Thursday, April 30, 2009

Book News: Michelle Moran's New Book

I was very excited to receive the following video in my inbox from Michelle Moran this week. As you know I LOVED Nefertiti: A Novel when I read it earlier this year (read review here) and have The Heretic Queen: A Novel in my short TBR pile.

The link is a commerical for her new book Cleopatra's Daughter: A Novel. Let me just say if all books were advertised like this, people might go back to reading for entertainment.

Take a peek and let me know what you think. I know what I think...I'll be in line on September 19, 2009 to buy this book!

Sneak Peek..Cleopatra's Daughter

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Giveaway: Darling Jim

We have 5 copies of Darling Jim: A Novel to giveaway!! Please leave a comment here by midnight EST time May 3rd, 2009 to be automatically entered. See my review of it here.

For an even better chance to win, post about this contest on your own blog (linking back to this post) and your name will be entered twice! The winner will be announced on May 4th, 2009.

Good Luck!

Special Thanks to Jason at Henry Holt for providing us with the 5 copies!!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Julie's Review: Darling Jim

Summary: Like the itinerant Irish storyteller at the crux of this riveting novel, Danish-born author Moerk mixes mythology, Arthurian legend, fairy tales, noir and horror in his American debut. When reclusive Moira Hegarty and her two nieces, Fiona and Róisín Walsh, are found dead in Moira's secluded home in a Dublin suburb, evidence suggests the sisters were imprisoned for months by their aunt, along with a third person, perhaps Róisín's twin sister. The young women left behind two diaries, one of which a postal clerk finds. Three years before, they fell under the spell of Jim Quick, a séanachai (or bard), whose tales of wolves and kings gave him rock star status in the sleepy town of Castletownbere. Only the Walsh sisters appear to have seen beyond the charm of darling Jim, whose presence coincides with several women's murders. Moerk tightly meshes each separate plot strand—the murders, the diaries and Quick's tales—into an enthralling story that never falters.

I don't normally read horror or goth books but Jason at Henry Holt was lovely enough to pass Darling Jim onto me and I'm glad he did. The book might be labeled as the aforementioned but it's really about family, love and survival. This book was riveting from the first page and it definitely didn't slow down. Mr. Moerk weaves quite an excellent story from beginning to end. He even wraps it up with a somewhat neat bow, but leaves you wondering just enough.

Since it's a mystery/thriller I can't tell you too much without ruining the story. You can't help but be entranced by the Walsh sisters even if we only get to know them from their own point of view via their diaries. I did feel that they were honest enough to tell you their faults along with the good. We are first introduced to Fiona and we get her perspective on how Jim walked into their lives and messed it up for good. That's the thing about bad boys... they look harmless enough but they really do a number on you. Jim is quite the charmer and manages to infiltrate himself into the Walsh family, by first getting to Fiona. It's quite sick how a man can tear a family apart. Even if Aunt Moira is off kilter even to begin with.

Niall picks up the 2nd part of the story and his adventure into the story is just as interesting as the story itself. He is our bridge from the past to the present. He follows Fiona's story and ends up with more than he bargains for in doing so. He's a perfect catalyst for finding out the story within the story because he's a storyteller himself, albeit via graphic novels.

The climax of the story is wonderful and satisfying. I will say that I did figure out one of the twists but it wasn't the major twist so it didn't take away from the story.

Mr. Moerk is quite the séanachai himself. His ability to weave many different complex stories and to tie them up together was amazing. Most authors will leave you hanging on the little details but not in Darling Jim.

I will definitely be reading more of his work as they are released in the US.

For more on Christian and for an additional glimpse into one of the characters from Darling Jim click here.

Final Take: 4.75/5

Saturday, April 25, 2009

And the Winner Is...

Congratulations to Six for winning a copy of The Lost Hours!

Thank you all for participating in our giveaway! Surely there'll be more books to giveaway, so please keep your eyes peeled to this blog. Keep your eyes peeled for a giveaway of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane in early June!

Six, please email Lisa your mailing address.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Jenn's Review: The Agency

Summary: Meet Tess Drake. She’s earned everything she has. Now it’s time to get what she deserves…Sexy super-agent Tess Drake has worked hard to make a name for herself in the glamorous yet cut-throat entertainment industry. Tess works at an international agency, where she skillfully manages some of the world's biggest egos—her company, Bardwell International operates in the thrilling, fast-paced worlds of Rights, wrongs and revenge. Tess has been an agent there for longer than she cares to remember and now she's in trouble. Real trouble. After the mysterious death of the agency's senior partner, Lowell Bardwright, Tess's sworn enemy, Cosima Tate, has taken over and would do anything to send Tess's career down in flames. And Cosima is only one of the rogue’s gallery of agents in London and New York who want Tess to take a fall. Tess has another little complication, too. She’s sleeping with men on both sides of the Atlantic who are in bed with the women who are trying to sink her.

Can Tess jump ship without losing her clients and breaking her heart? Or will she lose everything before finding out if she really has what it takes to do what she’s always wanted? There’s risk and reward in this wickedly funny novel that turns the world of agenting inside out and lays bare all the ambition, sex, adrenaline, bad luck, and good luck at the center of one young woman’s success.

Review: I've been starting most of my reviews with disclaimers lately, and this one is no different. I don't read a lot of Chick-Lit but this one captured my attention. Unfortunately, I had a hard time getting into this story because I just couldn't stand Tess. I know she's not written to be likeable, but I disliked her to the point of having to set the book down several times and walk away. I don't have a high tolerance for lying and even less for infidelity, so I kinda felt like Tess was the recipient of 'American Karma' (American because, like everything else in our culture, it comes around faster ~ you don't have to wait for it to catch up with you next lifetime, it'll bite you this time around), although in this case, I guess it's British Karma.

As the plot became more complicated I was drawn in more, or at least to the point where I was no longer routing for Tess's demise. There were also some nice twists and turns to the plot. Although I was a little flummoxed by what I perceived as a lack of resolution to the mysterious death of Tess's boss. It was just a little too open ended for me. I realize that it's not the main plot line but I'm a crime girl, I need resolution!

All in all, it was a very consistent read from start to finish, especially considering that Ally O'Brien is the pen name for the writing team of author Brian Freeman and London-based entertainment agent Ali Gunn. I didn't, however, find it "wickedly funny" as St Martin's suggests ...maybe just wicked.

Julie's Review

Final take: 3/5

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Author Interview: Robin Maderich

Yesterday I posted a review of Faith and Honor by Robin Maderich. Ms. Maderich was lovely enough to answer some questions about the book and her writing for me.

Julie: Is the American Revolution something that has always interested you? What about the time period do you find fascinating?

RM: The American Revolution has, indeed, always interested me. I can’t remember a time when it didn’t, although I think my fascination came about in the second or third grade. The reason for my fascination isn’t so easy to explain. I mentioned this in an interview elsewhere, but I’ll stick my neck out and say again that the affinity I feel for that time period is such that I sometimes think I lived it. I don’t know if such a thing is possible. Certain cultures and religions say it is. My heart says it is, but my head is occasionally skeptical. At any rate, the sense of pride, of awe, of heartache and hope, whenever I immerse myself in research or reading or even thoughts of that time in our history is very real to me.

Julie: What is it about Faith that you found intriguing? Was she based on any particular woman during that time period or just an accumulation of women you researched?

RM: As Faith and Honor was my first romance, I wasn’t certain how to go about writing one, or even what was expected of the lead characters. I’d never really read much in the way of romance at that point in time. She was based on the best and the worst in me, I discovered upon much later review of her character, and on what I determined I might have done at such a time and for such a cause, as well as being a conglomeration of women in history. I was especially intrigued by Lucy Gage---wife of the British General Gage---who, despite her husband, openly sympathized with the rebel cause.

Julie: I’m not a believer in "Love at first sight" but I definitely believe in Lust at First Sight, so do you think Faith said that she was in love with Fletcher because she was lonely and casual sex wasn’t "allowed? I also wonder if part of the attraction came because he was the enemy. What are your thoughts?

RM: I like the way you phrased this question, as if Faith was a character standing on her own, somehow beyond my control. And in ways, that’s true. However, if I could ask her these questions and get a response, she’d say she was lonely, but she also did fall in love, albeit very quickly. She knew a good man when she found him, despite the color of the uniform he wore. It just took her a bit of time to come to terms with that. During the time period in which Faith and Honor is set, casual sex wasn’t all that frowned upon. A woman of loose morals engaged in sex with many men, but a woman having sex with a man she cared about before marriage was commonplace. Many babies were born less than nine months after a couple married. The fact that natural urges were understood resulted in the act of “bundling”, in essence, allowing a couple to get to know each other by ritually sewing the male into cloth to keep the two would-be lovers apart during the course of any night they might spend together. I don’t think it occurred to me during the writing of the novel that Faith might be attracted to Fletcher because he was the enemy. But I can see your point. There’s always the ‘bad boy’ or ‘forbidden love’ fascination.

Julie: Did you decide to write Faith and Honor under your given name because they were so different in content than your Celia Ashley books?

RM: At the time Faith and Honor was released, I was writing under my own name. However, at the suggestion of my agent (for a reason I can’t recall right now, considering I was writing another historical afterward) I chose a different pen name, which I used for my next release, Once and Always, published by Kensington’s Zebra Historical imprint in 2000. The sale was made without an agent, but by that time I already had submitted using the pen name Alyssa Deane and stuck with it. I switched to Celia Ashley for my contemporary paranormal romances (and the futuristic romance, Emerald Twilight, as well) due to the vast difference between the historicals and contemporaries in content and style. Funny thing is, Emerald Twilight was first conceived shortly after I received the contract from Warner for Faith and Honor. I held onto the idea and the first five or six chapters for a good, long time before deciding it was time to complete the book.

Julie: I saw that the original copyright date on Faith and Honor was 1989, what made you decide to do another publicity run 20 years later?

RM: There are several reasons for that. Honestly, the story is near and dear to my heart, and as I have other works available I thought I could get my name back out there by reprinting, as I’d like to publish in the future in general women’s fiction under the name Robin Maderich. If you’ve visited my website, you’ll note that whether you go to or or you end up in the same place. I figured this cross-reference would be a good way to get readers to know what they could expect from me under any of these names. Additionally, I had more of the story I wanted to tell and after such a long time, it wasn’t likely a publisher would be looking for a second and third book. The rights had reverted to me and I felt it was worth a shot.

Julie: Faith and Honor is book I, Promises in Honor is book II, is there still a planned third book in the series? If so, what is the title and when can readers expect it?

RM: The third book is still planned, and I am in the process of writing it in between other projects. The title is To Love The Name Of Honor, and should be available around Christmas this year (late, yes, as it was promised sooner). It will be available through my website, as I have closed the doors of Blue Shutter Books.

Julie: Blue Shutter Books is your publishing company; do you find that you need to publish your own books if you wanted others to read them? Do you try to find other authors to publish?

RM: I answered this question already, but I’ll also add that I certainly didn’t feel a need to publish my own books to get someone to read them. Besides the aforementioned desire to get my name out there again and to continue the story, you might say I chose to publish Promises of Honor to give those readers who really wanted to know what happened to the characters an opportunity to find out. I will add that at the time I opened Blue Shutter Books it was my plan to continue in the publishing business, looking for and publishing new authors, but health issues and financial issues squashed that idea.

Julie: How long have you been writing for? What is your writing style; do you write an outline or do you just write as the story comes to you?

RM: I have been published since 1989, although I have been writing since the second grade with the hopes of one day being published. Outlines are a problem for me. Sometimes they are a requirement of certain publishers, and I find myself going through all sorts of gyrations trying to get one done. In school I used to cheat and write the story in its entirety first, then go back and do the outline based on the completed story I’d written. Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury if I’m preparing a proposal, so I just pull my hair out instead and wing it. Normally, though, I have an idea in my head where the story is going, including a basic beginning, a concept of the middle and a definite end, and write as it comes to me.

Julie: How do you come up with an idea for a novel?

RM: For historical novels, the idea sprouts from the research. For contemporary novels, although research is also involved, the story idea comes first. I usually find ideas in random occurrences throughout the normal course of a day, maybe after hearing a couple of sentences spoken by strangers in the street, seeing something unusual, hearing a news story, getting into a conversation that leads me to an ‘aha’ moment. The paranormal aspect of some of my most recent works is based in part on personal experience (with a great deal of expansion, of course).

Julie: What authors and genres do you enjoy reading?

RM: I love Luanne Rice, Anne Rivers Siddons, Diana Gabaldon, Mary Stewart, Daphne DuMaurier, most recently Stephenie Meyer. I read a novel by someone previously unknown to me named Christine Blevins. The book (perhaps her first novel) is called Midwife of the Blue Ridge. Thoroughly enjoyed it, even if it was a bit graphic in terms of the horrors of the times. She has another coming out this month, I think. The late Kathleen Woodiwiss is a romance author whose work I always enjoyed. There are many others. I like historical romance, urban fantasy-type stories, fantasy of the type written by Ursula K. LeGuin and CJ Cherryh (forgive me if I’ve misspelled her name), as well as time-travel (Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series most notably), Arthurian romance, historical fiction and works of fact. Let’s see, what else? Oh. Recently I finished a book by Bill Bryson called A Walk in the Woods and highly recommend it. He writes about travel and this was about his often hilarious, often moving, adventures in hiking the Appalachian Trail. I think it came out about ten years ago, but I just found it. I am now getting ready to read Beyond Heaving Bosoms by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan. I met Sarah at her book signing in Doylestown, and she’s a hoot!

Well, thank you very much for interviewing me. I hope I’ve answered all your questions to your satisfaction and look forward to hearing from you again!

I'd like to thank Robin for taking the time out of her schedule to answer my questions! You can find any of her books at Robin Maderich.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Julie's Review: Faith and Honor

Colonial Boston churns with rebellion with every patriot addressing the cause of freedom through thought and deed. Persistent in her own dedication to the struggle for independence, Faith Ashley is no exception. Rescued from the harassment of British officers by Fletcher Irons, the young widow finds herself attracted to him and confused by emotions long held in abeyance. In their initial meeting Fletcher appears to be merely another of Boston's citizens on his way home; however, his secrets are soon revealed. When war erupts in the first battles of the Revolution, Faith is torn between her loyalty to the cause and her love for this man who is far more than he seems. All of Faith's strength and courage is put to the test to remain true not only to herself and to her country, but to the man whose destiny rests with her own.

Julie's Review: When I received the summary of Faith and Honor from Tracee at Pump Up Your Book Promotion, it sounded right up my alley especially since I'm on a historical fiction kick. At first I had a hard time keep the Whigs and the Lobster's straight since it's been a great many years since I've had Revolutionary War history but I was able to muddle through it. While this book wasn't exactly up my alley, I didn't mind reading it.

Faith is a widow who lost her husband 3 years ago. She's on her way home from her father's house to Boston when she meets Fletcher Irons. The sparks fly between them but she's not ready to be attracted to a complete stranger. Faith finds out that Fletcher isn't exactly what she thought he was and she doesn't know how to handle it. She's offered marriage by an older man who is a family friend and turns him down. Now here is where I think that the story went array. I think she would have accepted the offer of marriage since I believe that is what was expected and what happened in that time period.

Needless to say, she and Fletcher can't resist their attraction to each other and act on it. This complicates things because while "love conquers all" it is hard in times of war, especially when you re on the opposite sides.

I didn't particularly like Faith. I thought she was a bit self-aborbed, arrogant and childish. I do realize that there were strong, independent women in every decade but I didn't subscribe to it with her. While women did work towards the resistance of the British forces, I think most of them did so by aiding their husbands. I thought that maybe she was too much ahead of her time.

I did enjoy reading about a fictionalized Rachel Revere, who was the wife of the very famous Paul Revere and how she and Faith were friends.

If this kind of historical fiction is your taste, please click on Robin Maderich to purchase an autographed copy.

Final Take: 3/5

Monday, April 20, 2009

Giveaway: The Lost Hours

We have a copy of The Lost Hours to give away. Please leave a comment here by midnight EST time April 24, 2009 to be automaticaly entered. See my review here.

For an even better chance to win, post about this contest on your own blog (linking back to this post) and your name will be entered twice! The winner will be announced on April 25, 2009.

Good Luck!

Lisa's Review: The Lost Hours

When Piper Mills was twelve, she helped her grandfather bury a box that belonged to her grandmother in the backyard. For twelve years, it remained untouched.

Now a near fatal riding accident has shattered Piper’s dreams of Olympic glory. After her grandfather’s death, she inherits the house and all its secrets, including a key to a room that doesn’t exist—or does it? And after her grandmother is sent away to a nursing home, she remembers the box buried in the backyard. In it are torn pages from a scrapbook, a charm necklace—and a newspaper article from 1939 about the body of an infant found floating in the Savannah River. The necklace’s charms tell the story of three friends during the 1930s— each charm added during the three months each friend had the necklace and recorded her life in the scrapbook. Piper always dismissed her grandmother as not having had a story to tell. And now, too late, Piper finds she might have been wrong.

How have I never heard of Karen White before? This is her tenth(!) book and the first for me. I read the summary knowing that it was right up my alley and was excited when her publicist offered it to us for review. Full of wonderful characters, it was a little difficult to love Piper immediately. She was feeling sorry for herself and a bit stubborn and defensive. Her grandfather's death opened up a mystery for her. Her grandmother is stricken with Alzhiemiers and eventually dies. Piper reaches out to the only other person alive who can provide answers, but finds her efforts rebuffed. Determined, she sets off to dig further and finds her life being transformed as the mystery unfolds.

This is a heartwarming novel, about friendship, secrets, regrets, forgiveness and healing. With flashbacks to early 20th Century Savannah, by way of scrapbook entries, it was easy to guess at the answers to the questions Piper had, but it was never completely predictable, nor could I guess at all the secrets.

My issues with the novel are minor. The timeline at the beginning was a bit jumpy and I was left a little confused. In addition, I am not sure that I got a believable resolution to a minor character's story. I had a small problem with the point of view switching from Piper to other characters about 75 pages in. I'd gotten used to the third person at that point, however after I read an interview the author gave that explained her reason for switching and found it acceptable. Other than that I am happy to sing Ms. White's praises and wonder what other gems I've been missing.

Final take: 4.5/5

Sunday, April 19, 2009

To Re-Read or Not to Re-Read? That Is The Question.

I went to see a movie Friday night and I saw two trailers for movie adaptaions of popular novels. I have a love hate relationship with movie adaptions, as I am sure most avid readers do, and I struggle with whether to see a movie that's been adapted from a novel. I often struggle with something else - whether to re-read the book before going to see a movie, or not. It's a big investment of time to re-read a book and lately I haven't a lot of time to keep up with and read the things I usually want to (I still have no idea what Stephanie was up to in Fearless Fourteen). With 5 major adaptations coming to the theatre this year, I am seriously wondering whether to invest the time. For some I already know the answer to this question, but for others, I still really don't know. Perhaps you all could offer up an opinion?

The Books/Movies

Angels & Demons
(May 15) - I vaguely remember the plot of this book. Yeah, I remember the big themes, the ending and I absolutely remember this book being really good, however the details completely escape me. Knowing what I know about adaptations in general and remembering how extremely pissed off I was at the cop-out that was The DaVinci Code movie, I wonder if a re-read is warranted?

My Sister's Keeper
(June 26) - This was one of the trailers I saw the other night and I can already tell you there are departures from the book. I still believe this will be a major tearjerker, though, that's not my issue. This book was so very good and so heartbreaking that I knew when I was done that I couldn't never read this book again. I want to, but I'm not sure I can.

The Lovely Bones
(December 11) - Umm, I haven't read this yet, so I guess I'll be reading it.

The Time Traveler's Wife
(August 14th) - Have you read this book yet? Seriously, this is a must read. I read it when it first came out, and like Angels and Demons I can't recall a lot of the details. I have some serious love for this novel, so I really won't mind another visit.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
(July 15) - There's no question. Oh wait! Just one - Have you seen the new trailer?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Jenn's Review: Gauntlet

Summary: 660 tons of Semtex is detonated in a massive explosion in Libya. The operation seems to have gone smoothly, but within minutes of the explosion, CIA agent Richard Lawrence discovers that one shipment of the explosive has been hijacked. Days later, a glory-seeking 'Emir' broadcasts to the world that he is planning a massive terrorist strike against a U.S. landmark. And he gives a time line of one month. Now a desperate chase is on, as the men bent on attacking the U.S. use every weapon at their disposal to evade American authorities. Time and again they prove willing to destroy anything - and anyone - standing in their way. But Hamilton Turbee, an autistic computer mastermind at the newly created TTIC agency, discovers a way to track them. His flawed genius gives the nation its only chance at stopping the attack - if the American leadership will listen. As the enemies near their destination, it is up to the TTIC team to stop the massive explosion that could destroy the lives of millions.

Review: This is book is a little outside of my usual genre. Whereas I love thrillers, I tend to find techno/military-centric books (like Tom Clancy) to be heavy and cumbersome with jargon, but here this was not the case. It was a fascinating read and thoroughly accessible.

Richard Aaron is extremely adept at juggling a complex plot and a full cast of characters. The continuous barrage of new characters was a little daunting in the first fifty pages or so, but Aaron makes sure all of the stories entwine just enough for the reader keep everyone straight. Interwoven with each division, who are either attempting to prevent or create the terrorist attack, is a little bit of back story, keeping the reader invested in not just the story but each of the characters (good guys & bad guys). I couldn't help but route for Turbee and his compatriots. I was so worried about Turbee at one point I was actually flipping through pages to find out if he was okay. Aaron even helps the reader understand what would bring Yousseff, the drug lord turned terrorist, to a point in his life where he encounters the question of committing such a heinous act.

There are a few torture scenes that were a little gory and graphic for me and a couple minor plot points I found tough to believe, but as a whole it is a riveting and terrifying tale. My disappointment was that the denouement was too quick and the ending too open. I wanted more closure. I would like to know what happens with CIA agent Richard Lawrence and his friend Zak. I wanted more wrapped up. However, I think this is a credit to the realistic nature of the book; in real life, there probably wouldn't be a tidy ending to this story. Aaron's second novel is in the works and I hope it contains an epilogue of sorts for this story. Even if it's only mentioned in passing plot exposition.

For a first novel, this is a masterful piece of literature. Aaron's technique of weaving the complicated story lines together is something a lesser writer could not have pulled off. I am anxiously awaiting Counterplay, his second novel.

Final Take: 4.5/5.0

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Julie's Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Summary: A spellbinding, beautifully written novel that moves between contemporary times and one of the most fascinating and disturbing periods in American history-the Salem witch trials.

Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin needs to spend her summer doing research for her doctoral dissertation. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie's grandmother's abandoned home near Salem, she can't refuse. As she is drawn deeper into the mysteries of the family house, Connie discovers an ancient key within a seventeenth-century Bible. The key contains a yellowing fragment of parchment with a name written upon it: Deliverance Dane. This discovery launches Connie on a quest--to find out who this woman was and to unearth a rare artifact of singular power: a physick book, its pages a secret repository for lost knowledge.

As the pieces of Deliverance's harrowing story begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the long-ago witch trials, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem's dark past then she could have ever imagined.

Written with astonishing conviction and grace, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane travels seamlessly between the witch trials of the 1690s and a modern woman's story of mystery, intrigue, and revelation.

Julie's Review: I was excited when Barnes and Noble First Look Club presented The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane as their next choice. I was even more excited when I was able to read the book. This is a stunning debut novel.

The Salem witch trials have always fascinated me but imagine realizing that you were related to one of those condemned and hanged. Connie Goodwin is a a Graduate student that has just passed her oral exams and will be starting her PH.d. Her mom calls and tells her that she needs a favor, she needs Connie to go to her family's home in Marblehead and get it ready to sell. This is the beginning of Connie's adventure into her personal history and the history of the Salem Witch Trials.

Not only do we get to know Connie's story but we get to meet Deliverance Dane and her family. The book shifts back and forth between present day (1991) and history (1692-1715) which allows the reader to begin to put the puzzle pieces together before Connie. I enjoyed reading the different voices of the story since it spread over hundreds of years. You definitely get a real sense of the time period by the way Ms. Howe describes the clothing, the home, the furniture and the attitudes.

I love authors who are very descriptive without being wordy and Ms. Howe is definitely one of them. I could vividly picture the house on Milk Street, the Salem Meetinghouse, Deliverance's house and Harvard. Without these descriptions the book would have fallen flat. The supporting characters are just as interesting as Connie. Her mom Grace is a trip, Sam, Liz and of course Arlo the dog.

My only complaint is that the climax came in the last 50 pages and ended too quickly. We were there and then it was over. I guess I didn't want the book to end. There are aspects of the book that are predictable but that didn't bother me because of the story and the way it was written.

For fans of Charmed, Harry Potter, and The Craft you will thoroughly enjoy this book. If not, it's still a fantastic story about a period in American history where things that weren't true to their religious beliefs were deemed witchcraft. It calls into question what is witchcraft and how does the definition differ in the time periods explored in the book?

This book has made me want to go and pull out my copy of Arthur Miller's The Crucible (Penguin Classics) and revisit this time period.

This book will be released by Voice on 6/9/09. I recommend adding it to your wish list.

Final Take: 4.75/5

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Our Next Book Club Pick

If you missed out on joining us with our last book club novel, here's your chance. The next Girls Just Reading Book Club pick is Meg Gardiner's China Lake.
Summary: Santa Barbara attorney Evan Delaney is gutsy and tough, but she has a tender side, too. She dotes on her nephew, Luke, who’s staying with her while his fighter-pilot father, Brian, is deployed overseas. (Brian, who’s stationed at the Mojave Desert naval weapons-testing center, China Lake, has been divorced from Luke’s mother, Tabitha, for years.) Evan’s peaceful cohabitation with Luke is thrown into chaos when Tabitha returns to town under the spell of the Remnant, a fundamentalist sect arming itself for the apocalypse with artillery and biological weapons. Tabitha wants Luke back—no questions asked. Brian comes home, and when the sect’s eerie leader is found dead in Brian’s backyard, the career military man is thrown in jail with little hope of release. Evan and her boyfriend, Jesse, come to Brian’s defense, prompting a flood of memories for Evan, who grew up in China Lake.
Lawyer and professor turned novelist, Meg Gardiner moved from California to London and that's where she was first published. Her books are finally available in the US and I can't wait to find out what my friends think! (That includes you!) We plan on being done with the book by late June.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Group Review: Sing Them Home

Summary: Sing Them Home is a moving portrait of three siblings who have lived in the shadow of unresolved grief since their mother’s disappearance when they were children. Everyone in Emlyn Springs knows the story of Hope Jones, the physician’s wife whose big dreams for their tiny town were lost along with her in the tornado of 1978. For Hope’s three young children, the stability of life with their preoccupied father, and with Viney, their mother’s spitfire best friend, is no match for Hope’s absence. Larken, the eldest, is now an art history professor who seeks in food an answer to a less tangible hunger; Gaelan, the son, is a telegenic weatherman who devotes his life to predicting the unpredictable; and the youngest, Bonnie, is a self-proclaimed archivist who combs roadsides for clues to her mother’s legacy, and permission to move on. When they’re summoned home after their father’s death, each sibling is forced to revisit the childhood tragedy that has defined their lives.

Jenn's Review: This is not a book I would typically pick up on my own. I don't particularly care for family sagas, I have enough drama in my own family, thank you very much. That being said, although it took me a while to get into it, I didn't mind this one too much (I know, I know, not a ringing endorsement, but this isn't my genre).

The book starts with a discussion of the dead mothers and fathers of the world roaming the earth which I found odd and a little unnecessary. (More is not always better, sometimes it's just more.) The novel could have stood on it's own without this, in my opinion, and I felt that it detracted more than it enhanced.

Then Kallos allows us into the lives of each of the siblings, who are far from likable. Granted, the tragedy of their childhood shaped their lives, but their self absorption makes it hard to feel empathy for any of them. If it weren't for flashbacks courtesy of the pages of Hope's diary, I don't think I could have warmed up to any of them. However, seeing them through Hope's eyes, helps endear them to the reader slightly.

Still, I have issues with realism in the book. (Perhaps that's my trouble with contemporary fiction in general.) Bonnie riding around town finding legible bits of paper from diaries destroyed 26 years ago is too much of a stretch for me. And I find it hard to believe that someone wouldn't have tried to find her help... especially Gaelan's former high school sweetheart, the psychiatrist. The ending seemed all too abrupt and thoroughly neat for me too; I like things sussed out a little better than that.

Jenn’s Final Take: 3.5/5

Julie’s Review: I will admit when Lisa chose Sing Them Home as her book club pick, I was hesitant. It definitely wasn’t something that I would have picked up off the shelf and purchased, but isn’t that really the purpose of a book club, to force you to go outside your comfort zone? Sing Them Home started off strangely for me; I didn’t really care for the forefathers ghost theme and was scared that it was going to be a bit too mystical for me, but while it was woven throughout the book, it was in small enough doses that I did not feel that it overpowered the novel. Essentially, this is a family saga about how to learn from your past, heal from it and move on. I don’t even think that we fully understand how one event in our lives truly does shape our future self. That being said I do think that you can move on from that and to me that is what Sing Them Home is about.

Hope Jones was taken from her kids during a tornado in 1978 and now as adults, Larken, Gaelen and Bonnie all suffer the long lasting effects. What is interesting is how each of the children was affected by it. Larken substitutes her need for love by eating, Gaelen becomes obsessed with his physique and his bedroom prowess, and Bonnie seems to be stuck at the age of 10 where everything has a mystical, magical, and fantastical aspect to it. These are not easily likeable characters, each on of the children self-absorbed in their own way and yet none of them moves far away from Emlyn Springs. In fact, Bonnie still remains in town as their own “Flying Girl”. Giving an explanation to “Flying Girl” would be giving away a good tidbit in the story but I do believe that it ties directly into Bonnie’s personality. I couldn’t really identify with any of the characters in particular but I did enjoy the journey that each of them took us on. My least favorite was probably Bonnie and that was because I really just wanted her to grow up and act her age.

I did enjoy getting to read Hope’s diary and getting to know the younger versions of Larken, Gaelen and Bonnie. I think Larken was especially affected by her mother’s death in ways that she doesn’t even know or understand. I do agree with Jenn that these characters were self-absorbed but I think it was a coping mechanism. We did see each of them grow by the end of the book and to me that is what matters. One passage in the book really spoke to me:

“There’s suddenly this compulsion-not just to be a “good” mother,
but to be the “best” mother. No one expects fathers to be perfect. Fathers
are not bombarded with images of themselves, serenely cradling a newborn,
lounging about, immaculately and stylishly clad with their equally pristine
toddler” ~page 210

This is so true, even today. We see it on tv shows, movies and probably in our daily lives as mothers. There are always those moms that you perceive to be perfect and have it together. Its human nature to be competitive but that kind of stuff will drive you mad. I found it interesting that some things really don’t change decade to decade.

There are a couple twists in the book that I didn’t see coming and one that left me wanting more of a reason for the character thinking that way and we never went back to it during the novel. What I truly enjoyed about the book, though, are the Welsh traditions and culture. To me these were an integral part of the novel and whom the characters were.

Overall, I truly enjoyed this novel and more than likely will be purchasing Ms. Kallos’ book Broken for You when I am done with my very big “To Be Read” pile.

Julie’s Final Take: 4.5/5

Lisa's Review:

I can’t even tell you the reasoning behind my picking Sing Them Home as our book club pick, but it’s getting pretty obvious that I am easily swayed by well reviewed books. Now I didn’t really love this book and normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but for some reason I can’t really pinpoint my issue. I join my friends in saying that the beginning was a bit strange and certainly wasn’t necessary to the story, even though the author did make an effort to tie things together in the end.

Ultimately, this one gets an “eh” from me. I was certainly expecting more. I kept waiting for something to happen and though something did happen, it wasn’t powerful enough and I was still thinking “so what”. I get the feeling I was supposed to be moved to tears, but maybe I’m just too far gone on the cynicism scale. There was some unevenness to the plot, some things dragged out and some things just happened. More than once I found myself inferring that a certain event had occurred. Of course, I don’t need everything spelled out, but I don’t want to guess either. Strangely though, I still found myself compelled to read, this very long book (543 pages!). Something kept drawing me back - Kallos’ writing style I suppose. There’s a certain poetry to the prose and I particularly enjoyed reading Hope’s diary entries.

As much I want to wholeheartedly recommend this book, I can’t quite work up all of the required enthusiasm, so read at your own risk.

Lisa’s Final Take: 3.25/5

*Did you read it? Feel free to join the discussion by adding a comment. Let's get a dialogue going!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Jenn's Review: The School of Essential Ingredients

Summary: The School of Essential Ingredients follows the lives of eight students who gather in Lillian’s Restaurant every Monday night for cooking class. It soon becomes clear, however, that each one seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen. Students include Claire, a young mother struggling with the demands of her family; Antonia, an Italian kitchen designer learning to adapt to life in America; and Tom, a widower mourning the loss of his wife to breast cancer. Chef Lillian, a woman whose connection with food is both soulful and exacting, helps them to create dishes whose flavor and techniques expand beyond the restaurant and into the secret corners of her students’ lives. One by one the students are transformed by the aromas, flavors, and textures of Lillian’s food, including a white-on-white cake that prompts wistful reflections on the sweet fragility of love and a peppery heirloom tomato sauce that seems to spark one romance but end another. Brought together by the power of food and companionship, the lives of the characters mingle and intertwine, united by the revealing nature of what can be created in the kitchen.

Review: In search of more food-lit, I chose this book because it was recommended by Sarah Addison Allen and it did not disappoint. Although it's not as warm and enveloping as Allen's books, it is lush and rich in food and detail. This is not a fast read in that if read too quickly the subtle nuances will be missed and the prose bludgeoned. And her prose are scrumptious and poetic in details and description.

Erica Bauermeister has selected a daring format for her novel that could have been a huge disaster if not well executed. Each chapter deals with a separate individual in the cooking class and how food and the class changes their life (the danger being a disconnected story). However Bauermeister weaves the thread of commonality through Lillian, the class, and the food. She doesn't go back and tell the story from each person's point of view (which could have been terribly tedious and drab), but she continues the story's forward momentum, advancing the story chronologically with each character. We start with Lillian, the teacher of the class, and how she came to food, and how food came to her. Then she moves on to Claire, a mother who has forgotten to take time for herself, then Carl, for whom food is a reminder of the woman he fell in love with... each one gleans something from the monthly cooking lesson whether it be introspection, self-confidence, or a direction for their life. Food doesn't solve all problems, but it serves as the inspiration.

My only regret is that I felt that the end came a little abruptly, and was left a little too open ended. Lillian is the common thread in each chapter that unifies the story, and I wish that Bauermeister had ended with a chapter on Lillian's life and food as an adult, in balance with the way she started with Lillian's life and food as a child with the first chapter, giving the book pillars so to speak. The epilogue dealt with it to some extent, but for me it was a little too subtle. It left me wanting more.

Although Bauermeister has taught literature for years and written several books of book lists, this is her first novel and I think it was a highly successful venture. The writing is lyrical and poignant. I look forward to reading her next novel.

Final Take:  4.75/5

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I noticed that I seem to have a new passion. I love books and I love to cook so I don't know why it surprises me that I love them together. No, I'm not talking about cook books, or even non-fiction books by chefs. Food has always played a central role in fiction, but this is something new. According to, there is an emerging trend in American literature of 'Food and Social Healing.' I'm talking about books like those by Sarah Addison Allen, Nancy Spiller, Erica Bauermeister, etc. Books that take food to a whole new level. Not food playing a central role in the novel, but food as the novel. Food that transforms relationships and lives.

Did it all stem from Frances Mayes's Under the Tuscan Sun? Was that the inspiration for this sudden flood of delicious goodness? I don't know. (Although that wasn't quite fiction... well, the movie was but I'm digressing. )

I don't know whether there's a name for this genre or not, but I'm going to call it Food-Lit. ~And I'm loving it!

"Since people first put ink to parchment, food has proven an inspiration, a plot device, a method of revealing character in poetry and literature. "
~Marina Gordon

If anyone has any thoughts on this, be sure to chime in.