Review: La's Orchestra Saves the World

While at the bookstore over the holiday's I saw this book just after paying for the stack of books I was buying.  I picked up a copy, got back in line and bought it. 

Type: Fiction, 294 pages, Hardcover

Synopsis: It is 1939. Lavender—La to her friends—decides to flee London, not only to avoid German bombs but also to escape the memories of her shattered marriage. The peace and solitude of the small town she settles in are therapeutic . . . at least at first. As the war drags on, La is in need of some diversion and wants to boost the town's morale, so she organizes an amateur orchestra, drawing musicians from the village and the local RAF base. Among the strays she corrals is Feliks, a shy, proper Polish refugee who becomes her prized recruit—and the object of feelings she thought she'd put away forever.

With his all-embracing empathy and his gentle sense of humor, Alexander McCall Smith makes of La's life—and love—a tale to enjoy and cherish.

Quick Take: Recommend - This is a sweet book, if you enjoyed reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society book you will love this book.  Alexander McCall Smith's writing transports the reader to another time and place. This book reminds us of the hardship endured during the war and shows us the determination people had to carry on with life.  A very good read.

While reading this book I kept thinking about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.  If you enjoyed that book, you will La's Orchestra Saves the World.

Source: Personal Copy

Review: Men and Dogs

I was so excited to see Katie Crouch has a new novel coming out next month and was even happier to receive a review copy while in NYC a few months ago. Her books have the best covers!

Synopsis:  When Hannah Legare was 11, her father went on a fishing trip in the Charleston harbor and never came back. And while most of the town and her family accepted Buzz's disappearance, Hannah remained steadfastly convinced of his imminent return.

Twenty years later Hannah's new life in San Francisco is unraveling. Her marriage is on the rocks, her business is bankrupt. After a disastrous attempt to win back her husband, she ends up back at her mother's home to "rest up", where she is once again sucked into the mystery of her missing father. Suspecting that those closest are keeping secrets--including Palmer, her emotionally closed, well-mannered brother and Warren, the beautiful boyfriend she left behind--Hannah sets out on an uproarious, dangerous quest that will test the whole family's concepts of loyalty and faith.

Type: Fiction, 279 pages, Hardcover

Quick Take: Recommend - I loved the 'messiness' of this book!  It starts out with a painfully desperate, funny moment when Hannah is trying to reconcile with her husband after she has made another terrible mistake.  That's all I will say about the opening; I enjoyed reading about a woman who was the messed up partner.  The rest of the story takes place in the city where she grew up -we are introduced to her first love, her family and friends who help her make some decisions about life. 

It's also important to note that the men in the book are not portrayed as dogs (just in case you are reading this in the title).  Men AND dogs both play an important part in the story/plot.

If you read Girls in Trucks, this book is completely different - the only similarity is that it's about a woman trying to figure out 'who she is'. I know a few people who didn't like the first book but I would suggest trying Men and Dogs, I think you will be surprised.

Source: Review Copy

Review: Happiness Sold Seperately

How many times have I walked by this book at the bookstore? I have even picked it up thinking I really want to read it, but a book club selection usually gets in the way.  Last weekend I saw Happiness Sold Seperately sitting in the lobby of the library, this must have been a sign (ha). I picked up the audio version and was entertained all weekend while running and working out.

From the author’s website: Lolly Winston, born and raised in the glamorous insurance capital of Hartford, Conn., Lolly Winston holds an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. In the early eighties she went to Hawaii for eight days and stayed for eight years, boogie boarding and working as a corporate copy writer and public affairs officer at a local trauma hospital. She lives with her husband in Northern California.

Click here to read an author Q&A

Synopsis: Elinor Mackey has always done the right things in the right order-college, law school, career, marriage-but now everything's going wrong. After two painful years of trying, Elinor has learned that she can't have children. All the doctors can tell her is that it's probably because of her age. As she turns forty, she withdraws into an interior world of heartbreak.

Elinor's loving husband, Ted, a successful podiatrist, has always done the right thing, too. Then he meets the wrong woman at the wrong time, and does the wrong thing. Ted's lover, Gina-a beautiful and kindhearted nutritionist-always eats the right thing, but is unlucky in love and always falls for the wrong men. Soon Ted has to fight to make everything right again.

Can Elinor and Ted's marriage be saved? The answer is alarmingly fresh and unexpected as New York Times bestselling author Lolly Winston introduces us to characters as memorable as those of Anne Tyler and Nick Hornby, but who are indelibly all her own.

Type: Fiction, 320 pages, Trade paperback

Quick Take: Recommend - This novel grabbed me in the first five minutes and kept me wanting to listen.  We follow Elinor as she discovers her husbands affair (on the first page), confirms the affair and confronts the other woman in an unexpected fashion (I loved this moment) - all of this happens very quickly in the book.  Written with whit and tenderness I was connected to the story and wanted to know what would happen to Ted and Elinor.  Do they find their way back to each other?  You have to read it to find out. 

I did enjoy the ending to this story.  It doesn't end exactly like you might expect, which was a pleasent surprise. 

Source: Library (audio)

ANNA read-a-long: Part 2

I read somewhere that Anna Karenina was published in eight parts over several years. Readers read this story over a long period of time (more like a series than one large novel). This is why I started Anna Karenina a few years ago and never finished it – I decided to read it in similar fashion and only made it through parts one and two. I’m really enjoying reading this with everyone and keeping myself on task. Reading a section every 3-4 weeks lets me sneak Anna into my schedule. I must confess that I am reading Anna feverously, finishing part 2 in just a few days. For some reason this gives me a sense of accomplishment.

Part 2 recap provided by Oprah.com:

Anna Karenina is steeped in infidelity from its first page—the Oblonsky family struggle to overcome Stiva's selfish act of marital betrayal provides a powerful framework for everything that follows. Yet it is Stiva's sister Anna's grand passion for the dashing Count Vronsky that gives readers the deepest and most realized exploration of adultery and sexuality the novel has to offer. As we progress through Part Two, the lovers' magnetic personalities grow exponentially as their love affair goes from an all-consuming idea to a fully realized reflection of sexual desire, expression and treachery.

Review: Alice I have been

I bought this book initially as homework for an article I was going to write.  I also spent some time at my local bookstore glancing at 'all things' Alice before Alice in Wonderland opened last weekend.  Well I decided to write about something completely different (not because of this book... but that's another story for another day).

From author’s website: By incorporating her passion for history and biography, Melanie, now writing as Melanie Benjamin, has finally found her niche writing historical fiction, concentrating on the "stories behind the stories." ALICE I HAVE BEEN is her first historical novel; she is currently at work on her second, also to be published by Delacorte Press.

She and her family still live in the Chicago area; when she's not writing, she's gardening, taking long walks, rooting for the Cubs—

Synopsis: Few works of literature are as universally beloved as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Now, in this spellbinding historical novel, we meet the young girl whose bright spirit sent her on an unforgettable trip down the rabbit hole–and the grown woman whose story is no less enthralling.

But oh my dear, I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful?

Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life has been a richly woven tapestry: As a young woman, wife, mother, and widow, she’s experienced intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. But as she nears her eighty-first birthday, she knows that, to the world around her, she is and will always be only “Alice.” Her life was permanently dog-eared at one fateful moment in her tenth year–the golden summer day she urged a grown-up friend to write down one of his fanciful stories.

For Alice, the stakes could not be higher, for she is the mother of three grown sons, soldiers all. Yet even as she stands to lose everything she treasures, one part of her will always be the determined, undaunted Alice of the story, who discovered that life beyond the rabbit hole was an astonishing journey.

Type: Fiction, 368 pages, Hardcover

Quick Take: I really wanted to read this book after reading a few reviews online from trusted sources.  I'm glad I read this book, it's well researched and very well written.  Like many of us, I didn't know Alice was a real person.  Did you know Peter Pan is a real person and that Alice and Peter meet (at least they do in the book, I wonder if this is true)?

What I didn't like:  I don't want to make more of this than needed but the reader is often left wondering if Alice had inappropriate relations with a grown man (she was seven) throughout over half of the book.  Sometimes it reads as a crush but I was often left unsettled.  Once she is grown this part of the story fades.  I will tell you Alice is happy and nothing horrible happens to her.

Read about the world of Alice: I encourage you to visit this link on the author's website - it provides Alice's background.  You might not be able to leave this site!

Source: Personal copy

Review: The Summer We Fell Apart

It’s not a secret… I love reading stories about families. After reading so many good reviews about The Summer We Fell Apart I knew this would be a good choice for me. It was a TLC book tour selection earlier this year and a book club selection for Book Club Girl. I really enjoy her interviews, listening to the author discuss the book always brings new meaning to a story.

From author's website: Robin Antalek studied fiction writing at the New York State Writer’s Institute and lives with her husband and two daughters in New York. The Summer We Fell Apart is her first novel.

Congratulations to Robin, her book was selected as a Target breakout book! 

Synopsis: The children of a once-brilliant playwright and a struggling actress, the four Haas siblings grew up in chaos-raised in an environment composed of neglect and glamour in equal measure. When their father dies, they must depend on their intense but fragile bond to remember what it means to be family despite years of anger and hurt. These brothers and sisters are painfully human, sometimes selfish, and almost always making the wrong decisions, but their endearing struggles provide laughter through tears-something anyone who's ever had a sibling can relate to.

Type: Fiction, 367 pages, Trade paperback

Quick Take: Recommend - The Haas family seems trouble bound from the beginning pages and this sets up a compelling story that is told from five voices. The story starts with the youngest daughter (Amy) as she sets up the story for the reader by sharing the family’s background; we learn how the family falls apart the summer before her senior year in high school. The age range of the four children is a key element to this story. Children often have different memories for the same event and this is true in this book.

I just loved this book and enjoyed reading each part of the story, gaining bits of knowledge along the way. You learn a little more about the Haas family as the story progresses. I can easily see the author taking one of the characters forward to another novel (even as a secondary character). Any character could be brought forward but I would love to read more about Kate!

Source: Review Copy

Review: Double Fault

Twenty Minute Book Club 

I will be a guest on That’s how I Blog on March 16th (available on iTunes). If you are not familiar with Nicole’s podcast she interviews a guest each week.  Each episode consists of an interview followed by a book discussion.

I’m not sure how she manages this schedule (reading a book a week for the show plus all the other reading she does), she’s amazing! I selected Double Fault solely based on author name. After reading We need to talk about Kevin for the EDIWTB book club (hosted by Gayle), I really wanted to read another book by the author.

About the Author: Novelist and journalist Lionel Shriver won the coveted Orange Prize in 2005 for We Need to Talk about Kevin, a gripping literary page-turner that delves into the tragic possibilities of motherhood gone awry. Her features, op-eds, and reviews have appeared in such publications as The Guardian, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and the Economist.

Synopsis: Tennis has been Willy Novinsky's one love ever since she first picked up a racket at the age of four. A middle-ranked pro at twenty-three, she's met her match in Eric Oberdorf, a low-ranked, untested Princeton grad who also intends to make his mark on the international tennis circuit. Eric becomes Willy's first passion off the court, and eventually they marry. But while wedded life begins well, full-tilt competition soon puts a strain on their relationship—and an unexpected accident sends driven and gifted Willy sliding irrevocably toward resentment, tragedy, and despair.

From acclaimed author Lionel Shriver comes a brilliant and unflinching novel about the devastating cost of prizing achievement over love.

Links worth visiting:
- Author Q&A
- Shriver is a regular contributor to the Guardian, below are a few recent articles: Author Junket and My Obese Brother
- An interview about We need to talk about Kevin
- Guardian's review of Double Fault

Type: Fiction, 352 pages, Trade paperback

Quick Take: Did you read We need to talk about Kevin? The format for Double Fault is similar, the book moves along with a lot of detail , the plot thickens and about 50 pages before the end of the story, BANG! Filled with loose facts about the life of tennis players from work ethic to coaching, family dynamics to the player personalities, I think most people will enjoy this novel.  At first glance I might say I didn't find Willy to be a likable character but she is glue that holds the book together.  She is extremely competitive (often times to a fault).  I read this book over a month ago and am still thinking about the characters. 

I appreciate Shriver's writing style and like Kevin, there is A LOT to discuss.  I'm looking forward to discussing this with Nicole in March.  A good book club selection.

Source: Library (Audio)

Review: The Heretic's Daughter

The MMBC will be reading a book by Kathleen Kent later this year and after an email exchange with the publisher I just knew I had to read The Heretic's Daughter.  Imagine my surprise when I found there was no wait for this book at my public library!  I picked it up the next day (sorry.. this put all my other reading back a bit but I couldn't put this one down).

Every once in a while I read a book that is so moving I know it will stay with me for a very long time, if not forever. Having just returned from Boston a month ago the timing was good since my son and I visited cemeteries and other historical places dating back to the 1600's.  I felt a connection to the words written on the pages.

From author’s website: Kathleen Kent is a tenth- generation descendant of Martha Carrier. She is also a masterful storyteller, and in her first novel she paints a haunting portrait, not just of Puritan New England but also of one family’s deep and abiding love in the face of fear and persecution.

Synopsis: Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. This is the story of Martha's courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.

Kathleen Kent is a tenth generation descendent of Martha Carrier. She is also a natural-born storyteller, and in her first novel, she paints a haunting portrait, not just of Puritan New England, but also of one family's deep and abiding love in the face of fear and persecution

Type: Fiction, 332 pages, Trade paperback

Quick Take: Highly Recommend - The Heretic's Daughter is told from the eyes of a young girl and is one families story of despair, love, strength, uncertainty and justice. Sarah is such a little girl, she's only a child yet has so much responsibility and courage. This story is bigger than Sarah though, it’s important to remember the Salem witch trials and the impact they have on our history. It’s a beautifully told story, I promise you will not be able to put the book down.

Source: Library

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