Tag: literature

Book Review: Of Literature and Lattes, by Katherine Reay

of literature and lattes
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title:   Of Literature and Lattes
Author:   Katherine Reay
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4 out of 5

Return to the cozy and delightful town of Winsome, where two people discover the grace of letting go and the joy found in unexpected change.

After fleeing her hometown three years earlier, Alyssa Harrison never planned to return. Then the Silicon Valley start-up she worked for collapsed and turned her world upside down. She is broke, under FBI investigation, and without a place to go. Having exhausted every option, she comes home to Winsome, Illinois, to regroup and move on as quickly as possible. Yet, as friends and family welcome her back, Alyssa begins to see a place for herself in this small Midwestern community.

Jeremy Mitchell moved from Seattle to Winsome to be near his daughter and to open the coffee shop he’s been dreaming of for years. Problem is, the business is bleeding money—and he’s not quite sure why. When he meets Alyssa, he senses an immediate connection, but what he needs most is someone to help him save his floundering business. After asking for her help, he wonders if something might grow between them—but forces beyond their control soon complicate their already complex lives, and the future they both hoped for is not at all what they anticipated.

With the help of Winsome’s small-town charm and quirky residents, Alyssa and Jeremy discover the beauty and romance of second chances.

I’ve read—and loved—several of Reay’s books in the past (The Brontë Plot, The Austen Escape, Dear Mr. Knightley) but I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as those. I think it’s because this was about more than one couple and their issues. And because I wasn’t a huge fan of Alyssa. She was…really hateful to her mother and, despite wanting not be thought of as a child, she persisted in acting childish.

I learned more about the nuances of coffee than I ever imagined existed, and I did love the small-town setting here, but this didn’t feel like the Reay books I’ve read before, so I was a bit disappointed. Maybe it’s because the classic novel this is linked to is Of Mice and Men, which I’ve basically forgotten?

Katherine Reay is a bestselling author. Of Literature and Lattes is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Traveling Cat Chronicles, by Hiro Arikawa

the traveling cat chronicles
Image belongs to Berkley Publishing.

Title:   The Traveling Cat Chronicles
Author:   Hiro Arikawa
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Nana is a proud stray cat who doesn’t need an owner, but he doesn’t mind the crunchies nice Satoru puts out for him. When Nana is hit by a car, he knows Satoru is the only one who can help him. One visit to a vet and a healed broken leg later, and Nana decides staying with Satoru isn’t so bad.

Life is good until Satoru tries to give him away. But Nana is smart and thwarts the exchange. Satisfied, Nana thinks all is good—until Satoru tries to give him away again. Soon the two are  traveling across the country in a silver van as Satoru visits scenes from his childhood—and soon Nana realizes there’s more going on that a cross-country vacation.

This is a charming, heartwarming book, and I ugly-cried at the end. True story. It’s hard to do a book written from an animal’s point-of-view well, and this one is so well done! Nana’s attitude—and his essential catness—is vividly drawn, and he’s one of the best narrators I’ve ever read.

Hiro Arikawa is an award-winning author. The Traveling Cat Chronicles is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Berkley in exchange for an honest review.)

 

Book Review: The Phantom Tree, by Nicola Cornick

the phantom tree
Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

Title:   The Phantom Tree
Author:   Nicola Cornick
Genre:   Fiction, fantasy, historical
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

When Alison Bannister stumbles across an old painting while browsing in an antique shop, she knows the subject isn’t Anne Boleyn, as it claims. Instead, the painting is of Mary Seymour, taken to Wolf Hall as a child in 1557, and later presumed dead. Alison knows the painting is of Mary—a friend from her own childhood in 1557.

Alison has spent years in the present searching for clues to Mary’s disappearance, hints of the son Alison never knew, and a way to return to her own time and find him. The painting might just be the clue she needs.

But the man who discovered the painting stands in Alison’s way, and she must deal with her past—both in 1557 and now—if she’s ever to find the answers she seeks.

Time travel novels aren’t too uncommon, but this is the first time I’ve read one about someone who comes forward in time and makes a life. Alison is an interesting character, and I loved the dual timelines for her, as well as the dual narrators, with she and Mary both speaking. The mystery of what happened was both sad and compelling, and I enjoyed every page.

Nicola Cornick is a writer and historian with a master’s degree in history from Oxford. The Phantom Tree is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by  in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Circe, by Madeline Miller

Circe
Image belongs to Little, Brown, and Company.

Title:   Circe
Author:   Madeline Miller
Genre:   Fiction, literary fiction, mythology
Rating:   4.5/5

Circe is the daughter of Helios, god of the sun and the mightiest Titan. Her mother is both cruel and alluring. Circe is not like either of them. Nor is she like her three siblings, striving for power and fame.

Circe prefers the company of fragile mortals to that of the powerful—and cruel—gods. In her search for companionship, Circe discovers she does have power:  that of witchcraft. Her power to transform her rivals into monsters makes the gods fear her, and she is banished by Zeus himself to a deserted island.

There, Circe learns her craft, growing in power and knowledge as she comes to know some of the most famous individuals in mythology:  The Minotaur, Medea, Daedalus, and especially the mighty Odysseus. But Circe draws the anger of one of the most powerful god in existence, and it will take all of skills and cunning to survive—and to decide if she will be a god, or a mortal.

I’ve always loved mythology, and I knew a tiny bit about Circe from a year spent studying mythology in high school (Thank you, Mrs. Skidmore!), but this novel is a riveting and personal journey into Circe’s life. Her treatment at the hands of the gods made me sad—kind of like the behavior of a lot of society these days—and her fumbling attempts to find friends and figure out her own truths drew my sympathy.

I loved reading about mythology from an insiders’ view—I truly felt I was part of the tale, experiencing Circe’s pain, grief, horror, and happiness right along with her. Well-written and engrossing, this book is a journey readers will love to take!

Madeline Miller is the award-winning author of The Song of Achilles. Her newest novel is Circe.

(Galley provided by Little, Brown, and Company in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Coincidence Makers, by Yoav Blum

thecoincidencemakers
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  The Coincidence Makers
Author:  Yoav Blum
Genre:  A mix of several:  mystery, romance, literary fiction-ish.
Rating:  3.5/5

We’ve all had something happen “by coincidence,” like running into your childhood best friend on the side of the street when you have a flat tire. Or meeting someone new in a coffee shop after you knock your drink off the table onto their shoes. But what if those things don’t just happen by chance?

Guy, Emily, and Eric are Coincidence Makers:  they work for a secret organization, creating the coincidences they are assigned through complex manipulations and machinations. Sometimes, they create a love match. Sometimes, they just give someone the push they need to live their dreams.

Guy used to be an Imaginary Friend, and he fell in love with another Imaginary Friend. He’s never forgotten her, and thoughts of her haunt every day, so he tries his best to ignore Emily’s overtures. But when Guy is assigned a coincidence that’s higher than anything he’s done before, he realizes even his hidden world has deeper secrets.

I liked this book. The concept is unique and fascinating—even if the “science” is sometimes a bit over my head. Guy, Emily, and Eric are characters I liked, and they would be fun to hang out with. The book is dreamy, and reading it felt like floating…or I probably would have enjoyed it more (not the right type of book for my mindset at the time), but it was a good, creative read.

Yoav Blum is an Israeli author and software developer whose novels have become international bestsellers. The Coincidence Makers is his newest novel.

(Galley provided by St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Whose Line is it Anyway?

(This show used to crack me up. I just don’t think fast enough on my feet to be able hold my own on a show like that, but it was hilarious.)

I’m not sure if the first line of a story causes me more fear and second-guessing, or the last line, but I’m leaning towards the first line. Think about it:  you’re trying to set the tone for an entire novel (or novella or short story or essay or paper…), and you want to capture your audience’s attention as well as the feel of the entire novel. In that one sentence. That’s a lot of pressure for one measly sentence, a mere handful of words.

So which tone do you take?

Iconic? “In the beginning…”

Fantastical? “Once upon a time…”

Historical? “It was the best of times…”

Character-driven? “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful…”

(True story:  I actually know the entire first half-page or so of Gone with the Wind by heart. It’s my favorite book ever, and while stylistically it’s not something I can emulate, it certainly paints a vivid picture of Scarlett right off the bat.)

I mean, if we were watching a movie, that opening shot would be—comparatively speaking—much easier to establish setting, world, character, and plot. You’ve got visuals. You could use Johnny Depp against the ocean, or bright words rolling up against a backdrop of stars. There’s an immediate feeling of place.

But what’s the literary equivalent of that opening shot?

My advice is not to worry too much over it when you’re writing your fist draft. (Are you listening, self?) If you have a brilliant idea for the perfect first line, use it. But write the entire piece or novel, and when you go back to revise, get your story in the best possible shape you can, then take a look at your first line. Chances are good that your story will have changed so much that that “perfect” first line is no longer even relevant.

But you’ll have a much better feel for the story and what you’re trying to say, and I’m betting that crafting that elusive perfect first line won’t be quite so hard with that in mind.

Local Writers’ Event and Reader’s Indecision

This week was fairly productive, considering it was the first week of grad school (Eep!). I did a tiny bit of writing—1,000 words or so—in The Fall, plus outlining 10 scenes in it as well. Having an outline made the writing flow pretty well. Something I know, yet I still started writing this story with no outline. Smart move, there.

I did a little outlining in the Witches revision, also. I’m sort of feeling my way with that, since I’ve revised the story several times, and this is more of a re-write than a revision, but I’m using the current draft as a guideline. We’ll see how that works out. My voice and style have changed significantly since I originally plotted the story.

Yesterday I attended a local authors’ event with a friend. It’s part of the library’s Year of the Book promotion. Each author had a table, and they each spoke for 10 minutes.

yotb
Lineup of authors.

My friend and I went because we both love Rachel Caine’s work. (I’ve read The Morganville Vampires series, the Weather Warden series, the Outcast Season spin-offs, and her re-telling of Romeo and Juliet. I’ve been wanting to read her The Great Library series as well.)

Somehow, by sheer luck, we arrived about 15 minutes before Rachel’s talk, just in time to hear Sarah MacTavish. (I feel like I’ve heard of her, but can’t swear to it. I read SO MUCH that authors sometimes get a little bit mixed up in my mind sometimes.) I enjoyed her talk, and the short chat I had with her afterwards, and bought her book, Firebrand. Young adult fiction about the Civil War from an author who carries her supply of books in an R2D2 suitcase? I’m sold! I’m looking forward to the read, just as soon as I wrangle enough time from my schedule for it.

My purchases for the day:

books

It’s been quite a while since I purchased physical copies of fiction. The bottom two books I bought at the event, the top three at B & N beforehand. I was so excited when I got home, but I had serious reader’s indecision:  What to read first?

Answer:  Firstlife, by Gena Showalter, because I’m hoping to get approved to review the second book in the series, and because I’ve been interested in this one for a while. Isn’t the cover gorgeous?

Confession:  I read the entire thing last night. Loved it! The concept is so unique, and the characters compelled me from the first page. You should definitely read this!

The Tea Planter’s Wife, by Dinah Jeffries

tpw
I do not own this image. Image belongs to Crown Publishing.

Dinah Jeffries was born in Malaysia but moved to England at age nine. Her newest novel is The Tea Planter’s Wife.

Gwen arrives in Ceylon full of anticipation and fear:  newly married after a whirlwind courtship, now she joins her husband, Laurence, on his tea plantation. Ceylon is so much more than Gwen ever imagined:  a lush, other-worldly paradise filled with racial conflict and secrets. Lots of secrets.

Like the hidden grave she finds near the house. And the trunk of old baby clothes. Laurence won’t talk about these secrets, and soon Gwen is wrapped up in her pregnancy and a secret of her own. These secrets put up a wall between Gwen and Laurence, one that leads to more secrets, lies and manipulation, and a tragedy of the worst sort.

Some books leave you speechless and emotionally reeling. This was one of those books. Ceylon is so vivid and brimming with life I could almost smell the flowers and the tea. Gwen and Laurence are flawed and frightened, but love each other so much and so deeply as their relationship grows. Their secrets haunt them both through every page of the book. This book is a phenomenal, emotional rollercoaster!

(Galley provided by Crown Publishing.)

The Summer that Melted Everything, by Tiffany McDaniel

 

the summer that melted everything
(I do not own this image. Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.)

 

Tiffany McDaniel is a poet, playwright, screenwriter, and artist, as well as an author. Her first published novel is The Summer that Melted Everything.

In 1984, a summer heat wave swept over Breathed, Ohio and changed everything. Or was it the devil that did the changing? Fielding Bliss is just a kid, a kid whose dad issued the devil’s invitation. No one thought he’d actually show up…

Sal is bruised and battered, but he looks like a normal 13-year-old kid. Except for his claim to be the devil. But Fielding takes him home, where he’s accepted into the family. The rest of Breathed isn’t quite so accepting. As the heat wave continues, strange things start happening, and soon everyone starts believing the fanatic who urges the devil’s destruction. The Bliss family is dealing with their own personal demons, but soon their crisis and the town’s become one, as the fate of Sal hangs in the balance.

The Summer that Melted Everything is an evocative, descriptive novel that will have the reader sweltering along with the characters—and wondering, too. Is Sal really the devil? What’s causing the unfortunate accidents sweeping through Breathed? And when will the madness—and the heat—end? This is a gripping novel that floats along like a lazy summer’s day, then explodes into action like fireworks across a night sky.

(Galley provided by St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley.)

Community

Holly Lisle is looking for readers and writers to build a community that fosters the growth of new writers.  The readers will have the opportunity to help writers they support to grow and learn, the writers will gain support and assistance where they need it.  Holly does wonderful things for other writers, and this is a fantastic new idea of hers that is still in beta development.  If you’re interested, check it out here.