Review: The Crystal Cage, by Merryn Allingham (enter to win a copy)

About the book, The Crystal Cage The Crystal Cage

Publication Date: August 4, 2014
Publisher:eHarlequin, eBook; ASIN: B00JTPU72S
Genre: Historical Romance

Captivated…or captured?

Appearances don’t always reveal the truth. Grace Latimer knows this better than most. Illusions of commitment and comfort have her trapped—until bohemian adventurer Nick Heysham charms his way into her world. Commissioned to recover a Great Exhibition architect’s missing designs, he persuades her to assist in his research. The mystery of the Crystal Palace seduces Grace, and once she discovers clues about a forbidden Victorian love affair, she’s lured into the deep secrets of the past…secrets that resemble her own.

As Grace and Nick dig into the elusive architect’s illicit, long-untold story, the ghosts of guilt and forbidden passion slip free. And history is bound to repeat itself, unless Grace finds the courage to break free and find a new definition of love…

Buy, read, and discuss the ebook of The Crystal Cage

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About the author, Merryn Allingham (in her own words) Merryn Allingham

My father was a soldier and most of my childhood was spent moving from place to place, school to school, including 03_Merryn Allinghamseveral years living in Egypt and Germany. I loved some of the schools I attended, but hated others, so it wasn’t too surprising that I left half way through the sixth form with ‘A’ Levels unfinished.

I became a secretary, as many girls did at the time, only to realise that the role of handmaiden wasn’t for me. Escape beckoned when I landed a job with an airline. I was determined to see as much of the world as possible, and working as cabin crew I met a good many interesting people and enjoyed some great experiences – riding in the foothills of the Andes, walking by the shores of Lake Victoria, flying pilgrims from Kandahar to Mecca to mention just a few.

I still love to travel and visit new places, especially those with an interesting history, but the arrival of marriage and children meant a more settled existence on the south coast of England, where I’ve lived ever since. It also gave me the opportunity to go back to ‘school’ and eventually gain a PhD from the University of Sussex. For many years I taught university literature and loved every minute of it. What could be better than spending my life reading and talking about books? Well, perhaps writing them.

I’ve always had a desire to write but there never seemed time to do more than dabble with the occasional short story. And my day job ensured that I never lost the critical voice in my head telling me that I really shouldn’t bother. But gradually the voice started growing fainter and at the same time the idea that I might actually write a whole book began to take hold. My cats – two stunning cream and lilac shorthairs – gave their approval, since it meant my spending a good deal more time at home with them!

The 19th century is my special period of literature and I grew up reading Georgette Heyer, so when I finally found the courage to try writing for myself, the books had to be Regency romances. Over the last four years, writing as Isabelle Goddard, I’ve published six novels set in the Regency period.

Since then, I’ve moved on a few years to Victorian England, and I’ve changed genre too. The Crystal Cage is my first novel under the name of Merryn Allingham. The book is a mystery/romantic suspense and tells the story of a long-lost tragedy, and the way echoes from the past can powerfully influence the life of a modern day heroine. The next few Allingham books will see yet another move timewise. I’ve been writing a suspense trilogy set in India and wartime London during the 1930s and 1940s, and hope soon to have news of publication.

Whatever period, whatever genre, creating new worlds and sharing them with readers gives me huge pleasure and I can’t think of a better job.

Connect with Merryn

Facebook | Goodreads


My Thoughts

I’m a big fan of architecture, history, and romance, so when you combine all three as marvelously as Merryn Allingham has in The Crystal Cage there’s very little chance I’ll be anything but happy. This book made me very, very happy.

First, it’s told as sort of parallel plots, a contemporary story about art promoters/historians trying to track down solid information about an architect of import, partly for the sheer satisfaction of finding the truth, but also for – let’s face it – money and notoriety. The three central figures of the contemporary plot form a triangle of sorts, with main character Grace at it’s apex, in a relationship with Oliver, whom becomes less and less pleasant as the story progresses (seriously, I would have walked out on him in chapter two), and Nick whose bohemian lifestyle belies his ability to love and commit.

For me, Grace’s personal journey toward finding herself as well as the right partner was just as interesting as the historical mystery, because it was so real, and so believable. Who among us hasn’t fallen into a relationship that seems like a good idea only to become a trap as life goes on.

And then there’s the historical love affair with the architect and the object of his affections, though I would argue that he also has a triangle, one where his life’s work is one of the points. Choosing between love and art is never easy, and his story is easily as compelling as the contemporary one.

Author Allingham does an amazing job at making each story connect to the other while still retaining period-appropriate language, tone, and action. The events in the past are no less vivid than those in the present, only slightly softened, as if being viewed through a mirror.

If you want a satisfying romance with an historical twist, excellent characters, and a compelling plot, I heartily recommend The Crystal Cage.

Goes well with Braised lamb shanks and a spring salad.


04_The Crystal Cage_Blog Tour Banner_FINALv2

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by Historical Fiction Virtual Book tours, which is also running a giveaway raffle (see below). For more information, including the complete list of tour stops, click the banner above, or click HERE.

Giveaway

To win an eBook of The Crystal Cage please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Two copies are up for grabs. Giveaway is open internationally.

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Review: Early Decision by Lacy Crawford (@lacy_crawford)

About the book Early Decision Early Decision

• Paperback: 320 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (August 26, 2014)

A delightful and salacious novel about the frightful world of high school, SATs, the college essay, and the Common Application—and how getting in is getting in the way of growing up

Anne Arlington is twenty-seven, single, and in demand: she is the independent “college whisperer” whose name is passed from parent to parent like a winning lottery ticket, the only tutor who can make a difference with the Ivy League.

Early Decision follows one application season and the five students Anne guides to their fates: Hunter, the athletic boy who never quite hits his potential, a kind, heavily defended kid who drives his mother mad; Sadie, an heiress who is perfectly controlled but at the expense of her own heart; William, whose intelligence permits him to dodge his father’s cruel conservatism but can’t solve the problem of loneliness; Alexis, a blazing overachiever whose Midwestern parents have never heard of a tiger mom; and Cristina, who could write her ticket out of her enormous, failing high school, if only she knew how.

Meanwhile, Anne needs a little coaching herself, having learned that even the best college does not teach a person how to make a life.

In this engrossing, intelligent novel, Lacy Crawford delivers an explosive insider’s guide to the secrets of college admissions at the highest levels. It’s also a deft commentary on modern parenting and how the scramble for Harvard is shaping a generation. Told in part through the students’ essays, this unique and witty book is so closely observed that it has been mistaken for a memoir or a how-to guide. A wise and deeply felt story, Early Decision reveals how getting in is getting in the way of growing up.

Buy, read, and discuss Early Decision

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About the author, Lacy Crawford Lacy Crawford

For fifteen years Lacy Crawford served as a highly discreet independent college admissions counselor to the children of powerful clients in cities such as New York, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and London. Her “day jobs” included serving as senior editor of Narrative magazine and director of the Burberry Foundation. Educated at Princeton and the University of Chicago, Crawford lives in California with her husband and two children.

Connect with Lacy

Website | Twitter


My Thoughts

If you, like me, remember being flooded with college applications in high school, each one more interesting and attractive than the last, then this book, Earl Decision is for you.

The story is fresh and original – instead of a coming of age novel about one kid getting into his or her dream school, it’s a novel about a woman, Anne, who gudes kids toward finding the school that best matches their dreams, allowing both the kids and Anne herself to come of age along the way.

Anne is twenty-seven, but that’s not important. Coming-of-age is something that can be done no matter what age you are. Some of us are still doing it in our forties – figuring out our dreams, our desires, and how they mesh with the prosaic reality of everyday life.

But I digress. What I loved about this novel, was the crisp, contemporary language, and the way Anne adapted her use of language for whatever situation she was in. Talking with a bigwig lawyer, she used more formal speech. Speaking with a lazy high school boy, she turned to soft joking. It’s a skill we all need, and many of us lack.

I also thought the book felt cinematic. I could totally see it as a movie on ABC Family or Lifetime, with a quartet of well-scrubbed twenty-year-olds playing the teenagers and Amy Adams or Allison Mack (has she done any work since Smallville) playing Anne. What I mean is, the places described in this novel felt real. You could feel the air conditioning, hear the lawn mowers, taste the tea.

Finally, I thought the convention of showing us the examples of student essays was fantastic. It took me back to my own high school days, and the endless practice essays our teachers would make us write. (I confess, my default essay mode is a five-paragraph persuasive essay to this day.)

Whether you’re looking at colleges right now, or have a child who is approaching the application frenzy, this novel will entertain and educate, and never disappoint, except when you reach the last page, and realize it’s over.

Goes well with A fruit and cheese plate and mango iced tea.


TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For more information, and the complete list of tour stops, click HERE.

Review: Becoming Josephine, by Heather Webb (@msheatherwebb)

About the book Becoming Josephine Becoming Josephine

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Plume (December 31, 2013)

Rose Tascher sails from her Martinique plantation to Paris to trade her Creole black magic culture for love and adventure. She arrives exultant to follow her dreams of attending Court with Alexandre, her elegant aristocrat and soldier husband. But Alexandre dashes her hopes and abandons her amid the tumult of the French Revolution.

Through her savoir faire, Rose secures her footing in high society, reveling in handsome men and glitzy balls—until the heads of her friends begin to roll.

After narrowly escaping death in the blood-drenched cells of Les Carmes prison, she reinvents herself as Josephine, a socialite of status and power. Yet her youth is fading, and Josephine must choose between a precarious independence and the love of an awkward suitor. Little does she know, he would become the most powerful man of his century- Napoleon Bonaparte.

Becoming Josephine is a novel of one woman’s journey to find eternal love and stability, and ultimately to find herself.

Buy, read, and discuss Becoming Josephine

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About the author, Heather Webb Heather Webb

Heather Webb is the author of historical novels Becoming Josephine and the forthcoming Rodin’s Lover (Plume/Penguin 2015).

A freelance editor and blogger, she spends oodles of time helping writers hone their skills—something she adores. You may find her twittering @msheatherwebb or contributing to her favorite award-winning sites Writer Unboxed and Romance University. In addition, she is a member of The Historical Novel Society.

Connect with Heather

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My Thoughts

Writing about an historical figure is never easy. The author has to balance the truth of history with the requirements of a good story, and still present readers with something that feels believable.

Heather Webb did that – and more – with Becoming Josephine.

From vivid descriptions to beautiful dialogue, from politics and intrigue to growth and romance, she has given us a glimpse at the woman often referred to as “Napoleon’s Cleopatra.”

In the tale of a girl called Rose who develops into a strong woman known as Josephine, we see not just the person from our schoolbooks, but a real woman, who starts out timid, cautious, and out of place, and, after some triumphs and other incidents where merely surviving is enough, ends up confident, strong, and a force to be reckoned with.

While I loved Rose/Josephine and Napoleon as characters, I liked a lot of the supporting characters as well. Rose’s first husband, Alexandre, made me want to punch him in the nose a lot, but then, he was supposed to. Fanny surprised me, because I wasn’t expecting a French aristocrat to talk about the rights of women or the plight of slaves.

Overall, this story could have been a lush epic or it could have been a clever romance set against the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, but instead, Heather Webb has given us something that is both, and neither. It’s a romantic historical epic with clever dialogue and lush clothing, yes, but it’s also a hard look at the politics of the day, and what it means to truly come into your own as a woman and a person.

Goes well with Roasted chicken, garlic crusted red potatoes, salad, and a glass of chardonnay.


TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For more information, and the complete list of tour stops, click HERE.

Review: The Hexed, by Heather Graham (@heathergraham)

About the book, The Hexed The Hexed

Series: Krewe of Hunters
Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA (July 29, 2014)

A place of history, secrets…and witchcraft.

Devin Lyle has recently returned to the Salem area, but her timing couldn’t be worse. Soon after she moved into the eighteenth-century cabin she inherited from her great-aunt Mina—her “crazy” great-aunt, who spoke to the dead—a woman was murdered nearby.

Craig Rockwell—known as Rocky—is a new member of the Krewe of Hunters, the FBI’s team of paranormal investigators. He never got over finding a friend dead in the woods. Now another body’s been found in those same woods, not far from the home of Devin Lyle. And Devin’s been led to a third body—by…a ghost?

Her discovery draws them both deeper into the case and Salem’s rich and disturbing history. Even as the danger mounts, Devin and Rocky begin to fall for each other, something the ghosts of Mina and past witches seem to approve of. But the two of them need every skill they possess to learn the truth—or Devin’s might be the next body in the woods….

Buy, read, and discuss The Hexed

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About the author, Heather Graham Heather Graham

New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Heather Graham has written more than a hundred novels and has been published in more than 20 languages. An avid scuba diver, ballroom dancer and the mother of five, she enjoys her south Florida home, but loves to travel as well, from locations such as Cairo, Egypt, to her own backyard, the Florida Keys. Reading is still the pastime she still loves best, and she is a member of many writing groups. She’s a winner of the Romance Writers of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Thriller Writers’ Silver Bullet. She is an active member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America, and also the founder of The Slush Pile Players, an author band and theatrical group.

Heather annually hosts the Writers for New Orleans conference to benefit both the city, which is near and dear to her heart, and various other causes, and she hosts a ball each year at the RT Booklovers Convention to benefit pediatric AIDS foundations.

Connect with Heather

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

I loved this novel so much I don’t even really have words to describe it, except to say that if I hadn’t read the materials provided for this blog tour, I’d never have known it was from an imprint of Harlequin. (Yes, I know, I’m showing off my inner snob there.)

First, Heather Graham does amazing research and is true to history. When I was offered the chance to read a paranormal mystery set in and around Salem, MA, I was concerned that it would use the pop culture version of Salem, instead of delving into the real history – the biggest conflict of the witch trial era bring rooted in land ownership and the debate about whether Salem should be one community or two. I was equally concerned that she’d be casual about other things – like having witches burned instead of hanged. For the record: NO ONE WAS EVER BURNED FOR WITCHCRAFT IN AMERICA.

My historical nitpicking aside, this is a deliciously creepy romantic thriller. It opens with teenage boys finding their murdered friend, and that murder comes back to haunt them, quite literally, decades later.

Main characters Craig “Rocky” Rockwell and Devin Lyle are both written so vividly that I feel like I’ve had tea with them, and with Devin’s Aunt Mina, who is a ghost, but still one of the most vibrant characters in the story. As well, the supporting characters, Jack and Hayley, Jenna and Angela, Bert and Vince, all feel like fully realized people, and I’d be happy to read a novel with any one of them at the center.

The plot, likewise, is so well realized that even I, who can usually figure out whodunnit long before a story’s end was guessing nearly to the end of the book, and I was honestly surprised at who the killer turned out to be.

The combination of three settings – contemporary Salem, recent-past Salem, and historic Salem – really worked well, especially as the plot was interwoven with the threads of history, as well as those of tourist culture, consumerism, and what it means to live in a real place that people see only as a tourist destination. As someone who grew up in just such a town, although not one with quite as rich a history, I really appreciated those nuances.

Should you read The Hexed? Yes! But only if you love great characters, a sensible blend of paranormal mystery and romance, and a truly gripping story that uses history as more than a jumping-off point, but never lets anything get gimmicky.

Goes well with Crisp apples, sharp cheddar cheese, and hot cider.


TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For more information, and the complete list of tour stops, click HERE.

Check back in October when I review another of Heather Graham’s books, The Betrayed

Review: Someone Else’s Love Story, by Joshilyn Jackson

About the book, Someone Else’s Love Story Someone Else's Love Story

• Paperback: 336 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (August 5, 2014)

For single mom Shandi Pierce, life is a juggling act. She’s finishing college, raising precocious three-year-old Natty, and keeping the peace between her eternally warring, long-divorced parents.Then she gets caught in the middle of a stickup at a gas station and falls instantly in love with William Ashe, when he steps between the armed robber and her son.

Shandi doesn’t know that William’s act wasn’t about bravery. When he looked down the barrel of the robber’s gun he believed it was destiny: it’s been exactly one year since a tragic act of physics shattered his universe. But William doesn’t define destiny the way other people do—to him destiny is about choice.

Now William and Shandi are about to meet their so-called destinies head-on, making choices that will reveal unexpected truths about love, life, and the world they think they know.

Buy, read, & discuss Someone Else’s Love Story

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About the author, Joshilyn Jackson Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson is the New York Times bestselling author of six novels, including Gods in Alabama and A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty. She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband and their two children.

Connect with Joshilyn

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My Thoughts

Joshilyn Jackson’s books are always stories I look forward to reading. Her work is the perfect compliment to a cup of mint tea or glass of wine, a tub full of bubbles and a long, relaxing soak. This book, Someone Else’s Love Story is no exception.

From the first page, the story is compelling. We meet Shandi, her mother, her young son Natty, and her childhood friend Walcott. In any other novel Walcott would be the gay best friend, but Jackson defies convention…he’s absolutely straight.

A bit later, we meet William, intelligent, athletic, ex-military William, who has his own tragic backstory. Then we see Shandi and William thrown together in the worst possible scenario: a convenience story robbery, and we think this book is about them.

Well, it is, and it isn’t, and to say more would spoil the story, so here’s what you need to know: in Jackson’s character’s words you can hear ever nuance of the South, you can smell the magnolia blossoms, taste the fried chicken, and you know exactly how much twang every character has in his or her voice. The women are especially vivid, but Jackson’s male characters are always dimensional as well.

One of Jackson’s other flair’s though, is that she finds parts of southern culture no one expects. This book looks at what it’s like to be the only (part) Jewish person in a sleepy Southern town, and how it feels to be the son of two lesbians in the same small-town culture. It also examines themes like motherhood, the mother-daughter relationship, and the difference between comfortable friends and the comfort of a lover.

Taken as a whole, Someone Else’s Love Story should be on everyone’s must-read list, because it’s a fast read with a deceptively deep meaning.

Goes well with chicken salad and iced sweet tea, followed by peach cobbler.


TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For more information, and the complete list of tour stops click HERE.

Review: Left Turn at Paradise, a Rare Book Mystery, by Thomas Shawver

About the book Left Turn at Paradise Left Turn at Paradise

Publisher: Alibi (August 26, 2014)
Pages: 208

The author of The Dirty Book Murder returns to the surprisingly lethal world of rare books with a second enthralling novel featuring a most unlikely hero—antiquarian bookseller Michael Bevan.

Michael Bevan is barely scraping by with his used bookstore and rare book collection when he discovers a timeworn journal that may change everything. Dating back to 1768, the tattered diary appears to be a chronicle kept during the first of legendary seafarer Captain James Cook’s three epic voyages through the Pacific islands. If it’s as valuable as Mike thinks it is, its sale may just bring enough to keep his faltering used bookstore afloat for another year.

Then he meets a pair of London dealers with startling news: Adrian Hart and Penelope Wilkes claim to possess the journal of Cook’s second voyage. Is it possible a third diary exists? One which might detail Cook’s explosive final voyage—and his death at the hands of native Hawaiians? Together, all three would be the holy grail of Pacific exploration. But before Mike can act, the two journals are stolen.

Chasing them down will sweep Michael, Adrian, and Penelope across the globe—past a dead body or two—and into a very sinister slice of paradise. High in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, in a remote and secretive Maori compound, a secret rests in the hands in of a man daring enough to rewrite history . . . and desperate enough to kill.

Buy, read, and discuss Left Turn at Paradise

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About the author, Thomas Shawver

Thomas Shawver is a former marine officer, lawyer, and journalist with American City Business Journals. An avid rugby player and international traveler, Shawver owned Bloomsday Books, an antiquarian bookstore in Kansas City. He’s at work on the third Rare Book mystery.


My Thoughts

When I read the first Rare Book Mystery, The Dirty Book Murder, earlier this year, I stayed up all night because I was so gripped by the story. The sequel, Left Turn at Paradise is similarly compelling, to the point where rather than read it IN the bath, I actually SKIPPED my bath in order to stay with the story. If you knew how seriously I take baths, you would understand that this is high praise, indeed.

In fact, bookshop owner Michael Bevan is fast becoming one of my favorite fictional detectives. I love that he’s able to hold his own in a brawl, sing in an Irish pub, and speak intelligently about all sorts of subjects, to the point where you just know that he’s the kind of guy who knows that “Iraq” is pronounced “ee-rakh” and not “eye-rack.”

This book takes us further afield than the first. We travel with Mike first to San Francisco for a rare book convention, and then to New Zealand, when the actual mystery part of the plot really becomes active. There are familiar characters – former FBI agent/current lover Josie is one of them – and there are new characters as well, such as Pillow (no, really) who is a really interesting woman.

As a fan of all things ship-y and pirate-y, I loved that the books at the center of this plot involved Captain Cook’s Pacific voyages, and the recurring images of the ocean and water in general just added to atmosphere.

Thomas Shawver spins an awfully good tale, full of believable characters in heightened situations, and manages to give us mysteries that are edgier than true cozies, and cozier than true hard-boileds, and feel slightly old-fashioned while still being completely contemporary.

Goes well with Steak au poivre and a glass of Two Paddocks wine.


TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For more information, and the complete list of stops, click HERE.

Review: A Matter of Mercy by Lynne Hugo (@LynneHugo)

About the book A Matter of Mercy A Matter of Mercy

Paperback: 278 pages
Publisher: Blank Slate Press (August 1, 2014)

Caroline Marcum thought she’d escaped the great mistake of her life by leaving Wellfleet harbor, but is forced to face it when she returns, reluctantly, to care for her dying mother. Ridley Neal put his past-and his prison term-behind him to return home to take over his father’s oyster and clam beds. Casual acquaintances long ago, when a nor’easter hits the coast, Rid and Caroline’s lives intersect once again. When Rid and two other sea farmers are sued by the wealthy owners of vacation homes who want to shut them down, and Caroline accidentally meets the person she most wronged, they each must learn to trust-and love. Inspired by a 1996 lawsuit, A Matter of Mercy is a riveting novel about treasuring the traditional way of life in the shallows of beautiful Cape Cod bay by discovering where forgiveness ends. And where it begins.

Buy, read, and discuss A Matter of Mercy

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About the author, Lynne Hugo Lynne Hugo

Lynne Hugo is a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship recipient who has also received grants from the Ohio Arts Council and the Kentucky Foundation for Women.

She has published five previous novels, one of which became a Lifetime Original Movie of the Month, two books of poetry, and a children’s book. Her memoir, Where The Trail Grows Faint, won the Riverteeth Literary Nonfiction Book Prize.

Born and educated in New England, she and her husband currently live in Ohio with a yellow Lab feared by squirrels in a three state area.

Connect with Lynne

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My Thoughts

I read A Matter of Mercy during a month when I was also attempting to write an produce a podcast every day as part of the Dog Days of Podcasting Challenge, and I have to say, even though emotions run high among the characters, author Lynne Hugo captured the feeling of living on the shore so well, that the novel itself felt restful while I was reading it.

But ‘restful’ should in no way be interpreted as ‘boring.’

The two main characters, Caroline “CiCi” Marcum and Ridley “Rid” Neal are each interesting in their own right, each recovering from a somewhat tumultuous past, and each a little bit cracked around the edges, if not actually broken. Caroline has returned to Wellfleet to see her mother through the older woman’s final days with ovarian cancer. (As someone who watched a dear friend of my mother’s go through just such a disease – there is no cure – those scenes were especially poignant for me). Rid is running the family oyster business. Together, they learn to forgive, to let go, to grab onto something new, and even to find love.

What I really loved about these characters, and all the characters in the novel, is that all of them were richly layered. Even Caroline’s mother, whom we see pretty much entirely cloaked by her cancer, is a vibrant soul, and through Caroline’s rememberances we learn about both women. There’s a flash of memory, early on, where Caroline recalls her mother brushing out her hair, as a child. What mother and daughter haven’t had that same experience?

Likewise the men in the novel are really dimensional. I’m often frustrated by women who write women characters really well, and then turn all the men into cardboard cutouts, but Lynne Hugo is a master of her craft, and every person we meet, friend or foe, local or summer person, feels like a real person.

The novel was, of course, inspired by an actual summerfolk vs. locals lawsuit, as happens wherever people want the shoreline to be more about development, and less about sustainable lifestyles, but while the suit may have been a jumping-off point, it’s clear that Hugo’s work is her very own.

I want to add a note, as well about the author herself. When I received the ARC of this novel, directly from the author, she’d included a bunch of promotional bookmarks and postcards, and a really lovely note apologizing for the sending of an ARC! As well, she signed it, which makes it all the more special.

Bottom line? This is a wonderful, poignant, novel by an extremely classy woman, and you should waste no time reading it. Don’t let the shoreline setting confuse you; this is a year-round novel. It’s not just for summer reading.

Goes well with a raw oyster bar (hello, Ceviche) and a good local microbrew beer.


TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For more information, and the complete list of tour stops, click HERE.

Review: Camp Utopia and the Forgiveness Diet, by Jenny Ruden

About Camp Utopia & the Forgiveness Diet Camp Utopia & the Forgiveness Diet

Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Koehler Books (July 1, 2014)

Sixteen-year-old Baltimore teen Bethany Stern knows the only way out of spending her summer at Camp Utopia, a fat camp in Northern California, is weight-loss. Desperate, she tries The Forgiveness Diet, the latest fad whose infomercial promises that all she has to do is forgive her deadbeat dad, her scandalous sister, and the teenage magician next door and (unrequited) love of her life. But when the diet fails and her camp nemesis delivers the ultimate blow, Bee bids sayonara to Camp-not-Utopian-at-all to begin what she believes will be her “real” summer adventure, only to learn that running away isn’t as easy—or as healing—as it seems.

Her wry and honest voice bring humor and poignancy for anyone, fat or thin, tired of hearing “you’d be so pretty if…[insert unwelcome judgment about your appearance from loved one or perfect stranger].”

Buy, read, and discuss Camp Utopia & the Forgiveness Diet

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About the author, Jenny Ruden Jenny Ruden

Jenny Ruden has published short stories and essays in Nerve, Salon, Eclectica Magazine, Literary Mama and High Desert Journal. She won an Orlando award for creative nonfiction, was named a finalist in Glimmertrain’s short fiction contest, and has been nominated for the Pushcart prize two years in a row.

She has worked with teenagers for over ten years as a teacher of Reading, Writing and GED, and has an MFA in Fiction from the University of Oregon. She lives with her husband, two daughters, two basset hounds and cat in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Connect with Jenny

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My Thoughts

Camp Utopia & the Forgiveness Diet is everything I needed to read when I was fourteen, and sixteen, and twenty-one. It’s fresh, funny, and grounded in a heightened reality that never takes itself too seriously.

Protagonist Bethany is painfully real, depicted at the age when so many of us were battling the desire to conform to peer-defined norms with the equally strong urges to be true to ourselves. She faces the world with a combination of spunk and sadness, idealism and naivete that make her pop out from the pages and seem as if she’s recounting her story from across the kitchen table. So much did I feel for her, that I wanted to pull her into a hug, and assure her that things would eventually get better, even if she never lost an ounce.

While her sister (and her sister’s boyfriend) were also interesting characters, it is TJ, the boy-magician next door, who really captured my attention. How many of us have just such an unrequited love in our lives, even today. How many of us have done stupid things in an attempt to seem bolder, more interesting, more attractive?

Jenny Ruden has written a story that is part comedy, part drama, and wholly true, in the way that the best stories always are. Maybe you can’t lose weight by writing names on pieces of paper, but you can gain a stronger perspective of who you really are in the world by reading this novel.

Goes well with a plate of apples, strong cheddar cheese, and a handful of cashews, and a glass of peach iced tea.


TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For more information, and the complete list of tour stops, click HERE.

Book Blast: The Typewriter Girl, by Alison Atlee is Now Available in Audio!

The Typewriter Girl_Blog Tour & Blast Banner_FINAL v2

Author Alison Atlee’s The Typewriter Girl is now an audio­book, nar­rated by Audie win­ner Ros­alyn Lan­dor, and in celebration she’ll be touring the blogosphere from August 4-29 with HF Virtual Book Tours!

The Typewriter Girl

Audible Audio Book Edition
Audible.com Release Date: April 4, 2014
Listening Length: 12 hours and 39 minutes
Publisher: Audible Studios
Language: English
ASIN: B00JH0L9HW

Genre: Historical Fiction

Add the Typewriter Girl to Goodreads

 

 

A Pub­lish­ers Weekly Best Books of the Year pick: The Type­writer Girl is a “spec­tac­u­lar debut, set in a per­fectly real­ized Vic­to­rian England.”

When Bet­sey Dob­son dis­em­barks from the Lon­don train in the sea­side resort of Idensea, all she owns is a small valise and a canary in a cage. After an attempt to forge a let­ter of ref­er­ence she knew would be denied her, Bet­sey has been fired from the typ­ing pool of her pre­vi­ous employer. Her vig­or­ous protest left one man wounded, another jilted, and her char­ac­ter per­ma­nently besmirched.

Now, with­out money or a ref­er­ence for a new job, the future looks even bleaker than the deba­cle she left behind her.

But her life is about to change … because a young Welsh­man on the rail­road quay, wait­ing for another woman, is the one finally will­ing to believe in her.

Mr. Jones is inept in mat­ters of love, but a genius at things mechan­i­cal. In Idensea, he has con­structed a glit­ter­ing pier that astounds the wealthy tourists. And in Bet­sey, he rec­og­nizes the ideal tour man­ager for the Idensea Pier & Plea­sure Build­ing Company.

After a life­time of guard­ing her secrets and break­ing the rules, Bet­sey becomes a force to be reck­oned with. Together, she and Mr. Jones must find a way for her to suc­ceed in a soci­ety that would reject her, and fig­ure the price of sur­ren­der­ing to the tides of love.

Praise for The Typewriter Girl

“Atlee’s out¬standing debut unflinchingly explores … the unforgiving man’s world of Victorian England.” –PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review)

“Easily one of the most romantic books I’ll read all year … John and Betsey are compelling and worth rooting for.” –DEAR AUTHOR (a Recommended Read)

“Sweeps readers to a satisfying conclusion.” –LIBRARY JOURNAL

Buy the AudioBook

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Audible.com

About the AuthorAlison Atlee

Alison Atlee spent her childhood re-enacting Little Women and trying to fashion nineteenth century wardrobes for her Barbie dolls. Happily, these activities turned out to be good preparation for writing historical novels. She now lives in Kentucky.

For more information please visit Alison Atlee’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads and Pinterest.

The Typewriter Girl Blog Tour & Book Blast Schedule

Monday, August 4
Review at Peeking Between the Pages (Audio Book)
Book Blast at Mina’s Bookshelf
Book Blast at Princess of Eboli
Book Blast at Literary Chanteuse
Book Blast at What Is That Book About

Tuesday, August 5
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews (Print)
Book Blast at So Many Books, So Little Time

Wednesday, August 6
Book Blast at Let Them Read Books

Thursday, August 7
Book Blast at Mari Reads
Book Blast at Book Lovers Paradise

Friday, August 8
Book Blast at Book Blast Central

Saturday, August 9
Book Blast at Caroline Wilson Writes

Sunday, August 10
Book Blast at Book Nerd

Monday, August 11
Review at Just One More Chapter (Audio Book)
Book Blast at Gobs and Gobs of Books

Tuesday, August 12
Book Blast at Queen of All She Reads

Wednesday, August 13
Review at Historical Tapestry (Audio Book)
Book Blast at The Lit Bitch
Book Blast at CelticLady’s Reviews

Thursday, August 14
Review at A Bookish Affair (Print)
Guest Post at Historical Tapestry

Friday, August 15
Review at Brooke Blogs (Audio Book)
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair

Saturday, August 16
Book Blast at Broken Teepee

Sunday, August 17
Interview at Closed the Cover

Monday, August 18
Review at The Maiden’s Court (Audio Book)

Tuesday, August 19
Book Blast at Layered Pages
Book Blast at Always with a Book

Wednesday, August 20
Book Blast at Literary, Etc.

Thursday, August 21
Review at Books in the Burbs (Print)
Book Blast at Bibliotica

Friday, August 22
Review at Bibliophilia, Please (Audio Book)

Saturday, August 23
Book Blast at Reading Lark
Book Blast at Ageless Pages Reviews

Sunday, August 24
Book Blast at Passages to the Past

Monday, August 25
Review at Flashlight Commentary (Audio Book)
Book Blast at Historical Fiction Connection

Tuesday, August 26
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, August 27
Book Blast at Susan Heim on Writing

Thursday, August 28
Review at Luxury Reading (Print)
Review at The True Book Addict (Audio Book)
Review at Jorie Loves a Story (Print)

Friday, August 29
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story

The Typewriter Girl Swag Giveaway

One copy of The Typewriter Girl (Audio Book or Print)
Set of earbuds in a cute typewriter print pouch
A Typewriter Girl Happily-Ever-After t-shirt (features last lines from famous novels)
A vintage style postcard “from” Idensea, the setting of The Typewriter Girl
A “dream wildly” ribbon bookmark with typewriter key charms

To enter, please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Giveaway is open to residents in the US, Canada, and the UK.

Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on August 29th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on August 30th and notified via email.
Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Typewriter Girl_Blog Tour & Blast Banner_FINAL v2

Review: A Better Place, by Barbara Hall

About the book A Better Place A Better Place

Print Length: 270 pages
Publisher: Open Road Media (July 1, 2014)

A Southern novel in the tradition of Anne Tyler and Anne Rivers Siddons, A Better Place marks the adult fiction debut of one of television’s most successful and creative writers

In an attempt to discover why her life hasn’t worked out the way she had hoped it would, Valerie Caldwell returns to the Southern town she left twelve years earlier to visit her old haunts and two friends from her school days, Tess and Mary Grace—much to their alarm and chagrin.

Buy, read, and discuss A Better Place
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Barbara Hall Barbara Hall

To TV audiences she may be better known as a four-time Emmy-nominated writer and producer (Joan of Arcadia, Judging Amy) and the co-Executive Producer of Homeland, but to avid readers she’s a novelist with 11 published works whose imagination has been honored by numerous institutions, including the American Library Association in both their Best Books and Notable Books categories.

An accomplished author, Hall wrote three young adult novels including: Skeeball and the Secret of the Universe, Dixie Storms and Fool’s Hill, as well as the mystery House Across the Cove. Her other novels include A Better Place, Close to Home and A Summons to New Orleans.

Connect with Barbara

Twitter


My Thoughts

From time to time, I get invitations from NetGalley to review books, and from time to time I take them up on the offer. After all, free books are never bad.

Anyway, I finished reading this book today, while fighting a migraine, completely convinced it was something I committed to for one of the blog tour sponsors I work with, only to realize it actually wasn’t, which is good, since I’m writing this review at ten pm.

I loved the book! It’s author Barbara Hall’s first foray out of YA and into contemporary adult literature (according to what I read in Publisher’s Weekly, and it’s the perfect novel for a lazy summer’s day. The characters are the kinds of southern women you expect to find in a small town, and their dialogue never felt at all unreal.

Likewise the theme of the novel – the romanticizing of home and youth – is a universal one, and one that I, at an age significantly older than the characters in this novel, am still prone to engage in.

But there’s another theme, one the main character Valerie brings up about a third of the way into the book: Everyone wants their life to have a story.

It was that thought that really made the rest of the novel sing for me, because I think it’s completely true.

Comparisons to Anne Rivers Siddons are actually pretty spot on, in tone if not in detail, and I look forward to more of Halls work in this genre, though I’ve never been opposed to reading YA even though the Y part still applies to me.

Goes well with Sweet tea and chicken salad.