Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Alice's Review: I Only Have Eyes For You

Author: Bella Andre
Series: Yes (Sullivan Series, Book #4)
Publication Date: December 22, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Pages: 384
Obtained: Purchased
Genre: Romance - Contemporary
Rating: 3/5
Bottom Line: A sexy good time.
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Summary:  Sophie Sullivan fell head over heels for Jake McCann at the age of five. Twenty years later, the notorious bad boy still sees her as the "nice" Sullivan twin. When they both get caught up in the magic of the first Sullivan wedding, she knows it's time to make him see her for who she truly is…the woman who will love him forever.  Jake has always been a magnet for women, but the only woman he really wants is the one he can never have. Not only is Sophie his best friend's off-limits sister…he can't risk letting her get close enough to discover his deeply hidden secret.  But when Sophie appears on his doorstep, Jake's every fantasy comes to life, and he doesn't have a hope of taking his eyes, or hands, off her. Jake knows loving Sophie isn't the right thing to do, but one look at her and he knows he can't possibly resist.

Review:  I Only Have Eyes for You is the fourth installment in Bella Andre’s Sullivan Series.  The novel begins with the (spoiler alert) wedding of Chase and Chloe, the love-struck couple from the first book in the series.   This time we get to enjoy the love story of younger sister Sophie’s unrequited love for bad boy and family friend Jake McCann.  What ensues is an incredibly sexy journey where two polar opposites hopefully fall in love even though he thinks he is totally wrong for her because she’s way too good for him.  And of course, she’s been totally lovesick for him even since she was five years old.

I feel pretty neutral about both characters.  Sophie is the sweet girl, nicknamed Nice by her family because she’s well nice.  She’s a librarian, brainy, smart, and sexy in that girl next-door kind of way.  Jack is the tattooed bad boy who owns a chain of Irish pubs.  He’s handsome, dangerous, and thinks love is for the birds. 

Here’s the truth, this novel drove me a bit nuts in how totally unrealistic it is.  I didn’t see how these two could fit.  The more I read, the less believable it became.  A good novel should have a sense of realism to it.  I should be able to see these characters as real people.  I didn’t do that with this novel.  Not even close.  Yet what completely caught me off guard is that I cried at the end.  Yes, I cried.  I didn’t have any feelings towards Sophie and Jake, I wanted a resolution and wasn’t expecting much.  Yet there I was, frantically turning pages at the end waiting to find out what happened with tears streaming down my face.  I’d like to blame it on PMS or something like that, but the truth is I can’t.  It really got me.  And that is the beauty about books, just when you think you have it all figured out, a masterful storyteller kicks you in the gut and pulls at your heartstrings.  It wasn’t expected and I appreciated it.

There are plenty of cameos from the Sullivan clan.  I really enjoy spending time with past characters.  I love when authors remember to actively include them instead of only mentioning them in passing. 

Overall, I enjoyed it. I still think it could benefit from a good dose of realism but then again, it’s a novel. The author has a right to suspend all logic. It’s also a romance and we all know logic has no place in love either.

Alice’s The Look of Love review here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Julie's Review: The Wife, The Maid, and the Mistress

Author: Ariel Lawhon
Series: No
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 320
Obtained: publisher
Genre: historical fiction
Rating: 4
Bottom Line: Fiction blended well with fact in this historical mystery.
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Summary: A tantalizing reimagining of a scandalous mystery that rocked the nation in 1930—Justice Joseph Crater's infamous disappearance—as seen through the eyes of the three women who knew him best. They say behind every great man, there's a woman. In this case, there are three. Stella Crater, the judge's wife, is the picture of propriety draped in long pearls and the latest Chanel. Ritzi, a leggy showgirl with Broadway aspirations, thinks moonlighting in the judge's bed is the quickest way off the chorus line. Maria Simon, the dutiful maid, has the judge to thank for her husband's recent promotion to detective in the NYPD. Meanwhile, Crater is equally indebted to Tammany Hall leaders and the city's most notorious gangster, Owney "The Killer" Madden. On a sultry summer night, as rumors circulate about the judge's involvement in wide-scale political corruption, the Honorable Joseph Crater steps into a cab and disappears without a trace. Or does he? After 39 years of necessary duplicity, Stella Crater is finally ready to reveal what she knows. Sliding into a plush leather banquette at Club Abbey, the site of many absinthe-soaked affairs and the judge's favorite watering hole back in the day, Stella orders two whiskeys on the rocks—one for her and one in honor of her missing husband. Stirring the ice cubes in the lowball glass, Stella begins to tell a tale—of greed, lust, and deceit. As the novel unfolds and the women slyly break out of their prescribed roles, it becomes clear that each knows more than she has initially let on. With a layered intensity and prose as effervescent as the bubbly that flows every night, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is a wickedly entertaining historical mystery that will transport readers to a bygone era with tipsy spins through subterranean jazz clubs and backstage dressing rooms. But beneath the Art Deco skyline and amid the intoxicating smell of smoke and whiskey, the question of why Judge Crater disappeared lingers seductively until a twist in the very last pages.

Review:The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is an intriguing look a mysterious disappearance of a NYC judge during the heydays of the 1930s. I had no clue that this unsolved mystery existed, which is why is sucked me in. I thoroughly enjoyed how Ms. Lawhon told the story from 3 very different women's points of view. Their lives are intertwined because of the Judge. Each one has a different role in his life. Each one of them have their own secrets and sorrows.

For me, the most complex character was Ritzi, the mistress. She was the most well-rounded of the 3. I understand why she made the choices she did. I felt her dreams and her sorrows. I rooted for her from beginning to the end. I wondered how she was going to get out her situation with Madden. It didn't take her long to realize that her dreams weren't worth the cost of her soul.

I empathized with Maria and her plight but I wasn't overly convinced why she was so involved in the  story. Perhaps it was as simple as the fact that she was married to the Detective investigating Judge Crater's disappearance. Stella should have had my sympathy but she wasn't very likable. She was all about keeping up appearances. She was more concerned with how she looked in public and her welfare that what really happened to her husband. She wanted to maintain her lifestyle at all costs.

Ms. Lawhon builds the story methodically and keeps you engaged by switching the point of view. We get to know Judge Crater through each of these women. Let's just say that when he disappears I wasn't overly upset. Much of the story is about the aftermath and behaviors of those surrounding Judge Crater. No one is beyond suspicion; no one is innocent.

If you enjoy reading historical fiction and enjoy a good unsolved mystery then pick up Ms. Lawhon's The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress . I definitely look forward to her next novel.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Jenn's Review: Wake

Wake: Book Two of the Whisper Series (Whisper Trilogy)
Author: Dana Faletti
Series: Whisper trilogy, #2
Publication Date: January 21, 2014
Publisher: Createspace
Pages: 290
Obtained: publicist
Genre: YA, Urban Fantasy
Rating: 2.75/5
Bottom Line: Touched By an Angel meets Buffy
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Blurb: Fans of The Mortal Instruments and Fallen will love the second book in Dana Faletti's Whisper trilogy! When 16-year-old Callie Evans learned she was more than your everyday suburban teen, everything changed. One minute she was a typical high school student, the next, a demon-slayer extraordinaire. As a newly discovered Arc angel from heaven, Callie’s destiny is to fight the Darks that prey on human teens. 
But when Callie meets Romuel, one of the most powerful angels of all time, her reality is shaken once again. Romuel will force her to become what she was meant to be, but will her boyfriend, fellow Arc, Joshua, be able to set his pride aside? He doesn’t appreciate Callie’s attentiveness toward the older, wiser immortal Romuel. Joshua found her first. And he’s not willing to share. 
Is it Callie’s highly active imagination or does the Dark population seem to be multiplying exponentially in her world at an alarming rate? Newsflash: She’s not imagining things. They’re everywhere. And she’s got to find a way to stop them before it’s too late.
Join Silas, Jules, Jixer and the rest of the immortal crew in a story that will wake up the world to the war that’s been raging since the beginning of time, a war in which whispers are the deadliest weapons of all.

Review:  With the huge billing "fans of The Mortal Instruments and Fallen will love" I expected big things from this series.  It did not deliver.  However, I can say that I liked Wake much better than the first book in the series, Whisper.

I had a hard time getting into this series, because I kept tripping over the writing.  Every author has their own style of writing, and I rarely comment on such things, but when their style disrupts what it is they are trying to convey, it is frustrating.  It's not that Dana Faletti's writing style was choppy so much as full of hiccups.  I don't mind metaphors when they are smoothly incorporated, but here I felt bashed over the head with them.

I found myself continually tripping over the dialogue.  Having her characters replace the words 'hell' and 'shit' with 'hello' and 'shugar' was meant to be endearing but wasn't.  Also one of the Micro Angels has an accent that is phonetically forced on the reader, which is a tricky thing to pull off; I kept stopping to match the accent on the page to the one in my head.  Also, Ms. Faletti uses a plethora of causal Biblical references, sometimes without purpose, that I wish she'd really owned and expanded upon.  It gave the plot a lack of depth.

Unfortunately, I felt no attachment to any of the characters.  They are all two dimensional at best with no humor or darkness.  The characters don't struggle; nothing is complicated.  There is supposed to be romantic confusion in the novel but it is resolved before it begins so it comes off as merely a plot device.  Occasionally, Ms. Faletti switches the point of view from Callie to Josh for entire chapters.  I didn't feel like this was necessary to the story as it is often a present tense version of what is then told to us by Callie in the past tense.

However, Wake gets to the heart of the story.  The premise is intriguing and Ms. Faletti is starting to put it all together.  The big conflict has presented itself, and though it is still underdeveloped, it held my attention.  While parts of it were slightly predictable, there were definitely enough  twists and turns to make it interesting.

With a good editor and some further development, I think this series would make a fine middle grade read.  By the end of this novel, I found myself starting to invest in the characters and where they are headed.  Unfortunately, it is a little too late for me.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Children's Corner: Greek Myths and Legends

Greek Myths and LegendsI don't know how many Kindergartners go to their librarians and ask for books on Myths, but mine does.  We are on a Percy Jackson kick in our house (Kidlet loves the movies) which started me re-reading all the Rick Riordan books, and had Kidlet looking for something age appropriate to satisfy her thirst for more as well.

The school librarian sent her home with this, and we love it.  It is five different legends with fabulous illustrations.  The retellings are true to the originals without being too graphic or bawdy.  It would be lovely if there were an entire collection of these exploring all the different legends --but we will definitely be seeking out Anthony Masters's Roman Myths to continue our journey.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Julie's Review: The Secret of Magic

Author: Deborah Johnson
Series: No
Publication Date: January 21, 2014
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
Pages: 416
Obtained: publisher
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Bottom Line: Interesting story but nothing we haven't read before  
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Summary: In 1946, a young female attorney from New York City attempts the impossible: attaining justice for a black man in the Deep South. Regina Robichard works for Thurgood Marshall, who receives an unusual letter asking the NAACP to investigate the murder of a returning black war hero. It is signed by M. P. Calhoun, the most reclusive author in the country. As a child, Regina was captivated by Calhouns The Secret of Magic, a novel in which white and black children played together in a magical forest. Once down in Mississippi, Regina finds that nothing in the South is as it seems. She must navigate the muddy waters of racism, relationships, and her own tragic past. The Secret of Magic brilliantly explores the power of stories and those who tell them.

Review: The Secret of Magic starts off with getting you riled up and very pissed off because of what happens right in the beginning of the book. You want justice and you do want revenge but at what cost?

Unfortunately after the beginning of the book, it meanders. It takes it's slow southern time getting to the climax of the story. And it doesn't end up being a murder mystery as I thought it would be after reading the prologue. It is more a story of relationships between whites and blacks in a small town in Mississippi. It's how everyone knows the truth but no one cares to acknowledge it until they are forced to. Did it make my blood boil? Absolutely. Was it enlightening? I don't know. Perhaps I did learn a little more about Legal Fund and how our black veterans were treated up until their return from WWII.

The most interesting part of the novel, was the book inside it, The Secret of Magic. How much of what is in that book is true? What happened to the kids in the book? Are they the adults Regina is working with now?

I'm not so sure sending a single black female to backwoods Mississippi in the 1940s was the most brilliant thing that happened in this book. There were times when I feared for her life. She was in a strange place and out of place. She didn't know how to act. While there was still racism in NYC, the races kept to themselves. In Mississippi, they are entwined. Their lives are so immersed with each other, that their histories are connected. This was perhaps what startled me the most reading the novel. The fact that these adults had grown up together, doing the same things for a long time and when they reached a certain age, they were separated. That's when hate started to take hold.

If you enjoy books about the south and race relations than perhaps this is the book for you. I liked it but I didn't love it. The reveal came to quickly for me and there were other aspects that I wanted to learn about but didn't.

Thanks to Amy Einhorn books for the ARC of the novel.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Julie's Review: The Vanishing

Author: Wendy Webb
Series: No
Publication Date: January 21, 2014
Publisher: Hyperion
Pages: 304
Obtained: publisher
Genre: Horror
Rating: 5
Bottom Line: Spooky on so many levels.
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Summary: Recently widowed and rendered penniless by her Ponzi-scheming husband, Julia Bishop is eager to start anew. So when a stranger appears on her doorstep with a job offer, she finds herself accepting the mysterious yet unique position: caretaker to his mother, Amaris Sinclair, the famous and rather eccentric horror novelist whom Julia has always admired . . . and who the world believes is dead. When she arrives at the Sinclairs' enormous estate on Lake Superior, Julia begins to suspect that there may be sinister undercurrents to her "too-good-to-be-true" position. As Julia delves into the reasons of why Amaris chose to abandon her successful writing career and withdraw from the public eye, her search leads to unsettling connections to her own family tree, making her wonder why she really was invited to Havenwood in the first place, and what monstrous secrets are still held prisoner within its walls.

Review: I had read Wendy Webb's The Tale of Halcyon Crane a couple years ago and loved it. So when I read the summary for The Vanishing, I knew I couldn't pass it up. I'm so glad I got an early copy of this one. Ms. Webb has created a truly gothic atmosphere with Havenswood and the strange goings-ons in the mansion.

Of course Havenswood is a character in itself; it's eerie, dark, huge and old. Of course you are going to hear things and perhaps see things. It is really Amaris, Julia, Adrian and Drew that make the book for me. It is the intricaies of how they build their relationships that intrigue me. Amaris is perhaps the most intriguing of them all. A world-renowed, best-selling author who has been in hiding for 10 years. What happened in her life that made her want to vanish?

We quickly know why Julia would want to leave her current life. It's understandable that she would want that to go away. So I can't say I blamed her for jumping for the offer from Adrian Sinclair. Her motives aren't the ones I question. Throughout the book it is Adrian's motives that I constantly am evalutating. Also, as dreamy as Drew is, I wondered what his motives were as well. As for Amaris, I figured she was just lonely and needed companionship and maybe she was a little less lucid than previous years.

What Ms. Webb does an excellent job of is keeping you wondering throughout the novel. She writes in such a way that you get chills up your spine with regular frequency. She writes Havenwood so well that you feel like you are there walking the halls. You feel the cold of the snow storm, the chill of the ghosts and the warmth of the fires. I don't like to be scared but I do like to be spooked; and spooked I was. I felt what Julia was feeling. The depth of her unease towards the end of the book was my unease.

I still have The Fate of Mercy Alban to read and it will be read sooner rather than later. If you haven't read Wendy Webb before, The Vanishing is a fantastic place to start.

Thank you to Hyperion Books for my copy of the novel.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Group Review: Lost Lake

Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Series:  Stand alone
Publication Date: January 21, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 304
Obtained: publisher
Genre: contemporary fiction
Rating: 4.6
Bottom Line: Magical realism at its finest.
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Blurb: It happens one morning - Kate finally wakes up from the slumber she's been in since her husband's death a year ago. Feeling a fresh sense of desire to take control of her and her young daughter's life, she decides to visit Suley, Georgia-home to Lost Lake. It's where Kate spend one of her happiest summers of her life as a child. She doesn't know what she expects to find there, but it isn't a rundown place full of ghosts and oddities. Kate's beloved Aunt Eby, Lost Lake's owner, wants to sell the property and move on. She's old and Lost Lake's magic is gone. As Kate discovers that time has a way of standing still at Lost Lake can she bring the cottages--as well as her heart and the hearts of all the guests-back to life? Because sometimes lost loves aren't really lost. They're right where you left them, waiting for you to find them again.

Alice's Review:  Lost Lake is everything that is wonderful about Women’s Fiction and Chick-Lit all rolled into one.  This novel has memorable characters, a magical location and so much heart I swear I can see the pages flutter in time to a heartbeat.  The reason Lost Lake is so great is because of her author, Sarah Addison Allen.  I just adore her novels.  It’s like reading pure magic.

She is the author that you must read.  All her novels have left me enchanted and enamored with her words.  She writes about the heart from the heart.  You can feel it yourself as if it’s a tangible thing.  I know my review is more about singing her praises than focusing on the book itself.  She embodies her books.  She harnesses pure magic, she ensnares you in it and you can’t help but to keep going back for more.  My fellow bloggers and I realized she is the only author the four of us truly love and agree on.  I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

We learn so much from her as a reader:  How observant a child is, how receptive they are to change and happiness especially if it benefits those they love.  We learn love is everything.  We learn forgiveness is given and not earned.  There is so much more, but you need to read it for yourself.

So do yourself a favor, and pick up this one.  This is the kind of novel you will share.  You will think about it for a long time after you put it down.  You will wish with all your being that this mystical place was real and that you could vacation there.   You will be happy Kate woke up and you hope she has her happy ending.  You’ll wish that special child Devin was your child.  You’ll wish for half the adventure Eby had. 

As much as I loved Lost Lake, I feel this one isn’t as strong as her previous works but it’s definitely worth the read.  I feel as if telling your it isn’t as strong as the others is unfair because even though this isn’t her best, she is still head and shoulders above many other authors.

Alice's Final Take:  4/5

Jenn's Review:  I adore everything Sarah Addison Allen writes, and Lost Lake is no exception.  This one took me a little longer to get into than some of her novels, probably because we start with Ebby's story and then switch to Kate's.  Kate's story is so heartbreaking that I didn't want to be pulled in, especially after meeting her mother-in-law... and there you have it.  I'm sucked in.  Her characters are so palpable you can't help but become involved in their journey. 

Sarah Addison Allen does a fabulous job of juggling and balancing each character's story, keeping anyone charater from running away with the plot.  Devin reminds me of my own wildly imaginative, observant little girl.  (It never ceases to amaze me how much children see in the world.)  I am glad she finds her way.  Wes's story may be the most surpising of all; I certainly didn't see it coming.  There are many stories to be told here and I found myself wishing the book was twice as long so that I could get to know all of the characters a little better.  

I love that Lost Lake is a collection of misfits.  Lost Lake is a place to find yourself, or be yourself, or even just take a break from yourself.  Everyone needs a Lost Lake and Ms. Allen pens it beautifully.  It's somewhere I want to visit and maybe even stay.

Although her theme of magical realism holds strong, Ms. Allen has ventured away from food-lit, which I missed a little throughout the novel.  Food still plays an important role, just not a central or magical one.  Perhaps because of this, I found the multiple magical elements of the story unexpected.  Some were incredibly conspicuous and some completely ambiguous.  I think I prefer they be somewhere in between.

Honestly, I am looking forward to re-reading this again soon.  Really?  Yes, really-really.  There is something inherently delightful about a Sarah Addison Allen book and I think I may just see a Sarah Addison Allen reading marathon in my future.  I simply can't recommend her novels more!

Jenn's Final Take:   4.75/5

Julie's Review: Lost Lake is a magical story about love, loss, life, and friendship. Sure it's magical in the way that there is mystical parts of the novel but it's magical because of the way Ms. Allen writes her characters. They are all quirky and free-spirited but together they are wonderful.

Ms. Allen has always had a way of setting the scene that makes it a mystery and magical all in one. Lost Lake is just that. It has a history for the people of Suley, Georgia but it also has a very personal history for Wes and Kate. It is where they left their childhoods behind one summer when they were 12 for very different reasons. The book is not about Wes and Kate finding their way back to each other but it about all of the characters finding their way.

Lost Lake is a haven for the regulars who come here annually. They feel that is has given their life purpose. For Lisette, it is where she has worked for 50 years after escaping her past in France. For Jack, it's where he comes to admire Lisette from a far but will this be the last summer he sees her? Will he be brave enough to tell her his feelings? For Selma, she's on a mission to find her last husband. Can Lost Lake help her find him? For Bulahdeen, it's the fact that she comes to Lost Lake to know that things will be ok, that she can keep writing her story and changing the ending. For Eby, it's where she and George spent their happiest years together. It's where she feels the safest. For Devin, it's where she gets to be herself again without any pressure to conform. For Kate, it's where she realizes she does have what it takes to move on from the death of her husband and to be the mother Devin needs. For Wes, it's the feeling of loss, guilt and hope that keep him anchored there.

Ms. Allen makes you fall in love with each one of these characters because of the way she tells the story. Each of them brings something unique and thoughtful to the story. Each of them have a way of changing the course of the story. Each of them is control of writing and re-writing their endings. It is how they come together that makes this novel gorgeous.

Lost Lake is full of magic and mystery. It is full of life lessons. It is full of wit, humor and charm.
There were moments when I laughed and moments when I cried. Mainly I was transported to Lost Lake. I felt like I could smell the food and the moss on the trees. I felt that I was a part of the story too. Perhaps as an by-stander but still a part of it. Perhaps that is the magic of the novel, making you feel like you are one of them.

Everytime I read one of Ms. Allen's novels I feel like I'm in a trance, that's how spellbinding her writing is. I can't recommend Lost Lake highly enough. I have been in love with her novels since Garden Spells and it is a love that continues to grow.

Julie's Final Take: 5/5

Thank you to St. Martin's Press for our ARCs of this novel. We couldn't be more thrilled!


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Children's Corner: Scooby-Doo! Sight Words Box Set

9780545355759We have lots of first readers around our house, but this set is one of our favorites.  Don't get me wrong, we love our BOB books, but they aren't always the most interesting subject matter.  The Disney ones are good too, but sometimes they are a little 'fluffy' too when it comes to content.  Each of the Scooby-Doo readers contains a mini-mystery.  It's great to have ones with subject matter that holds our attention.

These are meant to be read by the adult with the child reading the sight words, but we have progressed to Kidlet reading the whole of it to us, with a little assistance.  There are more of these books in the series, and I will be expanding our collection, because these books pull her in with humor and mystery.  It's a fabulous way to learn how to read.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Julie's Review: Belle Cora

Summary: A sweeping historical novel based on the extraordinary life and times of Belle Cora, the daughter of a New York merchant who went on to become a millworker, a prostitute, a notorious madam, a murderess, and eventually one of San Francisco's richest and most revered dowagers. Some people remember her as Arabella Godwin, others as Harriet Knowles, and still more as Frances Andersen or other names too numerous to list. But let there be no confusion, this is the legendary story of Belle Cora (1828-1919), who survived by her wits and made a fortune off the greed and lust of men. Orphaned at age nine, Belle and her brother, Lewis, are sent to live with their devoutly religious aunt and uncle in rural upstate New York. Nothing can prepare her for the cruelty of her watchful, jealous cousin Agnes, who would become a lifelong rival and enemy. Yet there, Belle also meets the love of her life, Jeptha Talbot. As she blossoms into a true beauty, however, two horrendous events separate her from Jeptha and Lewis. Heartbroken, Belle flees the countryside and finds work in a mill, where she is exposed to the looser morals of hard luck women and begins to harden into the powerful, cunning woman she will become. Soon Belle finds herself in New York, where life takes a dark but alluring turn as she succumbs to the indulgent lifestyle of a highly sought-after prostitute to the city's wealthiest men. But beneath the silk and taffeta layers, she harbors a deep longing to be reunited with Jeptha, now a respected preacher. The road back to him will take her on a treacherous journey from the town houses of Manhattan to the dusty streets of San Francisco at the height of the Gold Rush. It's a road of good intentions, but paved with secrets and lies on which the conniving, sometimes ruthless Belle must transform herself again and again to get what she wants. This is the spellbinding story of the devious exploits of a singular woman ahead of her time. Be prepared to be swept away by Belle Cora. 

Review: Belle Cora makes it easy for a reader to fall in love with her. It's her memoir we are reading and she's being honest with us and herself at the end of her life. Plus she's lived an exciting and adventurous life in the 1800s. Life doesn't always deal Belle the life she has to live, but she doesn't feel sorry for herself. She takes the deck she's dealt and makes the best of it. Think about it, back in the 1800s there weren't a lot of opinions for women who weren't married. She did the best she could and she did it well. This book is long but Belle's story completely commands your attention.

You want to know what happens to her during each phase of her life. How does a young, privileged girl from NYC adapt to living & working on a farm in rural NY? What will happen to her as she leaves the farm and goes to work in a mill? How does she become on of the most successful madams in NYC and then San Francisco? Belle isn't always honest in her ways but she's true to herself and does what she thinks is best for those she loves.

Not only is Belle quite the character but so many of the people throughout the story are as well. One of my favorites was Charles, aka Charley, Cora. While Jeptha might have had her soul and her heart; no one understood her like Charley. Charley loved her for who she was, no matter what was her line of employment. Isn't that really all one can truly want? Charley was his own man and Belle was her own woman; they didn't need each other to be complete but they made each other whole.

I won't say that I would ever give the green light to prostitution but I will say that it seemed to be a bit safer for the girls when women were running the show instead of men. I'm not saying this is every case but the girls had a roof over their head, food in their bellies, beautiful clothes, they were looked after and they had friendships. Some who lasted a lifetime. It isn't to say that Belle didn't have her share of problems, but it seemed like she knew who to turn to when things got rough. Belle was definitely political. If there had been more options for women back then, Belle would have made one hell of a CEO. There is so much to say about this book, but really you should just read it. Mr. Margulies is a gifted story-teller.

He writes Belle Cora as a memoir within a novel. It felt like I was sitting down to tea, or maybe some whiskey with Belle and she was divulging her life story to me. I couldn't get enough of her. I kind of know how all the men around her felt. ;) It is obvious that a ton of time and research went into this novel, since Mr. Margulies uses historical figures throughout the book and the roles they played in shaping our history and the time period in which Belle lived.

I have so much love for this book, that it is hard for me to put into words. I just found Belle and her world so fascinating. There were times when the book languished in certain periods and then times when I felt that I didn't get enough about another period in her life but overall it didn't affect my feelings.

As a side note: Doubleday some pretty cool things going on to promote this book, make your way to Pinterest for a contest and/or GoogleMap to see what they've done.

Final Take: 5/5

 Thanks to Lauren Hesse at Doubleday for my ARC of the novel.


Friday, January 3, 2014

Julie's Review: The Invention of Wings

Summary: Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world. Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimkes daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women. Kidds sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarahs eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each others destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love. As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women's rights movements. Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handfuls cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better. This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

Review: The Secret Life of Bees is on my top list of books of all time. Yes, it's that good. The movie is wonderful as well. For those of you wanting another Bees, The Invention of Wings is not. Now, don't go running away from it; it's brilliant. It is well-researched, well-written and a fantastic story. The women in this book are strong, even when they don't think they are being so. As in most historical fiction novel, these women are ahead of their time.

The thing is, Sarah Grimke is a true historical figure. It's not the events around this book that are fascinating it is her. It is her and Handful's story. It is a period in history that none of us like to read about because slavery makes all of us uncomfortable. What I was expecting was a story of forbidden friendship between a young girl and her handmaid, but it is and it isn't. They don't have the bond I would have thought would have developed but there is a deep caring and understanding between the two.

Sarah is on her own path that will eventually take her north to Philadelphia where she will want to claim her independence from her family and all that comes with the name. She is desperately trying to find her voice and her path in life. She sacrifices love as well as her family to pursue the thing she believes deep in her heart; slavery is morally wrong. She and her sister, Angelina, make it their lives work to end it.

Handful is smart and eager to forge her own path as well. The problem is, the path she has chosen just might get her killed. Her bond with her mother is touching and strong. They are built from the same cloth; strong and foolish. You want Handful to succeed but you also know her strong-willed temperament will do her more harm than good.

What I loved about The Invention of Wings, among many things, was the story quilt that Charlotte put together for Handful. It was a beautiful way to tell her story since she was illiterate. You could vividly picture it as you read about it. It was what kept Charlotte close to Handful for many years.

If you are looking for a fantastic way to start off 2014, then look no further than Ms. Kidd's newest novel. The Invention of Wings will leave you wondering if you could truly follow your own convictions.

The Invention of Wings will be released on 1/7/2014.

Final Take: 5/5
Thank you to Viking books for my e-galley through Net Galley


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Alice & Julie's 2014 List Swap Challenge

It's that time of year again. Alice and Julie are doing their List Swap Challenge again. Although, this year it is slightly different. This year we just picked 5 books for each of us to read and one to read together. So, here they are:

Book Together:

The Time in Between by Maria Duenas  

Alice's Picks for Julie:

He's Gone by Deb Caletti
Parlor Games by Maryka Biaggio

The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffmann

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Julie's Picks for Alice:

Six Years by Harlan Coben

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

The Book of Someday by Dianne Dixon
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


Julie's Review: Starter House

 photo StarterHouse_zpsa58b7cd4.jpg Summary: Promising talent Sonja Condit makes her debut with Starter House, an eerie and mesmerizing tale about a young couple whose new house holds deadly secrets from the past, sure to appeal to fans of Heart-Shaped Box and The Thirteenth Tale. From the moment Lacey sees the house with the beautiful wood staircase, she knows she’s found her dream home. Growing up rootless with her flighty mother, Ella Dane, a self-proclaimed psychic, Lacey is determined to give her unborn baby the stability she never had. But shortly after she and her husband, Eric, move in, the warm and welcoming house becomes cold and dark. There is something malevolent within these walls that wants to hurt her unborn child—a terrifying presence that only she can sense. And there is Drew, a demanding and temperamental little boy who mysteriously appears when Lacey is alone. To protect her unborn child and save her family, Lacy must discover the truth about her dream house and the troubled Drew—a decades-old mystery involving secrets, violence, and guilt—and confront an evil that has lingered in wait for years.

Review: I don't typically do horror or creepy books. I like my thrillers with a psychological bent but Starter House peaked my interest when reading the summary. I thought "ooh, it's a mix of all the things I like in my books". Yeah, a mix it was but in a way that made you crazy.

Off the bat the husband, Eric, bothered me. He has no backbone at all. He speaks his mind but only when it's too late and cruelly. He is extremely self-centered and self-pittying. There is a point in the book when he's making a list of reasons why Lacey should come home and instead of "Because I love you" being number 1, it's number 9. That struck me as cold. Lacey isn't much better. I think I would have liked pre-marriage Lacey better. Plus as a couple I never felt the love for each other through the book. I felt that they were married for convienience or some other reason.

Starter House was all over the place. There were subplots within subplots. It was like Ms. Condit was trying to cram three different books in one. Some of the subplots were out of left field making you wonder WTF? Not necessarily in a good way. It got to the point where I just wanted to know the story with Drew and to see if they could get him out of the house. Even that resolution was a bit perplexing.

What Ms. Condit does well is to keep you in suspense throughout the novel. She knows how to hook you and keep you intrigued enough to stick with it. The downfall of the novel is that it meanders. I never sticks with one or two plots to focus on. I would definitely be interested to see how her writing changes from this debut novel to her next one. I don't think I'll run out and get it but it might be library book.

Final Take: 3/5

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TLC Tour Dates:
Tuesday, December 31st: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Wednesday, January 1st: Girls Just Reading
Thursday, January 2nd: A Bookworm’s World
Monday, January 6th: Kritters Ramblings
Tuesday, January 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, January 8th: BoundbyWords
Thursday, January 9th: Ace and Hoser Blook
Monday, January 13th: Sweet Southern Home
Tuesday, January 14th: Booked on a Feeling
Wednesday, January 15th: Book Addict Katie