The Canterbury Sisters, by Kim Wright (@Kim_Wright_W) #review @NetGalley

About the book, The Canterbury Sisters The Canterbury Sisters

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (May 19, 2015)

In the vein of Jojo Moyes and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, a warm and touching novel about a woman who embarks on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral after losing her mother, sharing life lessons—in the best Chaucer tradition—with eight other women along the way.

Che Milan’s life is falling apart. Not only has her longtime lover abruptly dumped her, but her eccentric, demanding mother has recently died. When an urn of ashes arrives, along with a note reminding Che of a half-forgotten promise to take her mother to Canterbury, Che finds herself reluctantly undertaking a pilgrimage.

Within days she joins a group of women who are walking the sixty miles from London to the shrine of Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, reputed to be the site of miracles. In the best Chaucer tradition, the women swap stories as they walk, each vying to see who can best describe true love. Che, who is a perfectionist and workaholic, loses her cell phone at the first stop and is forced to slow down and really notice the world around her, perhaps for the first time in years.

Through her adventures along the trail, Che finds herself opening up to new possibilities in life and discovers that the miracles of Canterbury can take surprising forms.

Buy, read, and discuss The Canterbury Sisters

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads


About the author, Kim Wright Kim Wright

Kim Wright is the author of Love in Mid Air, The Unexpected Waltz, and The Canterbury Sisters. Loving dogs, wine, travel, mediation and ballroom dance.

Connect with Kim

Twitter | Goodreads


My Thoughts

My first introduction to Kim Wright’s work was years ago, when I reviewed Love in Mid Air, just before my 40th birthday. Five years later, and just a couple months before I reach 45, I requested this title from NetGalley, and was delighted to be approved.

Wright’s writing style has matured a little (as have we all) in the five years since I first began reading her; she was great before, now, she’s damned near perfect. As is The Canterbury Sisters.

I took a class in Chaucer when I was in college, and, of course, I’d read his unfinished novel The Canterbury Tales before that, as all well-rounded readers should do, so I wasn’t surprised when the diverse group of women on the “Broads Abroad” trip to walk the Canterbury Trail agreed to take turns telling stories. What did surprise me – pleasantly so – was how distinct each woman was, and how their stories were both specific to each character, but universal to all women.

Of course, I was most interested in Che, because she’s the POV character, and it’s her through eyes that we meet the other women in her group – a group she remains on the fringes of, throughout the novel, as she deals, not just with the walk itself, but with the recent loss of her free-spirited, feminist mother (who, actually, reminded me a lot of my own mother, but only in a good way), and the fact that her longtime lover has dumped her. On top of it, she managed to leave her phone somewhere, which just increases her sense of isolation. (And, I confess, I was twitching on her behalf, tech-addict that I am.)

While the novel is peppered with interesting tidbits about Chaucer, Beckett, Canterbury, etc., it is absolutely a contemporary story, one where there are few male characters, except at the periphery of things. It’s not specifically women’s fiction (and I do so hate that term), but it’s fiction of and about women, and I found it refreshing that there was no goal of finding true romance. If anything, all these characters were on a mission to find peace, love, and happiness with, and within, themselves.

The Canterbury Sisters made me wish I were better at making women-friends, and gave me a deeper appreciation for the women – friends and relatives – already in my life.

Goes well with a hearty peasant’s pie and a glass of hard cider.

Summer Secrets, by Jane Green (@JaneGreen) #review @NetGalley @StMartinsPress

About the book, Summer Secrets Summer Secrets

  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (June 23, 2015)
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • When a shocking family secret is revealed, twenty-something journalist Cat Coombs finds herself falling into a dark spiral. Wild, glamorous nights out in London and raging hangovers the next day become her norm, leading to a terrible mistake one night while visiting family in America, on the island of Nantucket. It’s a mistake for which she can’t forgive herself. When she returns home, she confronts the unavoidable reality of her life and knows it’s time to grow up. But she doesn’t know if she’ll ever be able to earn the forgiveness of the people she hurt.

    As the years pass, Cat grows into her forties, a struggling single mother, coping with a new-found sobriety and determined to finally make amends. Traveling back to her past, to the family she left behind on Nantucket all those years ago, she may be able to earn their forgiveness, but in doing so she may risk losing the very people she loves the most.

    Told with Jane Green’s keen eye for detailing the emotional landscape of the heart, Summer Secrets is at once a compelling drama and a beautifully rendered portrait of relationships, betrayals, and forgiveness; about accepting the things we cannot change, finding the courage to change the things we can, and being strong enough to weather the storms.

    Buy, read, and discuss Summer Secrets

    Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


    About the author, Jane Green Jane Green

    Jane Green is a bestselling author of popular novels. She has been featured in People, Newsweek, USA Today, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan. She lives in Connecticut with her family.

    Connect with Jane

    Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


    My Thoughts

    For the longest time, Jane Green has been known for writing witty, engaging novels about women in their thirties undergoing major life changes. Sure, she deviates from that formula once in a while, but I’ve been reading her stuff since I was in my thirties, and she’s a go-to author when you want a beach read that’s deep enough to keep you interested, but not so heavy that your head starts to hurt.

    Summer Secrets, which I read as an ARC from NetGalley, is no different, though it is a little bit darker than some of Green’s previous novels, mostly because the main character is an alcoholic.

    What I especially liked is that even the minor characters felt like real people. Cat is a flawed (deeply flawed) protagonist, and there were times when I wanted to shake her and order her to make better choices, but having known enough addicts, I know it would not have helped, but even the people she works with, seen in brief exchanges in the office, or going for drinks after work, have their moments. Her teenaged daughter, as well, was suitable moody and mercurial, the way actual teens tend to be.

    I also liked that Green was pretty accurate with the addictive personality, and didn’t offer a magical ‘fix’ to Cat’s problem. She had to work – and work hard – to get from the place she started at the beginning of the novel, to the place where she ended.

    The dual settings of London and Nantucket, I thought, worked well in juxtaposition, and the shifting time periods, while a little bit confusing at the start of the book, really helped show Cat’s growth, albeit in a non-linear fashion.

    I don’t know if Ms. Green plans to continue making her plots as meaty as this one was – yes, it was still a romance, deep down, but still… – but if she does, I applaud it. I’ve always enjoyed her work, but I thought Summer Secrets offered the best blend of summer escapism and smart, contemporary fiction.

    Goes well withBoardwalk fries and lemonade, eaten while sitting on the beach.

The Summer’s End, by Mary Alice Monroe #quickreview

About the book, The Summer’s End The Summer's End

 

  • Series: Lowcountry Summer (Book 3)
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (May 19, 2015)

In the powerful and heartwarming conclusion to her bestselling Lowcountry Summer trilogy, New York Times author Mary Alice Monroe brings her readers back to the charm and sultry beauty of Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, to reveal how the pull of family bonds and true love is as strong and steady as the tides.

It is summer’s end and Sea Breeze, the family’s beloved estate on Sullivan’s Island, must be sold. It is an emotional time of transition as Mamaw and the three sisters each must face loss and find a new place in the world.

Harper, the youngest sister, arrived at Sea Breeze intending to stay only a weekend, but a rift with her wealthy, influential mother left her without direction or a home. During this remarkable summer, free from her mother’s tyranny and with the help of her half sisters, Harper discovered her talents and independent spirit.

But summer is ending, and the fate of Sea Breeze hinges on Harper’s courage to decide the course of her own life. To do so she must release her insecurities and recognize her newfound strengths. She must accept love fully into her life—the love of Mamaw, Carson, and Dora, the love of Sea Breeze and the lowcountry, and most of all, the love of a Wounded Warrior who has claimed her heart.

The third book in Mary Alice Monroe’s trilogy that brims with “stories that touch the mind and heart of her readers” (Huffington Post), The Summer’s End follows three half sisters bound by love for their grandmother and the timeless beauty and traditions of the lowcountry.

My Thoughts:

I’ve loved Mary Alice Monroe’s work, and especially her Lowcountry stories, for years, so it was with some sadness that I cracked open my Kindle to read this novel.

That sadness was misplaced, because this was the perfect conclusion to the story – the family has to deal with communal loss in the form of their Sullivan’s Island house being sold, and personal loss in their own lives, but ultimately they learn that the house, while full of memories, is only a structure, a framework within which the family existed for a time. The love and connection they have is not dependent on the house at all.

As always, Monroe’s characters are given dimensional personalities, distinct voices, and individual arcs of growth and understanding. She writes the sisters, especially, in a way that makes their relationship obvious, but their separate identities equally so.

If you, like me, are addicted to stories that take place on Sullivan’s Island, or beach books in general, you will treasure this novel.

Yes, I’m a little sad about the end of the series, but Monroe gave us a satisfying conclusion, and ultimately, a message of hope.

Goes well with grilled chicken, tomato salad, and cold chardonnay, eaten on the deck.

 

 

Running Fire, by Lindsay McKenna (@lindsaymckenna) #review @TLCBookTours #Giveaway

Running Fire

About the book, Running Fire Running Fire

  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HQN Books (April 28, 2015)

He was a haven in the midst of Hell…

Temporarily assigned to the Shadow Squadron in a troubled region of Afghanistan, Chief Warrant Officer and pilot Leah Mackenzie is no stranger to conflict—even if most of her physical and emotional scars are courtesy of her vicious ex. Still, she’s got a bad feeling about picking up a team of stranded SEALs. A feeling that’s all too justified once enemy fire hits their helicopter and all hell breaks loose…

SEAL Kell Ballard’s goal was to get the injured pilot out of harm’s way and find shelter deep in the labyrinth of caves. It’s a place of dark intimacy, where Leah finds unexpected safety in a man’s arms. Where prohibited attraction burns brightly. And where they’ll hide until the time comes to face the enemy outside…and the enemy within their ranks.

Buy, read, and discuss Running Fire

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


About the author, Lindsay McKenna Lindsay McKenna

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

Connect with Lindsay

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

I don’t read a lot of Harlequin novels. Oh, I’m not judging – they’re great novels when you want to escape into something fun and frothy for a couple of hours, and the contemporary incarnation of the imprint tends to favor strong female characters who have lived a little bit, rather than doe-eyed, barely post-pubescent innocents. I don’t typically read them simply because it doesn’t occur to me.

That said, when I was offered the chance to read Lindsay McKenna’s Running Fire I said, “Please, sign me up,” because I’m do enjoy a good romance from time to time, and because the military aspect appealed to me. I am, after all, the granddaughter of a career Army officer, and a member of Soldiers’ Angels. As well, I lost a really good friend a couple of years ago, a friend who was one of my oldest ‘blog buddies’ and whose last email to me included pictures of an afternoon in Kabul. (He survived two tours in that region, only to die of cancer at far too young an age, but that’s another story.)

In any case, I began reading Ms. McKenna’s novel and found myself devouring it over the space of just a few hours. Her depiction of the male lead, Kell, matches my own experience with the SEALs I’ve met: off the job, they tend to be incredibly intelligent, kind, people, but once they’re in work mode their focus is laser-sharp. Likewise, I enjoyed seeing military life from the point of view of a woman who as also an officer. McKenna did a really good job of letting Leah be vulnerable, without diminishing the fact of her own training. Even when she was injured, she was never entirely helpless, and I thought the whole Leah/Kell relationship was treated as one of equals who had differing strengths.

To be honest, I was a little surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel. I think I always start any military story being wary of the politics that might crop up. (Mine are decidedly liberal – I’m very much of the ‘love the soldier, hate the war’ school of thought). I needn’t have been concerned. In this story, there’s almost no mention of politics. Instead everything is very much in the present for each character: what do I have to do to survive this day, and improve my connection to this other person?

As a novel that does take place ‘in theater,’ as well as one that deals with (I’m trying hard not to spoil plot) past sexual abuse, there are a couple of bits of violence that may be off-putting for some readers, but it wasn’t gratuitous violence, and it wasn’t described in the kind of visceral detail that is likely to cause nightmares or anything.

As I said, I rarely read Harlequin novels, but when I do, I’m happy to share what I’ve read. I found McKenna’s work so engaging that I’m curious to read other novels in this series.

Goes well with Any variety of MRE…no, just kidding. Cheeseburgers, crinkle-cut fries, and Coca-cola.


Giveaway

If you want to experience Lindsay McKenna’s military romances for yourself, I have the opportunity for ONE reader from the USA or Canada to receive a copy of an earlier title in this collection: Taking Fire.

Taking Fire

To win: leave a comment here (make sure you leave a valid email address when filling out the comment form) or tweet about this review, and tag me in your tweet (@Melysse). I’ll announce the winner next Wednesday.


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

Monday, April 13th: Book Mama Blog – author guest post

Monday, April 20th: Feminist Reflections

Tuesday, April 21st: Palmer’s Page Turners

Wednesday, April 22nd: The World As I See It

Thursday, April 23rd: Romance Novels for the Beach

Friday, April 24th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Monday, April 27th: The Romance Dish – author guest post

Monday, April 27th: Hot Guys in Books

Monday, April 27th: Booked on a Feeling

Tuesday, April 28th: My Life. One Story At a Time.

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

Thursday, April 30th: Mignon Mykel Reviews

Friday, May 1st: Books a la Mode – author guest post

Monday, May 4th: Books and Spoons

Tuesday, May 5th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Wednesday, May 6th: Bibliotica – That’s ME.

Thursday, May 7th: The Pen and Muse

Friday, May 8th: From the TBR Pile

Friday, May 8th: Written Love Reviews

Monday, May 11th: Life is Story

Wednesday, May 13th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Thursday, May 14th: Read Love Blog

The Dream Lover, by Elizabeth Berg #review @TLCBookTours @NetGalley

About the book, The Dream Lover The Dream Lover

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (April 14, 2015)

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Berg has written a lush historical novel based on the sensuous Parisian life of the nineteenth-century writer George Sand—which is perfect for readers of Nancy Horan and Elizabeth Gilbert.
 
At the beginning of this powerful novel, we meet Aurore Dupin as she is leaving her estranged husband, a loveless marriage, and her family’s estate in the French countryside to start a new life in Paris. There, she gives herself a new name—George Sand—and pursues her dream of becoming a writer, embracing an unconventional and even scandalous lifestyle.

Paris in the nineteenth century comes vividly alive, illuminated by the story of the loves, passions, and fierce struggles of a woman who defied the confines of society. Sand’s many lovers and friends include Frédéric Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugène Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Marie Dorval, and Alfred de Musset. As Sand welcomes fame and friendship, she fights to overcome heartbreak and prejudice, failure and loss. Though considered the most gifted genius of her time, she works to reconcile the pain of her childhood, of disturbing relationships with her mother and daughter, and of her intimacies with women and men. Will the life she longs for always be just out of reach—a dream?

Brilliantly written in luminous prose, and with remarkable insights into the heart and mind of a literary force, The Dream Lover tells the unforgettable story of a courageous, irresistible woman.

Buy, read, and discuss, The Dream Lover

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


About the author, Elizabeth Berg Elizabeth Berg

Elizabeth Berg is the author of many bestselling novels, including Tapestry of Fortunes, The Last Time I Saw You, Home Safe, The Year of Pleasures, and Dream When You’re Feeling Blue, as well as two collections of short stories and two works of nonfiction. Open House was an Oprah’s Book Club selection, Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year, Talk Before Sleep was short-listed for an Abby Award, and The Pull of the Moon was adapted into a play. Berg has been honored by both the Boston Public Library and the Chicago Public Library. She is a popular speaker at venues around the country, and her work has been translated into twenty-seven languages. She is the founder of Writing Matters, a reading series designed to serve author, audience, and community. She divides her time between Chicago and San Francisco.


My Thoughts

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Berg’s contemporary fiction for years, so when her newest work, an historical novel about the life of George Sand, was offered to me by the awesome women at TLC Book Tours, I jumped at the chance.

From the very first paragraphs, I was caught in Berg’s delicious prose. It’s haunting, gentle, lyrical, even when she’s discussing things that are not at all gentle (or lyrical). But she’s writing about nineteenth-century France, so the language should feel like that, and the sense of place and time she gives us in this novel is so strong, so vivid, that I found myself not only reading passages of this novel aloud – as I do whenever the language or rhythm really entrances me – but reading it aloud in a French accent. (You would have been enthralled, I tell you, by my performance. My dogs certainly were.)

I always love behind-the-scenes information – I buy DVD’s just for the director’s commentary – and I love a good origin story, and The Dream Lover has both. Yes, we get to see the childhood of the woman who grows up to become George Sand, but we also get a glimpse into her life, her loves (not all of which were fulfilling or successful) and her craft. This is NOT a ‘writing book,’ but it’s definitely a writers’ novel. If you, like me, have literary aspirations, you HAVE to read this.

A passage about the writerly imagination, and how Aurore/George has heard the story of her birth so often that something told to her has become memory, really resonated with me. Here’s the actual passage (I can’t quote page numbers, because I read a digital ARC, but it’s at Loc 372/7% in on the Kindle version):

A writer has a most fertile mind, or he is no writer at all. He has an imagination that soars when given the most meager starts: a wet blade of grass, croissant crumbs on a plate, the sight of a woman hurriedly crossing a street. And in the way that the fiction a writer produces can assume a truth of its own, these details of my birth seem less story to me than memory.

How many of us haven’t shared similar experiences with frequently told stories?

The Dream Lover is full of such nuggets of human truth, and that’s what makes it such a great read. It’s not at all a “beach read,” but it’s not so heavy that you couldn’t read it at the beach, if that’s where you happen to be.

Goes well with A plate of fruit and cheese with a lightly sweetened palmiere pastry and a hand-crafted cappuccino in a proper cup, not some cardboard contraption.


Elizabeth Berg’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Monday, April 13th: Reading Reality

Tuesday, April 14th: Let Them Read Books

Monday, April 20th: Bibliophilia, Please

Monday, April 20th: Bookchickdi

Wednesday, April 22nd: Books on the Table – Bookstore Event post

Wednesday, April 22nd: Kritter’s Ramblings

Monday, April 27th: Peeking Between the Pages

Tuesday, April 28th: Books a la Mode – author guest post

Tuesday, April 28th: The Novel Life

Wednesday, April 29th: Bibliotica – That’s ME

Thursday, April 30th: Life is Story

Thursday, April 30th: History from a Woman’s Perspective

Friday, May 1st: 100 Pages a Day… Stephanie’s Book Reviews

Monday, May 4th: Laura’s Reviews

Monday, May 4th: Book Babe

Wednesday, May 6th: Unshelfish

Monday, May 11th: Broken Teepee

TBD: Unabridged Chick – review

TBD: Unabridged Chick – author Q&A

A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert #review @netgalley

About the book, A Wilder Rose A Wilder Rose

  • Paperback: 302 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (March 17, 2015)

The Little House books, which chronicled the pioneer adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder, are among the most beloved books in the American literary canon. Lesser known is the secret, concealed for decades, of how they came to be. Now, bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert reimagines the fascinating story of Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, an intrepid world traveler and writer who returned to her parents’ Ozark farm, Rocky Ridge, in 1928. There she began a collaboration with her mother on the pioneer stories that would captivate generations of readers around the world.

Despite the books’ success, Rose’s involvement would remain a secret long after both women died. A vivid account of a great literary deception, A Wilder Rose is a spellbinding tale of a complicated mother-daughter relationship set against the brutal backdrop of the Great Depression.

Buy, read, and discuss A Wilder Rose

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Susan Wittig Albert Susan Wittig Albert

Susan Wittig Albert grew up in Illinois, earned her PhD from the University of California at Berkeley, and served as an English professor and university administrator at the University of Texas, Tulane University, and Texas State University. A New York Times bestselling author, she has written over fifty mysteries in four different series, as well as other adult fiction, nonfiction, and books for young adults. She lives with her husband, Bill, on thirty-one acres in the Texas Hill Country, where she writes, reads, and pursues her other passions: gardening, raising chickens, and doing needlework. She is the founder of the Story Circle Network, an international organization dedicated to helping women tell their stories.

Connect with Susan

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts

I’ve been a fan of the Little House books since I learned how to read, and then I married a man who was raised half an hour from DeSmet, South Dakota. I have walked the banks of Plum Creek (what’s left of it), experienced a winter nearly as cold as the one depicted in The Long Winter, and toured the Little Town on the Prairie more than once. As I grew older, I dove into Laura the person, as opposed to Laura the character, and I’ve read a good number of the books about her.

I’m hardly a scholarly expert on all things Laura, but I’m probably better informed than the average reader, so I came to Susan Wittig Albert’s novel – and it’s important to remember that it is a novel – knowing that the books were much more a collaboration than most readers probably knew. I also came to her novel with a great amount of curiosity about Rose Wilder Lane, herself. I mean, I knew she was a journalist, was instrumental in the founding of the libertarian political movement, and had never had any children that survived past infancy, but the details of her life were largely unknown to me.

In A Wilder Rose Albert gives us a glimpse at one part of Rose’s life – the part surrounding the creation and publication of her mother’s stories, told partly in Rose’s voice, and partly in the voice of a young journalist interviewing Rose. I’m not sure the split perspective was necessary, but it did make an interesting counterpoint. The dialogue and characterization felt appropriate for the period for the most part, but I found her depiction of Laura to be a bit more prim and simpery than the Laura I know from other, scholarly books about her, and I feel like she lost a bit of opportunity to delve into Rose’s personality a bit more deeply. I’ve personally always wondered if Rose was a lesbian – I know this is a common speculation – but Albert didn’t touch on that at all, and I sort of wish she had.

Obviously, when you’re writing a novel about a real person, you have to balance what is right for the story with what is right for history, and ultimately Albert did that, giving us a Rose who is very much her own person, while still being absolutely her mother’s daughter. As the daughter of a woman who has a forceful personality, I know what it’s like to feel somewhat overshadowed. As a creative person in my own right, I know how difficult any kind of collaboration can be.

I’ve seen many reviews take issue with Albert’s depiction of Rose as the driving force behind the Little House… books, basically stating that she was more ghostwriter than editor. I’ve seen material to support her view, and to support a less hands-on approach, and really, I don’t think it matters. This is, after all, a novel, not a scholarly treatise. It offers a possible working relationship that is plausible and interesting, and way more than just ‘behind the scenes of the Laura books.’

Most people who read this novel are probably fans of either LIW’s books or the old NBC series. If that’s the case, their enjoyment of this novel is dependent not on their vision of Rose, but on whether they see Laura-the-writer as a literary icon, or an aging human being with a vast store of memories. My own opinion is that this novel is a really enjoyable read, and really, that’s what’s important.

Goes well with buttered popcorn and crisp apple cider.

Dreaming Spies, by Laurie R. King – Review

About the book, Dreaming Spies, by Laurie R. King Dreaming Spies

Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes
Publisher: Bantam (17 February 2015)
Hardcover: 352 Pages

Laurie R. King’s New York Times bestselling novels of suspense featuring Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, are critically acclaimed and beloved by readers for the author’s adept interplay of history and adventure. Now the intrepid duo is finally trying to take a little time for themselves—only to be swept up in a baffling case that will lead them from the idyllic panoramas of Japan to the depths of Oxford’s most revered institution.

After a lengthy case that had the couple traipsing all over India, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are on their way to California to deal with some family business that Russell has been neglecting for far too long. Along the way, they plan to break up the long voyage with a sojourn in southern Japan. The cruising steamer Thomas Carlyle is leaving Bombay, bound for Kobe. Though they’re not the vacationing types, Russell is looking forward to a change of focus—not to mention a chance to travel to a location Holmes has not visited before. The idea of the pair being on equal footing is enticing to a woman who often must race to catch up with her older, highly skilled husband.

Aboard the ship, intrigue stirs almost immediately. Holmes recognizes the famous clubman the Earl of Darley, whom he suspects of being an occasional blackmailer: not an unlikely career choice for a man richer in social connections than in pounds sterling. And then there’s the lithe, surprisingly fluent young Japanese woman who befriends Russell and quotes haiku. She agrees to tutor the couple in Japanese language and customs, but Russell can’t shake the feeling that Haruki Sato is not who she claims to be.

Once in Japan, Russell’s suspicions are confirmed in a most surprising way. From the glorious city of Tokyo to the cavernous library at Oxford, Russell and Holmes race to solve a mystery involving international extortion, espionage, and the shocking secrets that, if revealed, could spark revolution—and topple an empire.

Buy a copy of Dreaming Spies

Amazon | Barnes & Noble


My Thoughts:

I’ve been a fan of the Russell/Holmes series since they first started, so when I realized there was a chance I could review the latest book before it’s release date (thank you NetGalley), I begged for the chance. Okay, I didn’t beg, but I did make the request, and was granted permission. I’m glad I did, because this was a great read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The story takes place in two parts. The first is on the way to, and then in, Japan, and involves the Russell/Holmes version of a road trip as they learn to appreciate Japanese culture, and even to blend in, slightly, though their journey culminates in espionage and an attempt to help protect the Emperor’s honor.

The second place takes place back home – Russell’s home – in Oxford, and is basically the ‘what happens after’ part of the original mission.

I liked the new characters, the explanations of the history of ninjas and the use of traditional (albeit translated) haiku as chapter headers. I also liked the touches that author King puts in that let us peek behind the curtains of Russell’s and Holmes’s relationship – Holmes doesn’t like to play the ‘older husband to a young girl’ role, and yet, he is older, and she is younger, and I think his aging is factoring into things more and more…

King, as always, blends mystery with social commentary and a close look at non-western cultures, and does so in a way that is incredibly satisfying, but not so much so that the reader isn’t immediately looking forward to the next novel in the series.

I didn’t want this book to end.
I can’t wait for the next one.

Goes well with miso soup, sashimi, tempura, and jasmine tea.

Almost Perfect, by Diane Daniels Manning – Review

About the book Almost Perfect Almost Perfect

Paperback: 330 pages
Publisher: Beltor (January 28, 2014)

A YA novel about two unlikely friends, their dogs, and the competitions that bring them and their community together. (Kirkus Reviews)

An old woman who has given up hope and a boy who believes the impossible wonder if life would be perfect at the Westminster Dog Show.

Seventy-year old Bess Rutledge has dreamed of winning the Westminster Dog Show all her life. Despite her decades-long career as one of America’s top Standard Poodle breeders, she has decided she’s too old to hold on to her foolish dream. She sells off all the dogs in her once famous kennel except for the aging champion McCreery and his mischievous, handsome son Breaker. Part of her senses they might have been the ones to take her to Westminster, if only she’d dared to try.

Bess meets Benny, a teenager with mild autism who attends a therapeutic special school, and learns he has a dream of his own: to impress his self-absorbed mother. Benny is drawn into the world of dog shows and becomes convinced he has found the perfect way to win his mother’s attention. If he can win Westminster with either McCreery or Breaker, he just knows she will finally be proud of him. Getting Bess to go along with his plan, however, is not going to be so easy. . .

Buy, read, and discuss Almost Perfect

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My Thoughts:

This book is a bit of a slow burner…but once you get into it and really get to know the characters, you find that it has it’s own special charm. Bess and Benny the two central characters, couldn’t be more different, and yet, through love of dogs and strange circumstances both of these slightly bent (if not actually broken) people become friends in the way that old souls and young souls tend to do.

I enjoyed the sense of otherness the author used when writing Benny’s scenes. He’s autistic, but high functioning, and there is never any question that his brain is wired a bit differently from those who are neurotypical. There is also no question that this is BAD. It isn’t. It’s just one part of who this boy – young man, really – is.

Likewise, Bess’s stubbornness is a key character trait without being her only character trait. It makes you want to goad her into being your friend, deliver hot tea and baked goods to her while she’s tending a bitch in labor, and then massage her feet afterward, just because she clearly NEEDS someone to give her as much TLC as she gives her dogs, especially McCreery.

I have five dogs living in my house right now. Four are mine, all rescues. One is my current foster-dog. I love them all as if they were the purebred poodles that Bess breeds, and I know how quickly each of them has become a vital piece of my heart, so the fact that this story was so tied up in the human-canine bond really resonated with me.

Bottom line: Almost Perfect was a fabulous read full of three-dimensional characters and great dialogue. Read. This. Book.

(Confession: I read this months ago, and only now had a moment to write the review. Apologies to the author for the delay.)

Goes well with Shepherd’s pie and a glass of apple cider (hard or not, doesn’t matter.)

Review: The Here and Now, by Ann Brashares

My Thoughts

I was offered the opportunity to read The Here and Now by Ann Brashares, via NetGalley, and I was happy to take them up on the offer.

I didn’t read the books Brashares is best known for – The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and it’s sequels – until just a few years ago. (I maintain that some of the most provocative contemporary literature, especially if you want strong female characters, is written for the YA/NA market. She’s the perfect example of this.) Nevertheless, I love her work, because she always writes girls and young women who are three-dimensional.

The Here and Now is no exception to that. Protagonist Prenna is someone I think many girls and young women could identify with. Certainly she reminded me of me at that age – when I was always the new kid (though I never had to move from a different time).

Likewise, Ethan, the local boy with the talent for perception, reminds me of many of the smarter, geekier boys I went to school with. If I were seventeen, I’d want to date him. Or at least go on an adventure or two with him.

The story itself is sort of a contemporary spin on Romeo and Juliet with a science fiction setup. Most of the action takes place – as the name of the novel suggests – in the here and now, but it forces us to look at our culture pretty closely, while still being incredibly entertaining.

My one complaint about this novel is that it felt like part one of a trilogy…the story is resolved by the end, but the resolution is a bit unsatisfying, and more than a little open-ended.

Goes well with a hot dog and crinkle-cut french fries from a stand on a New Jersey boardwalk.