Book Review: ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

July 21, 2014 at 2:12 pm (Book Reviews, Historical Fiction)

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“The girl climbs into the swing and pendulums back and forth, pumping her legs, and watching her opens some valve in Werner’s soul. This is life, he thinks, this is why we live, to play like this on a day when winter is finally releasing its grip.” Anthony Doerr, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Publisher Synopsis:

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

My Recommendation:

It is a special thing when a book is so beautifully written and so intensely captivating that I cannot underline phrases and dog-ear pages as quickly as I read. This is the case with ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE.

When I read the synopsis of the book I thought, How can another WWII book (I have read at least 100) captivate me? The answer is simply this: There is no other story like it.

There are no other stories of ambivalent German boy genius’ and blind girls set in Saint-Molo. There are no other novels I have read in recent memory who have so imaginatively cast a story from within and without–from an omniscient narrator with a God’s eye view, to a limited narrator who walks in the shadows of his characters. The point of view choice, the relationships of the characters, and the human trials elevate ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE with a timelessness and a wisdom that speak to the truths of the soul. The novel apparently took ten years to craft, and Doerr’s brilliance shines forth on every page. This is a book I will place on a shelf near my desk so I may reference and reread it often.

If you read only one book this summer, let it be this one. I give ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE my highest recommendation.

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Book Review: THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT

July 12, 2014 at 8:51 am (Book Reviews, Historical Fiction)

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“I nearly missed that card from the post office, stuck up as it was against the side of the mail slot. Just imagine. Of such little accidents is history made.” Beatriz Williams, THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT

Publisher Synopsis:

Manhattan, 1964. Vivian Schuyler, newly graduated from Bryn Mawr College, has recently defied the privilege of her storied old Fifth Avenue family to do the unthinkable for a budding Kennedy-era socialite: break into the Mad Men world of razor-stylish Metropolitan magazine. But when she receives a bulky overseas parcel in the mail, the unexpected contents draw her inexorably back into her family’s past, and the hushed-over crime passionnel of an aunt she never knew, whose existence has been wiped from the record of history.

Berlin, 1914. Violet Schuyler Grant endures her marriage to the philandering and decades-older scientist Dr. Walter Grant for one reason: for all his faults, he provides the necessary support to her liminal position as a young American female physicist in prewar Germany. The arrival of Dr. Grant’s magnetic former student at the beginning of Europe’s fateful summer interrupts this delicate détente. Lionel Richardson, a captain in the British Army, challenges Violet to escape her husband’s perverse hold, and as the world edges into war and Lionel’s shocking true motives become evident, Violet is tempted to take the ultimate step to set herself free and seek a life of her own conviction with a man whose cause is as audacious as her own.

As the iridescent and fractured Vivian digs deeper into her aunt’s past and the mystery of her ultimate fate, Violet’s story of determination and desire unfolds, shedding light on the darkness of her years abroad . . . and teaching Vivian to reach forward with grace for the ambitious future––and the love––she wants most.

My Recommendation:

One hears so much about “voice” in fiction, and rarely is the power of voice more clear as it is in the work of Beatriz Williams. Yes, the plot is engrossing, the story fascinating, and the setting luminous, but the real draw of Williams’ novel is that feisty, zingy, pop-an-olive-into-your-mouth-from-your-martini-while-giving-the-gossip voice of the narrator, Vivian Schuyler. The reader will know after approximately 1.6 pages with Vivian that they will devour the next 400+ pages just to lean a little closer and hear Vivian deliver this tale.

THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT begins in Manhattan, but takes the reader on a journey across the world, when Vivian seeks to find out what happened to her aunt Violet, who disappeared with her lover after her husband was murdered. In Williams’ capable hands, even basement laboratories and physics become sexy, and as the novel progresses it develops into quite a nail-biting thriller. The story lines in 1964 and in 1914 are every bit as engrossing as the other, and the suspense in both love and war make the book un-put-downable.

Readers of Williams’ fabulous A HUNDRED SUMMERS will get a thrill, as family stories intersect here, and will be just as pleased with the finish of this book as they were with the last. Go and purchase a copy of THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT immediately, and place it on the top of your beach bag pile. You will not be sorry.

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Book Review: WAKE

June 18, 2014 at 7:00 am (Book Reviews, Historical Fiction)

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I am becoming pagan, Fraser wrote, that first winter. Here, in this muddy brown monotony, where blood’s the only colored thing. There is no God here, only the moon and the sky. 

And so I have made a pact with the moon. On clear nights she will bring me to you.” Anna Hope, WAKE

Publisher Synopsis:

Anna Hope’s brilliant debut unfolds over the course of five days, as three women must deal with the aftershocks of World War I and its impact on the men in their lives.

Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep. 2) Ritual for the dead. 3) Consequence or aftermath.

London, 1920. The city prepares to observe the two-year anniversary of Armistice Day with the burial of the unknown soldier. Many are still haunted by the war: Hettie, a dance instructress, lives at home with her mother and her brother, who is mute after his return from combat. One night Hettie meets a wealthy, educated man and finds herself smitten with him. But there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach. . . . Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange, through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, she looks for solace in her adored brother, who has not been the same since he returned from the front. . . . Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door, seemingly with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out-of-work veterans. But when he utters the name of her son, Ada is jolted to the core.

The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.

My Recommendation:

It is a rare thing when I read a three hundred page novel in two sittings, but I did so for WAKE.

The story is a bit difficult to grasp at first; it introduces three women who are strangers, each living in the wake of WWI, bearing their losses, their shell shock, their injuries to body and soul as the thousands of others in London do. But as the novel progresses, the circles of the women begin to overlap and to intersect in startling ways, drawing ever closer to a dramatic and perfect conclusion.

WAKE is rendered on a faraway, dream-like setting at times, and so specific at others, it almost makes one want to hold the book away, and then bring it back in close, like the dance in which its characters move. It is a novel that makes the reader laugh and cry, sentences apart, and inspires those moments where one must look up to process the truths contained in its pages.

WAKE is a novel that begs to be discussed, and I wish I could form a little book club with Janet Somerville, the writer who gave this book to me as a gift, and the author, Anna Hope, who possesses a wisdom beyond her years. At the very least, I will recommend it to all of the book clubs I visit.

Fans of ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan and Kate Atkinson’s LIFE AFTER LIFE will love WAKE, perhaps even more than those two books because of the superb, utterly perfect ending that leaves the reader in that strange in-between place of complete satisfaction and yearning for more. WAKE is one of the finest books I’ve read in 2014, and I give it my highest recommendation.

 

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Book Review: THE PINK SUIT

June 17, 2014 at 6:29 am (Book Reviews, Historical Fiction)

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“When it was all over, in the underground parking garage of the hospital, Lady Bird would glance over her shoulder for one last look at the President. His limo was sideways, as if abandoned. The doors were flung open. The agents were desperate to get him inside: some hovered over the dark-blue Lincoln, pleading with the Wife, who lay across her husband’s body, refusing to move. Some stood with their backs to it all, their guns drawn…In the midst of it all, Lady Bird remembered seeing ‘a bundle of pink, just like a drift of blossoms, lying across the backseat.’ It was that immaculate woman, in that beautiful suit, covering her husband’s body.” Nicole Mary Kelby, THE PINK SUIT

Publisher Synopsis:

A novel based on the true story behind Jacqueline Kennedy’s iconic pink suit. 

On November 22, 1963, the First Lady accompanied her husband to Dallas, Texas dressed in a pink Chanel-style suit that was his favorite. Much of her wardrobe, including the pink suit, came from the New York boutique Chez Ninon where a young seamstress, an Irish immigrant named Kate, worked behind the scenes to meticulously craft the memorable outfits.

While the two never met, Kate knew every tuck and pleat needed to create the illusion of the First Lady’s perfection. And when the pink suit becomes infamous, Kate’s already fragile world–divided between the excess and artistry of Chez Ninon and the traditional values of her insular neighborhood–threatens to rip apart.

The Pink Suit is a fascinating look at politics, fashion, and some of the most glamorous women in history, seen through the eyes of a young woman caught in the midst of an American breed of upstairs/downstairs class drama.

My Recommendation:

My Irish Catholic family has long been fascinated by the Kennedys, and I grew up hearing stories of the love, the lore, and the tragedy of America’s most fascinating first family. (My grandmother was in ecstasy when she heard I babysat for one of RFK’s granddaughters.) Anything involving the Kennedys has my attention, particularly historical fiction.

Kelby’s novel THE PINK SUIT is crafted with the precision of the finest daywear. Built layer upon layer, with intense attention to detail, and skillfully delivered to entrance the reader, THE PINK SUIT, demonstrates how the making of a wardrobe nearly unravels the worker who crafts it.

While the first family is never named, the whispers of the Wife and Maison Blanche draw the reader into the back rooms with those who sewed some of the most photographed and iconic fashion of the sixties. And while the wardrobe of the First Lady is a fascination in itself, it is the delicate undoing of all her seamstress clings to out of fear and comfort that most captivates.

In sensuous prose, Kelby weaves a story behind a story, that will never go out of fashion. Lovers of period novels, famous figures, and those who exist in the wings will devour THE PINK SUIT.

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Book Review: The Bookman’s Tale and a Giveaway!

May 29, 2014 at 6:28 am (Book Reviews, Giveaways, Historical Fiction)

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“He closed his eyes for a moment, imagining the cocoon of books shielding him from all danger, inhaling deeply that familiar scent of cloth and leather and dust and words. His rushing pulse began to slow, and when he opened his eyes he scanned the shelves for something familiar–a title, an author, a well-remembered dust jacket design–anything that might ground him in the world of the known.” Charlie Lovett, THE BOOKMAN’S TALE

THE BOOKMAN’S TALE: A NOVEL OF OBSESSION by Charlie Lovett released in paperback on Tuesday. In a multi-period novel from Shakespeare’s time, to the Victorian era, to the late twentieth century, THE BOOKMAN’S TALE is the story of antiquarian bookseller, Peter Byerly, whose quest to find the artist of a watercolor that bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife, becomes a struggle for life and death on both the physical and emotional level. Embedded in the mystery of the portrait Byerly finds in an old book is the exploration of the famed debate over the true author of Shakespeare’s work.

While the plot of the THE BOOKMAN’S TALE is intricately woven, the story is highly readable and compelling. There is a natural suspense generated from books set in many eras, and the added layer of intrigue in this novel surrounding Shakespeare’s writings makes it impossible to put down. Bibliophiles will delight in Byerly’s search through famed Shakespeare forgeries and references, but it is the extreme reverence for the written word and the binding of it that makes THE BOOKMAN’S TALE a love letter to reading and writing.

Fans of Kostova’s THE HISTORIAN and works of literary suspense will devour THE BOOKMAN’S TALE. Penguin USA has been kind enough to offer one copy for a giveaway. For a chance to win, (US residents only) leave a comment below about your favorite multiperiod novel, or your favorite work by Shakespeare, by Friday, May 30th at 9 PM ET. Good luck!

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Book Review: MRS HEMINGWAY

May 27, 2014 at 7:00 am (Book Reviews, Hemingway, Historical Fiction)

MRS HEMINGWAY

“They lounge around the house–Hadley, Ernest, and Fife–and though they know they are all miserable no one is willing to sound the first retreat; not wife, not husband, not mistress. They have been in the villa like this for weeks, like dancers in relentless motion, trying to exhaust each other into falling.” –Naomi Wood, MRS. HEMINGWAY

Publisher Description

The Paris Wife was only the beginning of the story . . .

Paula McLain’s New York Times–bestselling novel piqued readers’ interest about Ernest Hemingway’s romantic life. But Hadley was only one of four women married, in turn, to the legendary writer. Just as T.C. Boyle’s bestseller The Women completed the picture begun by Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, Naomi Wood’s Mrs. Hemingway tells the story of how it was to love, and be loved by, the most famous and dashing writer of his generation. As each wife struggles with his mistress for Ernest’s heart, and a place in his bed, each marriage slips from tenderness to treachery. Each Mrs. Hemingway thought it would last forever. Each one was wrong.

Told in four parts and populated with members of the fabled “Lost Generation”—including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald—Mrs. Hemingway interweaves the love letters, diaries, and telegrams of four very different women into one spellbinding tale.

My Recommendation

Having a long standing and intensely personal interest in all things Ernest Hemingway, I was eager to read this novel from the moment I heard of it. From start to finish, MRS. HEMINGWAY captivated my attention and shed new and fascinating light on a life story of a writer worthy of a novel.

Told from each wife’s point of view, MRS. HEMINGWAY is arranged chronologically by marriage, but through both action and remembrance in each section. When one wife’s story ends, the next begins, often staging scenes from the other point of view, allowing for a rich tapestry of testimony for the commencement and conclusion of each romance. No one is innocent on these pages, but all are human, sympathetic, and redeemable–even Papa.

If you cannot get enough of the story of Ernest Hemingway–and even if you can–you must read MRS HEMINGWAY. Book clubs in particular will have much to discuss from its cast of flawed characters falling in and out of love in rich settings of period and place. Heartbreaking and heart-stirring, MRS HEMINGWAY is a novel that Ernest Hemingway himself would no doubt admire.

 

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Book Review: A HUNDRED SUMMERS

April 27, 2014 at 3:46 pm (Book Reviews, Historical Fiction)

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“Summer of 1938: A scandalous love triangle and a famous hurricane converge in a New England beach community. Add in a betrayal between friends, a marriage for money, and a Yankee pitcher, and it’s a perfect storm.” —Good Housekeeping

From the Publisher

One of summer’s best beach reads, as named by People magazine, Vanity FairO: The Oprah Magazine and Good Housekeeping.

Memorial Day, 1938: New York socialite Lily Dane has just returned with her family to the idyllic oceanfront community of Seaview, Rhode Island, expecting another placid summer season among the familiar traditions and friendships that sustained her after heartbreak.

That is, until Greenwalds decide to take up residence in Seaview.

Nick and Budgie Greenwald are an unwelcome specter from Lily’s past: her former best friend and her former fiancé, now recently married—an event that set off a wildfire of gossip among the elite of Seaview, who have summered together for generations. Budgie’s arrival to restore her family’s old house puts her once more in the center of the community’s social scene, and she insinuates herself back into Lily’s friendship with an overpowering talent for seduction…and an alluring acquaintance from their college days, Yankees pitcher Graham Pendleton. But the ties that bind Lily to Nick are too strong and intricate to ignore, and the two are drawn back into long-buried dreams, despite their uneasy secrets and many emotional obligations.

Under the scorching summer sun, the unexpected truth of Budgie and Nick’s marriage bubbles to the surface, and as a cataclysmic hurricane barrels unseen up the Atlantic and into New England, Lily and Nick must confront an emotional cyclone of their own, which will change their worlds forever.

My Recommendation

It is not often that I’ll ignore an entire day of perfect weather to sit inside on the couch–forgetting household obligations, dogs, and humans for hours at a time–to finish a book, but that is exactly what happened with Beatriz Williams’ A HUNDRED SUMMERS.

A delicious and devourable historical drama, A HUNDRED SUMMERS has all of the ingredients of the perfect read: colorful characters, memorable dialogue, scandal, passion, secrets, and evocative period detail. The reader will smell, taste, and feel this beach-set novel, will gasp as the secrets are revealed, and will cry with–well, I will spare the word so I don’t give anything away–at the end.

This is the first novel I have read by Williams, and I can’t wait for more. Her next novel THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLENT GRANT will be released on May 27th, and I have an early copy in my possession that I was waiting to read until closer to its publication date, but which I might not be able to resist.

Fans of THE RULES OF CIVILITY and THE CHAPERONE will love A HUNDRED SUMMERS. If you have not yet read it, make sure it is in your beach bag before the season begins.

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Review and Giveaway: LOOKING FOR ME

April 25, 2014 at 6:12 am (Uncategorized)

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“…[T]onight, as I gazed into the dense woods, I took in a slow breath and gratefully accepted whatever offering might come my way. I thought about that old saying, how we can never go home again. But I think it’s more like a piece of us stays behind when we leave–a piece we can never reclaim, one that awaits our next visit and demands that we remember.” Beth Hoffman, LOOKING FOR ME

From the Publisher:

“Teddi Overman found her life’s passion for furniture in a broken-down chair left on the side of the road in rural Kentucky. She learns to turn other people’s castoffs into beautifully restored antiques, and eventually finds a way to open her own shop in Charleston. There, Teddi builds a life for herself as unexpected and quirky as the customers who visit her shop.  Though Teddi is surrounded by remarkable friends and finds love in the most surprising way, nothing can alleviate the haunting uncertainty she’s felt in the years since her brother Josh’s mysterious disappearance. When signs emerge that Josh might still be alive, Teddi is drawn home to Kentucky.  It’s a journey that could help her come to terms with her shattered family—and to find herself at last.  But first she must decide what to let go of and what to keep.

Looking for Me brilliantly melds together themes of family, hope, loss, and a mature once-in-a-lifetime kind of love. The result is a tremendously moving story that is destined to make bestselling author Beth Hoffman a novelist to whom readers will return again and again.”

My Recommendation:

When I read Beth Hoffman’s SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT in 2010, I fell in love with her vivid prose, engaging southern style, and memorable characters, so I couldn’t wait to read her new novel LOOKING FOR ME. I was every bit as charmed and touched by this book, and I will forever be a fan of Hoffman.

LOOKING FOR ME is a layered novel. Multiple time periods and story lines keep the reader turning pages, but it is its themes of nature and family, past and present, and restoration that make the book resonate so deeply. From a battered old chest, to the forgotten elderly, to abused animals, Hoffman invites the reader to look deeply in places from which we sometimes turn away to see their true value and worth. Through tender care of others, Hoffman’s characters touch our hearts and invest us in their struggles and triumphs. After reading LOOKING FOR ME, there is a lot in the world that I will never look at the in the same way.

If you enjoy heartwarming and realistic family stories that span decades, I highly recommend LOOKING FOR ME.

The novel releases on April 29th in paperback, and I am giving away a copy to one lucky winner (US only, please.) To enter, please comment below by Monday, April 28th at 9 PM EST, and spread the word on social media.

For more on Beth Hoffman, visit her website: http://bethhoffman.net/books

 

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Super Soul Sunday with Sue Monk Kidd, and a Giveaway

April 17, 2014 at 8:10 am (Book Reviews, Giveaways, Historical Fiction, Spirituality)

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Since THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, I have admired the writing and insights found in Sue Monk Kidd‘s work, so it was a joy to watch her thoughtful interview with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday. I had the pleasure of meeting Sue at a local appearance, and just being around her is calming. She is a deep thinker and a kind soul, and bears an aura of welcome and generosity.

THE INVENTION OF WINGS is one of the best books I have read in 2014. (Read my review here.) Imagine my thrill when Super Soul Sunday chose my video question to include in Sue’s interview after the show! I have been a long time admirer of Oprah, of course, so to be featured on the program with two such strong and empowering women was an honor. I have linked up to the video below, which I encourage you to watch in its entirety. (My question is at minute 29, not that I am counting. :) )

Oprah interviews Sue Monk Kidd

For appearing on the segment, Super Soul Sunday sent me a signed copy of Sue Monk Kidd’s THE INVENTION OF WINGS. I have another signed copy from the day I met Sue, so I will give that copy away to one lucky winner. To participate, simply leave a comment about your favorite work by Sue Monk Kidd, or your favorite Oprah’s book selection, and share on social media. Enter by Friday, April 18th at 9 PM to win. (US residents only, please.) Best wishes!

 

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National Poetry Month Giveaway

April 1, 2014 at 6:05 am (Fallen Beauty, Giveaways, Historical Fiction)

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from THE POET AND HIS BOOK

Stranger, pause and look;

From the dust of ages

Lift this little book,

Turn the tattered pages,

Read me, do not let me die!

Search the fading letters, finding,

Steadfast in the broken binding

All that once was I!

~Edna St. Vincent Millay


I have long been beguiled by the work of Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and her life story so fascinated me that she is the subject of my most recent novel, FALLEN BEAUTY. I hope that when my readers finish the novel, they use the guide in the back to seek out some of Millay’s writings, or what has been written about her.

In honor of National Poetry Month, which begins today, I am giving away a copy of FALLEN BEAUTY. To win, please comment below with your favorite poet or poem, and please share on social media. The giveaway is open to US residents only, and ends at 9 PM EST on Thursday, April 3rd. 

Here is a little on the background of FALLEN BEAUTY to tempt you to open its pages:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTsaJBpfbWY

Click here to read an excerpt of the novel.

Good Luck!

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