12 Days of Giveaways – Day 12: For the Historical Fiction Lover

Merry day-after-Christmas! We apologize for the late posting but between family events and traveling time has gotten away from us! Welcome to the final day of the 12 Days of Giveaways! Today we have two wonderful historical fiction packages up for grabs. I’ve always been a huge fan of historical fiction, and my ever-growing collection of the genre has threatened to take over adjacent bookshelves in our home if it grows any more. I love that these books can immerse the reader in a different place and time, and make the scenes feel all too real and separate from the hum drum life one may be leading currently. These books are great additions to this genre, and will keep you turning the pages right until the end. Details on how to win are below at the bottom of the post. Good luck and thanks so much for tuning in to this year’s 12 Days of Giveaways!

Historical Fiction Package 1:

sosbsmStars Over Sunset Boulevard by Susan Meissner – Los Angeles, Present Day. When an iconic hat worn by Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind  ends up in Christine McAllister’s vintage clothing boutique by mistake, her efforts to return it to its owner take her on a journey more enchanting than any classic movie… 

Los Angeles, 1938.  Violet Mayfield sets out to reinvent herself in Hollywood after her  dream of becoming a wife and mother falls apart, and lands a job on the film-set of Gone With the Wind. There, she meets enigmatic Audrey Duvall, a once-rising film star who is now a fellow secretary. Audrey’s zest for life and their adventures together among Hollywood’s glitterati enthrall Violet…until each woman’s deepest desires collide.  What Audrey and Violet are willing to risk, for themselves and for each other, to ensure their own happy endings will shape their friendship, and their lives, far into the future.

(Giveaway is a paperback ARC)

troliaThe Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony – The mad passion for forbidden lace has infiltrated France,
pulling soldier and courtier alike into its web. For those who want the best, Flemish lace is the only choice, an exquisite perfection of thread and air. For those who want something they don’t have, Flemish lace can buy almost anything––or anyone.

For Lisette, lace begins her downfall, and the only way to atone for her sins is to outwit the noble who now demands the impossible. To fail means certain destruction. But for Katharina, lace is her salvation. It is who she is; it is what she does. If she cannot make this stunning tempest of threads, a dreaded fate awaits.

The most lucrative contraband in Europe, with its intricate patterns and ephemeral hope, threatens to cost them everything. Lace may be the deliverance for which they all pray…or it may bring the ruin and imprisonment they all fear.

(Giveaway is a paperback ARC)

Historical Fiction Package 2:

cowdgCity of Women by David R. Gillham – It is 1943—the height of the Second World War. With the men away at the front, Berlin has become a city of women.

On the surface, Sigrid Schröder is the model German soldier’s wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime.

But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman of passion who dreams of her former Jewish lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets—she soon finds herself caught between what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two…

(Giveaway is a paperback ARC)

tfcscThe Flying Circus by Susan Crandall – Set in the rapidly changing world of 1920s America, this is a story of three people from very different backgrounds: Henry “Schuler” Jefferson, son of German immigrants from Midwestern farm country; Cora Rose Haviland, a young woman of privilege whose family has lost their fortune; and Charles “Gil” Gilchrist, an emotionally damaged WWI veteran pilot. Set adrift by life-altering circumstances, they find themselves bound together by need and torn apart by blind obsessions and conflicting goals. Each one holds a secret that, if exposed, would destroy their friendship. But their journey of adventure and self-discovery has a price—and one of them won’t be able to survive it.

As they crisscross the heartland, exploring the rapidly expanding role of aviation from barnstorming to bootlegging, from a flying circus to the dangerous sport of air racing, the three companions form a makeshift family. It’s a one-of-a-kind family, with members as adventurous as they are vulnerable, and as fascinating as they are flawed. But whatever adventure—worldly or private—they find themselves on, they’re guaranteed to be a family you won’t forget.

(Giveaway is a paperback ARC)

otovmmOdysseus: The Oath by Valerio Massimo Mandredi – A man becomes a hero…As a young boy in Ithaca, Odysseus listens in wonder to his grandfather Autolykos, a man feared by many across the land as a ruthless fighter. He learns of his heritage and a lifelong passion is sparked: to become an adventurer and warrior. In Mycenae, he meets King Eurystheus and learns the terrible story of Hercules – the man with god-like strength who slaughtered his family and punished by the King to undertake impossible tasks to earn absolution. But is Eurystheus the man he says he is? When a child comes to Odysseus in the middle of the night, with another, very disturbing, version of what happened that fateful night, Odysseus embarks on the first of his extraordinary quests…So begins the epic story of Odysseus, the first of two volumes: an adventure of love, war, courage and heroism, weaving from a small rocky island in Greece, to the mighty fall of Troy.

(Giveaway is a paperback ARC)

Giveaway Instructions – (Special thanks to Penguin Random House, Sourcebooks, Gallery Books, and Overlook Press for our ARC giveaway copies)

Two lucky winners will have the opportunity to win ONE of the two packages listed above! For your chance to win simply leave a comment below about a historical time/place you enjoy reading about.  Comments will be accepted through midnight on Thursday, December 31, 2015.  The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday, January 1, 2016.  Open to US residents only. Good luck!

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12 Days of Giveaways – Day 2: For the Fiction Lover

Here we are on day 2 of the 12 Days of Giveaways. Today’s package features fiction books! Fiction is such an awesome genre because of its versatility. It can take place anywhere and at anytime. It can be uplifting or sad, it can be quiet and personal, or loud and adventurous. As a bookseller, I’ve yet to find someone that does not like some form of fiction. Personally, historical fiction is one of my favorites, with Outlander being a great example of this sub-genre. Therefore, this giveaway is perfect for almost every reader. Check below the book blurbs to find out how three of you can win one of these great fiction packages!

Fiction Package 1:

tbolafThe Book of Lost and Found by Lucy Foley – Kate Darling’s enigmatic mother–a once-famous ballerina–has passed away, leaving Kate bereft. When her grandmother falls ill and bequeaths to Kate a small portrait of a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Kate’s mother, Kate uncovers a mystery that may upend everything she thought she knew.

Kate’s journey to find the true identity of the woman in the portrait takes her to some of the world’s most iconic and indulgent locales, revealing a love story that began in the wild 1920s and was disrupted by war and could now spark new love for Kate. Alternating between Kate’s present-day hunt and voices from the past, THE BOOK OF LOST AND FOUND casts light on family secrets and love-both lost and found.

(Giveaway copy is a paperback ARC)

twntpThis Was Not the Plan by Cristina Alger – From the acclaimed author of The Darlings comes an incisive, hilarious, and tender exploration of fatherhood, love, and family life through the story of a widower who has to become the father he didn’t know he could be.

Charlie Goldwyn’s life hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. Widowerhood at thirty-three and twelve-hour workdays have left a gap in his relationship with his quirky five-year-old son, Caleb, whose obsession with natural disasters and penchant for girls’ clothing have made him something of a loner at his preschool. The only thing Charlie has going for him is his job at a prestigious law firm, where he is finally close to becoming a partner.

But when a slight lapse in judgment at an office party leaves him humiliatingly unemployed, stuck at home with Caleb for the summer, and forced to face his own estranged father, Charlie starts to realize that there’s more to fatherhood than financially providing for his son, and more to being a son than overtaking his father’s successes.

At turns heartbreaking and hilarious, This Was Not the Plan is a story about loss and love, parenthood, and friendship, and what true work-life balance means.

(Giveaway is a paperback ARC)

Fiction Package 2:

tgtwTen Girls to Watch by Charity Shumway – A radiant debut novel about stumbling through the early years of adulthood; and a love letter to the role models who light the way.

Like so many other recent graduates, Dawn West is trying to make her way in New York City. She’s got an ex-boyfriend she can’t quite stop seeing, a roommate who views rent checks and basic hygiene as optional, and a writing career that’s gotten as far as penning an online lawn care advice column.

So when Dawn lands a job tracking down the past winners of Charmmagazine’s “Ten Girls to Watch” contest, she’s thrilled. After all, she’s being paid to interview hundreds of fascinating women: once outstanding college students, they have gone on to become mayors, opera singers, and air force pilots. As Dawn gets to know their life stories, she’ll discover that success, love, and friendship can be found in the most unexpected of places. Most importantly, she’ll learn that while those who came before us can be role models, ultimately, we each have to create our own happy ending.

(Giveaway is a paperback ARC)

mktMãn by Kim Thúy – Following on the Giller Prize-nominated and Governor General’s Literary Award-winning success of Ru, Kim Thúy’s latest novel is a triumph of poetic beauty and a moving meditation on how love and food are inextricably entwined.

Mãn has three mothers: the one who gives birth to her in wartime, the nun who plucks her from a vegetable garden, and her beloved Maman, who becomes a spy to survive. Seeking security for her grown daughter, Maman finds Mãn a husband–a lonely Vietnamese restaurateur who lives in Montreal.

Thrown into a new world, Mãn discovers her natural talent as a chef. Gracefully she practices her art, with food as her medium. She creates dishes that are much more than sustenance for the body: they evoke memory and emotion, time and place, and even bring her customers to tears.

Mãn is a mystery–her name means “perfect fulfillment,” yet she and her husband seem to drift along, respectfully and dutifully. But when she encounters a married chef in Paris, everything changes in the instant of a fleeting touch, and Mãn discovers the all-encompassing obsession and ever-present dangers of a love affair.

Full of indelible images of beauty, delicacy and quiet power, Mãn is a novel that begs to be savoured for its language, its sensuousness and its love of life.

(Giveaway is a hardcover ARC)

Fiction Package 3:

tmsmcThe Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March – In the bestselling tradition of The Friday Night Knitting Club and The Jane Austen Book Club, three women find unexpected answers, happiness, and one another, with Meryl Streep movies as their inspiration.

Two sisters and the cousin they grew up with after a tragedy are summoned home to their family matriarch’s inn on the coast of Maine for a shocking announcement. Suddenly, Isabel, June, and Kat are sharing the attic bedroom—and barely speaking. But when innkeeper Lolly asks them to join her and the guests in the parlor for weekly Movie Night—it’s Meryl Streep month—they find themselves sharing secrets, talking long into the night . . . and questioning everything they thought they knew about life, love, and one another.

Each woman sees her complicated life reflected through the magic of cinema: Isabel’s husband is having an affair, and an old pact may keep her from what she wants most . . . June has promised her seven-year-old son that she will somehow find his father, who he’s never known . . . and Kat is ambivalent about accepting her lifelong best friend’s marriage proposal. Through everything, Lolly has always been there for them, and now Isabel, June, Kat—and Meryl—must be there for her. Finding themselves. Finding each other. Finding a happy ending.

(Giveaway is a paperback ARC)

tmosThe Middle of Somewhere by Sonja Yoerg – A troubled, young widow hikes from Yosemite Valley deep into the wilderness on the John Muir Trail to elude her shameful past in this emotionally gripping story from the author of House Broken.

With her thirtieth birthday looming, Liz Kroft is heading for the hills—literally. Her emotional baggage weighs her down more than her backpack, but a three-week trek promises the solitude she craves—at least until her boyfriend, Dante, decides to tag along. His broad moral streak makes the prospect of confessing her sins more difficult, but as much as she fears his judgment, she fears losing him more. Maybe.

They set off together alone under blue skies, but it’s not long before storms threaten and two strange brothers appear along the trail. Amid the jagged, towering peaks, Liz must decide whether to admit her mistakes and confront her fears, or face the trail, the brothers and her future alone.

(Giveaway is a paperback ARC)

Giveaway Instructions – (Special thanks to Simon and Schuster, Hachette, Random House Canada, and Penguin for our ARC giveaway copies!)

Three lucky winners will have the opportunity to win ONE of the three packages listed above! For your chance to win simply leave a comment below about a fiction book you’ve read and enjoyed this year.  Comments will be accepted through midnight on Thursday, December 31, 2015.  The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday, January 1, 2016.  Open to US residents only.  Good luck!

Kim’s Review of Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

bigcoA few years ago I read a novel entitled The Replacement Wife. It had a similar premise to this one: a woman with cancer searches for a replacement spouse for her husband. This entire idea intrigues me because I feel like if I were to become terminally ill, my first thought would be for my spouse and his future well-being and happiness. The Replacement Wife turned out to be one of the worst books I’ve ever read, and generally made me nervous to read any novel with a similar plot line in the future. For some reason when I heard about Before I Go by Colleen Oakley something niggled in my brain to give it a chance and I’m so glad that I did. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year to date.

Plot from Goodreads:

A heart-wrenching debut novel in the bestselling tradition of P.S. I Love You about a young woman with breast cancer who undertakes a mission to find a new wife for her husband before she passes away.

Twenty-seven-year-old Daisy already beat breast cancer three years ago. How can this be happening to her again?

On the eve of what was supposed to be a triumphant “Cancerversary” with her husband Jsack to celebrate three years of being cancer-free, Daisy suffers a devastating blow: her doctor tells her that the cancer is back, but this time it’s an aggressive stage four diagnosis. She may have as few as four months left to live. Death is a frightening prospect—but not because she’s afraid for herself. She’s terrified of what will happen to her brilliant but otherwise charmingly helpless husband when she’s no longer there to take care of him. It’s this fear that keeps her up at night, until she stumbles on the solution: she has to find him another wife.

With a singular determination, Daisy scouts local parks and coffee shops and online dating sites looking for Jack’s perfect match. But the further she gets on her quest, the more she questions the sanity of her plan. As the thought of her husband with another woman becomes all too real, Daisy’s forced to decide what’s more important in the short amount of time she has left: her husband’s happiness—or her own?

When starting out reading a book like thisyou have to prepare yourself for the tumultuous ride of emotions you’ll be taken on. Before I Go was one of the most heart-achingly beautiful journeys I’ve ever had the pleasure (and privilege) of reading. In a way the book isn’t about a specific plot, but more about the emotional journeys that the characters take with themselves as well as each other.

Front and center is Daisy. Cancer survivor patient. Wife. Best friend. Worrier. Keeper of socks. She puts forth great effort in making sure her charming husband eats, has clean clothes, and exists socially outside of work. She worries that when her cancer wins he’ll be devastated and defeated. Her single most important job and function becomes finding him a new partner. Little does she realize that undertaking this quest will shake and test the very foundations of her marriage (and also her friendship with BFF Kayleigh). Daisy’s attempts to be stoic, strong, and self-sufficient backfire. Her inability to let Jack see how weak the cancer is making her and how much his comfort would give her strength pushes him away from her. He ultimately stops pushing her, which in turn begins to make her anxious and doubtful that finding him a new wife would solve everything. This back-and-forth emotional tug of war will have you crying, laughing, and learning from beginning to end. And while Daisy eventually figures out that it’s ok to grieve for yourself, it’s not ok to let that grief make the grief of your loved ones any less important.

Through Daisy, Oakley teaches us extremely valuable lessons. Live your life to the fullest. Spend time with the people you love. Do things that make you happy. Life offers us no guarantees. We never know which day will be our last, so live up to the potential every day offers. Oakley’s masterful and emotional storytelling will have you recommending this book to everyone and adding her to your favorite author lists in quick succession.

5 out of 5 Stars

Special thanks to Gallery Books for my review copy via Netgalley!

Before I Go by Colleen Oakley
Gallery Books (2015)
Hardcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781476761664

Kim and Sam’s Review of Landline by Rainbow Rowell

lrrSo if you haven’t heard of Rainbow Rowell yet, let staffer Sam and I gush over her for you. She’s an author who writes both Adult and Teen contemporary fiction. She champions the people whose voices aren’t always heard. The voices of the different. The small. The people who sometimes need a push in the right direction. Her stories take you on emotional journeys that irrevocably change you (you can read my gushing reviews of her teen novels Eleanor and Park here and Fangirl here.) Today, Sam and I are discussing her latest adult venture, Landline.

From Goodreads:

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

Sam: I must start by saying that I have yet to meet a Rainbow Rowell book that I didn’t like (thanks to Kim). That said, there was something about Landline that was EXTRA awesome. What I liked most is that Rowell used her YA formula with a married couple on the brink of big changes and decisions. I found Neal and Georgie more than relatable, they were parts of myself in a way I haven’t seen in a book. Not for a long time at least.

Kim: I think what made this book SO special for us, Sam, is that we’re married, and have been with our partners for several years. So we immediately could relate to the ups and downs of Neal and Georgie’s marriage.

Anyone that’s been in a long-term (read: very long) relationship will tell you that at some point you feel comfortable with your partner. That honeymoon period doesn’t necessarily end, but it evens out. There isn’t a crazy mad dash to spend every second of your day with your other half. You feel comfortable in silences. You can wear your sweats and yoga pants with them. Your love becomes more than that immediate infatuation present with new love. However what keeps a marriage together is making sure that comfort doesn’t become laziness.

For Neal and Georgie their marriage has become a bit TOO comfortable. They don’t talk about their hopes and dreams and wishes anymore. It’s become a focus almost solely on Georgie’s hopes and dreams and wishes. When Neal takes the kids to Nebraska for the holidays and leaves her behind, she is finally faced with what her life would be/could be without them. And when her old landline gives her the opportunity to talk to a young version of Neal, she finds that the person she swore the rest of her life to might be the one with all the answers.

Sam: I think that Young Neal in particular is such an interesting character because to me he represents  a typical 18-year-old faced with the dilemma: “what am I going to do with the rest of my life?” So, here is this kid from Nebraska who sets off for the West Coast to study marine life because he has never seen the ocean. (There is something poetic about going too far away to study something so “romantic.”) Then he hates it. Because at 18 who knows what they want to do? BUT he meets this girl. And maybe he doesn’t know who he wants to be, but he knows who he wants to be with. THEN their relationship gets so comfortable that they marry , have children, and still he’s never figured himself out, so he stays home. He falls into the homemaker role, becomes the center of his kids’ universe, a universe that Georgie admits is hard to be part of. I do appreciate that by the simple fact that Present Neal LOVES his kids, he ends up doing exactly what he wants.

Kim: I totally agree with you! Young Neal puts all his faith for his future into his love for Georgie. It doesn’t matter to him early on that he’s unsure of his future. His future IS Georgie, and that’s enough for him. I can seriously relate to Young Neal because when I met my husband I was just like Young Neal. Sure I had dreams for my future, but everything got completely reworked once he entered the picture.

This is another thing married people would probably agree with us on. As important as your dreams and future hopes are – finding a way for your partner to be part of them will always matter more. In this we see how selfish Georgie is/has become. Present Neal is a homemaker so that Georgie can see her dreams come true. But what dreams does Georgie ever help Present Neal accomplish?

Sam: Yes. I agree, though I think the subtlety is that she never helps him uncover a dream. In many ways he’s still lost because his world is so wrapped up in hers. What’s worse: a dream never accomplished or one never found?

Kim: Damn. Good question.

Sam: Then there’s Georgie. She’s been able to pursue every dream she’s ever had and she’s found success in it. With her best (awful) friend, Seth, they have found success in the TV comedy writing world. What I like about Georgie’s relationship with Seth is that you can tell it’s hard. I liked seeing Georgie struggle with him because it amplified the feeling that her moments on the phone with Young Neal were easy.

Kim: UGH Seth. I have SO many thoughts on him.

Sam: I try not to.

Kim: HAHA! My first thought is, “how blind is Georgie that she can’t see that Seth doesn’t have her best interests at heart?” Like HOW can you consistently call someone your best friend who doesn’t care that your marriage is ending? Like Georgie tells Seth that Neal has gone to Nebraska with their kids and he sees her falling apart a little more each day without them. All Seth cares about is writing their show.

At what point do you ask yourself is my dream worth my best friend’s downfall?

Sam: My blood is boiling just reading that. He’s not a good person and his influence on her is sad. He knows how to manipulate her. The way he speaks to and about her is alarming and the fact that she can’t see it despite the lovely things that Neal says and does and draws is baffling.

Kim: Completely agree. Present (and Young) Neal is a complete foil to Seth. Seth provides Georgie with NOTHING that she needs. Neal, on the other hand, is unconditional in everything he offers her. It’s heartbreaking to see how blind Georgie has become to that.

Sam: My heart hurt when Neal’s late dad picked up the phone that first time. How wonderful to get a moment with someone after you thought there wouldn’t be another. I think it’s amazing that Georgie was the one to hear his voice an extra time because it’s that reminder that sometimes the last time you see someone, or talk to them, or tell them you love them is the last time.

Kim: SUCH A GOOD POINT. Georgie takes her comfortable marriage and her comfortable husband for granted. Something I’m sure we’ve all done to a loved one at some point. Talking to her deceased father-in-law is one of those “come to Jesus” moments that really makes Georgie evaluate her present path.

I also think that seeing her younger sister falling in love for the first time with the pizza delivery person is another “come to Jesus” moment. To realize that love can be fleeting and to grasp it when you’re luckily given the chance to….well it all helps Georgie realize how important and necessary Neal is in her life.

Sam: So the pizza delivery person might be the most badass and swoonworthy character in the book (not counting Neal…of course.) Side note: I LOVE the expression “come to Jesus” and will now use it at least twice this month. Double side note: I would really LOVE to read a whole book about sister and said delivery person…

Kim: LOL to your first side note. And YES YES YES YES to your second.

Dear Rainbow,

Sam and I would REALLY love for you write that story. Like omg please do it.

Love,

Kim & Sam

Sam: *whispers* This is where you have your “come to Jesus” moment.

Kim: In the end what makes this story so amazing is its bottom line: True love always offers you a chance at redemption.

Sam: That and the fact that it is so damn magical. To truly rediscover all of the best parts, maybe long forgotten parts, of your person is such a beautiful idea. After reading Landline my eyes were open once again to the amazing, loving, sweet person that I get to spend every day with. That’s a gift. Thanks for the magic, Rainbow Rowell.

Kim’s Rating: All the stars in the universe for this book.

Sam’s Rating: What Kim said.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin’s Press (2014)
Hardcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781250049377

Spotlight + GIVEAWAY: The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

tbbesThanks to Simon & Schuster UK, I’ve got a copy of Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys, due out in paperback in the US on April 8th, to give away to one lucky winner. Check out the book description and author information below, then read on to see how you can enter to win!

Jim and Bob Burgess return to their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls, many years after they first escaped its narrow confines following the death of their father in a freak accident. They have been asked back by their sister Susan, who needs help with her troubled son, Zach.

But as the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.

In The Burgess Boys, Elizabeth Strout again demonstrates the brilliant storytelling, exquisite prose and remarkable insight that won her a Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge.

About the Author

Elizabeth Strout is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge, as well as US bestseller Abide With Me and Orange Prize-shortlisted Amy & Isabelle. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulker Award. Her short stories have been published in a number of magazines, including The New Yorker and O: The Oprah Magazine. She lives in New York City.

You can find out more at her website, here.

Giveaway – Special thanks to Simon & Schuster UK!

One lucky winner will have the opportunity to win a hardcover copy of The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout!  For your chance to win simply leave a comment below.  Comments will be accepted through midnight on Saturday, April 12, 2014.  A winner will be picked at random and announced on Sunday, April 13, 2014.  Open to US residents only.  Good luck!

Jen’s Review of The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

tkdjmThey say “normal is just a setting on a dryer” (with the exception of my dryer, I guess.) However, more to the point: what is normal, exactly? In The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry this question is explored.

From Goodreads

After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.

Honestly, I was very disappointed in this book. It received rave reviews on Goodreads, so maybe I set my expectations too high.

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry is about a young woman, Ginny, who is living with (undiagnosed) Asperger’s Syndrome. The book is written from her point of view, so you spend a lot of time in her head. Her parents pass away unexpectedly and as a result you read much about how she copes with this. Her sister, Amanda, wants to sell the house Ginny has lived in all her life and tries to make Ginny be more “normal,” or at least realize how abnormal she is. I did not like Amanda at all. Her characterization was very one-dimensional.

Cooking is Ginny’s passion and coping mechanism. She suddenly has the ability to conjure up ghosts by preparing the deceased person’s recipes. I was very intrigued by this but wound up being disappointed when it had little to do with the storyline, with the exception of perhaps her parents. As far as the “secrets” went, there aren’t really any, at least in my opinion. One could skip over much of this portion book without losing the story.

I did find myself relating to Ginny having to find a new “normal” since I deal with social anxiety and chronic illnesses. I liked Ginny’s view that everyone has their own “normal,” and to not label mental health issues as abnormal, but instead a different variant of normal. Because really, what IS normal?

Sadly, the plot really fell flat. I was not motivated to keep reading to see what would happen and it took me longer to finish because I had to force myself to read it. If you are looking to learn what it’s like to be inside the head of someone with Asperger’s, you may enjoy this book. But if you want a more exciting plot, skip this.

2 out of 5 Stars

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
Gallery Books (2011)
Paperback: 304 pages
ISBN: 9781451648508

Special thanks to Gallery Books for my review copy!

Sam’s Review of The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary Simses

tibbacmsI have to admit that going into The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe by Mary Simses I was a bit skeptical. I first heard of the book when I had the pleasure of going to an event with Kim and Jess at the adorable RJ Julia bookstore in Madison, CT. Here, we heard quite a bit from author Mary Simses who, while charming and delightful, had no reservations in reminding her audience that a certain famous author became her mentor, titled her book, and made a few calls.

This immediately put a bad taste in my mouth to say the least. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a try. The cover is beautiful, a work of art. The title is, of course, flawless. The same could also be said about the incredibly inviting passage that Simses selected to read as part of her presentation.

In the story we meet Ellen Branford, a career driven New Yorker who has recently gotten engaged to Mr. Career Driven New Yorker. On paper he is perfect: good looking, excellent job, and a go get ‘em attitude.  Following the death of her grandmother, Ellen heads to Maine from Manhattan in order to deliver a letter to her grandmother’s first and true love.

The exciting opening scene describes Ellen standing on an old seaside dock trying to snap a picture. She falls into the ocean and is swept out to sea by the strong current. Luckily, Ellen is saved by a strong and handsome local man, Roy, who swims her to safety.

Over the course of the book Ellen begins to discover things about her grandmother’s past that lead her to extend her trip and neglect her fiance in New York. Ellen delves deeper and deeper into the relationship her grandmother had with the man she loved and in the process, Ellen finds herself.

As you may have already guessed, she also finds herself increasingly drawn to Roy. As the novel progresses we discover that Roy is in fact a small part of the past that Ellen is trying to piece together.

Though I was skeptical of the book at first, I did enjoy it. It was predictable and at times slow but well written and thoughtful enough to keep my interest. I have always enjoyed stories about finding yourself in unexpected places, though this story doesn’t really change the script on the basic plot: girl has great guy who should be perfect for her, girl finds attractive working class boy, they fall in love and girl decides…well I won’t give it away!

As a main character Ellen suits the reader just fine. She is a nice mix of strong and vulnerable, and as a reader I cared about her journey of self discovery and found myself identifying with her a great deal, which is what I always look for in a well-rounded character.

One MAJOR problem that I had with this book is that no where, not even once, did the author suggest a fantastic blueberry muffin recipe. I expected to turn the last page and find the irresistible blueberry muffin. Unfortunately, I had to settle for the one on the back of the Betty Crocker package.

I read this book over the summer at the beach, which is where this book belongs. As we enter a new season I suggest picking up this title to enjoy on a cool autumn day with a cup of tea and a blueberry muffin.

3 out of 5 Stars

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary Simses
Little, Brown, & Company (2013)
Hardcover: 344 pages
ISBN: 9780316225854

Spotlight + GIVEAWAY: The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed

toolsnmThanks to Simon and Schuster UK I’ve got a paperback ARC and hardcover copy of Nadifa Mohamed’s latest novel, The Orchard of Lost Souls to give away! Check out the book description below, as well as instructions on how you can win one of these copies!

It is 1988 and Hargeisa waits. Whispers of revolution travel on the dry winds but still the dictatorship remains secure. Soon, and through the eyes of three women, we will see Somalia fall. 

Nine-year-old Deqo has left the vast refugee camp she was born in, lured to the city by the promise of her first pair of shoes.  Kawsar, a solitary widow, is trapped in her little house with its garden clawed from the desert, confined to her bed after a savage beating in the local police station.  Filsan, a young female soldier, has moved from Mogadishu to suppress the rebellion growing in the north. 

And as the country is unravelled by a civil war that will shock the world, the fates of the three women are twisted irrevocably together.  Intimate, frank, brimming with beauty and fierce love, The Orchard of Lost Souls is an unforgettable account of ordinary lives lived in extraordinary times.

About the Author:

Nadifa Mohamed was born in Hargeisa in 1981. In 1986 she moved to London with her family in what she thought was a temporary move but a couple of years later it became permanent as war broke out in Somalia.  Her first novel, Black Mamba Boy, was long-listed for the Orange Prize, shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize, and the PEN Open Book Award.  It won the Betty Trask Prize. In 2013 she was selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. Nadifa lives in London and is currently working on her third novel.

Giveaway – Special thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for our giveaway copies!

Two lucky winners will have the opportunity to win their choice of either a paperback ARC copy or a hardcover copy of The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed!  For your chance to win simply leave a comment below.  Comments will be accepted through midnight of Sunday, September 29, 2013.  Winner will be picked at random and announced on Monday, September 30, 2013.  Open to US residents only.  Good luck!

Jess’s Review of The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright

ttwnssewRecently, I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright from Simon & Schuster UK.  After checking out the summary, I was really excited to dig in to this gem from across the pond. Reading a book that hasn’t yet been released here in the States is like being in a secret club, and I am excited to be able to share my thoughts with all of you.

While The Things We Never Said comes in at just under 400 pages, it is so jam-packed with drama and scandal that the bookbinding was almost popping off. The plot has rape, deception, love, amnesia, heartbreak, longing, and electroshock therapy! Some of these themes usually draw me into a book, keeping me up to the early morning hours.  Surprisingly not even the promise of a good electroshock therapy tale could keep me up past my bed time.

The story opens in 1964 with Maggie waking up in a mental institution. At first, Maggie has no recollection of why she is there, but as time goes on little pieces of her own story come back to her. She remembers only small things at first, but it is not until she leaves the institution that she begins to pick up the pieces of her badly shattered life. The tragic story of how Maggie wound up institutionalized highlights the strength of the human spirit and how there is always the hope of a better tomorrow.

Wright presents the plot in alternating chapters between Maggie’s story in 1964 and that of Jonathan in 2008. We meet Jonathan and his pregnant wife Fiona as they prepare for the changes and challenges that parenthood will bring. Early in the story Jonathan learns about the death of his father, with whom he had a rocky relationship. In attempting to console his mother, Jonathan finds that strictly guarded family secrets emerge. When a detective rings Jonathan’s doorbell days later he is forced to face these family secrets head on.

Slowly, Maggie and Jonathan’s stories intertwine to reveal the dark past they share (don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers here!)  Wright’s prose reads like a poem and flows very smoothly, especially as she connects the past and the present through Maggie and Jonathan’s stories. Family secrets are far from a new theme in the literary world, but Wright throws curveballs which keep the storyline fresh and push the reader to turn the page.

Overall I found the plot very slow-moving, and despite the highly emotional content I failed to connect with any of the characters. I’m not completely sure if it is the self-loathing nature of the characters or the inability of the author to truly develop the characters that caused me to experience this disconnect. Personally, I really like to be able to root for characters when I read a book, and I felt like I had to keep turning the page just to get to the point. I think it took a little too long for the two stories (Maggie’s and Jonathan’s) to really connect. For most of the first half of the book I was a little frustrated waiting for the two lives to converge.

I think Wright’s work it is absolutely a worthy read as she is able to breathe new life into the theme of family secrets. However, I don’t suggest it as a “beach read” on a sunny weekend afternoon. I would definitely recommend this book as a good rainy day read. Don’t be fooled by that absolutely stunning cover featuring a young lady in a red dress gazing out to the ocean.  It’s definitely a somber read due to the sullen nature of the plot. I encourage you to stick with it though despite the slow start, the pay off is well worth it!

3 out of 5 Stars

The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright
Simon & Schuster UK (2013)
Paperback: 400 pages
ISBN: 9781471102332

Special thanks to Simon & Schuster UK for my review copy!

Todd’s Review of When Smiles Fade by Paige Dearth

14624366Back in November I had the opportunity to review Paige Dearth’s first novel, Believe Like a Child.  Later, she gracefully agreed to an interview with me, which you can read here.  Now, after some great anticipation, I’ve gotten to read her latest book, When Smiles Fade.  Taking place during roughly the same time as her first book, When Smiles Fade follows a young girl named Emma as she attempts to make her way through a tough childhood in Pennsylvania.

Emma and her sister, Gracie, have grown up in an extremely oppressive household.  Their father, Piper, is a drunk that takes out his anger on the two of them, with Emma bearing the brunt of the assault in order to protect Gracie, who is younger and far more delicate than Emma.  Despite Emma’s attempts to limit the abuse to herself only, one day Piper beats Gracie and leaves her to die in the basement of their home.  That’s when Emma decides to do something to stop these abuses, but sadly it is not enough to stem the flow of abuse that she suffers from others during her life.  She and Gracie eventually are able to run away and begin a new life on the streets of Philadelphia, meeting others along the way that aid them and help them to survive.  Emma begins dancing at the same club that Alessa did in Believe Like a Child, and their stories overlap briefly.  Just like Alessa, Emma is struggling to survive with the cards dealt to her, and is able to find a strength that she didn’t know existed deep within her.  Will she and Gracie be able to find a new life outside of the abuses they both share?

When I began to read When Smiles Fade, I immediately noticed a lot of parallels to Believe Like a Child, in that a child/teen is abused in a shocking manner and must fight for survival in a very difficult environment.  While Believe Like a Child outlined Alessa’s story and touched on Alessa’s life as a dancer and prostitute, When Smiles Fade painted a broader picture of what life on the streets was like for Gracie and Emma.  Emma is a strong character, and uses her strength to protect herself and her sister, even if it means committing grave crimes in order to do so.  This brought up the question as to the legality of the choices that Emma makes in order to save herself and her sister.  On one hand they are subjected to brutal attacks that leave them incredibly battered, but there is also an element of premeditation to Emma’s crimes in order to remove the sources of abuse in her life altogether.  Although they may have not been legal, they were most certainly morally right in my opinion, as the suffering both girls had endured because of these people was too great to ignore.

Besides these darker parts, this book has brighter spots, such as when Gracie and Emma meet another homeless teen named Sydney who helps them find shelter and a sense of belonging with her group of friends.  Sydney is a great representation of all the good that people can do to help others when they truly have nothing left.  It should be everyone’s goal to be more like Sydney and realize that even though someone is without a place to stay, they are still entitled to just as many rights and basic human needs just like all of us.  In short, Dearth’s book is a great continuation of her look into the life of those who are abused and neglected.  It is a great wake up call for all of us to help those in need, so go volunteer your time and help those who are less fortunate than you.

4 out of 5 stars

When Smiles Fade by Paige Dearth
CreateSpace (2013)
Paperback: 470 pages
ISBN: 9781475096927

Special thanks to Paige Dearth for my review copy!