Review: Red Year, by Jan Shapin

About the book Red Year Red Year

• Paperback: 286 pages
• Publisher: Cambridge Books (June 4, 2017)

Can a red-haired woman from Chicago single-handedly force Joseph Stalin to back down?

China, 1927. Thirty-three year old Rayna Prohme, accompanying her left-wing journalist husband, becomes the political confidant and lover of Mikhail Borodin, the Russian commander sent to prop up a failing Chinese revolution. In a bid to continue their love affair, Rayna hatches a plan to accompany Mme. Sun, the widow of the Chinese revolution’s founder, to Moscow.

But Moscow does not welcome the women. Borodin shuns them. Rayna’s stipend and housing arrangements are cancelled. “Go home,” she is told. But Rayna does not want to go home to an ordinary life, to her husband and Chicago. Instead, she applies to a Soviet espionage school that soon demands she spy on Mme. Sun. The Chinese widow is, by now, in grave danger as her exit visa is blocked. Rayna must make a choice — Borodin and Russia or Mme. Sun and China.

Buy, read, and discuss Red Year:

Amazon | Goodreads


About the author, Jan Shapin Jan Shapin

Jan Shapin has been writing plays and screenplays for nearly thirty years, in the last decade concentrating on fiction. Shapin has studied playwriting at Catholic University in Washington, DC, screenwriting at the Film and Television Workshop and University of Southern California, and fiction writing at a variety of locations including Barnard College’s Writers on Writing seminar, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

Her plays have been produced in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. She has received grants from the RI Council for the Humanities and has served as a juror for the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts screenplay fellowship awards. Two previous novels, A Desire Path and A Snug Life Somewhere, were published in 2012 and 2014.

She lives in North Kingstown, RI with her photographer husband.

Connect with Jan:

Website


My Thoughts: Melissa A. Bartell

Several years ago, I came across a recording of the Interwar Duets, a series of compositions for violin and cello (my instrument) composed by a quartet of musicians including the man known best for his Bolero, Maurice Ravel. Ever since then I’ve been fascinated with the period between World War I and World War II, which is the same period when this novel, Red Year, takes place.

So lyrical is Jan Shapin’s writing, that the Duets have become my soundtrack for this book.

Shapin opens her novel at a sporting event – one that is ‘like polo’ but not, and immediately our eye, and the eye of protagonist Rayna Prohme are fixed on one Mikhail Borodin, the Russian officer sent to take charge of China’s revolution. Even though she’s in China with her second husband, an ailing journalist with the rather forgettable (I suspect this was intended) name of Bill, Rayna is intrigued and attracted by Borodin, and the affair that follows, while predictable in fact, is a fascinating look at power and politics and the line where a relationship ends and a professional arrangement begins.

Always a fan of spy novels, I felt that Red Year really balanced the tension and fear of being discovered, and of having to choose one’s loyalties, exceptionally well. I also appreciated the obvious research that went into this story. The language never felt stilted as some period novels can, but neither did it sound too contemporary – it retained the flavor of the 20s, and the Chinese and Russian characters’ ‘voices’ felt true to their natures and countries of origin.

This is a thoughtful novel. It’s sexy, yes, and there’s no small amount of intrigue and jeopardy, but it’s also thoughtful. A quick read is possible, but I would encourage a slower, more measured experience to really appreciate all the nuance with which Shapin has infused her story.

Goes well with piroshkis, borscht, and strong, smoky, black tea. And seriously, listen to the Interwar Duets while you read. You won’t be sorry.


Tour Stops:TLC Book Tours

Thursday, July 27th: Tina Says…

Tuesday, August 1st: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, August 2nd: Wining Wife

Saturday, August 5th: Thoughts On This ‘n That

Monday, August 7th: The Paperback Pilgrim

Tuesday, August 15th: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, August 21st: Dwell in Possibility

Tuesday, August 22nd: Bibliotica

Wednesday, August 30th: Girl Who Reads

TBD: Sara the Introvert

Review: The Dress in the Window, by Sofia Grant

About  the book, The Dress in the Window The Dress in the Window by Sofia Grant

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (July 25, 2017)

A perfect debut novel is like a perfect dress—it’s a “must have” and when you “try it on” it fits perfectly. In this richly patterned story of sisterhood, ambition, and reinvention Sofia Grant has created a story just right for fans of Vintage and The Dress Shop of Dreams.

World War II has ended and American women are shedding their old clothes for the gorgeous new styles. Voluminous layers of taffeta and tulle, wasp waists, and beautiful color—all so welcome after years of sensible styles and strict rationing.

Jeanne Brink and her sister Peggy both had to weather every tragedy the war had to offer—Peggy now a widowed mother, Jeanne without the fiancé she’d counted on, both living with Peggy’s mother-in-law in a grim mill town.  But despite their grey pasts they long for a bright future—Jeanne by creating stunning dresses for her clients with the help of her sister Peggy’s brilliant sketches.

Together, they combine forces to create amazing fashions and a more prosperous life than they’d ever dreamed of before the war. But sisterly love can sometimes turn into sibling jealousy. Always playing second fiddle to her sister, Peggy yearns to make her own mark. But as they soon discover, the future is never without its surprises, ones that have the potential to make—or break—their dreams.

Buy, read, and discuss The Dress in the Window:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Sofia Grant Sofia-Grant-AP-Photo-by-Madeira-James

Sofia Grant has the heart of a homemaker, the curiosity of a cat, and the keen eye of a scout. She works from an urban aerie in Oakland, California.

Connect with Sofia:

Website | Facebook | TwitterInstagram


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I don’t sew, but I’m the daughter of a talented sewist, so I chose to review this book in part so I could pass it on to her.  I’m glad I did, because the story was fantastically crafted, both Jeanne and Peggy (and less so Thelma and Tommie) have stitched their way into my heart.

Practical Jeanne and ambitious, dreaming Peggy struck me as being both perfectly complementary sisters – each balancing the other  – but also as representing the duality of all of us who are creative, and must constantly decide whether to let our business sense or our romanticism take the lead. I found their relationship reminiscent of my mother’s relationship with her own sisters, though I really only see that in glimpses.

Beyond just their sisterhood, though, I found the journeys each woman takes to be quite compelling. I like that each woman ends up more self-aware at the end of the book than they were at the start. Each of them is stronger and more confident in who they are and what they truly want in life.

In addition to the actual story, I really loved the way the book was designed. Yes, there’s that fantastic Dior-inspired dress on the cover of the book, but inside, each section is linked to a kind of fabric, beginning with taffeta. (I remember my mother cursing over certain kinds of fabrics when I was a kid, and I’ve called her to find her doing the same thing much more recently.

Author Sofia Grant has put a lot detail – historical, sewing, family, setting – into this book, and her care shows. The book never feels affected. Rather, it seems effortless, a sure sign of a great deal of work.

You don’t have to sew, or have a relative who sews to appreciate this book. The period setting, the family relationships – those are what make the novel. The rest? That’s window dressing. Really, really good window dressing.

Goes well with a Philly cheese-steak sandwich. Not because it has anything to do with the novel, aside from the fact that much of it is set there, but because I really want one.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, July 25th: Life By Kristen

Friday, July 28th: Kritters Ramblings

Monday, July 31st: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, August 1st: BookNAround

Wednesday, August 2nd: Based on a True Story

Thursday, August 3rd: Tina Says…

Friday, August 4th: Bibliotica

Monday, August 7th: Time 2 Read

Tuesday, August 8th: Into the Hall of Books

Wednesday, August 9th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Friday, August 11th: StephTheBookworm

TBD: Book by Book

TBD: View from the Birdhouse

Review: Kiss Carlo, by Adriana Trigiani

Kiss CarloAbout the book, Kiss Carlo

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (June 20, 2017)

From Adriana Trigiani, the beloved New York Times-bestselling author of The Shoemaker’s Wife, comes an exhilarating epic novel of love, loyalty, and creativitythe story of an Italian-American family on the cusp of change.

It’s 1949 and South Philadelphia bursts with opportunity during the post-war boom. The Palazzini Cab Company & Western Union Telegraph Office, owned and operated by Dominic Palazzini and his three sons, is flourishing: business is good, they’re surrounded by sympathetic wives and daughters-in-law, with grandchildren on the way. But a decades-long feud that split Dominic and his brother Mike and their once-close families sets the stage for a re-match.

Amidst the hoopla, the arrival of an urgent telegram from Italy upends the life of Nicky Castone (Dominic and his wife’s orphaned nephew) who lives and works with his Uncle Dom and his family. Nicky decides, at 30, that he wants more—more than just a job driving Car #4 and more than his longtime fiancée Peachy DePino, a bookkeeper, can offer. When he admits to his fiancée that he’s been secretly moonlighting at the local Shakespeare theater company, Nicky finds himself drawn to the stage, its colorful players and to the determined Calla Borelli, who inherited the enterprise from her father, Nicky must choose between the conventional life his family expects of him or chart a new course and risk losing everything he cherishes.

From the dreamy mountaintop village of Roseto Valfortore in Italy, to the vibrant streets of South Philly, to the close-knit enclave of Roseto, Pennsylvania, to New York City during the birth of the golden age of television, Kiss Carlo is a powerful, inter-generational story that celebrates the ties that bind, while staying true to oneself when all hope seems lost.

Told against the backdrop of some of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies, this novel brims with romance as long buried secrets are revealed, mistaken identities are unmasked, scores are settled, broken hearts are mended and true love reigns. Trigiani’s consummate storytelling skill and her trademark wit, along with a dazzling cast of characters will enthrall readers. Once again, the author has returned to her own family garden to create an unforgettable feast. Kiss Carlo is a jubilee, resplendent with hope, love, and the abiding power of la famiglia.

Buy, read and discuss Kiss Carlo:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


Adriana-Trigiani-AP-Photo-by-Tim-StephensonAbout the author, Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani is the bestselling author of 17 books, which have been published in 36 countries around the world. She is a playwright, television writer/producer and filmmaker. She wrote and directed the film version of her novel Big Stone Gap, which was shot entirely on location in her Virginia hometown. She is co-founder of the Origin Project, an in-school writing program that serves more than a thousand students in Appalachia. She lives in Greenwich Village with her family.

Connect with Adriana:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts:

I love Adriana Trigiani’s writing because her use of language is so lyrical and because her characters and plots celebrate working people – blue collar people – in a way that never panders.

In Kiss Carlo, we get to spend time with Trigiani characters in Italy, in South Philadelphia, and in New York, and we meet people who are cab drivers, flower sellers, and the company of a small Shakespeare company, and all are supremely real and vibrant and somewhat familiar to me, as half my own family are New Jersey Neapolitans who also refer to tomato sauce as gravy, the way Minna’s family does.

Nicky, the central figure in most of this story, is a cab driver moonlighting as a stage hand, and he practically leaps off the page, as do the multitudes of aunts, uncles and cousins who surround him.

While this is a period piece – set after World War II and at the dawn of Television’s golden age – it’s primarily a story about family – the people we love and hate and can’t live with, and wouldn’t dream of living without, and what it means when your dreams don’t align with what your family expects, and those things transcend period.

Goes well with spaghetti with meatballs and homemade tomato gravy.


TLC Book ToursTour Stops

Tuesday, June 20th: Life By Kristen

Wednesday, June 21st: bookchickdi

Thursday, June 22nd: A Night’s Dream of Books

Friday, June 23rd: Time 2 Read

Monday, June 26th: Library of Clean Reads

Tuesday, June 27th: Based on a True Story

Wednesday, June 28th: Always With a Book

Friday, June 30th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, July 3rd: Kritters Ramblings

Tuesday, July 4th: The many thoughts of a reader

Wednesday, July 5th: Tina Says…

Friday, July 7th: My Journey Back

Friday, July 7th: Stephany Writes

Monday, July 10th: Wining Wife

Tuesday, July 11th: West Metro Mommy

Wednesday, July 12th: BookNAround

Thursday, July 13th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Thursday, July 13th: Thoughts On This ‘n That

Tuesday, July 18th: Bibliotica

Review: Forever Rose, by Carmen M. Oprea

Forever RoseAbout the book, Forever Rose

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Amazon.com (December 9, 2016)

Alessandro Santini, an Italian doctor from the twenty-first century, lives an ordinary life in modern day Florence. But one evening, he passes through a swirling vortex caused by a supermoon and discovers he has stepped three hundred years into the past. Countess Rose Estes is torn between following her dream of becoming a historical painter and her duty toward her family. After Rose’s father is wounded during her birthday ball, Alex and Rose burn with questions: Who attacked him with a flying dagger? Why? Forced to go to Siena and spend fourteen months together, Rose and Alex find themselves drawn to each other as they search for answers and discover secrets that go deeper than they ever imagined. As the portal’s opening approaches, Alex finds out that Rose has been poisoned through the roses she’s been receiving. He has two choices to save her life—take Rose to his time or go by himself and bring the medication she needs.

Buy, read, and discuss Forever Rose

Amazon | Goodreads


About the author, Carmen Monica Oprea

Born in Vaslui, Romania, and educated in both Romania and America, Carmen has been in the US since 2001. She’s smart, gorgeous, kind, and her accent is utterly charming (Romanian with a hint of Nashville, where she now lives). Her debut novel combines time travel and romance with an intriguing historical mystery.

She also blogs about life, miracles, gratitude, simplicity, and interior decorating.

Connect with Carmen

Website | Twitter


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

Every so often a book comes your way that defies categorization. That’s the case with Forever Rose, which is both a contemporary story in an historical setting, and an historical romance with contemporary bookends. As well, it’s also a fantasy with a touch of magical realism, and there’s an element of mystery to round things out.

But a book is not merely its category, and Forever Rose transcends all of the possible boxes it could fit into, and is, ultimately, a wonderfully romantic, sometimes funny – sometimes poignant, strangely compelling story that takes you from the contemporary world of medicine and laser technology to eighteenth-century Florence, and makes you look up at the full moon and wonder what magic it might bring to your life.

Author Carmen Monica Oprea writes her period characters with an ease that I wish more writers would find. They never sound out of place, or out of time, but neither is their language stilted or inaccessible. Her lead character, Rose, is both wise and witty, despite being just twenty (though, obviously twenty in the 1700s is much different than twenty today), an accomplished painter, and a surprisingly enlightened young woman. Her sister is more ‘typical’  – overly entitled and somewhat annoying – and her parents feel period appropriate, but are also fully realized characters, and not just cardboard cutouts.

Similarly, Alessandro Santini – Alex – the young doctor who steps back in time during a full moon – is perfectly plausible as a doctor who has known tragedy and is too alone in our world that is so bright and antiseptic. I really liked him, and I was willing to follow him on his journey.

At 303 pages in the paperback version, this novel is just long enough to be really satisfying, but short enough that, if you’re me, you can read it on a single, stormy afternoon. While I figured out the ‘mystery’ part of the story relatively quickly, knowing the truth of ‘whodunnit’ did not spoil my enjoyment of the novel at all.

If you are in the mood for a romance that is a bit meatier and includes a bit more of a speculative bent than most such stories, or if you just want to read about the lengths people will go when they find the person who is right for them, you will love this book, Forever Rose.

Goes well with a glass of homemade limoncello, sipped slowly in the moonlight with the love of your life.

 

 

Review: Monticello by Sally Cabot Gunning

Monticello About the book, Monticello

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 27, 2017)

From the critically acclaimed author of The Widow’s War comes a captivating work of literary historical fiction that explores the tenuous relationship between a brilliant and complex father and his devoted daughter—Thomas Jefferson and Martha Jefferson Randolph.

After the death of her beloved mother, Martha Jefferson spent five years abroad with her father, Thomas Jefferson, on his first diplomatic mission to France. Now, at seventeen, Jefferson’s bright, handsome eldest daughter is returning to the lush hills of the family’s beloved Virginia plantation, Monticello. While the large, beautiful estate is the same as she remembers, Martha has changed. The young girl that sailed to Europe is now a woman with a heart made heavy by a first love gone wrong.

The world around her has also become far more complicated than it once seemed. The doting father she idolized since childhood has begun to pull away. Moving back into political life, he has become distracted by the tumultuous fight for power and troubling new attachments. The home she adores depends on slavery, a practice Martha abhors. But Monticello is burdened by debt, and it cannot survive without the labor of her family’s slaves. The exotic distant cousin she is drawn to has a taste for dangerous passions, dark desires that will eventually compromise her own.

As her life becomes constrained by the demands of marriage, motherhood, politics, scandal, and her family’s increasing impoverishment, Martha yearns to find her way back to the gentle beauty and quiet happiness of the world she once knew at the top of her father’s “little mountain.”

Buy, read, and discuss Monticello:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


Sally Cabot GunningAbout the author, Sally Cabot Gunning

A lifelong resident of New England, Sally Cabot Gunning has immersed herself in its history from a young age. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Satucket Novels—The Widow’s War, Bound, and The Rebellion of Jane Clarke—and, writing as Sally Cabot, the equally acclaimed Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard. She lives in Brewster, Massachusetts, with her husband, Tom.

Connect with Sally:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

I’ve always been fascinated by the lives of our forefathers and foremothers, and as someone who’s still riding the high of seeing Hamilton: An American Musical on Broadway, this novel, Monticello, came at the perfect time for me.

We tend to gloss over the more unsavory aspects of our history – the fact that both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, for example. Most of us eventually get to a place where we can accept that even great men and women are still human, with human failings. This novel gives us a glimpse at the more human side of Jefferson, as seen through the eyes of his eldest daughter, Martha.

I really liked the way author Sally Cabot Gunning depicted Martha from the start. She’s clearly both compassionate and intelligent. As well, she’s a girl who is just coming into the fullness of womanhood, with all of the responsibilities that entails.

We first meet her on the carriage ride taking her, along with her father, her sister, and Sally Hemings (an historical figure in her own right) back to their estate, Monticello, for the first time after several years of life in Paris, and we see it through the eyes, not of contemporary tourists searching for a connection to American history, but of a young woman who must marry the glorified memories with the truth of her home and her life.

Author Gunning paints vivid pictures of life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in America, blending the personal with the political, and letting us see the dichotomy of Thomas Jefferson: Founding Father and Thomas Jefferson, father. As well, she gives us, in Martha Jefferson (eventually Martha Jefferson Randolph) a woman who becomes more and more aware of the culture and climate of her country, as juxtaposed with her rather sheltered life up on the hill.

I enjoyed seeing Jefferson through Martha’s eyes, but I enjoyed Martha’s own story – her burgeoning political and civil awareness, the difficult choices she must make in honoring her father’s legacy, but also answering to her own beliefs, and her personal life – loves lost and found, and friendships made and kept.

This is a novel, and must be treated as such, but the characters and settings are so dimensional, the research obviously painstakingly done, that it feels like truth, even when it may not necessarily be 100% factual. It’s definitely a gripping and compelling read, and I’d recommend it to anyone who loves history, yes, but also to anyone who enjoys stories about strong, smart young women finding their places in the world.

Goes well with hot tea, short bread, and sliced strawberries.


TLC Book ToursTour Stops

Tuesday, June 27th: Lit and Life

Wednesday, June 28th: My Military Savings

Wednesday, June 28th: West Metro Mommy

Thursday, June 29th: Man of La Book

Thursday, June 29th: Bibliotica

Friday, June 30th: Jathan & Heather

Monday, July 3rd: Broken Teepee

Tuesday, July 4th: Library of Clean Reads

Wednesday, July 5th: A Bookish Affair

Thursday, July 6th: alyssarossblog

Monday, July 10th: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, July 11th: Kritters Ramblings

Wednesday, July 12th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Thursday, July 13th: History from a Woman’s Perspective

Thursday, July 13th: Into the Hall of Books

Review: The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn

The Alice NetworkAbout the book, The Alice Network

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 6, 2017)

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.

Buy, read, and discuss The Alice Network:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Kate Quinn Kate Quinn - Photo Credit: Kate Furek (AP)

Kate Quinn is a native of Southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga and two books set in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. All have been translated into multiple languages. She and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia.

Connect with Kate:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

Even in fiction there aren’t enough stories about female spies. Aside from Mata Hari, the only one I can think of is the Pink Carnation, the fictional character at the heart of Lauren Willig’s series which jumps off from The Scarlet Pimpernel.

The Alice Network is nothing like Willig’s novels. Rather, author Kate Quinn has given us a double story about a network of female spies operating during World War I & II. In the earlier time period, we meet Eve, strong, courageous, and determined. In the latter, the focus is on Charlie, brought to Europe by her parents to take care of a ‘little problem,’ of the type women have been quietly handling since the dawn of time.

She’s also searching for her cousin Rose, presumed dead, whom no one has  heard from in three years.

Inevitably, Charlie’s and Eve’s stories become intertwined, but even as the two get to know each other, and Charlie finds a place in the world of her own choosing, Eve’s story unwinds for us also.

Both women are intelligent, passionate, driven, and somewhat ‘damaged’ by what life has handed them, and both fight against the constraints that society puts on women. To me, it was fascinating to see what shifted between those two wars, and what remained the same. As well, it was interesting to consider what still hasn’t changed, in the years since then.

I found both characters to be quite engaging, dimensional women. Charlie, especially, is someone I’d love to share tea or coffee with, but all of Quinn’s creations felt like real people. Charlie’s mother made me laugh and cringe in the opening scenes – I think every young woman has a relative a little like her, or knows someone who does.

I also appreciated Quinn’s eye for detail and specifics (Charlie smokes Gauloises, for example).

If you like meaty, gripping historical fiction with strong female characters and themes that echo down the years, you will love The Alice Network.

Goes well with a snack plate of sliced baguette with brie or Stilton cheese (depending on your taste), some olives, and a glass of red wine, followed by an espresso and a piece of dark chocolate.


TLC Book ToursTour Stops

Tuesday, June 6th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, June 7th: Jathan & Heather

Friday, June 9th: Staircase Wit

Monday, June 12th: A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, June 13th: Caryn, The Book Whisperer

Tuesday, June 13th: Laura’s Reviews

Wednesday, June 14th: Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Book Spot

Thursday, June 15th: A Bookish Affair

Thursday, June 15th: Girl Who Reads

Friday, June 16th: BookNAround

Monday, June 19th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Tuesday, June 20th: The Cactus Chronicles

Wednesday, June 21th: Unabridged Chick

Thursday, June 22nd: Bibliotica

Friday, June 23rd: Leah DeCesare

Monday, June 26th: Book by Book

Tuesday, June 27th: Just One More Chapter

Wednesday, June 28th: Kritters Ramblings

Thursday, June 29th: Kahakai Kitchen

Friday, June 30th: Literary Quicksand

Review: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan

About the book, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir The-Chilbury-Ladies-Choir-Jacket-678x1024

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (February 14, 2017)

“Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!”

As England enters World War II’s dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar’s stuffy edict to shutter the church’s choir in the absence of men and instead “carry on singing.” Resurrecting themselves as “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir,” the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives.

Told through letters and journals, THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR moves seamlessly from budding romances to village intrigues to heartbreaking matters of life and death. As we come to know the struggles of the charismatic members of this unforgettable outfit– a timid widow worried over her son at the front; the town beauty drawn to a rakish artist; her younger sister nursing an impossible crush and dabbling in politics she doesn’t understand; a young Jewish refugee hiding secrets about her family, and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past– we come to see how the strength each finds in the choir’s collective voice reverberates in her individual life. In turns funny, charming and heart-wrenching, this lovingly executed ensemble novel will charm and inspire, illuminating the true spirit of the women on the homefront, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict.

Buy, read, and discuss The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

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


About the author, Jennifer Ryan Jennifer-Ryan-Photo-©-Nina-Subin

Jennifer Ryan lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband and their two children. Originally from Kent and then London, she was previously a nonfiction book editor.

Connect with Jennifer

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My Thoughts

I’ve spent a lot of years in church choirs of various flavors. I’ve been in the choir of an Episcopalian church with a director who was such an amazing musician that if a piece of music didn’t work for our voices, he would simply write a new arrangement. I’ve also been in a UU choir where the director made us rehearse a capella to force us to truly listen to each other.

Many people erroneously believe that the point of choral singing is to blend everyone’s voice into one homogeneous sound, but the real goal is for each voice to harmonize, so that many individual voices combine into new sounds. Sometimes they’re unison, sometimes the separate notes – the separate voices – are meant to be heard.

In this lovely novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, Jennifer Ryan has done the latter. She has created a collection of individual voices – a young window, a refugee, the church ladies you expect to find in such a setting, and she has given them solid unison pieces in which they blend – their determination to keep their choir alive with all the men gone – but she has also let their individual talents shine.

Epistolary novels can be tricky – it’s much harder to maintain the distinctions between characters when so much of the story is in first-person accounts – but Ryan has done so deftly. I felt immersed in these women’s lives, enjoying their triumphs and shedding tears at their  sorrows.

Each of the women whose voices we hear in this novel are distinct personalities, with loves and fears and wants and desires, and each one has a compelling story that, when blended together forms a chorus of voices painting a word-picture of their village in a specific period of time.

Many people have compared this novel to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, me included, but though they share a similar period, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is vastly different – it’s more candid, more personal, and more rooted in feminine sensibilities. Still, if you liked one, you’ll probably enjoy the other. I did.

Goes well with shortbread biscuits and hot tea, maybe with a splash of whiskey in it.


Jennifer Ryan’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, February 13th: Dwell in Possibility

Tuesday, February 14th: Building Bookshelves

Thursday, February 16th: Reading Reality

Monday, February 20th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Tuesday, February 21st: Laura’s Reviews

Thursday, February 23rd: BookNAround

Friday, February 24th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Monday, February 27th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, March 2nd: Savvy Verse and Wit

Monday, March 6th: Bibliotica

Tuesday, March 7th: West Metro Mommy Reads

Thursday, March 9th: Joyfully Retired

Friday, March 10th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, March 13th: Books and Bindings

Tuesday, March 14th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Wednesday, March 15th: Kahakai Kitchen

Thursday, March 16th: Just One More Chapter

Friday, March 17th: Art @ Home

Monday, March 20th: Diary of an Eccentric

Wednesday, March 22nd: A Literary Vacation

 

 

Review: The Orphan’s Tale, by Pam Jenoff

About the book,  The Orphan’s Tale The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

Paperback: 368 pages

Publisher: MIRA (February 21, 2017)

A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan’s Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival 

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.

Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.

Buy, read, and discuss The Orphan’s Tale:

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


About the author, Pam Jenoff  Pam Jenoff

Pam Jenoff is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller The Kommandant’s Girl, which also earned her a Quill Award nomination. Pam lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.

Connect with Pam

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

As I was reading this novel, The Orphan’s Tale, one word kept coming back to me: grace. Because this book, this story, is full of grace in every sense of the word.

It has the “there but for the grace of god” moments, but it also has the kind of grace that allows for sacrifices between friends. And then, when you add in the art and artistry both of a young lover who wants to be a painter, and the circus folk who work on wires and trapezes, you have that other, more physical kind of grace – the one that expands into people being graceful.

This story of Noa and Astrid, two very different women whose lives converge and then separate during one of the bleakest parts of human history – World War II – is more than just a novel. It’s a glimpse at a piece of history we don’t often hear about. We know that people “hid” Jews on farms and in attics, and in the music and theatre worlds, but the circus? Most of the stories that involve the circus have little to do with the political climate.

Exploring such a human story from this point of view made a novel that could, in a less talented writer’s hands,  have been another us-against-the-Nazi’s tear-jerker into a story that had added depth and life beyond the actual characters. I learned something new, and was compelled to do my own reading outside the novel because I was fascinated.

(I should add that I’ve been fascinated by the circus since forever, so it’s not surprising that this was the element that truly hooked me.)

Aside from that, though, Jenoff writes with a deft hand. Her characters feel like real people, flawed and beautiful in their simple humanity, and her settings, based on real places, are described in enough detail to make you feel as if you are there, stepping through time to see the horror of a train-car full of nameless, crying babies, or the magic of someone sailing through the air on a trapeze.

Jenoff’s lyrical style only adds to the effect. At times it was like looking through a mirror into a past that isn’t necessarily pretty, but is still vivid.

This novel is a must-read for fans of historical fiction, but I’d recommend it to almost anyone who just wants to immerse themselves in a truly compelling story.

Goes well with a cappuccino and a bar of dark chocolate, eaten one tiny shard at a time.


Follow the Excerpt Tour, and Mark Your Calendar for the Review Tour TLC Book Tours - The Orphan's Tale

The Orphan’s Tale Excerpt Tour:

Monday, February 6th: The Sassy Bookster

Tuesday, February 7th: Just Commonly

Wednesday, February 8th: From the TBR Pile

Thursday, February 9th: Chick Lit Central

Friday, February 10th: Bibliotica

Monday February 13th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Tuesday, February 14th: Read Love Blog

Wednesday, February 15th: The Lit Bitch

Thursday, February 16th: Book Reviews and More by Kathy

Friday, February 17th: Books a la Mode

The Orphan’s Tale Review Tour:

Monday, February 20th: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, February 20th: Barbara Khan

Tuesday, February 21st: Savvy Verse and Wit

Wednesday, February 22nd: Caryn, The Book Whisperer

Thursday, February 23rd: West Metro Mommy

Friday, February 24th: Reading is My SuperPower

Friday, February 24th: A Bookish Affair

Monday, February 27th: Building Bookshelves

Monday, February 27th: Just Commonly

Tuesday, February 28th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, March 1st: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, March 1st: Susan Peterson

Thursday, March 2nd: A Literary Vacation

Friday, March 3rd: Cindy Burnett

Monday, March 6th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Monday, March 6th: Literary Quicksand

Tuesday, March 7th: The Lit Bitch

Wednesday, March 8th: The Romance Dish

Thursday, March 9th: Just One More Chapter

Friday, March 10th: Suzy Approved

Monday, March 13th: Reading Reality

Monday, March 13th: Diary of an Eccentric

Tuesday, March 14th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Wednesday, March 15th: Bibliophiliac

Thursday, March 16th: The Maiden’s Court

Friday, March 17th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, March 20th: A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, March 21st: Write Read Life

Wednesday, March 22nd: 100 Pages a Day

Thursday, March 23rd: Silver’s Reviews

Friday, March 24th: Not in Jersey

Friday March 24th: SJ2B House of Books

Tuesday, March 28th: Travelling Birdy

Excerpt from The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

About the book,  The Orphan’s Tale The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

Paperback: 368 pages

Publisher: MIRA (February 21, 2017)

A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan’s Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival 

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.

Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.

Buy, read, and discuss The Orphan’s Tale:

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


About the author, Pam Jenoff  Pam Jenoff

Pam Jenoff is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller The Kommandant’s Girl, which also earned her a Quill Award nomination. Pam lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.

Connect with Pam

Website | Facebook | Twitter


Read an Excerpt from The Orphan’s Tale

Blog Tour – Excerpt 5

2

Astrid

Germany, 1942—fourteen months earlier

I stand at the edge of the withered grounds that had once been our winter quarters. Though there has been no fighting here, the valley looks like a battlefield, broken wagons and scrap metal scattered everywhere. A cold wind blows through the hollow window frames of the deserted cabins, sending tattered fabric curtains wafting upward before they fall deflated. Most of the windows are shattered and I try not to wonder if that had happened with time, or if someone had smashed them in a struggle or rage. The creaking doors are open, properties fallen into disrepair as they surely never would have if Mama been here to care for them. There is a hint of smoke on the air as though someone has been burning brush recently. In the distance, a crow cries out in protest.

Drawing my coat closer around me, I walk away from the wreckage and start up toward the villa that once was my home. The grounds are exactly as they had been when I was a girl, the hill rising before the front door in that way that sent the water rushing haphazardly into the foyer when the spring rains came. But the garden where my mother tended hydrangeas so lovingly each spring is withered and crushed to dirt. I see my brothers wrestling in the front yard before being cowed into practice, scolded for wasting their energy and risking an injury that would jeopardize the show. As children we loved to sleep under the open sky in the yard in summer, fingers intertwined, the sky a canopy of stars above us.

I stop. A large red flag with a black swastika hangs above the door. Someone, a high-ranking SS officer no doubt, has moved into the home that once was ours. I clench my fists, sickened to think of them using our linens and dishes, soiling Mama’s beautiful sofa and rugs with their boots. Then I look away. It is not the material things for which I mourn.

I search the windows of the villa, looking in vain for a familiar face. I had known that my family was no longer here ever since my last letter returned undeliverable. I had come anyway, though, some part of me imagining life unchanged, or at least hoping for a clue as to where they had gone. But wind blows through the desolate grounds. There is nothing left anymore.

I should not be here either, I realize. Anxiety quickly replaces my sadness. I cannot afford to loiter and risk being spotted by whoever lives here now, or face questions about who I am and why I have come. My eyes travel across the hill toward the adjacent estate where the Circus Neuhoff has their winter quarters. Their hulking slate villa stands opposite ours, two sentries guarding the Rheinhessen valley between.

Earlier as the train neared Darmstadt, I saw a poster advertising the Circus Neuhoff. At first, my usual distaste at the name rose. Klemt and Neuhoff were rival circuses and we had competed for years, trying to outdo one another. But the circus, though dysfunctional, was still a family. Our two circuses had grown up alongside one another like siblings in separate bedrooms. We had been rivals on the road. In the off-season, though, we children went to school and played together, sledding down the hill and occasionally sharing meals. Once when Herr Neuhoff had been felled by a bad back and could not serve as ringmaster, we sent my brother Jules to help their show.

I have not seen Herr Neuhoff in years, though. And he is Gentile, so everything has changed. His circus flourishes while ours is gone. No, I cannot expect help from Herr Neuhoff, but perhaps he knows what became of my family.

When I reach the Neuhoff estate, a maidservant I do not recognize opens the door. “Guten Abend,” I say. “Ist Herr Neuhoff hier?” I am suddenly shy, embarrassed to arrive unannounced on their doorstep like some sort of beggar. “I’m Ingrid Klemt.” I use my maiden name. The woman’s face reveals that she already knows who I am, though from the circus or from somewhere else, I cannot tell. My departure years earlier had been remarkable, whispered about for miles around.

One did not leave to marry a German officer as I had—especially if one was Jewish.

Erich had first come to the circus in the spring of 1934. I noticed him from behind the curtains—it is a myth that we cannot see the audience beyond the lights—not only because of his uniform but because he sat alone, without a wife or children. I was not some young girl, easily wooed, but nearly twenty-nine. Busy with the circus and constantly on the road, I had assumed that marriage had passed me by. Erich was impossibly handsome, though, with a strong jaw marred only by a cleft chin, and square features softened by the bluest of eyes. He came a second night and pink roses appeared before my dressing room door. We courted that spring, and he made the long trip down from Berlin every weekend to the cities where we performed to spend time with me between shows and on Sundays.

We should have known even then that our relationship was doomed. Though Hitler had just come to power a year earlier, the Reich had already made clear its hatred for the Jews. But there was passion and intensity in Erich’s eyes that made everything around us cease to exist. When he proposed, I didn’t think twice. We did not see the problems that loomed large, making our future together impossible—we simply looked the other way.


Follow the Excerpt Tour, and Mark Your Calendar for the Review Tour TLC Book Tours - The Orphan's Tale

The Orphan’s Tale Excerpt Tour:

Monday, February 6th: The Sassy Bookster

Tuesday, February 7th: Just Commonly

Wednesday, February 8th: From the TBR Pile

Thursday, February 9th: Chick Lit Central

Friday, February 10th: Bibliotica

Monday February 13th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Tuesday, February 14th: Read Love Blog

Wednesday, February 15th: The Lit Bitch

Thursday, February 16th: Book Reviews and More by Kathy

Friday, February 17th: Books a la Mode

The Orphan’s Tale Review Tour:

Monday, February 20th: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, February 20th: Barbara Khan

Tuesday, February 21st: Savvy Verse and Wit

Wednesday, February 22nd: Caryn, The Book Whisperer

Thursday, February 23rd: West Metro Mommy

Friday, February 24th: Reading is My SuperPower

Friday, February 24th: A Bookish Affair

Monday, February 27th: Building Bookshelves

Monday, February 27th: Just Commonly

Tuesday, February 28th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, March 1st: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, March 1st: Susan Peterson

Thursday, March 2nd: A Literary Vacation

Friday, March 3rd: Cindy Burnett

Monday, March 6th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Monday, March 6th: Literary Quicksand

Tuesday, March 7th: The Lit Bitch

Wednesday, March 8th: The Romance Dish

Thursday, March 9th: Just One More Chapter

Friday, March 10th: Suzy Approved

Monday, March 13th: Reading Reality

Monday, March 13th: Diary of an Eccentric

Tuesday, March 14th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Wednesday, March 15th: Bibliophiliac

Thursday, March 16th: The Maiden’s Court

Friday, March 17th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, March 20th: A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, March 21st: Write Read Life

Wednesday, March 22nd: 100 Pages a Day

Thursday, March 23rd: Silver’s Reviews

Friday, March 24th: Not in Jersey

Friday March 24th: SJ2B House of Books

Tuesday, March 28th: Travelling Birdy

Review: A Minor Deception by Nupur Tustin – with Giveaway

A Minor DeceptionAbout the book, A Minor Deception

  • Publication Date: November 15, 2016, Foiled Plots Press
  • Format: eBook & Trade Paperback; 254 Pages
  • Series: Joseph Haydn Mysteries
  • Genre: Historical Mystery

When his newly hired violinist disappears just weeks before the Empress’s visit, Haydn is forced to confront a disturbing truth. . .

Kapellmeister Joseph Haydn would like nothing better than to show his principal violinist, Bartó Daboczi, the door. But with the Empress Maria Theresa’s visit scheduled in three weeks, Haydn can ill-afford to lose his surly virtuoso.

But when Bartó disappears—along with all the music composed for the imperial visit—the Kapellmeister is forced to don the role of Kapell-detective, or risk losing his job.

Before long Haydn’s search uncovers pieces of a disturbing puzzle. Bartó, it appears, is more than just a petty thief—and more dangerous. And what seemed like a minor musical mishap could modulate into a major political catastrophe unless Haydn can find his missing virtuoso.

Buy, read, and discuss A Minor Deception

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Goodreads


About the author, Nupur Tustin Nupur Tustin

A former journalist, Nupur Tustin relies upon a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate fictional mayhem. The Haydn mysteries are a result of her life-long passion for classical music and its history. Childhood piano lessons and a 1903 Weber Upright share equal blame for her original compositions, available on ntustin.musicaneo.com.

Her writing includes work for Reuters and CNBC, short stories and freelance articles, and research published in peer-reviewed academic journals. She lives in Southern California with her husband, three rambunctious children, and a pit bull.

For details on the Haydn series and monthly blog posts on the great composer, visit the official Haydn Mystery website.

Connect with Nupur

Facebook | Goodreads


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

As a classically trained cellist (though strictly an amateur), this book really resonated with me.

First, I really loved the use of Joseph Haydn as the main character. I don’t know a lot about him, though I know his music, but he felt real and vivid, and based on my own experience with temperamental conductors, I believed in the author’s version of him.

Then there was the dual dynamic of orchestra/chamber ensemble vs. court. In many ways, the two are similar – both are based on heirarchies that aren’t always obvious to the outsider, and both involve directors/leaders who wield great power, not always judiciously. In particular, I loved the character of Bartó, who reminded me of so many arrogant musicians I’ve worked with – and, though I’m reluctant to admit this, a little of myself.

Finally, there was the mystery. Nupur Tustin combined her love of music and history with research and a genius for plot, and this story kept me guessing to the very enjoyable end.

Basically, if Mozart in the Jungle were set in the court of the Holy Roman Empire, you would get something akin to this novel, except this story, for all it’s drama and theatrics, feels more plausible than the popular Amazon television show.

If you want a compelling mystery that is blended into a gripping story populated by vivid, dimensional characters, and with a soundtrack you can almost hear in your mind’s ear while you’re reading, you need to read A Minor Deception.

Goes well with goulash, not because it’s period-accurate or story specific, but because it’s chilly and rainy and goulash is on my brain.


Giveaway A Minor Deception

To win a paperback copy of A Minor Deception, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Rules

  • Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on January 23rd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
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  • All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
  • Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

A Minor Deception

Direct Link: https://gleam.io/yfHxC/a-minor-deception


Tour Stops

Tuesday, January 17
Interview at The Book Connection
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, January 18
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Thursday, January 19
Guest Post at A Literary Vacation

Friday, January 20
Interview at Dianne Ascroft’s Blog

Review at Bibliotica

Sunday, January 22
Review at Laura’s Interests

Monday, January 23
Review at Luxury Reading

A Minor Deception at HFVBT