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

 

Review: Home Field, by Hannah Gersen

About the book, Home Field Home Field by Hannah Gersen

• Paperback: 432 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (July 26, 2016)

The heart of Friday Night Lights meets the emotional resonance and nostalgia of My So-Called Life in this moving debut novel about tradition, family, love, and football.

As the high school football coach in his small, rural Maryland town, Dean is a hero who reorganized the athletic program and brought the state championship to the community. When he married Nicole, the beloved town sweetheart, he seemed to have it all—until his troubled wife committed suicide. Now, everything Dean thought he knew is thrown off kilter as Nicole’s death forces him to re-evaluate all of his relationships, including those with his team and his three children.

Dean’s eleven-year old son, Robbie, is withdrawing at home and running away from school. Bry, who is only eight, is struggling to understand his mother’s untimely death and his place in the family. Eighteen-year-old Stephanie, a freshman at Swarthmore, is torn between her new identity as a rebellious and sophisticated college student, her responsibility towards her brothers, and reeling from missing her mother. As Dean struggles to continue to lead his team to victory in light of his overwhelming personal loss, he must fix his fractured family—and himself. When a new family emergency arises, Dean discovers that he’ll never view the world in the same way again.

Transporting readers to the heart of small town America, Home Field is an unforgettable, poignant story about the pull of the past and the power of forgiveness.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Hannah Gersen Hannah Gersen

Hannah Gersen was born in Maine and grew up in western Maryland. She is a staff writer for The Millions, and her writing has been published in the New York Times, Granta, and The Southern Review, among others. Home Field is her first novel. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.

Connect with Hannah

Website


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

As we head into summer’s home stretch, I find myself anxious for the cooler (well slightly cooler – I live in Texas, after all) temperatures of autumn. Even now in the first half of August, even though the temperature is regularly over 100, there’s a thinner quality to the summer light.

Home Field does not take place entirely within the summer, but in part one of this deftly crafted family drama, grieving father and high school football coach Dean reflects that he needs August so that he and the boys he coaches can recharge before the craziness of the school year sets in.

In many ways, I feel like we all need this novel, in much the same way. For all it deals with deep issues  – the death-by-suicide of Dean’s wife, Stephanie, Robbie, and Bry’s mother,  Nicole, the various ways different people process such an event, and the eventual healing that starts even though it meets a bit of resistance – this is a gentle story. It perfectly combines the immediate pain and loss of this family with the setting of small-town America.

I’ll confess that eighteen-year-old Stephanie is the character I most understood, despite the fact that I’m more a contemporary of her father – but I know too well the way we distance ourselves from our mothers, even when we’re still alive, and, like her, I went through a period when my hair was dyed black. (My hair is currently streaked with pink, but for very different reasons.) I thought the combination of her outer rebellion and her inner commitment to academic excellence was incredibly well-written.

But Dean, the father, the coach, felt very real to me as well. I felt for him at every moment of this novel, and wanted so much for him to find his rhythm and make the connection with his children that was missing a little bit in all of their grief.

Overall, I felt that Home Field was an absorbing, satisfying read, and I look forward to more from Hannah Gersen.

Goes well with smoked ham, roasted red potatoes, and crisp apple cider (hard or not, as appropriate).


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, July 26th: BookNAround

Thursday, July 28th: A Bookish Way of Life

Friday, July 29th: Broken Teepee

Monday, August 1st: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Tuesday, August 2nd: Lesa’s Book Critiques

Wednesday, August 3rd: bookchickdi

Thursday, August 4th: A Bookish Affair

Monday, August 8th: Bibliotica

Tuesday, August 9th: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, August 10th: Sweet Southern Home

TBD: A Tattered Copy

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

About  the book, The Hummingbird The Hummingbird

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

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

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

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

Buy, read, and discuss this book.

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


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

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

Connect with Stephen

Website | Facebook


My ThoughtsMelissa A. Bartell

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

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

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

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

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


Giveaway The Hummingbird

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

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

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

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


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, June 28th: BookNAround

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

Thursday, June 30th: Kritters Ramblings

Friday, July 1st: A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, July 5th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, July 6th: she treads softly

Thursday, July 7th: Bibliotica

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

Monday, July 11th: Literary Feline

Tuesday, July 12th: 5 Minutes For Books

Wednesday, July 13th: Lesa’s Book Critiques

Thursday, July 14th: Into the Hall of Books

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

Review: Leaving Blythe River, by Catherine Ryan Hyde

About the book,  Leaving Blythe River Leaving Blythe River

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (May 24, 2016)

New York Times bestselling author Catherine Ryan Hyde returns with an unforgettable story of courage.

Seventeen-year-old Ethan Underwood is totally unprepared to search for his father in the Blythe River National Wilderness. Not only is he small, scrawny, and skittish but he’s barely speaking to the man after a traumatic betrayal. Yet when his father vanishes from their remote cabin and rangers abandon the rescue mission, suddenly it’s up to Ethan to keep looking. Angry or not, he’s his father’s only hope.

With the help of three locals—a fearless seventy-year-old widow, a pack guide, and a former actor with limited outdoor skills—he heads into the wild. The days that follow transform Ethan’s world. Hail, punishing sun, swollen rapids, and exhausting pain leave him wondering if he’s been fooled yet again: Is his father out here at all? As the situation grows increasingly dire, Ethan realizes this quest has become about more than finding his dad.

From the bestselling author of Pay It Forward comes a story of nature revealing human nature—the trickiest terrain. Navigating an unforgiving landscape, Ethan searches himself for the ability to forgive his father—if he finds him alive.

Buy, read, and discuss this book.

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 ReviewMichigan Quarterly Review, the Virginia Quarterly ReviewPloughsharesGlimmer Train, and the Sun, and in the anthologies Santa 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 Melissa A. Bartell

Catherine Ryan Hyde is an excellent writer. She sets vivid scenes and her characters are well-drawn. Her work, which I consider to be literary fiction, always delves into the human psyche in interesting ways.  So, maybe it’s my failing because while I appreciated the care and craft that went into this book, and enjoyed the supporting characters in the novel (especially crotchety old Jone) I found that I had a difficult time connecting to this novel in any meaningful way. This surprised me, because when I read and reviewed The Language of Hoofbeats a couple of years ago, I loved it.

The story in this novel is fairly typical – a city boy watches his parents’ marriage dissolve in front of his eyes, and after his parents finally split, he’s sent off to live with his father, in a rented A-frame on the fringes of a national part, while his mother is traveling.

Ethan, the boy in question, is our POV character, but I had a problem sympathizing with him. Maybe I just don’t ‘get’ teenage boys, or maybe I just didn’t like the character, but even though he went through some rough issues – getting mugged, for example – I felt like a lot of what happened was because he made low-percentage choices way too frequently. I wanted him to blow up at his father, and at least communicate, and he never really did, and I think, because I am the kind of person who blows up (but then I’m done, I don’t let things linger) I couldn’t related.

Then there are his parents… his mother never really felt like a fully-realized character to me, but then, she’s not really a main character, more like a means to an end. It’s clear that Ethan recognizes that his mother loves him. But there was just something off about him.

Ethan’s father, I wanted to shake until his brain rattled. With this character, author Hyde did her job too well – creating a character who was so self-entitled and oblivious that it provoked a strong reaction from me, but I couldn’t feel sorry for him, even after he disappeared.

I did, at some point, want to give poor Ethan a hug.

Bottom line: There are some great character moments in this novel, and the story is well written and well constructed, but I had a hard time connecting with it.

Goes well with chicken stew. 


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

Tuesday, May 24th: Peeking Between the Pages

Thursday, May 26th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Friday, June 3rd: Write Read Life

Monday, June 6th: Just Commonly

Monday, June 13th: Puddletown Reviews

Tuesday, June 14th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Wednesday, June 15th: The Magic All Around Us

Thursday, June 16th: Book Dilettante

Monday, June 20th: FictionZeal

Tuesday, June 21st: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, June 22nd: Hoser’s Blook

Friday, June 24th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Monday, June 27th: Bibliotica

Thursday, June 30th: I’d Rather Be at the Beach

TBD: Sweet Southern Home