Thursday, January 22, 2015

An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey Giveaway!

That’s how it is for us servants. No one pays you much heed; mostly you’re invisible as furniture. Yet you overhear a conversation here, and add a little gossip there. A writing desk lies open and you cannot help but read a paper. Then you find something, something you should not have found.

Irrepressible Biddy Leigh, under-cook at the forbidding Mawton Hall, can’t wait to settle down with her sweetheart and set up her own tavern. But when her elderly master marries the young, enigmatic Lady Carinna, Biddy is unwittingly swept up into a world of scheming, secrets, and lies.

Forced to accompany her new mistress to Italy, Biddy takes with her an old household book of recipes, The Cook’s Jewel, in which she records her observations. When she finds herself embroiled in a murderous conspiracy, Biddy realises that the secrets she holds could be the key to her survival – or her downfall . . .

AN APPETITE FOR VIOLETS is an utterly compelling story of food, obsession and mystery, introducing a brilliant new voice in historical fiction. 


One lucky reader will win their own copy of An Appetite for Violets!

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*Contest ends February 13, 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Gods of Second Chances by Dan Berne

Family means everything to widowed Alaskan fisherman Ray Bancroft, raising his granddaughter while battling storms, invasive species, and lawsuit happy tourists. To navigate, and to catch enough crab to feed her college fund, Ray seeks help from a multitude of gods and goddesses – not to mention ad-libbed rituals performed at sea by his half-Tlingit best friend. But kitchen counter statues and otter bone ceremonies aren’t enough when his estranged daughter returns from prison, swearing she’s clean and sober. Her search for a safe harbor threatens everything Ray holds sacred. Set against a backdrop of ice and mud and loss, this debut novel explores the unpredictable fissures of memory, and how families can break apart, even in the midst of healing. 

When I read the summary of this novel I honestly wasn’t sure whether I would like the story or not, but I knew that I needed to keep an open mind about it and see how I felt about it once I was at least halfway through The Gods of Second Chances instead of already having a disliking of the story. By chapter fourteen I had mixed emotions about the story and the characters as well. I found The Gods of Second Chances to be a boring story and I didn’t feel like I connected with “Ray” or any of the other characters within the story. I read the entire book, but I kept looking to see how far I was from being done with the chapter I was reading. I was really happy to be done with this novel! 

      I do, however, like the way Mr. Berne put the book together; especially each chapter. I really enjoyed the way each page before the new chapter had a drawing/picture. I thought that was rather creative and a nice change compared to most books I read. I liked that Mr. Berne put the setting in Alaska instead of somewhere like Washington or Oregon; I feel like Alaska gets forgotten about as an area of civilization and this was a story that took place in that state. I think more men would enjoy this type of story and that perhaps some women may possibly like this story, but if someone who doesn’t read a lot or a reader is looking for an exciting book I don’t think this is that novel for you. I give Mr. Berne a “7” and The Gods of Second Chances a “5.”

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Tiffany

Friday, January 16, 2015

Us by David Nicholls

'I was looking forward to us growing old together. Me and you, growing old and dying together.'

'Douglas, who in their right mind would look forward to that?'

Douglas Petersen understands his wife's need to 'rediscover herself' now that their son is leaving home.

He just thought they'd be doing their rediscovering together.

So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again.

The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed.

What could possibly go wrong?

Upon receiving this book I wasn’t sure whether or not I would enjoy a story like this; only because it is coming from the man’s point of view instead of the woman’s about how to connect with your child and how to save your marriage at the same time. Once I read the first 50 pages however, I couldn’t put it down. I thought it was a nice change to see “Douglas” trying to keep his marriage intact instead of his wife “Connie” having to do it all herself. I felt sad for “Douglas” as well because I could imagine how hard it must have been on him to try and connect with his son, who didn’t seem to really want to try for a good portion of the story. 

I know what it’s like to try to be your child’s parent and friend at the same time; so I was really able to feel his frustration and sadness. There were a lot of time when I would be reading and I would start laughing because of certain situations the main characters would end up in. There were quite a bit of moments as well where I wondered if “Douglas” and “Connie” were going to be able to make it through their troubles and it made me appreciate my husband and our marriage more. 

      I loved the setting that Mr. Nicholls had this take place in, all over Europe! I loved that Mr. Nicholls didn’t leave the setting in one specific place (i.e. France or Italy), but in multiple locations (i.e. France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, etc.)  I loved how short Mr. Nicholls made the chapter in Us; there are a lot of chapters, but the way the chapters are set up the reader won’t really even notice them.  Although this is a fictitious story I felt like it could have been a nonfiction novel as well. I almost forgot at times that it was about made up characters and not about an actual family. 

      I think anyone who loved Mr. Nicholls first book One Day will definitely love this one as well! I feel that men and women would enjoy reading this novel and this author; Mr. Nicholls doesn’t write for one certain type of audience, but for different types. I loved this book from beginning to end and I think other readers will too. I give Us and Mr. Nicholls a “10.”

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Tiffany

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whiston-Donaldson

Rare Bird:  A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whitson-Donaldson is the story of how Anna, a mother of two, walked through grief for the first year after her son, Jack, died.  It is profoundly sad, moving, and at the end, hopeful.
         In 2011, Jack Donaldson had just started 7th grade.  The eldest child of suburban parents, Jack was a bright child who loved Legos, and playing with his friends.  On the second day of school, he asked his mother if he could go out and play, in spite of the rainy weather.   She said yes but became worried when she heard thunder.  When she went out looking for Jack, she discovered that he had been swept into Piney Branch Creek, a creek that had overflowed during the storm.  Jack’s body was discovered a short distance away. 
         Rare Bird chronicles her thoughts and feelings about her grief and how she managed to fit this experience into her view of God.  Raised a Christian, Anna prayed and believed, but this was the worst thing that she could imagine.  How could a loving God have allowed this to happen?  Where was He when her son died?  Why did He not intervene?
         Through a series of “coincidences” and events, Anna begins to see that Jack is not really totally gone—nor will he ever be.  His life and legacy will live on in her heart and the lives of those he touched.  It was really remarkable to read about the overwhelming show of support that Anna and her family received, even long after Jack’s death.  She truly has an amazing set of people surrounding her.
         Anna does not sugarcoat the anger, fear, and struggle she experiences.  She also does not seek to idealize her son by making him into an example of the perfect child.  She just tells the story of her gradual understanding and her attempt to make sense of a world without her son in it.  She especially thanked and appreciated the people who kept showing up for her—even when they found it uncomfortable to do so.  I will remember this when I deal with grieving people.
         Rare Bird left me with some hope, but no answers (not that answers could ever be satisfactory anyway).  It also left me with a love for Anna’s son Jack, a gratefulness for real community, and a knowledge that we are all at the mercy of an unpredictable world.  While she comes to some conclusions about God and continues to see Him as good, her relationship with Him is transformed as well. 
         Rare Bird is an easy book to read—but a hard book to read as well.  Recommended.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Taking (The Taking #1) by Kimberly Derting

A flash of white light . . . and then . . . nothing.

When sixteen-year-old Kyra Agnew wakes up behind a Dumpster at the Gas ’n’ Sip, she has no memory of how she got there. With a terrible headache and a major case of déjà vu, she heads home only to discover that five years have passed . . . yet she hasn’t aged a day.

Everything else about Kyra’s old life is different. Her parents are divorced, her boyfriend, Austin, is in college and dating her best friend, and her dad has changed from an uptight neat-freak to a drunken conspiracy theorist who blames her five-year disappearance on little green men.

Confused and lost, Kyra isn’t sure how to move forward unless she uncovers the truth. With Austin gone, she turns to Tyler, Austin’s annoying kid brother, who is now seventeen and who she has a sudden undeniable attraction to. As Tyler and Kyra retrace her steps from the fateful night of her disappearance, they discover strange phenomena that no one can explain, and they begin to wonder if Kyra’s father is not as crazy as he seems. There are others like her who have been taken . . . and returned. Kyra races to find an explanation and reclaim the life she once had, but what if the life she wants back is not her own?

Once I started reading The Taking I found that I didn’t want to put it down; at least not until I finished an entire chapter to see what was happening. I was a little confused from the very beginning but I found that I couldn’t put the book down. I kept reading hoping that I would understand what all was going on, but I didn’t until about chapter six.  

I felt like the main female character “Kyra” did; to me it was a different way of reading the book. Some books I’ve read I have felt like I was a part of a characters life, but this novel actually made me feel just as confused as “Kyra” must have felt. Although I didn’t stay confused as long as “Kyra” did. I felt sorry for the main girl and I couldn’t wait for her to find out what things she was having trouble remembering. I think I was just as surprised as “Kyra” about what exactly was going on at the end.  

I really enjoyed reading this story; especially because I felt a different emotion (confusion, anxiety) than I usually do while reading. I think Ms. Derting did a wonderful job in writing this story; I think she did an amazing job on being able to really draw the reader into the main characters life and for them to feel like everything was happening to themselves instead.

 I think she made the chapters the right amount of pages, I didn’t think they were too short nor too long. I feel like many teens would like to read The Taking; as well as those adults who are looking for something a little different to add to their collections to read. I think this would make a great 2015 book club read for any book club. I give The Taking and Ms. Derting a “10.”

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Tiffany

Monday, December 29, 2014

2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino

Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, precocious nine-year-old and an aspiring jazz singer. As she mourns the recent death of her mother, she doesn’t realize that on Christmas Eve Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia's legendary jazz club The Cat's Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat's Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.

2 a.m. at The Cat Pajamas sounded like such a fun book when I read the back cover.  Unfortunately I found it very slow and confusing.  What I thought would be a story about a little girl living her dream turned into a confusion of many characters trying to be the lead.   

Sarina and Lorca both vie for attention from Madeleine’s story and unfortunately all three characters suffer.  There are also many sub-characters who are interweaved into the story that you lose track of who they are and who they know and don’t know. 

For me this book was really slow and hard to get through.  I pushed on when I was ready to give up and was still confused once I did finish it.  Madeleine sounded like such a great character when I started, but her attitude and manner actually turned me off her.  I can understand having a hard home life and losing a parent.  But for me she was a bit too much.   

Sarina’s story really didn’t make sense as it kept jumping back and forth from the present to the past.  At one point I didn’t even realize her story was taking place.  Lorca’s story was a little easier to follow, but by the time he was center stage I was so confused by the rest of the book that I couldn’t care for this character. 

Marie-Helene Bertino is the author of Safe As Houses, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Prize, and has received numerous accolades for her short stories. Originally from Philadelphia, she now lives in Brooklyn. 2am At The Cat's Pajamas is her first novel. For more information, please visit her website: 

Unfortunately I really can’t recommend this book.   

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Stephanie

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas

During the Civil War, many “war widows” had to keep farms running efficiently, raise children, and keep business going until their husbands return.  Eliza Spooner is in this exact situation in A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas.  While her husband is away, Eliza becomes dependent on a small group of women for support and fellowship.  Quilting, of course, is one way these relationships are developed, and a quilt is central to this story.
            Eliza has made a Stars and Stripes quilt that she entrusts to another soldier to deliver to him—along with some of her homemade divinity.  She imagines Will finding comfort in the memories of home, even as she awaits his infrequent letters to her.  In the meantime, Eliza befriends a local girl named Missouri Ann.
            Missouri Ann has married into the meanest family in the community.  Her husband, Hugh Stark, has died in the war but Missouri Ann is still living with the family.  While she loved Hugh and claims that he was nothing like his family, she is still in a tenuous position.  The Starks are insisting that she marry Hugh’s one-legged brother and remain with them.  Seeing only a live of servitude and wretchedness, Missouri Ann decides instead to strike out on her own.  She goes to Eliza and asks whether she might stay and help out on the farm.  Missouri Ann, a spunky and colorful girl, is a welcome help at Eliza’s home.
The two women also encounter a runaway slave and brave the forces around them to see her to safety.  Between quilting, raising children, supporting one another, and working on the farm, the two women develop an endearing relationship.
            A Quilt for Christmas is a charming novel of life during a difficult time in history.  It is a testimony of love, friendship, and courage.   With some developments in the war and at home, the ending is a satisfying conclusion to a heartfelt book.  

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Regina