Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Summer Giveaway Hop

This hop is hosted by: 
I Am a Reader, Not a Writer (HERE

There are over one hundred blogs participating and each has their own entry rules and geographic limits, so be sure to read the rules for each one.  This hop starts August 1st and and runs through August 7th,  midnight. 

Pushing the Limits (Harlequin Teen)
Here's how to enter:

Extra entry for Following  Katie on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/katielmcgarry
Extra entry for following Katie on Twitter: @KatieMcGarry / https://en.twitter.com/#!/KatieMcGarry
Leave extra entries in comments.

More contests to be posted in upcoming week!

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

The Sandcastle GirlsThe Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Over the course of his career, New York Times bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian has taken readers on a spectacular array of journeys. Midwivesbrought us to an isolated Vermont farmhouse on an icy winter’s night and a home birth gone tragically wrong. The Double Bind perfectly conjured the Roaring Twenties on Long Island—and a young social worker’s descent into madness. And Skeletons at the Feast chronicled the last six months of World War Two in Poland and Germany with nail-biting authenticity. As The Washington Post Book World has noted, Bohjalian writes “the sorts of books people stay awake all night to finish.”

In his fifteenth book, The Sandcastle Girls, he brings us on a very different kind of journey. This spellbinding tale travels between Aleppo, Syria, in 1915 and Bronxville, New York, in 2012—a sweeping historical love story steeped in the author’s Armenian heritage, making it his most personal novel to date.

When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Syria, she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke College, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The First World War is spreading across Europe, and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to deliver food and medical aid to refugees of the Armenian genocide. There, Elizabeth becomes friendly with Armen, a young Armenian engineer who has already lost his wife and infant daughter. When Armen leaves Aleppo to join the British Army in Egypt, he begins to write Elizabeth letters, and comes to realize that he has fallen in love with the wealthy, young American woman who is so different from the wife he lost.Flash forward to the present, where we meet Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in suburban New York. Although her grandparents’ ornate Pelham home was affectionately nicknamed the “Ottoman Annex,” Laura has never really given her Armenian heritage much thought. But when an old friend calls, claiming to have seen a newspaper photo of Laura’s grandmother promoting an exhibit at a Boston museum, Laura embarks on a journey back through her family’s history that reveals love, loss—and a wrenching secret that has been buried for generations.

My thoughts: This book was incredibly moving. For all the books I have read about the Holocaust, I sadly deficient in understanding World War I. Embarrassingly, I didn't realize that it was not one war but a compilation of many wars between countries, within countries, and between religious groups. At the same time, many countries had formed alliances with other countries which prevented intervention when one group of people were committing wars against humanity like, say, oh, genocide.

One very important accomplishment with this book is that the author doesn't paint the bad guys as "the bad guys." For instance, Germany is waging a war in Europe. However, the story concentrates on two German soldiers with a social conscience who are trying to document the atrocities being administered to the Armenians by the Turks. Also take into account that the Ottoman Empire has formed an alliance with Germany while the Russians are trying to conquer Syria which would save the Armenians from genocide. Although, if truth be told, they wouldn't (and didn't) necessarily survive Lenin or Stalin.

I actually found myself referring to historical websites to get a snapshot of the conflict between Armenia and the Turks. As a public service, I will give you a nutshell history. Because I'm totally cool like that. Also, know most of my sources were Wikipedia and read late at night. It won't be perfect.

The Ottoman Empire was a big deal. It was huge and encompassed many countries from Eastern Europe to Russia, to the edge of Iraq and a part of Africa. The Turks controlled the empire for the better of 600 years and established certain norms. For the most part, the Turks were Muslim. The Armenians were the first Christian state to declare Christianity, as early as possibly 40 A.D. Armenians enjoyed second class citizen treatment where the Turks could do as they pleased. If the Armenians looked like they might be planning a revolution, discipline would be invoked. It was very ugly.

Tensions were running high when, in the late 1800's, the Turks massacred approximately 600,000 Armenians. Things calmed a bit then re-escalated a couple of decades later. Armenians could no longer own weapons. If their houses were searched and a gun was found, they could be executed. If the house was searched and no guns were found, it could be assumed they were hiding guns and they could be executed. The genocide began in April, 1915. The Turks gathered up the Armenian men from villages and had them executed. I am going to skip details. With the men gone, it was easy to round up the women and children and force them to march through the desert without food or water. Those that didn't perish from starvation or dehydration, were often tortured, raped, and murdered. A small fraction of those that began the deportation made it as far as Aleppo where an American compound was situated and consulates of both American and German nationalities resided. The fraction that made it that far were then force marched to a makeshift concentration camp deeper into the desert where they were subject to the above mentioned deaths but then add disease and other unsavory maladies. Estimates of this genocide run over 1 million to 1 and a half million.

The story alternates time periods. The narrator is the granddaughter of Elizabeth, an American young woman who decides to accompany her father on a philanthropy mission to Aleppo, and Armen, a broken Armenian man who has already lost his wife and baby daughter. The modern day protagonist has no connection to her Armenian heritage or what her grandparents saw or endured. There were a lot of secrets that died with both of them. Some were never shared with one another. Then one day a photo from Aleppo turns up in the newspaper, the caption includes the name of the woman which presents many questions and spirals the granddaughter into a manic search of grandparents past.

Witty, heartbreaking, and beautiful, the author presents the history of the Armenian people and the genocide; their treatment closely imitates the tactics later used on Jews during German occupied Europe during WWII. The cast of characters is immensely intriguing. Within the hospital where Elizabeth helps, is a middle aged Turkish and Muslim doctor that imparts wisdom from his beloved K'ran, teaching Elizabeth the beauty of his religion rather than the hate - filled interpretations being circulated in the name of war. There is also Nevart, a doctor's widow who nearly dead. She cares for Houtoun, an orphan who rarely speaks but speaks volumes in her actions and interpretations of her world.

Highly recommend.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Gap Year by Sarah Bird

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Product Description: Named one of the Best Summer Reads of 2011 by Good Housekeeping, Town & Country andBookReporter, THE GAP YEAR is a witty and wise novel about the empty nest, a pitch perfect portrayal of a mother and daughter on the verge of a seismic change.
Cam has raised her daughter Aubrey alone ever since her ex left to join a cult. But now the bond between mother and daughter seems to have disappeared. While Cam is frantic to see Aubrey, a straight-A student, at the perfect college, on a path that Cam is sure will provide her daughter success and happiness, Aubrey suddenly shows no interest in her mother’s plans. Even the promise of an exciting gap year saving baby seals or bringing clean water to remote villages hasn’t tempted her. She prefers pursuing a life with her wrong-side-of-the-tracks football-hero boyfriend and her own secret hopes.

Both mourn the gap that has grown between them, but Cam and Aubrey seem locked in a fight without a winner. Can they both learn how to hold onto dreams . . . and when to let go to grasp something better? Sarah Bird’s trademark laugh-out-loud humor joins with the tears that accompany love in a combination that reveals the fragile yet tough bonds of mother and daughter.

My thoughts: The Gap Year was an interesting read and addressed some of the obstacles an empty nester, in particular, a single mother sending her one and only daughter off into the wide world of college. The book is written in alternating POV between mother and daughter. Not only is the writing style and attitude different, but so is the font which is wonderful for the visual reader.

The book addresses a common practice of taking a year off of school before starting college which I had two problems with: a) that's not really what it is about but that is the way Cam, the mother, chooses to frame it and b) the school counselor in me knows the statistics of students who take a year off before starting college. 80% do not start college after that one year. Obviously, I don't advocate a gap year for any student unless there are special circumstances like service for a church or organization which seems to clash directly with Cam's viewpoint and opinion.

Although Cam is not opposed to a gap year and even imagines Aubrey serving in a third world country, her point of view is often tainted towards "the establishment" of any kind, including organized religion. It starts out small with tiny jabs at certain churches then expands to a thinly veiled description of Christian Science. 16 years ago Cam's husband, Martin, sold his soul to join a cult called Next. He chose the church over his family and didn't look back. Until he reaches out to get to know Aubrey but he can not reveal this connection to this Next church or bad things will happen to a trust account.

Admittedly, I know very little about Christian Science and what I do know I disagree with on many levels. I won't get into the issues of doctrinal discussion or cult-like indoctrination because I don't know the whole picture. Therefore, I am unqualified to defend or attack the church/cult or whatever it may be. I realize it is an integral part of the story as the indoctrination of Martin is the catalyst for him to leave what matters most to pursue truth and enlightenment. It seemed that the attitude for organized religion and, in particular, smaller religions were referred to in a derisive manner. I understand the concept of life crapping all over you and feeling angry at the God I had been taught to love and questioning the tenets of the church I had grown up in. On the other hand, I also have a deep respect for any religion or otherwise organization that provides understanding to a person and puts pieces of their lives into a more manageable and understandable form. Tom Cruise and his public attack on Brooke Shields choice to take medication for her postpartum depression? In my mind, he's a complete idiot who could use some empathy training. That does not negate the good others have found in the same organization.

I know. Big diatribe but it bothered me enough to include it in my review.

Lest the above diatribe is distracting to you, let me assure you that the author is a brilliant writer. There were nuggets of true wisdom interspersed throughout the book that left me in a profound stupor and a highlighter in my hand. The Gap Year is much more about the generational gap and the gap in the roles of mothers and daughters. Mothers will contrive a reality to fit their dreams for their daughters. They might even try to live vicariously through their own children. there are extreme examples which were a little unbelievable like the boyfriend being a mega superstar football player who came out of a heinous childhood which he eventually reveals. The juxtaposition is a little too extreme. Hippie Mama who is forced to grow up but secretly wants to rock out to ABBA and Bruce Springsteen and probably even Leif Garrett and Danny Bonaducci. She creates a contrived future for her daughter and tries to live vicariously through her simple force of nature. I can relate to that. Not really living vicariously because I had a great few years at college but more involved in the choices my daughters are going to make. But ultimately, they will still do what they want to do.

So it's a mixed review. It is a well written book scattered with words of wisdom but also includes a story that seemed a little weak and characters I never really liked very much. It addresses issues that are important but I've read other books that I felt hit more on the mark. It's a good book but I didn't love it.

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields Author Interview and GIVEAWAY!

The Age of DesireThe Age of Desire by Jennie Fields

For fans of The Paris Wife, a sparkling glimpse into the life of Edith Wharton and the scandalous love affair that threatened her closest friendship.

They say behind every great man is a woman. Behind Edith Wharton, there was Anna Bahlmann—her governess turned literary secretary, and her mothering, nurturing friend.

When at the age of forty-five, Edith falls passionately in love with a dashing younger journalist, Morton Fullerton, and is at last opened to the world of the sensual, it threatens everything certain in her life but especially her abiding friendship with Anna. As Edith’s marriage crumbles and Anna’s disapproval threatens to shatter their lifelong bond, the women must face the fragility at the heart of all friendships.

Told through the points of view of both women, The Age of Desire takes us on a vivid journey through Wharton’s early Gilded Age world: Paris with its glamorous literary salons and dark secret caf├ęs, the Whartons’ elegant house in Lenox, Massachusetts, and Henry James’s manse in Rye, England.

Edith’s real letters and intimate diary entries are woven throughout the book. The Age of Desire brings to life one of literature’s most beloved writers, whose own story was as complex and nuanced as that of any of the heroines she created.

Jennie Fields on Writing About Edith Wharton

The relationship between Edith and Anna is very complex. Did you always plan on making their troubled friendship central to the book, or did it grow out of your research?

It wasn’t until three months into the writing of the book that I decided to add a secondary protagonist, someone who could view Edith objectively.  Anna Bahlmann seemed the perfect character as she was with Edith on and off since her days as Edith’s governess until the year Anna died in 1916.  To have kept Anna with her so long, I assumed they must be very close, but biographers had hardly mentioned her. 

Then after I’d already written many chapters of the book, a miracle occurred.  Over 100 letters from Edith to Anna which had been moldering in an attic came up for auction at Christies! Everything I supposed about their relationship was true.  They were loving and close since Edith’s childhood, and she trusted Anna with a great deal.  I grew more and more intrigued with this shadowy figure.

Questions began to arise.  Why, for instance, during the summer after the onset of Edith’s affair with Morton Fullerton, was Anna suddenly sent to Europe on a trip that was considered a gift from Edith?   Earlier, in letters to other people, it was clear Edith was upset and even annoyed when Anna wasn’t around to help her, so why was it arranged for them to be suddenly so much apart? Though I have no hard evidence that Anna was disturbed by Edith’s relationship with Fullerton, many events suggested she’d been sent away.  I wanted Anna to be the book’s conscience.  If Edith was unhappy, disturbed by her splintering relationship to Morton, it made sense she’d send Anna off on a trip.

Another intriguing coincidence is that I had created a warm alliance between Anna and Teddy.  After I’d written most of the book, I found letters from Edith to others that said that Anna was a calming influence over Teddy on his worst days, the only one patient enough to sit with him, that he was asking for her—exactly as I had written it. 

Anna supports Edith’s writing as a typist, early reader, and—in a way—editor. Did Edith ever include Anna in her Acknowledgements? How did Anna’s involvement in Edith’s work complicate their relationship?

Though she never acknowledged Anna publicly as far as I know, in letters directly to Anna, she thanked her.  In fact, in one letter early in Edith’s writing career, she sent Anna the check she received for a story saying, “The story is so associated in my mind with the hours that we spent in writing it out together, & I owe its opportune presentment & speedy acceptance largely to the fact that you were here to get it written out at a time when I could not have done so, that I have a peculiar feeling about your having just this special cheque & no other as a souvenir of our work together.” 

In her published biography, A Backward Glance, she spoke warmly about her relationship to Anna when she was a child “my beloved German teacher, who saw which way my fancy turned, and fed it with all the wealth of German literature, from the Minnesingers to Heine.”

But in a later autobiographical fragment that was never published she said, “My good little governess was cultivated & conscientious, but she never struck a spark from me, she never threw a new light on any subject, or made me see the relation of things to each other.  My childhood & youth were an intellectual desert.”

If she is referring to Anna in this sentence, (I hope she is not) it saddens me a great deal.  In any case, I believe Edith saw Anna as something of a servant.  She certainly did straddle Edith’s world and the world of the household staff, as beloved and essential as she seemed to be.  At the same time, Edith generously took Anna on foreign trips, out to dinner and to the theatre with her.  Without Edith, her life might well have been merely that of a teacher.

As I have written Anna, she sees her place in life as a helpmate and accepts that Edith is the chosen one.  She is proud of her association with Edith and content with her place in life.

Edith Wharton is one of your favorite writers. How did that influence your writing?

Well, I must say, I felt very conscious of the language I used.  I wanted it to be appropriate to the era, hard-working and beautiful all at once.  I could never dream of writing as exquisitely as Edith.  I often get chills when I read her writing.  If angels could write, they’d write as she did.  The music of her language is instructive and breathtaking.  But I tried to write in a way that I felt might please her.  Also, I often started my writing sessions by reading a few pages of one of her books.  I never get tired of her books, no matter how often I read them.

The book follows Edith’s sexual awakening. What was it like writing sex scenes for such a well-known writer?

Not many people know this, but when Edith died, among her effects, her literary executor found some pornography that she’d penned.  There was nothing shy about this work.  It was bold, shocking, and also, of course, exquisitely written. While I did not use any of the language of this piece (named Beatrice Palmato, for those who are curious—and yes, it’s on the internet) it did instruct me as to how she viewed sex and passion, and gave me insight into what excited her.

Paris figures heavily into the book. What did the city mean to Edith? What’s your relationship to Paris and did it figure into the writing of the book?

Edith adored Paris.  It was everything that New York wasn’t: culturally oriented, worldly, beautiful.  She found New York society closed and stifling.  She blossomed when she finally moved to France full-time, and her devotion to France is clear in how she helped the women of France during World War I with her workrooms and charities. (France awarded her the Cross of the Legion of Honor for her work during the war.) She had loved Paris as a child, and even more as an adult.  And of course, she fell in love with Morton while in Paris. That would forever insure a place for Paris in her heart.
There was a period where I did not like Paris.  I found it jostling and sad.  But about the time I began the book, I also began a new relationship to Paris, and fell in love with it all over again. 

By the end of the book, Edith’s husband Teddy is not a very sympathetic character. Did you know much about Teddy when you began this project? Did you find yourself taking sides?

I knew nothing of Teddy when I took on the project, but it wasn’t long before I discovered that he suffered in later life from Manic Depression at a time when people didn’t know what to make of that or how to treat it.  Truthfully, I see Teddy as a very sympathetic character who married a woman unsuited to him, and then, distraught, fell victim to mental illness (which seemed to run in his family.)  If Teddy could have spent his later years at the Mount with his pigs and horses, he might have been a much happier man.  Edith was an intellectual.  Teddy was anything but.  Yet,  he adored Edith.  And for a long time, he was a kind and patient husband to her.  Thinking of Teddy’s life saddens me.

You were an advertising creative director before becoming a novelist. Both are creative, but in different ways. How did your past career help in your current one?

My advertising career has affected my fiction writing in myriad ways.  For one thing, I am always conscious of trying to tell a story in the least words possible.  After years of cramming twenty thoughts into thirty seconds, one gets pretty good at writing minimally!  Advertising also taught me to be disciplined, to work well under strict deadlines, and to work every day.  What I loved in advertising also interests me in my fiction:  to solve puzzles.  The tighter the strictures of the assignment, the more intrigued I am. I love being creative in a small box. This came into play with this book.  I had to tell a story that already existed but I had to shape it into a book. It was a Rubik’s Cube.  The elements were all there, but they needed to be twisted into the right order to create a satisfying pattern.  Also, I was forced to read between the lines.  Edith kept such clear diaries; her life was mapped out almost daily.  But what really happened at the theatre that night?  Why did Anna leave at that time for New York?  Why did Morton act the way he did?  It was a delicious puzzle and I very much enjoyed solving it to my satisfaction.  I hope I’ve done Edith’s life justice.

What’s your writing regimen?

Generally, I walk in the mornings and do errands.  I write in the afternoons.  Usually I read starting at 1 or 2 pm.  (While I was working on THE AGE OF DESIRE I always read something by Edith). Then, with a strong cup of tea I get down to work by three.  I write in my writing room, a large old sleeping porch with windows on three sides overlooking my backyard.  I sit in a comfortable chair with an ottoman, my MacBook Pro on my lap.  I rarely write more than three hours at a time, usually less.  But it’s extraordinary what three dedicated hours can generate as far as pages.  If I get five good pages a day, I’m thrilled.  But not every day can be a successful day.  I always take weekends off—perhaps a holdover from my years in advertising.  My brain needs time to recharge!

What’s next for you?

I am writing a book about a woman caught up in the radical anti-war movement of the 1960s.  She is a woman in her late thirties who married young and had no youth.  She goes back to college, and gets drawn into the Weather Underground. I’ve always been intrigued with how people who were advocates of anti-violence could justify their increasingly violent activities.

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Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling: A Novel by Michael Boccacino

Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling: A NovelCharlotte Markham and the House of Darkling: A Novel by Michael Boccacino
My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Debut novelist Michael Boccacino invites readers into the world beyond the realm of the living in Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling, a Victorian gothic tale of the strange and supernatural. But all who enter this house must beware--for there is a price to pay for visitors who wish to save those they love. The story of a British governess and her young charges seduced by the otherworldly enticements of a mysterious mansion in the forest following the inexplicable death of the former nanny, this Tim Burton-like tale of dark fantasy is a bewitching treat for fans of horror and paranormal fiction, as well as readers who love creepy gothic tales and mysterious shadowy English manor houses. Not since Suzanna Clarke introduced Jonathan Strange to Mr. Norrell, and Neil Gaiman's Coraline crawled through a secret door into a twisted and sinister mirror world, has there been a journey as wondrously fantastic and terrifying as Charlotte Markham's adventures in the House of Darkling.

My thoughts: Can I rate it 3.75? It's not quite four stars for me but that's due to my own preferences and not the author's writing style. I'm not a huge fan of Gothic fiction, although I LOVED Night Circus. In order to impress me, Gothic fiction must be incredibly good AND (this is where I failed) the story has to grab me completely.

My rating increased dramatically when I read the back of the book (not the ending, mind you) with Michael Boccacino's reasons for writing the book. He didn't really know it, initially, but he was trying to make sense of and deal with the death of his mother years before. Once I was able to reframe the book in this perspective, I appreciated it much more.

What I didn't love was the dark feeling in Darkling which, duh, it has to be dark. It's not dark, visually, just a heaviness about it that reeks of death and doom. For the creatures in The Ending are doomed to to immortality, regardless of the state. They are a miserable bunch and highly disturbing. This is what nightmares are made of. I was also unclear what, exactly, the creatures were. If they were not humans that had died, what were they?

Back to the impressiveness of the book - and it is impressive, regardless of the subject matter and the confusing nature of being. Starting with the easy parts, the humor is, at times, dark but also truly entertaining. It is funny. When describing a certain character and including the irritating habit of her haughtiness or whatever else, the author also includes how the other characters respond to the character flaw. Acting one way but feeling another and it is so very true to human nature but quite faux pas to point it out, it made me laugh. It is meant to be funny and slightly satirical but only as much as the reader wonders if s/he may be guilty of the same behavior.

Once in the House of Darkling (and the land nearby), I was continually amazed at the imaginative creatures, structures, plants, animals, and whatnot. First Charlotte and the boys enter the house and the house changes as they walk through. The detailed weirdness can not be ignored and is admired. Better yet, the creatures that show up at the dinner party and their behavior was both incredibly imaginative and disturbing. Adding the reaction to the host's and the chef's additional menu item via James and Charlotte only added to my enjoyment. And revulsion.

Bottom line is that Michael Boccacino is an amazingly talented writer. He painted pictures with words that my own limited imagination could never conjure. I am in awe of his mind and his ability to convey through the written word what he sees when he closes his eyes. And, I must admit, deeply disturbed.

The impressiveness wins out, though.

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Romanov Conspiracy: A Thriller by Glenn Meade

The Romanov Conspiracy: A ThrillerThe Romanov Conspiracy: A Thriller by Glenn Meade
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars

Goodreads: From the internationally bestselling author of The Second Messiah—an intriguing thriller about an archeologist who discovers new clues to the mysterious disappearance of Princess Anastasia. Dr. Laura Pavlov is a member of an international team digging on the outskirts of the present-day Russian city of Ekaterinburg, where the Romanov royal family was executed by its captors in July 1918.     When Dr. Pavlov discovers two bodies perfectly preserved in permafrost in a mineshaft, she discovers dramatic new clues to the disappearance of the Romanovs, and in particular their famous daughter Princess Anastasia, whose murder has always been in doubt. What Pavlov learns will change the accepted course of world history and hurl her back into the past—and into a maelstrom of secrets and lies.    The Romanov Conspiracy is a high-tension story of trust and betrayal, of a fight between good and evil, and of love and friendship, set in one of the most bloody and brutal revolutions in world history.

My thoughts: Years ago, I read a book by Robert Massie, The Romanovs: The Final Chapter. It was a fascinating book that explored not only the Russian Revolution and what led up to the execution of the tsar's family, but also ballistics, the acid used to deface the bodies, along with the eventual DNA testing of the bodies and of the infamous Anna Anderson who claimed to be Anastasia.

Since it has been years since I read the book, I can't recall with clarity every detail. That said, Meade does not attempt to change history nor does he attempt to retell what we already know. What he creates is a believable story of a group of people who attempt a rescue of the Romonov family.

A female body, encased and preserved in ice, is unearthed in a mine shaft in the Urals near the resting place of the Romanov family. Other bodies are also disposed of in the mine shafts but this one is of particular interest and leads the protagonist to Ireland and to an old Russian named Yakov who claims to be the son of the commissar Yakov tasked with the final disposal of the Romanov family in 1918. He then weaves a story together that is both historically correct, as far as I could tell, and enjoyable to read.

The author includes a cast of characters that, at first blush, don't seem to have many interests in common. But what he accomplishes is painting a more complete picture of the world at the time. This, he does through the introduction of characters which would take too much time and space to summarize. Instead, I'll include highlights of the world at that time and what the group were working through.

Not only was Russia in upheaval with the Bolsheviks, tired of living under royalty, taking power from the tsarists during a great revolution, violence was rampant. Disease, hunger, and lack of predictable heat, power, or transportation claimed many Russian lives. Lenin, who made vast promises of equality, had millions of Russians murdered and/or sent to Siberia. Former Tsarists turned Red Army simply for power. Nobody could be trusted.

Meanwhile, on the western front, Germany had engaged in The Great War. Their planes and war machines were far superior to what could be found nearby.

Ireland, having spent the past 600 years under British rule, wanted independence. Between winks and nods, Germany smuggles guns to the Irish in an effort to drive the British attention from themselves.

Speaking of England, the king of England, George, is a cousin of Nicholai Romanov. He is torn between aiding in the rescue due to family ties and obligation and staying out of the conflict in Russia.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Flu is lighting the world on fire. An estimated 30 million people perish.

The Boston Red Sox defeat the Chicago Cubs in the World Series - their last World Series win until 2004. Wait. That part is not in the book. It's still a fascinating piece of 1918, though.

Brothers fought on opposite sides of wars. Spies were abundant in every country with interest, bribery, blackmail, and begging were all used. And somehow all of the above facts (except the World Series) come together to form a cohesive and intriguing story and possible theory.

I found it fascinating.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Great Escape by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

The Great Escape (Wynette, Texas, #7)The Great Escape by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My thoughts: This was a disappointing book for me. The basic story line is that Lucy is to marry the perfect man, Ted, and runs away. Conveniently, Tough Motorcycle Man who calls himself Panda (!) picks her up and they run away. He's rude, crude and inconsiderate. After a couple of weeks, he dumps her at the airport and tells her to go home. And so she does. She goes to HIS home. She has figured out at least that much. And that he has a great kisser. And that drives her to his summer home in Michigan.

Because she's a high profile figure, she reinvents herself. Those who have already read some of Phillips other novels, are already familiar with Lucy's story. For those who enjoyed the other books, I would suggest continuing with the story. Those stepping in, I suggest otherwise. There is nothing endearing about Lucy or Panda or Temple, Max, and just a little about Mike, Bree and Toby. Lucy and Panda are rude to one another, disrespectful, have lusty, carnal sex, and are drawn to one another while I have no idea why.

As a general rule, I avoid romance and erotica novels. This is neither. It's a story of two unlikable people who try to be something they are not and can't keep their hands off one another. Lucy tries out her alter ego she calls "Viper" and refers to herself in third person. It's boring and stupid. Sweet and privileged, she makes out a skanky bucket list and dresses the part. Meanwhile, Panda believes himself unworthy of this skanky character who, he believes (although there is little evidence to prove his theory) that she's really a sweet, innocent girl. I missed common sense dearly in this one. I also missed a reasonable story line.

As I said, if you are already a fan of the Jorik characters, keep reading. But I think you might be disappointed in dear, sweet Lucy. She loses credibility in this one. If you're just starting in on the family, you might just want to pass this one by. Not worth my time.

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag

I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag: A Memoir of a Life Through Events--the Ones You Plan and the Ones You Don'tI Never Promised You a Goodie Bag: A Memoir of a Life Through Events--the Ones You Plan and the Ones You Don't by Jennifer Gilbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: When Jennifer Gilbert was just a year out of college, a twenty-two-year-old fresh-faced young woman looking forward to a bright future, someone tried to cut her life short in the most violent way. But she survived, and not wanting this traumatic event to define her life, she buried it deep within and never spoke of it again.

She bravely launched a fabulous career in New York as an event planner, designing lavish parties and fairy-tale weddings. Determined to help others celebrate and enjoy life's greatest moments, she was convinced she'd never again feel joy herself. Yet it was these weddings, anniversaries, and holiday parties, showered with all her love and attention through those silent, scary years, that slowly brought her back to life.

Always the calm in the event-planning storm--she could fix a ripped wedding dress, solve the problem of an undelivered wedding cake in the nick of time, and move a party with two days' notice when disaster struck--there was no crisis that she couldn't turn into a professional triumph. Somewhere along the way, she felt a stirring in her heart and began yearning for more than just standing on the sidelines living vicariously through other people's lives. She fell in love, had her heart broken a few times, and then one day she found true love in a place so surprising that it literally knocked her out of her chair.

As Gilbert learned over and over again, no one's entitled to an easy road, and some people's roads are bumpier than others. But survive each twist and turn she does--sometimes with tears, sometimes with laughter, and often with both.

Warm, wise, alternately painful and funny, "I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag" is an inspiring memoir of survival, renewal, and transformation. It's a tale about learning to let go and be happy after years of faking it, proving that while we can't always control what happens to us, we can control who we become. And instead of anticipating our present in a goodie bag at the end of an event, we realize our presence at every event is the real gift.

My thoughts: As a general rule, I don't read many memoirs. Far too often the author lacks objectivity and self-understanding. This is definitely not the case with Jennifer Gilbert. In fact, the clarity for which she often understood her self-sabotaging behavior was insightful and intriguing.

Chances are slim that the ordinary reader is going to be randomly targeted, followed, then repeatedly stabbed with a screwdriver by an enraged stranger. On the other hand, at some point in many reader's lives, there will be a period of time where she learns that the world is not a safe and predictable place. Gilbert takes the reader on her journey of rediscovering joy and contentment after having the safety net ripped out from under her.

I found the book enlightening from a human nature standpoint. Like most adults my age, I have experienced the shocking reality that through no fault of my own, decisions and actions taken by other people can have a devastating impact on me. Feeling helpless often equaled feeling hopeless. When I rebuilt my life after my experiences, I erected false walls that were supposed to keep me safer. Gilbert did the same then spent the next 20 years discovering herself and the truth about safety. It's a wonderful journey that dips into her pity party but moves on to what she did with her grief and fear. How she overcame erroneous beliefs and how she reconnected with people and relearned how to live.

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Endlessly by Kiersten White

Endlessly (Paranormalcy, #3)Endlessly by Kiersten White

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Try as she might, Evie can’t seem to escape her not-so-normal past. And what was supposed to be a blissfully normal school break is ruined when a massive group of paranormals shows up at her house, claiming that Evie is the only one who can protect them from a mysterious, perilous fate.

The deadly war between the faerie courts looms ever closer. The clock is ticking on the entire paranormal world. And its future rests solely in Evie’s hands.

So much for normal.

With a perfect blend of humor and suspense, Endlessly is everything readers could dream of in a conclusion—and the unexpected twists will keep them guessing until the very last page.

My thoughts: Oh, Bleep. It's over. What a fun ride. Evie and her witty personality, hilarious look into the paranormal world, and, of course, fairies, was the most fun I've ever had reading a trilogy. Any review I give might detract from the *sigh* end.

Let me just say this:

Jack, who left Evie to perish on the fairy paths should not be judged for that one rash act of impudence. He is quite entertaining when not completely self-absorbed and impulsive. I lied. He's still entertaining then, too.

Reth, for all his faults and fairy beauty, can also be companionable. Almost lovable.

I will miss Creepy Vampire Guy. Even though he only had a cameo role in this book.

I am majorly crushing on Lend. Even though I couldn't see him and wouldn't know what he looked like even if I could.

Never trust a fairy.

Kiersten - Well done.

Evie - Live long and wear pink.

The Pigeon Pie Mystery: A Novel by Julia Stuart GIVEAWAY

The Pigeon Pie Mystery: A NovelThe Pigeon Pie Mystery: A Novel by Julia Stuart

Julia Stuart returns in her follow-up to the bestselling The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise with this clever murder mystery set in Victorian England, brimming with her signature charm and fabulous characters.

When Indian Princess Alexandrina is left penniless by the sudden death of her father, the Maharaja of Brindor, Queen Victoria grants her a grace-and-favor home in Hampton Court Palace. Though rumored to be haunted, Alexandrina and her lady's maid, Pooki, have no choice but to take the Queen up on her offer.

Aside from the ghost sightings, Hampton Court doesn't seem so bad. The princess is soon befriended by three eccentric widows who invite her to a picnic with all the palace's inhabitants, for which Pooki bakes a pigeon pie. But when General-Major Bagshot dies after eating said pie, and the coroner finds traces of arsenic in his body, Pooki becomes the #1 suspect in a murder investigation.

Princess Alexandrina isn't about to let her faithful servant hang. She begins an investigation of her own, and discovers that Hampton Court isn't such a safe place to live after all.

With her trademark wit and charm, Julia Stuart introduces us to an outstanding cast of lovable oddballs, from the palace maze-keeper to the unconventional Lady Beatrice (who likes to dress up as a toucan—don't ask), as she guides us through the many delightful twists and turns in this fun and quirky murder mystery. Everyone is hiding a secret of the heart, and even Alexandrina may not realize when she's caught in a maze of love.

This book is on its way to my house so I am not able to recommend the book, itself. 
I DID read The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise and wrote a raving review.
To summarize THAT book by this author, it was quirky, made me laugh out loud, and you don't have to be British to understand the humorous undertones.

And the tortoise just slowly walks across a few scenes. It is hilarious in a British way. It is subtly funny in an American way. I laughed. Out loud.

Take a chance. Enter to win a copy. Read it with a British mind. 

It helps to read it with a British accent inside your head. Although I find myself doing that anyway with a lot of books I read. 

Because I'm quirky, too.

Stop judging me and fill out this form:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Size 12 and Ready to Rock by Meg Cabot

Size 12 and Ready to Rock (Heather Wells, #4)Size 12 and Ready to Rock by Meg Cabot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Summer break . . . and the livin' ain't easy

Just because the students at New York College have flown the coop doesn't mean assistant residence hall director Heather Wells can relax. Fischer Hall is busier than ever, filled with squealing thirteen- and fourteen-year-old girls attending the first ever Tania Trace Teen Rock Camp, hosted by pop sensation Tania Trace herself--who just happens to be newly married to Heather's ex-boyfriend, heartthrob Jordan Cartwright. But the real headache begins when the producer of a reality TV show starring Tania winds up dead . . . and it's clear that the star was the intended victim.

Grant Cartwright, head of Cartwright Records, wants to keep his daughter-in-law (and his highest-earning performer) alive. So he hires his oldest son, black sheep of the family and private investigator Cooper Cartwright--who just happens to be Heather's "new" fiancE. Heather should leave the detecting to Cooper. But with a dorm full of hysterical mini-divas-in-training, she can't help but get involved. And after Tania shares a really shocking secret with her, "this" reality suddenly becomes more dangerously real than anyone ever anticipated.

My thoughts: This is my first novel by Meg Cabot. I found the story and writing style fun, funny, and enjoyable.

This is the fourth book featuring Heather Wells but perfectly easy to slide right into the story. Told first person, Heather catches the reader up on the back story without belaboring any of it then bulldozes right into the different relationships and where they stand today. And all the old relationships (so I gathered) are present and accounted for.

Heather was a teen rock star. Her light dimmed, she was double crossed by her mother who stole all her money, her perfect but rather stupid boyfriend cheated on her, and now she's going to college and is on the poverty stricken side. But she's upbeat! She collects stray college students as resident assistants. Her old boyfriend is not married to the new rock star girl who is pregnant with his child. There's also a pretty good chance someone is trying to kill one of the players in this book.

Just to spice it up a bit and add some fun drama (it's all fun. Even the serious stuff is fun coming from Heather's head), Heather is secretly engaged to Cooper, her private investigator boyfriend and son of the big record label who produced Heather's and old boyfriend's careers. Also, Cooper is the ex-boyfriend's brother.

It's a light, fun book that I finished with a satisfied smile.

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown

Perfect EscapePerfect Escape by Jennifer Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Kendra has always felt overshadowed by her older brother, Grayson, whose OCD forces him to live a life of carefully coordinated routines. The only way Kendra can stand out next to Grayson is to be perfect, and she has perfection down to an art -- until a cheating scandal threatens her flawless reputation.

Behind the wheel of her car, with Grayson asleep beside her, Kendra decides to drive away from it all -- with enough distance, maybe she'll be able to figure everything out. But eventually, Kendra must stop running and come to terms with herself, her brother, and her past.

With undeniable grace and humor, acclaimed author Jennifer Brown explores OCD, the pressure for perfection, and the emotional highs and lows of a complex sibling relationship.

My thoughts: Jennifer Brown has been one of my favorite YA authors since her first publication. She takes on tough subject matter but with enough tact to hand it to even a younger teenager without insulting an older reader.

Of the many books on obsessive compulsive disorder, this is the first book written specifically for the sibling of the squeaky wheel. While Grayson suffers mightily with his OCD, settles into the identified "sick" family member, accepts the enabling parents help, cringes at the oversimplifying parent (Just stop it), Kendra offers another perspective.

Kendra is three years younger than Grayson. She is about to graduate from high school but she carries more on her shoulders than just her brain. Grayson is a genius stuck in a mentally ill brain. Kendra is a hard worker who feels the weight of real and imagined expectations of her parents to be successful. It is her job to overcompensate for Grayson's failures. At the same time, Kendra wants desperately for her parents and those around her to appreciate her for herself and not for not being like Grayson.

The book begins with Kendra running away from trouble she made. Grayson happens to be a passenger in her car so she hatches a plan to cure him via exposure therapy and also places all of her hope on one person, an old friend that she and Grayson were close to years ago. The book is about the journey, not the destination. Brown creates a brother/sister relationship that is believable and fun. Grayson is not just a genius stuck in an OCD mind, he is also warm, funny, and loves his sister, regardless of her stupidity and quirks. It's not my favorite book by Brown, but it's my favorite book on OCD so far. It's a fresh perspective with real outcomes.

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tigers in Red Weather GIVEAWAY

Tigers in Red Weather: A Novel

Nick and her cousin, Helena, have grown up sharing sultry summer heat, sunbleached boat docks, and midnight gin parties on Martha's Vineyard in a glorious old family estate known as Tiger House. In the days following the end of the Second World War, the world seems to offer itself up, and the two women are on the cusp of their 'real lives': Helena is off to Hollywood and a new marriage, while Nick is heading for a reunion with her own young husband, Hughes, about to return from the war.

Soon the gilt begins to crack. Helena's husband is not the man he seemed to be, and Hughes has returned from the war distant, his inner light curtained over. On the brink of the 1960s, back at Tiger House, Nick and Helena--with their children, Daisy and Ed--try to recapture that sense of possibility. But when Daisy and Ed discover the victim of a brutal murder, the intrusion of violence causes everything to unravel. The members of the family spin out of their prescribed orbits, secrets come to light, and nothing about their lives will ever be the same.

Brilliantly told from five points of view, with a magical elegance and suspenseful dark longing, Tigers in Red Weather is an unforgettable debut novel from a writer of extraordinary insight and accomplishment.

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Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols

Such a RushSuch a Rush by Jennifer Echols
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars
Goodreads: A sexy and poignant romantic tale of a young daredevil pilot caught between two brothers.

High school senior Leah Jones loves nothing more than flying. While she’s in the air, it’s easy to forget life with her absentee mother at the low-rent end of a South Carolina beach town. When her flight instructor, Mr. Hall, hires her to fly for his banner advertising business, she sees it as her ticket out of the trailer park. And when he dies suddenly, she’s afraid her flying career is gone forever.     

But Mr. Hall’s teenage sons, golden boy Alec and adrenaline junkie Grayson, are determined to keep the banner planes flying. Though Leah has crushed on Grayson for years, she’s leery of getting involved in what now seems like a doomed business — until Grayson betrays her by digging up her most damning secret. Holding it over her head, he forces her to fly for secret reasons of his own, reasons involving Alec. Now Leah finds herself drawn into a battle between brothers — and the consequences could be deadly.

My thoughts: I am of two minds with this latest novel by Echols. On the one hand, the writing and storyline is fresh and a welcome addition to the YA world of literature. The protagonist is a flawed young woman named Leah with a lot of holes in her own logic. But here is a girl who genuinely sees a way out of the pattern of her life; living in a trailer park with an irresponsible mother who runs off with the next guy that makes her false gold promises.

My frustration is with Leah, the protagonist. She simply refuses to learn much from societal norms. She wants to blend in and fly under the radar. At the same time she has a lot of thoughts on the whores and sluts in the town. She talks about them a lot. Yet the visual cues never pass her synapsis. She keeps dressing like one and using her body language to get what she wants. On top of this, she has a reputation she refuses to refute even though it is based on lies. Her reasoning is that she is only trailer trash so why bother.

I did enjoy the love triangle but be forewarned of the steamy sex scene. My body temp may have risen a few degrees.

What the book lacks in predictable character responses is made up in colorful detail that paints the scenes so clearly for the reader. The process of flight, the sexual tension, the conflicts between all of the characters. Excellent writing. Steamy. Really steamy.

View all my reviews *I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Forgotten by Catherine McKenzie

Forgotten by Catherine McKenzie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads: When everyone thinks you’re dead, how do you start your life over again?

Emma Tupper, a young lawyer with a bright future, sets out on a journey after her mother’s death: to Africa, a place her mother always wanted to visit. But her mother’s dying gift has unexpected consequences. Emma falls ill during the trip and is just recovering when a massive earthquake hits, turning her one-month vacation into a six-month ordeal. 

When Emma returns home, she’s shocked to find that her friends and colleagues believed she was dead, that her apartment has been rented to a stranger and that her life has gone on without her. Can Emma pick up where she left off? Should she? As Emma struggles to recreate her old life, everyone around her thinks she should change – her job, her relationships, and even herself. But does she really want to sacrifice everything she’s working so hard to gain?

My thoughts: I love Catherine McKenzie's books and writing style. I find her incredibly talented and well rounded. This is the third book by her I have read. Once again, she has surprised me with her knowledge base as this time around the protagonist is an attorney who, before leaving for Africa, is up for partner. She has sacrificed and put in her time, sweat, tears and given up everything else except her lawyer boyfriend and one good friend when her mother succumbs to cancer and she is handed an inheritance that includes airfare and a month long safari to Africa.

Six months later she returns to her life. There was a supernatural experience that may be chalked up to a feverish illness, a promise to return to pick her up later and, a day later, a devastating earthquake. Emma is stranded in a remote village with no contact with the outside world. Slowly, she adjusts her expectations and helps with the service work. When the airport opens six months later Emma goes home. When she gets there, however, she discovers that she has been presumed dead and life continued without her. The life she spent three and half decades building is gone.

Emma tells the story of Africa intermittently in her head and through dreams as she tries to put her life back together. She didn't know the earthquake was devastating in the capital. But something within her changed while she was in Africa. The timing of Africa revelations perfectly lines up with her current circumstances. The author is still one of my favorite because I love the way she tells the story, whatever story she tells, and the voice she tells it in. The reason for the three stars instead of a higher rating is simply due to the fact that I lacked the understanding of the connection of Africa and the new Emma. I saw the changes with Emma and I liked them. I liked the romance, too. I liked Emma's take charge personality like many of McKenzie's previous protagonists. I simply didn't feel as moved by the conclusion of the book as I have in other books by this author.

On the other hand, this is a much cleaner read than her previous two books so I didn't have to hide from my kids while I was reading it. Catherine McKenzie is articulate, hilarious, and and writes strong yet human protagonists. I guess my real hang up with this book is that I wanted to be more in Emma's head when she makes the decisions she makes to change her life. Why she changed certain things and didn't change others. I also felt disconnected from Dominic, the potential love interest. I wanted more of a back story on him. I liked him but never really connected to him beyond the fact that he had a broken heart and was exiting a bad relationship. Beyond that, I wanted to know his motivations for his actions. In fact, I think I hungered for understanding everybody's motivations and they didn't meet my expectations.

Still - good read. One of my favorite authors. It's her own fault for entertaining me so completely with her first two novels.

View all my reviews

A Little Night MagicA Little Night Magic by Lucy March

A Little Night MagicA Little Night Magic by Lucy March
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads: In New York Times bestselling author Lucy March's new novel, Olivia Kiskey needs a change. She’s been working at the same Nodaway Falls, New York, waffle house since she was a teenager; not a lot of upward mobility there. She’s been in love with Tobias, the cook, for the last four years; he’s never made a move. Every Saturday night, she gathers with her three best friends—Peach, Millie, and Stacy—and drinks the same margaritas while listening to the same old stories. Intent on shaking things up, she puts her house on the market, buys a one-way ticket to Europe, and announces her plans to her friends . . . but then she meets Davina Granville, a strange and mystical Southern woman who shows Olivia that there is more to her life than she ever dreamed. As Liv’s latent magical powers come to the surface, she discovers that having an interesting life is maybe not all it’s cracked up to be. The dark side of someone else’s magic is taking over good people in town, and changing them into vessels of malevolence. Unwilling to cede her home to darkness, she battles the demons of her familial past and her magical present, with those she loves at her side . . . and in the cross fire. Can the most important things in life—friendship, love, magic, and waffles—get her through the worst that the universe can throw at her?

My thoughts: The story starts out reasonably strong enough. Liv is a regular girl working as a waitress in a small town. She is in love with an inaccessible man named Tobias who will not return her affection. She makes a rash decision to move to Europe. Just then, a mysterious stranger appears and throws a dirty sock filled with something that I unbinds Liv's day magic. Now she is in danger as someone wants to steal her magic for making glorified party balloon animals. From then on, the story is a three star story as she falls into stupid and illogical thinking and the story also strays from logical paths.

It's not a bad a book by any means. It's a fun, quick read that requires the reader to put logic and the better part of her cerebrum at the door as situations arise and lack adequate explanation beyond the basic acceptance that it just is.

It is a quick, easy read that fulfills chick lit cravings and a dose of magic.