Thursday, April 27, 2017

Julie's Review: Beneath the Scarlet Sky

Author: Mark T. Sullivan
Series: None
Publication Date: May 1, 2017
Publisher: Lake Union
Pages: 524
Obtained: Little Bird Publicity
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Biography
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: A stunning novel about love, loss and living. A must read!
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Summary: Pino Lella wants nothing to do with the war or the Nazis. He’s a normal Italian teenager—obsessed with music, food, and girls—but his days of innocence are numbered. When his family home in Milan is destroyed by Allied bombs, Pino joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape over the Alps, and falls for Anna, a beautiful widow six years his senior. In an attempt to protect him, Pino’s parents force him to enlist as a German soldier—a move they think will keep him out of combat. But after Pino is injured, he is recruited at the tender age of eighteen to become the personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left hand in Italy, General Hans Leyers, one of the Third Reich’s most mysterious and powerful commanders. Now, with the opportunity to spy for the Allies inside the German High Command, Pino endures the horrors of the war and the Nazi occupation by fighting in secret, his courage bolstered by his love for Anna and for the life he dreams they will one day share. Fans of All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale, and Unbroken will enjoy this riveting saga of history, suspense, and love.  

Review: I really feel that  Beneath a Scarlet Sky should come with a warning regarding how you will have a serious book hangover when you finish this one. Pino Lella is a typical 17 year old hanging with his friends, trying to find love when things start to take a turn for the worse in the war and Milan gets sucked right into it. In order to keep his family safe, Pino's father sends him to the Italian Alps to help serve with Father Re and to keep him out of harms way.

It is here that he finds his purpose by hiking the mountains and gaining strength. It is here that he helps the Catholic church get Italian Jews out of harms way and into Switzerland. Pino has a way with helping people and keeping them calm even in the scariest moments. It wasn't always the Nazis that you had to worry about but the weather in the mountains. So when he is sent back to Milan he isn't very happy about it. Even more so after he finds out that his Uncle and Father want him to enlist so that he's not drafted. If he enlists, they can help him get a better job. It still doesn't keep him out of harms way and after he's injured in a bombing, he is inadvertently made the driver for General Leyers, who sits on Hitler's counsel. By being his driver this gives Pino the opportunity to be a spy and gain the Allies some advantages. Things never go as planned and Pino often wrestles with what he is doing and how he is helping.

What I absolutely loved about the book was that you felt like you were living Pino's experiences with him. You felt what he felt. You felt the shame and pride. You felt how young and innocent he was when he first went to Father Re and how at the end of the war he had seen things he would never forget. Some things he would spend the rest of his life trying to forget and running away from. You felt the terror of the war and at the same the bliss of first love between Anna and Pino. It is this love that gives him hope in times of despair.

In the end, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, is a gorgeous and heart-wretching story about being brave in the face of evil. It's about finding happiness when you think it's been taken from you and remembering that each day is a gift. Pino Lella is an ordinary person, who did extraordinary things when it counted the most and cost him as well. I don't always read the author notes at the end of a novel, but I felt compelled to because of the preface. In some ways I believe Pino's story saved Mark Sullivan's life.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Julie's Review: Slightly South of Simple

Author: Kristy Woodson Harvey
Series: Peachtree Bluff #1
Publication Date: April 25, 2017
Publisher: Gallery Books
Pages: 400
Obtained: Author
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction,Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Sometimes it is important to go home and remember who you were and who you were meant to be
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Summary: Caroline Murphy swore she’d never set foot back in the small Southern town of Peachtree Bluff; she was a New York girl born and bred and the worst day of her life was when, in the wake of her father’s death, her mother selfishly forced her to move—during her senior year of high school, no less—back to that hick-infested rat trap where she'd spent her childhood summers. But now that her marriage to a New York high society heir has fallen apart in a very public, very embarrassing fashion, a pregnant Caroline decides to escape the gossipmongers with her nine-year-old daughter and head home to her mother, Ansley. Ansley has always put her three daughters first, especially when she found out that her late husband, despite what he had always promised, left her with next to nothing. Now the proud owner of a charming waterfront design business and finally standing on her own two feet, Ansley welcomes Caroline and her brood back with open arms. But when her second daughter Sloane, whose military husband is overseas, and youngest daughter and successful actress Emerson join the fray, Ansley begins to feel like the piece of herself she had finally found might be slipping from her grasp. Even more discomfiting, when someone from her past reappears in Ansley's life, the secret she’s harbored from her daughters their entire lives might finally be forced into the open. Exploring the powerful bonds between sisters and mothers and daughters, this engaging novel is filled with Southern charm, emotional drama, and plenty of heart.  

Review: For those of you looking for a book about family and relationships, then look no further than Slightly South of Simple. Caroline Murphy comes from a strong family of women but she might be the strongest of all of them based on her sheer will to keep it together during a very humiliating separating from her husband. You see, he decided to go on a reality tv show dating a model while he was still married to her. She can't stand the embarrassment so she packs up her daughter and goes back home. Except Caroline thinks Peachtree Bluff is the worst place on earth.

Ainsley finds comfort in Peachtree Bluff. It is the place where she came to when she lost her husband and had to finish raising her girls. It is the place where she has rebuilt her life. She has a successful decorating business and loves all the local characters. Ainsley has her own secrets that she has hidden from her girls. As her secrets are revealed, I didn't feel that she was holding back because of the secrets but because she doesn't want their memories of their father to be tainted. She's a wonderful matriarch to the family and knows how to deal with each of her girls in their own way.

While the novel is told from Ainsley and Caroline's points of views, we get to know the other 2 Murphy girls, Emerson and Sloane through their eyes. I'm hoping that in the next books we get to know Emerson and Sloane a bit more through their own stories.

While at times I found Caroline annoying and righteous at times, I did feel that her instructions to her sisters and mother came from a place of love. I did feel that her coming back helped ground her in the real world a bit more than her high society lifestyle in New York. Her sisters help bring her down to earth as well.

There are some strings that were left untied with Slightly South of Simple, so I am very much looking forward to the second book in the series.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Julie's Review: The Women in the Castle

Author: Jessica Shattuck
Series: None
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 368
Obtained: TLC Book Tours
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.75/5
Bottom Line: A perspective that isn't often told in WW II novels
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: Set at the end of World War II, in a crumbling Bavarian castle that once played host to all of German high society, a powerful and propulsive story of three widows whose lives and fates become intertwined—an affecting, shocking, and ultimately redemptive novel from the author of the New York Times Notable Book The Hazards of Good Breeding.  Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once-grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resister murdered in the failed July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows. First Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin’s mother, the beautiful and naive Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resister’s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war. As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband’s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war—each with their own unique share of challenges.

Review: Women in the Castle is the story of regret, guilt and most of all forgiveness. It's about learning from the past but also learning to move on from the past. The novel revolves around 3 women who have had very different experiences during the war. Marianne is the stoic one who believes that as a widow of a man in the resistance it is her duty and privileged to track down those women who also had husband's died for the cause. So she travels around trying to find them to bring them back to Burg Lingenfels to recover and figure out where to go next. Her first mission is to track down the wife of her dear childhood friend Connie and their son. Marianne also fashions herself a bit righteous because her husband was part of the resistance and because she never fell for Hitler's rhetoric. She's also clearly the mama bear of the group and no-nonsense.

Benita, sweet and naive, but so angry and lost. She was a young bride who married what she thought was a wealthy man only to have a war disrupt their marriage. He also never clued her in on the plans and so she felt like she was left in the wind. Her anger eats at her for years but the shining light in her life is her young son Martin.

Then you have Ania, she's the one who is the most reserved and the most quiet. She's the one who knows how to cook and she's practical. She keeps a watchful eye over her boys. She and Marianne have the closest bond of all the women. She also has the most interesting back story and perhaps the most surprising of the 3 women.

This is a perspective of World War II and the aftermath that isn't told much through historical fiction but it is important. For those of us who ask, how could the German people follow Hitler and his atrocities? I think it's important to recognize that in most cases they didn't have a choice or more importantly felt that there were no options. It's also important to realize that we are looking at their lives through 20/20 hindsight and while we can pass judgment we truly don't know what it was like to walk in their shoes.

At times, I felt that the story was slow and drawn out but I enjoyed how Ms. Shattuck wrapped up the story. These women aren't particularly likable but I kind of think that's the point in some way. People's experiences shape who they are and how they look at the world for good and bad.

Women in the Castle showcases that it really does take a village to raise kids and sometimes just to survive. It teaches us the importance of learning from the past but living for the present.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Julie's Review: Gone Without a Trace

Author: Mary Torjussen
Series: None
Publication Date: April 17, 2017
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 352
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Mind=BLOWN
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!!!!!
Summary: A jaw-dropping novel of psychological suspense that asks, If the love of your life disappeared without a trace, how far would you go to find out why? Hannah Monroe's boyfriend, Matt, is gone. His belongings have disappeared from their house. Every call she ever made to him, every text she ever sent, every photo of him and any sign of him on social media have vanished. It's as though their last four years together never happened. As Hannah struggles to get through the next few days, with humiliation and recriminations whirring through her head, she knows that she'll do whatever it takes to find him again and get answers. But as soon as her search starts, she realizes she is being led into a maze of madness and obsession. Step by suspenseful step, Hannah discovers her only way out is to come face to face with the shocking truth...  

Review: Gone Without a Trace has left my mind blown. I finished it a couple hours ago and it's still rattling around in my head. I just didn't really see that coming at all. Hannah is happy; she's got a great job, about to get promoted, a boyfriend (Matt) she loves and house she adores. Overall, she's got what she wants. That is until she comes back from out of town to find every trace of Matt and their life together wiped away from their house. She can't figure out what the heck has happened. What went wrong? Why is he gone? Why did he do this to her? How can someone just erase themselves from your life?

Hannah can't seem to move on from this though. She has to know why and is on war path to find Matt. She can't seem to focus on anything else. She slowly starts to come undone. She starts to map out on post it notes places that she has looked for Matt. Her kitchen slowly becomes a map of her mind and her slow descent in to crazy. Her friends try to encourage her to move on but Hannah has to know why he left her.

As excited as she was for her promotion, her all consuming quest to find Matt, has left not only her promotion in jeopardy but her job. She can't concentrate, she makes mistakes and shows up late consistently which doesn't go unnoticed by the partners.

While she descends into madness, you feel as if you are right there with her. The book gets creepy as you feel like she's being stalked but then you question if she's delusional and taking you along for the ride. At one point, I felt like I was going a little crazy myself.

Ms. Torjussen keeps you reading and turning those pages as fast as you can. It reeled me in from the very beginning and never let its hooks out of me. In Hannah she has a protagonist that you want to both smack and hug, sometimes simultaneously. Much like her best friend, Katie, you want her to let go of what obviously is over and yet you want to hug her because she's in such pain. She just wants answers and frankly we've all been there a time or two.

I can't recommend this book enough because I can guarantee your mind will be blow. I suggest that you go and get Gone Without a Trace.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Julie's Review: Every Wild Heart

Author: Meg Donohue
Series: None
Publication Date: March 14, 2017
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 304
Obtained: TLC Book Tours
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.75/5
Bottom Line: A mother and daughter story with some mystery thrown in
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: Passionate and funny, radio personality Gail Gideon is a true original. Nine years ago when Gail’s husband announced that he wanted a divorce, her ensuing on-air rant propelled her local radio show into the national spotlight. Now, “The Gail Gideon Show” is beloved by millions of single women who tune-in for her advice on the power of self-reinvention. But fame comes at a price. After all, what does a woman who has staked her career on being single do when she finds herself falling in love? And is the person who is harassing her in increasingly troubling ways a misguided fan or a true danger to Gail and her daughter, Nic? Fourteen-year-old Nic has always felt that she pales in comparison to her vibrant, outgoing mother. Plagued by a fear of social situations, she is most comfortable at the stable where she spends her afternoons. But when a riding accident lands Nic in the hospital, she awakens from her coma changed. Suddenly, she has no fear at all and her disconcerting behavior lands her in one risky situation after another. And no one, least of all her mother, can guess what she will do next…  

Review: Every Wild Heart is a wonderful story about a mother and daughter who get along and enjoy being with each other despite the daughter being a teen. Gail (aka G.G.) is a famous talk show radio host who has always had life by the horns. She's a take no prisoners kind of gal. Her daughter, Nic, on the other hand, is definitely an introvert. If she could fade into the background she would, especially at school.

GG is struggling to decide what she wants to do next with her career. She's loved hosting talk radio but she misses her connection to listeners through music. She's also been approached to have her own tv show but she'd have to move to L.A. and given her daughter's personality, she's not so sure that's in her family's best interest. Plus her daughter still spends every other weekend with her father and his family. She's got a lot to think about career wise. She also has someone who is stalking her a little more than what she's normally used to from rabid fans.

Nic, on the other hand is more comfortable with her horse, Tru, then with kids her own age, which means she's a little awkward when she's put with a handsome senior during one of her classes.  Then an accident happens causing Nic's personality to take a 180 degrees. She starts taking risks and doing things that are out of her normal personality. Things that concern her mother and others closest to her. Not only that but she seems more confident and self-aware.

The story itself moves along at a good pace and it's wonderful to see Nic come out of her shell and find her own voice. It seems like this is the person she was always supposed to be. GG also comes out of her shell and tries her hand at love again.

Each of the characters are relate-able and easy to see yourself in or someone close to you. Even the supporting characters make GG and Nic seem more human.

I really enjoyed a positive spin on the mother/daughter relationship for a change. There is hope!

If you'd like to read more opinions about Every Wild Heart:

Tuesday, March 14th: Tina Says…

Thursday, March 16th: Kritters Ramblings

Monday, March 20th: Art Books Coffee

Tuesday, March 21st: A Bookworm's World

Wednesday, March 22nd: A Bookish Way of Life

Thursday, March 23rd: StephTheBookworm
Friday, March 24th: BookNAround
Tuesday, March 28th: Comfy Reading
Thursday, March 30th: Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, March 31st: Mama Reads Hazel Sleeps
Monday, April 3rd: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, April 4th: Books and Bindings
Wednesday, April 5th: Back Porchervations
Wednesday, April 5th: Girls Just Reading
Thursday, April 6th: bookchickdi
Friday, April 7th: G. Jacks Writes
Monday, April 10th: Mama Vicky Says


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Julie's Review: Bridges - A Daphne White Novel

 photo Bridges_zpsxjzcgrld.jpg

Author: Maria Murnane
Series: Daphne White #2
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Publisher: Wink's Ink
Pages: 264
Obtained: Author
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A delightful look at strong female friendships
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: It’s a piece of news Daphne never expected to hear: Her globe-trotting friend Skylar, who vowed never to get married, is engaged! Time to celebrate in Manhattan—Skylar’s treat, of course. After years scaling the corporate ladder, she can more than afford it.Daphne arrives in NYC with news of her own—the novel she’s finally finished appears to be going nowhere but the trash bin of every publishing house around. She’s devastated but plans to keep her disappointment under wraps, something that becomes trickier when she sees Skylar’s spectacular apartment. Could her life have been like this if she’d chosen a different path? What Daphne doesn’t know is she’s not the only one with a secret. Skylar and their friend KC are also holding something back, but what? As the trip unfolds, the truth about each woman emerges, along with tears. And laughter. And love. The fun-loving trio readers fell for in Wait for the Rain is together once more. Here's to the power of friendship!

Review: Let me just say that I'm happy that Maria hasn't given up on her writing career just yet because then I would have missed out on Bridges. I've been a big fan of Maria's books since she contacted me about Perfect on Paper.

Bridges is the story of 3 college friends who embark on a girls weekend to celebrate the engagement of Skylar. Daphne is coming in from Ohio and KC is on her way from California to have a fun filled weekend in the Big Apple.

Daphne is struggling to find a career for herself after staying at home to raise her daughter full time but now that Emma is going to be going off to college in a year, she wants something for herself. She has a manuscript that she's submitted to a few dozen literary agents and is waiting for word on representation as she travels to see her friends.

KC is the free spirit of the 3 of them and is coming in from California with her own news. She's the one who keeps them all centered because that's how she lives her life. She's happily married with 2 step-sons and even a granddaughter that keeps her on her toes.

Skylar is the career driven one who has had big success but who has always eschewed marriage. So perhaps she is the most surprised when she meets James and falls head over heels in love with him. Things aren't so perfect though, she's got a step-daughter who one could call an ice princess and she's in college. It's the one part of this relationship that has her unsure.

I love how each of them can voice their fears with each other, even at times, crossing the line with each other in that frustration. To me, the forgiveness is the key to these friendships and how they have lasted so long. They understand each other enough to let things go.

If you are looking for a wonderful book about friendship, then don't look any further than Bridges. Plus the cover of this book is gorgeous and it embodies the friendship of these 3 women. It is bright, hopeful and full of love.