still a nice collection for naturalists to dip into, it just doesn't quite shine the way that My family and Other Animals does.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. The book is being released by Gotham on May 6, 2014.

Amazon says this about the book: From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, a stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen

I have never worked in a restaurant, never waited table or washed dishes like so many others. My first jobs were lifeguarding and teaching swimming lessons so I was far from the restaurant world. But I have always liked to cook, am decent at it, and I definitely love to eat. So books about chefs, restaurants, and cooking have always attracted me like a bee to honey. Michelle Wildgen's newest novel, Bread and Butter, centered on three brothers, foodies and restaurateurs, offered to give me a glimpse into the world I've never experienced but have certainly romanticized plenty.

Older brothers Leo and Britt run Winesap, the upscale but traditional and conventional restaurant, in their small commuter town of Linden outside of Philadelphia. They are successful and grounded and have honed their restaurant to be exactly what they want it to be and what their customers expect. At least they think so until their younger brother Harry, the unconventional brother who has flitted from one thing to another comes home with the plan to open his own, much edgier, experimental restaurant. Given his plan for avant garde dishes, the scruffy location, and open yet small and intimate space, Harry's restaurant, Stray, will cater to a much different clientele than Winesap does so there shouldn't be any rivalry between the brothers. If there isn't any rivalry professionally, there certainly is a complicated family dynamic at play between the three men. And when Britt, the face of the front of Winesap throws his lot in with Harry, making him a partner in both restaurants, while Leo doesn't, things get even more complicated.

The intensity of restaurant life, the immense amount of work involved in opening a new one, and the constant worry about an enduring one becoming stagnant are all well captured here. And although the restaurants consume much of the brothers' working lives, Winesap and Stray also drive their personal lives. Leo, feeling Britt's diverted attention, needs to become a bigger part of the face of Winesap, which leads him to a growing relationship with his executive chef, Thea, a heretofore taboo connection. Britt finds himself captivated by a frequent customer, Camille, and worried that her involvement in Stray's creation means she is involved with Harry and out of bounds for him. Meanwhile, Harry is striving to be more than just the much younger brother, an outsider to the other two, deep down wanting to belong and to prove and believe in his importance to the other two as he fights his own personal demons.

But the private lives and secrets of the three brothers and the ways they interact with each other take a backseat to the insider view of restaurants and professional kitchens. Wildgen lingers over her descriptions of the dishes Harry creates, and she captures well the tension in all its manifestations between the front and back of the house staff in a restaurant. The detailed descriptions will appeal to adventurous foodies and gourmands but overwhelm the narrative for other readers. The opening vignette is charming and sets out the brothers' personalities way back in childhood but once through that short introduction, the novel is slow moving with the frenetic pacing of life in restaurants in direct contrast with the plodding pacing of the novel as a whole. The writing is technically good and some of the food descriptions will make you salivate (others not so much) but the novel remains, as a whole, unfortunately emotionally flat.

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

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm at my parents' this week with my kids who are on Spring Break. I may not be getting in a ton of reading time but I have already visited the bookstore here since the kids forgot to bring enough reading material. Of course that means that I supplemented my stash too. Quelle surprise! This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

Wash by Margaret Wrinkle
A Rather Charming Invitation by C.A. Belmond

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Quiet by Susan Cain
Where Somebody Waits by Margaret Kaufman

Reviews posted this week:

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler
The Girl Most Likely To by Susan Donovan
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
Falling For You by Julie Ortolon

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

Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen
Encounters With Animals by Gerald Durrell
Wash by Margaret Wrinkle
A Rather Charming Invitation by C.A. Belmond

Monday Mailbox

 Another week of wonderful looking books.  Does this trio make you just a little bit jealous?  If I wasn't me, I would be.  ;-)  This week's mailbox arrivals:

Strings Attached by Joanne Lipman and Melanie Kupchynsky came from Hyperion.

A book about a music teacher who was an inspiration and mentor and who pulled the very best out of his students even while his own life was not the stuff of storybooks. This has fascinated me since I first heard about it.

Dinner With the Smileys by Sarah Smiley came from Hyperion.

Have you ever done that exercise where you name people you'd like to have to dinner? Well, the Smiley family actually invited their heroes for dinner every night of the year that their husband and father was deployed and this book is the result. How cool sounding is that?!

Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight came from Harlequin.

A young widow who runs a bakery meets a new man who is haunted by his own ghosts despite the appearance of living a charmed life. Sounds delicious, no?

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, April 13, 2014

Sunday Salon: Things That Make You Put a Book Back on the Shelf

I haven't been shy about the things that attract me to books, those things that go a long way towards guaranteeing that a book comes home with me from the bookstore. And since I'm a pushover, that list is fairly long.  (Have you publishers taken note of all my wallet-opening triggers yet?)  But what about the things that turn me away from a book? We each have things that make us wrinkle our noses, shake our heads in dejection, and regretfully push a book back on the shelf to wait for someone who doesn't hold our prejudices. I'm not talking about what cover treatments turn you off since you don't even give those a second glance (at least I don't) or about which genres or types of books you avoid at all costs. I mean the little things that pop out at you after you've already been intrigued enough by the cover or the title or the author to pick the book up and seriously consider reading it (or in my case adding it to my appallingly large and as yet still unread collection).

I loathe animals narrating books. From way back when I first read Watership Down and Animal Farm, I have not only not loved anthropomorphic animal stories but have actively disliked them. People can rave all they want about the latest dog-narrated tale, but I am putting that book back on the shelf the second I see Fido telling the story.

Sometimes I enjoy sitting down with a romance but if it's a romance with children, I am dropping that book like a hot potato. I have enough children in my own life that I do not appreciate cute, precocious children romping through the pages of my story. And if they have a hand in getting the couple together, well, just ::gag::.

If I pick up a book and the word thriller or psychological is included in the jacket copy or in the blurbs, it can't go back on the shelf fast enough. Some of this is because I am a coward and thriller seems to be code word for mildly scary but some of this is because I have yet to really like anything breathlessly described in this fashion.

I once belonged to a book club that would reject any book that was touted as an "international bestseller." Experience showed that these books were always destined for failure in that particular group. And I have to admit that I have picked up a mild case of this prejudice too although I have a slightly better track record for success with these books than the group as a whole did.

More often than not, I will return a book to the shelf if it is set immediately preceding, during, or immediately following the Civil War. There just seems to be so much dirt and horror involved in this period of history. And speaking of historical turn-offs for me, I don't like medieval set tales. Again with the dirt and filth. Apparently I want time periods where authors don't feel compelled to mention the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of their characters as a way to authenticate their time period.

Throw the words politics or political intrigue into jacket copy and I envision reading an extended version of election year political ads. This is no way to spend your free time, in my opinion.

I'm probably missing a few things that cause an immediate push back onto the shelf, but because I am generally so easily persuaded where buying books is concerned, I had to think quite hard to come up with these. What about you? Are there triggers that automatically disqualify a book from going home with you too?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Review: Falling for You by Julie Ortolon

Opposites attract, right? In Julie Ortolon's contemporary romance, this couldn't be more true. Oliver Chancellor and Aurora St. Claire are both from old Galveston families but this is where the similarities end. Chance is a staid and proper banker whose father once owned the major bank in town. He has been a part of Galveston high society for his entire life. He's cautious, studied, detail-oriented, and content to live the life that everyone expects him to lead, including getting engaged to the very proper debutante his mother has chosen for him even if he's never once been tempted to kiss Paige. Rory, on the other hand, is the descendant of the scandalous Marguerite Bouchard, who was never herself accepted by Galveston society. Rory is a tour guide with big dreams for the future. She's passionate and impetuous and not afraid to reach for what she wants.

What Rory wants is to buy the wonderful old Pearl Island mansion where Marguerite once lived and her ghost is said to reside still and turn it into a bed and breakfast. Rory and her siblings don't have the money to turn this dream into a reality without a large business loan. But Rory ran into Chance out at Pearl Island, having known him when they were younger and he was her brother's friend, and so she turns to him to help the St. Claires get the loan they need. Chance had a crush on Rory when she was younger and he still finds himself wildly attracted to her. Agreeing to help her with securing the loan and then with starting the business, he gives himself the opportunity to be around her again and again. And the two of them do spark off of each other constantly. But Chance is still determined to marry Paige, as is expected of him.

How can Rory and Chance work to reconcile their differences, in outlook on life and in social class, turning them into complimentary assets? There is never any doubt that the novel will end up as expected but the ways in which the secondary characters take on bigger roles is unusual. Rory actually likes Paige and although it is awkward when Paige befriends Rory's sister and gets deeply involved in the opening of the bed and breakfast, it adds a new spin to Rory and Chance's struggles to find the right path. As characters, Rory is definitely more appealing than Chance, who is so focused on appearances that he comes across as a right snob. The fact that the two of them plummet immediately into clothes tearing lust and that Chance is never bothered by the fact that he's enjoying the heck out of steamy sex with Rory while planning to marry Paige is just a bit dirt-baggish too. On the whole though, the novel is a fun romp of a romance and a quick and easy read.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Review: The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

Being a lighthouse keeper had to be a very lonely job, especially on the more remote lights. But it was a very important job as well, requiring a meticulous caretaker who understood the nature of the job he was taking on and the gravity and magnitude of his duty. Obviously not all people were suited to working on a light station, with its solitude and rule bound life. And it certainly would have been a tough life on those who perhaps didn't understand it completely when they chose it, like the spouses of keepers. In M. L. Stedman's heartbreaking novel, The Light Between the Oceans, this remote and lonely existence coupled with unimaginable sorrows pushes a lighthouse keeper and his wife into making a decision that will tear apart several lives and leave holes in their hearts forever.

Tom Sherbourne enlisted in the Australian army and fought in World War I to get away from his father. That he survived the war didn't give him any satisfaction and left him with horrific memories. But he wasn't as damaged by his experience in Europe as many men and he came back physically whole, if mentally haunted. Wanting to keep an emotional distance from other people and settle into an easy and comfortable routine, Tom was the perfect person to pursue a job as a lighthouse keeper. Having done some relief work admirably at other remote lights, when a posting came up for the Western-most light off Australia, Janus Rock, Tom applied and was granted the position.

When the understanding and morally upright Tom traveled out to take up his post, he stopped in Point Partaguese before his final leg out to the light. It was here that he met Isabel, a young woman full of light herself who coaxed him out of himself and who came to mean the world to him. When they married on one of Tom's shore leaves, they were filled with love for each other and eager for their life out on Janus Rock. But after two miscarriages and an almost full term stillbirth, Isabel was almost broken when a boat washed up in the cove on Janus. In the boat was a dead man and a live infant girl. Isabel took the baby into her heart the moment she saw her and convinced Tom, despite his heavy misgivings, that the baby, who must certainly be orphaned, was sent to them by God. So Tom didn't report the baby's arrival on their chunk of rock a hundred miles off the coast, allowing Isabel to claim that baby Lucy was their natural born child. If he couldn't give his wife a child of their own, he could grant her this baby from providence. This decision, though decided upon with no malice, is a decision that will haunt Tom, threaten to destroy the Sherbournes, change their lives forever, and cause untold, unintentional pain to the baby's real mother, frantic and desperate back on the mainland.

Stedman has written an emotionally taxing tale of love, guilt, a moral conundrum, and the terrible price of our decisions. Wanting something so desperately doesn't make claiming that something right but it isn't always a black and white decision either. Her depiction of Tom's anguish over Isabel's pain and unraveling is heartfelt and lovely. He understands what drives her because of the nightmares and hauntings he's suffered since the war and yet he is willing to sacrifice his own sense of morality and of who he is as a person to keep his beloved wife from flying apart. The baby is a figurative light between two families just as Janus Rock literally stands between two oceans.  But Lucy/Grace is also the reef upon which the boat of the Sherbourne's marriage will flounder.

The novel is quite slow to start, building Tom's backstory and then focusing on Tom and Isabel's unconventional courtship for quite a long time. And yet even with the slow build, Tom's complete and unwavering devotion to Isabel was still somehow unexplainable in its depths. Isabel certainly suffered more than her share of devastating losses out on the island but her unwillingness to even consider or acknowledge the losses that Hannah suffered in not knowing her husband and daughter's fate made her a little less than sympathetic as a character.  Finally, the catalyst for the entire story, the arrival by rowboat of a dead man and a living infant, required quite a suspension of disbelief too. Given that it took hours for the supply boat, using an engine, to arrive at Janus, believing that the rowboat drifted there easily and the baby was no worse for wear other than being hungry is frankly incredible, even if the boat was being pulled along in a swift current. But if you allow for this situation to be true, the rest of the story is gripping as the reader watches the fates of the baby and of all those who love her play out in dramatic fashion.  A tragic, harrowing tale of family, sorrow, deep and abiding love, and what we are willing to do and to compromise in order to keep our loved ones happy, this novel is a promising debut.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: The Girl Most Likely To... by Susan Donovan

Scrolling through my shelves, I wanted a light and entertaining read. With a flirty cartoonish cover that promised fun, I was hoping that Susan Donovan's contemporary romance, The Girl Most Likely To..., would fit the bill. But the cover belied the contents, leaving me a tad bit disgruntled and disappointed.

When Kat sashays back into Persuasion, WV, she intends to face the demons of her past. She ran away when she was only sixteen, newly pregnant, dumped by her boyfriend, disgusted by her abusive, nasty father, and fresh off a disillusioning confrontation with her mother. Somehow she landed on her feet, taken in by a kind and generous woman, but she's never gone back to Persuasion. Until now. Now that she's inherited a lot of money and can flaunt her life in front of the people who almost destroyed her so many years ago, she's back. But twenty years on, all is not as Kat envisioned.

Kat's old boyfriend Riley is now a doctor in town, trying to build a new and desperately needed clinic for the underserved in the area. When Kat first sees him again, he is up on a roof working hard. She is shocked by his burning anger over the fact that she hid his son's existence from him, draining away all the satisfaction that she expected to get from informing him of his paternity. But before she can figure out just what he knows and how, she finds out that her irascible bastard of a father has had a heart attack and is in the hospital. When she goes to see him there for the reckoning she knows they must have, she runs into Riley again, this time in his role as doctor.

Kat is obviously dealing with serious relationship issues, from her toxic father to her feelings of abandonment by Riley, and she wants to show everyone that she is in a much better place now. Riley, too, is dealing with serious relationship issues. He has a psychotic ex-fianc√©, Carrie, and is incredibly angry with Kat for denying him the chance to know his son for so many years. But even though they each carry these burdens, they are still incredibly attracted to each other and find it difficult to keep their hands to themselves.  In fact, the sex scenes are white hot.  But what drives their reunion is the tension between them, which would be understandable except for the fact that Riley dumped Kat before she left town so many years ago. This means he really has no leg to stand on as regards his anger with her. And Donovan seems to know it, throwing in over the top, kooky secondary characters to take the focus off of that contrived and artificial conflict. Kat's father has no redeeming qualities, Riley's ex is wacko in the extreme, the gossipy, blabby innkeeper where Kat is staying is frankly a little silly, and Kat and Riley's son Aidan, the chief bone of contention between them, is barely present in the novel. The ending, which throws the reader a curveball, stretches credulity rather a lot, even if Donovan tries to explain it through flashbacks to Kat's years growing up in her completely dysfunctional family. Somehow the novel manages to be both over the top and flat at the same time.  Maybe it would work better for someone who didn't take the cover as an indication of the contents but as is, it just didn't work for me.

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 Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go. The book is being released by Simon and Schuster on April 15, 2014.

Amazon says this about the book: In this mesmerizing debut, a young American discovers he may be heir to the unclaimed estate of an English World War I officer, which launches him on a quest across Europe to uncover the elusive truth.

Just after graduating college, Tristan Campbell receives a letter delivered by special courier to his apartment in San Francisco. It contains the phone number of a Mr. J.F. Prichard of Twyning & Hooper, Solicitors, in London—and news that could change Tristan’s life forever.

In 1924, Prichard explains, an English alpinist named Ashley Walsingham died attempting to summit Mt. Everest, leaving his fortune to his former lover, Imogen Soames-Andersson. But the estate was never claimed. Information has recently surfaced suggesting Tristan may be the rightful heir, but unless he can find documented evidence, the fortune will be divided among charitable beneficiaries in less than two months.

In a breathless race from London archives to Somme battlefields to the Eastfjords of Iceland, Tristan pieces together the story of a forbidden affair set against the tumult of the First World War and the pioneer British expeditions to Mt. Everest. Following his instincts through a maze of frenzied research, Tristan soon becomes obsessed with the tragic lovers, and he crosses paths with a mysterious French girl named Mireille who suggests there is more to his quest than he realizes. Tristan must prove that he is related to Imogen to inherit Ashley’s fortune—but the more he learns about the couple, the stranger his journey becomes.

The Steady Running of the Hour announces the arrival of a stunningly talented author. Part love story, part historical tour de force, Justin Go’s novel is utterly compelling, unpredictable, and heartrending.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Review: Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

Sometimes there's a book that just resonates with you. Sometimes you come across a book that you just want to tell everyone to read. I love it when that happens. I love it even more when it happens with a book that I never suspected would make me want to accost perfect strangers in bookstores and libraries and grocery stores. Okay, not grocery stores since it's not carried there. And I love it when it makes me want to interrupt perfect strangers I've been eavesdropping on when they start discussing their book club or books in general. Because this pusher kind of person is not me at all. So I love it when a book makes me a whole different person. Nickolas Butler's gorgeous, melancholy novel Shotgun Lovesongs, a paean to male friendship, small towns, and the Midwest is just such a book.

Set in the small farming community of Little Wing, WI and narrated by four friends and one of their wives, this is very much a novel of place. The four men have been friends for a long time but ten or so years into their adult lives their friendships have changed, shifted, and they have to figure out what they are to each other now, whether they want to hold onto their closeness or let it drift away just as the boom times have drifted away from the town. Hank is a farmer, the friend who stayed behind, never leaving Little Wing. He married his high school sweetheart, Beth, and they are raising a family on the farm that is in Hank's blood. Ronnie left town to ride on the rodeo circuit but alcoholism drove him home again and then a traumatic brain injury planted him firmly back in the community he tried so hard to escape. Kip went off to Chicago to make a fortune as a broker. Despite his success, he still feels a pull to Little Wing, coming back to get married and to buy up, renovate, and repurpose the old mill in town. And there's Lee who used his heart's connection to the land and the people to write an album that propelled him into rock star fame and marriage to a famous actress but who still comes home to escape into a private normalcy and to heal when his public life threatens to tear him down.

Each of the four men and Hank's wife Beth narrate the novel so that the ties and friendships are open to the reader in all their complexity, offering various perspectives on each man, how he fits into the group, the tensions between them, and the unfussy, understated caring of their deep love for each other as well. From the uncomplicated friendships of boyhood, the group has changed, grown, and matured into very different men.  The changing dynamic between them causes them all to wonder what is worth holding onto and what it is time to put away as a childish thing. There are no explosions or fireworks here, just a slow and steady, direct, and personal tale of community, the family we create, and the pull of our past juxtaposed with dreams for the future. There are misunderstandings, betrayals, and fears but they are all a part of the reimagining of the men's relationship to each other and as a whole group. Butler pits the desire to leave this battered but serviceable people and place with the deep call to stay or to come back and has it play out in the true and authentic lives of these very real seeming characters.

The story is beautifully written with a heavy Midwestern sensibility, down to earth and of the earth. But it is not provincial, instead being a thoughtful and intimate piece of commonplace to which we can all relate. It is a bittersweet story, one of maturing, a belonging to place, and rooted in small but perfect details. It is a stunning and wonderful novel, real and true and emotional.

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

Monday, April 7, 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 the Cypress Whispers by Yvette Manessis Corporon
The Idea of Him by Holly Peterson

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Quiet by Susan Cain
Wash by Margaret Wrinkle
Where Somebody Waits by Margaret Kaufman
A Rather Charming Invitation by C.A. Belmond

Reviews posted this week:

The Perfect Score Project by Debbie Stier
When the Cypress Whispers by Yvette Manessis Corporon
The Idea of Him by Holly Peterson

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

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler
The Girl Most Likely To by Susan Donovan
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
Falling For You by Julie Ortolon
Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen
Encounters With Animals by Gerald Durrell

Monday Mailbox

Completely spoiled with the bounty in my mailbox this week, I have been about as gleeful as it's possible to be, skipping out to the mailbox daily. This week's mailbox arrivals:

The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee came from Staci atSt. Martin's Press.

About woman who cooks through inspiration and a family in need of healing through her food, this sounds like it could add ten pounds to my already generous figure.

A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford came from Emily atHenry Holt.

A memoir about the rhythms of life on a farm, this look at one year reliant on the natural world sounds beautiful.

Where Somebody Waits by Margaret Kaufman came from Paul Dry Books.

I can't wait to see where this slim novel centered on an irrepressible, larger than life Southern woman who loves both her husband and her high school sweetheart takes me.

Palmerino by Melissa Pritchard came fromBellevue Literary Press.

I generally enjoy fictionalizations of authors and artists so I am looking forward to this tale about supernatural writer Violet Paget (pen name Vernon Lee) who inhabits the mind of her modern day biographer.

The Accidental Book Club by Jennifer Scott came from Diana atNAL Accent.

I have loved my many book clubs over the years so any book about book clubs generally piques my interest and this one about a group that came together by accident but formed a family definitely appeals to me.

The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford came from St. Martin's Press.

I am a complete sucker for books with water or water related words like "sea" in the title so this one easily fits the bill. Add in that it is a double stranded narrative and both plot threads hint at selkies (mermaids) and I was sure to be attracted to it.

The Innocent Sleep by Karen Perry came from Staci atHenry Holt.

A couple leaves their sleeping child and then the unimaginable happens, an earthquake and the house he was sleeping in is destroyed. Although this is a horrific premise, I am drawn to the mystery of whether the boy's father really does see a glimpse of him on a far away street years later.

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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