Friday, December 30, 2016

Julie's 2016 Year in Review

 photo 2016 Books_zpsevql4ssd.jpgIt's everyone's favorite time of the year! You know, where everyone comes out with their favorite books of 2016 and why break the tradition, so here is my list:

My Goodreads Challenge Goal: 80 Books

Books Read: 84!! (Through 12/29/2016)



2016 was yet another year where I had more than a handful of 5/5 books! So, here is the break down by category for my favorites (not in a specific order).

Contemporary Fiction:

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Ramblers by Aiden Donnelly Rowley
The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
Losing the Light by Andrea Dunlop
We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman
Untethered by Julie Lawson Timmer
Assistants by Camille Perri

Historical Fiction:

Lilac Girls by Martha Kelly Hall
Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon
Three Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell
Forgotten Room by Karen White, Lauren Willig and Beatriz Williams
After Party by Anton Discalfani

Historical Fiction/Contemporary Fiction:

In Another Life by Julie Christine Johnson
Valley of the Moon by Melanie Gideon
Vivian in Red by Kristina Riggle

Mystery/Crime/Thriller/Suspense:

Home  by Harlan Coben
Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
Sister Dear by Laura ONeill
I Let You Go by Clare MacIntosh
Don't You Cry by Mary Kubica
Saving Jason by Michael Sears
Lost Girls by Heather Young
Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti

Women's Fiction:

Lies And Other Acts of Love by Kristy Harvey Woodson
Year We Turned Forty by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke
Wedding Sisters by Jamie Brenner
The Dinner Party by Brenda Janowitz
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Young Adult:

Heist Society by Ally Carter

Other Categories:

Hungry Heart Adventures in Life Love and Writing by Jennifer Weiner


 I am hoping that 2017 is as wonderful of a reading year as 2016! Happy Reading!


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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Julie's Review: Remember the Ladies


Author: Gina L. Mulligan
Series: None
Publication Date: May 18, 2016
Publisher: Five Star Publishing
Pages: 325
Obtained: Get Red PR
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A strong and determined heroine that you will cheer for until the end of the novel
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Summary: Growing up in an orphanage prepared Amelia Cooke for the high-stakes role of a female lobbyist in 1887, a time before women could vote. So when she's hired by the National Women's Suffrage Association to lobby for a suffrage amendment, Amelia feels empowered to give women a voice. What she doesn't foresee is Senator Edward Stillman. Stillman is charismatic, driven, and desperate to crush the amendment and Amelia. But in a political game where bribery, threats, extortion, and seduction prevail, who will win and at what cost? Set in the extravagant Gilded Age, Remember the Ladies explores the conflict between the sexes with delightful writing and elegant descriptions, which brings the reader back to a time when the struggle for women's equality had just begun. ~amazon.com  

Review: Remember the Ladies is one of those novels that will cause you to take pause and realize that we really have come a long way in how women are viewed. A 100 years ago there were limited options for women and in 2016 we had our first female presidential candidate, that says a lot.

Amelia Cooke saw her parents die in a tragic carriage accident and then was raised in an orphanage where she never felt she truly belonged. So when she turned 18 she headed to D.C. where she thought she could make a difference. A chance meeting on a train with a powerful lobbyist that changes the course of her life. She has a lot to learn before she can even try to advocate for women using her voice. While she was attending a conference, she meets the charismatic Senator from Ohio, Edward Stillman. Their affair ends abruptly and they go their own way for a period of time. As a reader you know that Senator Stillman will be key in Amelia's vote for the suffrage amendment.

While the novel does move slow at times, it is probably pretty accurate to show how slow the inner workings of government move as well. I enjoyed the cat and mouse game between Edward and Amelia to gain the votes that they need to either get the amendment passed or squashed. Both of them are at the top of their game and aren't afraid to use knowledge of those voting to their advantage. 

I admired Amelia's grit and determination to get this amendment passed. I also admired her because it wasn't win at all costs for her either. She discovers more about herself and what she's willing to sacrifice throughout this process and decides that something aren't worth compromising.

I truly enjoyed reading about the struggle to get women the right to vote that wouldn't come to an end until 1920 when the amendment finally has the support it needed. If you are looking for a great historical fiction read, then you should pick up Remember the Ladies.

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Julie's Review: The Girls in the Garden


Author: Lisa Jewell
Series: None
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Publisher: Atria
Pages: 320
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Mystery
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Starts a little slow but give it time and you need to find out what happens in the garden
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Summary: Imagine that you live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses. You’ve known your neighbors for years and you trust them. Implicitly. You think your children are safe. But are they really? On a midsummer night, as a festive neighborhood party is taking place, preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. What really happened to her? And who is responsible? ~amazon.com

Review: Girls in the Garden is a story about the secrets we adults keep about our own teenage lives and the secrets that our teenagers keep from us. I actually shudder at that second part since my 11 year old will be there quicker than I care to admit. Virginia Park is one of those private gardens tucked away in London that only the people that live surrounding it can access. It seems idyllic, right? Well not with all the nooks and crannies within the garden/park itself. It's ripe with areas for hidden things to take hold.

We are introduced to Clare, Grace and Pip as being new to the park area after a tragedy has befallen them. They quickly befriend Adele, Leo and their 3 girls; Catkin, Fern and Willow who are home-schooled and yes a bit weird but mainly it seems because they haven't been exposed to anything outside of their commune. To round out the kids, we meet Tyler and Dylan who have been best friends for years. Grace and Pip struggle to fit in for a bit until they find their bearings with all the kids.

There's a history to the garden that Ms. Jewell starts to slowly weave you in on. It seems there was a death years ago when Leo and his brothers grew up hanging in the garden. It seems there are some rumors about what really happened and if any one was involved. Is the garden really as innocent as it seems or is there a darkness there? Is there a little bit of darkness in all of us, even when we are young and on the cusp of being a teen?

Ms. Jewell does a great job of laying down the crumbs of the mystery of what happened to Grace and what happened to Phoebe? Is it history repeating itself or is it coincidence? How would you feel if everyone that lived in your neighborhood knew all your business? It seems like you need to be one of those people that doesn't mind having everything out there because living like this is like living in a fishbowl. It definitely isn't for everyone.

There were times when I thought that both Adele and Clare needed a bit of a backbone and to rely on themselves instead of their husbands but in the end I came to appreciate why they were both like that, even if I didn't fully agree with it. As far as the teen girls, you realize just how spiteful they can be and want to shelter your kids from them but yet they need to learn how to deal with people like that because not everyone is kind. It's just unfortunate that kids experience that early in life. It also makes you aware at how quickly kids grow up and how badly they want to be adults without truly knowing the consequences instead of just enjoying childhood. That seems to be more prevalent today than ever before with social media.

If you are looking for a good mystery with a little bit of class-ism, then you should pick up Girls in the Garden.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Julie's Review: All the Breaking Waves


Author: Kerry Lonsdale
Series: None
Publication Date: December 6, 2016
Publisher: Lake Union
Pages: 320
Obtained: publisher via NetGalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.75/5
Bottom Line: A story about finding yourself in the mistakes of the past and the hope in your future
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Summary: After a harrowing accident tore her family apart, Molly Brennan fled from the man she loved and the tragic mistake she made. Twelve years later, Molly has created a new life for herself and her eight-year-old daughter, Cassie. The art history professor crafts jewelry as unique and weathered as the surf-tumbled sea glass she collects, while raising her daughter in a safe and loving environment—something Molly never had. But when Cassie is plagued by horrific visions and debilitating nightmares, Molly is forced to return to the one place she swore she’d never move back to—home to Pacific Grove. A riveting exploration of love, secrets, and motherhood, All the Breaking Waves is the poignant story of a woman who discovers she must confront her past, let go of her guilt, and summon everything in her power to save her daughter. ~amazon.com  

Review: All the Breaking Waves is  interesting look at what it means to wrestle with your past and to realize that the secret you've been keeping has brought you more pain that joy. That you have suffered without needing to have carried it all on your own.. It is about finding hope in the future and learning to let go.

Molly is a single mom to young Cassidy who is starting to have visions about accidents that keep her up at night and make her an outcast at school. So much so that because of some of Cassidy's actions, she gets suspended from school. This causes Molly to pack up and run home to the house she grew up in, to her Nana. As she does this though, her past comes back to her in very real ways, because her childhood paramour is back and living next to her Nana. She left Owen abruptly and isn't ready to confront that with him. Right now, she's trying to stay alive based on a premonition that Cassidy that had of her.

Molly is struggling to do things right but in doing this, she misses a lot that is right in front of her. She doesn't realize that she's dangerously close to repeating her own family history. She is so wrapped up in her own head and singular vision that she's missing other clues that are going on around her.

There is a bit that is predictable in the novel but there are a couple twists and turns but I enjoyed the uncovering the history between Nana and Molly and how both of them carried their guilt differently.
Ms. Lonsdale wrote an interesting book that used a bit of mystical ability with a lot of heart and resilience. It's about how to believe in yourself and find your way back to the person you were.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Julie's Review: Love, Alice


Author: Barbara Davis
Series: None
Publication Date: December 6, 2016
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 432
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A sad and yet hopeful story about the cruelty displayed to single mom's in laundries throughout Europe
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Summary: A year ago, Dovie Larkin’s life was shattered when her fiancé committed suicide just weeks before their wedding. Now, plagued by guilt, she has become a fixture at the cemetery where William is buried, visiting his grave daily, waiting for answers she knows will never come. Then one day, she sees an old woman whose grief mirrors her own. Fascinated, she watches the woman leave a letter on a nearby grave. Dovie ignores her conscience and reads the letter—a mother’s plea for forgiveness to her dead daughter—and immediately needs to know the rest of the story. As she delves deeper, a collection of letters from the cemetery’s lost and found begins to unravel a decades-old mystery involving one of Charleston’s wealthiest families. But even as Dovie seeks to answer questions about another woman’s past—questions filled with deception, betrayal, and heartbreaking loss—she starts to discover the keys to love, forgiveness, and finally embracing the future. ~amazon.com  


Review: Love, Alice  is the story about finding the will to survive and carry on even when you have given up hope. This is the case of Alice, who is put in a convent when her mother discovers that she is pregnant without being married. Alice, who never gives up hope, moves to the states to try to find her son or daughter that was given up for adoption in the late 1960s. Modern day brings us Dovie Larkin visiting the grave of her deceased fiance who committed suicide just weeks before their wedding. She wonders what could have possibly gone wrong and spends her lunch hours eating next his grave. To put it lightly, Dovie is living among the dead instead of moving on with her life. It's like she's scared to move on and begin again. She knows she needs to but she's also tired of hearing it from others.

One day while at William's grave, she spots an older woman at the grave of Alice. When the woman leaves, Dovie notices that she leaves a letter behind, so curiosity gets the best of her and she reads the letter. Now Dovie wants to know the full story so she befriends the woman. It's then that Alice's story starts to consume Dovie. She's preoccupied with what happened to Alice and wants to help figure out her story. I enjoyed Love, Alice very much and found most of it sad but with glimmers of hope. Alice was a gutsy young woman to pick up and leave everything she knew for pretty much a wild goose chase. She came to America with one thing in mind, finding her child. What she found was a family that took her in, befriended her and loved her. She ended up being where she was needed and when it was important for her to feel that.

 I will say there were a couple of things that I found a bit predictable but I found the history behind Alice's story a bit fascinating so I was willing to forgive. I also gave Dovie a bit of a longer rope since her grief was so apparent. I did want her to move on and I didn't mind one bit that it looked like it was going to be the delicious Austin Tate. Austin had his own demons to wrestle with and confront but they were something that he could overcome.

Ms. Davis does a great job of melding the past and the present together. I thought the letters were a great way to tell Alice's story and to get an idea of the pain she was going through. If you are looking for a solid novel to read on a winter's weekend, then you should pick up Love, Alice.

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Julie's Review: The Other Sister


Author: Dianne Dixon
Series: None
Publication Date: November 1, 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Pages: 400
Obtained: publisher via NetGalley
Genre:  Psychological Thriller
Rating: 4.25/5
Bottom Line: Kept me guessing until the end
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Summary: One sister has everything. Her twin hates her for it. Would life be better without Ali? Probably. At least then people might think about Morgan. Ali's always gotten everything ― she doesn't even realize how much Morgan resents her. Ali also doesn't realize that when she shuts Morgan out entirely, she will unleash a chain of events that show just how dangerous the underside of love really is. As their lives spin toward something neither one of them can control, a terrifying crime reveals how those who know us best can destroy us...or save us. ~amazon.com  

Review: The Other Sister will have you guessing until the very end what is really going on. I swear I changed my mind on the direction of the story a couple different times. Morgan and Ali are twins and while they share a tight bond, often enough it is one that is more of intense dislike than of love. Morgan views her life as subpar compared to Ali's. Ali has everything including the love a Matt, who Morgan met first. Morgan has always felt that Ali is the golden child and that everything in her life has always been fantastic. In one word, Morgan is envious of Ali.

Ali on the other hand seems to have it all but she's not cocky about it. She loves her life and has dreams of her own. She wants to open her own restaurant but she's willing to work hard for it. She's also very much in love with Matt, so when he throws her a curve ball and announces he's taken a job in Hollywood, she marries him and goes with him. At this point, I had to question Ali and if she really had everything like Morgan thought. There were enough red flags with Matt, that I actually thought she might bail on him and stay in Rhode Island and follow her dreams.

What Ms. Dixon does very well is create the tug and pull of sibling, especially twin, rivalry. Twins really do take it to a whole other level. She also writes so that you vacillate between which sister you side with. For a long time, Morgan drove me crazy but the break from Ali is what she needed to figure out that she put herself in Ali's shadow. She needed to understand her own worth and quit keeping herself in her sister's shadow. For Ali, she had to shake the feeling of carrying someone around and always being responsible for Morgan. She also has to deal with a tragedy that puts a greater divide between her and Matt, since their marriage is already shaky.

I definitely didn't see the twists and turn coming until the very end. I really did think the novel was taking a different direction. I have to say that I would highly recommend  The Other Sister
for fans of psychological thrillers.


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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Julie's Review: I'll Take You There


Author: Wally Lamb
Series: None
Publication Date: November 22, 2016
Publisher: Harper
Pages: 272
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A great story about how the women in the narrator's life influenced him
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Summary: I’ll Take You There centers on Felix, a film scholar who runs a Monday night movie club in what was once a vaudeville theater. One evening, while setting up a film in the projectionist booth, he’s confronted by the ghost of Lois Weber, a trailblazing motion picture director from Hollywood’s silent film era. Lois invites Felix to revisit—and in some cases relive—scenes from his past as they are projected onto the cinema’s big screen. In these magical movies, the medium of film becomes the lens for Felix to reflect on the women who profoundly impacted his life. There’s his daughter Aliza, a Gen Y writer for New York Magazine who is trying to align her post-modern feminist beliefs with her lofty career ambitions; his sister, Frances, with whom he once shared a complicated bond of kindness and cruelty; and Verna, a fiery would-be contender for the 1951 Miss Rheingold competition, a beauty contest sponsored by a Brooklyn-based beer manufacturer that became a marketing phenomenon for two decades. At first unnerved by these ethereal apparitions, Felix comes to look forward to his encounters with Lois, who is later joined by the spirits of other celluloid muses. Against the backdrop of a kaleidoscopic convergence of politics and pop culture, family secrets, and Hollywood iconography, Felix gains an enlightened understanding of the pressures and trials of the women closest to him, and of the feminine ideals and feminist realities that all women, of every era, must face.

  Review: I'll Take You There is another great novel by Wally Lamb as he explore the relationships within family. Specifically for Felix, his relationships with all of the females in his family; from his mother to his daughter and how it's shaped his life and how he views the world. Felix Funicello is later in life with an adult daughter who continues to amaze him. He's not so amazed by his ex-wife and prefers to think that his daughter was heavily influenced by him. Felix isn't one of those people that spend a lot of time worrying about the past and how things could have been different. He's more of a here and now guy so when an apparition appears and offers him the ability to look at his life on film, he's hesitant but curious; after of course he wonders if he going a little crazy.

 As he goes through pivotal times in his life throughout the film, he begins to understand his relationships with both his sisters and his mother. Perhaps the relationship with the biggest effect on his life is his sister Frances. They had the typical sibling rivalry but it is obvious that Frances' ribbing of him goes much deeper. It isn't until Frances has health issues that the family begins to understand the issues are much greater than they had ever thought. He spends time viewing his life at different periods and it's pretty amazing how your mind can alter your perception of events to protect you. 

Felix is a wonderful character and even though he's male and my dad's age, I could relate to him. We all get a little nostalgic and it manifests itself in a variety of ways. He's the kind of guy who would listen to you and then make movie recommendations based on what you've told him. He also has a fantastic relationship with his daughter Aliza, who is a talented writer but frustrated in her current situation.

I liked how Mr. Lamb wove in the Miss Rheingold story and how it wasn't just filler but it played a significant role in the story line of Felix, his sister and eventually his daughter. Mr. Lamb reminds us that to be a feminist you don't need to be a female. That men can champion the women in their lives just as clearly as the men. He also highlights that maybe using a little honey with your views can sometimes catch more interest than having such a hard stance. That sometimes you can't force your views on someone but demonstrate them by living your life in the manner in which you speak. This is definitely one of his shorter novels but it packs a punch and will stay with you long after you close the back.

I'll Take You There then begs the question of the reader, would you want to relieve your past in film if offered the chance? Would you be afraid that your childhood wasn't exactly how you remembered it? What if highlighted how your relationships shaped you and how you viewed the world? Would that change your outlook? These are all questions that you will ask yourself as you read the novel.

If you are a fan or haven't read Mr. Lamb, I'll Take You There is a good place to start but really his best work is She's Come Undone.






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Friday, November 11, 2016

Julie's Review: Faithful


Author: Alice Hoffman
Series: None
Publication Date: November 1, 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 272
Obtained: publisher via Netgalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Bottom Line: A story about pain, sorrow, love and healing
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Summary: Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt. What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night. Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap. ~amazon.com  

Review: Faithful is no different than Alice Hoffman's other novels because it has a bit of the mystical element to it. This novel is the study of forgiveness, guilt and moving on. Ms. Hoffman uses Shelby as her conduit and she's the perfect one for this novel. You can't help but feel for Shelby but you also want to shake her at times. She carries around much more pain and guilt that is needed. Over time we her grow and learn to move on and eventually forgive herself. It is about love, life and death. How all of those things are intertwined.

Shelby is lost. She is depressed and she has no clue how to dig herself out of the hole she is in. Her only friend is her weed dealer, Ben Mink. She's talked to him more in the past year than her own parents. She's looking for a way out of the town she feels suffocated in since the accident that set her on a different path than the one she was on. You see Shelby was one half of the duo Helene and Shelby; Helene was the truly beautiful one and Shelby was pretty enough. Helene was her best friend but she was the one that was the troublemaker. Shelby went along for the ride.

Shelby is on a long journey to rid herself of the self-loathing and guilt. She needs to learn to trust herself, let go of her demons and to open herself up to others. She's punishing herself for the accident and doesn't think she deserves happiness. Through the persistent of others, little by little, Shelby is restored to life. 

Faithful is about being restored by love, hope and persistence. It's about finding something that brings you joy and makes you feel alive, even if it seems like a small thing. Small things can have profound effects. This book make me laugh and made me cry. I felt sorrow for Shelby but I also felt joy and hope for her. I wanted her to find what she was looking both inside herself and in the world. I loved the way the mysterious postcards played out. I loved how she looked forward to them and that they gave her hope. Don't we all need a little hope and joy in our lives?

If you've never read Alice Hoffman, you are missing out. If you have, then you won't want to miss
Faithful.

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Julie's Review: Small Great Things


Author: Jodi Picoult
Series: None
Publication Date: October 11, 2016
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pages: 480
Obtained: publisher via Netgalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Her best and most insightful book to date
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Summary: Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene? Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong. ~amazon.com  

Review: Small Great Things is a book that will make you uncomfortable. It will make you question your own biases, because let's be honest we all have them. I find that biases are based on experiences, either negative or positive. You will experience strong feelings while reading it and you SHOULD. This is one of those books that I felt the need to give my husband updates about, even if he wasn't going to read it. The interesting thing is a couple times he wanted to know what was going on, which he really never does.

Ruth is a great nurse, she knows her stuff, she's been doing it for 20 years. So she's not sure what she did to piss off  new parents after examining their newborn son when they ask to speak to her supervisor.  She's immediately pulled off the case and not to have any contact and then she see that there is a sticky note on the baby's file "No African-Americans". Which pissed her off and rightfully so. So when the baby has a medical emergency and Ruth is the only one in the room, she does what she's been trained to do, be a nurse.

Turk, is the father of the baby and the requester that Ruth be taken off their case. So it's easy to understand his distress when his baby dies and he's looking for someone to blame. Who easier to blame than Ruth, the black nurse. When tragedy happens, we look for someone to blame. Now don't get me wrong he's a despicable human being but he suffered a great loss and is grieving. The way he lashes out it horrific and eye opening. It is how the white supremacist movement operates now that is perhaps the scariest thing of this book. They aren't in your face, burning crosses (well some still do) but they could be your neighbor or your co-worker. They spew hate without thinking twice and it's not just if you are of a different race these days, they hate anyone who isn't like them. 

One of the things that has stuck with me since closing the novel is when Kennedy says that she now sees color instead of saying that she doesn't. Once we acknowledge there are difference based on race, perhaps that's when real talk, healing and change can happen. Until we try to walk in the shoes of those that are different than us and open our eyes to their struggles or challenges, we won't move forward.

We have made great strides in the last 50 years and I believe that we will continue to make those strides but only if we each make a conscious effort to understand each other. I highly recommend Small Great Things because it will make you think, pause and want to understand.



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Friday, October 28, 2016

Julie's Review: This Was Not the Plan



Author: Cristina Alger
Series: None
Publication Date: October 18, 2016 (paperback)
Publisher: Touchstone
Pages: 368
Obtained: publisher via Netgalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A story about priorities and discovering you can do something else in life
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Summary: Charlie Goldwyn’s life hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. Widowerhood at thirty-three and twelve-hour workdays have left a gap in his relationship with his quirky five-year-old son, Caleb, whose obsession with natural disasters and penchant for girls’ clothing have made him something of a loner at his preschool. The only thing Charlie has going for him is his job at a prestigious law firm, where he is finally close to becoming a partner. But when a slight lapse in judgment at an office party leaves him humiliatingly unemployed, stuck at home with Caleb for the summer, and forced to face his own estranged father, Charlie starts to realize that there’s more to fatherhood than financially providing for his son, and more to being a son than overtaking his father’s successes. ~amazon.com

Review: This Was Not the Plan is a story about how your plans can go awry in the blink of an eye and how life sometimes has other plans for you. Charlie had a job he loved, a wife he loved and a life he enjoyed living. Until the bottom fell out when is wife died but that was 2 years ago and Charlie still hasn't learned to cope. He was already working 80 hours and now with his wife gone and his sister raising his son, Caleb; he just works all the time, literally.

Well things are about to change for Charlie and Caleb and those around him when Charlie suddenly finds him with a lot of free time. He's not quite sure what to do with himself for the hours that Caleb is in school. He doesn't know how to relax. He needs his job to breathe.

Caleb is adorable in the way that a 5 years old can be but I almost felt that he was a little too cute. It's not that I didn't enjoy him or think that it was fantastic that he embraced who he was but 5 can be a very aggravating age and I didn't think that it was captured. I also thought it was a little too seamless for Charlie becoming a full time dad. His sister Zadie has been Caleb's caretaker since he works long hours and I just didn't think it was realistic that he moved from workaholic to easing into dad mode. I kind of figured there would be a few more flubs.

I enjoyed Charlie joining the SAD group because it was something completely out of his comfort zone but it also allowed Caleb to hang out and make some friends. I did like the addition of Elise to the mix of friend but I appreciated that Ms. Alger didn't make into something too quickly.

I think we all need to step back at times and assess where we are at in life. Maybe it's not life changing or career changing like Charlie but little changes can make a huge difference, even if it's just your outlook on life.

Overall, I enjoyed reading about Charlie and Caleb and I look forward to reading what else Ms. Alger writes.



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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Julie's Review: Today Will Be Different


Author: Maria Semple
Series: None
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Pages: 272
Obtained: publisher via Edleweiss
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Bottom Line: Disappointing
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: Eleanor knows she's a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won't swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother's company. It's also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office-but not Eleanor-that he's on vacation. Just when it seems like things can't go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret. TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT is a hilarious, heart-filled story about reinvention, sisterhood, and how sometimes it takes facing up to our former selves to truly begin living. ~amazon.com  

Review: Today Will Be Different was disappointing in a nut shell. I rushed to finish it just to finish it, if that tells you something. I felt that a book that was 272 pages was something I could quickly get done. I tell you most of these 272 pages were painful. I didn't connect with anyone in the story. I kind of felt that they were all caricatures of someone Ms. Semple knows.

I totally go where Eleanor was coming from. Trying to change how you look at life can be challenging and sometimes the little mantras help out. Let's face it though, Eleanor was a bit too far gone to have a mantra change her life. I found her to be scattered and completely self-centered. Heck she didn't even know what was going on with her husband. Also not for one minute do I believe she accepts her husbands change of heart regarding something they were both aligned on.

The mystery of the secret Eleanor was keeping was a bit disappointing after all the build up. I thought it was going to be a bit more dark.

If you are hoping for another Bernadette, look elsewhere because Eleanor isn't the heroine I was looking for.


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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Julie's Review: Hungry Heart


Author: Jennifer Weiner
Series: None
Publication Date: October 11, 2016
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 416
Obtained: Publisher
Genre:  Memoir
Rating: 4.50/5
Bottom Line: A great read for her fans and there will be something to speaks to anyone who reads it
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Summary: Jennifer Weiner is many things: a bestselling author, a Twitter phenomenon, and an “unlikely feminist enforcer” (The New Yorker). She’s also a mom, a daughter and a sister, a former rower and current clumsy yogini, a wife, a friend, and a reality-TV devotee. In her first essay collection, she takes the raw stuff of her life and spins it into a collection of tales of modern-day womanhood as uproariously funny and moving as the best of Nora Ephron and Tina Fey. Born in Louisiana, raised in Connecticut, educated at Princeton, Jennifer spent years feeling like an outsider (“a Lane Bryant outtake in an Abercrombie & Fitch world”) before finding her people in newsrooms, and her voice as a novelist, activist, and New York Times columnist. No subject is off-limits in these intimate and honest stories: sex, weight, envy, money, her mother’s coming out of the closet, her estranged father’s death. From lonely adolescence to modern childbirth to hearing her six-year-old daughter say the f-word—fat—for the first time, Jen dives deep into the heart of female experience, with the wit and candor that have endeared her to readers all over the world. Hilarious and moving, Hungry Heart is about yearning and fulfillment, loss and love, and a woman who searched for her place in the world, and found it as a storyteller.


Review: Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing is a love letter to herself, her family, and her fans. She is everything you love about her. She's a honest, a bit brash at times and funny. That doesn't meant that I didn't shed some tears because I did but she finds humor in even the worse situation. It's what I truly adore about her. I've met her several times and she's the real deal; she's as genuine as they come.

Jennifer tells of her struggles with her identity as a young girl who was perhaps bigger in size than what she wanted to be and how no matter what she did, it wouldn't change. Plus she liked food. Not only was it her safety zone but she really didn't understand people who could just stop eating. It wasn't that she wasn't healthy and strong, she was on crew, it was just that she was bigger. That's hard when you are a teen and a young adult. In some ways it held her back, until she said F-it and just started being herself.  For those of us that struggle with our weight, these chapters will hit home. This is where I felt that she was speaking to me. Her written word resonated with me, profoundly.

She speaks of her diabolic relationship with her father, whom was in and out of her life. When he was in, it was to ask for money. He wasn't always the monster he turned into. In fact, she can remember times when she was younger and he was a great father. He read to them, tucked them in and encouraged them. His decent into mental illness had a huge effect on her and her siblings as one might imagine.

Anyone who is a fan, has heard her talk about her mom, Fran. Usually colorful antidotes about her being a lesbian and how they were all shocked but it made sense as they reflected back. She talks about her daughters and how motherhood was a difficult adjustment for her. How her first daughter Lucy, wasn't easy and how Phoebe was the complete opposite.

She talks about her marriage to Adam and then her subsequent re-kindling of her relationship with Bill. How she's happy and in a good place. She's an outspoken feminist and will go down on the sword for what she believes in.

I don't think any of these stories and messages will surprise her fans but I loved reading about them all at once and with her humor and take on things. If you are a fan, then you won't want to miss Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing. I'm now ready for her next novel!


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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Julie's Review: Letters from Paris


Author: Juliet Blackwell
Series: None
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 384
Obtained: publisher via Netgalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.75/5
Bottom Line: A bit predicatable but enjoyable journey
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Summary: After surviving the accident that took her mother’s life, Claire Broussard has worked hard to escape her small Louisiana hometown. But these days she feels something is lacking. Abruptly leaving her lucrative job in Chicago, Claire returns home to care for her ailing grandmother. There, she unearths a beautiful piece of artwork that her great-grandfather sent home from Paris after World War II. At her grandmother’s urging, Claire travels to Paris to track down the century-old mask-making atelier where the object, known only as “L’Inconnue”—or The Unknown Woman—was created. Under the watchful eye of a surly mask-maker, Claire discovers a cache of letters that offers insight into the life of the Belle Epoque woman immortalized in the work of art. As Claire explores the unknown woman’s tragic fate, she begins to unravel deeply buried secrets in her own life. ~amazon.com  

Review: Letters from Paris is the story about what happens when you decide to ditch your life and go to research something that you found in your grandmother's attic. It's what happens when the most important person in your life holds something major from you.

Claire is brought back home to Louisiana to help tend to her grandmother as she is not long for the world. Her Grandmother tells Claire that once she passes she must go to Paris and research the mask that has been up in the attic for decades. She pretty much demands that Claire goes. So shortly after her grandmother passes, Claire leaves for a vacation in Paris but with no job and no where to go is it really just a vacation for her?

Claire spends most of her time as a tourist but when she can help in the altier where the mask was made and sold, she jumps at the chance to help them out of a bind by working in the shop. This allows her access to some the newspaper clippings about the history of "L'Inconnue". She desperately wants to figure out who this woman was instead of the mystery surrounding her.

I will say that most of the story didn't come as a surprise for me. I expected the romance and I figured out the connections to L'Inconnue fairly quickly. There is one plot line that I wasn't expecting and really came out of nowhere but made complete sense in the grand scheme of the novel.

I did like how Claire finally really took control of her life and figured out what she wanted. I'm sure it's what she had thought her life would be but that's not always a bad thing.

If you love Paris and it's history then you will definitely want to check out Letters from Paris.


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Monday, October 3, 2016

Julie's Review: The Life She Wants


Author: Robyn Carr
Series: None
Publication Date: September 27, 2016
Publisher: MIRA
Pages: 352
Obtained: publisher via Netgalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A great read about how sometimes falling from a pedestal helps you find who you are
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Summary: In the aftermath of her financier husband’s suicide, Emma Shay Compton’s dream life is shattered. Richard Compton stole his clients’ life savings to fund a lavish life in New York City and, although she was never involved in the business, Emma bears the burden of her husband’s crimes. She is left with nothing. Only one friend stands by her, a friend she’s known since high school, who encourages her to come home to Sonoma County. But starting over isn’t easy, and Sonoma is full of unhappy memories, too. And people she’d rather not face, especially Riley Kerrigan. Riley and Emma were like sisters—until Riley betrayed Emma, ending their friendship. Emma left town, planning to never look back. Now, trying to stand on her own two feet, Emma can’t escape her husband’s reputation and is forced to turn to the last person she thought she’d ever ask for help—her former best friend. It’s an uneasy reunion as both women face the mistakes they’ve made over the years. Only if they find a way to forgive each other—and themselves—can each of them find the life she wants. ~amazon.com  

Review: The Life She Wants is a great story about how to rebuild your life when you've hit your low point, maybe even rock bottom.

Emma Shay Compton moves home to outside Napa Valley from her high life in New York City. She comes back west with not much in her pocket and no job within reach. She has little contact with her family and has lost touch with most of her friends. She hasn't had it easy at all but people don't necessarily see that. They see a rich girl who know about her husband's transgressions. It isn't until Emma bumps into old friend Adam Kerrigan that her life starts to turn around but first she has to approach her old best friend for a job. In order to do that, she needs to learn to let go of the past and put her pride behind her. Can she move forward from two of the worst events in her life? She needs to in order to be able to be happy.

Riley Kerrigan hasn't had it easy since she turned 18 and became a single mom but she's put her life into raising her daughter and building up her business. She owns a successful cleaning business but she's lonely. Having Emma back in town throws her into an emotional spiral. It's making her wonder why everyone is so happy to have Emma back and what makes her so special? Riley's been here the past 18 years and she's feeling a little out of sorts and jealous as well.

What I liked about Ms. Carr's writing is that it felt like real life and friendships. Friendships are complicated even after years to let go of the history. The ending might have been a little too neat but I was happy to see how it unfolded.


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Friday, September 30, 2016

Julie's Review: Home


Author: Harlan Coben
Series: None
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: Dutton
Pages: 400
Obtained: publisher via NetGalley
Genre:  Thriller
Rating: 4.75/5
Bottom Line: So happy that Win and Myron are back!
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: A decade ago, kidnappers grabbed two boys from wealthy families and demanded ransom, then went silent. No trace of the boys ever surfaced. For ten years their families have been left with nothing but painful memories and a quiet desperation for the day that has finally, miraculously arrived: Myron Bolitar and his friend Win believe they have located one of the boys, now a teenager. Where has he been for ten years, and what does he know about the day, more than half a life ago, when he was taken? And most critically: What can he tell Myron and Win about the fate of his missing friend? Drawing on his singular talent, Harlan Coben delivers an explosive and deeply moving thriller about friendship, family, and the meaning of home. ~amazon.com

Review: Home is one of those books where you think you have it figured out but you really don't until the last page is turned and the last word is read. I forgot how much I love the duo of Myron and Win. They are yin and yang, bread and butter for each other. Win has been gone for a year and in that time a lot has changed but a lot remains the same. When Win calls Myron goes to help. This time Win calls because he thinks he's found one of the boys that has been missing for 10 years and needs his help.

Win of course goes a little too far and gets caught up in a local crime lord's web of evil but it doesn't last for long when he figures out who Win is and just what he is capable of doing. Myron is there to keep Win in check a bit but also to help put the pieces of this seemingly complex puzzle back together.

I loved the puzzle of what happened to the two boys Patrick and Rhys. How it has affected the families and the people around them, even the community to a certain extent. It changes their view on life and they are constantly wondering when their boys will come back or if they will ever come back.

Home is a book that will have you wondering where Win and Myron have been all your life or maybe just that you've missed them since their last adventure. It will also make you appreciate Mr. Coben's sense of humor and how he works it in at just the right time.



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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Julie's Review: The Bookshop on the Corner


Author: Jenny Colgan
Series: None
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 368
Obtained: publisher via
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Contemporary Romance
Rating: 3.75/5
Bottom Line: A light-hearted read that I read at the perfect time
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Summary: Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more. Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile—a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling. From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending. ~amazon.com  

Review: Bookshop on the Corner is a cute book about following your dream and finding your true home. As a reader you can't help but like Nina. She loves books more than people and loves to pair people with books. So when her job at a library comes to an end, Nina can't help but think owning her own shop might be the perfect thing for her but have it on wheels instead of brick and mortar. The only thing is the van she wants and can afford is up in Scotland.

You just know that Nina is going to end up in this sleepy town because she is drawn to it and other obstacles are in her way down in England. She begins to fall in love with the people of this town as they begin to accept her and support  her mobile bookstore. Before long she is helping out a young girl and her brother get their life sorted out.

As far as her love life goes, you can see the writing on the wall but it's still fun to follow Nina as she tries to figure it out and come to grips with it herself. There are a great many fun characters in this book with one being her former roomate and friend, Surinder. Surinder knows how to live life instead of reading about it in books. I think it is this part that Nina begins to understand and appreciate as well.

You can tell that Ms. Colgan has a real love for books and people who read them. If you are looking for a cute read that is fun, then look no further than Bookshop on the Corner.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

Julie's Review: The Vanishing Year


Author: Kate Moretti
Series: None
Publication Date: September 27, 2016
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 304
Obtained: publisher via Edleweiss
Genre:  Psychological Thriller
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Thrilling
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. The finest wine, the most up-to-date fashion, and the most luxurious vacations are all at her fingertips. What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her. As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely. ~amazon.com  

Review: The Vanishing Year is a book that will keep you guessing until the very end. Zoe seems to have it all until she feels that her past is catching up to her. Slowly, the story of her past unravels. As a reader you want to like Zoe and feel for her but you aren't quite sure if you can trust her. She seems to keep everyone, even her husband at arms length. She's a bit obsessed with finding her birth mother and that seems to be driving a wedge between her and Henry. Henry wants to be the only person to reside in Zoe's heart and mind.

Almost immediately you know something is a little off with Henry. He seems a little too perfect and a little too controlling. (Reminded me of the husband in Sleeping with the Enemy movie with Julia Roberts). He did seem to really love Zoe though. They live quite the charmed life until Zoe starts to dig a little deeper. Is their charmed life, really that way or is Henry hiding something? I mean she's hiding something from him, why couldn't he be hiding something from her?

As Zoe starts to dig in to her past and her origins, things start to come together or fall apart depending on your view, very quickly. It is here where Ms. Moretti is at her best because you can't stop turning the pages because you are dying to know how the pieces of the puzzle fit together since it's not really evident. There are definitely a couple of mic drop moments which were awesome!

I know that Ms. Moretti has a couple other books out and I will be seeking them out plus anxiously awaiting her next novel as well!

The Vanishing Year will be the talk of the book world when it is released. It is one of those books that you will find yourself recommending to friends! Do yourself a favor and grab it.


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Friday, September 23, 2016

Lisa's Review: The Underground Railroad


Author: Colson Whitehead
Series: None
Publication Date: August 2, 2016
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 320
Obtained: Amazon
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Fantastical and Fabulous.
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!

I have not known what to read for some time now and so I have not.  After focusing on academic reading (lots of it) for the last five years, it has been good to take a break.  A short trip to the airport and The Good Girl (I concur with Julie), turned that around.

I came to The Underground Railroad during Seth Myers’ recent interview of Whitehead. So intrigued was I, that two minutes in I popped out of bed to download the book to my Kindle.

It is hard to resist the concept of The Underground Railroad as a literal railroad (something we all believed to be true at some point in childhood or if you are a much older reality star. Ha!)  I have never read Gulliver’s Travels, so that explains why I spent the first half of the South Carolina chapter thinking “Really? South Carolina? During slavery?” before recalling the idea that each state Cora, (our protagonist) “visits” is presented as an alternate state of American history.

Whitehead is right. He puts Cora through a LOT. All of it heartbreaking – none more so than the subtle ironic reveal near the novel’s end. Throughout, I was despondent when Cora was, I cheered when she triumphed, even in small ways and I often wondered “what if?”  

It is not a perfect novel by any means and indeed my quibbles are minor, so to elaborate would be petty.  This is a novel worthy of the attention it is receiving.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Julie's Review: The Velvet Hours


Author: Alyson Richman
Series: None
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 384
Obtained: publisher via NetGalley
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Ripped from the headlines history makes for an intriguing novel
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: As Paris teeters on the edge of the German occupation, a young French woman closes the door to her late grandmother’s treasure-filled apartment, unsure if she’ll ever return. An elusive courtesan, Marthe de Florian cultivated a life of art and beauty, casting out all recollections of her impoverished childhood in the dark alleys of Montmartre. With Europe on the brink of war, she shares her story with her granddaughter Solange Beaugiron, using her prized possessions to reveal her innermost secrets. Most striking of all are a beautiful string of pearls and a magnificent portrait of Marthe painted by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini. As Marthe’s tale unfolds, like velvet itself, stitched with its own shadow and light, it helps to guide Solange on her own path. Inspired by the true account of an abandoned Parisian apartment, Alyson Richman brings to life Solange, the young woman forced to leave her fabled grandmother’s legacy behind to save all that she loved. ~amazon.com  

Review: The Velvet Hours is a novel that is rich in setting and description. It makes you want to discover and live in a Paris apartment that is in a time capsule. It is also about the story of a woman who made the most of her lot in life and appreciated art.

Marthe de Florian is a famed courtesan who has pretty much holed herself away for years in her very sheik Paris apartment. She's not agoraphobic but just prefers the comfort her possessions give her. That is until her granddaughter, Solange, starts to visit. It is to Solange that she starts to share her history.  It is within her grandmother's history, that Solange starts to feel that she can carve her own way in the world. Her grandmother's strength is what gives her the freedom to fall in love and take chances.

What I liked about Marthe's story is that even though she was a "kept" woman, she used it to her advantage. She collected art and knowledge that served her well throughout her life She knew she was loved and actually had more freedom than some wives during that time period. She had a gift for seeking out those things that were beautiful but that meant something to her as well. Each piece in her various collections represents a certain time in her life.

As a reader, it was wonderful to observe Solange coming into her own. While her father didn't hold her back, by exposing her to her grandmother, she was able to imagine a life all her own. Her grandmother's stories allowed her to feed her creative side. It also gave her more freedom than being in her father's shop to explore and meet new people.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, then you will enjoy this book. The Velvet Hours is my first Alyson Richman novel but it won't be my last. 

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