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: Rarity from the Hollow, by Robert Eggleton

About the book, Rarity from the Hollow Rarity from the Hollow

 

  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: Dog Horn Publishing; 2nd Revised edition edition (November 3, 2016)

Lacy Dawn’s father relives the Gulf War, her mother’s teeth are rotting out,and her best friend is murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. Life in the hollow is hard. She has one advantage — an android was inserted into her life and is working with her to cure her parents. But, he wants something in exchange. It’s up to her to save the Universe. Lacy Dawn doesn’t mind saving the universe, but her family and friends come first.

Will Lacy’s predisposition, education, and magic be enough for her to save the Universe, Earth, and, most importantly, protect her own family?

Rarity from the Hollow is adult literary science fiction filled with tragedy,comedy and satire. It is a children’s story for adults, not for the prudish, faint of heart, or easily offended.

Praise for Rarity from the Hollow:

“The most enjoyable science fiction novel I have read in years.” —Temple Emmet Williams, Author, former editor for Reader’s Digest

“Quirky, profane, disturbing… In the space between a few lines we go from hardscrabble realism to pure sci-fi/fantasy. It’s quite a trip.” –Evelyn Somers, The Missouri Review

. “…a hillbilly version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…what I would have thought impossible; taken serious subjects like poverty, ignorance, abuse…tongue-in-cheek humor without trivializing them…profound…a funny book that most sci-fi fans will thoroughly enjoy.” — Awesome Indies (Gold Medal)

“…sneaks up you and, before you know it, you are either laughing like crazy or crying in despair, but the one thing you won’t be is unmoved…a brilliant writer.” —Readers’ Favorite (Gold Medal)

“Rarity from the Hollow is an original and interesting story of a backwoods girl who saves the Universe in her fashion. Not for the prudish.” —Piers Anthony, New York Times bestselling author

“…Good satire is hard to find and science fiction satire is even harder to find.” — The Baryon Review 

“…Brilliant satires such as this are genius works of literature in the same class as Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm.’ I can picture American Lit professors sometime in the distant future placing this masterpiece on their reading list.” — Marcha’s Two-Cents Worth

“…I know this all sounds pretty whack, and it is, but it’s also quite moving. Lacy Dawn and her supporting cast – even Brownie, the dog – are some of the most engaging characters I’ve run across in a novel in some time….”  — Danehy-Oakes, Critic whose book reviews often appear in the New York Review of Science Fiction

“… The author gives us much pause for thought as we read this uniquely crafted story about some real life situations handled in very unorthodox ways filled with humor, sarcasm, heartfelt situations and fun.” — Fran Lewis: Just Reviews/MJ Magazine

Buy, read, and discuss Rarity from the Hollow:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads


About the author, Robert Eggleton

Robert EggletonRobert Eggleton has served as a children’s advocate in an impoverished state for over forty years. Locally, he is best known for his nonfiction about children’s programs and issues, much of which was published by the West Virginia Supreme Court where he worked from1982 through 1997.

Today, he is a retired children’s psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia, where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome maltreatment and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel. Its release followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines. Author proceeds support the prevention of child maltreatment. http://www.childhswv.org/

Connect with Robert:

Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter


My Thoughts

Melissa A. BartellI first read Rarity from the Hollow two years ago, when the author, Robert Eggleton contacted me and asked me to consider it. It seemed interesting, edgy and different, so I took a chance, and was immediately hooked on his concept and his story. I was supposed to review it then, life got in the way, and it was a year (and a revised edition) later before I wrote a review. Somehow, that review got eaten by WordPress, and after far too much patience on Mr. Eggleton’s part, I’ve rewritten it and am posting it now.

Described as a ‘fairy tale for adults,’ this novel looks at PTSD, poverty, child sexual abuse and child murder – any one of which could be considered a trigger for most readers – wraps them in literary science fiction, and gives us a protagonist in Lacy Dawn (who is also the primary POV character) who is sensitive, spunky, inquisitive, and manages to contain within herself a combination of too much awareness and childish innocence that should not work, but strangely does.

Calling this novel a fairy tale or science fiction, while accurate, is also limiting, because it’s so much more than both. Parts of this story are quite tragic – when we first meet Lacy Dawn, she is coaching her best friend Faith on a spelling test, her father is abusive and her mother is battered in both body and spirit. Within a few chapters, Faith has been killed, but her spirit lingers and her relationship with Lacy Dawn does as well, but then, our heroine also talks to trees, understands her dog Brownie, and has an android boyfriend named DotCom who is also recruiting her for a business venture (no, nothing salacious).

(As an aside, DotCom is my favorite of the supporting characters – but that’s probably because of my decades old crush on Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

In many ways, Rarity from the Hollow feels like a coming-of-age novel for adults. As we experience the end of true childhood and the beginning of adolescence with Lacy Dawn, we also confront the leftover issues from our own childhoods – our relationships with our friends and families, our own choices about sex and love and when to act on each, how we handled college and our first careers.

Unlike Lacy Dawn, we don’t have magical abilities or help from androids from other planets. We have to muddle through our lives in a world that is increasingly dangerous and frightening, but novels like Rarity from the Hollow give us the ability to engage in self-reflection while living vicariously through fictional characters. Author Eggleton has couched some very important truths in a story that is equal parts entertaining and provocative.

Not to be overlooked are some truly comic moments. DotCom’s anatomy changes as he moves toward an adult relationship and there’s a creative use of a laptop and the inner wish that perhaps he should have worn clothes that is described in a way worthy of a Monty Python sketch.

If you enjoyed Piers Anthony’s Mode series (which I haven’t read in over twenty years), or are a fan of the work of Douglas Adams (Not just The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’m addressing those who like Dirk Gently, also.) you will likely enjoy Rarity from the Hollow, because Robert Eggleton excels at mixing the absurd and nearly preposterous with the incredibly real. However, even if you’re not a fan of those authors, I still recommend this novel. It’s sharply written, well crafted, genre-defying, and totally worth the time spent reading it.

Goes well with anything you enjoy, but I’d recommend Mexican street tacos – the kind where you get a kilo of grilled steak and a stack of tortillas and fill them yourself – and a bottle of Indio or Negra Modelo beer.

 

 

 

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: 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 Adventures of Miss Vulpe, by Maria Elena Sandovici

Adventures of Miss Vulpe Blog Tour

About the book, The Adventures of Miss Vulpe The Adventures of Miss Vulpe

  • Genre: Contemporary / Women’s Fiction / Coming of Age
  • Date of Publication: April 7, 2017
  • Number of Pages: 160
Ana Petrescu (aka Miss Vulpe) is a troubled teenager determined to solve the mystery of her parents’ double suicide. Escaping the scrutiny of her legal guardian and the unwanted interference of several therapists, she starts looking up people from her mother’s past. Her sleuthing requires her to lie about her identity, her age, and her lack of experience with men. While impersonating Miss Vulpe is more fun than going to school, there’s bound to be trouble and heartache when her web of lies unravels.

Buy, read, and discuss The Adventures of Miss Vulpe:

Amazon | Goodreads


About the author, Maria Elena Sandovici Maria Elena Sandovici

Maria Elena Sandovici lives in Houston with her dog. She travels to Bucharest often and also to Spain, but her favorite trip remains 45 South to Galveston. She has an art studio at Hardy and Nance in the Warehouse District, open the third Saturday of every month, blogs daily at havewatercolorswilltravel.com, and writes poetry in the voice of her dog. She is also the author of three previous novels about women who are struggling with finding their place in the world.

Connect with Maria:

Website | Goodreads  | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest  | Blog | Instagram


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I’ve never liked the word “unputdownable.” Aside from its general awkwardness, I always see it as a challenge: if someone describes a book this way, I feel that my job is to see just how quickly I can put it down. Imagine my chagrin, then, to have to admit that once I began reading Maria Elena Sandovici’s engaging novel The Adventures of Miss Vulpe, I literally could not put it down until I’d read it straight through.

In this “coming of age story for adults,” Sandovici has given us a snarky, smart, somewhat precocious young protagonist who is as broken as she is spunky. I instantly connected with her theatricality (Ana uses goth makeup and sophisticated clothing; I wore a lorgnette to school for a week after seeing The Scarlet Pimpernel for the first time). I also completely “got” her use of humor as a defense mechanism. I, too, have always used snark as a weapon. Sandovici’s writing ability shines in those moments when Ana is disarming people with dark humor.

But Ana isn’t just a prickly teenager. She’s also a broken one, suffering from the death (apparently a double suicide) of both her parents, bristling at the guardian with a connection to her that she doesn’t understand, and never quite belonging anywhere she is sent. (A boarding school in Switzerland is “too clean,” and has mountain views that she hates, while her mother’s house is inhabited by memories and two hired caretakers who dwell in superstition.)

When Ana acts out – by stealing small items that bring her joy – or by tracking down a man her mother knew and starting a completely inappropriate relationship with him in her bid to learn the real story of her mother’s life – that’s when we see her at her most resourceful, yes, but also at her most shattered.

But Ana isn’t the only character in this novel, though she is the main one. In flashbacks, we learn the story of Richard Devereaux, an American southerner to whom Ana’s mother Louise was writing, shortly before her death, and through his story we also learn about Rogers, the guardian who may have more than just a passing interest in Ana’s well-being.

This novel is richly crafted, with details about Ana’s life in Bucharest and it’s surroundings. I was particularly entranced by descriptions of an old hotel on the Black Sea, a place which was once toney and now oozes “faded luxury,” but I felt like I was experiencing Bucharest, and later (to a lesser degree) Madrid, through Ana’s eyes.

Part coming-of-age story, part mystery, The Adventures of Miss Vulpe is an entertaining read, yes, but it’s also deeper than a first glance would imply, and ultimately the story is quite satisfying.

Goes well with espresso and petits fours.


Tour Stops for The Adventures of Miss Vulpe Lone Star Literary Life

5/20 Review Hall Ways Blog
5/20 Excerpt 1 Missus Gonzo
5/21 Sketchbook 1 StoreyBook Reviews
5/22 Review Reading By Moonlight
5/22 Promo My Book Fix Blog
5/23 Excerpt 2 Texas Book Lover
5/24 Review Forgotten Winds
5/24 Guest Post Chapter Break Book Blog
5/25 Review CGB Blog Tours
5/26 Sketchbook 2 Books in the Garden
5/27 Review Bibliotica
5/27 Excerpt 3 The Page Unbound
5/28 Promo Blogging for the Love of Authors and Their Books
5/29 Review Syd Savvy
5/29 Sketchbook 3 Margie’s Must Reads

Lone Star Book Blog Tours

 

Adventures of Miss Vulpe Blog Tour

 

Review: Concepción and the Baby Brokers by Deborah Clarman

About the book, Concepción and the Baby Brokers Concepcion and the Baby Brokers

• Paperback: 236 pages
• Publisher: Rain Mountain Press; First edition (March 15, 2017)

In nine thematically linked stories set largely in Guatemala, Concepción and the Baby Brokers brings to life characters struggling with universal emotions and dilemmas in a place unfamiliar to most Americans. From the close-knit community of Todos Santos to the teeming danger of Guatemala City, to a meat-packing plant in Michigan and the gardens of Washington DC, Deborah Clearman shows us the human cost of international adoption, drug trafficking, and immigration.

A Cup of Tears, the opening novella, reveals a third-world baby farm, seen through the eyes of a desperate wet nurse, a baby broker, and an American adoptive mother. In “The Race” a young man returns to his native village to ride in a disastrous horse race. “English Lessons” tells of a Guatemalan immigrant in Washington DC who learns more than English from a public library volunteer. A teenage girl tries to trap her professor into marriage in “Saints and Sinners.”

With searing humanity, Clearman exposes the consequences of American exceptionalism, and the daily magic and peril that inform and shape ordinary lives.

Buy, read, and discuss Concepción and the Baby Brokers:

Rain Mountain Press | Amazon | Goodreads


About the author, Deborah Clearman Deborah-Clearman-AP-Photo-credit-Douglas-Chadwick

Deborah Clearman is the author of a novel Todos Santos, from Black Lawrence Press. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is the former Program Director for NY Writers Coalition, and she teaches creative writing in such nontraditional venues as senior centers, public housing projects, and the jail for women on Rikers Island. She lives in New York City and Guatemala.

Connect with Deborah:

Website


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I approached this book with some trepidation because I knew the subject would be both gritty and dark. I wasn’t wrong: it is both of those things. It’s also powerfully moving, heartbreaking, and something I feel should be required reading in women’s studies and contemporary literature courses throughout the Western world.

Rather than taking the stories individually – because this book is really a novella with supporting side stories – my thoughts are on the collection as a whole. Clearman, who lives in Guatemala part of the time, writes with the intimate familiarity that only comes from being steeped in a culture. I don’t want to say that I enjoyed her work, because these stories aren’t escapist fiction or light reading, but I appreciated the strong characters – mostly female – she created.

It surprised me, actually, that the baby brokers were predominantly women. There’s a sense of betrayal that comes when women work against each other, though perhaps that’s a cultural bias of mine – I was privileged to grow up in a supportive, feminist environment where women were encouraged – are encouraged – to support each other.

The women in these stories, however were a mixture of all types of people – some incredibly sympathetic, apparently believing they were saving babies, and some were ruthless, only involved in the baby trade for the money. Some were victims of circumstance, others the engineers of their own fate.

While there were male characters in all of the stories, it is the women that really stood out for me. I think it makes sense, though, that so many of the main characters were female – it provides a perspective that men just don’t have.

Well written and incredibly compelling, this collection of stories, Concepción and the Baby Brokers is a must-read.

Goes well with a bean and cheese burrito and whatever beer you like.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Monday, April 10th: A Bookish Affair

Wednesday, April 19th: Eliot’s Eats

Monday, April 24th: From the TBR Pile

Thursday, April 27th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Monday, May 8th: Lit and Life

Tuesday, May 9th: Bibliotica

Monday, May 15th: Bookish Way of Life

Thursday, May 18th: 5 Minutes For Books

Monday, May 22nd: Bibliophiliac

Tuesday, May 23rd: Kahakai Kitchen

Review: Say Goodbye for Now, by Catherine Ryan Hyde – with Giveaway

About the book Say Goodbye for Now Say Goodbye for Now

Paperback: 364 pages

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (December 13, 2016)

On an isolated Texas ranch, Dr. Lucy cares for abandoned animals. The solitude allows her to avoid the people and places that remind her of the past. Not that any of the townsfolk care. In 1959, no one is interested in a woman doctor. Nor are they welcoming Calvin and Justin Bell, a newly arrived African American father and son.

When Pete Solomon, a neglected twelve-year-old boy, and Justin bring a wounded wolf-dog hybrid to Dr. Lucy, the outcasts soon find refuge in one another. Lucy never thought she’d make connections again, never mind fall in love. Pete never imagined he’d find friends as loyal as Justin and the dog. But these four people aren’t allowed to be friends, much less a family, when the whole town turns violently against them.

With heavy hearts, Dr. Lucy and Pete say goodbye to Calvin and Justin. But through the years they keep hope alive…waiting for the world to catch up with them.

Buy, read, and discuss Say Goodbye for Now

Amazon | Books a Million | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Catherine Ryan Hyde Catherine Ryan Hyde

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of thirty published and forthcoming books. Her bestselling 1999 novel Pay It Forward, adapted into a major Warner Bros. motion picture starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt, made the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults list and was translated into more than two dozen languages for distribution in more than thirty countries. Her novels Becoming Chloe and Jumpstart the World were included on the ALA’s Rainbow List; Jumpstart the World was also a finalist for two Lambda Literary Awards and won Rainbow Awards in two categories. More than fifty of her short stories have been published in many journals, including the Antioch Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, the Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, and the Sun, and in the anthologiesSanta Barbara Stories and California Shorts and the bestselling anthology Dog Is My Co-Pilot. Her short fiction received honorable mention in the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest, a second-place win for the Tobias Wolff Award, and nominations for Best American Short Stories, the O. Henry Award, and the Pushcart Prize. Three have also been cited in Best American Short Stories.

Ryan Hyde is also founder and former president of the Pay It Forward Foundation. As a professional public speaker, she has addressed the National Conference on Education, twice spoken at Cornell University, met with AmeriCorps members at the White House, and shared a dais with Bill Clinton.

Connect with Catherine

Website | Blog |Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts 00-melysse100x100

I read this novel on the plane trip home from Mexico. (Well, I read most of it on the plane. I finished it at home because our flight was only 2 1/2 hours long), and it kept me so absorbed that when I took a break to refill my drink, I was amazed that we were already on our descent path. It’s been a long time since I’ve fallen so deeply into a book, and I credit Catherine Ryan Hyde’s easy writing style and the subject of the book itself.

As someone who works in rescue (my longest-term foster – an American Staffordshire Terrier who had been in my care for three years finally found her forever home over Christmas) and has also taken in stray humans from time to time, Doc Lucy and her collection of animals and people was something I really connected with. The twist of her being licensed to practice human medicine, something that comes up more than once in this novel, just made it more interesting, and made her character more vivid.

The kids in the story, Pete who rescues a wolf-dog hybrid he names Prince, and Justin, a newcomer to town who is also black, and the friendship they fall into felt very real to me. I’m lucky to have a fairly diverse group of friends, but this novel was from a time just before the civil rights movement, when such a friendship was risky to all involved. Still, I think Hyde managed to catch the mood of innocent youth edging into self-awareness really well, and I thought both boys’ arcs were interesting and plausible.

Calvin, Justin’s father, was harder for me to get a ‘read’ on, with his old-fashioned propriety (sleeping on the couch because he was too close to Lucy’s room, for example) but I came to find him quite likeable, one of the best fictional fathers I’ve seen in a long while. His relationship with his son  – one where, as Pete observes, there is talking not whipping, is lovely, and I loved the way his relationship with Lucy evolved as they got to know each other and started to chip away at each other’s walls.

And oh! Lucy has walls. We learn about her much more slowly than we do the others, but be also see her from their perspectives, and what we see is telling. Pete notices that she’s pretty, that she isn’t overly ‘nice,’ but that her manner changes as familiarity is established, etc. I liked that she didn’t melt into sweetness and light all at once, and that even when she was facing complete unknowns, she remained very much who she was: a woman who keeps people and animals at arm’s length to protect her injured heart, but who can’t help but do good where she can.

Overall, this was a richly detailed, compelling story, and one I really enjoyed.

Goes well with French toast and coffee.


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

Monday, December 12th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Tuesday, December 13th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Tuesday, December 13th: Cindy Burnett

Wednesday, December 14th: Chick Lit Central

Thursday, December 15th: 100 Pages a Day

Friday, December 16th: From the TBR Pile

Monday, December 19th: Reading Reality

Monday, December 19th: Barbara Kahn

Tuesday, December 20th: Peeking Between the Pages

Tuesday, December 20th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, December 21st: Write Read Life

Thursday, December 22nd: Readaholic Zone

Friday, December 23rd: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, December 26th: Palmer’s Page Turners

Wednesday, December 28th: 5 Minutes for Books

Tuesday, December 28th: I’d Rather Be at the Beach

Thursday, December 29th: Mama Vicky Says

Monday, January 2nd: Bibliotica

Wednesday, January 4th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Thursday, January 5th: Dwell in Possibility

Date TBD: BookBub Blog – author guest post


Giveaway Say Goodbye for Now

If you live in the US or Canada, there are two three ways you can enter to win a copy of this book. They are:

  1. Leave a relevant comment on this post. Include your actual email address – no one will see it but me.
  2. Find my tweet about this review on Twitter (I’m @melysse), and retweet it (be sure my tag is intact).

Giveaway ends on Saturday, January 7th at midnight CST.

Review: Deliver Her, by Patricia Perry Donovan – with GIVEAWAY

About the book, Deliver Her Deliver Her

  • Paperback: 350 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing; Reprint edition (May 1, 2016)

Author Patricia Perry Donovan weaves her tale flawlessly, testing the boundaries of family and friendship.

On the night of Alex Carmody’s sixteenth birthday, she and her best friend, Cass, are victims of a terrible car accident. Alex survives; Cass doesn’t. Consumed by grief, Alex starts cutting school and partying, growing increasingly detached. The future she’d planned with her friend is now meaningless to her.

Meg Carmody is heartbroken for her daughter, even as she’s desperate to get Alex’s life back on track. The Birches, a boarding school in New Hampshire, promises to do just that, yet Alex refuses to go. But when Meg finds a bag of pills hidden in the house, she makes a fateful call to a transporter whose company specializes in shuttling troubled teens to places like The Birches, under strict supervision. Meg knows Alex will feel betrayed—as will her estranged husband, who knows nothing of Meg’s plans for their daughter.

When the transport goes wrong—and Alex goes missing—Meg must face the consequences of her decision and her deception. But the hunt for Alex reveals that Meg is not the only one keeping secrets.

Buy, read, and discuss Deliver Her.

Amazon | Books a Million | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Patricia Perry Donovan Patricia Perry Donovan

Patricia Perry Donovan is an American journalist who writes about healthcare. Her fiction has appeared at Gravel Literary, Flash Fiction Magazine, Bethlehem Writers Roundtable and in other literary journals. The mother of two grown daughters, she lives at the Jersey shore with her husband.

Connect with Patricia

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

In the endless onslaught of political ads, political opinions on facebook, and political arguments seemingly everywhere, I spent this last weekend engaging in some serious self-care. How? I took a bubble bath. I binge-watched the supernatural show Haven on Netflix, and a read three novels. One of them was Deliver Her, and it was fantastic.

Told in alternating points of view from Alex, a sixteen-year-old girl who was in a car accident the night of her sweet-sixteen, and which resulted in the loss of her best friend, Meg, Alex’s mother, currently separated (in situ, as the economy doesn’t allow them to afford separate residences) from Jacob, her husband, and Carl, a recovered addict/alcoholic who runs a business transporting troubled teenagers to their rehab programs, this is a book that straddles the line between contemporary family drama and serious literary fiction (not that the two can’t be the same).

I felt that author Patricia Perry Donovan captured Alex’s voice really well. She seemed like the teenager I once was, and like the sullen or troubled teenagers I’ve known: hot and cold emotions, moods, etc., angry one moment, trying so hard to be an adult, but at the same time, not wanting to truly leave childhood behind.

Meg was the character I most identified with, even though I’ve never had children, and am fortunate to have a solid marriage (we fight, of course, because we’re both human beings with opinions, but we’ve never gotten to the point of considering an ending). Still watching her marriage crumble was both moving and fascinating. I found myself empathizing with her, but also feeling great sympathy for Jacob.

Carl, on the other hand, I’d have loved to have a whole novel about. Complex, funny, smart, caring – that he turned his addiction and recovery into a way to help others, I found to be very moving.

Like many people, I was initially under the impression that this novel would be a boarding school story, focusing on Alex. Instead it was a deeply moving, incredibly rich read about the literal journey  –  Delivering Alex to The Birches – and the spiritual one of the entire Carmody family as well as Carl.

If you like family dramas like This is Us, you will love this novel. When it comes to a great story, Deliver Her really delivers.

Goes well with coffee and chocolate cherry protein bars.


Giveaway Deliver Her

One person in the U.S. or Canada will win a copy of Deliver Her. How? There are three ways to enter:

  1. Find my tweet about this book, and retweet it (make sure my tag is intact @melysse)
  2. Find my post about this book on Facebook, like it, share it, and comment that you have done so.
  3. Leave a relevant comment about this book, here on this post. (Comments from first-timers must be approved and may not go live for 24 hours).

Deadline: 11:59 PM Central Daylight Time on Sunday, October 30th.


Patricia Perry Donovan’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS TLC Book Tours

Monday, October 3rd: Caryn, The Book Whisperer

Wednesday, October 5th: Just Commonly

Monday, October 10th: Building Bookshelves

Monday, October 10th: Books ‘N Tea

Wednesday, October 12th: Books a la Mode

Friday, October 14th: Kahakai Kitchen

Monday, October 17th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Wednesday, October 19th: Wall-to-Wall Books

Thursday, October 20th: From the TBR Pile

Monday, October 24th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, October 26th: Back Porchervations

Sunday, November 6th: Writer Unboxed – guest post

Review: Mercury, by Margot Livesey

About the book, Mercury Mercury

• Hardcover: 336 pages
• Publisher: Harper (September 27, 2016)

Donald believes he knows all there is to know about seeing. An optometrist in suburban Boston, he is sure that he and his wife, Viv, who runs the local stables, are both devoted to their two children and to each other. Then Mercury—a gorgeous young thoroughbred with a murky past—arrives at Windy Hill and everything changes.

Mercury’s owner, Hilary, is a newcomer to town who has enrolled her daughter in riding lessons. When she brings Mercury to board at Windy Hill, everyone is struck by his beauty and prowess, particularly Viv. As she rides him, Viv begins to dream of competing again, embracing the ambitions that she had harbored, and relinquished, as a young woman. Her daydreams soon morph into consuming desire, and her infatuation with the thoroughbred escalates to obsession.

Donald may have 20/20 vision but he is slow to notice how profoundly Viv has changed and how these changes threaten their quiet, secure world. By the time he does, it is too late to stop the catastrophic collision of Viv’s ambitions and his own myopia.

Buy, read, and discuss Mercury

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Margot Livesey margot-livesey-ap-photo-by-tony-rinaldi

Margot Livesey is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Flight of Gemma Hardy, The House on Fortune Street, Banishing Verona, Eva Moves the Furniture, The Missing World, Criminals, and Homework. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Vogue, and the Atlantic, and she is the recipient of grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. The House on Fortune Street won the 2009 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. Born in Scotland, Livesey currently lives in the Boston area and is a professor of fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Connect with Margot

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I would have been completely satisfied with the first nineteen chapters of this novel, which were all from the perspective of Donald, Scottish ex-pat who moved to America as a child, and never entirely assimilated. His story was interesting and felt complete, and I loved the experience of reading about love, marriage, and parenthood, as well as about the different dynamics of working in a high pressure job, or a small practice (he’s an ophthalmologist) and big cities vs. small towns.

Were his perceptions accurate or was Donald the type to to “see, but not observe” as Sherlock Holmes would phrase it.

If the novel had only included Donald’s POV, we might never have known.

But author Margot Livesey gives us a treat. Embracing the Rashomon effect whole-heartedly, we get to backtrack to the beginning, and see everything from the point of view of Viv, Donald’s brilliant, passionate wife.

It was an interesting twist to an already compelling novel, and while it could have ended up falling flat, under Livesey’s deft hand, it worked amazingly well.

In truth, I liked both Donald and Viv very much, and I really enjoyed reading their story. It’s so rare that a novel begins with a marriage, rather than the lead-up to it, that even the ensuing drama still made me feel like this story was fresh and original.

Of the supporting cast, and there were some great characters, Jack and Claudia chief among them, I would like to say that I believe any of them could conceivably be the central character in their own story, and I greatly appreciated the amount of nuance expressed by each one.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants a compelling story about characters who feel supremely real.

Goes well with pot roast, mashed potatoes and a hearty salad.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, September 27th: Bibliophiliac

Wednesday, September 28th: The Reading Date

Thursday, September 29th: Real Life Reading

Friday, September 30th: Booksie’s Blog

Monday, October 3rd: Tina Says…

Wednesday, October 5th: Back Porchervations

Thursday, October 6th: Jathan & Heather

Monday, October 10th: I Brought a Book

Tuesday, October 11th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, October 12th: The Book Diva’s Reads

Thursday, October 13th: Art Books Coffee

Monday, October 17th: BookNAround

Tuesday, October 18th: Rebecca Radish

Wednesday, October 19th: Staircase Wit

Thursday, October 20th: Sweet Southern Home

Friday, October 21st: Gspotsylvania: Ramblings from a Reading Writer Who Rescues Birds and Beasts

TBD: The Ludic Reader

Review: The American Girl, by Kate Horsley

About the book,  The American Girl The American Girl

• Paperback: 432 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (August 2, 2016)

From a bright new talent comes a riveting psychological thriller about an American exchange student in France involved in a suspicious accident, and the journalist determined to break the story and uncover the dark secrets a small town is hiding.

On a quiet summer morning, seventeen-year-old American exchange student Quinn Perkins stumbles out of the woods near the small French town of St. Roch. Barefoot, bloodied, and unable to say what has happened to her, Quinn’s appearance creates quite a stir, especially since the Blavettes—the French family with whom she’s been staying—have mysteriously disappeared. Now the media, and everyone in the idyllic village, are wondering if the American girl had anything to do with her host family’s disappearance.

Though she is cynical about the media circus that suddenly forms around the girl, Boston journalist Molly Swift cannot deny she is also drawn to the mystery and travels to St. Roch. She is prepared to do anything to learn the truth, including lying so she can get close to Quinn. But when a shocking discovery turns the town against Quinn and she is arrested for the murders of the Blavette family, she finds an unlikely ally in Molly.

As a trial by media ensues, Molly must unravel the disturbing secrets of the town’s past in an effort to clear Quinn’s name, but even she is forced to admit that the American Girl makes a very compelling murder suspect. Is Quinn truly innocent and as much a victim as the Blavettes—or is she a cunning, diabolical killer intent on getting away with murder…?

Told from the alternating perspectives of Molly, as she’s drawn inexorably closer to the truth, and Quinn’s blog entries tracing the events that led to her accident, The American Girl is a deliciously creepy, contemporary, twisting mystery leading to a shocking conclusion.

Buy, read, and discuss this book

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Kate Horsley Kate Horsley

Kate Horsley’s first novel, The Monster’s Wife, was shortlisted for the Scottish First Book of the Year Award. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Best British Crime Stories. She co-edits Crimeculture, a site dedicated to crime fiction and film offering articles, reviews, and interviews with writers.

Connect with Kate

Website | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube | Instagram | Google+


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I love a good thriller and The American Girl offers up thrill after thrill from the moment Quinn Perkins  stumbles out of a French forest and gets hit by a car, through every plot twist and mysterious turn as American journalist Molly Swift goes head-to-head with local authorities to determine the real story behind the foreign exchange student’s surprising appearance, and, indeed the rest of her time in St. Roch.

I liked the convention of alternating chapters between amnesiac Quinn’s flashbacks, her present-day video blog (an activity her therapist assigned) and Molly’s observations, especially since the former is confined to a hospital bed in a coma for the first quarter of the novel, and remains in the hospital (but awake) for much of the rest of the story.

I have to admit, I did find myself a bit distracted by Quinn’s name. Is she meant to be an homage to the character from the television show Scandal, who also has an amnesiac Quinn Perkins at the enter of the story, or did the author merely draw the name from mid-air? I wish I’d thought to relay a question through the blog tour host and publicist to find out.

I also have to confess that while I enjoyed the mystery/thriller aspect of this book a lot, I found that some of the individual story elements were a bit predictable. Molly’s flirtation with the local law enforcement is one; whether or not we should trust Quin is another.

Still, even with some minor flaws, the overall tenor of this novel is exactly what it should be for a story this dark and this intimate. The characters at the center of it – Molly and Quinn – are painted with deft strokes, the supporting cast with slightly less definition, but enough to be believable. Similarly the tone  – moody and murky – kept me involved in the mystery rather than working it out long before I was finished.

If you want a novel that sustains a nice creepy mood, tells a gripping story, and is otherwise well-crafted, you should read The American Girl.

Goes well with a cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, August 2nd: A Bookish Way of Life

Wednesday, August 3rd: A Bookworm’s World

Thursday, August 4th: Literary Feline

Monday, August 8th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Tuesday, August 9th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, August 10th: Luxury Reading

Thursday, August 11th: Bibliotica

Thursday, August 11th: FictionZeal

Monday, August 15th: Buried Under Books

Monday, August 15th: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, August 17th: Comfy Reading

Thursday, August 18th: StephTheBookworm

TBD: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

TBD: Book Hooked Blog