Monday, April 30, 2012

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye — 432 pgs

New York City, 1845. As the city gears up to institute its first police force, it also becomes inundated with Irish immigrants who have fled the disastrous potato famine that swept across Ireland, creating a volatile situation citywide. Timothy Wilde is a barkeep who is working hard to gain the attentions of Mercy, the woman he loves. As he saves and saves, hoping to one day earn enough to provide for Mercy, the unexpected happens. A fire breaks out in the city and not only destroys Tim’s savings and lodgings but leaves him disfigured as well. When Tim finally gets his bearings back, he’s asked to become a part of the fledgling police force—a job that doesn’t interest him at all. But Tim’s prospects are grim, so he accepts the challenge and decides to become a “copper star”. One evening as he’s patrolling his area, a frightened child, covered in blood, runs into his arms and he is unable to make any sense of what has happened to her. Going against his better instincts, Tim takes the girl home to his boarding house and tries unendingly to parse out her true story from the lies she so effortlessly tells. When he finally begins to tease out the real story, it’s a tale of bribery, mayhem and murder of the most heinous and repugnant kind, and it will ultimately involve some of the town’s most respected leaders and financial contributors. Will Tim go forward and risk everything to solve these hidden crimes, or will he move silently away and continue striving towards his dreams of Mercy and a life of ease? In this arresting work of historical fiction, Lyndsay Faye gives her readers a vibrant and visceral portrait of 19th century New York imbued with a cast of characters that are as unforgettable as they are complex.

I initially became interested in this book when Jen from Devourer of Books hosted it as one of her monthly BOOK CLUB selections. I was lucky enough to get picked to participate in the discussion, which can be found here. I wasn’t sure if this book was going to be a success with me because I was unsure of the ratio of mystery thriller to historical fiction that the book would provide. When I started reading, all my cares melted away and I was immediately grabbed by the book’s potent and portentous narrative. It ended up being one of my favorite historical reads of the year so far, which I totally wasn’t expecting. I have to commend Faye for creating a story that was unexpectedly ensnaring and grittily beguiling.

Tim is a genuinely nice guy with a knack for eliciting confidences and a habit of noticing the imperceptible habits and traits of the customers he serves at the bar. Though he’s tough, he has a soft spot for one woman whom he desires above all others. He is the polar opposite of his brother Valentine, a man who is neck deep in politics and all kinds of nefarious and shady business all over town. In fact, Val thoroughly disgusts Tim, and through a very tumultuous set of events, the two become somewhat intertwined through the institution of the newly formed police force. Tim is not happy to be a copper star but he feels it’s the only solution left to him, and though he does his work with pride, he’s harboring a lot of resentment towards Val for unknown but powerful reasons.

When the bloody child steps out of the night and into Tim’s arms, all manner of hell begins to reign down. Not only are there problems within the city due to the flood of immigrants, the Democratic Party is trying to keep its toehold in the city, and that means money and influence are needed. Add to this roiling pot of confusion the fact that the city’s population isn’t interested in being hemmed in by lawmen. They’ve been happily causing a ruckus for as long as anyone can remember and the copper stars are not well regarded. When the little girl finally begins to tell her haunting story, it’s almost too horrible to be believed. But is it the truth or just another fabrication devised to win sympathy from the man who plucked her out of oblivion and given her a new start? Each of these plot lines was deliciously melded into a wild and unstoppable narrative that still managed to be composed and earnest.

Towards the conclusion of the book, everything begins to rapidly spin out of control for Tim and everyone else in the town. Explosive turns of events take place that make the reader question each and every character’s motives and loyalties, and each revelation is more shocking than the last. It was a heady mix of action and contemplation and I grew more and more enveloped in what was happening, until the final climactic ending that had me applauding Faye’s brave character motives and narrative choices. This was a book that I wanted to go on forever and I would have been happy to read another 400 pages with Tim as my guide through this New York of the past. I happily discovered that there is a sequel in the works and I’m going to be lining up to grab that book as soon as I hear of its release.

I can’t recommend this book heartily enough, and those readers who are put off by historical fiction would find a bevy of entertaining aspects to this book—the major one being that this is a mystery/thriller as well as a work of historical fiction. There’s not much more to say about this book other than my noting of the fact that this is probably one of the best works of historical mystery that I have ever read. Bravo, Ms. Faye. You have created a world that I would be very reluctant to inhabit but that I couldn’t stop from falling headlong into anyway. Highly recommended for all types of readers.

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Around My French Table by Dorrie Greenspan — 530 pgs

This elegant and beautiful cookbook takes its readers on a delicious romp through French cuisine with none other than the notable and eminent chef Dorrie Greenspan. Not only a cookbook, this book describes Dorrie’s years living in France in conversational paragraphs and asides cleverly situated between the recipes. Packed among her fabulous offerings are helpful tips on cooking terms, ingredients and substitutions. What I love most about this book is that it’s almost a coffee table book. Its gorgeous photographs and heavy binding make it something that stands out among the cookbooks on the rack and it really begs to be placed on a center table for cooks and guests alike to peruse through and enjoy.

The book includes sections on hors d’oeuvres, soups and salads, all types of meat and fish dishes, and of course desserts. The recipes vary in style from old favorites like cheese topped French onion soup to the more fanciful and exotic offerings like pissaladiere—which is sort of a caramelized onion and anchovy pizza with fresh olives that Greenspan tells us is sold on virtually every French street corner. From the moment this book entered my home, it’s been a delight and revelation to look at, and Greenspan’s convivial and conversational asides on each of her recipes made me feel like not only was I learning about French cooking, but I was learning a lot about Greenspan herself.

This book has garnered a lot of attention from guests and even found its way into the totebag of my friend Sarah, who promises a fine French meal in the days to come. I shall keep you posted. But meanwhile, get your hands on a copy of this one to indulge your eyes in some of the finest photography of French cuisine that you will possibly ever see, and read a bit for yourselves about Dorrie Greenspan’s adventures in France. Bon appétit and happy reading!

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Defending Jacob by William Landay — Audiobook Review

Recorded by Blackstone Audio
Narrated by Grover Gardiner
Length: 12 hours 25 minutes

In this legal thriller, William Landay takes us into the hearts and minds of a family that is heading down the road to unstoppable destruction. Jacob Barber is 15 and not exactly one of the most popular kids at school. In fact, he’s often teased and bullied – a veritable outcast among the other students surrounding him. When one of Jacob’s tormentors is murdered in a particularly gruesome way, suspicion naturally falls on Jacob, who denies having any part in the crime. Jacob’s father, Andy, was at one time a district attorney and begins to feel the sting of judgement and rejection as well, as he sets about trying to prove Jake’s innocence. Andy, taking an almost predatory tactic of investigation, uncovers layer after layer of contradictory evidence, ultimately making a discovery about his family that could be disastrous to Jacob’s case. As the trial wears on, pulling the family deeper and deeper into the vortex of mistrust, confusion and schism, Andy and his wife must come to terms with the realities and idiosyncrasies of Jacob’s life as well as the flaws in their own marriage. Packed with unseen twists and turns, Defending Jacob is the tale of one floundering family fighting the struggle of their lives, concluding with an explosive and unexpected ending that will leave readers shocked and reeling, looking for clues and questioning every aspect of the narrative.

Normally, this book would have not registered on my radar, but the women who attend my yoga class all read it around the same time and convinced me to give it a try, telling me that it was not only chilling but well crafted. While I do agree that the book’s plot and twists were totally pulse-pounding, I think the girls and I had a different take on the well crafted aspects of the writing. While I agree that the book was indeed an interesting thriller, I felt at times the writing was laborious to listen to and could sometimes even be considered dull. The narrator, Grover Gardiner, was a good choice, his voice carrying all the necessary trepidation and mounting frustration and agitation of the narrative very convincingly. Unfortunately, this didn’t relieve the lack of enthusiasm I felt for the writing as a whole.

There’s a lot in this book to think about, and the realities of the crime and trial are constantly shifting. I didn’t know from one minute to the next whether Jake was guilty or just a convenient suspect. Although it wasn’t clear if Jake was the murderer or not, he was an extremely maladjusted young adult. When secrets came out about his family, the interplay of the realities of nature vs. nurture turn into a frightening froth of questions and speculation by all parties concerned with the case. There is no doubt that Jake is troubled but did he go so far as to commit this heinous crime that has been laid on his shoulders? Landay does a great job of making all the aspects of this thriller spectacularly tense and careful readers will understand that the murkiness of Jacob’s involvement is only one of the myriad of things that is rippling through the story.

While I loved the story, I must elaborate on the writing style of the book. Often it felt plodding and forced, and hearing it performed on audio was sometimes troublesome for me because things felt as if they moved too slowly, with a lot of verbal meandering that I just did not enjoy. I can understand that this was done to build tension, but for me, it was akin to wading through quicksand. There wasn’t a lot of chemistry to the writing, and though the story was involving and had hidden labyrinth-like twists, the writing didn’t have a lot of force and felt flat. Had this not been the case, this book might have made it on my best of the year list.

Much can be said about the impact that the plot makes on the reader and the ultimate shocking conclusion, but far from spoiling it for anyone, I’ll just say that it was completely unexpected. It changed the direction of the story completely and it totally blew me away. Some might liken this book to We Need to Talk About Kevin, and I can see that there are some aspects that are similar, but really this is a different kind of book altogether. Where Kevin was more of an introspective and reflective novel, this book was more of a courtroom drama mixed with bits of investigative procedural and it was more outwardly focused. Both had stunning conclusions but they were of a very different kind.

If you are a reader of thrillers or are one of the many who loved We Need to Talk About Kevin, then this is a book that you might want to take a look at. Defending Jacob is definitely a cut above the typical suspense novel, but as I mentioned before, the style of writing is just average. I might be alone in this assessment but I felt it needed to be mentioned. On the other hand, the plot is masterful and if you’re a reader who loves a great and complicated thrill, this one is for you.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A and Z March through the Middle: Middlemarch Part 3

This year, Aarti and I have decided to wade deeply into a classic book of literature that we hadn’t been exposed to before. We thought it would be fun to break up our reading into sections and post a little bit of our conversation and reflections on what we’ve read. This is really different for me because I’ve never really shared a classic with anyone before, but I knew that if I had Aarti along for the ride, it would be much less intimidating and more of a full experience. So we have embarked on our read of Middlemarch by George Eliot with some eagerness, despite the fact that neither of us really knew what the book was about. I encourage you to hop on over to Aarti’s site today and see the third part of of our conversation, where we address some of the immediate perceptions that we had of the book. Please enjoy our thoughts on Section 3, shared here.

Aarti: Speaking of couples who don’t know each other well, there’s the Casaubons! Goodness, what an ill-assorted pair. Mr. Casaubon continues to be horrible and jealous and really unkind. I know in the narrative, George Eliot says that we should feel sorry for him- that he wanted so much from life, and didn’t get it, and so thinks everyone else must be wrong, not him. But it’s so hard to sympathize with someone who himself has no empathy for other people. He seems so upset any time Dorothea so much as voices as opinion of her own instead of agreeing always with him. And Dorothea is so disappointed that Casaubon isn’t this ridiculously perfect “great soul” that she wanted him to be. They both went into the marriage with unrealistic hopes and it seems like now, they just have less and less in common.

Zibilee: I felt like this marriage was an error from the beginning and that it was only a matter of time before it all began to fall apart. I think both parties had idealistic and unrealistic expectations of what their partnership would be like. I don’t have much sympathy for Casaubon, though Eliot wants us to! I think he just wanted a helpmeet but that is so not what Dorothea is. She has a mind and opinions of her own and I don’t think he likes that. I see him as somewhat of an overbearing ogre and he seems befuddled that she’s not doing what he thinks she should do, which is just sit by and copy texts for him. I know she tries to defend him and wouldn’t say anything bad about him to anybody else, but it’s clear that she is unhappy and I think she made a huge mistake in marrying him.

Aarti: And then there’s the whole scene with Featherstone! But I’ll let you voice your opinions on that first :-)

Zibilee: Oh, my gosh, this whole scene was just so crazy! The fact that Featherstone was dying and all these relatives come creeping out of the woodwork to be by his side so that they will be remembered in his will was just so…so…slimy! Where were these people when he was living his life? Where were they when he needed them? On the one hand Featherstone is a nasty piece of work, but on the other, who would want to leave money and property to these grasping and nefarious people?

Aarti: I know, it was really horrible. And Fred was there doing the same thing, too. It is hard for me to get back in the historic mindset of people just waiting around for others to die so that they could inherit money without working and that would be the “gentlemanly” thing to do. But even if that was preferable, I just can’t imagine giving someone else so much control of my life. And ALL of them sitting around doing it. In a way, it was just so much commentary on Featherstone himself, that no one really wanted to go up to visit him, but just waited around for him to die.

Zibilee: I didn’t like that they were fighting over his money before he was even gone, and he specifically asked them to leave, and they refused! The gall of that just really surprised me! Featherstone used his money to control people, there are no two ways about that, but man, those people all congregating around him when he was so ill was just upsetting. And they were all fighting about who deserved the money. I think Fred is going to be disappointed as well, because it seems that Featherstone likes to play games and I wouldn’t be surprised if Fred is counting on something that won’t eventually happen. I was just shocked by this whole section because there was no artifice to their scheming and no altruistic behavior going on there at all! He was angry that they all descended upon his house like a pack of vultures and they just wouldn’t leave and kept trying to insinuate themselves over and over again. I think Mary did the right thing by refusing to burn the will. Featherstone seems to be used to people compromising themselves for him and the advantages that his money and favors will bring, but I’m glad that Mary stood firm. I actually loved this section because it elicited such a strong emotional response from me. I read this with my eyes wide, and my mouth hanging open!

Aarti: Yes, Eliot was really masterful with the tension here, wasn’t she? I was really impressed, especially towards the end, when Mary was thwarting Featherstone’s plans, and you could feel how angry and frustrated he was, even though he could do nothing about it. It was an excellent scene because you could just see that the two had no relationship at all, even though she had been his caretaker for so long.

Part 3 was really interesting for me because it seemed like the book came alive and really delved into some button-pushing issues for me. It was, so far, my favorite section of the book and I’m looking forward to treading into Part 4 due to recent developments at the end of this section. Stay tuned for more of our thoughts on Part 4, coming soon!

Read Earlier Installments:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil — 304 pgs

In this kaleidoscopic and avant garde novel of life in and around the opium dens of India, Jeet Thayil gives his readers a peek into the underbelly of Indian society. Thayil presents the struggles of a handful of characters who have given up their lives, dreams and ambitions for the drug that helps each to escape their mental and physical plights. Dimple, also known as Zeenat, is a eunuch who is living as a woman, sharing her time between a brothel and an opium den where she is a mistress of the pipes. Hers is a story of unexplored and diverted life, and as she tries to claw her way out of the holes she’s been sucked into, she discovers the beauty of life hiding behind the ugliness she sees everyday. Rumi is an addict who will do anything to get his next fix and is hiding a habit for dangerous violence that he thinks only he is aware of. Rashid, the man behind the most successful opium den in India, is struggling to keep up with the bribes, familial obligations and forward march of time in order to keep up with the ever changing demands of his customers. As the unnamed narrator tells the story of each of these characters, he also partakes of the pipes and comes to form a bond with each of them. At times shocking and eyebrow raising, Narcopolis gives a name and a voice to the denizens of the hidden side of India and and cleverly shows its readers the differences and similarities we share with this unique cast of characters.

I was initially skeptical of this book. Most of this had to do with the fact that the first chapter was written in an entirely stream of consciousness style that I had trouble assimilating and understanding. I’ve never been one to appreciate stream of consciousness writing and I worried that the rest of the book would be a struggle for me. You can imagine my delight and relief when I reached the second chapter and things became more stylistically clear. I’ll be upfront and say that while this is a very interesting and engrossing book, it’s not for everyone. Some of the topics and descriptions were very sexually graphic and there were some aspects of glorifying the drug culture as well. Despite these things, I really feel that this book did an outstanding job of penetrating the seamy underbelly of India’s opium dens and getting into emotional areas that were sometimes uncomfortable but that also caused me to become quite reflective.

This is not a story that’s told in a traditional way. There is a scant sense of running timeline and the narrative fluidly jumps forward and backwards in time. This was somewhat easy to read because the book was helpfully broken up into sections that allowed the reader to follow along without much trouble. There was also not much of a linear plot to follow. Ideas, emotions and characters were on full display, but as far as an overarching plot goes, the book seemed to be lacking. There were also areas of narrative that dealt with extremely unsavory aspects, so readers with delicate sensibilities should indeed look elsewhere. Narcopolis felt very much like an artistic rendering of what life might be like for a handful of people who frequent and own opium dens. The narrative has an almost dreamlike or hallucinatory quality, and while it was at times starkly disturbing, I also found myself falling headlong into the strange tale that Thayil was sharing with me.

Themes of religion and fanaticism, familial bonds, and addiction were deftly pursued within the story. Although it didn’t feel like a book that harped on its messages, a careful reader will be able to pick up on some of the wisdom that Thayil seeks to convey, using his colorful cast of characters to impart his beliefs. I do admit that some of the scenes were disturbingly raunchy and had me a little uncomfortable, but as I don’t consider myself a particularly sensitive reader, these aspects didn’t make me unwilling to go forward with the book. Each of Thayil’s sections seems to hone in on one particular thematic aspect and character, and though those characters do appear in subsequent sections, they only appear as sideline guests in the larger structure of the narrative.

Thayil’s rendering of this book is very skillful, but as a reader, I kept wondering what the ultimate message of the book was. Yes, there was a lot to digest intellectually but I felt that some of the power of what he was saying was lost in the bizarre and seedy aspects of life in an opium den. If the author thought to shock and scandalize, then he did a great job, but I can’t help but feel that the statements he was trying to make were muddied by the inclusion of so much darkness and strangeness. If this was simply a book that sought to capture the alienation of life as an opium addict, then it must be judged on different criteria. There were things about this book that I loved and things that had me very uncomfortable. It was a fine line drawn in the sand that I was constantly straddling in order to move forward in the story.

This isn’t a book for everyone, and if you’re the type of person who is disturbed by depictions of flagrant sexuality or drug use, you should probably stay away from this one. But if you’re a reader who can get past that, this is a brilliant book that gives a singularly unique look behind the doors of opium dens and brothels, which is unflinchingly real and powerfully addictive in its own right. A very strange trip of a read.

Author Photo About the Author

Jeet Thayil was born to a family of Syrian Christians in Kerala, India, in 1959. He was educated in Jesuit schools in Bombay, Hong Kong and New York, cities in which his father worked as an editor and writer. He worked as a journalist in Bombay and Hong Kong before returning to New York in 1998 to read for an MFA in poetry at Sarah Lawrence College. He then worked as a journalist with a newspaper in New York City, until, in 2004, he moved from the United States to India to write. His books of poetry are: These Errors Are Correct (2008), English (2004), Apocalypso (1997) and Gemini (1992); and he is the editor of The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets (2008). As a musician and songwriter, he is one half of the contemporary music project Sridhar/Thayil. His libretto for the opera Babur in London will tour internationally in 2012. He lives in New Delhi. Narcopolis is his first novel.

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Tuesday, April 17th:The Year in Books
Wednesday, April 18th:Chunky Monkey
Thursday, April 19th:Unabridged Chick
Friday, April 20th:Raging Bibliomania
Monday, April 23rd:The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Tuesday, April 24th:Stiletto Storytime
Wednesday, April 25th:Reading on a Rainy Day
Thursday, April 26th:A Novel Source
Monday, April 30th:Conceptual Reception
Tuesday, May 1st:A Reader of Fictions
Monday, May 7th:Chaos is a Friend of Mine
Tuesday, May 8th:Beastmomma
Thursday, May 10th:What She Read…
Thursday, May 31st:Poet Hound
Date TBD:Ted Lehmann’s Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch — 320 pgs

Nell Slattery has survived a horrific plane crash but due to the accident, she has a severe case of amnesia. As the press hovers around her and the only other survivor, a famous actor named Anderson, Nell suspects that her family is not being open and honest about her life before the crash. Nell, though, is starting to discover that her pre-crash personality was one of studied aloofness and harsh judgement. When she gives full access to one reporter to dig into her past and surface with the answers she’s looking for, she gets more than she bargained for. As Nell and Anderson grow closer, she also grows more and more estranged from both her mother, a woman who seems to be guiding her into dangerous waters, and her sister, Rory, whose anger and jealousy threaten to destroy the progress that Nell is making. As Nell slowly begins to remember her past with the help of a music playlist that her sister put together for her, painful and devastating secrets rise to the surface. When a particularly vicious reporter gathers a tidbit of information about Nell’s old life that pushes her over the edge, she makes an escape with Anderson to finally put all the pieces of her life back in order. In this emotionally charged and powerful novel, Allison Winn Scotch slowly fills in the blanks of a life that was forgotten in an instant.

There seem to be a plethora of books out about memory loss at the moment, but Winn Scotch makes her story unique with the inclusion of a devastating plane crash that suddenly deletes Nell’s memory and leaves Anderson with mental scars as well. Though the actual crash isn’t covered in the narrative, there are some flashbacks to the incident and some very real fears and problems that crop up because of it. Nell’s memory loss isn’t the only injury she sustains and, due to the physical trauma she suffered, she spends a tremendous amount of time in the hospital trying to heal, and becoming closer to Anderson.

Nell is confused at what her life has become. For instance, there’s something eerily wrong with the way she feels towards her husband, Peter. When it’s revealed that their marriage was on the rocks, Nell feels even more awkward and uncertain and feels that he’s hiding something from her. Nell’s mother is aiding and abetting this situation in a terribly manipulative way, and even Rory, her sister, lacks the empathy that is normal between family members. The truth is that I found Nell’s family to be pretty repugnant and horrible. They’re all hiding things from her and they spend their time tricking her and being emotionally unavailable to her. All Nell needs is for someone to take her under their wing and tell her the truth but there’s nobody to do that for her and it’s heartbreaking.

Anderson is alive because, at the last minute, Nell saved his life, which created a bond between them that nothing can break . It was extremely gratifying for me to see that there was someone in Nell’s life who was willing to toe the line for her and give her the time and space she needed to come back to herself. Things are mostly platonic between them due to some unintended circumstances that Anderson has involved himself in, but as time passes, Nell begins to lean on Anderson more and more. She’s able to get from him the love and care that her family seems unable to give her. He is solid and true, and in her life, Nell finds that he is about the only one she can really trust.

As Nell navigates backwards into her memory, troubling memories begin to surface that revolve around her long absent father. He is a reclusive artist who left the family years before and he has a hidden secret that Nell feels she must uncover. Nell has always felt close to her father and because they share the same artistic sentiments she feels that she can somehow find him and compel him to be part of her life. What she finds instead will shake her to the core and make her family’s betrayal all the more irreversible and complete. I really felt for Nell throughout the entire book. Though she was strong and definitely resilient, there was a great deal of hypocrisy and emotional sabotage going on around her. It was hard to read through her struggles without feeling as if there was a sore spot in my heart for this girl who fell out of the sky and into a huge mess.

This is a darker read than what I had been expecting but it was expertly crafted and really took me into the heart and mind of its protagonist. I can’t say that everything wrapped up neatly at the end because there were some situations that were left open and raw, but the book ends on a hopeful note of strength and completion that I found to be vindicating in the end. It was the kind of read that, while angering, still fosters hope and sympathy, and I enjoyed it a great deal. This book would be perfect for those readers who love a good family drama that is chock full of dysfunction but still ensnares with a wonderful protagonist.

Author Photo About the Author

Allison Winn Scotch is the bestselling author of Time of My Life. A former freelance magazine writer, she has written for Glamour, Parents, and Men's Health. She lives in New York City with her husband and their two children. To learn more about Allison Winn Scotch, please visit

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Tuesday, March 27th:Well Read Wife
Wednesday, March 28th:DBC Reads
Thursday, March 29th:Colloquium - Guest Post
Tuesday, April 3rd:Amused by Books
Wednesday, April 4th:Chick Lit is Not Dead – Guest Post
“5 Things I’d Tell the Teen Me”
Thursday, April 5th:Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, April 9th: Library of Clean Reads
Tuesday, April 10th:Reading with Martinis
Wednesday, April 11th:A Musing Reviews
Thursday, April 12th:Reviews from the Heart
Monday, April 16th:Books Distilled
Tuesday, April 17th:She Treads Softly
Wednesday, April 18th:Suko’s Notebook
Wednesday, April 18th:Raging Bibliomania
Thursday, April 19th:Chick Lit Reviews and News
Monday, April 23rd:I Am A Reader, Not A Writer – Author Q&A
Tuesday, April 24th:Books Distilled
Wednesday, April 25th:All Grown Up?

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Orchard: A Memoir by Theresa Weir — 240 pgs

Theresa was a girl who grew up in a very unconventional way. Her childhood included a mother who was extremely neglectful and who spent more time wooing various men than shaping her children’s lives. As a young adult, Theresa was shuffled from place to place with no one to love her or call her their own. That is, until her uncle invited her to help run his bar out in the middle of the country. Living on a fold-out couch in the bar, Theresa is swept away one night by the attentions of the son of the most prominent apple farmer in the state. After a brief but intense courtship, Adrian proposes marriage and Theresa accepts, never dreaming what her life might be like as the wife of an apple farmer who is one day set to inherit the huge farm. But problems arise almost instantly. Adrian’s mother, a cruel and cold woman, takes an instant dislike to Theresa and tries her best to separate the two. She also has an iron fist wrapped tightly around her son’s life and livelihood, and Adrian is bent to her will time and time again. Not even the neighbors expect Theresa to last out on the farm, where the two newlyweds live in a small rundown cottage reserved for the foreman of the ranch. As Theresa and Adrian navigate the first rocky months of their marriage, even they aren't sure it will survive. But survive it does, and though it doesn’t exactly flourish, there is a modicum of comfort in the family they build. However, things on the farm aren’t always what they seem, and the secret to producing those impeccable apples is slowly leaching its way into the lives of the family that runs the orchard. It's a secret that Theresa has been trying to deal with for years but it's only when the unthinkable happens that she begins to let the farm’s hold upon her life loosen. In this dark and foreboding memoir of Theresa’s life and marriage, secrets and vows come undone under the force of one very domineering woman and the control she feels unable to relinquish.

I initially wanted to read this book because I had heard so many great things about it from a handful of bloggers whom I trusted. I was also intrigued because memoirs are always my cup of tea and there was a touch of the mysterious and unfamiliar about it. When I picked it up, I knew very little about what was lurking within the pages but quickly became engrossed and sat and devoured this little memoir about a woman and man whose struggle is not only moving but potent as well. It was a story steeped in sadness and longing, and one that made me feel intense emotions of anger, frustration, and ultimately, betrayal. For such a short book, it packed an intense emotional punch, and while there was definitely an abundance of grief and heartache, there was also a quiet undercurrent of compassion and love sewing the disparate  patches of the story together.

Theresa is a free spirit. She has had to be, living with a family that is as untraditional as it gets. Life seems to have been overwhelming to her from an early age, and her mother’s inattention is something  she repeatedly flashes back to as she quickly jumps from engagement to marriage to motherhood. It would be unrealistic for Theresa not to harbor resentment towards her mother, but in a truly enlightened way, Theresa never makes the mistakes that her mother did when embarking upon her own life as a wife and mother. Though she and Adrian have their fair share of problems, Theresa feels honor and duty bound to quash the disruptions between them, and though her marriage is never what anyone would call picture perfect, there is a comfort and ease between the Theresa and her husband that is hard won and generously appreciated.

Adrian’s mother is not as sympathetic of a character. She is ill-tempered and mean even at the best of times. It's no secret that she thinks Adrian can do better in his choice of a mate and this is a fact that she brandishes in front of her daughter-in-law's face through her malicious actions and cruel words. Worse still is the unyielding pressure that she puts on her son in relation to the farm. To produce the best apples, dangerous and harmful chemicals are used in the production of the crops. The chemical treatments are non-negotiable in her eyes, and in her relentless pursuit of Adrian’s eventual inheritance of the farm, she manages to drive a wedge between not only herself and her son, but also between Adrian and Theresa. She is never passive and yielding, choosing instead to be domineering and resistive time and time again, not only to Adrian and Theresa’s ideas, but to their familial relationships as well.

After many years, things begin to break down and fall apart, not only on the farm but with personal matters as well. In these hard times, Theresa, Adrian and their children rally round and create an insular little world that no one can invade. But again and again tragedy strikes, culminating in a vicious standoff between Theresa and her mother-in-law. It was a story that broke my heart in not only its intimations but in its repercussions. As basic respect and decency break down, the narrative becomes heartbreaking and deeply personal. Though the book is steeped in sadness and poignancy, there were also spellbinding moments of beauty and intimacy traced within the darker framework of tragedy.

This was an eye-opening read for me, and because of the author’s ability to be particularly candid and transparent, it was an engrossing read that had me reaching for the tissues over and over again. The story manages to encapsulate a span of many years within a small package, but it was a very potent package indeed. Readers of memoirs would do well to search out this amazing story of resilience, inner strength and emotional fortitude. A very worthy read and highly recommended.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Iguana Tree by Michel Stone — 220 pgs

Lilia and Hector live in a small village in Mexico, though Hector has other dreams for his family’s future. Leaving Lilia behind, Hector embarks on a risky illegal journey to America under the dangerous protection of a coyote who will smuggle him across the border. Hector plans to arrive first and set up a life for his wife and infant daughter and then send for the two as soon as possible. Hector’s crossing is both unpleasant and frightening, but when he finally makes it to the U.S., he quickly finds a new job and shelter awaiting him. But Lilia, not content to wait on Hector’s plans, unwittingly accepts help from an old friend of a dubious nature. What happens to Lilia and her child as they cross from Mexico to America is tragic, horrifying and bewildering. Meanwhile, Hector, knowing nothing of Lilia’s new plans, is slowly gaining the trust and respect of his employer, who wishes to help him start a new life. When Lilia calls him saying that she has indeed crossed the border, Hector is both furious and heartbroken by the fate that his wife and daughter have suffered. Things have now gone seriously awry, and their small family will never be the same again. With broken hearts and damaged souls they struggle forward, making their painful way in America, until one day an unthinkable tragedy threatens to devastate their new lives. In this haunting and provocative new novel of one family’s struggle to live new lives of opportunity and prosperity in America, Michel Stone submerges her readers in a world of the vivid horror and dangerous treachery of a journey across the border.

I was thrilled to get a chance to read this book because it’s published by one of my favorite publishers, Hub City Press. About a year ago I wrote a post about the awesome Hub City Books and their truly innovative store and small press. Their wonderful manager, Erin, sent this book along to me and assured me that it was an incredible read, and I’m pleased to say that I agree fully. In this spare novel, Stone manages to capture all the intensity and drama in a book that I was unable to put down. It’s also a story rooted in a reality that I don’t think many Americans who speak about illegal immigration ever really consider. It is a book of extreme importance and undeniable impact.

When Hector leaves his family behind, he is secure in the knowledge that he will one day be reunited with them, which makes his dark and twisted journey somewhat more bearable. He leaves Lilia and his newborn daughter behind with a heavy heart but knows that he must save in order to employ a safe and reliable coyote for them to cross. Though optimistic, Hector is also pragmatic, and his journey towards the land of opportunity is one that is initially fraught with a tension that gradually morphs into a steady and sustaining life that will enable him to realize his plans for his family’s future. Hector is smart and resourceful, quickly gaining allies and friends, and soon becomes indispensable to his employer. As he toils away day after day, he dreams of the day that he will be reunited with his fledgling family. Hector believes that the worst is over and that he can create a life for them that is safe and secure. He believes that a sunny future awaits them in this new place.

Lilia is not as patient as her situation requires, and due an unplanned circumstance, she feels she must move quickly. As she rushes to join Hector, she unwittingly puts herself and her daughter in the hands of a coyote that is not to be trusted. Her crossing is brutal and violent and she comes to America having lost much that she can’t replace. My heart broke for Lilia and her suffering, and in only a few moments the light and freedom that resided inside her was gone. This drove a further wedge between herself and her husband, who is already embittered by her decision to entrust her crossing to a stranger. It’s Lilia’s naïveté and innocence that become liabilities to be manipulated and exploited in her journey, and she arrives a broken shell, altered both inwardly and out, to her new home in South Carolina.

Stone has a way of making her characters extremely vulnerable while not robbing them of their sincerity or hope, which makes the plights of Hector and Lilia all the harder to assimilate. The originality of this book and the knowing voice in which the narrative is imparted forces even hardened readers to look deeper into the plight of illegal immigrants and to put names and characteristics to these precious people who are treated as a commodity. It’s a hard tale to read, but it’s honest, raw and powerful. The chances these characters take are mirrored into infinity every day by those who seek to better themselves and live lives of consequence and meaning in America. The statements that this book makes are not to be squandered or overlooked.

Though it’s hard to say that I loved a book that was mired in tragedy, I was completely awestruck by Stone’s incredible narrative voice. It’s a tremendously moving and carefully constructed book overflowing with pathos, and it chilled me to the bone. This is an important book that needs to be read by many, and in her attempt to tell the story of one small family, Stone manages to capture the heartrending plights of hundreds, if not thousands. A viscerally enveloping read. Highly recommended.

Author Photo About the Author

Michel Stone has published more than a dozen stories and essays in journals, magazines, and books. Her work has appeared numerous times in the Raleigh News and Observer’s emerging Southern writers series and she is a 2011 recipient of the SC Fiction Project Award. Raised on the South Carolina coast, Michel now lives in Spartanburg, S.C.

To learn more about The Iguana Tree, visit the publisher's website,, or visit Michel's website,

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Monday, April 2nd:Luxury Reading
Wednesday, April 4th:Book Chase
Thursday, April 5th:Life in Review
Monday, April 9th:Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, April 10th:The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Wednesday, April 11th:The Picky Girl
Thursday, April 12th:Indie Reader Houston
Friday, April 13th:Raging Bibliomania
Monday, April 16th:Book Addiction
Wednesday, April 18th:Colloquium
Thursday, April 19th:Jenn’s Bookshelves
Monday, April 23rd:Book Club Classics!
Tuesday, April 24th:Estella’s Revenge
Wednesday, April 25th:Book Chatter
Monday, April 30th:Suko’s Notebook

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale by Lynda Rutledge — 304 pgs

It’s the last day of the of the old millennium and the revelers of the small town of Bass, Texas, are raring to ring in the year 2000; but one woman, the formidable Faith Bass Darling, has woken this morning with a message from the Almighty. Faith has always been the richest woman in town and has spent her life being blessed with money and material possessions beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. But God has told Faith that this is the last day of her life and that she needs to empty out the huge mansion of all her precious antiques and belongings and have a garage sale. On the lawn. As the neighbors come out to pick and poke, Faith’s friends and family watch in horror, for there is definitely something wrong with her. For starters, she can’t seem to remember old friends, and troublesome people from her past keep appearing in her mind’s eye. For Faith’s daughter, Claudia Jean, the homecoming that she has made to assist her mentally fragile mother is not only a return but a reckoning. There are dark secrets in the Darling’s past, and the one thing that ultimately drove Claudia Jean away will be the one that’s strangely absent, which is almost too terrible to be true. In this evocative and brash novel that revolves around one woman’s obsession to divest herself of all her worldly goods just in time to reach the pearly gates, a whole town discovers what Faith Bass Darling has meant to them all, each in a very different way.

This was one of those books that dealt with some very serious issues within a framework of dry wit and comedy. The darker themes of Alzheimer's, murder, racism, and long-standing family tensions was offset by the lightest touches and strokes of humor that kept the book from being overly somber and weighed down by sorrow. There were sections to smile over, and surprisingly, this didn’t take away from the gravity of the book’s messages or render the characters as stereotypes or caricatures. It was a fine balance and Rutledge manages to keep firm hold of her story and characters in the great dance of tragedy and mirth that unfolds before her readers.

Faith is obviously deteriorating, and although she’s been a recluse for many years, when the mansion doors swing wide to disgorge Tiffany lamps that she’s willing to part with for a dollar, obviously the town takes notice. But few people are actually concerned for Faith Bass Darling. Most of the town’s residents seem bent on taking the befuddled woman’s possessions and leaving her wandering vacantly over her lawn. But there’s more to Faith, because underneath her very obvious confusion, memories and reflections are rising to the surface, things she hasn’t thought of in so long that they’ve been all but  forgotten. As the drive to sell off her possessions becomes stronger, others begin to arrive and discover what’s really going on, much to their horror.

Claudia Jean arrives in town prepared to ask for the one thing that her mother will never part with, the thing she needs to secure her dreams; but what she finds on Faith’s lawn shakes and jangles her into a nearly incoherent state herself. Claudia is the master at running away, and all she wants to do now is run, but there’s too much here to leave behind and the healing that has to take place between her and her mother is like an implacable train she doesn’t want to board. With the help of a man who should have every reason in the world to hate the Darlings, and an old friend who wants to see Claudia and her mother rightly compensated for their family relics, Claudia Jean, along with her mother, wades into the mire of remembering what drove her away and the secrets buried just under the surface.

This novel asks its readers to ponder some heavy questions. How deeply are our possessions tied with our sense of self, and what happens if forgiveness comes too late? Where does the soul reside, and is it possible to die without really being dead? These questions are placed skillfully inside a story that is rich with unique and enigmatic characters that are as finely tuned to each other’s emotions as can be, but who can sometimes miss the things that are right under their noses.

This was a book that I cherished but that also tore my heart into tiny little pieces. It’s an odd thing to be smiling through eyes bleary with tears, but this was what often happened while I was reading this book. If you’re a reader with a love of finely honed literary novels, this is the book I would recommend to you. It is strikingly forceful yet oddly gentle, and I recommend it highly.

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sarah Pekkanen Guest Post

On Monday I reviewed the amazing new novel These Girls by Sarah Pekkanen. When I got the opportunity to have her write a guest post for my blog, I was incredibly excited because I’ve long heard of Sarah’s amazing amiability and witty personality. So today I’m thrilled to bring you a guest post by Sarah Pekkanen, who is a new favorite author for me. Here Sarah discusses some of the strange things that happen when you simply set out to name a character. It’s a very fun post to read and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And now, I give it over to Sarah!

One thing I never expected when I became a novelist was how many people would see themselves in my books. My parents, an old friend from childhood, the mother of a kid at my son's school — all were convinced I'd modeled characters on them.

"I thought the character Gary was based on my husband," confessed a woman I've known for years when we were discussing my first book, The Opposite of Me.

"Really?" I asked, feeling my brow furrow. "Why?"

"Because they've got the same name," she said, as if it should be obvious.

I blinked a few times as I scrambled back in my memory, trying to recall whether I'd given Gary any offensive tics, but the first thing that came to mind was that I'd described him as a human Ken doll.  I assured my friend that Gary was as fictional as that plastic mass-produced doll.

But a few weeks later, a woman whose son attended school with mine mentioned she'd noticed I'd described a scene in which a character made inedible muffins. "I thought that was me!" she said. I couldn't believe it - this woman is an extraordinary cook who manages to combine the healthiest of ingredients in a way that conjures addictions.

"Er... NO!" I said. I'm still not sure if she believed me.

With each new book I've written, I've become more careful to scour my manuscripts to make sure I'm not using the names of anyone I know well — or worse, the names plus some characteristics that conceivably could be stretched to describe an actual person in my life. It's strange, because when I sit down to write a book, one of the first things I do is name my characters, and the names are a critical jumping-off point for my creative process. They inspire the character — if I pick the right name, I can almost see my fictional people standing in front of me. In my new novel These Girls, my three main characters are Cate, Renee, and Abby. Cate, to me, is someone neat and focused and perhaps a little private. Renee is the life of the party, the kind of woman who will ask a complete stranger on the bus if she can borrow a tampon (which Renee has done). And Abby is sensitive and maybe a bit shy and young. Once I had those names, my characters began to take shape.

But after I finished writing These Girls, I realized a minor character was named Joanne. My neighbor across the street is also named Joanne. Would she take offense? This character isn't exactly likable, and she's not a good mother. I couldn't risk it — I changed the name to Joanna just before turning in the book.

Naming character isn't always stressful — I've had a little fun with the process on Facebook. When I was trying to name a British magazine editor, I came up with Hamish. But it turns out there is already a real British magazine editor in New York named Hamish, so it was suggested I change it. I asked folks on Facebook to weigh in, and one of them came up with a winner: Nigel. That's the name I used in These Girls (and I sent the person who suggested the name an advanced signed copy of These Girls).

Now I'm curious: What types of qualities do you associate with certain names?

Monday, April 9, 2012

These Girls by Sarah Pekkanen — 336 pgs

Renee, Abby and Cate have found themselves sharing an apartment in New York. While Cate and Renee both work for the ultra-hip magazine Gloss, Abby has only just arrived in New York after fleeing a troubled past. For Cate, a recent promotion to Features Editor at Gloss brings newfound power struggles with tetchy journalists and a boss who seems to want more from her than she’s willing to give. Renee is vying for a position as Fashion Editor and has only recently found out the lengths that she must go to in order to obtain this most coveted job, while Abby has left behind a little girl she has grown to love when her job as a nanny began to creep into dangerous territory. All three women have unrealized goals behind and enormous struggles ahead. Through their various trials and heartbreaks, they will come to discover that the one thing more important than their careers and self-image is the friendship that they have tenuously begun to build. As they navigate office treachery, self esteem issues, and secrets that have been long buried and forgotten, they realize that it’s impossible for them to go it alone. As their friendships grow and solidify, each woman comes to grasp the beauty of their individuality and the power and strength that lies deep within themselves. In this endearing and bracingly touching novel, Sarah Pekkanen explores the hidden depths of three women trying to make a new life for themselves and the beautiful bonds that hold them together.

I’ve long wanted to explore the writing of Sarah Pekkanen, and each time I read another rave review of one of her books, I mentally note that almost everyone I know finds her work to be smart, engaging and touching. Reading this book was an addictive experience. I couldn’t put it down and became grumbly and ill-tempered when I had to let it linger, even for a moment. Pekennan writes characters that are instantly relatable and puts her readers squarely in their camp, rooting for them even when the odds are stacked against them. These three women are the kind of characters that instantly clicked with me, and I was firmly entrenched in discovering as much about them as I possibly could.

Cate is your typical go-getter. Though she’s smart, capable and winsome, she must always present a strong and forward thinking presence because there are many obstacles in her way. As a competent woman, Cate struggles with having to push the limits because, at times, it seems that people don’t respect her. Cate, while being at the top of her game, is hiding a secret that may undo her, and she has a lot to prove to those naysayers who long to topple her. Though she’s strong and intelligent, she knows when to ask for help and when to remain steadfast. Ultimately, Kate struggles because she’s unable to trust, and when she finally begins to let Abby and Renee into her life, she begins to realize that her lack of intimacy with others may be preventing her from truly having it all.

Renee, on the other hand, is a softer force and often deflects her self-esteem issues with humor. While Renee isn’t overweight, she struggles with weight issues and body shame that sets her on a dangerous path. Like Cate, Renee desperately wants to prove herself but feels that her weight is a significant factor in her unhappiness. I felt that I could somewhat relate to Renee and her thought processes, and when an unexpected family crisis looms on the horizon, her problems are compounded. As Renee works harder and harder to obtain her goals, they all seem to slip away one by one. It’s easy enough for her to laugh on the outside, but on the inside, Renee is slowly falling apart.

Abby is an instinctual caregiver who has lost direction and focus after finding herself morally and ethically compromised. When she arrives in New York to share an apartment with Cate and Renee, she is dispirited and brokenhearted. She’s not only eaten away by guilt and regret, but suffers from severe bouts of panic that she can’t understand. As Cate and Renee work together to help mentally bouey Abby, the three discover they share an affinity for each other and they all begin to lean on each other and provide each other with the compassion that they so desperately need. Abby is the catalyst for many of the emotional bonds that form between the women, and despite her need she is once again able to find the nurturing parts of herself to give to the other two women.

If you enjoy books that highlight the amazing resiliency of women’s friendships, this is definitely the book for you. It’s gentle without being sugar coated, and Pekkanen has a way of making her story extremely relevant for women of all ages. I also appreciated the fact that the writing was crisp and bracing and that the plot was extremely tight. I’ve already ordered my next novel by Pekkanen and am looking forward to digging in very soon. A great read. Highly recommended.

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Flower Reader by Elizabeth Loupas — 448 pgs

Rinette Leslie of Granmuir has a very special gift that allows her to decipher messages from the flowers that surround her. As the reigning queen, Mary of Guise, lies on her deathbed, Rinette is charged with delivering an infamous silver casket full of dangerous secrets and letters to her daughter Mary Stuart, the new queen of Scotland. Before Rinette can discharge her duty, her new husband is brutally murdered in connection with the hidden casket. Unable to dissuade the young queen from pressing her into service, Rinette finds herself at the mercy of almost every nobleman at court, all who seek the silver casket for themselves and their own country’s interests. As Rinette tries to survive the melee of threats, violence and murder, she’s unsure whom to trust. But one man in particular seems to be ever intertwined in her fate. Is this man a force that she can trust or one who seeks to do her the ultimate harm, and will the whispering of the flowers be enough to save herself and the young queen who seems hell bent on destroying her own newfound dynasty? In this richly dramatic and darkly potent historical fiction novel, Elizabeth Loupas unveils a tale of dark intrigue imbued with drama, violence and love.

This book was very different than most historical fiction I’ve read in the past. For the most part, many of the book’s central characters were entirely fictional creations, while the real historical players stayed mostly on the outskirts of the story. This enabled the author to be very daring in the story that she created, and at times I marveled over the extreme darkness that this tale provided. It was more than intriguing to watch all these events unfold, and as the narrative spans the course of several years, there was a lot of figurative space for the story to blossom and realize its full potential.

As the story opens, Rinette is a very young woman in love and is unable to see the follies of her betrothed. These follies are very apparent to the reader, but Loupas does a great job in creating in Rinette a delicious naïveté that is stripped away from her one layer at a time as the narrative moves forward. When the silver casket comes into her possession, the danger and heartache that follow her turn this story from a simple historical fiction piece into a tale of suspense and intrigue that had me deeply wound in the story. As Rinette discovers too late, she’s not the only one who knows about the casket, and due to a betrayal of the most egregious kind, she must now protect herself with a fierceness.

The villains in this story were plentiful and it was almost as if each and every character carried a varying degree of hostility, deceptiveness and danger in them. Discovering the balance of cruel intentions that each of them carried became something of a thrill for me. In a court full of glittering personages, there was virtually no one whom Rinette could trust, and this made her all the more resolute to protect herself at all costs. As the story moves forward, Rinette is burdened with more to lose but also more to love, putting her in the position of secret keeper and warrior, as well as flouromancer and courtier.

There was an element of romance in the book as well, but Loupas does credit to her story by making her hero very enigmatic while drawing him with a touch of duplicity as well. He’s a great match for the heroine, but I felt that the love story wasn’t the primary element to this tale. Each of the characters were finely etched and had ruses and machinations that ran extremely deep. Often I was overwhelmed with the amount of work that must have gone into creating such a cohesive historical drama shot through with threads of mysticism, intrigue and relevance.

I really enjoyed this story and have the feeling that there may be a sequel based on how the tale wraps up at the end. For those readers who don’t naturally gravitate towards this genre, this is a great place to get a toehold. There is enough suspense and mystery to delight readers who lean that way and just enough historical flavor to really give the reader a sense of time and place. There are also an infinite amount of fine details that are worked in with precision, making this book an all around solid read. Worthy of attention and recommended.

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

UCF Book Festival Recap

Let me start off by saying that this event gets better and better each year. Though it’s only the third time around for UCF, their ability to coordinate inventive and interesting panels, attract world famous authors, and get the surrounding community excited about reading really indicates a tremendous effort and capability that just keeps growing and growing!

The events kicked off on Friday night at the Authors’ Reception, which was held at the stunning new Morgridge International Reading Center. This is a state-of-the-art facility that was a perfect backdrop for the reception. I arrived with Sandy and we were there to witness the unveiling of the signature painting that commemorates the festival; this year done by Fred Rosa and entitled Fountain of Imagination. While we were walking around and schmoozing, we found ourselves in the midst of a knot of amazing authors who we were delighted to speak to! Eventually we all decided that some noshing was in order, so Sandy and I packed a few of the authors into her car and went out for dinner. We got the amazing opportunity to dine with River Jordan, Rachel Hauck, Joshilyn Jackson, Marybeth Whalen, Karen White and Lisa Wingate, and had one of the best dinners I’ve had in a long time. There was laughter, silliness and complete literary goodness coming from our section of the restaurant, so it’s safe to say that the festival kicked off in an amazing way!

Saturday morning, my husband and I arrived bright and early and met up with Sandy, Heather, Jenny, Anita and Michelle. It was a day packed with panels and we were lucky to get to attend four great examples of the many amazing offerings that were available.

First up was Imperfect Justice with Jeff Ashton. Mr. Ashton was one of the lead prosecutors of the Casey Anthony trial, and he spoke about his book on the subject entitled Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony. This was a stimulating talk and Ashton had the large audience eating out of his hand. He discussed his real feelings for Jose Baez and Casey Anthony and why he thought the jury came back with the verdict they did. There were many questions from the audience and Mr. Ashton answered them all in a witty and charismatic manner. He was quite different than I expected because his natural manner is rather jocular and witty, which is a different side than what he portrayed at the trial. All in all, I enjoyed this panel and made a note to go out and get a copy of the book for myself.

Next, a few of us headed off to our second panel of the day, entitled Writing Place: New Fiction from the South. This panel offered us a second visit with two of our dinner companions, Joshilyn Jackson and Karen White, in addition to new-to-me author Nicole Louise Reed.The short of it is that Karen White was poised and elegant, reading a bit out of her book The Beach Trees and fielding questions about her writing process, while Joshilyn Jackson was sassy, funny and energetic. She read a bit from A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, and I swear, it was like listening to the audiobook all over again! Joshilyn spoke about what keeps her writing and a bit about her characters. Nicole Louise Reed was also amazing and shared a bit of her upcoming book, So There! It was a very interesting excerpt and had a few of us talking about it after the panel.

Next, the girls and I attended the panel entitled Tragedy and Triumph: Celebrating Nonfiction. Our authors for this panel were Sheryl Needle Cohn, who told the story behind the creation of her book The Boy in the Suitcase; Allan Wolf, an amazing innovator who penned the stylistically unique The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic; and the wickedly funny W. Scott Poole, author of Monsters in America. Listening to how these three authors got the inspirations for their work and some of the strange but true tidbits that made their way into the pages was an absorbing experience.

The fourth panel was called Stories from the Ladies of the South, where we were entertained by some more of our dinner guests: Marybeth Whalen, Rachel Hauck, Lisa Wingate and River Jordan. Listening to these ladies speak was wonderful because they all know each other well, so the conversation was very natural and felt organic and cozy. I had a great time at this panel and felt that each of them did an amazing job representing not only their work but themselves as well. They each had interesting perspectives on the process of writing and what works for them individually.

Last but certainly not least was the late afternoon panel: Embracing Imperfections through Young Adult Literature with Ellen Hopkins, Jessica Martinez and Ty Roth. This was a very intriguing panel that dealt with the censoring of young adult literature, the power that YA books can have over their target audience, and the real-life events that pushed each of these particular authors to write the books that they featured. It was a very enlightening panel, and the room was packed, with some attendees seated on the floor.

After this last panel, all of the bloggers decided that we’d like to go out to dinner to catch up and review the day as well as get the chance to catch up with each other. We were all excited to hear about Michelle and her husband’s baby who will be arriving very soon, and to get the chance to talk a bit about books as well as our lives and families, including pets! It was a great time to decompress with friends.

I have to say that I was really inspired by how many people turned out for the event and hope that this festival continues to grow as the years progress. It’s become something that I eagerly anticipate each year, and this year was no exception. The chance to mingle with authors, bloggers and people who love reading is one of the many reasons I love doing what I do, and I can’t tell you how much fun I had at this one-of-a-kind event. I’m looking forward to next year’s festival and hope that perhaps a few of you will be there with me too!

Monday, April 2, 2012


Thanks to everyone who entered my giveaway for a copy of The Crown last month. The winner is Lisa from Lit and Life! Congratulations Lisa!
Congratulations as well to Diane from Bibliophile by the Sea, as she is the winner of the biography Charles Dickens: A Life.
And last, but not least, congratulations to Jillian for her win of the biography James Joyce: A Life.

Emails will be sent out to the winners shortly. If you didn’t win this time around, worry not! I’ll have some great giveaways coming up in the near future!
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