Favorite Quotes on Books and Reading

"A book is a gift you can open again and again." Garrison Keillor

Literature is a textually transmitted disease, normally contracted in childhood.” Jane Yolen

"It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it." Oscar Wilde

"Books have furnished, burnished, and enabled my life." Julia Keller

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Book 119: THE NIGHT IS WATCHING Review

The Night is Watching by Heather Graham
ISBN:  9780778315063 (paperback)
ISBN:  9781460313145 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00BED2UUU (Kindle edition)
Publication date: May 28, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA


The Old West town of Lily, Arizona, is home to the Gilded Lily, a former theater…and bawdy house. These days, it offers theatrical productions geared to tourists, but the recent discovery of a skull, a real skull, among the props and costumes shakes everyone up.
So, who do you call? The Krewe of Hunters, a special FBI unit of paranormal investigators. In this case, it's agent Jane Everett. Jane's also a talented artist who creates images of the dead as they once were. But the Krewe always works with local law enforcement, and here that means Sloan Trent, former Houston cop and now sheriff. His great-great-grandmother was an actress at the Gilded Lily and she's not resting in peace.
Then more remains appear in the nearby desert. As they search for answers, using all the skills at their disposal, Jane and Sloan find themselves falling into danger—and into love.

Sloan Trent is a former big-town cop turned small-town sheriff. He's returned to his familial roots by returning to Lily, Arizona. Nothing much ever happens in Lily until a skull, an old skull, is discovered at the local theater. Given he lives in a town reputed to have more its fair share of ghosts, Sloan contacts his friend Logan Raintree for help. Jane Everett is sent to the small town of Lily as a forensic artist. She quickly finds herself seeing ghosts and receiving messages from the dead. Shortly after her arrival there's a murder, a discovery of a mummified body, another murder, followed by a vicious attack on a member of the theater group, Jane and the family of one of the murder victims. Something is definitely going wrong in the town of Lily, but will Jane and Sloan be able to uncover the truth before more lives are lost?

The Night is Watching is the ninth in the Krewe of Hunters series by Ms. Graham. Although I'm not a big fan of the paranormal genre, I rather enjoyed the ghostly interactions in this story. The atmosphere created by setting the story in a haunted Old West town worked beautifully. Lily appears as a small Old West town that has never really died out. The townsfolk, native-born and transplants from other US cities, have made an effort to keep the Old West charm. The history of the town is woven into the story and creates the right setting for all of the other action. The mystery-suspense aspect is found with the murders, discovery of a mummified body, discovery of the old skull, and the lost gold shipment from the past. The only part of the story that didn't work for me was the "romance" between Jane and Sloan. I bought the sexual attraction, but the "I'm so in love that I'm willing to do anything for you" aspect of their relationship felt a bit forced. But don't let that stop you from grabbing a copy. The Night is Watching is a fast-paced paranormal, mystery-suspense that will keep you guessing until the very end.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Guest Post: Sandy Appleyard, author of THE WIFE OF A LESSER MAN



The Wife of a Lesser Man by Sandy Appleyard
ISBN: 9781482794830 (paperback)
ASIN: B00BZAVEE0 (Kindle edition)
Publisher:  CreateSpace
Publication Date:  April 15, 2013

They were deeply in love, their days and nights filled with scintillating romance and passionate love making—even after 20 years of marriage. Then fate delivered a hammer blow when a heart attack led to Mark's impotency and Shelley’s unbearable frustration.
Encouraged by a friend, Shelley becomes flirtatious and unfaithful, finding those moments of glorious intimacy for which she hungered with another man. Mark, a police chief, suspects nothing as he channels all his time and energy into tracking down a serial killer. But when the murderer leaves a terrifying final clue too close to home, only Shelley can solve the case. 


     The Book Diva's Reads is pleased to host a visit by author Sandy Appleyard. Ms. Appleyard offers great advice on creating realistic characters, so writers and would-be writers take note.


How do you Create Powerful, Realistic and Interesting Characters?

Creating powerful, realistic, interesting characters is accomplished through compelling dialogue and action. When I transitioned from nonfiction to fiction, this was the hardest part. In nonfiction, you generally don't have to worry about much dialogue, except when remembering verbatim (for memoirs).  

Creating powerful, realistic dialogue is probably one of the most important parts of writing good fiction.  Here are a few tips to help you do this:

  1. Imagine what real people would say to each other.  It sounds like a no-brainer, right?  It isn't.  You almost have to picture in your mind two or more people having a conversation, and pick out which parts your characters would exchange.
  2. Focus on one thing at a time; be sure not to add too much background information; you can add tidbits of necessary facts within the dialogue as needed.
  3. Have different personality types and multi-dimensional characters. Do you enjoy being in the company of someone dry, boring, unemotional and completely predictable? Then you wouldn't enjoy reading about a character like that, right? I make sure all my characters have different facets within their personality. What makes a story particularly interesting for me is when a character is one that we love to hate.  
  4. Keep in mind when creating your dialogue what the purpose of your scene is. In the first draft of my first romantic mystery, I created a bunch of scenes that had no point. The dialogue was great (and maybe that was what I needed-to practice creating great dialogue), but none of the scenes had a purpose.  
  5. If you don't know how to create the scene or what dialogue to use, just brainstorm and add notes at the end of the scene reminding you what the true purpose is.  Come back to it later so you can keep your work flowing.
  6. Always remember you can edit. This is the most important point. Don't try to make a scene or excerpt of dialogue perfect the first time, especially if it’s an important or difficult scene. In my experience it's usually the second or third pass through different scenes that make them perfect or even better than what I had initially intended.
  7. Be consistent but also show growth. Real people don't like change and change takes time. The same should hold true for characters. If your character is going through transition, make sure it’s a slow and clear process. Don't have them trying to quit smoking in one scene and in the next scene they appear smoke-free.  


Most of all just keep writing. Don't put your work away because you're struggling with a scene or with dialogue. If you're challenged, move on to something else or brainstorm ideas for other things in your writing plan. Keep motivated and positive; it will come to you when you least expect it!


About the author:

This is Sandy's fourth self-published book and her second novel. Her first romantic mystery, Blessed and Betrayed was received very well by readers and reviewers and was given an average of 4.25 stars on Goodreads and Amazon. 

Sandy wrote her first two books, which are memoirs, while her children were infants. The Message in Dad's Bottle is about her father, who tragically passed at the age of 41 from alcoholism, and I'll Never Wear a Backless Dress tells Sandy's personal story about her life with Scoliosis. 

Sandy is a full time writer and when she isn't writing she's reading, exercising, playing with her children, her cat, or obsessively cleaning her house.

Connect with the author:
Website      |     Facebook      |     Twitter      |     Goodreads 



Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Promo - Guest Author Post: THE DISAPPEARING GIRL by Heather Topham Wood

The Disappearing Girl by Heather Topham Wood
ISBN: 9781483906775 (paperback)
ASIN: B00CMR7GFQ (Kindle edition)
Publication date: May 7, 2013

Kayla Marlowe is slowly vanishing…

Last year, Kayla's world imploded. Her beloved father died, leaving her alone with a narcissistic mother who is quick to criticize her daughter’s appearance. During her winter break from college, Kayla's dangerous obsession with losing weight begins.

Kayla feels like her world changes for the better overnight. Being skinny seems to be the key to the happiness she has desperately been seeking. Her mother and friends shower her with compliments, telling her how fantastic she looks. Kayla is starving, but no one knows it.

Cameron Bennett explodes into Kayla's life. He's sexy and kind—he has every quality she has been looking for in a guy. As Cameron grows closer to Kayla and learns of how far she's willing to go to stay thin, he becomes desperate to save her.

Kayla's struggles with anorexia and bulimia reach a breaking point and she is forced to confront her body image issues in order to survive. She wonders if Cameron could be the one to help heal her from the pain of her past. New Adult Contemporary-Ages 17+ due to language and sexual situations.


The Book Diva's Reads is pleased to have the author of The Disappearing Girl, Heather Topham Wood, as a guest today. Without further ado, I give you Ms. Wood with advice on selling your first novel.



How to Sell Your First Novel
by Heather Topham Wood

The thing that I never realized after writing my first novel, the aptly named First Visions, is that putting the story to paper was the easy part. Everything else involved with selling a book would be the cause of my sleepless nights and nail biting.

I was completely clueless after I wrote First Visions. I knew very little about the book blogging community, honestly I never even heard of Goodreads. Most of the information I learned about book publishing and marketing came from Absolute Write, a forum for authors. It is hard for me to fathom that this was only last year.

Querying my first novel was such an eye-opening experience. The one thing I learned is that you shouldn't query every single agent you can find contact information on. If you want to sell your book, find the agents that are looking for manuscripts within your genre. AgentQuery is a fabulous resource to find information on agents that are accepting submissions. Read guidelines closely to avoid ending up in the slush pile.

Selling your first novel may also be the first time you experience the worst type of ego bruising. Expect to hear back from agents and publishers with phrases such as “not for me,” “didn't connect with me,” and “nope.” Do not let them break you! Be strong, author, and keep writing. Agents and publishers may ask you to revise and resubmit. This can help get you closer to an offer as well as improve the quality of your manuscript.

With First Visions, I did receive several offers through small publishing houses. Ultimately though, I decided to self-publish the novel. This is not an easy or inexpensive route and although I've been successful, I've put a lot of work into marketing my books. I'm working with Crescent Moon Press for an upcoming series and it has been less stressful to hand over cover and editing duties to them.

Once my book was released, successful marketing was a trial and error process. Book tours are a great way to get the word out about your novel. It can also help your book get reviews on Goodreads and book retailer sites. Other successful promotions I’ve done are sponsorships through Kindle Nation Daily and BookBub. Offering your book for free as part of the KDP Select program on Amazon can also help boost sales.

I hope this helps new and aspiring authors avoid some of the mistakes I made. But above all else, writing should be fun! Even if the sales don't happen, you should be proud that you accomplished something that many other people were unable to do.


About the author:

Heather Topham Wood's obsession with novels began in childhood while growing up in a shore town in New Jersey. Writing since her teens, she recently returned to penning novels after a successful career as a freelance writer. She's the author of the Second Sight series and the standalone The Disappearing Girl.

Heather graduated from the College of New Jersey in 2005 and holds a bachelor's degree in English. Her freelance work has appeared in publications such as USA Today, Livestrong.com, Outlook by the Bay and Step in Style magazine. She resides in Trenton, New Jersey with her husband and two sons. Besides writing, Heather is a pop culture fanatic and has an obsession with supernatural novels and TV shows.

Connect with the author:    

Website     |     Facebook     |     Goodreads     |     Twitter



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Monday, May 27, 2013

Book 117: COMPOSING MYSELF Review

Composing Myself by Elena Aitken
ISBN:  9780991709335 (paperback)
ISBN:  9780991709342 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00CJ1IEAQ (Kindle edition)
Publication date: May 1, 2013
Publisher: Ink Blot Communications


Whitney Monroe's not ashamed of the way her mother can work a brass pole, not really. It's just that some things are better left unsaid; especially when your mother's a stripper and you're trying to get a job at a prestigious private school that definitely won't appreciate her talents.
Raised by her grandma, Whitney's always managed to keep her two worlds separate, even if it meant lying to everyone. And when Reid Phillips—a charming, sexy songwriter—becomes her not-entirely-welcome roommate, Whitney has no intention of telling him the truth either. But she wasn't excepting Reid to see right through her and challenge her compartmentalized life. With Grams seriously ill, her mother's life in turmoil and her dream job on the line, it's more important than ever for Whitney to keep everything together. But that will mean being honest with everyone, starting with herself.

There are three women in the Monroe family. The youngest is Whitney, a recent college graduate and working teacher; her mother, Patti, is a hard-working professional exotic dancer or stripper; and, the oldest is Patti's mother, Hazel. Hazel, or Grams, raised Whitney in a loving environment. Patti struggled to be a good mother, but was forced to give up her daughter. Whitney struggles to be the person she thinks others expect her to be. In addition, she struggles to have a real relationship with her mom without being judgmental about her job. The Monroe women love one another but can they learn to accept one another with judgment and scorn before it's too late.

Composing Myself begins with Whitney's grandmother, Grams, moving into a retirement community. At the time, she's working as a substitute teacher at a very prestigious local private school and wants more than anything to be offered a full-time permanent job at this institution. She's in a tepid-relationship with a fellow teacher, William. She only sees her mother once every few weeks. She's a closeted poet. And to add insult to injury, she's just been told that her Grams has end-stage cancer and Grams refuses any terminal care to prolong the inevitable. The only bright light in her world is actually from her new roommate, Reid Phillips, an aspiring songwriter, a sometime jingle-writer, and an excellent cook. Needless to say, Whitney and Reid wind up in a push-pull relationship that adds to the overall drama and angst.

This was actually the first book I've ever read by Ms. Aitken and I was a little surprised by how much the story pulled me in. My initial reaction after reading a few chapters, was "oh no, not another romantic coming-of-age story." And yes, Composing Myself can be classified as a romantic coming-of-age story, but it is much more. It is a family drama, it is about self-discovery, it is about self-acceptance, and on one small level, it is about preconceived expectations and prejudice. I found Composing Myself to start off a little slow, but my reading pace picked up after only a few chapters and I kept reading simply because I wanted to know how it all ends. There are a few surprises as Whitney and Patti's stories are revealed, but the inclusion of such flawed characters made the story much more realistic and believable. I've got to add that I needed a few tissues toward the end (be prepared -- no, I'm not going to reveal what happens; read it for yourself!). Composing Myself spotlights the notion that we all need to be true to ourselves and be willing to accept others as they are without expecting any conformity, a great message and a wonderful read. I can't wait to read more from this new-to-me author.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the author. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book 116: FUGITIVE Review

Fugitive (Heroes for Hire #8) by Shirlee McCoy
ISBN:  9780373445370 (paperback)
ISBN:  9781460312889 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00B0A6ZFI (Kindle edition)
Publication date: May 7, 2013
Publisher: Love Inspired


"Help me."
When she opens her door to a wounded, handcuffed stranger, Laney Jefferson is terrified…until she recognizes her unexpected visitor. Thirteen years ago, Logan Randal was there for her when she desperately needed a friend. Now the wrongfully convicted lawman needs the widow's help. On the run from the law and guided only by Laney's unswerving faith in Logan's innocence, their mutual attraction begins to break down the barriers around Laney's heart. But the real culprit is much closer than they imagine…a cunning enemy determined to keep the past—and the truth—buried forever.


Laney Jefferson did not have an ideal childhood. Her parents were abusive and vindictive. The only shining light she can remember is her friend, Logan Randal. Logan helped her to escape from the abuse when she turned eighteen and she's never looked back. Fast-forward thirteen years and Laney is a widow trying to rebuild her life. Her father had been tried for abuse, neglect and the murder of a foster-child. Her mother was found guilty of abuse and neglect and spent a few years in prison. Now her father is deceased and her mother has been released from prison and disappeared. In an effort to address the past, Laney has decided to sell her husband's rural cabin and her childhood home. Laney is forced to deal with more than she thought when she confronts her childhood savior, Logan Randal. Logan is an escaped convict and only wants to clear his name before it is too late. He's happy to see Laney after all these years, but he doesn't want to pull her into his messy life. Can Laney learn to trust her feelings after all these years or will her fear prevent her from finding happiness?

Fugitive is a fast-paced faith-based romantic suspense read. Both Laney and Logan attempt to rely on their faith as they attempt to unravel the mystery behind Logan's wrongful conviction. The romance aspect of the story is somewhat predictable but it did not detract from the story. My only problem with the story is that although Laney and Logan are nice people, they aren't very well developed and came across as a little flat at times. The most interesting character to me was Stan, Laney's stepfather. There's a lot going on in Fugitive: Laney and Logan's romance, Logan's wrongful conviction and the mystery behind the conviction, as well as the attempts to kill Logan (presumably to silence him). The main themes seem to be faith, trust, and family (those we're born into and those we create). As a faith-based romance, I found Fugitive to be a story that anyone from any faith could enjoy. If you enjoy clean HEA romantic-suspense, then you may want to add Fugitive to your reading list.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Book 115: THE APPLE ORCHARD Review

The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs
ISBN:  9780778314936 (hardcover)
ISBN:  9781460311899 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00ALTWXFA (Kindle edition)
Publication date: April 30, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA


Tess Delaney makes a living restoring stolen treasures to their rightful owners. People like Annelise Winther, who refuses to sell her long-gone mother's beloved necklace—despite Tess's advice. To Annelise, the jewel's value is in its memories.
But Tess's own history is filled with gaps: a father she never met, a mother who spent more time traveling than with her daughter. So Tess is shocked when she discovers the grandfather she never knew is in a coma. And that she has been named in his will to inherit half of Bella Vista, a hundred-acre apple orchard in the magical Sonoma town called Archangel.
The rest is willed to Isabel Johansen. A half sister she's never heard of.
Against the rich landscape of Bella Vista, Tess begins to discover a world filled with the simple pleasures of food and family, of the warm earth beneath her bare feet. A world where family comes first and the roots of history run deep. A place where falling in love is not only possible, but inevitable.
And in a season filled with new experiences, Tess begins to see the truth in something Annelise once told her: if you don't believe memories are worth more than money, then perhaps you've not made the right kind of memories.
From one of America's most beloved writers, The Apple Orchard is a story of family ties—both old and new—and of the moments that connect our hearts.

Tess Delaney is living a fast-paced life in San Francisco. She has a job she loves and friends she adores. What she doesn't have a lot of is family, just an absentee mother. Until the day Dominic Rossi walks into her life and informs her that she has a grandfather and a half-sister. He also informs her that her grandfather is in the hospital in a coma and she needs to accompany him to Archangel, California in the Sonoma to help make some decisions. How can she be expected to make decisions with family she never knew she had? Will she be able to accept the love and responsibility that goes along with having family? 

Upon her arrival, Tess and Isabel are informed that their grandfather's business, an apple orchard named Bella Vista, is being foreclosed. As Tess struggles with the news of her new family, she must also struggle with getting to know her sister, and help make decisions for a floundering business. This forces Tess and Isabel to pour over the mountains of paperwork their grandfather has and they discover something in an old family photograph what may become the orchard's salvation.

The Apple Orchard weaves the present with the past. The present consists of the story of Tess Delaney and her half-sister Isabel Johansen. The past is a blend of Tess’s mother and father along with Tess and Isabel’s paternal grandfather Magnus as a member of the Danish Resistance during World War II. Obviously Tess knows little about her grandfather's past, but neither does Isabel. They gradually piece together his past along with their father's past as they work to get to know one another. Tess is a city girl that lives life on the go, addicted to energy drinks, black coffee and microwaveable food. Isabel is more used to the somewhat slower pace in rural Sonoma. She left cooking school to help take care of her sick grandmother and stayed on to care for her grandfather. Isabel is a nurturer and shows her care and love for others with her food. Tess has never connected with anyone after her maternal grandmother's death and she's having a difficult time with the notion of family. Tess also struggles with her feelings toward Dominic. She's attracted to him, but she doesn't know if she's cut out for a relationship with a divorced single father.

Ms. Wiggs presents an enjoyable read with The Apple Orchard. The inclusion of a family mystery adds to the overall tension within the story. My only regret is that Isabel comes across as a bit flighty and flat. The other characters are all well-developed and their personalities shine through quite well except for Isabel (hopefully she'll be addressed in future books in this series). There are many overlapping storylines in The Apple Orchard, new family ties, a love story, lost heirlooms, and family secrets. There's just enough intrigue mixed with romance and a touch of historical elements to make this an enjoyable weekend read for anyone.

Watch the trailer:


Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, May 20, 2013

Book 111: MEASURE OF LOVE Review


Measure of Love by Melissa Ford
ISBN:  9781611942828 (paperback)
ISBN:  9781611943030 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00C7Y1Y8E (Kindle edition)
Publication date: March 28, 2013
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books


Rachel has made a new life from scratch with her ex-husband, but can they survive the wedding plans?
It may be her second time getting married, but Rachel Goldman is definitely navigating a sticky relationship with her former—and soon-to-be-again—mother-in-law. Plus she’s in a tug of war with the editor of her upcoming book on divorce who is begging her to keep her happy new relationship with her ex, Adam, on the down low. How can Rachel do that when her society-obsessed mother-in-law is eager to get a featured story in the wedding section of the New York Times? Throw in a sister-in-law-to-be who’s navigating her own upcoming nuptials as well as a friend who not only doesn’t want to get married, but is possibly having an affair. Rachel finds herself with too many pots simmering on a very familiar stove.


Rachel Goldman should be on top of the world. Her blog is an internet success. She has a book about to published. And she's in love. Of course, there are a few snags; her book is about being successful at divorce and she's about to remarry her ex-husband. If that isn't bad enough, she thinks her best friend, Arianna, is cheating on her live-in boyfriend, Ethan, who just happens to be Rachel's brother. Almost forgot...her ex-mother in law, Anita, wants to make Rachel and Adam's second wedding even more of a society event than their first.

Rachel carefully navigated the world of marriage breakup, divorce, and being single in Life From Scratch. Although she was devastated by the breakup and divorce, she found solace in writing about her problems and endeavored to achieve success at cooking. She merged these two into a blog that become a massive hit and evolved into a book contract. Rachel wasn't looking for love, but she found it - with her ex-husband, Adam. He has left his law firm and embraced his first love, literature, by becoming a teacher. In Measure of Love, Adam and Rachel take their relationship to the next step, marriage (or in this case remarriage). Rachel is happy that Adam wants to commit to her, but before she knows it she's trying to plan a wedding in less than four months. What follows is a mixture of I Love Lucy and Jane Austen's Emma (the latter is actually referred to in the story); well-intentioned meddling with disastrous results (minus the comedic happy endings).

I found Measure of Love to be a fast-paced and enjoyable read. I almost felt as if I was meeting up with old friends as I revisited with Rachel, Arianna, Adam and others in their new struggles and dealings. Rachel isn't as self-assured in Measure of Love, but only when it comes to her love life. Arianna is still somewhat exotic, but not nearly as extreme when compared to Adam's sister Lisbeth. Lisbeth is an artist and is planning her own wedding to her partner, Emily, a physician (truly an odd couple with disparate personalities, but they fit). I felt sucked in by Rachel's internal struggle with her remarriage and her well-intended meddling. I waited patiently with Adam as he watched Rachel struggle with these issues. I suffered along with Arianna as she drifted slowly away from her best-friend. And I hoped for that happy-ending for not just Rachel and Adam, but also for Lisbeth and Emily, as well as Rachel and Arianna. The characters are well-developed and the situations not only realistic but relatable. Ms. Ford blends great writing and a tale about romance and love, mixed with relationship/friendship drama and touches of humor; the result is a great read about second chances for love. Measure of Love is the second installment in Ms. Ford's Life from Scratch series. I am rather anxious to read the next installment featuring Arianna's story, Apart At the Seams.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Book 109: THE BURGESS BOYS Review


The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
ISBN:  9781400067688 (paperback)
ISBN:  9780812984613 (ebook)
ASIN:  B009MYAWIA (Kindle edition)
Publication date: March 26, 2013
Publisher: Random House


Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his big-hearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan—the Burgess sibling who stayed behind—urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.
With a rare combination of brilliant storytelling, exquisite prose, and remarkable insight into character, Elizabeth Strout has brought to life two deeply human protagonists whose struggles and triumphs will resonate with readers long after they turn the final page. Tender, tough-minded, loving, and deeply illuminating about the ties that bind us to family and home, The Burgess Boys is Elizabeth Strout’s newest and perhaps most astonishing work of literary art.


Imagine a life that has always been defined by one horrific and tragic moment. Imagine a life that has always been overshadowed by the success of a sibling. That is the life of Bob Burgess. Jim Burgess is the older, smarter, and successful brother.  Susan Burgess is Bob's twin sister and alone in her own unhappiness. She’s also a divorcee raising her son back in their rural hometown, Shirley Falls, Maine. Bob and Jim have both left Maine and are practicing lawyers residing in New York. Jim has a lovely wife, three children, and a job at a prestigious law firm but is an overbearing and rather obnoxious person . . . especially to his family. Bob is divorced, living alone in a small and empty apartment, childless and works at Legal Aid. Bob adores, if not idolizes his older brother and has for as long as he can remember. That will all change when the Burgess Boys are called back to Maine to help their nephew Zach on a legal matter. (Zach throws a frozen pig's head into a mosque during a prayer service, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadhan.) When it appears that Zach may be charged federally with a hate crime, he runs away, leaves the country and joins his father in Sweden. Susan is bereft at his departure and must learn to cope with his absence. Bob worries that he may be branded a fugitive and only wants to make things as easy as possible for both Zach and Susan. Jim seems to only care that he has put his neck and reputation on the line. These three differing views on one simple action show the true nature of these siblings.

On the surface The Burgess Boys is about family and what we are willing to do to support our families. Underneath, it is also about family dysfunction and touches on prejudice, racism, narcissism, depression, infidelity, and responsibility. Ms. Strout has presented a story that almost defies explanation due to the simplicity of the heart of the story and the complex interactions among all of the Burgesses, their friends, coworkers and associates. Bob and Jim's relationship suffers and seems to breakdown in the latter half of the book, mirroring other relationship breakdowns due to lies and half-truths. The reader is given a glimpse into the minds of Susan, Bob and Jim, as well as Jim's wife Helen, and Susan's son Zach. More importantly we are also given a glimpse into how things appear from an alternate point of view, that of Abdikarim Ahmed, a Somali refugee and elder in the Muslim community in Shirley Falls. He provides a nice balance to Zach's story. 

I didn't find this to be an easy read, nor a particular enjoyable read since it deals with some dark and disturbing issues (depression, alcoholism, prejudice, etc.). The major characters, the Burgess siblings, all have flaws and major issues to overcome. Some flaws and issues are dealt with realistically and others seem a bit contrived. At times, I felt that some of the characters were becoming cartoonish caricatures rather than individuals (namely Jim and Helen). Even with these limitations, I think The Burgess Boys is a story that makes the reader to think. And isn't that what literature is all about?


Read an excerpt:



Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


Friday, May 17, 2013

Book 108: THE REPEAT YEAR Review


The Repeat Year by Andrea Lochen
ISBN:  9780425263136 (paperback)
ISBN:  9781101598849 (ebook)
ASIN:  B0095ZQ0V4 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: May 7, 2013
Publisher: Berkley


Everyone has days, weeks, even months they wish they could do over—but what about an entire year? After living through the worst twelve months of her life, intensive care nurse Olive Watson is given a second chance to relive her past and attempt to discover where she went wrong… 
After a year of hardships, including a messy breakup with her longtime boyfriend Phil, the prospect of her mother's remarriage, and heartbreaking patient losses at the hospital, Olive is ready to start fresh. But when she wakes up in her ex-boyfriend's bed on New Year’s Day 2011—a day she has already lived—Olive's world is turned upside down. Shouldering a year of memories that no one else can recall, even Olive begins to question herself—until she discovers that she is not alone. Upon crossing paths with Sherry Witan, an experienced "repeater," Olive learns that she has the chance to rewrite her future. Given the opportunity of a lifetime, Olive has to decide what she really wants. Should she make different choices, or accept her life as she knows it, flaws and all?


Life normally doesn't come with "do-overs" or second chances, but Olive Watson and Sherry Witan are given the opportunity to relive one year, 2011. Will they be able to make the most of this second chance or will they make the same mistakes all over again in The Repeat Year by Andrea Lochen.

Olive Watson is a young twenty-something. She's relatively debt-free, has a well-paying job as a nurse in the intensive care unit at a local hospital. She has close friends, a loving boyfriend, and is close to her mother and brother. Olive has been dating Phil for almost four years, but a series of incidents led to a separation then breakup. This was followed by her mother's engagement announcement and remarriage, which Olive doesn't take very well since it's only been a few short years after her father's death. Olive goes to bed on New Year's Eve 2011 in what was admittedly the worst year of her life after the year her father died. She expects to awaken on January 1, 2012 but awakens to January 1, 2011. At first she thinks she's crazy and just experiencing a weird deja vu moment, but she quickly learns that she is repeating 2011 . . . her nightmare year. Fortunately, there's someone to provide her with a little guidance, her mother's friend - Sherry Witan. Sherry tells Olive that she isn't quite sure why these repeat years or second chances are offered, but she's being given an opportunity to change the mistakes of the past and hopefully move forward to a better year.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I started reading The Repeat Year. At first I thought it was going to be like the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray, but this isn't repeating the same day over-and-over to get it right. Olive is forced to relive an entire year and hopefully make better choices. After I overcame my preconceived notions of what to expect, I actually enjoyed The Repeat Year. Olive and Sherry aren't perfect women. They are simply people that have made mistakes, some large, some small, and some life-changing. But unlike most of us, they've been allowed the opportunity to correct those mistakes, stop being judgmental (of themselves more so than anyone else) and to accept life and love with all of the inherent flaws. I found The Repeat Year to be a fast-paced read about self-discovery, acceptance, and tolerance. The characters were well developed and quite realistic. If you want a great read for a lazy afternoon, then I suggest The Repeat Year. Ms. Lochen has provided a story that offers a little bit of romance, a little bit of humor, some soul searching, and some family drama in an entertaining package.


badge-SRC-2013

I read The Repeat Year as part of the Book Sparks PR 2013 Summer Reading Road Trip. If you'd like to follow along, please visit Book Sparks PR here. Next stop is The Love Wars by Allison Heller.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Book 107: WHAT A MOTHER KNOWS Review


What A Mother Knows by Leslie Lehr
ISBN:  9781402279560 (paperback)
ISBN:  9781402279577 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00B2AO76U (Kindle edition)
Publication date: May 1, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks


How far will a mother go to protect her daughter?
An unsettling, emotional and suspenseful novel of the unshakable bonds of motherhood, in which Michelle Mason not only loses her memory after a deadly car crash, but can't find her 16-year-old daughter, the one person who may know what happened that day. But the deeper Michelle digs, the more she questions the innocence of everyone, even herself.
A dramatic portrayal of the fragile skin of memory, What a Mother Knows is about finding the truth that can set love free.


Read an excerpt here: http://www.leslielehr.com/images/WhatAMotherKnows-excerpt1%202.pdf


Michelle Mason used to have it all, a great job, a loving husband and two wonderful children. Everything changed after she has a horrific car crash that seriously injures her and kills her passenger. Michelle is finally able to return home after dealing with major surgeries, a medically induced coma that lasted months, and one year in rehabilitation. The home she returns to isn't the home she remembers. Her husband is now residing in New York, her son is in a boarding school, and her daughter has disappeared. The first brick in Michelle's carefully constructed "memories" is destroyed when she's told her daughter isn't studying internationally but has run away from home and it might be related to the car accident. Michelle's husband, Drew, tells her that a police report has been filed, a detective hired, and people are searching for Nikki. Michelle seems to instinctively know that there is more to the story than she is being told, so she launches her own investigation. As she uncovers details over the course of months, she is made to feel as if she's unreliable due to her tragic injuries. Can she trust the people that have repeatedly lied to her, or does she trust her instincts?

What A Mother Knows is an intriguing story that pulled me in from the very beginning. Michelle seems to be on a roller coaster ride in her attempts to search for her daughter. Just when she thinks she's found out something useful, there's an unexpected dip or turn that reveals more and more lies from those closest to her. Michelle is forced to face her overbearing but loving mother, Elyse Deveraux, as well as her strained marriage with her husband Drew, and her son Tyler. She doesn't seem to have anyone to support her in her quest for the truth, but she is fervent in her belief that a mother simply knows. This is more than a contemporary story about family, it is also about self-discovery as Michelle learns to adjust to her new lifestyle and limitations, and ultimately a mystery as she searches for her missing daughter. Ms. Lehr has provided a story filled with people that aren't wholly good or bad, but rather residents of the grey areas. Michelle is likeable and a realistic portrayal of just how far a mother is willing to go for the sake of her children. If you enjoy reading family dramas or mystery-suspense, then you definitely want to add What A Mother Knows to your reading list.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher, Sourcebooks, via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."



Saturday, May 11, 2013

Book 106: SWEET MERCY Review



Sweet Mercy by Ann Tatlock
ISBN:  9780764210464 (paperback)
ISBN:  9781441261496 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00B85M16C (Kindle edition)
Publication date: May 1, 2013
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers

When Eve Marryat’s father is laid off from the Ford Motor Company in 1931, he is forced to support his family by leaving St. Paul, Minnesota, and moving back to his Ohio roots. Eve’s uncle Cyrus has invited the family to live and work at his Marryat Island Ballroom and Lodge.


St. Paul seemed like a haven for gangsters, and Eve had grown fearful of living there. At seventeen, she considers her family to be “good people.” They aren’t lawbreakers and criminals like so many people in her old neighborhood. Thrilled to be moving to a “safe haven,” Eve is blissfully unaware that her uncle’s lodge is a transfer station for illegal liquor smuggled from Canada.

Eve settles in to work and makes new friends, including an enigmatic but affecting young man. But when the reality of her situation finally becomes clear, Eve is faced with a dilemma. How can she ignore what is happening right under their very noses? Yet can she risk everything by condemning the man whose love and generosity is keeping her and her family from ruin?

Eve Marryat is a young woman with fervent beliefs. She lives her life in black and white and has tremendous problems accepting that the world has lots of grey areas. She strongly believes that prohibition is good for everyone, criminals are always evil, and that all wrongs must be punished. After witnessing a gang-related shooting on the streets of St. Paul, Minnesota and her father's job loss, Eve and her parents move to Mercy, Ohio. Eve's father has been given a job working with his older brother at the Marryat Island Ballroom and Lodge. Eve and her mother are also given tasks to help in the operation of the lodge. Eve presumes that Mercy, Ohio is a long away from the societal ills she experienced in Minnesota and begins to enjoy her life at the lodge. She has a boyfriend for the first time in her life and is surrounded by family and new friends in an idyllic setting. Regrettably reality intrudes on Eve's rosy world and she must ultimately decide if she can accept the shades of grey within the lives of her loved ones or destroy her family's refuge.

Ms. Tatlock paints a vivid picture of rural life during the Depression era. She doesn't sugarcoat the unpleasantness but rather presents it as is without prejudice. Eve may be a typical teenage girl in the 1930s but she seems to lack guile and have a certain naïveté about life and the real world. She has judged the gangsters in Minnesota and deemed them corrupt and evil. She has judged her older sister's behavior and found it lacking in morality. Now she is faced with judging those she has become very close to, namely her uncle Cy. It is in small town Mercy, Ohio that Eve learns not to be so quick to judge and accept people for what they are, warts and all. Sweet Mercy is a coming of age story where the main character, Eve Marryat, learns acceptance without prejudice and the true meaning of mercy. I found Sweet Mercy to be an engrossing and fast read (my only interruptions were caused by severe migraine headaches). The characters are all easy to relate to and realistic. The setting of the lodge and Mercy, Ohio makes for an ideal backdrop for Eve's story. If you enjoy reading uplifting historical fiction, then add Sweet Mercy to your reading list.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley and Book Blasts & Blog Tours. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Guest Post, Excerpt and Giveaway - SWEET MERCY by Ann Tatlock




Sweet Mercy by Ann Tatlock
ISBN:  9780764210464 (paperback)
ISBN:  9781441261496 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00B85M16C (Kindle edition)
Publication date: May 1, 2013
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers


When Eve Marryat’s father is laid off from the Ford Motor Company in 1931, he is forced to support his family by leaving St. Paul, Minnesota, and moving back to his Ohio roots. Eve’s uncle Cyrus has invited the family to live and work at his Marryat Island Ballroom and Lodge.
St. Paul seemed like a haven for gangsters, and Eve had grown fearful of living there. At seventeen, she considers her family to be "good people." They aren't lawbreakers and criminals like so many people in her old neighborhood. Thrilled to be moving to a "safe haven," Eve is blissfully unaware that her uncle's lodge is a transfer station for illegal liquor smuggled from Canada.
Eve settles in to work and makes new friends, including an enigmatic but affecting young man. But when the reality of her situation finally becomes clear, Eve is faced with a dilemma. How can she ignore what is happening right under their very noses? Yet can she risk everything by condemning the man whose love and generosity is keeping her and her family from ruin?


The Book Diva's Reads is pleased to host a guest post by author Ann Tatlock and provide an excerpt from Sweet Mercy.


Meet the Cast of Sweet Mercy 
by Ann Tatlock

Eve Marryat, our narrator, is a likeable 17-year-old girl who really only has one major flaw: she's a bit smug. She'll tell you so herself, though she's much older than 17 when she’s willing to admit to it. She's a loyal and loving daughter to her parents, Drew and Rose Marryat, though she's rather critical of sister Cassandra, who was drawn to the life of speakeasies, hip flasks and illicit love affairs that catapulted her into marriage and motherhood sooner than she had hoped.

Drew is laid off from the Ford Plant in Minnesota and the family is invited by Cyrus Marryat, Drew's brother, to return to Ohio and help him run the Marryat Island Ballroom and Lodge. Eve is happy to leave crime-ridden St. Paul (and sister Cassandra) behind to go live in idyllic Mercy, Ohio. Uncle Cy seems like a hero to Eve, but there's more to him than meets the proverbial eye.

In Mercy, Eve befriends Marlene Quimby, who introduces Eve to her first love, Marcus Wiant. Marcus is the son of the sheriff and works with Marlene's boyfriend, Jimmy Fludd, at the gas station across from the lodge.

Two more young men enter Eve's life, the first being her step-cousin Jones, a reclusive albino who lives and works at the lodge. The second is a fellow she knows only by the name of Link, a drifter who lives at the shantytown up the river and comes by the lodge occasionally for a hot meal and a cold drink.

In spite of Eve's best hopes, the island is not so idyllic, the lodge is full of secrets, and no one is quite what Eve thinks they are, including Eve herself. The summer of 1931 is a season of discovery for Eve, and a time when she comes to know the meaning of sweet mercy. 



Excerpt

From Chapter 1:
 "Well, that’s easy," I said. "It's easy to love Uncle Cy." After all, he was my ticket out. He was my ticket to a new life. We were leaving the city of sin behind. No more bootleggers, brothel-keepers, gangsters, corrupt lawmen, kidnappers, or murderers. We were on our way to Marryat Island Ballroom and Lodge in Mercy, Ohio, on the Little Miami River. We were on our way to the Promised Land.
Daddy gave me one more glance in the rearview mirror before settling his eyes on the road for the long haul ahead. Mother wiped at tears one last time before resignedly stuffing her handkerchief back into her pocketbook. She turned her face to the window, her features delicate and gentle in profile, her soft brown hair pulled into its usual knot at the back of her head.
I too settled back for the ride. As the newly awakened Minnesota landscape rolled by, I noticed the morning edition of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the seat beside me. Clear of the city limits and facing the long stretch of open road toward Wisconsin, I picked up the paper to pass the time. When I saw an advertisement on page six for Wilson Tailors, I shook my head and clicked my tongue softly. Even the tailors were making money from the fallout of St. Paul's sleazy underworld. In bold type the proprietor, Mr. Edmund Wilson, boasted: "Bullet holes rewoven perfectly in damaged clothes."




Ann Tatlock


Ann Tatlock is the author of the Christy-Award winning novel Promises to Keep. She has also won the Midwest Independent Publishers Association "Book of the Year" in fiction for both All the Way Home and I'll Watch the Moon. Her novel Things We Once Held Dear received a starred review from Library Journal and Publishers Weekly calls her "one of Christian fiction's better wordsmiths, and her lovely prose reminds readers why it is a joy to savor her stories." Ann lives with her husband and daughter in Asheville, North Carolina.







Tour Giveaway



1 winner will receive a copy of 3 of Ann's Books

Sweet Mercy, Travelers Rest and Promises to Keep

Open to US & Canada Only

Ends 5/21/13

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Book 101: ORPHAN TRAIN Review


Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
ISBN:  9780061950728 (trade paperback)
ISBN:  9780062101204 (ebook)
ASIN:  B0089LOG02 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks


The author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be delivers her most ambitious and powerful novel to date: a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.
Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from "aging out" of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.
Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.
The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life - answers that will ultimately free them both.
Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

Molly Ayers is about to age out of the foster-care system. One stupid mistake, attempting to steal a library book, forces her to accept community service hours or be placed in juvenile detention or jail. Molly chooses community service but isn't sure where she'll be able to get the hours she needs. Fortunately Molly's boyfriend Jack is able to arrange for Molly to help an elderly woman clean out her attic for her hours. Molly stands out in Spruce Harbor, Maine. She dresses in Goth style in an effort to keep people away. If people don't get close, she won't have to worry about them leaving or hurting her. Molly has been in foster care for nine years and lived in more than twelve foster homes. Some homes were good and some were very bad. Her current foster father, Ralph Thibodeau, is anxious to provide a stable home for Molly. Ralph's wife, Dina, doesn't like the hassle of another mouth to feed or dealing with any of the problems that Molly faces. Jack is the only person she's really connected with in Spruce Harbor until she meets Vivian.

Vivian Daly was born Niamh (pronounced Neev) Power in Ireland in 1909. She immigrated to the US with her family in the late 1920s and became an orphan in 1929. The Children's Aid Society of New York gathered her and other orphans up and shipped them via train to the Midwest to be adopted. Her name was changed to Dorothy along the way and she was first sent to live with Mr. and Mrs. Byrne in Albans, Minnesota where she basically became an indentured servant sewing women's clothing. After the stock market crash and loss of incoming business, she is sent to live with Mr. and Mrs. Grotto as a mother's helper, where she lives in squalor and has to deal with being molested by Mr. Grotto. After running away from the Grotto family and temporarily being taken in by her school teacher, Miss Larsen, she is finally adopted by a loving family and formally becomes Vivian Nielsen (named after the Nielsen's dead daughter). She later marries and remarries and operates a successful business before retiring from Minnesota to Maine.

Vivian and Molly have a lot in common due to their backgrounds as orphans. Molly quickly learns about Vivian's life as an orphan and the trials of being on the "orphan train." Jack and his mother Terry (Vivian's housekeeper), feel that Molly is taking advantage of Vivian but Molly quickly explains that she is helping Vivian revisit and organize the tokens of her past since Vivian doesn't really want to part with anything. 

Orphan Train mixes happy with sad, good with bad, and pretty with ugly, much like life to tell an interesting story of two women born seventy-four years apart with similar lives as orphans. It was also fascinating to watch a friendship grow between these two women. I found all of the characters to be fully developed and rather enjoyed the seesaw presentation of past and present. I've got to say that I was initially drawn to the story because one of the characters is named Vivian (not a lot of us in the world). I could go on and on and on about this book, but let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading Orphan Train. If you enjoyed reading The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh or if you just want a great read, then I highly recommend Orphan Train.

Watch the book trailer:


Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss and SheReads.org. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."