Monday, April 17, 2017

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

 A Great and Terrible Beauty is book one in the Gemma Doyle trilogy. Gemma Doyle, who loses her mother under mysterious circumstances at the young age of sixteen, is shipped off to boarding school by a well-intentioned, but arrogant grandmother. Her father spirals down after the loss of his wife, and Gemma is left to fend for herself amid teenage girls...and we all know the terrors of teenage girls. But as she attempts to learn this new world she's been pushed into, Gemma starts to uncover secrets about herself and her family that she was never meant to know. She stumbles upon supernatural reasons for her mothers death and the powers that she possess as well. She is coerced into facing her fate, whether she wants to or not - the temptation is simply too strong.

Set at the Spence Academy in London during the 1800s, Bray weaves a believable and timely tale of loss, friendship, and mystery. The book carries a Gothic feel with old castles, claustrophobic spaces, ghosts and spirits, and women in distress, but it misses a truly dark feel for me. Overall I'm not sure I'll be reading books two or three of this set, which is a disappointment because I loved Libba Bray's The Diviners set in the 1920s.

This series - a solid ☕☕☕  to start, but that's all.

However, if this sounds like something you'd like to read, visit her Gemma Doyle Website at https://www.randomhouse.com/teens/gemmadoyle/books/great.html

Truthfully, I think the story would make an amazing television series, it just didn't read off the page as well as I wanted it to. Maybe we'll get lucky and a producer will bite? Apparently "in 2006 the book was optioned by Icon in order to be made into a film. In July 2009, Libba Bray announced on her livejournal that after the option reached the deadline, there was still no script in the making and the director backed out to take over another project. For the time being, there is no movie of any of the books planned" ("A Great and Terrible Beauty (film)").

"A Great and Terrible Beauty (film)." The Libba Bray Wiki. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Britt-Marie was Here by Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie was Here is the best-selling novel by author Fredrik Backman. He also penned A Man Called Ove (another book I'd highly recommend!).

This my second novel by this author and he has now placed himself on a short list of authors that I must read everything they write (Louise Penny and Ruta Sepetys are also on this list). His writing style digs at the heart of the reader moving one from laughter to tears and back again, sometimes in a single chapter; even a single sentence. 

Britt-Marie is a possible divorcee. She's found herself in the position of a wife no longer needed in a town no longer worthy of her. After her husband's affair (Kent - a character you hate, then like, the hate, then sort of like...it's a conundrum really how Backman runs the gambit of emotions for this man) and his then subsequent heart-attack...karma? of which Britt-Marie learns about from "the other woman," she finds herself in need of change. A trip to the unemployment office to find a job for the first time in many years begins for her a new life; one she would have never imagined. Her list of daily chores that she must do (especially if she wrote her list in pen) and her love for Faxin window cleaner and balconies make Britt-Marie a character you love despite her quirks. It's her insertion of personality into the misfit tiny town of Borg as a cleaning lady and the tiny changes that resonate at the heart of who she is that make you question why we try to change people? Can't we find what is good in them and let them be? 

This novel reminds the reader not to take others for granted, to understand that within our circumstances there is room to consider others' circumstances, and it's never too late to begin again.

A full ☕☕☕☕☕ from me and looking forward to reading more of this author's work.


Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, as well as a novella, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer. His books are published in more than thirty-five countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children.

For more about him and his novels, visit his page with Simon and Schuster:
http://www.simonandschuster.com/authors/Fredrik-Backman/411545926



Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is the sweetest novel by Amy E. Reichert. I devoured it, every tasty word. Yes - lots of food play here. Because Coconut Cake tells the story of young Luella and her dream to have a top-notch restaurant serving fine French food and pastries. And she does. But, she also has a fiance named Devlin (if his name sounds close to devil for you, that's not a Coincidence) who doesn't quite support her dream kitchen. After a sordid turn of events involving the fiance, a coconut cake, and a restaurant review, Luella's finds that making her dreams come true isn't as easy as it seems. Yet...worth it. 

I really enjoyed reading this novel, so much so I immediately downloaded her other book, Luck, Love, and Lemon Pie, and pre-ordered The Simplicity of Cider (to be released 5-16-2017!). 

From Amy's website: (http://www.amyereichert.com/)

You’ve Got Mail meets How to Eat a Cupcake in this delightful novel about a talented chef and the food critic who brings down her restaurant—whose chance meeting turns into a delectable romance of mistaken identities.
 
In downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lou works tirelessly to build her beloved yet struggling French restaurant, Luella’s, into a success. She cheerfully balances her demanding business and even more demanding fiancĂ©…until the morning she discovers him in the buff—with an intern.

Witty yet gruff British transplant Al is keeping himself employed and entertained by writing scathing reviews of local restaurants in the Milwaukee newspaper under a pseudonym. When an anonymous tip sends him to Luella’s, little does he know he’s arrived on the worst day of the chef’s life. The review practically writes itself: underdone fish, scorched sauce, distracted service—he unleashes his worst.

The day that Al’s mean-spirited review of Luella’s runs, the two cross paths in a pub: Lou drowning her sorrows, and Al celebrating his latest publication. As they chat, Al playfully challenges Lou to show him the best of Milwaukee and she’s game—but only if they never discuss work, which Al readily agrees to. As they explore the city’s local delicacies and their mutual attraction, Lou’s restaurant faces closure, while Al’s column gains popularity. It’s only a matter of time before the two fall in love…but when the truth comes out, can Lou overlook the past to chase her future?
 
Set in the lovely, quirky heart of Wisconsin, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is a charming love story of misunderstandings, mistaken identity, and the power of food to bring two people together.

I happily give this fun, flirty read a solid ☕☕☕☕  and I look forward to more work from this author. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Of Ashes and Dust by Marc Graham

Of Ashes and Dust is the debut novel of up and coming (in my humble opinion) author Marc Graham.

"So this is what it is to die."

James Robbins is a man surviving. And dying. And doing both simultaneously as he treks the sojourn of his life. Of Ashes and Dust follows one man's quest to be become every man. Spanning the mid to late 1800s with a predominant layover in the Civil War era, James (also called JD, Jimmy, and Jade depending on the company he keeps) starts his life as the son of a sharecropper making friends with the slaves and falling in love with the girl he wasn't supposed to have. His story flashes in fragments before him as he relives what was, what is, and what could have been. He learned to smoke a pipe, he learned to lie; he saved lives and he took lives - and he learned to love. We begin with him at the end to have a front row view of the sordid conflicts he's faced from fighting the Yankees to the Indians to his own brethren. His life manifests as an integral cog in the expansion of the American West from Arkansas to California, and as he relives the choices he's made - he wasn't always on the right side. Wounded in a railroad explosion that begins his calculated flashback, Jimmy Robbins seeks the purpose of this life - and may he find it.

Marc Graham has crafted a beautiful debut historical fiction novel. His settings are richly drawn evoking an ambitious to desire to be where the novel takes you with all the senses afoot, "The birds cawed at me and I squawked at them, still running, until I reached the woods at the far side of the field." His characters are fleshed out with detail and alive with design, "Where he was beefy and powerfully built, she was gaunt with a sharp, angular face etched with worry lines that her tightly pulled-back hair and severe bun did little to smooth." The conflict, particularly in battle scenes of the Civil War, reminded me of palpable imagery from The Red Badge of Courage where bloodshed and loss gripped the reader both heart and soul. The love scenes were tender and tasteful, and apropos - something lacking in so much of today's fiction.

I particularly enjoyed the protagonist's point of view (James Robbins). He was a man on a mission and you were with him. When he failed, I failed; when he won, I won. The novel flowed in such a way that turning pages didn't feel much like turning pages and more like a film reel unfolding before me. Of Ashes and Dust gives the gift of hope - that one man can change the face of the world in which he lives, that a life does truly matter. I finished the novel in less than 48 hours - I couldn't put it down. I had to know how James Robbins ended where he began. I needed to see the life he lived. And what a life it was.

I happily give this debut novel ☕☕☕☕  and look forward to more work from Graham. He is an author to watch - mark my words.

For more about him, his debut novel, and his whiskey aficionado ideas, visit his website at http://www.marc-graham.com/

You can find his novel for purchase in both hardback and Kindle format on Amazon.com.

Note: I received an ARC digital copy of this novel in exchange for a candid and honest review. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

The Hours by Michael Cunningham is one of the most poignant novels I've read in quite some time. My life is so very different from all of the characters, yet as a woman I resonated with each woman on a very real level; I understood their plight and Cunningham's writing creates a vivid portrait of women's actual struggles and the choices they must make in their lives, outside of simply their gender. It's a novel of love, of decision, of friendship, of destiny.

I was openly shocked to find myself so in love with this book. I have read many Pulitzer Prize novels and always found them lacking in both literary style and characterization; long and plodding as they often are. (Except Empire Falls by Richard Russo - top notch!) Yet, this one is not. I would recommend this as a must read to anyone for the very portrait of intertwined lives and lessons embedded in the well-written pages.

In the novel, Cunningham draws upon the real life of Virginia Woolf, and intertwines her destiny to write Mrs. Dalloway within two other characters, both more modern than she: Clarissa Vaughn, whom has been nicknamed Mrs. Dalloway by her dear friend poetic friend in the 1990s, and Lauren Brown, a housewife post WWII. The two women could not live a more different life than Woolf, but their stories of hope, love, and tenderness span decades and decades of time. What I loved so much was the way Cunningham moved from 1920s London, to post WWII, to the 1990s without ever capitalizing on such an obvious time-hop. The women meet in a way that is unexpected and quite surreal - and not what you assume when I say "meet."

This novel impacted me in two ways: 1) Need to read Mrs. Dalloway now. That must happen. 2) Less is sometimes more, especially on the literary page. Cunningham packs a lot into a short 228 pages, and said more than many tomes I've read.

I give this novel a well deserved ☕☕☕☕☕ and put it on a clear favorites list. Give this a read, it won't take you long and it won't be disappointing.