Book Review: Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies

Book Review: Belle Cora by Phillip MarguliesBelle Cora by Phillip Margulies
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on 2014-01-07
Genres: Biographical, Fiction, General, Historical, Romance
Pages: 608
Format: eARC
Source: Knopf Doubleday Publishing
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four-stars
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A sweeping historical novel based on the extraordinary life and times of Belle Cora, the daughter of a New York merchant who went on to become a millworker, a prostitute, a notorious madam, a murderess, and eventually one of San Francisco's richest and most revered dowagers. Some people remember her as Arabella Godwin, others as Harriet Knowles, and still more as Frances Andersen or other names too numerous to list. But let there be no confusion, this is the legendary story of Belle Cora (1828-1919), who survived by her wits and made a fortune off the greed and lust of men. Orphaned at age nine, Belle and her brother, Lewis, are sent to live with their devoutly religious aunt and uncle in rural upstate New York. Nothing can prepare her for the cruelty of her watchful, jealous cousin Agnes, who would become a lifelong rival and enemy. Yet there, Belle also meets the love of her life, Jeptha Talbot. As she blossoms into a true beauty, however, two horrendous events separate her from Jeptha and Lewis. Heartbroken, Belle flees the countryside and finds work in a mill, where she is exposed to the looser morals of hard luck women and begins to harden into the powerful, cunning woman she will become. Soon Belle finds herself in New York, where life takes a dark but alluring turn as she succumbs to the indulgent lifestyle of a highly sought-after prostitute to the city's wealthiest men. But beneath the silk and taffeta layers, she harbors a deep longing to be reunited with Jeptha, now a respected preacher. The road back to him will take her on a treacherous journey from the town houses of Manhattan to the dusty streets of San Francisco at the height of the Gold Rush. It's a road of good intentions, but paved with secrets and lies on which the conniving, sometimes ruthless Belle must transform herself again and again to get what she wants. This is the spellbinding story of the devious exploits of a singular woman ahead of her time. Be prepared to be swept away by Belle Cora.

I received this book for free from Knopf Doubleday Publishing in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I also recommend:

My Review:

I saw the cover for Belle Cora months ago – I believe it was with the initial buzz going around on the book blogs.  I was fascinated and I can’t really explain why.  Every once in a while I get a bee in my bonnet and decide that I want to read some epic life story and usually I zone in on the most innocuous of things.  The corset on the cover of Belle Cora, the roses on the cover of Leila Meacham’s Roses, the word Eden in Steinbeck’s East of Eden (I’m not comparing books, just epic journeys dealing with someone’s life).  Next thing you know, I’m obsessed and, in spite of knowing, usually, that the little thing I’m fixed on may not make up for the entire book, I still dive in the first chance I get.

Now, with Phillip Margulies story, thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed.  I was promised the tale of an epic life and I was given that.  Arabella Godwin not only lives in the pages of Belle Cora, but she leaps off them quite often.  She is larger than life, but she had to be – considering the life she led in the story.  And, as Belle Cora was loosely based on some real historical figures, well… as you can imagine, I was caught up in the story fairly quickly.

As all of these stories go, there’s usually heartbreak of some sort.  From Arabella’s riches to rags story through her years as a self-supporting woman until the end…when her family is left instructions that will allow her story to be finally free, I was caught.  I loved Arabella’s strength, and her ability to make some really tough choices.  I grieved for the things that life threw her way and caused her to be put in that place, of course, but I love seeing a woman rise above it all and make something of her life.

Belle Cora has a little bit of something but it’s tastefully lacking in what you might think it might contain in abundance.  Margulies knew how to tell his story without resorting to cheap tricks and tasteless sex scenes.  As a result, the story is even more powerful because it rises above a profession and, instead, showcases a woman.

Check out these reviews!

  • “I was extremely pleased with this novel and recommend it to anyone who likes a good protagonist with an awesome backstory!” – Charming Chelsey’s
  • “Long live good girls gone bad! A stunning read and an unforgettable story!” – The Lit Bitch
  • “This book was incredibly well written, engrossing and heartwarming/edge of seat intensity that masterfully doesn’t beat you over the head. ” – A Book and a Review

Book Review: The Music Room by Dennis McFarland

Book Review: The Music Room by Dennis McFarlandThe Music Room by Dennis McFarland
Published by Macmillan on 2001-03-07
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 288
Format: eARC
Source: Macmillan
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two-stars
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In an incredible novel of devastating beauty, Martin Lambert must come to terms with the aftermath of his brother's suicide. Replaying sad melodies of his affluent youth, Martin embarks on a poignant journey through his family's haunted past--an unforgettable voyage of self-discovery that leads him from a childhood tainted by shocking parental abuse to a present clouded by alcoholic despair and desperate love - and, ultimately, toward a future of understanding, redemption and hope.

I received this book for free from Macmillan in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I also recommend:

My Review:

Sometimes I pick up a book and, in spite of it and my best intentions, we don’t click.  I thought The Music Room was off to a running start when I began to read the story of a man who had just learned that his brother took his own life – I mean, that’s a hard-hitting entrance to a story, right?  Unfortunately (and this is not a morbid joke), everything went down from that high moment.  I struggled with The Music Room , folks.  This one slowed me down, big time, and honestly – for a while, it made me regret even trying to carve out time to read.

Still, I finished it.  I finished it because I hadn’t finished a book in a while and this one I was determined to get through.  I was bullheaded and trudged through and, I will admit it, I had fond hopes that the story would redeem itself at the end.  Now I’m writing this review about a month away from having finished the book and I’m sad to say that I’m really struggling to even remember the ending.  That’s how little of an impact this one had on me.

With all that said, let me talk a few specifics – both good and bad.  The good was that beginning.  I was immediately caught in the story and, as I mentioned earlier, had hopes that this would be the book to break me out of a reading funk. McFarland introduces his characters well and I was interested in them.  It’s the mystery that really didn’t work for me.  Rather than face up to the fact that his brother is dead, we are inundated with all sorts of information and characters showing up (I can think of one in particular) who really don’t do anything for the actual story other than produce a flimsy excuse of trouble before vanishing without any sort of resolution.   The combination of mystery and self-exploration ended up with a product that felt muddled and confusing and, rather than receive any sort of enlightened insight into the mind of a grieving man, I was frustrated and upset that I couldn’t connect with the story.

I wish I could recommend The Music Room , but I think there are other books out there that deal with grief like this in a much more coherent way while still retaining beauty in the style of storytelling and character development.  While I’m glad I finished this one, I’m pretty upset with myself that I wasted so much time on something that I would remember so little of, when all is said and done.

Check out these reviews!

  • “Dennis McFarland knows how to tell a story, slipping easily from the past of the central narrative into the present of memory, with all scenes past and present moving relentlessly forward.” – Catching Days

Book Review: The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert

Book Review: The Swan Gondola by Timothy SchaffertThe Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert
Published by Penguin Group USA on 2014-02-06
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Penguin Group USA
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five-stars
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A lush and thrilling romantic fable about two lovers set against the scandalous burlesques, midnight séances, and aerial ballets of the 1898 Omaha World's Fair. On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World's Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, isn't quite sure how it will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful and enigmatic Cecily, his whole purpose shifts and the fair becomes the backdrop to their love affair. One of a traveling troupe of actors that has descended on the city, Cecily works in the Midway's Chamber of Horrors, where she loses her head hourly on a guillotine playing Marie Antoinette. And after closing, she rushes off, clinging protectively to a mysterious carpetbag, never giving Ferret a second glance. But a moonlit ride on the swan gondola, a boat on the lagoon of the New White City, changes everything, and the fair's magic begins to take its effect. From the critically acclaimed author of The Coffins of Little Hope, The Swan Gondola is a transporting read, reminiscent of Water for Elephants or The Night Circus.

I received this book for free from Penguin Group USA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I also recommend:

My Review:

It’s not often that I pick up a book that ends up completely surprising me by the time the end comes around.  The Swan Gondola did exactly that.  It surprised me in a few ways.  First, it referenced one of my favorite childhood stories in a subtle, tasteful, and…really, quite perfect way.  Second, it brought to mind one of my favorite (and the newest work) books of Neil Gaiman.  Schaffert beautifully mixes history, intrigue, romance, love, and a bit of magic in a way that took me back to my childhood in Omaha, Nebraska through the referencing of streets, of history, and of a time long past when Omaha was living a dream of becoming a real “white city.”  I loved reading the history of the place I spent my youth, and I loved even more reading the story of a man who just fell in love and desperately wanted to make a life with the woman he fell head over heels for.

If you are a fan of movies like Big Fish or shows like Pushing Daisies, or if you love magical realism from Neil Gaiman to Sarah Addison Allen, then put Timothy Schaffert’s book, The Swan Gondola, on your list.  From the very first chapter I absolutely fell in love with Ferret Skirrett (although, not with his name).  I wanted to be in the book, to be embraced by the pages and the story and view the sights that were being described.  I already have nurtured a huge fascination with World Fairs but this one is special to me – it’s one that referenced places I’ve been, streets that I’ve walked on.

Schaffert’s ability to tell a story that involved a very colorful cast of characters is only superseded by his ability to incorporate some really out there ideas (especially for the time period) in a way that was subtle and tastefully done.  I loved Ferritt’s friends August and Rosie, I adored the idea of using an incubator as a nanny (you have to read the book, seriously), and I loved the idea of a well-known story being turned on its head and beginning in a way that was completely unexpected.

If I were to read this book for the first time again, I would go into it just as I did this time.  Completely unaware of the connections to any other stories or ideas.  I loved exploring the tale before realizing what was happening and I would recommend The Swan Gondola whole-heartedly to anyone who loves entertainment, history, fairs, magic, and just plain, old-fashioned good storytelling.

Check out these reviews!

  • “Although I don’t usually go for novels about circuses and fairs and things of that sort (maybe stemming from a fear of clowns I had as a child… but I digress), I absolutely loved this one.” – Reading the Past
  • The Swan Gondola is a beautiful story. Mr. Schaffert’s descriptions are deliciously vital, and his narrative cuts right to the emotional heart of any situation. ” – That’s what She Read
  • “At its heart The Swan Gondola is a traditional love story set in a magical world.  It is an unforgettable novel and it captured my heart.” Book-alicious Mama

Book Review: The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien

Book Review: The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’BrienThe Forbidden Queen by Anne O'Brien
Published by Mira Books Limited on 2013
Genres: Historical
Pages: 643
Format: eARC
Source: Mira Books
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four-stars
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1415. Katherine de Valois, the jewel in the French crown. An innocent locked up by her mother, Queen Isabeau, and kept pure as a prize for the English king slaughtering her kinsmen on the battlefields of Agincourt. No matter the cost, Isabeau is determined to deliver Katherine into the loveless arms of Henry V. But the Valois blood is worth less than she had brokered. Henry will take Katherine, not for her beauty, not for a treaty of peace - for nothing less than the glittering French crown itself.

I received this book for free from Mira Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I also recommend:

My Review:

I’ve read quite a few historical novels centering around England’s royal family and its bloody history, but The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien is the first book I’ve read that deals with Katherine de Valois exclusively.  What a story she had.  While I wish O’Brien had spent more time on her youth, I can understand that the information available about that time period may not be as plentiful as I wish, so I am happy to settle for the little we receive in The Forbidden Queen, and am grateful that it was there to set up a remarkable story.

Katherine, as a queen, isn’t one of my favorites in English history.  She seemed a bit weak, especially for being the Queen that begat the great Tudor line.  She grew up with a mother who slept around quite liberally and a mad father, so I have to give her a bit of a break, but still…you would think that her hard life as a child would have prepared her for the demands placed upon her as a wife, and then a widowed Queen.  For, as we all know, her husband, Henry V, died early into their marriage, leaving her with a young son, Henry VI, and no future ahead of her.

If you are wanting a story that will completely play on your sympathies, then this is the one.  Katherine has to fight repeatedly for her own happiness and only succeeds by outwardly flaunting the law – but it takes a while to get there.  She, like her mother before her, creates scandal…although their methods are quite different.  What I really loved was the latter half of the novel when Katherine and Owen Tudor’s story comes to life.  I thought O’Brien did a beautiful job of portraying their forbidden love  in The Forbidden Queen and tackling the difficulties that must have surrounded it.

Check out these reviews!

  • “Recommended for those readers eager for the story of Katherine and her heart’s content, and her woes” – Burton Book Review
  • “The freshness of the characters and their plot, O’Brien’s deft writing — it all adds up to a great, atmospheric historical read.” – Ageless Pages Reviews
  • “I highly recommend this book to all historical fiction lovers who want to learn a little more about how the Tudor dynasty was started and about a woman in history isn’t often recognized..” Girl Lost in a Book

Book Review: Stillwater by Nicola Lea Helget

Book Review: Stillwater by Nicola Lea HelgetStillwater by Nicole Lea Helget
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2014
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary
Pages: 326
Format: eARC
Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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three-stars
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Clement and Angel are fraternal twins separated at birth; they grow up in the same small, frontier logging town of Stillwater, Minnesota. Clement was left at the orphanage. Angel was adopted by the town’s richest couple, but is marked and threatened by her mother’s mental illness. They rarely meet, but Clement knows if he is truly in need, Angel will come to save him. Stillwater, near the Mississippi River and Canada, becomes an important stop on the Underground Railroad. As Clement and Angel grow up and the country marches to war, their lives are changed by many battles for freedom and by losses in the struggle for independence, large and small. Stillwater reveals the hardscrabble lives of pioneers, nuns, squaws, fur trappers, loggers, runaway slaves and freedmen, outlaws and people of conscience, all seeking a better, freer, more prosperous future. It is a novel about mothers, about siblings, about the ways in which we must take care of one another and let go of one another. And it’s brought to us in Nicole Helget’s winning, gorgeous prose.

I received this book for free from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I also recommend:

My Review:

I love historical fiction and, while I love a good European fiction novel as much as the next fan, there’s something just.. special about reading American historical fiction.  So when I picked up Stillwater, as intrigued as I was about the twin angle, I was even more so excited about the historical angle – the underground railroad, the becoming of Minnesota as a state (a setting for a story I hadn’t come across yet), you get the idea.  And while I was interested by the story, it just seemed as if there was something off – something that took away from my pure enjoyment.  After giving it some thought, I think I’ve finally figured out what that off-putting thing is.

You see, Stillwater is told in a very choppy kind of way.  Similar to a short-story style, each chapter is a snapshot of a specific character in a specific time of the story line.  The twins are not the central characters to this story, rather the twins and those around them (the man that sired them, their mother, and the circumstances surrounding their birth) are all put together to create a sort of ambiance of a story rather than a clear, straight-forward tail.

But that’s not a bad thing and I think that, if some other ingredients had just been tweaked a bit in the book, the result would have been really enjoyable.  What I really struggled with was trying to figure out what all was supposed to be the story.  There was historical events, but just a slight touch of them.  There were interesting characters, but the end of the book left me wondering what their purpose had been.  Was Stillwater supposed to be a story about people or is a snapshot picture of a particular time period in a particular towns life?  These are the questions I was asking myself when I finished the book and why I ended up unsatisfied.

Don’t get me wrong.  There were really enjoyable moments in the book, moments that I found myself not wanting to put it down, and the writing was beautiful in many, many places.  But when it comes down to it, I enjoy a sense of closure in my novels – even if that closure leaves the characters in a place where I can picture an ending for them.  Instead, with Stillwater, I put the book down wondering… what was the purpose of this book?

Did you read or review Stillwater? Let me know what you thought or leave a link to your review in the comments.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Reasons I Love Being a Book Blogger

toptentuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a fantastic meme hosted and created by The Broke and the Bookish.

Folks, I’ve fallen behind.  It’s really not intentional…but with thirty piano students, a spring recital to prepare for, a benefit concert I am playing piano for, and a 1 month old and 16 month old in the house to help care for… you can imagine things have gotten busy.  What’s sad is that the thing I love doing most… talking about books/reading books has suffered as a result.

I’m trying harder though – but sometimes I am just so tired that the prospect of sitting down to write a blog post overwhelms me.  Especially when I have to choose – read or write.  But today, this Top Ten Tuesday could not come at a more ideal time because I want to talk about why I love blogging about books and why I will continue to try to carve time out of my busy schedule to continue to do it.

1. Blogging about books makes me think

Of course, I’m talking about thinking about the book I just read.  Writing down my thoughts in some sort of coherent way helps me solidify what I’ve just read – something I desperately need since I am able to read so quickly and jump from book to book.  But it also helps me think about other things.  Now I think about who I’d recommend the book to, what other books the one I just read is like, and I want to learn what others thoughts were because chances are, at least one other blogger that I stumble across will make me completely view the book I’ve read in a way I would have never thought of.  And I usually only look up 2-3 blogs after I have finished (see: time note above).

2. The people I’ve met

From other bloggers, to authors, to publicists and publishing executives – my connections span so far around the world.  And I love every single connection I’ve made.

3.  I love to talk books

Now that I’m not in school it’s difficult to find a room filled with people who have read the same thing that I have – so what better medium than a book blog?  Here I can ramble to my hearts desire.

4.  I am kept connected

Book blogging ensures that I am watching lists and twitter and Facebook and other blogs and seeing new titles that are coming out before they are released. Just recently I was on a 6,000 mile journey (one way) to go back to Illinois and then two weeks later I turned around to come back to Hawai’i.  I loved walking past the bookstores in the airport and recognizing every title on the shelves facing out, enticing people to buy them.  Not only did I know the titles, I’d read most of them so my wallet was thankfully spared much pain.

5. It makes an extrovert out of this introvert

For some reason I have a really, really hard time striking up a conversation with anyone, even if they sit down next to me and say hello.  But I have absolutely no problem stopping by a stranger on the way down an airplane aisle to my seat to tell that stranger that the book he is holding is a great one. (Jess Walters – We Live in Water)

6. The Books

Of course I love that my addiction is fed without much pain being inflicted on my wallet.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the free books that come with book blogging.  Buwt they aren’t essential to my happiness because before I began receiving the free books I was checking them out at the library.  I still check them out – but now I don’t take home stacks of 20 books at a time. =)

7. The Smarts

I’m not the bragging sort, really, but I would be stupid to say that reading has not improved my intellect.  I really struggled in school in my early twenties and for years, all I read were mysteries and romance novels (and even then, just by the same few authors).  I’d read a classic now and then (more so as an early teenager when I was forbidden romances and mysteries), but mostly I stuck to a specific type.  Once I started branching out, I noticed the my opinions and thoughts began to take shape and I no longer felt lost in conversation with some really smart people I know.  School enhanced that and I left feeling confident and sure of myself – something that took way too long to happen in my opinion.

8. Awareness

I made a decision to diversify my reading even more this year.  I grew up in a midwestern, middle-to-lower class white home.  I know I had a privileged childhood.  I had food, clothing, friends, education – heck, my folks spent so much on my piano lessons when I was growing up that it boggles my mind.  But never have I been more aware of that privilege then I am today.  I never want to forget it and in order to keep reminding myself I need to keep reading and learning more about those who do not have that sort of privilege.  Reading helps me remember that I need to use where I am to make the world a better place for those who don’t have the same opportunities.  I never want to take mine for granted again.

9. Gift-Giving

I love giving gifts.  With the broadening of my reading choices I’ve learned ways to find the perfect book to match the people in my life (and those who come into my life).  It gives me joy to be able to help by putting a book from my shelves into the hands of someone who needs it.

10. You

Every week that I post one of these Top Ten Tuesdays I get people on the blog who I have never spoken to before.  I am insanely grateful any time I get a comment  from someone because I know it means they took time to not only read what I wrote, but cared enough to engage with me. I saved this one for last because I wanted to thank you all for taking the time to read to this part of the post and to say that I would love to see you around, often or sporadically, whatever works for you!

What do you love about blogging or reading or both?

 

 

 

Book Review: After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

Book Review: After I’m Gone by Laura LippmanAfter I'm Gone by Laura Lippman
Published by HarperCollins on 2014-02-11
Genres: Fiction, General, Mystery & Detective, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: HarperCollins
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three-stars
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The acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Most Dangerous Thing, I'd Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know returns with an addictive story that explores how one man's disappearance echoes through the lives of the five women he left behind—his wife, his daughters, and his mistressDead is dead. Missing is gone.When Felix Brewer meets nineteen-year-old Bernadette

I received this book for free from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I also recommend:

My Review:

I’ve heard many good things about the author Laura Lippman, so when I saw she had a new book coming out I thought I’d give it a shot.  After I’m Gone proved to be a slow read that paid off in the end…but boy it took its time getting there.  Lippman sets up a story by alternating past with present and it’s imperative that you keep the two storylines close in your head or, as I found out about halfway through as I took my time with the story, it’s possible to get them all jumbled up.

So why did I take my time?  Well, in spite of being interesting and my desire to find out “who done it,” there was simply no real pull in the story for me.  I never felt like I absolutely needed to know right now.  Instead, it was more of a calm reading for me – and that is not usually me with crime novels.  I picked up After I’m Gone thinking it would be a quick read (I normally read books in this genre in a single evening) and instead spent 4 days agonizing on whether or not I wanted to pick it up to continue the story again.  What I think it came down to is… I simply wasn’t interested in the back story.  I didn’t want to live the past through the eyes of the players, I wanted to hear about the past from the viewpoints of those in the now.

So while I can understand the fascination with Lippman’s writing, especially if you are really into the flashback style, it just wasn’t working well for me.  With all that said, I will say that the ending of After I’m Gone completely threw me for a loop.  I had just about come to the conclusion that things would end as I had grown to expect they would but by the time the final pages happened I was completely flabbergasted.  And that made the book for me (and it’s why I’m not giving it a measly 1-2 stars).  It paid off in the end and, really, if the end is worth it, then I’ll probably check out Lippman’s books in the future as well.

Check out these reviews!

  • “If you’re looking for a thoughtful, contemplative read that still manages to move at a quick pace and be suspenseful, you should absolutely pick up After I’m Gone. ” – S. Krishna’s Books
  • “Lippman has skillfully woven an intriguing web that will have you burning the midnight oil to find out what happened. ” – Book-alicious Mama
  • “This one has lots of interesting layers, and that’s what kept me glued to the book.” Reading Reality

Book Tour: Our Love Could Light the World: Stories by Anne Leigh Parrish

Book Tour: Our Love Could Light the World: Stories by Anne Leigh Parrish

Book Tour: Our Love Could Light the World: Stories by Anne Leigh ParrishOur Love Could Light the World by Anne Leigh Parrish
Published by She Writes Press on 2013-06-03
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, Short Stories (single author)
Pages: 202
Format: Paperback
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three-stars
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You know the Dugans. They're that scrappy family that lives down the street. Their yard is overgrown, they don't pick up after their dog, their five children run free--leaving chaos in their wake--and the father hasn't earned a cent in years. The wife holds them together on her income alone. You wouldn't want them for neighbors--but from a distance, they're quite entertaining. You can tell from the empty bottles lying under the bush out front that alcohol is an issue in the household--and all things considered, you can hardly blame the wife for leaving one day. Without her at the helm, the rest carry on the best they can. Their strong sense of family keeps them going. They help--and in some cases, rescue--each other as they struggle for a better life. And while they never follow the rules, or completely conquer the adversity with which they're faced, they do manage to meet their challenges--and even earn some much-needed respect. Along the way, they might even make you proud. Set in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, the twelve linked stories of Our Love Could Light the World depict a dysfunctional family that's messy and rude, cruel and kind, and loyal to the end.

I also recommend:

My Review:

I have always loved the idea of a set of connecting stories with an overlying theme essentially showcasing snapshots of the same area or family or event.  Anne Leigh Parrish’s collection of stories, Our Love Could Light the World, is one of those books.  But, just like the other I’ve read in recent years (Olive Kitteredge, anyone?), this one fell a bit flat for me for reasons I will explain shortly.

First, I want to talk about how much I really admired how well Parrish delved into the minds of some of her characters.  The Dugan family is interesting, no doubt at all about that, but when it came down to it only some select individuals were explored.  Lavinia and Potter, of course, and their oldest daughter and the girl twins… but other than a brief snapshot of Timothy, the boys were left largely unexplored and, as a result, the stories didn’t seem quite rounded out.  I just couldn’t understand why Potter’s sister, Patty, merited a few stories dedicated to her, but Foster only got a mention here and there.  Was it because, out of everyone involved, he was the most sane?

The other thing I really struggled with was the fat-shaming that was rampant throughout the book.  Everyone who behaved in a truly abominable way was overweight.  The woman slapping her kid, the oldest of the Dugan children, you name it.  If there was something really shameful happening, the culprit was likely an overweight person who was deemed to just not care about herself/himself.  Now, you could argue that it was just how the Dugan’s saw things… but there was never any real sort of redemption.  The closest would be Angie, but even then I was left unsatisfied.   I’m pretty sensitive to the weight issue thing and really struggle when I see people being classified as gross and mean based solely on that merit, and it seemed to run as a theme throughout the stories.

So I’m being generous, I think, in giving Our Love Could Light the World three stars because, had I not been reading it for a tour, I highly doubt I would have finished it after the first instance of shaming.  I think Parrish has the potential to write some really fascinating looks at the social workings of the family, I would just encourage her to lay off the shaming and focus instead on what makes people tick – because chances are… their weight is indicative of something else (and also, overweight people are not any more cruel than any thin person, geez).

About the Author


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Anne Leigh Parrish

Anne Leigh Parrish’s debut novel, What is Found, What is Lost, is forthcoming in late 2014 from She Writes Press.  Her first story collection, All The Roads That Lead From Home, (Press 53, 2011) won a silver medal in the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards.  To learn more, visit her at www.anneleighparrish.com

 

Book Tour: A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith

Book Tour: A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith

Book Tour: A Star for Mrs. Blake by April SmithA Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on 2014-01-14
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, General, Historical, Romance
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Knopf Doubleday Publishing
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three-stars
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The United States Congress in 1929 passed legislation to fund travel for mothers of the fallen soldiers of World War I to visit their sons’ graves in France. Over the next three years, 6,693 Gold Star Mothers made the trip. In this emotionally charged, brilliantly realized novel, April Smith breathes life into a unique moment in American history, imagining the experience of five of these women.

They are strangers at the start, but their lives will become inextricably intertwined, altered in indelible ways. These very different Gold Star Mothers travel to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery to say final good-byes to their sons and come together along the way to face the unexpected: a death, a scandal, and a secret revealed.

None of these pilgrims will be as affected as Cora Blake, who has lived almost her entire life in a small fishing village off the coast of Maine, caring for her late sister’s three daughters, hoping to fill the void left by the death of her son, Sammy, who was killed on a scouting mission during the final days of the war. Cora believes she is managing as well as can be expected in the midst of the Depression, but nothing has prepared her for what lies ahead on this unpredictable journey, including an extraordinary encounter with an expatriate American journalist, Griffin Reed, who was wounded in the trenches and hides behind a metal mask, one of hundreds of “tin noses” who became symbols of the war.

With expert storytelling, memorable characters, and beautiful prose, April Smith gives us a timeless story, by turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, set against a footnote of history––little known, yet unforgettable.

I received this book for free from Knopf Doubleday Publishing in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I also recommend:

My Review:

I was fascinated by the summary of A Star for Mrs. Blake after the cover initially caught my eye.  I had never heard of any sort of program that sent the mothers and wives of fallen soldiers overseas to visit graves and the very thought of it touched me.  April Smith took on this small portion of our history and really fleshed it out, making the resulting story one that came off as realistic and somewhat interesting.  However, in the interest of creating story suspension and drama, there were a few things about the book that rubbed me the wrong way.

First, what was done right.  I loved that Smith veered away from making people or the government as blameless heroes in this story.  Everyone makes mistakes and that is definitely the case in A Star for Mrs. Blake.  From the wrong woman (was it the wrong woman?) being on the tour, to the uncomfortable nature of segregation, and finally the horrors of actual warfare, nothing is left untouched.  The women that form Party A are interesting with fascinating back stories and wide diversity and I loved that the book embraced all of the different cultures and stories.

What I struggled with were attempts at romantic tension and confusing back stories for some of the women.  It’s hard to juggle that many stories and it really came off as a struggle to me throughout the book.  The only stories I felt I had any sort of grip on were Cora’s and Bobbie’s.  There were things that made no sense about Wilhelmina (and the ending left me thoroughly confused) and I never understood what exactly made Katie so angry all the time.  While Smith did a great job of portraying the different styles of grief that each of the women felt, their stories were not portrayed as clearly.

I think if you are a fan of Jamie Ford or Kate Morton, this would be a book that might interest you.  While there were some shortcomings (and, as a result, made the book a slow read for me) I can definitely see A Star for Mrs. Blake as being a book that would interest quite a few of my friends and family.  Give it a shot – if nothing else, it’ll provide a glance into some history that has sat quietly in the background until now.

About the Author


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April Smith

April Smith has traveled to every location she writes about in her books, from the Dominican Republic to Siena, Italy, to Meuse-Argonne, France.  She takes pictures and talks to people and just wanders. Back home, she outlines the story on a white board, stepping back to see the whole, and then begins writing chapters, often out of order, according to what presents itself that day. It’s a process of both intuition and will that can take from two to twenty-five years, as was the case in A Star For Mrs. Blake.

Aside from her newest work of historical fiction, April is the author of the FBI Special Agent Ana Grey novels, a standalone thriller featuring a woman baseball scout, and is an Emmy-nominated writer and producer of dramatic series and movies for television.  She has two grown children and lives with her husband in Santa Monica, California.

 

Book Review: Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

Book Review: Uninvited by Sophie JordanUninvited by Sophie Jordan
Published by HarperCollins on 2014-01-28
Genres: Action & Adventure, General, Love & Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: HarperCollins
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three-stars
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From New York Times bestselling author Sophie Jordan, Uninvited is a chilling and suspenseful story about a girl whose DNA brands her as a killer, perfect for fans of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and Confessions of a Murder Suspect.Davy had everything—a terrific boyfriend, the homecoming crown, a bright future at Juilliard—but when her genetic tests come back positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome, she loses it all. Uninvited from her prestigious school and avoided by her friends and family, she is placed in a special class with other

I received this book for free from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I also recommend:

My Review:

This has been the year of re-acquainting myself with authors I’ve enjoyed in the last few years.  Sophie Jordan is one of those authors (Aimee Carter is another), and both have written books with very interesting similarities.  Of the two, I still lean a bit toward Pawn, but Uninvited by Sophie Jordan rated enough interest from me to have me looking for her next book to release.  Still, if you are a fan of the Divergent series, this is one that you will want to check out.  Uninvited deals with a girl who is virtually perfect – talented, smart, well-settled with a great boyfriend, and throws her into perfect chaos.

But now that I’ve said all of that, let me say this.  Uninvited also throws something I really hate seeing into the loop.  The “insta-love” dilemma.  This is what I don’t get about these books – especially the ones that are meant to be a series.  Where is the buildup? The slow burn?  Why must the relationship be built up so quickly – especially when it is so completely out of character?  Instead of feeling the heat between characters, I felt uncomfortable because there was already so much science fiction in the book, I hated seeing it being forced into a relationship as well.

That’s not all I had issues with.  There’s a moment in Uninvited where Davy has to do something so out of character, so horrific, that I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  And when it was all said and done, things just went back to how they were…with only some slight modifications before another big, out-of-character event.  I was so confused because it seemed as if Jordan had boxed herself into the scene and had to go through with it…but it was so sudden, so dramatic, and all of the sudden SO THERE that there was no where else for it to go.

These are details that really rubbed me the wrong way (I’m not even going to get started on the music aspect.  A 3 year old? Nope, not going to go into it) , but don’t get me wrong.. I still enjoyed the book enough to read through to the end and groan when I reached what has become standard at this point: the cliffhanger ending. Of course I want more.  I enjoy Jordan’s writing.  I’m just wondering how in the world she’s going to top the events in Uninvited…and for the love of all that’s good, can we stop with the insta-love now?

Check out these reviews!

  • “Unless your mindsent tends more towards the Bella-from-Twilight-only-romance-can-save-me-girls-aren’t-as-good-as-boys brand of thinking, skip this one.” – As the Crowe Flies (and Reads!)
  • Uninvited is, in my opinion, going to be one of my favorite YA dystopian series if Sophie Jordan continues as brilliantly in the next installment. It’s exciting, entertaining and a definite page-turner. ” – Nick’s Book Blog
  • ” This was a truly fantastic addition to the dystopians out there and I am looking forward to more of this series!!” Book Loving Mom
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