Review: The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard

About the book, The Atomic City Girls

• Paperback: 384 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (February 6, 2018)

The-Atomic-City-Girls-cover“Focuses on the little-known realities behind the Manhattan Project […] Readers who enjoyed Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls will appreciate this glimpse into the beliefs and attitudes that shaped America during World War II.”— Library Journal

In the bestselling tradition of Hidden Figures and The Wives of Los Alamos, comes this riveting novel of the everyday people who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II.

“What you see here, what you hear here, what you do here, let it stay here.”

In November 1944, eighteen-year-old June Walker boards an unmarked bus, destined for a city that doesn’t officially exist. Oak Ridge, Tennessee has sprung up in a matter of months—a town of trailers and segregated houses, 24-hour cafeterias, and constant security checks. There, June joins hundreds of other young girls operating massive machines whose purpose is never explained. They know they are helping to win the war, but must ask no questions and reveal nothing to outsiders.

The girls spend their evenings socializing and flirting with soldiers, scientists, and workmen at dances and movies, bowling alleys and canteens. June longs to know more about their top-secret assignment and begins an affair with Sam Cantor, the young Jewish physicist from New York who oversees the lab where she works and understands the end goal only too well, while her beautiful roommate Cici is on her own mission: to find a wealthy husband and escape her sharecropper roots. Across town, African-American construction worker Joe Brewer knows nothing of the government’s plans, only that his new job pays enough to make it worth leaving his family behind, at least for now. But a breach in security will intertwine his fate with June’s search for answers.

When the bombing of Hiroshima brings the truth about Oak Ridge into devastating focus, June must confront her ideals about loyalty, patriotism, and war itself.

Buy, read, and discuss The Atomic City Girls:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Janet Beard Janet-Beard-AP-Photo-by-Bradley-Cummings

Born and raised in East Tennessee, Janet Beard earned an MFA in creative writing from The New School. She currently lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio.

Find out more about Janet at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.


My Thoughts:

Melissa A. BartellAs the brief on this novel says, this book is very much in the vein of Hidden Figures, in that it’s a fictionalized version of a true story, and involves women working in STEM fields, on significant projects. The difference, of course, is that June didn’t know what she was working on at the time. In fact she didn’t learn what she’d been a part of until much later.

I felt that reading this novel at a time when we’re talking about arming teachers (please, God, I hope we don’t) was oddly appropriate. It’s easy to believe you have the power to shoot someone, but a far different thing to actually do it. It’s easy to say “kill the enemy!” and much less simple when you realize that enemy has a human face, and human lives.

While I appreciated the historical details author Janet Beard incorporated into her story – beginning with June’s grandfather being forced to leave his cabin in the area about to be commandeered by the U.S. military – what I liked was that she kept things simple and elegant. June is just like any other young woman experiencing her first taste of independence – a job, a romance – it’s just that her universal experience is set against patterns and events  – The Manhattan Project – the bombing of Hiroshima – that exist on a vastly different scale.

I found The Atomic City Girls to be a fascinating read and a truly gripping story.

Goes well with a turkey and havarti sandwich with pesto, and a glass of iced tea.


Tour Stopshttps://tlcbooktours.com/2018/01/avraham-azrieli-author-of-deborah-calling-on-tour-january-february-2018/

Tuesday, February 6th: Broken Teepee

Wednesday, February 7th: Kahakai Kitchen

Thursday, February 8th: Literary Quicksand

Friday, February 9th: West Metro Mommy

Monday, February 12th: Reading Reality

Tuesday, February 13th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, February 14th: Peppermint PhD

Thursday, February 15th: Time 2 Read

Monday, February 19th: 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews

Tuesday, February 20th: Openly Bookish

Wednesday, February 21st: A Literary Vacation

Thursday, February 22nd: Bibliotica

Monday, February 26th: Literary Lindsey

Tuesday, February 27th: Instagram: @_literary_dreamer_

Wednesday, February 28th: Instagram: @theliterarybirds

Thursday, March 1st: bookchickdi

Review: Deborah Rising/Deborah Calling by Avraham Azrieli

About Deborah Calling Deborah Calling

• Print Length: 432 pages
• Publisher: HarperLegend (July 25, 2017)

The author of the bestselling Deborah Rising continues the fascinating story of the biblical prophetess Deborah in this entrancing work of visionary fiction—a tale of danger, mysticism, intrigue, and daring.

Deborah’s father dreamed that, one day, she would become a prophet—a seemingly impossible dream for a woman in a patriarchal society. To see this wish come true, Deborah made the cunning decision to become a man by seeking out a mysterious elixirist who could turn women into men.

Under the elixirist Kassite’s tutelage and training, Deborah learns the essential traits of masculinity and steadily grows stronger, building muscle and willpower. But Kassite requests something in return: he needs Deborah’s help to escape enslavement and return to his homeland. It is the beginning of another thrilling adventure through the desert—a cat-and-mouse chase between Deborah and her violent fiancé who still hunts her, a chance meeting with an ancient healer who has a prophetic message, and a revelatory spiritual experience in an abandoned cave.Deborah Rising

As she continues on the path God has laid before her, Deborah witnesses the darkness that can take hold in the hearts and souls of men—evil that causes her to reflect on the wisdom, insight, and inspiration she has gained from the women in her life. Will becoming a man truly help her become a prophetess, or might there be another path? Visionary dreams, a mysterious eagle, and an extraordinary band of ex-slaves will help Deborah find the answer . . . and ultimately her calling.

A riveting adventure tale derived from traditional biblical fiction, Deborah Calling imagines the life of one of the most famous figures from the Old Testament as she continues on her path to becoming a prophetess.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | iBooks | Goodreads


About the author, Avraham Azrieli

Avraham Azrieli is the author of nine fiction and nonfiction works. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thrillers Writers Association, the Historical Writers of America, the Historical Novel Society, the Authors Guild, and other professional societies, and his work has been reviewed by numerous outlets, including Examiner, US Review of Books, New York Daily News, The Jewish Journal, San Francisco Book Review, and more. He lives in Maryland.

Visit him online at azrielibooks.com.


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

Please note: I read Deborah Calling and its predecessor, Deborah Rising, back to back, so to me, they run together becoming one story, and I’m honestly no longer certain what was in book one and what was in book two.

While I typically enjoy historical fiction, it’s rare when I read anything based in a biblical tale. I’m not particularly religious, and I feel like I’m never the best audience for these things. When I do read such things, I’m afraid I compare them all to either The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant or Certain Women, by Madeleine L’Engle.

Azrieili’s two Deborah books are neither as splashy as Diamant’s novel, nor as intellectual as L’Engle’s, but they are not without their own merit. I found the author’s choice of relatively plain, simple language was a good contrast to the epic vastness of the story he was trying to tell, and he managed to bridge the gap between making things accessible to contemporary readers while also keeping the flavor of the source material.

That said, I’m finding it difficult to separate my emotional reaction to these books, which open with an extremely violent act against Deborah’s older sister, from my critical response.

Melissa-the-reader feels over-saturated with stories about women being mistreated, ignored, and brutalized, and to read about it happening in an historical setting was unsettling at best.

Melissa-the-reviewer, on the other hand, understands that much of the misogyny represented in these novels was accurate to the period, and she certainly understands that the author was in no way endorsing such treatment of women, or of people who are not of the dominant faith of any land. At the same time, that reviewer-self understands that when you’re reading about difficult concepts they should unsettle you, because that means the author has done his or her job.

My recommendation, then, is that while these are stories of a strong woman forging a unique, and often difficult, path from pawn to prophet, please ensure that you understand the context before you dive in.

Overall, I felt that these were well-written, well-paced, interesting stories, and the author’s writing voice is one of quiet grace, which I really appreciated.

Goes well with hot tea, and date-nut bread slathered in butter.


Tour Stops https://tlcbooktours.com/2018/01/avraham-azrieli-author-of-deborah-calling-on-tour-january-february-2018/

Friday, January 12th: History from a Woman’s PerspectiveDeborah Rising

Wednesday, January 17th: Lit.Wit.Wine.Dine.

Thursday, January 18th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Tuesday, January 23rd: Reading Reality – Deborah Rising

Monday, February 12th: Mother’s Circle

Wednesday, February 14th: Bibliotica

Monday, February 19th: Write – Read – Life

Wednesday, February 21st: A Bookish AffairDeborah Rising

Friday, February 23rd: Reading Reality – Deborah Calling

Monday, February 26th: A Bookish AffairDeborah Calling

Monday, February 26th: Openly Bookish

TBD: History from a Woman’s PerspectiveDeborah Calling

TBD: Based on a True Story

Spotlight: The Secret Life of Mrs. London, by Rebecca Rosenberg

Spotlight Secret Life of Mrs. London

About the book: The Secret Life of Mrs. London

  • Publication Date: January 30, 2018
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
  • Formats: eBook & Paperback; 348 Pages
  • Genre: Historical Fiction

The Secret Life of Mrs. LondonSan Francisco, 1915. As America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, wrestle with genius and desire, politics and marital competitiveness. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband, but Jack doesn’t see it that way…until Charmian is pulled from the audience during a magic show by escape artist Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own complicated marriage. Suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her and entranced by his sexual magnetism, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape.

As Charmian grapples with her urge to explore the forbidden, Jack’s increasingly reckless behavior threatens her dedication. Now torn between two of history’s most mysterious and charismatic figures, she must find the courage to forge her own path, even as she fears the loss of everything she holds dear.

Praise for The Secret Life of Mrs. London:

“The Secret Life of Mrs. London is a heart-wrenching portrait of a marriage between two people who utterly depend on one another, but ultimately aren’t enough for each other. With skillful precision of language, Rosenberg weaves a narrative that defines the complexities of love, passion, and art. This is a perceptive, deeply moving novel by a great new talent about a couple who has gone unnoticed in historical fiction until now. Anyone who has ever loved another person will want to read this book.” —Victoria Kelly, author of Mrs. Houdini: A Novel

“One of Houdini’s best kept secrets was his affair with Charmian London in 1918. Now Rebecca Rosenberg tells the story using an elegant blend of fact and fiction, creating a Houdini book like no other. The Secret Life of Mrs. London is a true peek behind the curtain and a page-turner.” —John Cox, Wild about Harry

Pre-order or discuss The Secret Life of Mrs. London:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads


About the author, Rebecca Rosenberg

Rebecca RosenbergA California native, Rebecca Rosenberg lives on a lavender farm with her family in Sonoma, the Valley of the Moon, where Jack London wrote from his Beauty Ranch. Rebecca is a long-time student of Jack London’s works and an avid fan of his daring wife, Charmian London. The Secret Life of Mrs. London is her debut novel.

Rebecca and her husband, Gary, own the largest lavender product company in America, selling to 4000 resorts, spas and gift stores. The Rosenbergs believe in giving back to the Sonoma Community, supporting many causes through financial donations and board positions, including Worth Our Weight, an educational culinary program for at-risk children, YWCA shelter for abused women, Luther Burbank Performing Arts Center to provide performances for children, Sonoma Food Bank, Sonoma Boys and Girls Club, and the Valley of the Moon Children’s Home.

For more information, please visit Rebecca’s website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Goodreads. Visit the Facebook page for The Secret Life of Mrs. London.


Visit the other blogs in this blast:

Tuesday, January 2
Passages to the Past

Friday, January 5
Creating Herstory (Fierce Femme Friday)

Monday, January 8
Historical Fiction with Spirit

Tuesday, January 9
The Lit Bitch
Just One More Chapter
History From a Woman’s Perspective

Wednesday, January 10
To Read, or Not to Read

Thursday, January 11
Suzy Approved Book Reviews

Friday, January 12
Bibliotica

Monday, January 15
Donna’s Book Blog
View From the Birdhouse

Tuesday, January 16
A Literary Vacation

Friday, January 19
I Heart Reading

Monday, January 22
Cup of Sensibility

Tuesday, January 23
The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, January 25
Pursuing Stacie

Monday, January 29
What Cathy Read Next

Spotlight Secret Life of Mrs. London

Spotlight: The Langsford Series, by A.E. Wasserman – with Giveaway

About the books in The Langsford Series

1884 - No Boundaries1884 No Boundaries: A Story of Espionage, and International Intrigue

  • Publication Date: April 29, 2015
    Archway Publishing – Hardcover, Paperback, and eBook;
  • Pages: 382
  • Series: Langford Series, Book #1
  • Genre: Historical Fiction

Love, murder, sex, and terrorism swirl within a collapsed world economy.

No, it’s not today.

It’s London, 1884.

Recently married Langsford, born of wealth and privilege, is bound by the restrictions of Victorian society. Dynamite has been invented, but the term “homosexuality” has not and men can be arrested for either.

Langsford accompanies his visiting friend, HEINRICH, eighteen, who innocently flirts with young ANNA at London’s Leadenhall Market.

What should be the end of the story becomes the beginning, for Heinrich falls in love with her, never part of the plan. Instead it becomes the catalyst for everything that follows when he flees Germany to return to her. Events unfold that expose terrorists, espionage and international intrigue.

Langsford walks a fine line as he crosses boundaries he never imagined, rubbing elbows with spies, killers and would-be assassins to save his friend, stop an assassination, and prevent a war.

“Wasserman’s writing is atmospherically rich. Very strongly recommended.” – Historical Novel Society, London, critical review of 1884 No Boundaries

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | Goodreads

9781480836648_COVER.indd

1886 Ties That Bind: A Story of Politics, Graft, and Greed

  • Publication Date: November 3, 2016
    Archway Publishing – Hardcover, Paperback, and eBook; 320 Pages
  • Series: Langford Series, Book #2
  • Genre: Historical Fiction

It is 1886 as Englishman Lord Langsford travels by train to San Francisco. Newly widowed, Langsford is desperate to escape his grief, demons, and life in England. As Langsford completes the last leg of his transcontinental journey, his life unexpectedly changes once again when he crosses paths with Miss Sally Baxter, a beautiful rancher who packs a pistol in her purse.

Sally has made it her mission to find the men who robbed a train and killed her brother. Unfortunately, no one—not even the owners of the Southern Pacific Railroad—seem to care. Unable to resist her pleas, Langsford offers to help Sally and soon becomes entangled in a web of politics, corruption, and greed. As murder, threats, and attacks ensue that endanger both Sally and Langsford, influential men in both California and Washington, D.C. jockey for positions of power. Langsford, who finds himself oddly attracted to Sally, now must sort through criminals and politicians alike to discover the truth behind her brother’s death and prevent his own murder.

“The author has woven a complex net of intrigue and background to the murder that makes the entire book so much more than just a mystery. As the title appropriately states, this deals with issues of politics, corruption and greed in a very accomplished way. One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Highly recommended.” – Christoph Fischer, UK Reviewer Discovering Diamonds

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Goodreads

 

1885: Crossings

  • Publication Date: October 5, 2017
    Archway Publishing, Hardcover, Paperback, and eBook; 142 Pages
  • Series: Langford Series, Book #3
  • Genre: Historical Fiction

Anna’s hand holding the letter trembled as her vision rocked, going in and out of focus. She felt as though she was falling backward and at the same time rolling forward, expecting to land face first on the floor. She put her hand on the table to brace herself. She no longer heard the song birds in the buckeye tree outside the window, or the hoof beats on the cobblestones passing the front door, or any sound at all.

The world around her ceased to exist—only the paper with Henry’s written words: his own account of what happened during the past year.

The entire time, she’d known he wasn’t telling her everything—but this—she could never have imagined any of it. The hard fact was, Henry will never escape the truth.

“1885 Crossings gives us another opportunity to return to the world of Henry, Anna, and Langsford. A.E. Wasserman’s writing is beautifully done—tense and uncomfortable. The ending gave me a chill.” -Chuck Sambuchino, Bestselling Author

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the Author, A.E. Wasserman

The daughter of a newspaperman, A.E. Wasserman grew up in a household filled with books and stories. At age 14, she wrote her first novella and never stopped writing.

She is the author of a new mystery/thrillers series, the first of which takes place in London: 1884 No Boundaries, A Story of Espionage and International Intrigue. The second in the Langsford Series, 1886 Ties That Bind, A Story of Politics, Graft and Greed, has just been released.

Her work, critically acclaimed as “richly atmospheric,” is being noticed by readers and critics alike, and has garnered international attention, not only in the U.S., but Europe and the U.K. as well. She recently received top honors from Writer’s Digest for her work.

After graduating from The Ohio State University, she lived in London, then San Francisco. Currently she resides in Southern California with her family and her muse, a Border Collie named Topper.

For more information, please Visit the author’s web site at www.aewasserman.com. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


Giveaway

During the Book Blast we will be giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on January 12th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY.
– Only one entry per household.
– 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.

Langsford Series Blast

 


Langsford Series Book Blast

Review: Christmas in a Cowboy’s Arms, by Leigh Greenwood and Others – with Giveaway

Christmas in a Cowboy's Arms

About the book, Christmas in a Cowboy’s Arms

  • Genre: Romance Anthology / Western / HistoricalChristmas in a Cowboy's Arms
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
  • Date of Publication: October 3, 2017
  • Authors: Leigh Greenwood, Rosanne Bittner, Linda Broday, Margaret Brownley, Anna Schmidt, Amy Sandas
  • Number of Pages: 512

The Beating Heart of Christmas

In the wild and untamed West, it takes a cowboy’s embrace to see you through a long winter’s night. Stay toasty this holiday season with heart-warming tales from these bestselling authors.

Whether it’s a lonely spinster finding passion at last…an infamous outlaw-turned-lawman reaffirming the love that keeps him whole…a lost and broken drifter discovering family in unlikely places…a Texas Ranger risking it all for one remarkable woman…two lovers bringing together a family ripped apart by prejudice…or reunited lovers given a second chance to correct past mistakes…a Christmas spent in a cowboy’s arms is full of hope, laughter, and―most of all―love.

*Chick-a-Dee Christmas by Rosanne Bittner * The Christmas Stranger by Linda Broday * A Texas Ranger for Christmas by Margaret Brownley * Father Christmas by Leigh Greenwood * A Christmas Baby by Anna Schmidt * A Christmas Reunion by Amy Sandas*

Buy, read, and discuss Christmas in a Cowboy’s Arms:

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


Connect with the Authors

Rosanne BittnerRosanne Bittner

Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter

 

 

 

Linda BrodayLinda Broday

Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter

 

 

Margaret BrownleyMargaret Brownley

Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter

 

 

 

Anna SchmidtAnna Schmidt

Website | Goodreads | Pinterest | Twitter

 

 

Amy SandasAmy Sandas

Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter

 

 

 

Leigh Greenwood

Website | Goodreads


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellI’m not a regular reader of romance novels, so the novellas in this collection, Christmas in a Cowboy’s Arms were all new material for me. I suppose being more familiar with the authors’ various series would have been helpful, but I didn’t feel like I was missing any major puzzle pieces by coming to these stories as a new reader.

All six of the works in this collection have two things in common: they’re Christmas romances, and they’re set in the West in the 1800’s. It’s a fun period to explore, and an excellent region to choose. As I learned from several visits to the Cowgirl Museum in Fort Worth (not as hokey as it sounds), women of the west were strong, smart, and incredibly resourceful.

This is true even within their relationships.

And this book explored a variety of relationships. In no particular order, we have a woman defying prejudice to marry a Latino man, man who regularly converses with his horse and dog while on the road to clear his besmirched name and ends up helping a widow in distress, a woman who’s been burned by love for a Texas Ranger but finds herself falling for another, and a doctor being kidnapped by outlaws only to find his ex holding him at gunpoint. And that’s only four of the six stories.

Because each tale was written by a different person, the tone of each is distinctly different. I was most drawn to the stories by Margaret Brownley (“A Texas Ranger for Christmas”) and Anna Schmidt (“A Christmas Baby”) but each one was charming and sweet and full of the hope, wonder, and joy that fills the Christmas season.

Goes well with a salted caramel mocha (or hot chocolate) and a slice of gingerbread (I make mine with a candy cane frosting laced with peppermint schnapps).


Giveaway

December 1-December 10, 2017

Four Winners will each get a prize pack which includes Christmas in a Cowboy’s Arms + another book(s) by one of the authors.  Three of the packs will also include a $10 Amazon Gift Card.

(U.S. Only)

 

Enter to Win

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Check Out The Whole Blog Tour

12/1/17 Christmas Memories Hall Ways Blog
12/2/17 Review Books in the Garden
12/3/17 Spotlight on Amy Syd Savvy
12/4/17 Review Bibliotica
12/5/17 Spotlight on Anna Missus Gonzo
12/6/17 Spotlight on Linda Margie’s Must Reads
12/7/17 Review Reading by Moonlight
12/8/17 Spotlight on Margaret The Librarian Talks
12/9/17 Spotlight on Rosanne Tangled in Text
12/10/17 Review StoreyBook Reviews

Lone Star Book Blog Tours

 

Lone Star Literary Life

Review: Hiddensee, by Gregory Maguire

Hiddensee, by Gregory MaguireAbout the book, Hiddensee

• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (October 31, 2017)

From the author of the beloved #1 New York Times bestseller Wicked, the magical story of a toymaker, a nutcracker, and a legend remade . . .

Gregory Maguire returns with an inventive novel inspired by a timeless holiday legend, intertwining the story of the famous Nutcracker with the life of the mysterious toy maker named Drosselmeier who carves him.

Hiddensee: An island of white sandy beaches, salt marshes, steep cliffs, and pine forests north of Berlin in the Baltic Sea, an island that is an enchanting bohemian retreat and home to a large artists’ colony– a wellspring of inspiration for the Romantic imagination . . .

Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked and to Wonderland in After Alice, Maguire now takes us to the realms of the Brothers Grimm and E. T. A. Hoffmann– the enchanted Black Forest of Bavaria and the salons of Munich. Hiddensee imagines the backstory of the Nutcracker, revealing how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how he guided an ailing girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a Christmas Eve. At the heart of Hoffmann’s mysterious tale hovers Godfather Drosselmeier– the ominous, canny, one-eyed toy maker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s fairy tale ballet– who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.

But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism ties to Hellenic mystery-cults– a fascination with death and the afterlife– and ponders a profound question: How can a person who is abused by life, shortchanged and challenged, nevertheless access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless? Ultimately, Hiddensee offers a message of hope. If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress on a dark winter evening, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized, has something precious to share.

Buy, read, and discuss Hiddensee:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Gregory Maguire Gregory-Maguire-AP-2017-Photo-credit-Andy-Newman

Gregory Maguire is the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly StepsisterLostMirror Mirror; and the Wicked Years, a series that includes WickedSon of a WitchA 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


Melissa A. BartellMy Thoughts

I’ve been a fan of The Nutcracker in all its variations since a family friend gifted me with a copy of the book A Very Young Dancer when I was five. Forty-two years later, I still can’t get enough of it. The Tchaikovsky music is ever present in my iTunes playlist, and I spend the month of December watching every single production of the ballet that makes it to cable. (Ovation‘s annual ‘Battle of the Nutcrackers’ is a favorite event.) Somewhere in a box, I even have a wooden nutcracker doll, sent to me by my oldest auntie, when she and her husband were stationed in Ramstein, Germany in the 1970s.

My point is, The Nutcracker is part of my DNA, and the reason I was initially drawn to read and review this book, Hiddensee.

The thing is, Gregory Maguire’s novel has no resemblance to the story we all love. At first, that was disappointing. I was looking forward to an in-depth look at the Nutcracker-Prince’s story. I was hoping for the unresolved sexual tension between Herr Drosselmeier and Klara (known as Marie in some versions of the story) to be resolved.

That is not what Hiddensee is.

Instead, Maguire’s novel is the origin story of Dirk Drosselmeier, the boy who grows up to become the toymaker who creates the famous doll.

In terms of style and craft, Hiddensee is excellent. Maguire has a way of using simple language to create vivid scenes, evoke real emotion, and immerse us in whatever world he’s choosing to inhabit. In this novel, he recreated the tone of all those early E.T.A. Hoffman (who wrote the original Nutcracker fairy tale) and the Brothers Grimm, mixing in more than a little German romanticism. If you’ve ever read Rilke or Goethe, you will be extremely comfortable with Hiddensee, because it has that faintly dreamlike quality those two poets used to great effect.

In terms of story, I was a little disappointed. Oh, I was invested in young Dirk as a character, but I was expecting a Nutcracker story, not a coming-of-age story about a young man. As well, I found that this novel lacked Maguire’s typically excellent pacing, having a start-and-stop effect that I found a bit off-putting.

Perhaps my perception was colored by expectation, or perhaps in the twenty years since Maguire gave us Wicked (and I was an early reader of that novel), he’s lost sight of his goals, because I’m honestly not entirely sure what story he was trying to tell. Dirk is an interesting young man, but there was an air of detachment about him – almost as if he was on the Asperger’s spectrum – that kept me slightly disconnected from his story.

Then, too, there was the fact that every time the story started to rev up, it seemed to stall.

Don’t get me wrong, an ‘average’ offering from Maguire is still more engaging than any offering from a host of other authors, and there was much about this story to love – introductions to German philosophy included – but if you’re going into it expecting it to be a rehashing of the ballet or the fairy tale, you will be disappointed.

Bottom line: read this without the ballet goggles and you’ll find much to enjoy.

Goes well with chestnut pastries and strong coffee.


Tour Stops

Tuesday, October 31st: BookExpression

Wednesday, November 1st: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, November 2nd: Man of La Book

Friday, November 3rd: The Desert Bibliophile

Monday, November 6th: Bibliotica

Tuesday, November 7th: The Sketchy Reader

Wednesday, November 8th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile

Wednesday, November 8th: Reading Reality

Thursday, November 9th: Broken Teepee

Friday, November 10th: Literary Quicksand

Monday, November 13th: Sara the Introvert

Tuesday, November 14th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, November 15th: Jathan & Heather

Thursday, November 16th: Unabridged Chick

Friday, November 17th: Based on a True Story

Review: The Other Alcott, by Elise Hooper

About the book, The Other Alcott

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper• Paperback: 432 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (September 5, 2017)

Named one of POPSUGAR’s 25 Books to Read This Fall!

Elise Hooper’s debut novel conjures the fascinating, untold story of May Alcott—Louisa’s youngest sister and an artist in her own right.

We all know the story of the March sisters, heroines of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But while everyone cheers on Jo March, based on Louisa herself, Amy March is often the least favorite sister. Now, it’s time to learn the truth about the real “Amy”, Louisa’s sister, May.

Stylish, outgoing, creative, May Alcott grows up longing to experience the wide world beyond Concord, Massachusetts. While her sister Louisa crafts stories, May herself is a talented and dedicated artist, taking lessons in Boston, turning down a marriage proposal from a well-off suitor, and facing scorn for entering what is very much a man’s profession.

Life for the Alcott family has never been easy, so when Louisa’s Little Women is published, its success eases the financial burdens they’d faced for so many years. Everyone agrees the novel is charming, but May is struck to the core by the portrayal of selfish, spoiled “Amy March.” Is this what her beloved sister really thinks of her?

So May embarks on a quest to discover her own true identity, as an artist and a woman. From Boston to Rome, London, and Paris, this brave, talented, and determined woman forges an amazing life of her own, making her so much more than merely “The Other Alcott.”

Praise for The Other Alcott:

“Elise Hooper’s thoroughly modern debut gives a fresh take on one of literature’s most beloved families. To read this book is to understand why the women behind Little Women continue to cast a long shadow on our imaginations and dreams. Hooper is a writer to watch!”—Elisabeth Egan, author of A Window Opens

Buy, read, and discuss The Other Alcott:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Elise Hooper

Elise HooperThough a New Englander by birth (and at heart), Elise Hooper lives with her husband and two young daughters in Seattle, where she teaches history and literature.

Connect with Elise:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellWhen I was six or seven, my mother and I started reading Little Women, a chapter a night, as we had every book until then. It was the last book we read that way, because my reading ability had finally progressed enough that the tiny print and paper-thin pages (it was all three of the March sisters’ novels in one volume) posed no challenge to me, and a chapter a night was no longer enough.

Like most fans of those books, I wanted to be Jo March. There are times when I still want to be Jo. But I never disliked Amy, and when I was given the chance to read The Other Alcott, a novelization of May Alcott’s (the model for Amy) life, I jumped at it. There might even have been begging involved.

I was not disappointed.

Author Elise Hooper has taken a massive amount of research and turned it into an engaging novel that gives us a glimpse at the youngest Alcott sister. As well, she shows how May and her fictional counterpart are similar, and how they are different.

While some of the connections May makes in this novel are merely supposition; others are true to life. Mary Cassatt, whose art I’ve loved ever since I learned what Impressionism was, was both a contemporary and a friend. May spent a lot of time in Europe, making the French countryside her home – and I find myself a bit envious.

Part biography, part love story (May has a  great love come into her life when he’s in her mid-thirties – old for the time) and entirely engaging, The Other Alcott exists in that area between pure fact and total fiction. It’s truthful even when the author has extrapolated information (or even just made stuff up) and it feels like a much-needed addition to the library of any Louisa May Alcott fan.

Goes well with hot tea served in hand-painted china cups, and scones with jam and clotted cream.


Tour Stops

TLC Book ToursThursday, September 7th: History From a Woman’s Perspective

Friday, September 8th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, September 13th: Jathan & Heather

Thursday, September 14th: History from a Woman’s Perspective

Monday, September 18th: Lit.Wit.Wine.Dine.

Thursday, September 21st: bookchickdi

Friday, September 22nd: A Bookish Affair

Monday, September 25th: Literary Lindsey

Tuesday, September 26th: BookNAround

Wednesday, September 27th: She’s All Booked

Thursday, September 28th: Openly Bookish

Friday, September 29th: Books and Bindings

Tuesday, October 3rd: View From the Birdhouse

Wednesday, October 4th: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, October 9th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, October 11th: A Literary Vacation

TBD: Unabridged Chick

TBD: Into the Hall of Books

Review: Last Christmas in Paris, by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

About the book, Last Christmas in Paris

Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb• Paperback: 400 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (October 3, 2017)

New York Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor has joined with Heather Webb to create this unforgettably romantic novel of the Great War.

August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?

Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…

Buy, read and discuss Last Christmas in Paris:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the authors, Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Hazel GaynorHAZEL GAYNOR is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of A Memory of Violets and The Girl Who Came Home, for which she received the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award. Her third novel The Girl from the Savoy was an Irish Times and Globe & Mail Canada bestseller, and was shortlisted for the BGE Irish Book Awards Popular Fiction Book of the Year.

Hazel was selected by US Library Journal as one of ‘Ten Big Breakout Authors’ for 2015 and her work has been translated into several languages.

Originally from Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland.

Connect with Hazel:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Heather WebbHEATHER WEBB writes historical fiction for Penguin, including her novels Becoming Josephine and Rodin’s Lover.

As a former military brat, Heather naturally grew up obsessed with travel, culture, and languages. She put her degrees to good use teaching high school French for nearly a decade before channeling these passions into fiction. When not writing, she flexes her foodie skills or looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.

Heather is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

Connect with Heather:

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellAs genres go, epistolary fiction is woefully underrepresented, but that’s probably because it’s really difficult to do well. In this novel, Last Christmas in Paris, authors Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb blew away all my fears, and gave me – gave all of us – a delightful read in the process.

While I enjoyed the novel as a whole, and nearly fell in love with Tom myself, it was Evie’s story that really gripped me. So many writers have the women just staying home when they write novels set during wartime, but Gaynor and Webb made their female lead into a woman with drive and determination, as well as a career, and friends that were separate from the circle of people she and Tom knew collectively. It’s so important to represent women as whole, dimensional beings, and these authors did so exceptionally well.

I felt the descriptions of places and people within this novel were incredibly cinematic, and I can easily imagine this story on the big screen as a Merchant Ivory production. As well, I felt that, despite things like the final letter being read at Christmastime in Paris, this novel managed to stay grounded in reality. It’s essentially an historical romance, yes, but it’s one grounded in reality, and the characters are incredibly human and flawed.

If you’re a sucker for a well-written letter, if you hoard stationery ‘just to have,’ as I do, or if you’re simply in the mood for a sentimental (but never sappy) love story, Last Christmas in Paris is the novel for you.

Goes well with hot chocolate and those ‘Danish’ butter cookies they sell in tins around holiday times.


Tour Stops

TLC Book ToursTuesday, October 3rd: Into the Hall of Books

Wednesday, October 4th: Back Porchervations

Thursday, October 5th: Bibliotica

Friday, October 6th: I Wish I Lived in a Library

Monday, October 9th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Monday, October 9th: Reading Reality

Tuesday, October 10th: A Bookish Way of Life

Monday, October 16th: BookNAround

Tuesday, October 17th: Jathan & Heather

Wednesday, October 18th: Girl Who Reads

Wednesday, October 18th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, October 19th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Friday, October 20th: Books and Bindings

Monday, October 23rd: West Metro Mommy

Review: Caroline: Little House, Revisted, by Sarah Miller – with Giveaway

About the book, Caroline

Caroline: Little House, Revisited• Hardcover: 384 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (September 19, 2017)

A September Indie Next Pick

One of Refinery29’s Best Reads of September

In this novel authorized by the Little House Heritage Trust, Sarah Miller vividly recreates the beauty, hardship, and joys of the frontier in a dazzling work of historical fiction, a captivating story that illuminates one courageous, resilient, and loving pioneer woman as never before—Caroline Ingalls, “Ma” in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books.

In the frigid days of February, 1870, Caroline Ingalls and her family leave the familiar comforts of the Big Woods of Wisconsin and the warm bosom of her family, for a new life in Kansas Indian Territory. Packing what they can carry in their wagon, Caroline, her husband Charles, and their little girls, Mary and Laura, head west to settle in a beautiful, unpredictable land full of promise and peril.

The pioneer life is a hard one, especially for a pregnant woman with no friends or kin to turn to for comfort or help. The burden of work must be shouldered alone, sickness tended without the aid of doctors, and babies birthed without the accustomed hands of mothers or sisters. But Caroline’s new world is also full of tender joys. In adapting to this strange new place and transforming a rough log house built by Charles’ hands into a home, Caroline must draw on untapped wells of strength she does not know she possesses.

For more than eighty years, generations of readers have been enchanted by the adventures of the American frontier’s most famous child, Laura Ingalls Wilder, in the Little House books. Now, that familiar story is retold in this captivating tale of family, fidelity, hardship, love, and survival that vividly re-imagines our past.

Buy, read, and discuss Caroline:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Sarah Miller

Sarah MillerSarah Miller began writing her first novel at the age of ten, and has spent the last two decades working in libraries and bookstores. She is the author of two previous historical novels, Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller and The Lost Crown. Her nonfiction debut, The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century, was hailed by the New York Times as “a historical version of Law & Order.” She lives in Michigan.

Connect with Sarah:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellSometimes a book falls into your life at exactly the right time, and that’s what happened to me with this book, Caroline: Little House, Revisited.

While I typically start looking for scary reads around this time of year, we’ve had some family events that stirred my need for warmth and comfort in my reading, and what could be more comforting than a novel that tells the familiar story of Little House on the Prairie, in a new and unfamiliar way: it’s not written for children, and it’s from Ma’s – that’s the Caroline in the book – point of view.

What I appreciated was that author Sarah Miller’s use of language, while sophisticated, managed to stay in a tone that was reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s original books. This gave the story an air of authenticity, and also made it feel like the literary equivalent of home. I wasn’t transported to the bedroom in Georgetown, CO that I inhabited as a seven-year-old reading through all the novels, but I did have the sense that I was visiting a former hometown and seeing it through adult eyes.

I also really liked the glimpses of the physical intimacy – little touches – between Caroline and Charles. We don’t see a lot of their relationship in Wilder’s books, but Miller had the room to play a bit, and as a result both of the adult Ingallses are made more dimensional, and even – dare I say it? more human.

One thing that struck me was that Miller gave Caroline a lot of agency. She could have prevented  – or at least delayed – the initial move from the Big Woods of Wisconsin to the Kansas prairie, but chose not to.

Those who are only familiar with the books will notice that this story is more true to the facts of the Ingalls’ life than to Wilder’s novels, which fictionalized her life. Baby Carrie, for example, is not yet born at the star of the book.

While this book is most likely to appeal to people like me, who are big fans of All Things Laura, I think it would be a satisfying read for almost anyone who likes historical fiction or Americana.

Goes well with fresh, hot cornbread with tart cherry jam, and hot coffee.


Giveaway

Caroline: Little House, RevisitedOne lucky reader in the US can get a copy of this book. How? Leave a comment on this post (make sure you put a valid email in the box for it) telling me about your own experiences with the Little House books. Or if you haven’t read them, tell me what book series is like home to you.

(You can also find my tweet about this post, and retweet it for a second entry – I’m @melysse.)

Deadline is 11:59 PM CDT on Friday, October 6th. Winner will be notified by email.


Tour Stops

TLC Book ToursTuesday, September 19th: StephTheBookworm

Wednesday, September 20th: BookExpression

Thursday, September 21st: Into the Hall of Books

Tuesday, September 26th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, September 27th: BookNAround

Wednesday, September 27th: Bibliotica

Thursday, September 28th: Unabridged Chick

Monday, October 2nd: Lit.Wit.Wine.Dine.

Tuesday, October 3rd: A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, October 4th: A Bookworm’s World

Thursday, October 5th: Jathan & Heather

Friday, October 6th: A Bookish Affair

Monday, October 9th: View from the Birdhouse

TBD: History from a Woman’s Perspective

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