Island Fog by John Vanderslice – Review

About Island FogIsland Fog

• Paperback: 288 pages
• Publisher: Lavender Ink (April 28, 2014)

Island Fog is a thematic, novel-length collection of stories, all set on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. Nantucket as we know it began as an English settlement relatively early in the colonial period of the United States. In the heyday of its nineteenth century success as a whaling center, the island, for being as small as it is, was quite the cosmopolitan center. Sailors from across the globe mingled with a mixed local population of descendents of the original English settlers, black Americans, and Native Americans. Today too Nantucket is known as being especially open to visitors from around the world. When one travels there, one feels that one is no longer in the United States but in a culturally indistinct, in-between land, somehow equidistant from North America, the Caribbean, and Northern Europe.

Island Fog captures the physical, social, and political atmosphere of the island from both historical and contemporary perspectives. It is divided into two halves, with the first half containing five historical fictions and the latter half containing six contemporary ones. The first historical fiction is set in 1795, only a decade removed from the young America’s formalized independence from Britain, and the last historical fiction is set in 1920, one year after America’s passage of the infamous Volstead Act (prohibition). The middle three historical stories are set, respectively, in 1823, 1837, and 1846, the period when the whaling industry enjoyed its greatest profitability and the island its greatest wealth. The set of contemporary fictions begin in the late twentieth century and continue into the middle of the first decade of this century. Thus the stories of Island Fog bridge four centuries of Nantucket history.

The first story, “Guilty Look,” fictionalizes the real life Nantucket bank robbery of 1795, an event that famously divided the heretofore peaceful “paradise” into warring factions of Quakers and Congregationalists, Jeffersonians and Federalists. The other historical fictions—through first, second, and third person narration—depict a fraught and potentially violent friendship between a self-assured white adolescent and the half-breed son of the last full-blooded Wampanoag on the island (“King Philip’s War”); the trapped existence of a whaling widow, who while she waits for her disappeared and likely deceased husband has begun to waken to her latent lesbian nature (“On Cherry Street”); the tortured inner life of an ex-captain who has never gotten over having to become a cannibal to survive during one particularly harrowing whaling expedition twenty-eight years earlier (“Taste”); and the exasperation of a lonely African-American school teacher who despite being born and raised on the island still does not feel, and is not allowed to feel, like a native (“How Long Will You Tarry?”).

The six contemporary stories examine a variety of island lives, some of them Nantucket natives but others visitors for whom the island is either a last refuge or an existential prison. Along the way, we meet a carpenter whose wife deliberately jumped off the Nantucket to Hyannis ferry, drowning herself and her infant child (“Morning Meal”); a couple in their thirties who has not recovered, and will not recover, from a series of tragic miscarriages (“Beaten”); a retired businessman who feels thoroughly caught by his marriage to a dominating, materialistic woman (“Newfoundland”); a fortyish leader of ghost walks who is haunted by both a literal ghost and a communication from his former lover (“Haunted”); a Jamaican family trying to establish quasi-American lives for themselves on the island, an effort that a new tragedy at the mother’s workplace threatens to unhinge (“Managing Business”); and, finally, an American student who has given up on college and goes to Nantucket for a prearranged summer job only to find a different job there, one that forces him to reconsider everything he thought he understood about himself, his life, and the island (“Island Fog”).

The focus of every one of the eleven stories in the collection is on the characters populating them: their latent desires and disappointing pasts, their future hopes and drastic, misguided decisions.  These are stories, not treatises on American cultural history. Yet by gathering together in one place all these pieces, a provocative and even cutting picture of Nantucket—its physical beauty, its social tensions, its preening hypocrisies—inevitably arise, making Island Fog far greater than the sum of its gorgeous, sorrowful parts.

Buy, read, and discuss Island Fog

AmazonBarnes & Noble | Goodreads


About John Vanderslice John Vanderslice

John Vanderslice teaches in the MFA program at the University of Central Arkansas, where he also serves as associate editor of Toad Suck Review magazine. His fiction, poetry, essays, and one-act plays have appeared in Seattle ReviewLaurel Review, Sou’wester, CrazyhorseSouthern Humanities Review1966, Exquisite Corpse, and dozens of other journals. He has also published short stories in several fiction anthologies, including Appalachian Voice, Redacted StoryChick for a DayThe Best of the First Line: Editors Picks 2002-2006, and Tartts: Incisive Fiction from Emerging Writers.  His new book of short stories, Island Fog, published by Lavender Ink, is a linked collection, with every story set on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.


My Thoughts:

From the opening chapters of the first story in this collection (“Guilty Look”) to the last words of the last story, I was hooked on John Vanderslice’s writing voice, and on his description of Nantucket as it developed from a small village to a thriving community. Admittedly, my own bias made it difficult for me to see a Quaker as a ‘bad guy’ (although all of Vanderslice’s characters are more complex than such a label would imply), and that made the first story a bit difficult for me, but the storytelling won out in the end, and I remained engaged.

The rest of the stories in this collection, linked by their setting and their populations of imperfect, all-too-human characters, were also fascinating, compelling reads. “Beaten,” which involved a couple who had suffered multiple miscarriages, struck particularly close to home for me (I’ve had two.)

If you’re one of those readers whose only knowledge of Nantucket comes from Elin Hilderbrand’s admittedly-addictive beachy novels with their interchangeable pastel-clad husbands and fantastic restaurants, this book will be a wake-up call to a much grittier, more realistic, and more diverse version of the island.

There’s room for both types of story, of course, and one doesn’t compete with the other at all, but given the choice, I’d pick Vanderslice because every single character felt three-dimensional, flawed, interesting, and really real to me, and because the glimpse at the long history of this community – from settlement to whaling mecca to tourist destination – was also a fascinating glimpse into a distinctly American culture.

This was my first introduction to Vanderslice’s work. I hope it won’t be my last.

Goes well with a steaming bowl of New England clam chowder, and a local micro-brew beer.


John’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

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

Monday, January 5th: The Year in Books

Tuesday, January 6th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Wednesday, January 7th: Books on the Table

Thursday, January 8th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Friday, January 9th: The Book Binder’s Daughter

Monday, January 12th: The Discerning Reader

Tuesday, January 13th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, January 14th: Lit and Life

Friday, January 16th: Peeking Between the Pages

Tuesday, January 20th: Bibliotica

Thursday, January 22nd: A Book Geek

Spotlight: Daughter of the Fallen by Madeleine Wynn – Enter to Win $50 Amazon Gift Card

About the book Daughter of the Fallen Daughter of the Fallen

Title: Daughter of the Fallen
Author: Madeline Wynn
Publisher: Book Baby
Pages: 250
Genre: YA paranormal
Format: Paperback

Most sixteen-year olds aren’t worried about the fate of their immortal souls. May Krieg should be.

Typically, honor student May’s biggest problems have revolved around her super-hot arch-rival, Jack. But when a school project takes them ghost-hunting in a local cemetery, she discovers that an ominous force roams in the darkness around her.

And it follows her home.

It claws its way into her life, burning messages into her wall and imprinting them onto her body. Even worse, she can’t tell if it’s trying to possess her… or protect her.

May’s thoughts soon become actions, causing the target of her anger severe physical pain and giving her a rush the likes of which she has never experienced. She quickly realizes that she needs to find a way to reign in this power before she kills someone. May hates the pleasure it gives her, hates herself for hurting others, but she can’t stop.

As her entire world shatters around her, she is forced to ask what her soul is worth– and who would she risk losing her soul to save?

Buy, read, and discuss Daughter of the Fallen

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


Read an excerpt from Daughter of the Fallen

This is New England. And in New England, a town without a good witch hanging or ghost story just, well, isn’t considered to be a real town. So when I walk past the iron gate of the cemetery and feel the urge to bolt riding up my legs like a herd of football players bum-rushing the food counter on taco day, I set my shoulders and do my best to cowboy up.

Set between imposing stone walls and punctured by large granite fists, Hillside Cemetery definitely looks like it deserves its sinister reputation, making my attempt at bravery rather brief. “This place sucks. Maybe we should just go.”

“Here, watch your step,” Cay says and holds out his hand to help me over the uneven cobbles just on the other side of the entry. Once we make it over the stones, he drops my hand and pulls the recording equipment out of the duffle.

We’ve been friends ever since kindergarten, when some boy taunted me for living in a “little troll house.” Cay, the kickball king, told him that it was actually a gingerbread house, and everybody knows that only fairy princesses live in gingerbread houses.

He was wrong, of course; it was witches who lived in the gingerbread houses, a fact I pointed out to him later, but I gave him props for the effort. We’ve been “Cay and May” ever since, but the whole dating thing still feels… awkward.

“Is this all from school or is Jack bringing some of his dad’s?” I swipe an errant curl of hair out of my face and cringe at my surroundings as I reach for the big video camera. Why does it have to be so dark? Why can’t people ghost hunt in the daylight? You can still supposed get sound bites and whatever in the daytime, right? It’s not like ghosts go anywhere or sleep or, you know, whatever.

“Well, the big stuff is the professional gear with night vision from school. And then we have my stuff.” Cay stops in front of a wide tomb, laying his multiple cameras and his mini video recorder along the top like they are the most precious things in the world. “Weird that Mr. Dowd put both you and Jack on my team.”

“Yeah, weird.” And a nightmare. If it wasn’t for Jack, I’d be ranked first in our year, and, unlike Jack, if I don’t earn a ton of scholarship money for college, then I can’t go.

Cay fumbles with the equipment, his breath rising in great grey puffs of frost, lingering in his dark bob of curls. I shiver.

A BMW pulls up in front of the entry gate, looking sleek and new and out of place.

I run an unsteady hand through my untamable hair…right…Jack.

He gets out of the car and strides towards us, stepping out into the camera’s lights: short blond hair, high cheekbones, and a long neck leading to strong shoulders. Everyone at school, except for me, that is, adores him because he’s rich, intelligent and supposedly lost his virginity to a Victoria’s Secret model.

Watching the god-like way he strides across the cemetery, you can almost believe the hype. He lifts his eyes to meet mine as he nods a greeting. My heart flips.

Of course, it would be easier to dislike him if he wasn’t so damn… hot. I shake my head. I hate that about him, too.

“You’re late.” I grab the sound gear from Cay and hand it to him, eyeing the orange-clad harpy of a girl trailing after him.

“I had to pick up Alicia.” He indicates the thing as he straps on the professional sound gear. “And respond to your post on the AP History board about gun control.”

I huff. “You think we should arm everyone with a credit card?”

“What I think is irrelevant, Mason.” Jack’s the only one in the universe who calls me by my full name. “It’s what the Founding Fathers wanted that matters.” He holds out his hand to help me navigate my way over a broken tomb. I ignore it. He smirks, “Or do you not support the Bill Of Rights?”

God, please keep me from throttling him tonight. Cay clears his throat.

“WTF, losers? A graveyard?” Alicia Impestio. Wearing her designer hoodie unzipped so that she reveals way more skin than she has to, her straight brown hair is bleached at the tips and held off of her over-tanned face by some rhinestone-studded catastrophe. I grit my teeth.

“Hey Alicia, glad you could make it.” Cay holds the minicam out towards her and helps her onto the cobbled path of the graveyard.

“Whatever.” Alicia grabs the mini and swats at Cay’s hand as she struggles to gain a foothold. A challenging endeavor, I’m sure, for someone wearing flip-flops in November.

She gives me the once-over, lips curling.

“You really wore that?” She asks, mouth open with disdain.

“Alicia…” Jack’s voice is low, menacing.

“I mean” –she gives me the once-over and sneers- “Aren’t the Kardashians some of you people? They at least know how to dress. But, then again, they also know who their daddy is.”

That’s Alicia: hitting where it hurts. I blink through the stinging at my eyes as my mind races to find something snarky to say…something to…

“Alicia,” Jack snaps. “Stop.”

“Fine, but tell Clay Aiken over there to hurry it. I’m cold.”

Jack makes a motion with his head to indicate that Cay should ignore her as he adjusts the weight of the portable boom on his back.

“Okay, I’m filming.” I say and catch the low-hanging harvest moon before panning down to Cay. “In three, two, one…”

“This is Cayden Robison of Chase Hills High Broadcasting reporting on site at Hillside Cemetery. In 1734, three witches were reportedly hung just up the road, on the town green and buried, here, in this cemetery, in unmarked graves.”

“Then, in 1864, three men were arrested for grave digging, and ever since, people have reported strange things not only here, but especially out behind the burial grounds, in the woods.” Cay runs his hand along the top of a worn tombstone.

“Reports of paranormal activity really began to pick up in the past thirty years.” He pauses, and I pan the camera over to the creepy oak and the broken bench beneath it, hands a little unsteady. “Some people claim to hear voices, others see full-body apparitions, but most convincingly, in the 1980s, some kids back here partying say that they found satanists performing rituals in the woods. They watched as the group made a make-shift temple of one of the half-buried barite mines in the woods, and claim that the men actually raised a demon.”

He stops, looking intently into the lens of my camera. I flex my fingers, my breath rushed, like I’ve been running.

“Tonight, we’re going to dig for the truth and see if Hillside Cemetery is actually haunted.” Cays smiles.

Deep breath, May. It’s just a story. Fairytales. There’s no such thing as demons, or ghosts.


About the author, Madeleine Wynn Madeline Wynn

Madeline Wynn holds a master’s degree in procrastination. When she’s not writing, she can be found ghost hunting, gardening and parading around her home state of Connecticut with her husband, dog and two kids.

Her latest book is the YA paranormal, Daughter of the Fallen.

Connect with Madeline

WebsiteFacebook | Twitter.


GIVEAWAY

Madeline Wynn is giving away a $50 Amazon Gift Card!

Terms & Conditions:

• By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
• One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter.
• This giveaway begins November 3 and ends January 31.
• Winner will be contacted via email on Monday, February 2.
• Winner has 48 hours to reply.
Good luck everyone!
ENTER TO WIN!

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Blog Tour

This spotlight is part of a blog tour sponsored by Pump Up Your Book. For more information, click HERE.

After the War is Over, by Jennifer Robson

About the book, After the War is Over After the War is Over

• Paperback: 384 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (January 6, 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

Buy, read, and discuss After the War is Over

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads


About Jennifer Robson Jennifer Robson

Jennifer Robson first learned about the Great War from her father, acclaimed historian Stuart Robson, and later served as an official guide at the Canadian National War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, France. A former copy editor, she holds a doctorate in British economic and social history from the University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and young children.

Connect with Jennifer

Facebook.


My Thoughts

I spent December immersed in another post-war story, having binge-watched three seasons of Call the Midwife with my parents and husband. Of course, that story was post WWII, and this one was post WWI, but if you like that show, chances are that you will love – or at least appreciate – this novel.

Author Jennifer Robson is amazing at putting in the tiny details that make scenes seem so realistic – the sound of footsteps, the look in an eye, the scent of tea – whatever, but she’s equally amazing at making us feel as though her characters are fully formed, dimensional people, from their very first appearances. In my case, I was hooked on this story the second Charlotte used five pounds of her own money to help someone, and not just because it’s something I would have done, in her position.

While this novel deals with some very deep subjects – how do we find ourselves after a national tragedy? How do we define ourselves in a world that is constantly in flux? Dare we turn away from people who are in need of help? – it is also full of hope and joy. The hope that life will be better, that new relationships will thrive, and the joy of breaking bread and sharing stories with friends, and of opening ourselves to new loves, and new possibilities.

If you think historical romances have to be bodice-rippers or require bare-chested men in kilts, or the clank of armor (not that any of those things are bad) then your definition of the genre is severely limited, and this book will open your eyes to what history and romance can really be.

If you already know this, then trust me, you need to read After the War is Over because Jennifer Robson is destined to be an important voice in fiction.

Goes well with Fish & chips, wrapped in newspaper and served with a dash of vinegar.


Jennifer’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

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

Tuesday, January 6th: A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, January 7th: Unshelfish

Thursday, January 8th: Drey’s Library

Friday, January 9th: Kritters Ramblings

Monday, January 12th: Reading Reality

Tuesday, January 13th: Biltiotica

Wednesday, January 14th: Diary of an Eccentric

Thursday, January 15th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Monday, January 19th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Wednesday, January 21st: The Book Binder’s Daughter

The Divorce Diet, by Ellen Hawley (@ellen_hawley) – Review

About the book The Divorce Diet The Divorce Diet

Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Kensington (December 30, 2014)

The Divorce Diet is dedicated to every woman who ever walked away from a relationship—or a diet.

Abigail, an inspired cook and stay-at-home mother, decides to repair the problems in her marriage with a diet book for herself and an elaborate birthday dinner for her husband. But over dinner her husband announces that the whole marriage thing just doesn’t work for him. Reeling, she packs up her baby, her cookbooks, and her single estate extra virgin olive oil and moves in with her parents while she looks for work and child care.

Floundering and broke in this life she didn’t choose, she turns for guidance and emotional support to the internalized voice of her diet book, and it becomes her invisible guru. While she struggles to reconcile the joy she takes in cooking with the book’s joyless and increasingly bizarre recipes and her native good sense with its advice, she works her way from one underpaid job to the next, eats everything but what her diet book recommends, and swears to get her life in order before her daughter’s old enough to create long-term memories.

Her diet book has promised to help her become the person she wants to be, but it’s only when she strikes out on her own that she figures out who that is.

Buy, read, and discuss The Divorce Diet

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Goodreads


About the author, Ellen Hawley Ellen Hawley

Ellen Hawley has published two previous novels, Open Line (Coffee House Press, 2008) and Trip Sheets (Milkweed Editions, 1998).

She has worked as an editor and copy editor, a creative writing teacher, a talk show host, a cab driver, a waitress, an assembler, a janitor, a file clerk, and for four panic-filled hours a receptionist. She lived in Minnesota for forty years and now lives in Cornwall, where she feeds a blog—as well as two cats, one dog, one partner, and any friends who stop by.

Awards include a Writer’s Voice Capricorn Award, a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant, and a Loft-McKnight Award.

Connect with Ellen

Blog | Website | Twitter


My Thoughts:

As someone who is very fortunate to have a stable, long-term marriage, you might think The Divorce Diet wouldn’t appeal to me, but you’d be wrong. Even though I’m not a twenty-five-year-old mother of a small child who’s marriage is crumbling, I found that a lot of Abigail’s story – wanting to improve herself, finding the meal plans in diet books appalling, and feeling like a teenager when she’s living with her parents (something I haven’t done since I was in my twenties, and then only temporarily) – really resonated with me.

Abigail’s story is a poignant one, full of pain and anguish, but it’s also incredibly funny…and author Ellen Hawley perfectly balances the humor that comes from pain and the humor that comes from diet books, mixing them both together into a tasty treat that tickles the brain and satisfies the imagination. (I especially liked things like an ingredient list that included fat-free quotation marks.)

No marriage is perfect. No one doesn’t think about improving themselves. And no pop-tart has a discernible flavor. These are universal truths. Another one: The Divorce Diet should go on your to-be-read pile immediately.

Goes well with a perfectly-cooked organic chicken breast with olive oil, lemon, and fresh herbs, served with roasted squash and a fresh green salad.


Ellen Hawley’s TLC Book Tours Tour Stops 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, see the list below, or click HERE.

Monday, January 5th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Tuesday, January 6th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, January 7th: Books a la Mode – guest post and giveaway

Thursday, January 8th: Annabel and Alice

Monday, January 12th: The Well Read Redhead

Tuesday, January 13th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, January 14th: West Metro Mommy Reads

Thursday, January 15th: BookNAround

Monday, January 19th: The Discerning Reader

Tuesday, January 20th: Reading and Eating

Wednesday, January 21st: Bell, Book & Candle

Thursday, January 22nd: girlichef

Friday, January 23rd: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, January 26th: Snowdrop Dreams of Books

Tuesday, January 27th: Bibliophiliac

Wednesday, January 28th: I’d Rather Be at the Beach

Almost Perfect, by Diane Daniels Manning – Review

About the book Almost Perfect Almost Perfect

Paperback: 330 pages
Publisher: Beltor (January 28, 2014)

A YA novel about two unlikely friends, their dogs, and the competitions that bring them and their community together. (Kirkus Reviews)

An old woman who has given up hope and a boy who believes the impossible wonder if life would be perfect at the Westminster Dog Show.

Seventy-year old Bess Rutledge has dreamed of winning the Westminster Dog Show all her life. Despite her decades-long career as one of America’s top Standard Poodle breeders, she has decided she’s too old to hold on to her foolish dream. She sells off all the dogs in her once famous kennel except for the aging champion McCreery and his mischievous, handsome son Breaker. Part of her senses they might have been the ones to take her to Westminster, if only she’d dared to try.

Bess meets Benny, a teenager with mild autism who attends a therapeutic special school, and learns he has a dream of his own: to impress his self-absorbed mother. Benny is drawn into the world of dog shows and becomes convinced he has found the perfect way to win his mother’s attention. If he can win Westminster with either McCreery or Breaker, he just knows she will finally be proud of him. Getting Bess to go along with his plan, however, is not going to be so easy. . .

Buy, read, and discuss Almost Perfect

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


My Thoughts:

This book is a bit of a slow burner…but once you get into it and really get to know the characters, you find that it has it’s own special charm. Bess and Benny the two central characters, couldn’t be more different, and yet, through love of dogs and strange circumstances both of these slightly bent (if not actually broken) people become friends in the way that old souls and young souls tend to do.

I enjoyed the sense of otherness the author used when writing Benny’s scenes. He’s autistic, but high functioning, and there is never any question that his brain is wired a bit differently from those who are neurotypical. There is also no question that this is BAD. It isn’t. It’s just one part of who this boy – young man, really – is.

Likewise, Bess’s stubbornness is a key character trait without being her only character trait. It makes you want to goad her into being your friend, deliver hot tea and baked goods to her while she’s tending a bitch in labor, and then massage her feet afterward, just because she clearly NEEDS someone to give her as much TLC as she gives her dogs, especially McCreery.

I have five dogs living in my house right now. Four are mine, all rescues. One is my current foster-dog. I love them all as if they were the purebred poodles that Bess breeds, and I know how quickly each of them has become a vital piece of my heart, so the fact that this story was so tied up in the human-canine bond really resonated with me.

Bottom line: Almost Perfect was a fabulous read full of three-dimensional characters and great dialogue. Read. This. Book.

(Confession: I read this months ago, and only now had a moment to write the review. Apologies to the author for the delay.)

Goes well with Shepherd’s pie and a glass of apple cider (hard or not, doesn’t matter.)

Woman with a Gun, by Phillip Margolin – Review

About the book, Woman with a Gun Woman with a Gun

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (December 2, 2014)

This compelling thriller, from New York Times bestseller Phillip Margolin, centers on an intriguing photograph that may contain long-hidden answers to the mystery of a millionaire’s murder.

At a retrospective on the work of acclaimed photographer Kathy Moran, aspiring novelist Stacey Kim is fascinated by the exhibition’s centerpiece: the famous Woman with a Gun, which launched the artist’s career. Shot from behind, the enigmatic black-and-white image depicts a woman in a wedding dress standing on the shore at night, facing the sea. But this is no serene, romantic portrait. In her right hand, which is hidden behind her back, she holds a six-shooter.

The picture captures Stacey’s imagination and raises a host of compelling questions: Who is this woman? Is this a photograph of her on her wedding day? Does she plan to kill herself or someone else? Obsessed with finding answers, she soon discovers the identity of the woman: a suspect in a ten-year-old murder investigation. Convinced that proof of the woman’s guilt, or innocence, is somehow connected to the photograph, Stacey embarks on a relentless investigation.

Drawn deeper into the case, Stacey finds that everyone involved has a different opinion of the woman’s culpability. But the one person who may know the whole story—Kathy Moran—isn’t talking. Stacey must find a way to get to the reclusive photographer, and get her to talk, or the truth about what happened that day will stay forever hidden in the shadows.

Buy, read, and discuss Woman with a Gun

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads


About the author, Phillip Margolin Phillip Margolin

Phillip Margolin has written eighteen novels, many of them New York Times bestsellers, including the recent Worthy Brown’s Daughter, Sleight of Hand, and the Washington Trilogy. Each displays a unique, compelling insider’s view of criminal behavior, which comes from his long background as a criminal defense attorney who has handled thirty murder cases. Winner of the Distinguished Northwest Writer Award, he lives in Portland, Oregon.

Connect with Phillip:

Website | Facebook.


My Thoughts

How often do we see a photograph, a painting, a sculpture, and want to know the story behind it? How often do we actually go after the story once we’ve begun to wonder. In Woman with a Gun, Stacey Kim does what all of us (or at least I) have fantasized about – she sees the picture “Woman with a Gun” and is driven to find out the story.

I enjoyed the layers of this tale – the actual police investigation and Stacey’s more writerly one. I enjoyed the use of language, and the depth displayed by all of the characters. Stacey was especially engaging, but the photographer Kathy Moran was equally compelling, and all the other characters held my interest and never felt flat or at all like ‘stock’ characters.

I’m usually a step ahead of the story when it comes to whodunnits, but in this case I enjoyed being in the dark to the very end, and further enjoyed the blend of ‘mystery’ and ‘thriller’ that author Margolin mixed up for this novel.

I haven’t read any of his other work, but my Amazon wishlist has just expanded by several titles.

Goes well with Steak, mashed potatoes, a green salad, and a stiff drink.


Phillip’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For the complete list of tour stops, see below or click HERE.

Tuesday, December 2nd: The Steadfast Reader

Tuesday, December 2nd: Staircase Wit

Wednesday, December 3rd: Books in the Burbs

Thursday, December 4th: Under My Apple Tree

Monday, December 8th: The Daily Dosage

Tuesday, December 9th: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, December 10th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, December 10th: Great Minds Read Alike

Thursday, December 11th: Bibliotica

Friday, December 12th: FictionZeal

Monday, December 15th: Fuelled by Fiction

Tuesday, December 16th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, December 17th: The Book Binder’s Daughter

Thursday, December 18th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Friday, December 19th: Reading in Black & White

Monday, December 22nd: Ace and Hoser Blook

Tuesday, December 23rd: Living in the Kitchen

TBD: BoundbyWords

Release, by Hope Russell Nunki (@hotbluestar) – Review

About the book, Release Release

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Noon Key Productions LLC (November 15, 2014)
  • Ecstasy. Absolution. Escape. After three years of desperation, her release may be a new beginning… or it may be her end. Miscarrying Theodore on Leap Day devastated Mandelyn and Henry in ways that weren’t obvious at first. As year followed year, postpartum depression, marital dysfunction, and ethical corruption quietly metastasized under the guise of a lovely home and stable careers. To free herself of yearning and regret, Mandelyn turns to journaling with a virtual counselor, waxing nostalgic for past loves-sharp-witted Joshua, mercurial Sam, and enigmatic Dante. Never mind that Joshua came out of the closet after years of chaste camaraderie, Sam toyed with her emotions, and Dante, after a steamy year that culminated in a summer trip to India, simply faded from her life without explanation. Never mind that, discovering her journals, Henry makes a heartbreaking decision: “I release you. Go. Find yourself. See if something or someone- in your past or in your future-holds the keys to your happiness. Maybe you’ll find that you have what you need somewhere inside you. If you don’t live this life fully, Mandelyn, it won’t be on my account. I think you know I love you, but if the character of my love doesn’t fulfill you, I don’t have anything else to offer. Quantum nonlocality, Proustian memory, and the energy vortexes of Sedona, Arizona play into the Odyssey takes through the chasms between science and religion, perception and reality, masculine and feminine, head and heart, love and lust, and forgiveness and gratitude.

    Buy, read, and discuss Release

    Amazon (paperback) | Amazon (Kindle) | Facebook


    About the author, Hope Russell Nunki (in her words)

    “I am a former professional mascot, signmaker, thespian, and school teacher. The common thread among these roles is a passion for illuminating common yet complex issues in accessible yet unusual ways. With a degree in theatre arts, communications, and English from Simpson College, I taught, directed plays, and coached speech teams in central Iowa before returning to my roots in the suburbs of Chicago.”

    “With more than 15 years of experience in professional services marketing, I ghost-write and by-lines articles by day. By night, I volunteer her time and opinions far too easily and laugh really obnoxiously. I serve at the pleasure of my Alpha Chi Omega alumnae chapter, the local Panhellenic society, my daughters’ elementary school association, and the Society for Marketing Professional Services. I practice hatha yoga intermittently and run 5K races poorly. My husband and I are raising four daughters who are convinced we are the modern day incarnation of the March family.”

    Connect with Hope

    Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter


    My Thoughts

    When I was offered a review copy of this novel, I hesitated for a while, but only because I had so many reviews that I’d committed to. As it is, I waited longer than I meant to before posting it. This is in no way a reflection of Hope Russell Nunki’s fantastic novel.

    From the first scene, where Mandelyn comes home to find her husband Henry confronting her with information about her files, through the next chapter, where we learn about their stillborn son, four years earlier, through the rest of the novel, the author writes with a clear voice, in first person (which can often be tricky). We feel her protagonist’s pain even when we sympathize with Harry…and we want to see her life improve.

    What follows is a journey through pain and loss to self-awareness, and eventually self-fulfillment. The pitch I received described this novel as both ‘poignant’ and ‘hilarious’ and both are equally true. This is contemporary women’s fiction at its best: full of characters that sound real, emotions that ring true, and situations that may be somewhat heightened versions of reality, but never lack plausibility.

    It’s a gripping debut novel, a compelling read, and one I highly recommend. As well, I look forward to what Hope Russell Nunki creates next (no pressure.)

    Goes well with Koval white rye, and a cheese plate.

    The Language of Hoofbeats by Catherine Ryan Hyde (@cryanhyde) – Review

    About the book, The Language of Hoofbeats The Language of Hoofbeats

    • Paperback: 342 pages
    • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (December 9, 2014)

    From the bestselling author of Pay It Forward, comes a story of the heartbreak and healing power of family. New to a small town, Jackie and Paula envision a quiet life for their kids: a young adopted son and two teenage foster children, including the troubled Star. However, they quickly butt heads with their neighbor, Clementine, who disapproves of their lifestyle and is incensed when Star befriends her spirited horse, Comet. Haunted by past tragedy and unable to properly care for Comet, Clem nevertheless resents the bond Star soon shares with the horse. When Star disappears with Comet, the neighbors are thrown together—far too close together. But as the search for the pair wears on, both families must learn to put aside their animosity and confront the choices they’ve made and the scars they carry. Plumbing the depths of regret and forgiveness, The Language of Hoofbeats explores the strange alchemy that transforms a group of people into a family.

    Buy, read, and discuss The Language of Hoofbeats

    Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


    About the author, Catherine Ryan Hyde Catherine Ryan Hyde

    Catherine Ryan Hyde is the bestselling author of twenty-four novels, including the 1999 smash hitPay It Forward, which has been translated into more than two dozen languages, and was made into a major motion picture starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment. In addition to her novels, Hyde is the author of more than fifty short stories and is founder and former president (2000–2009) of the Pay It Forward Foundation. During her years as a professional public speaker, she addressed the National Conference on Education, met with AmeriCorps members at the White House, and shared a dais with President Bill Clinton.

    Connect with Catherine

    Website | Facebook | Twitter


    My Thoughts

    The Language of Hoofbeats wasn’t a ‘fall in love from the first paragraph’ kind of book for me. Instead, it drew me in slowly – oh, okay, this is a lesbian couple. Cool. Wow, they have more pets than I do (I work in rescue. Five dogs live in my house). Oh! These are foster children…etc., but by the time teenager Star was across the street picking burrs from the hide of Comet the horse, I was hooked. I wanted, not just to read about this family, but to cook them a mess of pasta and salad and garlic bread, and join them for dinner.

    Between J-Mom and P-Mom, the kids, the pets, and the couple across the street, there were a lot of characters to sort out, but their stories all unfolded gently, layering themselves like the petals of a blooming flower, until, at the end, what you had was a story of loss and love, of grief and acceptance, and the answer – or one answer – to the question, “What is family?”

    As someone who is blessed to have a solid nuclear family as well as an extensive chosen one, and as someone who grew up with activist parents and now works in rescue, this novel spoke to me on many levels. It’s not funny, but it does have moments of humor that come from life. It’s not horribly said, but when the tears flow, they’re laced with the essence of truth.

    It’s a quiet book, one that makes you really count your blessings, and be grateful for what – and who you have, but it’s also a compelling and entertaining read

    Goes well with Warm pita, hummus, and yellow lentil soup.


    Catherine Ryan Hyde’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

    This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For the complete list of tour stops, see below, or click HERE.

    Tuesday, December 2nd: Patricia’s Wisdom

    Tuesday, December 2nd: Fueled by Fiction

    Thursday, December 4th: Bibliotica

    Friday, December 5th: Eating and Reading

    Monday, December 8th: My Bookshelf

    Tuesday, December 9th: BookNAround

    Wednesday, December 10th: Jorie Loves a Story

    Thursday, December 11th: 100 Pages a Day….Stephanie’s Book Reviews

    Friday, December 12th: Joyfully Retired

    Monday, December 15th: 5 Minutes for Books

    Monday, December 15th: Back Porchervations

    Tuesday, December 16th: Laura’s List

    Wednesday, December 17th: Too Fond

    Thursday, December 18th: Peeking Between the Pages

    Friday, December 19th: I’d Rather Be at the Beach

    Saturday, December 20th: Books a la Mode – author guest post

    Monday, December 22nd: ebookclassics

    Tuesday, December 23rd: Nightly Reading

     

     

    Langston’s Daughters, by Juliette Harper (@jharperbooks) – Review

    About the book, Langston’s Daughters Langston's Daughters

    • Publisher: Skye House Publishing
    • Release date: December 3, 2014
    • Formats: paperback, ebook
    • Pages: 156

    Kate, Jenny, and Mandy. Langston Lockwood’s daughters. His tyranny drove them away. His suicide draws them home. They inherit his land, his millions, and his mysteries. Meet the women of the Rocking L and the men who come into their lives. Together, they begin the journey to discover the truth about The Lockwood Legacy. From the pain of the past they find the strength to build a dynasty.

    Langston’s Daughters is book one of The Lockwood Legacy.

    Buy, read, and discuss Langston’s Daughters

    Amazon (ebook) | Amazon (paperback) | Goodreads

    Per the author, this title will be available from Barnes and Noble soon.


    About the author, Juliette Harper

    Juliette Harper is the pen name used by the writing team of Patricia Pauletti and Rana K. Williamson. Like the characters of their debut series, The Lockwood Legacy, Juliette is a merging of their creative energies.

    Pauletti, an Easterner of Italian descent, is an accomplished musician with an eye for art and design. Williamson, a Texan from a long line of hardheaded Scots, knows the world of the Lockwoods like the back of her hand.

    Connect with Juliette

    Website | Twitter


    My Thoughts

    This novel is not only the debut novel from a writing partnership I’m sure will go on to great success, it is the first in a series about Langston Lockwood (now deceased) and his three grown daughters, Kate, Jenny, and Mandy. It’s a romance. It’s also kind of/sort of a western, in that it takes place on a ranch in Texas. Neither of those is my favorite genre, but even if half of the writing partnership that makes up “Juliette Harper” wasn’t one of my oldest blog-buddies, I would say the same thing about this book: It’s a great, fast read full of engaging characters and situations that carry the essence of truth.

    What a particularly liked was that each of the three women at the center of this novel were distinct characters with their own habits, preferences, personalities, and voices, but that they still ‘felt’ like people who had shared common experiences and had grown up together, as sisters should. Author Harper also excelled at finding, and relating, the human moments that happen in all families – the way bickering can lead to either laughter or tears, and the way people who disagree with each other can still love one another.

    Of course, no romance is complete without hunky guys, and this novel manages to make them (I liked Josh Baxter especially) seem as real and dimensional as the three central characters, and the same is true for all of the supporting characters, and even the community in which the ranch exists. As well, Langston himself, despite having committed an off-camera suicide before the novel even opens, is a very real character, and his presence, while not physical, still looms large throughout the story.

    When Mandy is in town noticing the number of empty storefronts, it resonated with me, and likely will with most aware readers, because small towns are facing that all over the U.S., and especially those in parts of the country where farming and ranching remain significant ways of life, as well as crucial parts of the economy. That scene is just one of the many ways Langston’s Daughters has been imbued with levels of depth and realism not found in typical romance novels.

    If you want a book that has romance and intrigue without the cookie-cutter heroines and twinkling-blue-eyes heroes that could easily be stock characters, you need to read Langston’s Daughters. If you love books featuring smart, strong women who appreciate and are appreciated by smart, strong men, you need to read this novel. If you like the idea of waking up at six in the morning to ride a horse up to a ridge, this novel is for you.

    I can’t wait for the sequel.

    Goes well with: Chili, corn bread, and a cold beer.

    Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads, by S. R. Mallery (@sarahmallery1) – Review

    About the book, Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads Sewing Can Be Dangerous

    • Publication Date: December 16, 2013
    • Publisher:Mockingbird Lane Press
    • Formats: eBook, Paperback, Audio Book
    • Pages:
    • Genre: Historical Fiction/Short Stories

    The eleven long short stories in Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads combine history, mystery, action and/or romance, and range from drug trafficking using Guatemalan hand-woven wallets, to an Antebellum U.S. slave using codes in her quilts as a message system to freedom; from an ex-journalist and her Hopi Indian maid solving a cold case together involving Katchina spirits, to a couple hiding Christian passports in a comforter in Nazi Germany; from a wedding quilt curse dating back to the Salem Witchcraft Trials, to a mystery involving a young seamstress in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire; from a 1980s Romeo and Juliet romance between a rising Wall Street financial star and an eclectic fiber artist, to a Haight-Asbury love affair between a professor and a beautiful macrami artist gone horribly askew, just to name a few.

    Watch the trailer for Sewing Can Be Dangerous

    Buy, read, and discuss Sewing Can Be Dangerous

    Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

    Buy the audio version of Sewing Can Be Dangerous

    Amazon | Audible.com | iTunes


    About the author, S. R. Mallery S.R. Mallery

    S.R. Mallery has worn various hats in her life.

    First, a classical/pop singer/composer, she moved on to the professional world of production art and calligraphy. Next came a long career as an award winning quilt artist/teacher and an ESL/Reading instructor. Her short stories have been published in descant 2008, Snowy Egret, Transcendent Visions, The Storyteller, and Down In the Dirt.

    Unexpected Gifts, her debut novel, is currently available on Amazon. Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads, her collection of short stories, was released in Jan. 2014. Both books are from Mockingbird Lane Press.

    Connect with S.R.

    Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter


    My Thoughts

    I don’t sew. I mean, I can hem pants if I really have to, and I can sew a button on, or make basic curtains, but I don’t have the love of fabric that real sewists (my mother’s word) have. I grew up in a house, however, where going barefoot meant you’d probably end up impaled by a straight pin, or three, and background noise nearly always included the cozy hum of a sewing machine’s flywheel punctuated by my mother’s cursing whenever something didn’t go according to plan.

    Despite not being a creator of fiber arts, myself, I have dabbled in crewel embroidery (and still do on rare occasions), I’ve tried to learn to knit (I had an excellent teacher, I am incapable of relaxing my grip enough), and I’m fascinated by quilting, and really will try it one day. The mostly-straight lines I can cope with, but quilting also involves math, and geometry was never my favorite subject.

    Reading about sewing, and other kinds of fiber arts, however, is something I love to do, so when I had the chance to review Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads, I asked for it in paperback, partly because I knew the short stories would make the perfect “bath book,” and partly because I knew I could pass it on to my mother. (It’s part of her Christmas present this year. Shhh! Don’t tell her!!)

    I planned to read this book in the bath over a few days, but the first story hooked me so deeply that I was absorbed by Mallery’s prose and forgot to fill the tub. Also, like potato chips, you cannot (well, I cannot) read just one short story, so I had to keep going. Before I knew it, I’d read away a whole night, and only the fact that I didn’t have a bright enough light made me put this book down.

    My favorite piece is the the second story, which is about quilts and curses, and appealed to my love of all things spooky and dark, but every single story is a gem – or, more accurately, a hand-sewn bead among a collection of hand-sewn beads. Mallery’s voice is clear and consistent even when moods and tones are radically different, and it was lovely having so many different women as protagonists. Many of these stories could easily be expanded into longer works, if the author chose to do so, but they also stand well in their current format.

    Read this for yourself, even if you don’t sew. And buy a copy for a woman in your life who does sew, because she’ll love it.

    Goes well with Bold dark coffee laced with egg nog and mince pie served slightly warm.


    Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads Blog Tour Schedule Sewing Can Be Dangerous Blog Tour

    This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. For the complete list of tour stops, see below. For more information, click HERE.

    Monday, December 1
    Review at Unshelfish

    Tuesday, December 2
    Review at Bibliotica

    Wednesday, December 3
    Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

    Thursday, December 4
    Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews and More

    Friday, December 5
    Guest Post at What Is That Book About
    Interview at Dianne Ascroft Blog

    Monday, December 8
    Review at WV Stitcher

    Tuesday, December 9
    Review at 100 Pages a Day – Stephanie’s Book Reviews
    Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

    Wednesday, December 10
    Review at A Book Geek

    Thursday, December 11
    Review at Book Nerd

    Friday, December 12
    Review at Based on a True Story

    Monday, December 15
    Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

    Tuesday, December 16
    Review at Book Babe

    Wednesday, December 17
    Review at Just One More Chapter

    Friday, December 19
    Review at Book Drunkard