Review: A Grown up kind of Pretty

Why I picked it: I'm a fan of the author, her writing and storytelling.  Her stories are heartbreaking tales set in the south, but could happen anywhere.

Synopsis: A powerful saga of three generations of women, plagued by hardships and torn by a devastating secret, yet inextricably joined by the bonds of family. Fifteen-year-old Mosey Slocumb-spirited, sassy, and on the cusp of womanhood-is shaken when a small grave is unearthed in the backyard, and determined to figure out why it's there. Liza, her stroke-ravaged mother, is haunted by choices she made as a teenager. But it is Mosey's strong and big-hearted grandmother, whose maternal love braids together the strands of the women's shared past--and who will stop at nothing to defend their future.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take:  The plot in this book could be a nightmare.  Big, Liza, and Mosey are separated by just fifteen years - Big is Liza's mom and Mosey's Grandmother.  Liza has a stroke, and although her body defies her... her brain does not.  So, imagine the life changing turn that happens when a family secret is revealed, one that only Liza can explain.

I adore Jackson's southern writing.  She really knows how to develop characters that a reader connects to.  This isn't the first book where I have been left wanting more.  If you enjoy her novels, this one won't disappoint you.

Rating: 4 Stars
Source: NetGalley

Review: The Little Shadows

Why I picked it: Canadian authors hold a special place in my heart.  I love the writing, the storytelling.  I enjoyed Good to a Fault and wanted to read another novel by the author.  If only to read her magic with words.

A book discussion:  Shelleyrae from Book'd Out and I read this one together, each asking three questions about the book.  You will find my answers to her questions below, click to her blog to read her answers to my questions.

Synopsis: The Little Shadows follows three sisters into the backstage world of Polite Vaudeville before and during the First World War. Overseen by their fond but barely coping Mama, the sisters (Aurora, Clover and joyous, headstrong Bella) set out to make their living as a singing act after the untimely death of their father. With little in their favour save youth and hope, the sisters navigate their way to adulthood among a cast of extraordinary charmers, charlatans, ruffians and impresarios—and once in a rare while, a true star with transcendent gifts. From the brightly lit stage into the little shadows that lurk behind the curtain, the art of vaudeville—in all its variety, madness, melodrama, hilarity and sorrow—echoes the art of life itself.

Type: fiction

Quick Take: First let me say I adore, yes adore, Endicott's writing.  What is it about Canadian authors, they have a way with words.

If you haven't read this book yet, I might suggest visiting the author's website before you start the novel... or maybe after you have read 20-30 pages.  The companion material is very helpful (maps, historical information about Vaudeville).

I don't love the circus or variety shows so reading a book with Vaudeville reading as a main character was a stretch for me. The characters are developed so well, their personalities slowly unfold as the girls mature.  The mother of these three girls will keep you on your toes!  The story bounces back and forth from the life of entertaining, the struggles of Vaudeville and watching three young girl deal with life and the joys of entertaining.

Three Questions: 

While I was fascinated by the history of Vaudeville I think the author's research overshadowed the plot. Do you feel the same way?  I do agree!  There was a lot of details in this novel and if I'm honest... I'm not a circus/vaudeville kind of gal.  This made parts of the book feel long. 

Which of the three sisters did you like best, Aurora, Clover or Belle? Why? The sisters reminded me a bit of the Bennett sisters from Pride and Prejudice.  The eldest looking for attention and to do the right thing.  Belle, the youngest keeping herself entertained among the performers.  The costumes.  I actually didn't have a favorite but I can't imagine the book without each of them.  They were so different, yet similar.

Did you think the sisters made the right decision in the epilogue? Can I say I mostly agree? How's that for a cliffhanger... I don't know how to answer this question without saying what happens.

Click here to read Shelleyrae's review and answers to my questions for her.

Rating: 3 stars
Source: Personal Copy

Review: The Dressmaker, a novel

Why I picked it: Last year I read The Mistress of Nothing, a book about Lady Duff Gordon, it's one of my favorite novels read last year so when I saw another story about her earlier life, I knew I had to read it.

Wait a minute...!  Did you know there are two Lady Duff Gordon's with the name Lucie/Lucile?   The Mistress of Nothing is about the writer, The Dressmaker is about the fashion designer. 

Synopsis: Tess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she's had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be a personal maid on the Titanic's doomed voyage. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men, one a roughly-hewn but kind sailor and the other an enigmatic Chicago millionaire. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes. 

Amidst the chaos and desperate urging of two very different suitors, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat. Tess’s sailor also manages to survive unharmed, witness to Lady Duff Gordon’s questionable actions during the tragedy. Others—including the gallant Midwestern tycoon—are not so lucky.

On dry land, rumors about the survivors begin to circulate, and Lady Duff Gordon quickly becomes the subject of media scorn and later, the hearings on the Titanic. Set against a historical tragedy but told from a completely fresh angle, The Dressmaker is an atmospheric delight filled with all the period's glitz and glamour, all the raw feelings of a national tragedy and all the contradictory emotions of young love.

Type: Historical Fiction

Quick Take:  I loved this novel.

Tess is a talented seamstress who's good fortune is met when she accepts a job with Lady Duff Gordon, just before the Titanic sets sail.  She unsure what will happen when she reaches America but feels anything is better than the maid work she left behind.

This story is unwinds masterfully, most of the novel takes place in NYC after the survivors are rescued from the sinking ship.  While the novel explores class (rich v poor), politics, and fashion, I was most taken with the post Titanic hearings.  I found it unbelievable that the crew didn't even have binoculars to search the ocean, and that Duff Gordon wielded so much power that her rescue boat never reached capacity for fear of sinking, her power altered the lives of many.

This is Tess' story just as much as it is Duff Gordon's.  Tess pushes Duff Gordon's buttons, builds a life for herself and she may have found love along the way...

If you enjoy historical fiction, this is a page turner that I highly recommend. 

Rating: 4 Stars
Source: NetGalley

Review: The Buddha in the Attic

Why I picked it: After reading so many reviews for this book recently that I had to read it. 

Synopsis: A gorgeous novel by the celebrated author of When the Emperor Was Divine that tells the story of a group of young women brought from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” nearly a century ago. In eight unforgettable sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces the extraordinary lives of these women, from their arduous journeys by boat, to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; from their experiences raising children who would later reject their culture and language, to the deracinating arrival of war. Once again, Julie Otsuka has written a spellbinding novel about identity and loyalty, and what it means to be an American in uncertain times.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: This is one of those book where I wonder how listening v reading impacts a book.  I listened to it and fell in love with the writing style.  At just 4 CD's... it's a tiny, powerful book.

The Buddha in the Attic is a heartbreaking tale of Japanese women traveling to America to meet their future husbands, Japanese picture brides.  The trip from Japan to America is a tough one but even worse is the deception taken to get them there.  Fake photo's and letters written to them, telling them of the wonderful life that awaits them.

Their hopes and dreams are quickly shattered, made even worse after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor.

Told in the first person 'we' voice, it's the story of tribe of women... it's not one woman's story.  This is a moving story that everyone should read.  It's an important history lesson about a time in US history that we don't look back on fondly.

After finishing this book I immediately went to the internet to learn more about this period in time.  While searching I found an author interview on public radio (included below).

WNYC author interview (Leonard Lopate interviews Julie Otsuka):

Rating: 4 stars
Source: Library (audio)

Review: Me and You

Why I picked it: When I first started using NetGalley, I wanted to try a few novel types that I don't normally gravitate towards.  In this case, the Novella.

Synopsis: A funny, tragic, gut-punch of a novel, charting how an unlikely alliance between two outsiders blows open one family’s secrets. Lorenzo Cumi is a fourteen-year-old misfit. To quell the anxiety of his concerned, socially conscious parents, he tells them he’s been invited on an exclusive ski vacation with the popular kids. On the morning of the trip, Lorenzo demands that his mother drop him off before they arrive at the train station, insisting that his status will be compromised if he shows up accompanied by his mother. Reluctantly, she agrees, and as soon as she is safely out of the vicinity, he turns around and makes his way back to his neighborhood, to put his real plan in motion: for one blessed week, Lorenzo will retreat to a forgotten cellar in his family’s apartment building, where he will live in perfect isolation, keeping the adult world at bay.

But when his estranged half-sister, Olivia, shows up in the cellar unexpectedly, his idyll is shattered, and the two become locked in a battle of wills—forced to confront the very demons they are each struggling to escape.

Type: Fiction (Novella, just 161 pages)

Quick Take: This novel is every parents nightmare... imagine dropping off your child, thinking they are going on a ski trip and they don't actually go on said trip!

Lorenzo leads a lonely life and starts lying to his mom so she will feel better.  He ends up telling her he's been invited to go on a ski trip with friends and can't find a way to get out it.  So... he decides to spend the time in basement of their apartment building, but as any young child does... he hasn't planned for everything.

I loved this next bit when Lorenzo explains his plans for the week (in a cellar): I was a survivor of an alien invasion.  The human race had been exterminated and only a handful had managed to save themselves by hiding out in cellars or basements.  I was the only one still alive in Rome.  To get out I had to wait for the aliens to go back to their planet.  And this, for a reason unknown to me, would happen in a week's time.

The only part of this story that I struggled with was Lorenzo's mother.  I had a hard time believing that the mom begrudgingly accepted all the explanations for not getting to talk to a parent on the trip.  She checks in on Lorenzo often during the weekend and seems like a good mom.  I take that back, she is a good mom who desperately wants her son to be happy.

Rating; 4/5 stars
Country: Italy
Source: NetGalley

Review: Paris, My Sweet

Why I picked it: I enjoy memoirs, love chocolate, NYC and was on my way to Paris.  

I read this book on my way to visting Paris for the first time, and I live just outside NYC. This was a great book to set the mood for my trip.

Synopsis: Part love letter to New York, part love letter to Paris, and total devotion to all things sweet. Paris, My Sweet is a personal and moveable feast that's a treasure map for anyone who loves fresh cupcakes and fine chocolate, New York and Paris, and life in general. It's about how the search for happiness can be as fleeting as a sliver of cheesecake and about how the life you're meant to live doesn't always taste like the one you envisioned.

Organized into a baker's dozen of delicacies (and the adventures they inspired) that will tempt readers' appetites, Paris, My Sweet is something to savor.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: I loved this book, visiting many shoppes and sites noted... I bet readers who have been to both cities might enjoy it even more than I did.  It's a light/fun look at life in Paris.  

But this is more that a book about eating sweets, it's also the author's story about spending a year living in Paris.  Building a life that's fulfilling while working long hours in a foreign country.

Shortly after starting this book I was highlighting paragraphs, jotting down must go to places etc... We didn't get to try much chocolate but we did sample the Macaron's.  I brought home of dozen of each to sample with friends and family.  We all seemed to like Hermes macaron's.

At the end of each chapter there is a list of locations in Paris and NYC to buy the goodies noted in the chapter.  The author encourages the reader to try different places to find your favorite.  I loved this! 

Click here to read my post about my trip to Paris

Rating: 4 stars
Country: France
Source: NetGalley

Review: Spin

Why I picked it: The cover grabbed my attention, the synopsis kept it. 

While I was reading this book I noticed that Judith (Leeswammes Blog) mentioned she was planning to read it soon.  We enjoyed discussing Good to a Fault so much that we decided to try again, with Spin.  A great way to read/discuss a book!

Click here to read Judith's review of SPIN, and her answer's to my questions.

Synopsis: Katie Sandford has just gotten an interview at her favourite music magazine, The Line. It's the chance of a lifetime. So what does she do? Goes out to celebrate - and shows up still drunk at the interview. No surprise, she doesn't get the job, but the folks at The Line think she might be perfect for another assignment for their sister gossip rag. All Katie has to do is follow It Girl Amber Sheppard into rehab. If she can get the inside scoop (and complete the 30-day program without getting kicked out), they'll reconsider her for the job at The Line.

Katie takes the job. But things get complicated when real friendships develop, a cute celebrity handler named Henry gets involved, and Katie begins to realize she may be in rehab for a reason. Katie has to make a decision -- is publishing the article worth everything she has to lose?

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: I thought this was going to be a dark tale about treatment but was surprised to find it a girl meets boy, something bad happens and they reconnect story that covers some serious/dark themes, inviting the reader to reflect.

Katie's life is a mess.  At 29 she's lying to everyone, hiding from family, drinking, unhappy with life.  She shows up to a job interview drunk, an action that changes her life.  Her 'dream job' potential employer offers to pay to send her to treatment, not to get better... to get a story. If she does well, they will hire her.

This novel asks the reader to think about being faithful, trust, addiction, alcoholism & eating disorders, friendship and family. Here are a few of the bookmarks I made while reading (in my words):

- being a novelist.... my book was going to be about a woman struggling to stay faithful, after 30 pages I realized I knew nothing about faithful love.
- on addiction... being stuck in a pattern you can't get out of because it would mean making a sacrifice.
- A writing exercise while in treatment... can I really just write the worst of me away?  I'll never know unless I try...

Let's get to the questions:

Judith: Did you think a lot of the situations in the book were unlikely?  Did that bother you?

Mari: Much of the daily stuff probably couldn't/wouldn't happen in real life... I think rehab is more confining/strict than played out in this novel.  This is one of those books were I found myself saying, 'remember it's fiction'. 

Katie's parents are absent from her life... I actually know a few parents who have chosen not to keep in contact with their adult children so the parent/child storyline didn't bother me. 

Judith: Do you think Kate actually needed to go to rehab?

Mari: I don't think someone has to be an 'out of control drunk' to need treatment. Reflecting back on Katie's life, she was headed in a bad direction and treatment was probably necessary for her reclaim her life.  Especially since her friends/family didn't seem all that interested in helping her. 

Judith: Do you think a friendship with a superstar is possible? Or are their lives too different?

Mari: Well... anything is possible.  I think the question is, would Amber (superstar) be willing to befriend Katie.  Seeing some of my friends and their love for celebrity... they would grab at the chance to become someone's best friend. 

Looking year/two beyond the novel, I don't think Katie and Amber remain good friends.  Their friendship is based on circumstance (and that's okay).

Thanks Judith!  I enjoyed this novel and getting to discuss it with you. I love it when a book makes me think and this one did just that. I don't know about you but I would love to write the worst of me away... I wish I could write the worst of other people away! If only it was that easy...

I didn't write about the 'Girl meets Boy' part of the book ...but it's there, I promise!

Rating: 4 stars
Source: NetGalley

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