Tuesday, April 7, 2020

A Hero Born

Title:  A Hero Born
Series:  Legends of the Condor Heroes, Book 1
Author:  Jin Yong (author). Anna Holmwood (translator).
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2019. 416 pages.
ISBN:  1250220602 / 978-1250220608

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It begins with a storyteller, with news from the north, a tale of crushing defeat and humiliation, a great Chinese Empire in tatters and fleeing north."

Favorite Quote:  "There are always those who claims good reputations falsely."

Wuxia stories are a genre of fiction about martial artists in ancient China. Think adventure, fantasy, heroes, villains, and lots and lots of martial arts. A Hero Born is one volume of a wuxia trilogy. The trilogy first appeared as a serial in the Hong Kong Commercial Daily between 1957 and 1959. The trilogy is comprised of The Legend of the Condor Heroes, The Return of the Condor Heroes, and The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber. Interestingly, the translated title references the condor, no species of which is native to China. This book is the English translation of the first volume.

The story begins in a time of war in the 1200s. Two sworn brothers make a pact that their soon to be born children will either live as sworn siblings or a married couple. Unfortunate events ensue. One dies, and the other disappears. The wives and the unborn babies also are thrown in different directions. The main story follows of the children - Guo Jing. It follow his upbringing in Mongolia and his training by some legends of martial arts. Of course, eventually, the paths of the two children cross. Some of the connections between the fate of the fathers and the outcome of the children are drawn. The book ends on a cliffhanger as is to be expected.

The beginning of this book is challenging for many reasons. The language, and hence the names are unfamiliar. A lot of characters are introduced, and for a while, it is difficult to follow their relationships and story threads. A lot of description of battles and martial arts is provided. As someone who has no knowledge of martial arts, the descriptions are hard to envision. The words, particularly the names of the martial arts moves, do not necessarily create a picture for me. I almost give up on the book.

However, I am glad to have persevered. After a bit, the characters settle into a cohesive image. The names are still a challenge, but an understanding of the relationships and the development of the characters makes that a minor point. A central plot and the main character emerge from this panorama of the world of martial arts. I invest in the characters and want to see where the story goes. At this point, there are the heroes and the villains. There are also those on whom the jury is still out. Good or evil... only time will tell. The book continues with a mix of a human story, a political story, and the mystery of beliefs and legends.

What connects is the human story. Wives who seek to keep the legacy of their husbands safe. Mothers who see the future of their children as nothing of what they imagined. Young men born in hardship and those born in wealth. The relationship between teacher and student. The losses of war. Young people on the cusp to discovering love. Those seeking revenge and those seeking redemption.

I am sorry when the volume comes to an end because I want to know what happens next. I am looking forward to volume two and three hopefully to be translated.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Lost Book of Adana Moreau

Title:  The Lost Book of Adana Moreau
Author:  Michael Zapata
Publication Information:  Hanover Square Press. 2020. 272 pages.
ISBN:  1335010122 / 978-1335010124

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "His father was a pirate."

Favorite Quote:  "...literature was a memory of a memory of a memory."

I love books about books. The premise of an undiscovered manuscript is even better. The cover adds a mystery and movement. The post-hurricane Katrina New Orleans adds a setting full of life, struggle, emotion, and the triumph of human spirit.

I so wanted to love this book. I did so love the beginning portion of the book. The story of the pirate, the little boy, and a mother writing stories in the 1920s captured me entirely. It is an emotional and fanciful tale, and I want to know more.

Then, the story turns and jumps decades. I follow along. A grandfather passes away. A grandson is attempting to tie up the loose ends of his grandfather's legacy. An undeliverable package sends on a chase to find the history and the intended recipient. The journey brings him to a town struggling to survive and recover after a disaster. The idea is not as fanciful as the beginning, but nevertheless has the making of a powerful story. I want to follow along.

The main setting becomes New Orleans, a fascinating city at any time filled with its own folklore and culture. It should add to the magical feel of the book. The timing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina adds a disaster the likes of which this generation had never witnesses. Both the destruction and the resilience of the city were remarkable and powerful images. I want to see how the the magic of the city, the story, and the reality of the hurricane balance.

The manuscript at the heart of this tale is a science fiction story. That genre adds another element entirely to the narrative. The book description references the possibility of parallel worlds, and that seems to lend itself to the science fiction genre. Again, I want to know more.

The issue is that I get lost. The book introduces many characters and vignettes telling their stories. The book jumps locations and timelines. The book includes many references, some of which I know and some are more obscure. I don't know to research a reference if I don't at least have an inkling that it is a reference.

So, unfortunately, this reading experience becomes frustrating. I want to love this book, but I find myself walking away from it again and again. It has all the elements of a story I would have loved, but perhaps I was simply not the right reader for it. "... maybe the world would be better if it adapted to the whims of the children rather than the other way around. If streets, she said, followed the patterns and logic of children then there would never be such a thing as getting lost, there would be a certain madness, yes, but it would be a lovely madness, one capable of multiple dimensions." Perhaps, I was simply not the reader capable of following the dimensions of this story.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Sea Glass Cottage

Title:  The Sea Glass Cottage
Author:  RaeAnne Thayne
Publication Information:  HQN. 2020. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1335045163 / 978-1335045164

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley for the publisher blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "She could do this."

Favorite Quote:  "We're all afraid. The trick is figuring out that the thing you need is just on the other side of that fear. The only way you can reach it is by going right through the center of it."

A beautiful Northern California setting. A cottage by the sea. A small town that stands together. A lingering sadness of the past waiting to be resolved. A family of strong women, each working through her own challenges and all eventually supporting one another. A couple of sweet romances for good measure.

This book has all the makings of a feel good beach read, even if read on indoors on a cool day. The setting is the small town of Cape Sanctuary, California. The Sea Glass Cottage is the current home home of Juliet Harper and her teenaged granddaughter Caitlin. It is also the childhood home of Olivia Harper. For her, it holds love but also sadness from the sudden, shocking death of the father she idolized; the unfortunate choices of her sister Natalie; and her own tumultuous relationship with her mother.

An accident brings Olivia home to care for her mother. The story though is more about the secrets each of these three women hold than the accident or the recovery. For Juliet, the secrets are about her love for her husband, her feelings for a close friend, and a medical diagnosis that threatens her life and her independence. For Caitlin, the secrets are about her search for identity. She is loved and belongs at Sea Glass Cottage, but she craves knowledge about her parents. For Olivia, the secrets are about a traumatic incident that has jarred her life and about a reckoning of her childhood. The lesson each woman learns is the same. "Sometimes being brave wasn't about confronting ... as much as finding the strength to be vulnerable and open about her weaknesses with someone she loved and admired."

The events of the book are real and serious. A beloved firefighter loses his life. A man is haunted by his inability to save the people he loves. A child seeking her place is the result of a teenage pregnancy. A young woman overdoses. A man deserts his wife and three young children. A woman fights disease. A man raises a son as a single father after the loss of his life. A mother regrets her inability to provide the attention a child needed. This book is about about life, family, and perseverance. "That's what life is about, isn't it? We're all works in progress, aren't we, just trying to become a little better every day?"

Yet, by its very nature, I expect that things will work out in this book. The book delivers. The lovely thing about this book is that it is sweet and that it goes exactly in the direction that I expect it go. It ends as it begins - a feel good story perfect for a cozy afternoon.


The Sea Glass Cottage
Blog Tour

Author: Reanne Thayne

ISBN: 1335045163 / 978-1335045164

Publication Date: 03/17/2020


Author Bio:

New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne finds inspiration in the beautiful northern Utah mountains where she lives with her family. Her books have won numerous honors, including six RITA Award nominations from Romance Writers of America and Career Achievement and Romance Pioneer awards from RT Book Reviews. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.raeannethayne.com.

Author Q&A:

What made you write this story? (The "story behind the story")
That’s a very long “story behind the story”! My husband of 34 years was adopted at birth to a wonderful loving famiy and never knew anything about his birth parents. He was never really interested, though I always wondered. He took a DNA test a few years ago before going in for a major surgery, just out of curiosity so our kids could know something about his ethnic heritage, and was astonished a few months later when results from Ancestry.com came in linking him to several close relatives on his maternal side. He wasn’t going to do anything about it but through a very strange sequence of events, he eventually connected with three half-brothers, an aunt and several uncles (including one who has been our neighbor and friend for more than twenty years without either us knowing the connection!). Unfortunately, my husband’s birth mother died several years ago so he never had the chance to meet her but my husband now has a wonderful relationship with his brothers, who have embraced and welcomed him. I have heard of these kind of stories before and after living through the amazing results from a simple DNA test, I wanted to write about someone trying to trace her father. That’s one of the underlying subplots to THE SEA GLASS COTTAGE.

Which character do you most relate to in the story and why?
I love all of them but probably am most drawn to Juliet, who yearns for those she loves to be happy. That’s a universal mom need, I think. Also, she hesitates to lean on others even when she really needs the help because she doesn’t want to be a burden and feels as if her role is to caretake those she loves instead of the other way around. I can definitely relate to this one!

Do you have a place you go to in order to clear your head like Olivia did?
I don’t live by the ocean, unfortunately, but I do live in the mountains of Utah. Ten minutes from my home, I can be in a gorgeous wilderness area where I can walk and think and meditate. We are heading into the most beautiful time of year here, where the mountains turn green with new growth and wildflowers begin to pop out. I can’t wait! 

Is this based on a real place?
Cape Sanctuary is kind of an amalgamation of some of my favorite spots along the Pacific coast, a mix of Carmel, California and Cannon Beach, Oregon. It’s loosely based near Trinidad, California. I only wish it really existed!

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
I started out in journalism in high school and discovered I loved telling stories. After graduating in journalism, I spent ten years at a daily newspaper as a reporter and editor but dreamed of writing a romance novel some day. When I was on maternity leave with our oldest (who is now 30!), I started my first book. It took me about 5 years of tinkering with it, dealing with rejections, rewriting and starting something new before I sold my first two books to Bantam Loveswept in 1995. I’ve been writing full time since 1997 when our second child was born. The Sea Glass Cottage is my 63rd book. I get a little overwhelmed when I think about all those words!

What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
Like all my books, the core story is that we’re all here to learn how to take care of each other. All my books have the underlying theme that our lives become better and more fulfilling when we reach out to help and lift someone else. The world can sometimes feel ugly and angry. I feel like there’s an increasing need for us all to focus on trying a little harder to be kind. Life is filled with pain and trials but it can also be beautiful and joyful at the same time.

What drew you into this particular genre?
I still consider all my books romance novels at heart because that is the genre I have adored since I was eleven years old. My books will always have some kind of love story in them! But my hardcovers also have provided a wonderful chance to explore deeper relationship issues: Healing a rift between a mother and a daughter, finding peace when a relationship with a sister ended in tragedy, finding common ground between an aunt and a niece. 

What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
Focus on the emotions you want your readers to feel in your stories. Readers love finding authors who can carry them away with their storytelling, making them feel what the characters feel. They want that emotional ride! Find the kind of stories you love to tell, focus on your strengths and constantly keep stretching yourself in new directions. 

What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
Yes! Always ☺ The last book in my Haven Point series, SUMMER AT LAKE HAVEN, comes out June 23. This is Samantha Fremont’s book, for those who have read others in the series. It also includes a surprise novella. Next up will be a standalone Christmas book in an all-new community, Silver Bells, Colorado. CHRISTMAS AT HOLIDAY HOUSE will be out in late September. And I recently spent three days at a California beach house with writer friends plotting my next hardcover and can’t wait to start writing it! THE PATH TO SUNSHINE COVE (tentative title!) will also be set in Cape Sanctuary and will be out April 2021.

Where is your favorite place to write?
I am the luckiest of writers because I have my own office. Several years ago, we made the impulsive decision to buy the house adjacent to ours. It was rundown and unsightly and kind of blighted the view from our backyard. Our plan was to fix it up to increase our own property value and then rent it out but after the renovation, I loved it too much to rent it out so I took it over. I have loved it! With a special needs son who has multiple disabilities and requires total care, life at my house is at times chaotic and messy but I always have such a sense of peace and calm when I go to my office. And I love that I can walk through the backyard in my jammies to go to work.

What do you like best about your new book?
I love the peace and healing that came to the characters from being honest with their loved ones and opening their hearts to second chances.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Akin

Title:  Akin
Author:  Emma Donoghue
Publication Information:  Little, Brown and Company. 2019. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0316491993 / 978-0316491990

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "An old man packing his bags."

Favorite Quote:  "Every childhood had its own unspoken rules, he reminded himself, and at the time they seemed unbreakable, perpetual."

I absolutely loved Room by Emma Donoghue. Even though I read it years ago, it still stands out as a memorable story. Since then, I have read Wonder which had an equally strong premise but not quite the intensity and believability. So, when a new book by Emma Donoghue comes out, I look to recapture the intensity and lasting impact of the original.

Both Room and Wonder have a single unifying focus that carries through the story. The focus of Akin is a less clear. The book centers on two characters. Noah Selvaggio is a widower. He is retired. He is also on his way from New York City to Nice on a hunt for his own past and for his mother's story. Michael is eleven years old. He has just the only stability in his life. His mother is incarcerated. He is in need of a caretaker. Noah is his closest available relative. So, they become an unlikely pair.

My first issue is that the entire premise seems highly unlikely. The idea of social services placing a child with a little known relative with no investigation and only one meeting seems counter to how social services works to protect the interest of a child. Further, the idea that social services would then allow this individual to take the child internationally is even more unlikely. Unfortunately, this lack of initial credibility serves as the beginning of the book.

Putting that aside, I am still willing to follow the story and see where it goes. It has the potential to be touching and sweet. That tone is not what the book achieves. Throughout, it seems as though the book is following two stories - Noah and Michael as an unlikely pair and Noah's search for his mother's past. The two stories never really come together in a cohesive whole for me. Throughout, I feel as though I am trying to hold on to two threads.

Noah's mother story leads to a tale of World War II and the resistance. Unfortunately, so much of the book is about the research for the story than the story itself. The tale might be interesting; research the tale is not.

Sadly, the most memorable parts of Noah and Michael's story are the stereotypical depiction of Michael and overabundant profanity. Yes, adolescents can be mouthy and abrupt. However, not all the time. Also, no parent (or parent-like) figure would tolerate such behavior all the time.

I find myself skimming through to see if the characters or the story evolves throughout the book. Sadly, I find that it does not. I keep reading for the story to ring true, and it does not. I am disappointed.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

This Tender Land

Title:  This Tender Land
Author:  William Kent Krueger
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2019. 464 pages.
ISBN:  1476749299 / 978-1476749297

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In the beginning, after he labored over the heavens and the earth, the light and the dark, the land and sea and all living things the dwell therein, after he created man and woman and before he reseted, I believe God gave us one final gift."

Favorite Quote:  "Of all that we're asked to give others in this life, the most difficult to offer may be forgiveness."

The story of "this tender land" is not tender and not really about the land. It is about children - four orphans - in the harshest and more dire of circumstances. Odie, Albert, Mose, and Emmy. This is an epic story of one summer that seems to extend so far beyond the time period it covers. For its horrific events, the story has at the same time an almost idyllic and philosophical feel.

To some extent, the name of the book is misleading although it is included in the text of the book itself. "I love this land, the work. Never was a churchgoer. God all penned up under a roof? I don't think so. Ask me, God's right here. In the dirt, the rain, the sky, the trees, the apples, the stars in the cottonwoods. In you and me, too. It's all connected and it's all God. Sure this is hard word, but it's good work because it's a part of what connects us to this land, Buck. This beautiful, tender land." Despite this inclusion, this book is not really about the land or the challenge and opportunity it presents.

This book is about the people of the land - the kind and the cruel. The story begins at the Lincoln School in Minnesota in 1932. The Lincoln School is a residential school with the primary stated purpose of assimilating Native Americans into the European American way of life. Children were removed from their homes and placed in this residential facility, often without the permission of the families. For some, it was a mission to guide the "salvation" of these children. The government provided funding based on the number of children. So, for many, it was a money making enterprise.

Odie and Albert are not of native American descent but end up as orphans at this school. The reason why is part of the story. Mose is a Native American who has been rendered mute because of someone's brutality. His acceptance and growth into his heritage is part of the story. Emmy is a young girl whose mother works at the school and lives nearby. Her gifts are a part of the story.

This "school" is more a jail-like environment where the children are nothing but workers to be used and abused. The story goes that certain events happen and the brutality gets so severe that Odie, Albert, and Mose run away from the Lincoln School. Circumstances force them into bringing Emmy along. In their wake is destruction from a storm, blackmail, and a death. They do find certain helpers who set them on their way.

Over the course of the summer, the four travel down the river. They have a destination in mind and the idea that family might be waiting at the other end. Along the way, they encounter both more horrors and more helpers. More deaths, evangelists, thieves, the law, and the outlaws. An element of magical realism is also introduced. Somehow, no matter how bad the circumstances, the book maintains a bit of idealism. Perhaps, as the book suggests, it is because the main characters are children. "Our eyes perceive so dimly, and our brains are so easily confused. Far better, I believe, to be like children and open ourselves to every beautiful possibility, for there is nothing our hearts can imagine that is not so."

Perhaps, it is because the narrator is actually Odie much much later in life relating the story of this one summer. "'And you've already been given a gift.' 'What gift?' 'You're a storyteller. You can create the world in any way your heart imagines.'" Perhaps, the gift of time and storytelling dims the sad and horrific parts. "Everything that's been done to us we carry forever. Most of us do our damnedest to hold on to the good and forget the rest. But somewhere to hold on to the good and forget the rest. But somewhere in the vault of our hearts, in a place our brains can't or won't touch, the worst is stored, and the only sure key to it is in our dreams."

No matter what, the result is a philosophical, haunting tale of the dark history of the treatment of Native Americans and at the same time of the resilience of children and the joy of creating a family.

"But I believe if you tell a story, it's like sending a nightingale into the air with the hope that its song will never be forgotten." This is story I will long remember.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Henna Artist

Title:  The Henna Artist
Author:  Alka Joshi
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2020. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0778309452 / 978-0778309451

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the Harlequin Trade Publishing 2020 Spring Reads Blog Tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Her feet step lightly on the hard earth, calloused soles insensible to the tiny pebbles and caked mud along the riverbank."

Favorite Quote:  "In India, individual shame did not exist. Humiliation spread, as easily as oil on wax paper, to the entire family, even to distant cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews. The rumormongers made sure of that."

Henna is a memory of my childhood - the smell, the color, the sisterhood, and the recipes from getting the most vibrant color. This book takes that art form and puts in the context of 1950s India. To understand this book requires some understanding of that time in the Indian subcontinent. The British Raj had just ended in 1947. The British Crown ruled the subcontinent from 1858 to 1947. Then came independence and the creation of the countries of India, Pakistan, and eventually Bangladesh. Culturally, the British left their mark on the countries, the government, and particularly on the lifestyles of the rich.

To further understand the book requires an understanding of the concept of an independent, enterprising woman in that time and place. The women were often the unspoken matriarchs in what was essentially a male-dominated society. The women wielded power but subtly. So, the idea of a woman make her own way is an even stronger one.

In this context is the story of Lakshmi Shashtri. She is a child bride at fifteen. She escapes an abusive marriage and runs. With support and the right introductions, she establishes herself as a henna artist although her gift also lies in an understanding of herbal medicines and their impact. She navigates the social pitfalls of caste, culture, political changes, and the moods and peculiarities of her rich clients. She is known for her henna artistry and more secretly for her medicinal cures for everything from headaches, heartaches to unwanted pregnancies. Through her work, she is close to achieving her goal of a home for herself and her parents.

The story takes a turn when a sister she knew nothing about arrives on her doorstep. Things get complicated and threaten to destroy everything Lakshmi has worked for. Or perhaps bring her to a direction and life she has never dreamed of.

The characters and the setting in the pink city of Jaipur are vibrant. However, to me, they do not match the history of the time. The leaving of the British Raj was a dramatic and traumatic change as was the partition of India and Pakistan. These events broke up families and friendships and caused huge numbers of people to move as they transitioned from one country to the other. It was a time of strife and uncertainty. That history does not reflect in this book.

Perhaps, you could say the history is not relevant as the book is more narrowly focused on the story of one woman and on highlighting the role of women. It does that through the various female characters. The mother plotting advantageous marriages for their children. The wealthy socialite who understands her dominance over her community. The poor nanny who is left without a voice and without options. The wife who dreams of being a mother, a role that is still deemed needed to complete a woman. And, of course, the sisters Lakshmi and Radha. Both are rebels in their own way. Lakshmi takes the road of working within the system but creating her own path. Radha is the impetuous one. The story itself is not unexpected, but the women bring it to life.

A strong debut. I look forward to reading more from Alka Joshi.


The Henna Artist
Blog Tour

Author: Alka Joshi

ISBN: 0778309452 / 978-0778309451

Publication Date: 03/03/2020


Author Bio:

Alka Joshi is a graduate of Stanford University and received her M.F.A. from the California College of the Arts. She has worked as an advertising copywriter, a marketing consultant, and an illustrator. Alka was born in India, in the state of Rajasthan. Her family came to the United States when she was nine, and she now lives on California's Monterey Peninsula with her husband and two misbehaving pups. The Henna Artist is her first novel. Visit her website and blog

Buy Links: 

Social Links:
TWITTER:
FB: @alkajoshi2019
Insta: @thealkajoshi
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18257842.Alka_Joshi


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Grace Kelly Dress

Title:  The Grace Kelly Dress
Author:  Brenda Janowitz
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2020. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1525804669 / 978-1525804663

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "She hated the dress."

Favorite Quote:  "The dress only means something if you want it to. What is important are the people behind it. When it comes to these things that are handed down from generation to generation, each woman leaves her own mark on it, so that it tells ours story, stitch by stitch."

The idea of an heirloom resonates. The idea of the memories, traditions, and stories an object holds is often times what makes it beautiful in my eyes more so than the object itself. "We need to remember the past so that we can more clearly see where we are going."

The "object" in this case  is a wedding dress seen through the eyes of three different women. The seamstress in 1958 Paris is Rose. She is the creator of the dress. The mother of the bride, as a bride herself in 1982 Long Island is Joan. The bride in 2020 Brooklyn is Rocky.

Rose comes to be the creator of the dress because of an unfortunate incident. She is a seamstress in a Parisian atelier, known by the name of and for the designs of the atelier owner. An unfortunate occurrence makes Rose part of an illusion to preserve the atelier. Rose is to create a wedding dress that will be deemed Madame's design. The design and the relationship with the bride brings Rose to a place and a life she never dreams of.

Joan is a college girl; her life is full of sorority sisters and wedding dreams. She is engaged to a handsome young gentleman with all the right credentials. She is also the only remaining child of her parents as her sister died a few years previously. Joan places the burden of all their expectations on her shoulders. Her journey is one of discovery - about family secrets, about her sister, and about herself.

Rocky is the woman choosing her own path. She is unconventional, independent, and successful. She is in a strong relationship with someone who is a true partner in life. She is planning her wedding, trying to find a balance between staying true to herself and honoring her mother's dreams. She mourns her father and always feels as if her mother prefers her sister Amanda. She is torn between wanting to make the choices right for her and for earning her mother's approval. Inside the strong independent woman is still a girl wanting her mother's unconditional love.

The books winds chapter by chapter, back and forth through the women's stories. Each one feels like a cohesive whole and, at the same time, it all ties together in a family legacy and in the history of the dress. As the author states, her approach to writing was to try and do each timeline justice. Rocky's story and Rose's story end about where I expect. Joan's story is the surprise. Its ending is the least specified, but it still works. Again, it is interesting to read that this is the story line that challenged the the author the most.

As you might expect, this book does contain a few physical scenes that I could do without. Overall, though, the story stays focused on the strength of these women and on their relationships with the other women in their lives. The strength of the women and the strength they find in each other is the lasting memory of this book.


The Grace Kelly Dress
Blog Tour

Author: Brenda Janowitz 

ISBN: 1525804669 / 978-1525804663

Publication Date: 03/03/2020


Author Bio:

Brenda Janowitz is the author of five novels, including The Dinner Party and Recipe for a Happy Life. She is the Books Correspondent for PopSugar. Brenda's work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, Salon, Redbook, and the New York Post. She lives in New York.


Author Q&A:

Q: You write that you've always loved wedding dresses. What fascinated you about Grace Kelly's dress in particular, and how did you come up with the idea for this novel?
A: Ever since I first laid eyes on this iconic garment, I’ve been in love. To me, Grace Kelly’s wedding gown is the ultimate dress. Beautiful, elegant, and refined-- what more could any bride want? My agent sent me an article from The Today Show about a wedding dress that had been passed down through eleven generations. The moment I heard the story, I knew that I had the idea for my next novel. Once I decided to write about a wedding gown, there was only one thing I envisioned: Grace Kelly on her wedding day. So, when it came time to describe what this heirloom dress looked like, I found myself describing Grace Kelly’s gown-- the lace sleeves, the cummerbund, the full skirt. I quickly realized that the characters in the book should be as enamored of this design as me, and The Grace Kelly Dress was born!

Q: You alternate between three characters' stories. Did you focus more on one before turning to the others, or did you write the novel in the order in which it appears?
A: I like to write in a very straightforward manner, and that usually means writing each chapter in order, from beginning to end. So, I approached this book in this same way, at first. But then, I realized that in order to make each story have the meaningful arc I was looking for, I’d need to focus on one story at a time. So, I broke the book apart into three different documents, and worked on one timeline at a time. This enabled me to fully immerse myself in each protagonist’s life, as well as the time period I was exploring. Once I’d completed all three timelines, the real work began. I wove the book back together, and that was when the book took its true form, as I made sure that the different timelines all spoke to each other in a meaningful way. It certainly made the book take longer to write, but I think that by working on each timeline separately, I was able to do the individual stories justice.

Q: The book is set in the New York area and in Paris. How important is setting to you in your writing?
A: Setting is so incredibly important! Where a character lives and how she interacts with her environment says so much about who she is. Rocky, our protagonist in 2020, lives and works in Brooklyn, and it says as much about who she is as the tattoos she proudly wears all over her body. Joanie, in 1982, lives a sheltered life on Long Island, but when she goes into New York City, she finds a world much larger than the one she was living. And Rose, in 1958, is in Paris, but as a poor orphan, lives a different type of sheltered life, working in a highly regarded atelier during the day, and doing not much else.

Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’ve loved writing about an heirloom item and the family that owns it, so I’m doing it again! I’ll be focusing on another family and another heirloom that has been passed down. Heirlooms are so incredibly important to me-- I wear one of my Grandma Dorothy’s rings every day, and I love having a piece of her with me as I go through my day to day. 

Q: What is one of the biggest challenges you have in a story like this that spans different times in history?
A: One of the biggest challenges for me, was the massive amount of research. When writing in another time period, I underestimated how carefully every sentence would have to be researched. The characters needed to sound like they lived in the time period I was presenting, and every reference needed to be spot on-- from what the characters were wearing, to the types of music they listened to, to the way they styled their hair. Is it any wonder that my current work in progress will take place in the present?

Q: Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
A: I found Joanie, in 1982, to be the most challenging to write. I first created her character while working on the 2020 timeline, at which point we only know her as Rocky’s mother. It took a lot of thought to figure out who she would be at age 20, and how she would grow into the woman we see in 2020. Additionally, since we meet her mother in the 1958 timeline, it was important that the reader see a connection there, too. On the first round of edits, I completely trashed the original 1982 storyline and re-wrote it from the ground up. I think that I needed the first draft to truly learn who she was, and how to create her story. 

Q: Were you a young writer, a late bloomer, or something in between?
A: I’ve always loved to write. In fact, it’s the reason I became a lawyer. But I was one of those unhappy lawyers, so for my 30th birthday, my best friend, Shawn, organized a group gift-- she got all of our friends together and sent me to my first writing class. It’s the thing that helped me to take my writing more seriously, and the place where I began writing what would become my first novel.

Q: Any type of writing ritual you have?
A: I wish I could say that I have certain rituals and that I have a process for letting the muse in, but the truth is, I’m just a busy working mom, so I write when I can. Sometimes, I’m dictating full chapters on the voice memo app on my phone. Sometimes, I’m jotting notes on the backs of receipts. I say: do whatever works!

Q: What is your favorite genre to read, and why?
A: I love to read, and I love reading all different types of genres. I think it makes you a better writer to be more widely read. That said, I have a soft spot for upmarket commercial fiction. If Reese Witherspoon can make a limited series HBO drama out of it, I’m in!

Q: What message do you hope readers take away from your story?
A: The main thing is that I want readers to really enjoy the story and have a great reading experience. As for a takeaway, it’s been really moving to have readers reach out to me to discuss the role that heirloom items have had in their own life. I always tell my kids: it’s people who are important, not things. But I do believe that certain things, like these heirlooms that are passed down, have meaning. They show us where our family has been, and each one has a story connected to it. Stories are powerful, and the stories about where we come from are so incredibly meaningful.

Buy Links: 

Social Links:
Facebook: @BrendaJanowitz
Twitter: @BrendaJanowitz
Instagram: @brendajanowitzwriter



Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Bear

Title:  The Bear
Author:  Andrew Krivak
Publication Information:  Bellevue Literary Press. 2020. 224 pages.
ISBN:  1942658702 / 978-1942658702

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The last two were a girl and her father who lived along the old eastern range on the side of a mountain they called the mountain that stands alone."

Favorite Quote:  "Her father told her once that all animals were creatures of habit and so, too, were they. The difference was she could choose to change her habits. Animals changed when they were afraid. Change before feat has had a chance to overcome you, he said, or after you have overcome it and like a storm it has moved on."

The Bear is a post-apocalyptic book that seems more like a book about life beginning at the beginning of time.

How do we know it is post-apocalyptic? There are remnants of a different world - books, ruins of a town, a pane of glass, and a set of flint and steel. There are memories and stories of a different time.

Two humans remains. A man, the father. A girl, the daughter. There was once a mother, but she is now buried at the top of the mountain. There is love. There is a home. There is plentiful food. There is a life in harmony with nature and with its creatures. Despite the post-apocalyptic setup, the scene is idyllic with seasons, forests, rivers, and all kinds of creatures.

According to the book description, the scene is actually inspired by Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire. The actual mountain stands about 1,000 feet higher than any other mountains within the surrounding 30 miles. The name "monadnock" is from the First Nation language Abenaki and loosely translates to "mountain that stands alone." This is the "name" given to the mountain in the book although the book has more labels than actual names.

The fact that the book has no names give it an almost philosophical tone. The stated theme running throughout the book is that of the cycle of life and the love and loss that it brings:
  • "But we don't get to choose when we leave here to sleep on the mountain. We all have to sleep on the mountain one day. Even the bear. Even when we struggle with all our will not to."
  • "That every thing has its end. And we have a part to play, right up to that end."
  • "But I miss whom I once could touch, as all must do when we make our way through whatever forest or wood it is in which we travel or are raised. This does not mean the man is lost or has disappeared forever. For although he no longer walks beside you, he still remains in the time and place of memory and this is where he will appear again and again, as often as you will seek him. Not only in those places where he has hallways been but where he could not be then yet will be now."
The unstated underlying theme of the book is living in harmony with nature. It is a bear and the other forest creatures that protect the girl and that teach her the lessons life brings. Honoring the forest and the creatures that house her, clothe her, and feed her is a tradition repeated over and over again throughout the book. A world in which only two humans exist comes across not as sad and desolate but lush and protective and abundant with life.

That image is evoked by the wonderfully visual, almost poetic writing that leave me hopeful for this world and this girl and for our world.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Doll Factory

Title:  The Doll Factory
Author:  Elizabeth Macneal
Publication Information:  Atria/Emily Bestler Books. 2019. 368 pages.
ISBN:  198210676X / 978-1982106768

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Silas is sitting at his desk, a stuffed turtle dove in his palm."

Favorite Quote:  "She has always been taught to button her passions, not to shout, to respect the opinions of men. Her emotions have always simmered more than they should, and now they boil over. She could suffocate in her anger."

The Doll Factory is a book about obsession. It is about the 1850s London exhibition. It is about twins. One is born beautiful, but, to her mind, finds her beauty destroyed by illness. The other is born with a birth anomaly but learns to see the beauty in herself. It is about an artists who helps a woman recognize her beauty. It is about a collector of oddities who creates an obsession from a chance meeting.

The book is atmospheric and dark. Unfortunately, aspects of it are just sad and unpleasant - a young child killed in an accident, mice killed and stuffed, a two-headed dog, a child whose business is collecting dead things and who is saving for a set of teeth, another child briefly mentioned who is a prostitute, and murder. For some of these reasons, I am not the reader for this book. I appreciate the history. I can even appreciate the Gothic darkness. Graphic depictions of violence, however, are just not for me.

Beyond a point, the book is also a very slow read. Iris is finding her independence. Iris's sister is wallowing is self-pity and resentment. Louis the artist is falling in love but dealing with baggage of his own. The obsession of Silas the collector is growing day by day. These facts are established early on. The characters and the plot line seem to repeat throughout the book until close to the end when Silas's obsession finally translates into action. Even the "action" beyond that point seems to repeat onto the ultimate ending.

Interestingly, the "action" when it comes is reminiscent of a typically abduction and escape thriller. With the 1850s setting, with the connection to the art world, and with the dark setup of an obsessive evil villain who likes to kill and stuff his prizes, I expect something a little more unusual. I appreciate the fact of a woman finding her voice and finding her courage. However, given the buildup, I expect a  more unexpected twist and definitely one more macabre and suited to the atmosphere of the book. What set ups as a Victorian, Gothic thriller ends up in a much more modern ending.

Perhaps, the most interesting aspect of the book for me was learning about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), a group of English artists who considered themselves as rebels to and reformers of what was considered "good" art. That is not the focus of the book, but there are enough glimmers to send me on the search for the history. In that the book accomplishes its goal as historical fiction.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.