Review: After Alice, by Gregory Maguire – with Giveaway

About the book, After Alice After Alice

• Paperback: 304 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (July 5, 2016)

From the multi-million-copy bestselling author of Wicked comes a magical new twist on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Lewis’s Carroll’s beloved classic.

When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance?

In this brilliant work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings—and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late—and tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself.

Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. If Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. Either way, everything that happens next is “After Alice.”

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Gregory Maguire Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire is the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister; Lost; Mirror Mirror; and the Wicked Years, a series that includes Wicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz. Now a beloved classic, Wicked is the basis for a blockbuster Tony Award–winning Broadway musical. Maguire has lectured on art, literature, and culture both at home and abroad. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

Connect with Gregory:

Website | Facebook


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I’ve been a fan of Gregory Maguire’s work since Wicked first hit shelves eons ago. (I read it before it was popular, before there was a musical, before Amazon became my primary source of books, because I saw it on the “New Fiction” shelf at Barnes & Noble.) I remember thinking that I loved his way of not only twisting a common story – providing backstory, highlighting one of the supporting characters, writing prequels and sequels.

In reading After Alice, and having had a lot of experience with improv in the intervening years since my first introduction to Maguire’s work, I realized that he also uses the style of the original work as a jumping-off point. I won’t call him a mimic, because he isn’t mimicking Lewis Carroll here, so much as evoking it.  In a way, the title thus becomes a pun. Yes, it’s after Alice’s adventures, and the impact they caused both to the ‘real’ world and to Wonderland, but it’s also ‘after’ Alice in the sense of ‘in the style of.’ Gotta love a good literary pun.

One of my favorite books is The Annotated Alice, which has both the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the sequel Through the Looking Glass, and a ton of notes in teeny, tiny print. My copy wasn’t handy as I was reading this, and having it certainly isn’t necessary in order to appreciate Maguire’s novel, but I kind of wish I’d had it to read along-side, even so.

But back to After Alice. It’s the story of Alice’s childhood friend Ada, whom the help seems to find a bit disagreeable (the governess has a bit of inner monologue where she reflects that the child is so inactive that at some point she’ll require a wheel chair) who inadvertently follows her friend down the rabbit hole, and it shows how a different perspective, a different personality, completely changes the interactions with the characters we all know and love.

More than that, however, this is a look at the way society in the late 1800’s looked at people, and especially girls and women, who didn’t fit into cultural norms. More than once Alice is referred to as being ‘off with the fairies again,’ and there are also a lot of observations about how Miss Armstrong, the governess, might as well be invisible, as she exists between the real ‘help’ – cooks and maids – and the upper class employers who pay her to care for Ada.

As always, Maguire’s wit is reflected in his writing, and the end result is a smart, funny, engaging novel that, like most good stories, exists to entertain on one level, while also provoking thought on another. It’s better appreciated if, like me, you know the original story, but it’s certainly a great read even if you don’t.

Goes well with hot tea, and scones with clotted cream and jam (but only every other day.)


Giveaway After Alice

One lucky reader from the United States or Canada will win my copy (trade paperback) of this book.

Three ways to enter (one entry per person for each choice, so if you do all three, you’re entered three times).

  1. Find my tweet about this book and retweet it (I’m @Melysse).
  2. Find  my  Facebook post about this book  and like/share it (I’m MissMelysse).
  3. Leave a comment here on this post telling me what fictional world you’d love to explore. Wonderland? Narnia? Somewhere else?

Contest is open until 11:59 PM CDT on Thursday, July 21st.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, July 5th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Wednesday, July 6th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile

Wednesday, July 6th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Friday, July 8th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Monday, July 11th: Freda’s Voice

Tuesday, July 12th: Ms.Bookish.com

Wednesday, July 13th: Jen’s Book Thoughts

Thursday, July 14th: Bibliotica

Monday, July 18th: A Book Geek

Tuesday, July 19th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Wednesday, July 20th: Adorkable Me

TBD: Book Hooked Blog

Review: The Hummingbird, by Stephen P. Kiernan – with Giveaway

About  the book, The Hummingbird The Hummingbird

• Paperback: 336 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 28, 2016)

Deborah Birch is a seasoned hospice nurse who never gives up—not with her patients, not in her life. But her skills and experience are fully tested by the condition her husband, Michael, is in when he returns from his third deployment to Iraq. Tormented by nightmares, anxiety, and rage, Michael has become cold and withdrawn. Still grateful that he is home at last, Deborah is determined to heal him and restore their loving, passionate marriage.

But Michael is not her only challenge. Deborah’s primary patient is Barclay Reed, a retired history professor and fierce curmudgeon. An expert on the Pacific Theater of World War II, Barclay is suffering from terminal kidney cancer and haunted by ghosts from his past, including the academic scandal that ended his career.

Barclay’s last wish is for Deborah to read to him from his final and unfinished book—a little-known story from World War II that may hold the key to helping Michael conquer his demons. Together, nurse, patient, and soldier embark on an unforgettable emotional journey that transforms them all, offering astonishing insights into life and death, suffering, and finding peace.

Buy, read, and discuss this book.

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Stephen P. Kiernan Stephen P. Kiernan

Stephen P. Kiernan is a graduate of Middlebury College, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. During his more than twenty years as a journalist, he has won numerous awards, including the Brechner Center’s Freedom of Information Award, the Scripps Howard Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment, and the George Polk Award. He is the author of The Curiosity, his first novel, and two nonfiction books. He lives in Vermont with his two sons.

Connect with Stephen

Website | Facebook


My ThoughtsMelissa A. Bartell

The Hummingbird is a stunning novel. It’s hopeful. It’s uplifting. It’s supremely real. And it is all those things while still, ultimately, spending a lot of time talking about hospice care and post-traumatic stress in candid terms, through the eyes of a home health nurse (Deborah) her prickly patient Professor Barclay, who wrote many books about Japan and America in World War II, and her husband Michael, recently returned from Iraq.  It’s a triangle (though not a love triangle) that becomes a sort of remote triumvirate, as Deborah breaks down Barclay’s walls and learns his story, and then, in turn, takes what she learns from her patient and applies it to her husband.

I really loved all three characters – Michael is tortured, but you can tell he doesn’t want to be, and that he still loves his wife. Barclay is irascible, but there is a lonely heart beneath his curmudgeonly ways. Deborah is not a saint, but a real woman, one who can be quite earthy when the situation calls for it. The supporting characters also – the night nurses who spell Deborah, for example, are all well drawn, too, but it’s the main three characters that really grab you, look you in the eyes and demand that you hear their stories.

One convention that author Stephen P. Kiernan used, and that I thought worked incredibly well, was interspersing “Barclay’s” last book between the chapters. Not only was that text a fascinating read on its own (and based on a real story) but it was also  a fantastic and compelling way to make the professor seem more dimensional, especially since he’s already greatly diminished when we meet him.

The Hummingbird is a meaty novel,  with rich prose and characters whose flaws only make them more fascinating and more interesting to travel with on their different, parallel journeys.

Goes well with a steak and white cheddar panini and French onion soup.


Giveaway The Hummingbird

One lucky reader from the United States or Canada will win my copy (trade paperback) of this book.

Three ways to enter (one entry per person for each choice, so if you do all three, you’re entered three times).

  1. Find my tweet about this book and retweet it (I’m @Melysse).
  2. Find  my  Facebook post about this book  and like/share it (I’m MissMelysse).
  3. Leave a comment here on this post telling how you’d like to spend your last few months on Earth.

Contest is open until 11:59 PM CDT on Thursday, July 14th.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, June 28th: BookNAround

Thursday, June 30th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Thursday, June 30th: Kritters Ramblings

Friday, July 1st: A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, July 5th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, July 6th: she treads softly

Thursday, July 7th: Bibliotica

Friday, July 8th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World

Monday, July 11th: Literary Feline

Tuesday, July 12th: 5 Minutes For Books

Wednesday, July 13th: Lesa’s Book Critiques

Thursday, July 14th: Into the Hall of Books

Monday, July 18th: The Book Diva’s Reads

Review: Mystic Summer by Hannah McKinnon

About the book, Mystic Summer Mystic Summer

Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (June 21, 2016)

A chance run-in with a college boyfriend puts a young woman’s picture-perfect life in perspective in this warm-hearted and lyrical novel—from the author of The Lake Season.

Since finishing graduate school, Maggie Griffin has worked hard to build an enviable life in Boston. She’s an elementary school teacher in a tony Boston suburb, a devoted sister, and a loving aunt. With her childhood best friend’s wedding quickly approaching and her own relationship blossoming, this is the summer she has been waiting for.

But when Maggie’s career is suddenly in jeopardy, her life begins to unravel. Stricken, Maggie returns home to seaside Mystic, Connecticut, where she expects to find comfort in family and familiarity. Instead, she runs into Cameron Wilder, a young man from her past who has also returned home, and whose life has taken a turn that puts Maggie’s city struggles in harsh perspective. When tragedy strikes for Cameron, Maggie is faced with big decisions as she weighs what matters most and strives to stay true to the person she’s become.

Set against the gorgeous backdrop of a New England summer when past and present collide, Mystic Summer is a gorgeous novel about looking back, moving forward, and the beauty that blooms when fate intervenes.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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


About the author, Hannah McKinnon Hanna McKinnon

Hannah McKinnon is the author of The Lake Season and Mystic Summer. She graduated from Connecticut College and the University of South Australia. She lives in Fairfield County, Connecticut, with her family, a flock of chickens, and two rescue dogs.

Connect with Hannah

Website | Facebook | Twitter

 

 

 


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

When I saw this title in the list of summer tours, I immediately sent an email begging to review it because it was ‘speaking’ to me. Having read it (twice) I’m glad I did, because this book is the perfect launch for the summer reading season.

I found main character Maggie to be really likeable, and I found both her roommate Erika (in the throes of wedding planning) and her actor-boyfriend Evan  so well drawn that I was immediately caught in fond reminiscences of the early days of my own marriage, when we lived in cheap apartments, and weren’t really working up to our level of potential – yet. I also liked the boy-next-door, childhood love, Cameron, who wasn’t pedestal perfect. I maintain that it’s the flaws in characters that make them feel real, and these characters are all well balanced with lovely attributes (loyalty, wit, intelligence) and flaws (indecision, prime among them).

I also loved the fact that most of the novel takes place in and around Mystic, CT. While I’ve never explored the whole town, I’ve made the requisite visits to the old Mystic Seaport, and loved it’s shippy, tarry, historical wonder, and I’ve also lived in tourist towns (Georgetown, CO), so I know what it’s like to be a townie, and understand the love-hate relationship that locals always have with tourists. Author Hannah McKinnon manages to make the town of Mystic, and the Mystic River into a character in its own right, and I really appreciate that the setting was so intrinsic to the story.

The story itself blends yearning and nostalgia, and the inevitable choices we make between embracing the new and returning to the old and familiar, and it does so in a way that is both compelling and interesting. While this novel could easily have turned into a formula romance (and I admit there’s a time and place for those), McKinnon’s writing is deeper than that, and her characters don’t always make the obvious choices.

One thing that struck me early in the novel was the obvious love Maggie’s mother has for her children. It’s talked about, but there’s a scene after Mom’s birthday where Maggie says she’s staying the night, and her mother’s response is basically, “Woohoo! She’s STAYING!”

Overall, Mystic Summer was a richly detailed, unputdownable story that is light enough to be a beach read, but deep enough to be satisfying and interesting all the way through.

Goes well with, New England clam chowder, crusty sourdough bread, and chilled Samuel Adams Summer Ale.


Giveaway Mystic Summer

One winner in the U.S. or Canada will get a copy of this book. Enter by commenting on this post (tell me one thing you’re looking forward to this summer), OR Like AND Share the Facebook post (I’m MissMelysse), OR Retweet my Twitter post about this review (I’m @Melysse). One entry per action. No more than one entry per action, per person. Contest is open until 11:59 PM CDT on Wednesday, June 22nd.

 


Hanna McKinnon’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS TLC Book Tours

Monday, June 6th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, June 8th: Palmer’s Page Turners

Thursday, June 9th: Bilbiotica

Friday, June 10th: My Book Retreat

Monday, June 13th: Just Commonly

Monday, June 13th: Book Mama Blog

Tuesday, June 14th: Dreams, Etc.

Tuesday, June 14th: Chick Lit Central – Author Q&A

Wednesday, June 15th: Reading is my Superpower

Wednesday, June 15th: Bookmark Lit

Friday, June 17th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, June 20th: The Reading Date

Tuesday, June 21st: The Well Read Redhead

Saturday, July 2nd: Books a la Mode

Review: Forever Beach, by Shelley Noble

About the book,  Forever Beach Forever Beach

• Paperback: 416 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 7, 2016)

One woman struggling to hold on to what she has. . . .

One woman learning to forgive. . . .

Their lives entwined by one little girl.

Sarah Hargreave is anxious to finalize the adoption of her foster daughter, Leila. Once a foster child herself, Sarah longs to become Leila’s “forever” family and give her all the love and stability she was denied in her own childhood. When Leila’s biological mother suddenly reappears and petitions the court for the return of her daughter, Sarah is terrified she’ll lose the little girl she loves to the drug- addicted mother who abandoned her.

Having grown up in foster care, Ilona Cartwright is a lawyer who fights for the rights of children who have no one to fight for them. But to Sarah she is Nonie Blanchard, who grew up in the same group foster home as Sarah. They’d promised to be best friends forever, but then Nonie was adopted by a wealthy family, and Sarah never heard from her again. Sarah still hurts from the betrayal. But Nonie harbors her own resentment toward the past.

Mistrustful of each other, the two women form a tenuous alliance to ensure Leila’s future, but when Leila’s very survival is on the line, they’ll have to come to terms with their own feelings of hurt and rejection to save the child they both have come to love.

Buy, read, and discuss this book.

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Shelley Noble Shelley Noble

Shelley Noble is a former professional dancer and choreographer and has worked on a number of films. She lives at the Jersey shore where she loves to visit lighthouses and vintage carousels. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Romance Writers of America.

Connect with Shelley:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

 


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

It’s rare – very rare – that a book makes me cry, but this one did.

Shelley Noble’s writing is both subtle and cinematic, and if you think those two things exist in opposition to each other, this book will prove you wrong. At it’s heart, it’s a story about family – what constitutes a family? Are blood ties automatically stronger than the ties we choose for ourselves? When do friends become family to one another?

Forever Beach doesn’t provide any absolute answers to these questions, because there are no absolutes in human relationships. Instead, it gives us a glimpse, a cross-section of a group of people who live in a coastal community and have intersecting, and often interlocking, lives.

Sarah, the protagonist, is introduced to us at a moment of vulnerability, but we very quickly see that she has a support system of women and men who rally around her when she needs it, talk sense to her when she needs that, and generally have her back. I found that I quite often wanted to draw Sarah into a hug and assure her that everything would ultimately be okay, even though I didn’t know whether or not that it was true.

Sarah’s closest friends are Reese (former caseworker, still child protection services worker) and Karen (a fellow mother of young kids), women who know her past and her present. As well there’s Wyatt – hunky lifeguard and love interest – and may I just say, every single mother should have a guy like Wyatt in their corner. He’s not perfect – indeed NONE of these characters are anything but dimensional and flawed – but he’s good.

I really liked the interaction between all the members of this small community, Leila (Sarah’s foster  daughter whom she wants to adopt) and the other kids included. The way they go to the beach as a sort of neutral territory was all too familiar to me. Everything is better with sand and salt water. Everything.

Then there’s Ilona Cartright, badass lawyer. At first she seems prickly, but then we learn her backstory. If I perceived her truth a bit too easily, I don’t think that’s a problem with this book. In fact, knowing the truth too early doesn’t have any kind of negative impact to enjoyment of the story.

And what a story! It’s got all the right emotional notes, all the correct plot points to be a Hallmark film (oh, come on, you watch them, too), but with a level of grit and street-smarts that takes it out of the realm of squeaky clean romance novel territory and into a reality-based, emotionally-satisfying, contemporary story packed with diverse strong female characters.

Also, it made me cry.

Goes well with a soft-serve ice cream cone (sprinkles optional) eaten at the boardwalk.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, June 7th: A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, June 8th: Bibliotica

Thursday, June 9th: Comfy Reading

Monday, June 13th: Kritters Ramblings

Tuesday, June 14th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Wednesday, June 15th: Queen of All She Reads

Thursday, June 16th: Into the Hall of Books

Monday, June 20th: Book by Book

Tuesday, June 21st: StephTheBookworm

Thursday, June 23rd: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Tuesday, June 28th: A Soccer Mom’s Book Blog

Review: A House for Happy Mothers, by Amulya Malladi

About the book,  A House for Happy Mothers A House for Happy Mothers

  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (June 1, 2016)

A stunning new novel—full of wit and warmth—from the bestselling author of The Mango Season.

In trendy Silicon Valley, Priya has everything she needs—a loving husband, a career, and a home—but the one thing she wants most is the child she’s unable to have. In a Southern Indian village, Asha doesn’t have much—raising two children in a tiny hut, she and her husband can barely keep a tin roof over their heads—but she wants a better education for her gifted son. Pressured by her family, Asha reluctantly checks into the Happy Mothers House: a baby farm where she can rent her only asset—her womb—to a childless couple overseas. To the dismay of friends and family, Priya places her faith in a woman she’s never met to make her dreams of motherhood come true.

Together,   the two women discover the best and the worst that India’s rising surrogacy industry has to offer, bridging continents and cultures to bring a new life into the world—and renewed hope to each other.

Buy, read, and discuss this book.

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


About the author, Amulya Malladi Amulya Malladi

Amulya Malladi is the author of six novels, including The Sound of Language and The Mango Season. Her books have been translated into several languages, including Dutch, German, Spanish, Danish, Romanian, Serbian, and Tamil. She has a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in journalism. When she’s not writing, she works as a marketing executive for a global medical device company. She lives in Copenhagen with her husband and two children.

Connect with Amulya

Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

It’s kind of ironic, I guess, that I, a woman who has had more than one miscarriage read this book 1) over Mother’s Day weekend, and 2) finished it the day I heard that a celebrity and former high school classmate, a woman who is 40 days older than I am, announced that she’s pregnant. (I’ll be 46 in August. I don’t mind. I still get carded.)

If anything, those two facts only made this book resonate with me more.

A House for Happy Mothers is a lovely book about a sensitive subject. How far would we women who cannot conceive, or cannot carry a child to term, go to have a child of our own? What is the cost to ourselves, our families, the women from whom we essentially rent wombs? Is it worth it in the end.

I have a friend who actually is a surrogate; she’s carried and given birth to two babies for the same gay couple over the years, giving them a way to have biological children of their own. (I’m not sure if she also donated her eggs. She may have. This book didn’t go that far, but it easily could have.)

Priya and her husband reminded me of many of the couples I used to do loans for when I lived in San Jose. She is American-born. He is not. Their marriage is strong, and they love each other, but there are some cultural gaps they must work through. I really liked Priya. Her struggles to have a child, her decision to use a surrogate, and her insistence on having a connection with the woman who would bear her child weren’t limited to her culture but could be true of any woman,  and her grace through it all was quite inspiring me.

Likewise, I felt for Asha, who chose to sell her body in a way that wasn’t illegal or immoral, but was a true gift of self, even if there was compensation. The closest I can come to fathoming how it feels to be a surrogate is the way I feel when I turn a foster dog over to his or her forever family. In telling Asha’s story, author Amulya Malladi completely captured the beauty and the heartache of what some women can do, and she did it in a way that made everything feel completely truthful.

Malladi’s story is, of course, a novel, but it’s one that lets us glimpse perfectly plausible situations, through the eyes of two incredibly strong (each in their own ways) women, who could easily be people we see at the market, or at the library, or anywhere in town. Similarly, the families of this women are not caricatures, as they might have been in less caring, less deft hands, but real people with quirks and flaws to give them depth and dimension.

It’s a lovely book, thought provoking, and heartfelt, and oh so moving.

Goes well with mango tea and something slightly sweet to go with it. Almond cookies, maybe?


Giveaway A House for Happy Mothers

One lucky reader in the United States or Canada will win a paperback copy of this book. To enter, find me on Twitter (@Melysse), follow me, and retweet my tweet about this book review OR leave a comment here (you must use a valid email address) and tell me about a selfless act that you’ve committed. 

The winner will be chosen by me, and their information will be forwarded to the tour host/publicist for fulfillment. This may take up to six weeks after the day of the end of this blog tour.

This giveaway opportunity is open until noon, central time, on Sunday, June 19th. 


Amulya Malladi’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Thursday, May 26th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Friday, May 27th: Broken Teepee

Monday, May 30th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, June 1st: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, June 1st: Chick Lit Central – spotlight/giveaway

Thursday, June 2nd: Mom’s Small Victories

Monday, June 6th: Bibliotica

Tuesday, June 7th: 5 Minutes for Books

Wednesday, June 8th: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Thursday, June 9th: Luxury Reading

Friday, June 10th: A Splendid Messy Life

Monday, June 13th: Lavish Bookshelf

Tuesday, June 14th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Wednesday, June 15th: The Reading Date

Thursday, June 16th: Lit and Life

Friday, June 17th: Books a la Mode – guest post/giveaway

Monday, June 20th: BookNAround

Tuesday, June 21st: Patricia’s Wisdom

Thursday, June 23rd: Good Girl Gone Redneck

Monday, June 27th: Worth Getting in Bed For

Review: The Turning Point, by Freya North

About the book, The Turning Point The Turning Point

• Paperback: 480 pages
• Publisher: Harper (May 3, 2016)

“Rich, romantic, beautifully drawn and utterly compelling” Jane Green, New York Times bestselling author

Life is short. Sometimes you have to take a chance…

Two single parents, Scott and Frankie, meet by chance.

Their homes are thousands of miles apart: Frankie lives somewhat chaotically with her children on the shoreline of North Norfolk, while Scott’s life is in the mountains of British Columbia. Distance divides them – but it seems that a million little things connect them. A spark ignites, one so strong that it dares them to take a risk.

But fatehas one more trick in store…

There are some truths about life and family we only learn when we grow up. There are some we never thought we’d have to.

Buy, read, and discuss this book.

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Freya North Freya North

Freya North is the author of many bestselling novels which have been translated into numerous languages. She was born in London but lives in rural Hertfordshire, where she writes from a stable in her back garden. A passionate reader since childhood, Freya was originally inspired by Mary Wesley, Rose Tremain and Barbara Trapido: fiction with strong and original characters.

Connect with Freya

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I started this book expecting it to be a kind of cozy contemporary romance story, and ended up with a rich novel about love, loss, and second chances, as well as glimpses into the creative process, which makes sense since the lead characters are a writer and a musician, respectively.

I was intrigued by Scott almost from the start, because he isn’t the typical romantic lead. He’s gregarious and handsome, yes, but he’s also very earthy and real. I love that in his scenes with Jenna, their relationship is a little nebulous at first, making the reader guess, although the cover blurb says both characters are single parents, so the guessing is only if your eyes are closed to the obvious.

Frankie annoyed me a little. I understand all to well what it’s like when a project isn’t speaking to you, but when I’m stuck on a piece of writing I write something else. Also, I felt that her refusal to use modern technology, and social media, felt a little contrived. Did it add to her richness as a character? Maybe. But it made her feel older than she actually was. (For the record, these characters are in the forties, roughly my age.)

But together Frankie and Scott were an amazing pair, and separately, each of them felt like a totally legitimate single parent, one with two adolescent (or nearly so) kids, and one with a young-adult daughter. I’d happily have been either of their children, or taken their children in. That’s how dimensional and well written these characters were.

As for the plot, it starts out feeling like a mature version of a typical romance, and ends up being something vastly different, but even when sadness takes over for a while, the pace is perfect, the story is never maudlin, and the end is both hopeful and satisfying.

I want to applaud author Freya North for making me laugh, cry, fume, and cheer,  all in less than 500 pages. I want to give her a standing ovation for having lead characters who are flawed, human, fully-formed adults who still recognize that there are new things to learn and experience.

I loved this book.

Goes well with steak and chips and a cold beer.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Monday, May 23rd: Bibliotica

Tuesday, May 24th: The Book Chick

Thursday, May 26th: Comfy Reading

Friday, May 27th: Booksellers Without Borders

Monday, May 30th: Books and Bindings

Tuesday, May 31st: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, June 1st: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Thursday, June 2nd: As I turn the pages

Monday, June 6th: Into the Hall of Books

Tuesday, June 7th: Book by Book

Thursday, June 9th: Ageless Pages Reviews

Review: The Bridge Ladies, by Betsy Lerner

About the book,  The Bridge Ladies The Bridge Ladies

• Hardcover: 320 pages
• Publisher: Harper Wave (May 3, 2016)

A fifty-year-old Bridge game provides an unexpected way to cross the generational divide between a daughter and her mother. Betsy Lerner takes us on a powerfully personal literary journey, where we learn a little about Bridge and a lot about life.

By turns darkly funny and deeply moving, The Bridge Ladies is the unforgettable story of a hard-won—but never-too-late—bond between mother and daughter.

Buy, read, and discuss this book.

HarperCollinsAmazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 


About the author, Betsy Lerner Betsy-Lerner-AP

Betsy Lerner is the author of The Forest for the Trees and Food and Loathing. She is a recipient of the Thomas Wolfe Poetry Prize, an Academy of American Poets Poetry Prize, and the Tony Godwin Prize for Editors, and was selected as one of PEN’s Emerging Writers. Lerner is a partner with the literary agency Dunow, Carlson & Lerner and resides in New Haven, Connecticut.

Connect with Betsy.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

 


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I always find it odd to be reviewing a memoir, as if I’m passing judgement on the life lived, rather than the book about the life that was lived. If I disagree with a life choice, does that mean I don’t like the book, or don’t like the person? It’s a difficult position.

But The Bridge Ladies was not a difficult memoir to review, partly because it’s brilliantly written, and partly because it really resonated with me. The ladies in their dressy clothes and pearls, pumps and lipstick, playing cards and sharing food reminded me of my Italian grandmother and my great-aunts and cousins gathered around the table playing cards on hot summer nights. They played Canasta, rather than Bridge, but the echoes are there.

But I digress.

Lerner’s story is, at heart, a mother-daughter story. It’s a candid, funny, sometimes dark, often poignant glimpse into the lives of her mother and her mother’s friends, but it’s also a mirror through which Lerner examines herself. As someone who looks in the mirror most days and hears my own mother’s voice urging me to iron that or change my hair or stand up straighter, I completely understand the need for maternal approval that never entirely goes away, even when you try to rebel against it. As someone whose mother’s friends see her as a completely different person than I do, I also understand the way we sometimes have to step outside ourselves to really comprehend events, ideas, people.

That Lerner’s writing style is incredibly readable, almost conversational, helps suck you into The Bridge Ladies, but she also has a great ear for dialog and a great eye for detail. I could see the way those old women dressed, and I could hear their voices in my head almost as well as I could heart the cards being riffled and shuffled and dealt out.

The thing about memoirs is that even when you know, intellectually, that comparison is unhealthy, you can’t help but measure yourself against the person about whom you’re reading. In my case, I recognized that while her story resonates with me, I’m nothing like Betsy Lerner.

At the same time, though, I am – as all women are – a lot like Betsy Lerner: I still grade myself on the scale of Mom, and at nearly 46 years old, I crave and dread her company, simultaneously. This book made me realize that while my own mother is only 66, time goes by too quickly, and even mother-daughter relationships require a little investment.

This book also made me grateful for the relationship my mother and I actually have – the one where we can talk – and LAUGH – about nearly anything. Other women should be so lucky.

This is, I know, a rather odd review. But here’s the thing. Books should touch us. Stories should make us examine ourselves. The Bridge Ladies did both for me, and I’m betting it will do both for other readers as well.

And if it doesn’t, well, maybe it will at least urge some readers to pick up the phone and call their mothers.

Goes well with strong coffee and Stella D’oro anisette toast.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, May 3rd: Raven Haired Girl

Wednesday, May 4th: BookNAround

Thursday, May 5th: Books and Bindings

Friday, May 6th: Books on the Table – author interview

Monday, May 9th: I’d Rather Be At The Beach

Tuesday, May 10th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Wednesday, May 11th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

Monday, May 16th: Queen of All She Reads

Tuesday, May 17th: Puddletown Reviews

Wednesday, May 18th: Bibliotica

Thursday, May 19th: West Metro Mommy

Friday, May 20th: Olduvai Reads

Monday, May 23rd: Worth Getting in Bed For

Tuesday, May 24th: I’m Shelf-ish

Wednesday, May 25th: Good Girl Gone Redneck

Thursday, May 26th: The many thoughts of a reader

Friday, May 27th: Life By Kristen

TBD: Lavish Bookshelf

Review: Out Rider, by Lindsay McKenna

About the book,  Out Rider Out Rider

  • Mass Market Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HQN Books (April 26, 2016)

With her return to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, New York Times bestselling author Lindsay McKenna shows how love can find a way out of the darkness… 

A fresh start—that’s all Devorah McGuire wants. As a former Marine and current Ranger with the US Forest Service, she’s grown accustomed to keeping others safe. But when the unthinkable happens, she can only hope that a transfer to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, will allow her to put the past behind her for good.

Dev’s mentor at Grand Tetons National Park is fellow canine handler and horseman Sloan Rankin. He shows Dev the spectacular trails, never knowing the terror that stalks her every move. Despite her lingering fear, Dev feels an attraction for Sloan as wild as their surroundings.

With Sloan, Dev can envision a new life—a real home. Unless a vengeful man fresh out of prison succeeds in finishing what he started…

Buy, read, and discuss this book.

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

 

 


About the author, Lindsay McKenna Lindsay McKenna

A U.S. Navy veteran, she was a meteorologist while serving her country. She pioneered the military romance in 1993 with Captive of Fate, Silhouette Special edition.  Her heart and focus is on honoring and showing our military men and women.  Creator of the Wyoming Series and Shadow Warriors series for HQN, she writes emotionally and romantically intense suspense stories.

Connect with Lindsay.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

 


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I’ve reviewed and/or spotlighted a few of Lindsay McKenna‘s books now, and I find that even though I’m not a heavy reader of romance novels, I always enjoy visiting with her characters, because the women are always strong and independent, and the men are usually sensitive and incredibly respectful of women, and both of those things need to be modeled more in our media.

While I’m NOT a fan of anything that smacks of Western, I have five dogs, and I grew up with a love of horses, and was fortunate enough to spend a couple of summers at riding camp in New Jersey, or visiting friends in Nebraska and Colorado who had horses. It was the horse-and-dog connection, as much as McKenna’s name,  that really drew me to this novel. I mean, the story was so engaging she made me want to visit Wyoming.

What I love about McKenna’s characters is that they’re usually seasoned adults. In the case of Out Rider, Dev and Sloane have each had their requisite tragic (for whatever reason) love affair/marriage. They’ve lived in the world, and experienced life’s fears and joys. That tempering, the fact that they’re not twenty-two-year-olds, is what I really love about this novel, in particular, and this author’s work in general. Yes, this couple is slightly idealized – it’s a romance novel, after all – but they’re still believable, dimensional characters.

I also appreciate the way McKenna, who is ex-Navy, works military backstories into her work. Many of her characters, both men and women, are either active-duty or ex-military, and not just as a line-item in a description. They rely on skills taught while they were in the service, and demonstrate a love of country that feels sincere without being preachy. It takes a really smart writer to pull that off.

As I mentioned before, part of what drew me to this novel was the animals. Dogs and horses are a classic combination, in life, and in fiction, and stories built around them always appeal. McKenna ties the love of these animals into the story making them almost-characters, but never, ever, allowing them to stray into cuteseyness.

If you want to read a formula romance, this is NOT the novel for you.

If, however, you want to read a really good love story about people who could be real (and maybe fall a little bit in love with Wyoming), I highly recommend Out Rider.

Goes well with chili rellenos, black beans and rice, and a cold beer.


Giveaway Out Rider

Want to read Out Rider for yourself. One lucky winner will get a DIGITAL COPY (e-book) of this novel. How do you enter? Find my post about this review on Twitter (@Melysse) and retweet it, or find my post on Facebook and like/share it. One of my dogs and I will pick the winner from all entries received by 11:59 PM  US CDT, on Sunday, May 29th.

Please note: aside from selecting the winner, I have NO CONTROL over this giveaway. I will supply the winner’s email address to the publicist, and they will be responsible for sending the book (in this case, an ebook).


Lindsay McKenna’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, April 25th: Bewitched Bookworms

Wednesday, April 27th: The Sassy Bookster

Wednesday, April 27th: Written Love Reviews – guest post

Friday, April 29th: Bookaholics Not-So-Anonymous

Monday, May 2nd: Read Love Blog

Tuesday, May 3rd: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, May 4th: Booked on a Feeling

Thursday, May 5th: Reading Reality

Friday, May 6th: Book Reviews & More by Kathy – guest post

Monday, May 9th: Books a la Mode – guest post

Wednesday, May 11th: Palmer’s Page Turners – guest post

Monday, May 16th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, May 18th: Stranded in Chaos

Thursday, May 19th: The Reading Cove Book Club

Friday, May 20th: What I’m Reading

Monday, May 23rd: A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, May 25th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Review: The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom, by Alison Love

About the book, The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (April 19, 2016)

An epic love story featuring an Italian singer and a British dancer, set against the backdrop of war-torn England.

The first meeting between Antonio and Olivia at the Paradise Ballroom is brief, but electric.

Years later, on the dawn of World War II, when struggling Italian singer Antonio meets the wife of his wealthy new patron, he recognizes her instantly: it is Olivia, the captivating dance hostess he once encountered in the seedy Paradise Ballroom. Olivia fears Antonio will betray the secrets of her past, but little by little they are drawn together, outsiders in a glittering world to which they do not belong. At last, with conflict looming across Europe, the attraction between them becomes impossible to resist–but when Italy declares war on England, the impact threatens to separate them forever.

The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom is a story of forbidden love and family loyalties amid the most devastating war in human history.

Buy, read, and discuss The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom

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

 

 


About the author, Alison Love Alison Love

ALISON LOVE is the author of the historical novels Mallingford and Serafina. Her short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, and in 2013 her story Sophie Stops the Clock was shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize. Alison has worked in the theater, television, and public relations. The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom is her American fiction debut.

Connect with Alison

Twitter

 

 


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

The first thing that struck me about this novel, The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom,  was that it has a very specific soundtrack. We meet Antonio when he is a temporary singer at the eponymous Paradise Ballroom, and song titles are peppered throughout the story. All those lovely standards, classics, even if they’re not classical, didn’t just set the period for this novel; they set the tone, and they did so brilliantly. As a musician, I found that the mentions of songs peppered throughout the narrative really kept me hooked.

Similarly, the use of language in this novel was just thrilling. Alison Love’s biography (see above) says that she’s worked in theatre, so maybe that’s where she honed her ear for dialogue, but she also excels at evocative description. Read this paragraph from early in the book:

In Soho one of the cafes, Ricci’s, was open still. Antonio could hear the rise and fall of voices punctuated by the twang of a mandolin. He thought of Maurice Goodyear’s parchment face, of eanie’s violent scent, of the way he had fluffed a high note in “Night and Day.” He tried not to think  about the tango dancer, and the terrible thing she had done to her own body.

And then read this one, from near the end:

A flock of rooks flew across the iron-gray sky, cawing as they landed in the beech trees beyond the orchard. Olivia was standing on the terrace where once, on a sunlit evening, she had drunk juniper-scented Negronis with Uncle Dickie. She was huge and stately in a loose crimson dress, her hair knotted untidily at her neck.

Language like this is just delicious to read, to submerge yourself in.

Of course, language and music aren’t enough, there has to be plot an character, but again, Love’s work is outstanding. Olivia and Antonio are the central figures of the novel, and they are brilliantly written: flawed, funny, sad, passionate, vivid, real people., but the supporting characters, Bernard, Danila, Filomena, others, are equally well-defined. The story – two people who meet and connect, who are constantly drawn to each other despite having separate lives, and being committed to other people – is a familiar one, but even though the bones of the plot are familiar, mixing it into a period piece that focuses on the Italian experience of World War II makes it fresh and interesting.

I didn’t just enjoy reading The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom; I felt as though I’d been transported by it.

I hope you let yourself be transported, as well.

Goes well with a glass of Merlot and a smoky baritone.


Giveaway The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom

One lucky reader in the United States or Canada will win a paperback copy of this book. To enter, find me on Twitter (@Melysse), follow me, and retweet my tweet about this book review OR leave a comment here (you must use a valid email address) and tell me about a song that has particular meaning for you. 

The winner will be chosen by me, and their information will be forwarded to the tour host/publicist for fulfillment. This may take up to six weeks after the day of the end of this blog tour.

This giveaway opportunity is open until noon, central time, on Monday, May 23rd.


Alison Love’s TLC Book Tour’s TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, April 18th: Luxury Reading

Monday, April 18th: The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, April 19th: The Lit Bitch

Wednesday, April 20th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Thursday, April 21st: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, April 25th: Books a la Mode – guest post/giveaway

Tuesday, April 26th: Mom’s Small Victories

Wednesday, April 27th: BookNAround

Thursday, April 28th: Just Commonly

Friday, April 29th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Monday, May 2nd: Kahakai Kitchen

Tuesday, May 3rd: The Best Books Ever

Wednesday, May 4th: Savvy Verse and Wit

Thursday, May 5th: Write Read Life

Monday, May 9th: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, May 10th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, May 11th: A Bookaholic Swede

Friday, May 13th: Broken Teepee

Monday, May 16th: Diary of an Eccentric

Reader, I Married Him, edited by Tracy Chevalier #review #tlcbooktours

About Reader, I Married Himthe book Reader, I Married Him

• Paperback: 304 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (March 22, 2016)

This collection of original stories by today’s finest women writers takes inspiration from the famous line in Charlotte Brontë’s most beloved novel, Jane Eyre.

A fixture in the literary canon, Charlotte Brontë is revered by readers all over the world. Her books featuring unforgettable, strong heroines still resonate with millions today. And who could forget one of literatures’ best-known lines: “Reader, I married him” from her classic novel Jane Eyre?

Part of a remarkable family that produced three acclaimed female writers at a time in 19th-century Britain when few women wrote, and fewer were published, Brontë has become a great source of inspiration to writers, especially women, ever since. Now in Reader, I Married Him, twenty of today’s most celebrated women authors have spun original stories, using the opening line from Jane Eyre as a springboard for their own flights of imagination.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


Featured Authors

Featuring:

Tracy Chevalier – Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Sarah Hall – Website | Facebook

Helen Dunmore – Website | Twitter

Kirsty Gunn – Website | Facebook

Joanna Briscoe – Website | Twitter

Emma Donoghue – Website | Facebook | Twitter

Susan Hill – Website | Facebook | Twitter

Elif Shafak – Website | Facebook | Twitter

Evie Wyld – Website | Facebook | Twitter

Patricia Park – Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Salley Vickers – Website | Twitter

Nadifa Mohamed – Twitter

Esther Freud – Website

Linda Grant – Website | Twitter

Lionel Shriver – Facebook

Audrey Niffenegger – Website | Facebook | Twitter

Namwali Serpell – Website | Twitter

Elizabeth McCracken – Website | Facebook | Twitter


My ThoughtsMelissa A. Bartell

I’ve had a long relationship with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. It began when I was pretty young –  nine or ten, I think – and found it on the shelf above my bed in the room I always used when I visited my grandparents over the summer. I remember reading it during a wild summer storm, and rereading it again several years later. It’s one of those novels I go back to, every so often, finding something new in it with every visit, as if it’s the book that’s changing, instead of me.

When I was offered the chance to review this anthology of short stories, all by women, inspired by Jane Eyre’s iconic line, “Reader, I married him,” I knew I had to read this book.

It’s a funny thing. I write short stories, but I don’t often read them any more. So first, this book reminded me that short stories are a great way to sample the work of a new author, or at least, an author who is new to me.

The stories in this anthology range from close interpretations (Grace Poole’s version of the story is especially poignant) to stories that only have unconventional marriages, or vague hand-waving in Jane’s direction to connect them with the original work.

I couldn’t possibly review all of them, but five of my favorites were:

  • “Dangerous Dog,” by Kirsty Gunn – a woman saves a dog and introduces would-be bullies to the joys of Jane.
  • “Reader, I Married Him,” by Susan Hill – about a rather famous unconventional marriage involving an American divorcee and an abdicating ruler.
  • “The Mirror,” by Francine Prose – a dark look at what happens in Jane and Rochester’s marriage after the novel ends. A concise, compelling, psychological thriller.
  • “Dorset Gap,” by Tracy Chevalier, who edited the anthology – Ed and Jenn met at a rave the night before, and now they’re on a hike.
  • “The Orphan Exchange,” by Audrey Niffenegger – re-sets the novel in a contemporary, albeit war-torn, country, with an ending that I’ve always suspected was a possibility.

But those five stories are only a representative sample… this collection looks at marriage from so many angles, and uses Jane Eyre as the connecting tissue, even if sometimes it’s not obvious.

What I loved is that each of these twenty-one tales was written by a woman, and each was completely relevant to modern readers, in a way the Brontë sisters’ work was to their contemporaries. As well, I’m tickled that there was diversity – older women, young girls, gay men, and lesbians, several religions, and many cultures (including one story about an Argentian-raised Korean woman in New York) were represented.

What I didn’t love is that there were only twenty-one stories. I’d love to see more. I’d love to see an annual contest sort of like the Strange New Worlds contest that used to be run every year for Star Trek fans, where aspiring writers could write their own short stories inspired by Jane.

Still, if the worst thing you can say about a book is that it left you wanting more, I think the author – or authors, in this case – has done their job.

Whether Jane Eyre was a literary companion of your childhood, or you met her later in life, there’s something for you in this collection, Reader, I Married Him.

Goes well with, a proper English tea, or a bowl of venison stew served near a crackling fire on a cold and rainy day.


 

Tour StopsTLC Book Tours

Tuesday, March 22nd: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, March 23rd: 5 Minutes For Books

Thursday, March 24th: A Bookish Way of Life

Friday, March 25th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Monday, March 28th: Kahakai Kitchen

Tuesday, March 29th: Raven Haired Girl

Wednesday, March 30th: BookNAround

Thursday, March 31st: Reading Reality

Friday, April 1st: View from the Birdhouse

Wednesday, April 6th: Bibliophiliac

Thursday, April 7th: Bibliotica