Review: Down from Cascom Mountain

Why I picked it: Staci (Life in the Thumb) sent me this book after she read it and mentioned that she thought it was a novel I would enjoy.  I love it when I'm reading a book and start thinking about which friend to pass it on to.  Thanks Staci!

Synopsis: In Down from Cascom Mountain, newlywed Mary Hall brings her husband to settle in the rural New Hampshire of her youth to fix up the house she grew up in and to reconnect to the land that defined her, with all its beauty and danger. But on a mountain day hike, she watches helplessly as her husband falls to his death. As she struggles with her sudden grief, in the days and months that follow, Mary finds new friendships-with Callie and Tobin, teenagers on the mountain club's crew, and with Ben, the gentle fire watchman. All are haunted by their own losses, but they find ways to restore hope in one another, holding firmly as they navigate the rugged terrain of the unknown and unknowable, and loves lost and found.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Down from Cascom Mountain starts with a bang. We quickly learn that Mary's husband has fallen to his death, what happens after ultimately a story of hope.  As you turn the pages you discover that the characters in the novel are all seeking closure from the past.

Mary's father in-law caught me off guard with his forwardness, I couldn't believe some of the things he said to Mary.  Yet we all know people like him.  Most of the new friends that Mary makes are teens/college kids working on at the Mountain, in a camp environment.  This setting worked for me.

I appreciated Mary's relationship with Ben.  They helped each other heal. 

Like Staci wrote in her review, 'At first glance you really don't think any of the characters have a single thing in common, but after sitting back and letting myself absorb what I read,  I realized that no matter what age, sex, or life experience, grief can be a constant companion for any lost and hurting soul.'  Well said!

Rating: 4 stars
Source: Personal Copy

Review: The Blue Sweater

Why I picked it: I saw this book at a friends house last summer.  She had just returned from a conference where the author was the guest speaker.  In my quest to learn how to give back, this was a great book for me to read.

Synopsis: The Blue Sweater is the inspiring story of a woman who left a career in international banking to spend her life on a quest to understand global poverty and find powerful new ways of tackling it. It all started back home in Virginia, with the blue sweater, a gift that quickly became her prized possession—until the day she outgrew it and gave it away to Goodwill. Eleven years later in Africa, she spotted a young boy wearing that very sweater, with her name still on the tag inside. That the sweater had made its trek all the way to Rwanda was ample evidence, she thought, of how we are all connected, how our actions—and inaction—touch people every day across the globe, people we may never know or meet.

She shows, in ways both hilarious and heartbreaking, how traditional charity often fails, but how a new form of philanthropic investing called "patient capital" can help make people self-sufficient and can change millions of lives. More than just an autobiography or a how-to guide to addressing poverty, The Blue Sweater is a call to action that challenges us to grant dignity to the poor and to rethink our engagement with the world.

Type: Memoir/non-fiction

Quick Take: I'm so glad I listened to this book since I may not have finished it if I was reading a paper copy.  How many books have you started a book only to close it with the intention of finishing?  I was expecting a heartfelt compassionate book about one woman's journey, this book is more academic... explaining the system, it's weaknesses, discovering ways to empower women and make a difference. 

I do encourage everyone to read this book - it was eye opening reading how Jacqueline navigates a male dominated world, not taking no for an answer with the end goal of making the world a better place for women and children in Africa.  She also deals with cultural hurdles, being a white business woman in Rwanda, and at times the women she's working with do not always agree/understand what she's trying to accomplish. Eye opening.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: personal copy (audio)
Countries: Rwanda

Review: Outlander

Why I picked it: I have been warned, really, that this is not a book for me.  Many of my friends have told me not to read it.  But when I read Kristi's review (Peetswea) mentioning that it's her favorite novel read this year, I wanted to try it.

Synopsis: The year is 1945. Claire Randall is traveling with her husband when she touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is hurled back in time to a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord 1743. Catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, she soon realizes that an alliance with James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, might be the only way to survive. Thus begins a work of unrivaled storytelling that has become a modern classic.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Sorry Cheryl, Nancy, Kristi and others who were so excited for me...I didn't finish this one.  I listened to more than half of the novel before skipping 13 CD's and jumping to the last two so I could hear the ending.  Guess what? I didn't feel like I missed anything in the plot, it just picked right up with James suffering another beating, her tending to him and him finally disappearing.

I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more if the story was half the length, sometimes I would listen of two hours without any plot movement.

Did you know the target audience is 16-18 years old?

Have you read it? So many people love this book, please tell me what I missed.

Rating: n/a
Country: Scotland/British Isles
Source: Library (audio)

Review: The Bungalow

Why I picked it: I read The Violets of March earlier this year and since I loved the writing style and storytelling... I had to read The Bungalow.

The Manic Mommies Book Club read and discussed The Violets of March with Sarah Jio last summer.  Click here to listen/download our discussion.

Synopsis: In the summer of 1942, twenty-one-year-old Anne Calloway, newly engaged, sets off to serve in the Army Nurse Corps on the Pacific island of Bora-Bora. More exhilarated by the adventure of a lifetime than she ever was by her predictable fiancé, she is drawn to a mysterious soldier named Westry, and their friendship soon blossoms into hues as deep as the hibiscus flowers native to the island. Under the thatched roof of an abandoned beach bungalow, the two share a private world-until they witness a gruesome crime, Westry is suddenly redeployed, and the idyll vanishes into the winds of war.

A timeless story of enduring passion, The Bungalow chronicles Anne's determination to discover the truth about the twin losses-of life, and of love-that have haunted her for seventy years.

Type: Historical Fiction

Quick Take: I'm so happy that I was sick last weekend... creating time to read this novel in two days.  I was completely absorbed in Anne's story. It's a love story at it's core but it's also a reminder of the sacrifices many made during WWII. 

Jio's storytelling is brilliant, it felt like I was in Bora Bora watching lives change.  Friendships are tested, love is found and lost (sometimes by death) and there is plenty of heartbreak.  Ultimately this is a story of love and perseverance in tough times.  There's so much I want to share... but I don't want to ruin the story.  Let me just say that I couldn't put this book down.

Read it!

Rating: 5/5 stars
Country: Tahiti (Bora-Bora)
Source: NetGalley

Review: Deep Down True

Why I picked it: Manic Mommies Book Club (August 2011)

Synopsis: Newly divorced Dana Stellgarten has always been unfailingly nice—even to telemarketers—but now her temper is wearing thin. Money is tight, her kids are reeling from their dad's departure, and her Goth teenage niece has just landed on her doorstep. As she enters the slipstream of post-divorce romance and is befriended by the town queen bee, Dana finds that the tension between being true to yourself and being liked doesn't end in middle school…and that sometimes it takes a real friend to help you embrace adulthood in all its flawed complexity.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: At the surface, Deep Down True is a story about a woman navigating divorce and rebuilding her life but you quickly learn this novel is about so much more.

Dana is juggling all aspects of life. from finding a meaningful job, discovering who her real friends are, connecting with family, and learning how to co-parent with her ex-husband.  Mix in learning to date, a niece who comes to stay and a few bumps along the way... this book makes for a good book club discussion.  Everyone will connect to at least one part of the story.

Click here to listen to our lively discussion with author Juliette Fay.

Rating: 3/5 stars
Source: Personal Copy (Audio, iTunes)

Review: The Orphan Sister

Why I picked it: Manic Mommies Book Club selection.  I love it when listeners recommend books for us to read, it’s even better when the author is available to discuss the book with us!

This month we read an interesting novel about triplets, exploring the relationships of a set of identical twins and their triplet sister who shared a womb. I always read/hear about twins and their connections but have never thought about how might this be different for the triplet who doesn’t share the ‘identical’ label.

Synopsis:  Clementine Lord is not an orphan. She just feels like one sometimes. One of triplets, a quirk of nature left her the odd one out. Odette and Olivia are identical; Clementine is a singleton. Biologically speaking, she came from her own egg. Practically speaking, she never quite left it. Then Clementine’s father—a pediatric neurologist who is an expert on children’s brains, but clueless when it comes to his own daughters—disappears, and his choices, both past and present, force the family dynamics to change at last. As the three sisters struggle to make sense of it, their mother must emerge from the greenhouse and leave the flowers that have long been the focus of her warmth and nurturing.

For Clementine, the next step means retracing the winding route that led her to this very moment: to understand her father’s betrayal, the tragedy of her first lost love, her family’s divisions, and her best friend Eli’s sudden romantic interest. Most of all, she may finally have found the voice with which to share the inside story of being the odd sister out. . . .

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: We had a wonderful discussion with author Gwendolen Gross last night.  Not having sisters I tend to overlook the theme of sisterhood.  I don't do this intentionally, instead I connect to other elements in novels... so it was nice exploring sisterhood and triplet sisters on the call.

At the core, the novel explores the need for pairing. The longing we have to be a couple, through friendships, relationships, siblings, or marriage.  We follow Clementine through her life journey (into her late twenties) as she longs to find her pair.  Although she has a strong connection to her sisters she tends to feel like an extra at times, her sisters are identical twins who's lives haven't diverted from plan.  Clementine's journey has taken a few course corrections but she's finding her way.

Mix in a missing father, postpartum, animal rescue and more... this makes for a wonderful book discussion.

If you enjoy Barbara Delinsky, Jodi Picoult novels you will enjoy The Orphan Sister.

Gwendolen's Book Recommendations:
500 Acres and No Where to Hide (McCorkendale)
Alice Bliss(Harrington)
The Highest Tide (Lynch)

Click the green button to listen from here, the discussion lasts 46 minutes. It's also available on iTunes (search Manic Mommies Book Club) or click here to download/listen.

Rating: 4 stars
Source: Personal Copy (Nook)

Review: Maine

Why I picked it: I had to read what all the fuss was about. 

Synopsis:  For the Kellehers, Maine is a place where children run in packs, showers are taken outdoors, and old Irish songs are sung around a piano. Their beachfront property, won on a barroom bet after the war, sits on three acres of sand and pine nestled between stretches of rocky coast, with one tree bearing the initials “A.H.” At the cottage, built by Kelleher hands, cocktail hour follows morning mass, nosy grandchildren snoop in drawers, and decades-old grudges simmer beneath the surface.

As three generations of Kelleher women descend on the property one summer, each brings her own hopes and fears. Maggie is thirty-two and pregnant, waiting for the perfect moment to tell her imperfect boyfriend the news; Ann Marie, a Kelleher by marriage, is channeling her domestic frustration into a dollhouse obsession and an ill-advised crush; Kathleen, the black sheep, never wanted to set foot in the cottage again; and Alice, the matriarch at the center of it all, would trade every floorboard for a chance to undo the events of one night, long ago.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: While reading this book I kept thinking about a Haigh novel that felt similar.  Lot's of emotion yet moving slowly from start to finish.  I know someone who was so excited to read this book, solely because the title.  Maine is a secondary character at best. I wonder if she has read it...

I'm sorry to say I was left unsatisfied when I finished this one.  I anticipated the ending after the big secret is revealed early in the novel, in my opinion the secret needed to slip out at the dinner table.  That would have made for an interesting situation.

This is a story filled with family drama, alcoholism, and several other themes.  I enjoyed the family relationships most so to explore this a bit more I thought I would answer a few of the questions listed in the discussion section:

If you had to choose one word to describe the overriding theme of Maine, what would it be? Family Loyalty.  There's a lot going on in this novel, people running away from family, entitlement, a potential affair, secrets (many of them)....

What was Alice’s motivation for changing her will? Why did she wait so long to tell her family?  Alice didn't understand, or didn't want to understand that her son set up the Maine calendar (staggering visits) so that she wouldn't be alone.  She thought her children didn't like each other, and while it wasn't a close family, I did feel they had a connection to the Maine house and family.

Not telling her family about her plans was terrible and the easy way out.  I kept waiting for this news to be shared.  Keeping this a secret let her feel control and she made reference to the shock they would experience so she knew what she was doing.  Alice wasn't  a warm and fuzzy person.

Which of these women would you like to spend more time with? Are there any you’d never want to see again? I didn't care for Ann Marie but her story is the one that kept me reading. She felt entitled, and was a bit of a 'Debbie Downer'.  She didn't like her husband much, craved order and seemed unhappy.  Her doll house obsession seemed to replace life, she could control of every aspect of the doll house. She did keep the book entertaining though...

I gave my audio copy to my neighbor a few weeks ago, I can't wait to discuss this book with her.  Have you read it?

Rating: 3/5 stars
Source: Library (audio)

Review: The Marriage Plot

Why I picked it: This novel was selected as the first book selection for a new book club that my friends and I have started.  It was my choice, and a risky one.

Why this book? I knew the reading habits of only two gals but thought this would be an interesting choice after everyone said they want to read outside their comfort zone. Some of the women I have met just 2-3 times before our discussion... college/dating seemed like a safe place. 

Synopsis: It's the early 1980s--the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.

As Madeleine tries to understand why "it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth-century France," real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead--charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy--suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old "friend" Mitchell Grammaticus--who's been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange--resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.

Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology Laboratory on Cape Cod, but can't escape the secret responsible for Leonard's seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Before recapping our discussion, let me say that I enjoyed this book very much.  The first section is packed with information and the reader might be concerned that the entire book will follow the flow of part one.  Don't get stuck here... it's reality fiction, a love triangle/personal growth story.

One of my walking friends wasn't able to finish the book.  She tried to read it but I think it's safe to say she hated it.  Everyone else enjoyed it.  I did walk away from our discussion wondering how this novel reads internationally.  The women who read this book with 'English as a second language' really struggled with some of the vocabulary and section one was difficult for them.  I would love to read reviews from my friends outside the US to see if they had a similar experience.

I did write all over my copy, noting paragraphs to discuss.  As mentioned in the synopsis, Madeleine is a romantic who writes her thesis on love and the classics.  I loved this statement to Madeleine:

"...was there a novel where the heroine gets married to the wrong guy and then realizes it, and then the other suitor shows up, some guy who's always been in love with her, and then they get together, but finally the second suitor realizes that the last thing the woman needs is to get married again, that she's got more important things to do with her life?..."

I was satisfied with the ending, it was exactly what I was looking for. 

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: personal copy

Review: The Paris Wife

Why I picked it: I had come close to reading this book several times so when a good friend told me it was a must read, I knew I had to read it.

Synopsis: A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever.

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

Type: Historical Fiction
Quick Take: This is a heartbreaking portrayal of love and loyalty.  As I listened to this book I kept thinking about how sad Hadley must have been.  I didn't get the sense that life was joyful for them.  Hemingway was often depressed. That said, I did feel the love she had for him.  It was only at the end of listening to this book that I had compassion for their marriage. 

I loved all the references of Paris, prohibition, life in the 20's, and learning more about a circle of authors. 

I had forgotten that Hemingway's family is filled with depression and suicide.  It's tragic.

Shortly after reading this book, a friend and I saw the new Woody Allen movie (Midnight's in Paris).  It was so much fun to recognize authors, wive's, etc in the movie.  A fun complement to the book.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Library (audio)

Review: The Best of Me

Why I picked it: I was walking with a friend who told me she was reading a book that she couldn't put down, when I asked her for the name of the book she said it was the latest Sparks novel (it was her first time reading this author).  I didn't know he had a new novel (yikes).

I didn't plan to read it right away but picked up a copy while shopping at Costco last Friday.  I finished this book Sunday morning, curled up on the sofa with a blanket and a latte.  Perfect start to my day.

Synopsis: In the fall of 1984, high school students Amanda Collier and Dawson Cole fell deeply, irrevocably in love. Though they were from opposite sides of the tracks, their love for one another seemed to defy the realities of life in the small town of Oriental, North Carolina. But as the summer of their senior year came to a close, unforeseen events would tear the young couple apart, setting them on radically divergent paths.

Now, twenty-five years later, Amanda and Dawson are summoned back to Oriental for a funeral. Neither has lived the life they imagined . . . and neither can forget the passionate first love that forever changed their lives. Forced to confront painful memories, the two former lovers soon realize that everything they thought they knew-about themselves and the dreams they held dear-was not as it seemed. And in the course of a single, searing weekend, they will ask of the living, and the dead: Can love truly rewrite the past?

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: I know what to expect when I select a Sparks novel, a heartwarming love story with some adversity/drama. I might even shed a tear if I connect to the characters.

Amanda has been married for over twenty years, her husband has a drinking issue.  Their life isn't bad but they have suffered loss in many forms over the years.  Dawson runs away from life, unable to find closure from his first love... which was over twenty years ago.  The two reunite at a funeral, embarking on a journey over the next few days that will change their lives forever.

If you enjoyed The Love Song, you will enjoy The Best of Me

Rating: 4 stars
Source: Personal Copy

Review: Good to a Fault

Why I picked it: I bought this novel as a new release, on a business trip to Toronto in 2008.  I decided to read it in October, along with two other novels that I have been meaning to read for a while. 

When I mentioned my plan, Judith (Leeswammes Blog) mentioned she had a copy of the book and also wanted to read it so we decided to read it together.  She asked me a few questions (answers below), make sure you click to her review to read the rest of our conversation.  A great way to read/discuss a book!

Type: Fiction

Synopsis: Clara Purdy is at a crossroads. At forty-three, she is divorced, living in her late parents' house, and near-ing her twentieth year as a claims adjuster at a local insurance firm. Driving to the bank during her lunch hour, she crashes into a sharp left turn, taking the Gage family in the other car with her. When bruises on the mother, Lorraine, prove to be late-stage cancer, Clara decides to do the right thing. She moves Lorraine's three children and their terrible grandmother into her own house—and then has to cope with the consequences of practical goodness: exhaustion, fury, hilarity, and unexpected love.

What, exactly, does it mean to be good? What do we owe each other in this life, and what do we deserve? Good to a Fault is an ultimately joyful book that digs deep, with leavening humor, into questions of morality, class, and social responsibility. Marina Endicott looks at life and death through the compassionate, humane lens of a born novelist: being good, being at fault, and finding some balance in between.

Quick Take: I didn't care for the characters all that much but that's okay, this book is a story of humanity and the testing of boundaries (the message jumps off the page).

Judith's email mentioned that she 'loved the happy-family feel and how others helped out Clara.' I had a different response while reading the book, I struggled with Clara's decisions.  I guess I was narrow minded in my reading experience... looking back I understand Judith's comment but I still don't understand Clara.

Can I say I loved the writing and descriptive nature of the book?  Dolly, Lorraine's daughter and the Grandmother kept my interest.  I wanted to know what happened to them.  Click over to Judith's review to read the rest of the review.

This book has left me thinking, for that alone it deserves four stars.

Let's get to the questions:

Judith: After reading my review, is there anything that you had a totally different reaction to? We don't always enjoy the same books, but with Good to a Fault we did, so I'm wondering if we liked/disliked the same elements in the book.

Mari: My first reaction, while reading this book, wasn’t a good one. I found myself disliking it so much yet I couldn’t stop reading. I wanted to know what happened to Clayton (Lorraine’s husband) and I enjoyed the roughness of Lorraine. Being homeless and longing to provide for one’s family… unthinkable. I cared about this family. I would love to know what happened five years later. How’s Dolly? Is Lorraine healthy? Is the family settled? I wasn’t all that invested in Clara.

Judith: What did you think of the reverend, what was his role in the book? Did you notice how he lost some of his faith straight after the break up with his wife but later gained it again (or do I see this wrongly)?

Mari: He tried to explain to Clara that she didn’t need to get involved with the family post crash, and I was surprised that he wasn’t interested in going to the hospital to visit with Lorraine (at Clara’s request). I didn’t like him all that much, he was a weak person. But again… maybe this is what happens to someone after years of a terrible marriage. I agree with you, he seemed to be a stronger person by the end of the novel.

Judith: And what about Darwin, Lorraine's brother? Why was he introduced as a drunk but then later helped out so brilliantly?

Mari: Darwin is a free spirit! He brought a lightness to the book, he really wanted to help Clara while helping Lorraine’s family. Did you ever wonder, if the family was there temporarily, why he made all the house improvements? Could you imagine coming home and discovering someone built a room in your basement without asking? I’m a literal/rigid reader… you can see why I struggle with imaginative stories!

Judith: Of course I also want to know what you thought of Clara. Could you imagine being like her? What would you do the same/different?

Mari: What can I say about Clara… the situation was so strange, she invited a circus into her home. In America there would have been housing options for the family. If I was faced with a similar situation and chose to help the family (I like to think I would)… I would pay for an apartment for a month/two rather than getting lost in my home. Compassion is wonderful but boundaries need to be set (smart decisions).

In the end, Clayton’s family walks out of Clara’s life as we would expect, only to leave a new grieving process to begin for Clara. I think she realized how important family is, she really wanted to keep the children.

It was great reading a novel together and having a chance to discuss it.  Let's do this again sometime. Thanks Judith!  

Rating: 4 stars
Source: Personal Copy

Review: Second Nature: a love story

Why I picked it: The plot sounded interesting, different, and I was ready for a darker story.

Synopsis: A fierce and moving tale of one woman’s fight for her identity and her life when fate holds out a second chance. Sicily Coyne was just thirteen when her father was killed in a school fire that left her face disfigured. Twelve years later, a young surgeon, Eliza Cappadora, offers hope in the form of a revolutionary new surgery that may give Sicily back the grace and function she lost. Raised by a dynamic, tenacious aunt who taught her to lead a normal life, and engaged to a wonderful man who knew her long before the accident, Sicily rejects the offer: She knows who she is, and so do the people who love her. But when a secret surfaces that shatters Sicily’s carefully constructed world, she calls off the wedding and agrees to the radical procedure in order to begin a new life.

Her beauty restored virtually overnight, Sicily rushes toward life with open arms, seeking new experiences, adventures, and, most of all, love. But she soon discovers that her new face carries with it risks that no one could have imagined. Confronting a moral and medical crisis that quickly becomes a matter of life and death, Sicily is surrounded by experts and loving family, but the choice that will transform her future, for better or worse, is one she must make alone.

An intense and moving story of courage, consequence, and possibility, Second Nature showcases the acclaimed storyteller at her very best.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Before writing this review I read a few reviews online to read reactions to the novel.  While it's well crafted I struggled with a few things in the book.  What I'm learning, about myself, is that I need to stay away from books with fire. 

When Sicily is thirteen she loses her father in a fire and she herself is badly burned. As an adult, she has built a life for herself, filled with friends and is engaged to a wonderful man.  After learning a deep, dark secret about her fiance, she calls off the wedding and decides to go forward with a life changing surgery that turns her from burn victim to beauty. Post surgery she finds love but the isolation is overwhelming.  Her life may have been better before the surgery.

One reviewer wrote:

I challenge anyone to read Ms. Mitchard's description of that fire and NOT be affected in some way; I found myself haunted by it. Her words will mesmerize and terrify you simultaneously, and at the end of the first chapter you will not be able to put the book down.

Having lived through a fire (I was actually in my house with my nine year old son), I am still haunted by the smells, the crackle of the flames, the post events...  if you don't have first hand experience, it's hard to explain/understand how it impacts you the rest of your life. Let me get off my soapbox and back to my review...

The description of the fire wasn't emotional for me, it didn't haunt me.  That said, the fire is just one chapter and told from a young girls eye so I moved past that quickly since this novel is 'post fire'.  What bothered me was that the novel revisited events/feelings over and over and over.  

Now that I'm done reading the book, I like it more than I did while reading it.  The concept was great and I loved the ending.

I seem to be alone in my opinion as this novel is getting 5 star reviews on  I'm sure it has to do with my personal experience. 

Book'd Out and I read/chatted about this one via comments, neither of us loved it.  Click here to read her review.

Rating: 3 stars
Source: Review copy, NetGalley

Review: Everything we ever Wanted

Why I picked it: I had just finished reading a few very dark novels and wanted to return to my comfort zone, family drama seems to be something I keep coming back to.

Synopsis: How do you choose between your family and your history?

A late-night phone call on a Sunday evening rarely brings good news. So when Sylvie, a recently-widowed mother of two, receives a call from the head teacher of the school she's on the board of, she knows it won't be something she wants to hear. The school was founded by her grandfather, and she's inherited everything he strived to build up - a reputation, a heritage, the school and the grand old family house. And with this inheritance comes responsibility.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: At the surface this is a perfect choice for me.  After reading two novels by Shepard it's fair to say she writes with the same level of detail as Jennifer Haigh.  It felt like I knew the characters for years by the midpoint of the novel and the second half moves quickly.

I would have loved to spend more time with Joanna.  She was the most interesting character for me. Starting with her childhood obsession, fueled by her mother, she marries into a specific family... thinking her life will change significantly. 

Her obsession with her husband's high school sweetheart starts to unravel the life she's so carefully built.  Always feeling like an outsider in her husbands life, she stands on the periphery watching a family secret start to works its way to the surface. 

Even a few days after finishing this book I'm left wanting to know what happens to Joanna and Charles (after the novel ends), this is usually a good nod that I liked a book.

When I first posted that I was reading this novel someone left a comment saying that they bailed on this book, not a good sign.... I will tell you that if you don't like to read books with little dialog you might struggle with this one. That said, it worked for me. This would make for a good book club selection, there's a lot to discuss!

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Review Copy, NetGalley

Review: The Girl with Three Legs

Why I picked it: I enjoy reading memoirs, reading other people's stories. A memoir about life experiences and culture (even when the story is tough) makes for a powerful read.

Synopsis:  A victim of FGM and an arranged marriage to an abusive cousin, Miré was also witness to the instability of Somalia’s political landscape: her father was a general for the military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, and her family moved in the inner circles of Somalia’s elite. In her journey to recover from the violence done to her, Miré realizes FGM is the ultimate child abuse, a ritual of mutilation handed down from mother to daughter and protected by the word “culture.”

Type: Memoir

Quick Take: Can I say this... I'm so glad I decided to read this book.  The author writes her story without gruesome detail but enough to express the pain she endured, for being born a girl.

After having her female parts 'cut off' at age thirteen, she is sewn up... only to be opened by her future husband.  To avoid being graphic... imagine the hygiene issues this creates once a month.

As part of their culture, this 'gift' makes girls more attractive to potential husbands who are chosen for them.  In Soraya's story, her mother chooses a cousin to be her future husband.  Someone who treats her terribly and she is forced to escape to save her life.

I wasn't prepared for Soraya's story.  Not only did she receive her 'gift' but the infections and healing process are more than any girl should have to endure.  I knew about FGM before reading this memoir but I wasn't aware of...or didn't think about... the healing process.  Soraya has many complications post surgery, they will haunt you and I'm shocked to learn that this is still viewed as an important cultural experience. 

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Review Copy (NetGalley)

Review: The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

Why I picked it: I'm finally caught up with my summer reading!  With the stack of books on my broken Nook behind me to was time to pick some new reading material.  So, when I was offered a review copy of this novel I jumped at the chance to read it.

Giveaway: I have an extra copy that I would like to give to a lucky reader! 

To enter: While I love new followers to the blog, it's not a requirement.... just leave a comment with your email, so I can reach you. 

Giveaway ends Sunday evening, Oct 2 (open internationally)

Synopsis: After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, writer Kathleen Flinn returned with no idea what to do next, until one day at a supermarket she watched a woman loading her cart with ultraprocessed foods. Flinn's "chefternal" instinct kicked in: she persuaded the stranger to reload with fresh foods, offering her simple recipes for healthy, easy meals.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School includes practical, healthy tips that boost readers' culinary self-confidence, and strategies to get the most from their grocery dollar, and simple recipes that get readers cooking.

Type: Memoir/Cooking

Quick Take: A delightful book, filled with stories and laughter.  Have you ever wondered if someone is watching you grocery shop?  What are you putting in your cart?

I learned so much and think I may have just put a ban on Parmesan cheese from entering my house!  Did you know it has up to 70% more sodium than Parmesan-Reggiano and it also has lower quality standards?

My kitchen is stocked with chef quality gadgets but I don't know how to use them...  as I read this book I kept reading parts out loud to my husband.  We both learned quite a bit and noted a few of the recipes included too. 

Confession: this vegetarian had to skip the chicken chapter on water injections and learning how to cut a whole chicken.....

If you enjoyed Julie and Julia... you will love this one.  I will be buying copies of this book for gifts, a great selection.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Review Copy/Net Galley

Review: Theodora: actress, empress, whore

Why I picked it: Simple... I knew nothing about Theodora and wanted to learn about her.

Synopsis: For citizens of Byzantine Constantinople, the name Theodora evoked strong reactions--awe, lust, and doubt to name a few. Sadly, Theodora is all but lost to history. Like Elizabeth I and Cleopatra, Theodora was expert at wielding power from the throne. Unlike those famous rulers, Theodora was not born into royalty. Her rise to become Empress of the Roman Empire began in the bear pit of the Hippodrome.

Born to the famed stadium's bear-keeper, Theodora's early life was drastically altered when her father was killed by his beloved bear. In order to keep their family afloat, Theodora and her two sisters were indentured to Menander, coach of one of the city's foremost dancing troupes. A natural performer, Theodora learns dance, acrobatics, and comedy, and by the age of fifteen, became the star of the Hippodrome. Like almost every actress of the time, Theodora was also a child prostitute.

At the age of eighteen and at the height of her popularity in Constantinople, Theodora decides to abandon her career in favor of following her lover Hecebolus to The Pentapolis (modern day Libya) where he is the new Governor. She leaves behind her beloved sister Comito, her theater community, and her daughter Ana, whom she barely knows. When things turn sour with Hecebolus Theodora escapes to a religious community whose views conflict with the contemporary Roman state.

Theodora renounces her former life, undergoes a religious conversion, and is eventually sent back to Constantinople as a spy. She is soon sent to meet Justinian, nephew to the Emperor Justin. Theodora works closely with Justinian and eventually he asks for her hand, changing the law forbidding former actresses from marrying, opening doors for all women. After their marriage, Theodora and Justinian stand side by side as he is crowned Emperor and she, his Empress.

Type: Historical Fiction

Quick Take:  Reading books about the women who made up our world inspire me.  So many women took control of their destiny, a lesson we can all use to our benefit.

Theodora may be smart and sassy but she's not the prettiest of gals.  She loves to entertain and her talents are acknowledged one night but selfish acts force her life to take a different turn.  She does move upward and at times is forced to take a few steps backwards after making poor decisions (her emotions get the best of her at times). 

Her life journey is intense at times but after running from a situation she has a spiritual experience that transforms her life, resulting in setting realistic goals and direction for her life. 

This novel is wildly entertaining, descriptive and enlightening.  Did you know HBO is making a series based on Theodora?  I can't wait to watch it!

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: NetGalley

Review: Exposure

Why I picked it: A Manic Mommies Book Club selection - after reading the synopsis earlier this year I forwarded it to one of the MM listeners (a teacher) to see if she thought it would be a good choice for the book club.

Synopsis: Amelia Wilkes’s strict father does not allow her to date, but that doesn’t stop the talented, Winsome High School senior from carrying on a secret romance with her classmate Anthony Winter. Desperately in love, the two envision a life together and plan to tell Amelia’s parents only after she turns eighteen and is legally an adult. Anthony’s mother, Kim, who teaches at their school, knows and keeps their secret. But the couple’s passion is exposed sooner than planned: Amelia’s father, Harlan, is shocked and infuriated to find naked pictures of Anthony on his daughter’s computer. Just hours later, Anthony is arrested.

Despite Amelia’s frantic protests, Harlan uses his wealth and influence with local law enforcement and the media to label Anthony a deviant who preyed on his innocent daughter. Spearheaded by a zealous prosecutor anxious to turn the case into a public crusade against “sexting,” the investigation soon takes an even more disturbing and destructive turn.

As events spiral wildly out of control and the scandalous story makes national news, Amelia and Anthony risk everything in a bold and dangerous attempt to clear their names and end the madness once and for all.

Quick Take: WOW is my first reaction to this subject of this novel.  Exposure is based on true events but I hope Harlan's reaction has been sensationalized to create drama for the reader.  Teenagers think they are invincible at times and tend to come up with strange/hopeful solutions, this is displayed well in the second half of Exposure. 

It's a bit of a Romeo and Juliet love story in modern day.

My son didn't have a camera phone until he was in college, for this I'm thankful!  The author's story (it is based on her son's situation) is one to concern all of us, technology can complicate our lives.

We had a wonderful discussion with the author last night, watch for the audio to post to iTunes in the next few days (search Manic Mommies Book Club under podcasts).

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Review Copy

Review: The Legacy

Why I picked it: The cover grabbed my attention and after reading the plot I knew I wanted to read this book. I enjoy stories filled with family secrets and stories with grandmother's (learning about life from another generation).

Synopsis: Following the death of their grandmother, Erica Calcott and her sister Beth return to Storton Manor, a grand and imposing house in Wiltshire, England, where they spent their summer holidays as children. When Erica begins to sort through her grandmother’s belongings, she is flooded with memories of her childhood—and of her cousin, Henry, whose disappearance from the manor tore the family apart.

Erica sets out to discover what happened to Henry—so that the past can be laid to rest, and her sister, Beth, might finally find some peace. Gradually, as Erica begins to sift through remnants of the past, a secret family history emerges: one that stretches all the way back to Oklahoma in the 1900s, to a beautiful society heiress and a haunting, savage land. As past and present converge, Erica and Beth must come to terms with two terrible acts of betrayal—and the heartbreaking legacy left behind.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take:  From a blessed life in NYC, to the rough daily life of a rancher's wife, to running an English Manor, Caroline's story is one of mystery. 

This is a complicated story that unfolds at a nice pace.  As the synopsis above mentions, one of the granddaughters decides to find out what happened to a cousin who disappeared years ago.  The letters provide the clues to solve the mystery but they also expose a life no one knew about. 

I loved Caroline as a character. There is a point in the novel where her story ends... I wasn't ready for her story to end. I can't remember the last time a character stayed with me like Caroline has (wanting to know more).  Well done!

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Review Copy (NetGalley)

Review: Emily and Einstein

Why I picked it:  I picked this book up at the library, thinking it would be a great book to listen to while commuting to work last month.

Synopsis: Emily and her husband Sandy Portman seemed to live a gracious if busy life in an old-world, Upper West Side apartment in the famous Dakota building. But one night on the way to meet Emily, Sandy dies in a tragic accident. The funeral isn't even over before Emily learns she is on the verge of being evicted from their apartment. But worse than the possibility of losing her home, Emily is stunned when she discovers that her marriage was made up of lies.

Suddenly Emily is forced on a journey to find out who her husband really was . . . all the while feeling that somehow he isn't really gone. Angry, hurt, and sometimes betrayed by loving memories of the man she lost, Emily finds comfort in a scruffy dog named Einstein. But is Einstein's seemingly odd determination that she save herself enough to make Emily confront her own past? Can he help her find a future—even after she meets a new man?

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: What a delightful story, unexpected.

Sandy’s born into a wealthy family and is used to getting what he wants in life. Emily is a sweet woman with a big heart, all she wants is to build a life for herself and to love someone. Sandy is killed in an accident and is given a second chance when he comes back to life as a dog, Einstein. This story is told by both Emily and Sandy/Einstein. It’s more than chick-lit, it’s filled with funny moments as Sandy adjusts to Einstein’s four legged body, seeing Emily grieve, discover secrets about Sandy and rebuilt her life.

Emily adopts Einstein and starts talking to him, not realizing that Einstein is Sandy. I enjoyed the banter with all of the characters and the personal growth that Emily experiences. This is a fun, quick read that I’m happy I read.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Library, Audiobook

Review: The Lantern

Why I picked it: If I'm completely honest... I picked this book after seeing it all over the internet. It's getting a lot of press and I was curious.  I enjoy gothic novels (ie: Niffenegger) and thought I would enjoy this one.

Synopsis: When Eve falls for the secretive, charming Dom, their whirlwind relationship leads them to purchase Les Genevriers, an abandoned house in a rural hamlet in the south of France.  As the beautiful Provence summer turns to autumn, Eve finds it impossible to ignore the mysteries that haunt both her lvoer and the run-down old house, in particular the mysterious disappearance of his beautiful first wife, Rachel.  Whilst Eve tries to untangle the secrets surrounding Rachel's last recorded days, Les Genevriers itself seems to come alive.

As strange events begin to occur with frightening regularity, Eve's voice becomes intertwined with that of Benedicte Lincel, a girl who lived in the house decades before.  As the tangled skeins of the house's history begin to unravel, the tension grows between Dom and Eve.  In a page-turning race, Eve must fight to discover the fates of both Benedicte and Rachel, before Les Genevriers' dark history has a chance to repeat itself.

An evocative and sensuous tale of romantic and psychological suspense set against an exquisite landscape, The Lantern is a gripping story of past and present, love and jealousy, secrets and lies, appearances and disappearances that captures our age-old terror of the dark.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Let me start by saying this book was good, not great.  I'm not sure if part of my confusion was due to reading an ARC on my ipad.  Some of the chapter numbers were sideways, some normal.  I was reading into this... trying to decide if this would help me understand who was narrating a particular chapter, or if we were time traveling to the historical part of the book.  I never figured this out. 

I wasn't emotionally attached to the characters but I can say I enjoyed Eve's story.  She becomes obsessed with Rachel, Dom's first wife who he refuses to talk about.  I'm pretty sure I would have enjoyed this book more if I read it in a week's time.  Give this one 100 pages for the story to develop.  The pace picks up and you will enjoy the descriptiveness of France, the house and Eve's emotions. 

Rating: 3/5 stars
Source: Review Copy (NetGalley)

Review: I Married You for Happiness

Why I picked it: I have been enjoying NetGalley and this title grabbed my attention.

Synopsis: Slender, potent, and utterly engaging, I Married You For Happiness combines marriage, mathematics, and the probability of an afterlife to create Tuck's most affecting and riveting book yet.

“His hand is growing cold, still she holds it” is how this novel that tells the story of a marriage begins. The tale unfolds over a single night as Nina sits at the bedside of her husband, Philip, whose sudden and unexpected death is the reason for her lonely vigil. Still too shocked to grieve, she lets herself remember the defining moments of their long union, beginning with their meeting in Paris. She is an artist, he a highly accomplished mathematician—a collision of two different worlds that merged to form an intricate and passionate love. As we move through select memories—real and imagined—Tuck reveals the most private intimacies, dark secrets, and overwhelming joys that defined Nina and Philip's life together.

Type: Fiction/Novella

Quick Take: This book pulled me in immediately. Nina's husband dies suddenly and she spends one last night alone with him and years of memories.  Telling their daughter makes Philip's death real and Nina is not be ready, yet.

This book is just under 200 pages long and packs a punch.  The memories span over 40 years of marriage, from meeting each other to the birth of their daughter, from lovers/affairs to tender memories.  I read this book in just two sittings.  I loved every minute of it, until the last page.  There's nothing wrong with the ending... just that I had already build an alternative ending to end the story in my head.

I'm so glad the cover of the book didn't sway me from reading it (I still don't understand the cover). Have you read it?  I would love to hear your thoughts. 

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: NetGalley

Review: A year and six seconds: a love story

Why I picked it: I enjoyed Happens Every Day so much that when I saw that the author was writing 'part two' I wanted to read it. 

Synopsis: Isabel Gillies, the New York Times bestselling author of the memoir Happens Every Day, now picks up where she left off in the true story of her valiant yet sometimes bumbling efforts to pick herself up after her husband leaves her for another woman and she is told by a friend it "happens every day."

It is winter when she arrives home in Manhattan, with her two young sons in tow. Her husband has left her, and she's forced to move back in with her parents until she can figure out what to do next.

Determined to feel strong, remain lovable, and be productive, she creates and tackles a staggering to-do list, starting with (and not necessarily in order of importance): get along with her parents in tight quarters; find a preschool spot for son mid-year in Manhattan; break down only in front of best friend and not in front of children; receive one great, romantic kiss.

She makes her lists, she dates, she cries, she and her whole crowded family get the flu; and then, just when Isabel least expects it, she falls in love. A Year and Six Seconds is a buoyant, real, romantic comedy with an uplifting message, reminding us that while we all struggle and stumble at times, somehow we can come out just fine on the other side.

Type: Memoir

Quick Take: This is the first time I have read a second memoir from the same author, a part two of sorts.  I did think about this before deciding to read this book but I enjoyed Isabel Gillies' first book I(Happens Every Day) so much I wanted to give this one a try.

I didn't enjoy this book as much as her first one but I think I understand why.  This memoir focuses on the first year after a separation/divorce, from having to live with parents to rebuilding a life.  These are not experiences I have had to endure (and I hope I never will). It's a bit repetitive for my taste.

That said, the author is a wonderful writer who kept me interested. 

Rating: 3/5 stars

Review: The last letter from your lover

Why I picked it: The synopsis below grabbed me.  I love the idea of a mysterious letter mixed with a love story.  Hopefully a complicated love story.

Synopsis: It is 1960. When Jennifer Stirling wakes up in the hospital, she can remember nothing-not the tragic car accident that put her there, not her husband, not even who she is. She feels like a stranger in her own life until she stumbles upon an impassioned letter, signed simply "B", asking her to leave her husband.

Years later, in 2003, a journalist named Ellie discovers the same enigmatic letter in a forgotten file in her newspaper's archives. She becomes obsessed by the story and hopeful that it can resurrect her faltering career. Perhaps if these lovers had a happy ending she will find one to her own complicated love life, too. Ellie's search will rewrite history and help her see the truth about her own modern romance.

Type: Historical Fiction

Quick Take: I have mentioned this a few times but 2011 is the year of memory loss journey's in women's fiction - this is one of the better novels I have read this year with memory loss involved in plot.

I loved the concept, Ellie is in a car accident and has no memory of the accident... or of the man visiting her in the hospital.  This man is her husband.  It's clear that she feels a coldness from him and this is confirmed when she starts finding secrets letters in her home, signed 'B'.

This novel moves back and forth in time, I adored the story taking place in 1960.  Part two, starting in 2003, feels like a different novel but somehow it all worked for me.  If you enjoyed the movie 'Titanic', I think you will love Ellie's story.

Brilliantly written, my heart broke for Ellie, her husband and everyone involved. This would make for a great book club selection.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: NetGalley

Review: Tony and Susan

Why I picked it:  I picked it to read on vacation and reading the synopsis... this is my kind of book.

Synopsis: Fifteen years ago, Susan Morrow left her first husband Edward Sheffield, an unpublished writer. Now, she's enduring middle class suburbia as a doctor's wife, when out of the blue she receives a package containing the manuscript of her ex-husband's first novel. He writes asking her to read the book; she was always his best critic, he says.

As Susan reads, she is drawn into the fictional life of Tony Hastings, a math professor driving his family to their summer house in Maine. And as we read with her, we too become lost in Sheffield's thriller. As the Hastings' ordinary, civilized lives are disastrously, violently sent off course, Susan is plunged back into the past, forced to confront the darkness that inhabits her, and driven to name the fear that gnaws at her future and will change her life.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take:  This is a story inside a story.  This is important to note because I'm coming to the conclusion that I may not enjoy this format. 

To summarize quickly: Susan and Edward were married a long time ago, they haven't talked in years.  Edward asks Susan to read his manuscript.  This novel is about Susan reading Edward's manuscript while Arnold (her husband) is traveling.  She spends some time reminiscing.

I didn't enjoy the manuscript but... the manuscript was 80% of the novel.  I was more interested in the relationships between Susan, her husband Arnold and ex-husband Edward.  Looking back, I wish the story started after Susan finished reading the manuscript, exploring why she agreed to read Edward's novel and the impact this had on her stale marriage.  There's an interesting story in the pages, waiting to be exposed.

Rating: 2/5 stars
Source: Review Copy, NetGalley

Review: The Midwife's Confession

Why I picked it: Manic Mommies Book Club (October 2011 selection)
Synopsis: Dear Anna, What I have to tell you is difficult to write, but I know it will be far more difficult for you to hear, and I'm so sorry…

The unfinished letter is the only clue Tara and Emerson have to the reason behind their close friend Noelle's suicide. Everything they knew about Noelle—her calling as a midwife, her passion for causes, her love for her friends and family—described a woman who embraced life.

Yet there was so much they didn't know.

With the discovery of the letter and its heartbreaking secret, Noelle's friends begin to uncover the truth about this complex woman who touched each of their lives—and the life of a desperate stranger—with love and betrayal, compassion and deceit.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Another solid book club selection, filled with a lot to discuss.  Women enjoy talking about motherhood, from having babies to life as a mother.  Mix in a suicide with a secret life, this is a page turner. 

I'm not sure what I would do if I discovered that one of my closest friends was leading a double life.  This story is told through flashbacks and current day life, two friends unraveling a secret life while grieving. 

I have a page of topics/questions for our book discussion in October.  I can't wait to talk to the author!

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Review Copy

Review: Silver Girl

Why I picked it: I know it's summer when I see a new novel by Hilderbrand released.  I enjoy reading about the beach, with a story about women and life challenges.

Synopsis: Meredith Martin Delinn just lost everything: her friends, her homes, her social standing - because her husband Freddy cheated rich investors out of billions of dollars.

Desperate and facing homelessness, Meredith receives a call from her old best friend, Constance Flute. Connie's had recent worries of her own, and the two depart for a summer on Nantucket in an attempt to heal. But the island can't offer complete escape, and they're plagued by new and old troubles alike. When Connie's brother Toby - Meredith's high school boyfriend - arrives, Meredith must reconcile the differences between the life she is leading and the life she could have had.

Set against the backdrop of a Nantucket summer, Elin Hilderbrand delivers a suspenseful story of the power of friendship, the pull of love, and the beauty of forgiveness.

Type: Fiction (chick-lit)

Quick Take: It's not a secret that I enjoy Elin's work, I adored her last novel The Island.  After reading a few reviews for Silver Girl, I can see why some readers struggled with this book... noting that the label dropping was over the top.  This worked for me, it helped me understand Meredith's life before she loses everything.

Meredith and her husband were worth millions.  She never looked at a tag, shopped in the finest of stores and lived a spectacular life before losing everything: her family, money, self worth, homes, privacy and well... her security.

Connie is a wonderful friend, I believe I have a friend like Connie in my life but I hope I never have to find out! This is a good summer selection, involving friendship, scandal and little romance.  I thoroughly enjoyed it (just not as much as a few other novels by the author).

Rating: 3/5 stars
Source: Review copy (NetGalley)

Review: The Girl in the Garden

Why I picked it: I adore reading novels about life in India so this was an easy choice for me.

Synopsis: The redemptive journey of a young woman unsure of her engagement, who revisits in memory the events of one scorching childhood summer when her beautiful yet troubled mother spirits her away from her home to an Indian village untouched by time, where she discovers in the jungle behind her ancestral house a spellbinding garden that harbors a terrifying secret.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: I LOVED this book, if you liked The Space Between Us you should read this one. 

This is a magical story about a young Indian girl, raised in America who travels with her mother one summer to visit family back in Southern India.

Told from the voice of an eleven year old smart/witty girl, Rakhee, who pushes the boundaries only to discover family secrets... forcing her family to make life changing decisions.  This novel is filled with family tradition, expectations, loss, love and emotion.  A wonderfully written novel that I wasn't able to put down.

I highly recommend this for book clubs, there is so much to discuss. Have you read it? 

Rating: 5/5 stars
Source: Review Copy/ NetGalley
Country: India

Review: Jerusalem Maiden

Why I picked it: This is my kind of book.  I enjoy reading about new cultures, making this a good choice for me.

From author's website: Inspired by my ten-generation family roots in Jerusalem, I wrote a "what-if" alternate life for my grandmother and her untapped artistic genius. Please read "The Story Behind The Story."

Synopsis: Esther Kaminsky knows that her duty is to marry young and produce many sons to help hasten the Messiah’s arrival: that is what is expected of young ultra-Orthodox women in Jerusalem at the end of the Ottoman Empire’s rule. But when her French teacher catches Esther's extraordinary doodling and gives her colored pencils and art lessons, Esther wonders if God has a special destiny for her: maybe she is meant to be an artist, not a mother; maybe she is meant to travel to Paris, not stay in Jerusalem.

In the coming years, as Esther sacrifices her yearning for painting and devotes herself instead to following God’s path as an obedient “Jerusalem maiden,” she suppresses her desires—until a surprising opportunity forces itself into her pre-ordained path. When her beliefs clash with the surging passions she has staved off her entire life, Esther must confront the hard questions: What is faith? Is there such a thing as destiny? And to whom must she be true, to God or to herself?

Type: Historical Fiction

Quick Take: In one word, I would describe this book as riveting.  I learned so much about a culture and time I knew nothing about... something I love to do while reading.

Esther isn't comfortable with the cultural expectations put on her as a young girl approaching adulthood, creating an internal struggle that is explored throughout the novel.  

She makes life challenging for her parents as she pushes the boundaries of that is expected of a young girl living in the time and faith she was born into. Esther feels responsible for something that happens at her family home while she's off enjoying her secret hobby, forcing her life to head in a different direction... one she may not have chosen for herself.

If you enjoyed The Red Tent, or The Diva and the Doctor you will love this book.  I couldn't put it down, and the ending left me wanting more. 

Rating: 5/5 stars
Country: Israel/France
Source: NetGalley

Review: Poems of Awakening

Why I picked it:  When I was offered a chance to read this book (an anthology of poems), focusing on healing, yoga and finding peace within ourselves... I had to read it.

Synopsis: Poems of Awakening is a gift to yourself and all those you love and serve. Betsy Small has chosen poems that take us through the portal of the body (Chapter One) into a deepening quiet within (Chapter Two) from which the true nature of Self is revealed (Chapter Three). From the remembering of true Self, healing on all levels arises (Chapter Four) - the heart trusts and unfolds (Chapter Five), we deeply connect in Yoga-union (Chapter Six) and grace abounds (Chapter Seven).

The poems touch the heart, invite self-examination and welcome profound emotional response. Betsy has organized her anthology in sets of poems that reflect her own spiritual journey, summoning the reader to travel a poetic path of deep awareness and personal growth.

Quick Take: Let me start my review with a poem about opening one's heart (Chapter 5: May my heart always be open)

Hope (by N. Mazza)
is the belief
that one hand
reaching to another
can eventually
touch the moon,
allowing the light
to guide us
through the night.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know I have had a tough year. The challenges keep coming, to avoid reaching the tipping point I turn to yoga to find balance/peace.

This collection of poems held my interest, the message was well thought out and is a good companion to my yoga practice. It's a book that I will share with a friend who teaches yoga, I can't wait to listen to her recite one of the poems I highlighted.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Review Copy

Review: Rules of Civility

Why I picked it: New York City in the 30's, what's not to love?! My family calls NYC home, dating back to the early 1900's. I love reading books set in this time period, I feel a connection to my grandparents and love reading about what life was like in the thirties.

Synopsis: A sophisticated and entertaining debut novel about an irresistible young woman with an uncommon sense of purpose. Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising twenty-five-year- old named Katey Kontent. Armed with little more than a formidable intellect, a bracing wit, and her own brand of cool nerve, Katey embarks on a journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future.

The story opens on New Year's Eve in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, where Katey and her boardinghouse roommate Eve happen to meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a ready smile. This chance encounter and its startling consequences cast Katey off her current course, but end up providing her unexpected access to the rarified offices of Conde Nast and a glittering new social circle. Befriended in turn by a shy, principled multimillionaire, an Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, and a single-minded widow who is ahead of her times, Katey has the chance to experience first hand the poise secured by wealth and station, but also the aspirations, envy, disloyalty, and desires that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her orbit, she will learn how individual choices become the means by which life crystallizes loss. Elegant and captivating, Rules of Civility turns a Jamesian eye...

Type: Historical Fiction

Quick Take: This is a wonderful story. The writing is amazing and the pace of the story is quick. When I wasn't reading this book I was thinking about it, wanting to read on to see how the story would end for Tinker, Kate and Eve.

Kate and Eve's story starts like many I've read, two young women who move to NYC to be part of the NY lifestyle, find work and build a better life for themselves. The rest of the story was a new/interesting twist on life, decisions and circumstance (the rise/fall of many) in the late 1930's.

I don't want to write about Kate and Eve's relationship with Tinker, or share how the story unfolds, discussing it here would mean telling much of the plot, which should be left for the reader to discover. Just know I adored this one.

This novel would make for a wonderful movie.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Source: NetGalley

Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad

Why I picked it: Winner of the Pulitzer for Fiction, 2011.  The Omaha Bookworm's read Pulitzer every year, well almost always... 

Synopsis: Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Have you read this book? I would love for you to share your comments and challenge me to rethink my opinion. I sorry to report that I struggled to appreciate this novel, and am left wondering if my experience would have been different if I read the book (rather than listening).

I wasn't invested in the characters but kept listening in hopes that something big would happen at the end.

The best part of the entire book was when the fish was left in Bennie's office... it's hard for me to review this book without thinking about the other books on the short list. I would like to hear from the judges to understand why the picked it.

Rating: 2/5 stars
Source: Audio (iTunes)

Review: The Violets of March

Why I picked it: Manic Mommies Book Club - I would have read this book even if we didn't select if for the MMBC.  I love reading stories about self discovery.

We will be discussing this book with author Sarah Jio tomorrow night (Wed, July 20), at 8PM EST.  I hope you can join us! 

Do you have a question for the author? Please email me or feel free to leave a comment.

July 23rd Update: Click here to listen (or download) to our discussion

Synopsis: A heartbroken woman stumbled upon a diary and steps into the life of its anonymous author.

In her twenties, Emily Wilson was on top of the world: she had a bestselling novel, a husband plucked from the pages of GQ, and a one-way ticket to happily ever after.

Ten years later, the tide has turned on Emily's good fortune. So when her great-aunt Bee invites her to spend the month of March on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, Emily accepts, longing to be healed by the sea. Researching her next book, Emily discovers a red velvet diary, dated 1943, whose contents reveal startling connections to her own life.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Everyone is raving about this book, I have read so many wonderful reviews and I'm happy to say I loved it to.  I have read a few books this year with storytelling inside a novel, this is the first time I have enjoyed both stories equally!  I adored Esther's story from the start and Emily is so likable. 

Part romance, part mystery... I didn't want Emily's story to end and would love to find out what happens five years later.

I can't wait to discuss this book with the author on Wednesday! 

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Review Copy

Review: The Love Goddess' Cooking School

Why I picked it: After receiving a few requests for a recipe novel from MMBC readers we selected this book for our June book selection.

I read this book while on vacation, in Italy!  A cute idea right? Well this vegetarian started questioning my food options - did I dare ask the waiter if bone marrow was in the red sauce?  Something I haven't thought about before reading this book.  I'm happy to say everywhere I went I was able to pick the cold marinara (seasonal for summer), which is basically tomato, basil and garlic.  YUM!

Click the button below to listen online (or download the discussion on iTunes, searching for Manic Mommies Book Club) 

Synopsis: Holly Maguire’s grandmother Camilla was the Love Goddess of Blue Crab Island, Maine—a Milanese fortune-teller who could predict the right man for you, and whose Italian cooking was rumored to save marriages. Holly has been waiting years for her unlikely fortune: her true love will like sa cordula, an unappetizing old-world delicacy. But Holly can’t make a decent marinara sauce, let alone sa cordula. Maybe that’s why the man she hopes to marry breaks her heart. So when Holly inherits Camilla’s Cucinotta, she’s determined to forget about fortunes and love and become an Italian cooking teacher worthy of her grandmother’s legacy. 

But Holly’s four students are seeking much more than how to make Camilla’s chicken alla Milanese. Simon, a single father, hopes to cook his way back into his daughter’s heart. Juliet, Holly’s childhood friend, hides a painful secret. Tamara, a serial dater, can’t find the love she longs for. And twelve-year-old Mia thinks learning to cook will stop her dad, Liam, from marrying his phony lasagna-queen girlfriend. As the class gathers each week, adding Camilla’s essential ingredients of wishes and memories in every pot and pan, unexpected friendships and romances are formed—and tested. Especially when Holly falls hard for Liam . . . and learns a thing or two about finding her own recipe for happiness.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: I loved this book.  A perfect selection for summer, and we had so much to discuss with the author (mother/daughter relationships, family, friendships, cooking, self discovery, food, and more).

Mia was delightful and I enjoyed reading her quest to bring her parents back together and how she hoped Holly's cooking school could help her.  Holly is a sweet character, someone trying to find happiness and along the way she gets more than she hoped for. 

I was surprised to learn that this is Senate's tenth novel.  I will check out a few other books by the author.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Review Copy

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