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Thursday, May 14, 2020

Review: The Way You Burn by Christine Meade

Title: The Way You Burn
Author: Christine Meade
Format: ARC
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publish Date: April 14, 2020
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "When David approaches his New Hampshire cabin one cool October night to find it engulfed in flames, he knows his girlfriend Hope set the fire. At least, he’s pretty sure he knows.

David first decides to upend the creature comforts of his post-collegiate life and try roughing it for a year after he inherits two acres of land and a rustic cabin from his deceased grandfather. Life at the cabin proves to be more difficult than expected, however, and it all starts with the woman he loves—Hope—whose dark past is written in the twisting pink scars covering her body. Their relationship is challenged after his car slides through an intersection one dark night and, later, his realization that someone is out there, watching him through the trees

Over the course of five seasons, David struggles to maintain his relationship with Hope. Ultimately, in an attempt to understand the sacrifices she has had to make, he decides to rewrite their story. In doing so, he explores the lessons he’s left with--after everything he thought mattered is gutted or burned away—and the surprising bits of wisdom he finds in the ashes."

My Two Cents:

"The Way You Burn" thrusts us into a scene where our main character, David, is watching his grandfather's house burn to the ground. David now lives there in rural New Hampshire after his grandfather gave it to him in his will. David looked at the cabin as a fresh start, both for him and his girlfriend, Hope. Fresh starts don't always come so easily though and David is beginning to see that the proverbial writing on the wall may have been there with Hope the whole time!

First off, I love the way this story unfolded. I love that we initially get to see the aftermath of the other events in the book. Arriving at the fire right away really made for a good entry point into figuring out where the characters stood with each other. I found myself wondering how everything collapsed so spectacularly! Talk about leaving you wanting more!

As the story rewinds, we see how David is desperate for a new start. He can't figure out why his grandfather gave him the cabin in the first place but he recognizes that it may give him the independence he is seeking just entering adulthood. Enter Hope. She's witty, funny, and she makes David feel so very happy... at first at least. Hope is hiding a lot of things from David and she may not be who she says she is. I really loved watching the relationship between them unfold. The author gives us a lot of small details to keep us going throughout the book and I couldn't wait to see what dropped next.

I also really liked the family secret at the center of the book. Between the mystery of David's grandfather and the relationship between David and Hope coming together and then falling apart, you have a really great thriller that kept me reading!


Friday, May 8, 2020

Review: The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana by Maryse Condé

Title: The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana
Author: Maryse Condé
Format: Ebook
Publisher: World Editions
Publish Date: May 5, 2020
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Born in Guadeloupe, Ivan and Ivana are twins with a bond so strong they become afraid of their feelings for one another. When their mother sends them off to live with their father in Mali they begin to grow apart, until, as young adults in Paris, Ivana’s youthful altruism compels her to join the police academy, while Ivan, stunted by early experiences of rejection and exploitation, walks the path of radicalization. The twins, unable to live either with or without each other, become perpetrator and victim in a wave of violent attacks. In The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana, Maryse Condé, winner of the 2018 Alternative Nobel prize in literature, touches upon major contemporary issues such as racism, terrorism, political corruption, economic inequality, globalization, and migration. With her most modern novel to date, this master storyteller offers an impressive picture of a colorful yet turbulent 21st century."

My Two Cents:

"The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana" is the story of fraternal twins born on the island of Guadeloupe to a single mother. Their father, a famous musician in Mali, looms larger than life, over their childhood as their mother has imparted that if their father had just stayed that Ivan and Ivana would have had a much better life. The twins are closer than close (this is reiterated often throughout the book). They will travel from their island home to their father's homeland of Mali to Paris. This book is explores what happens when a seemingly unbreakable bond is broken by terrible events.

The highlight of the book for me was all of the detail about the various locations throughout the book. Guadeloupe and Mali were new-to-me locations in terms of reading about them. I really liked how the author brought both of these to life for me. You can feel the breeze in Guadeloupe and see the stores and restaurants in Mali. You get a good sense of how Ivan and Ivana see Paris.  The places almost become characters in the book, which I really liked.

The relationship between Ivan and Ivana is so incredibly close, particularly with regard to how Ivan sees Ivana. Parts of this were definitely out of my comfort zone but I think the idea was to just show a general closeness or essentially one being in two bodies. In particular, Ivan's romantic ideas about his sister are reiterated over again throughout the book (perhaps to exhaustion). The repetitive nature did take something away from the story, however, the closeness sets the scene for just how devastating the later events of the book are.

What kept me reading is the good writing and pacing. While the subject matter was uncomfortable, Conde's details kept the book flowing.  

Thursday, May 7, 2020

TLC Book Tours: Dali Summer by T.J. Brown

Title: Dali Summer
Author: T.J. Brown
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Tule Publishing
Publish Date: May 5, 2020
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Nothing is more important to prim, colorblind Dolors Posa than family and living down the shame of her illegitimate birth, but when the sudden onset of fantastical visions threaten her sterling reputation, she must search for answers before the inhabitants of the tiny village of Cadaqués brand her as demente— crazy like her mother. In a quest to stop her hallucinations, she befriends a beautiful, intoxicating fortune teller and her handsome anarchist brother, as well as becoming a reluctant muse for thirteen-year-old Salvador Dali. In a summer that changes everything, Dolors must choose between her family’s reputation and a life filled with adventure, friendship, rapturous color and the possibility of love."

My Two Cents:

In "Dali Summer," Delors is consumed with the idea of ensuring that her reputation escapes the fate of her mother's. She has unexplainable visions and she isn't sure what to make of her color-blindness but it frightens her. She will thrust herself into new situations, in part because she is running away from her past and her fears of what her future may look like! Summer is a time of freedom and Delors finds it in the form of a beautiful fortune teller and her brother. She will also become the muse of a young Salvador Dali. This book has lovely detail and a thoroughly engaging story line - a treat for sure!

This book pulls you in right away as you find out about Delors and her background. She is trying so hard to escape her past and trying to outrun family secrets, sure that they'll knock her down just as they had her mother. You're pulling for her so hard to be able to find her own footing and a better way forward than living in fear of the past and her future.

The detail in the book really made it shine. During these times when we can't travel, I have been doing a lot of traveling through books and I loved visiting sun-dappled Spain through this book. The  lower clamber of revolution and war is in the air and acts as a background beat to the story. I also really loved the glimpse that we get of Salvador Dali. I'm a huge fan but I don't recall having read a lot about him as a young person so seeing him as he is so inspired by Delors was great!

This book was a perfect escape, filled with great romances and great detail!


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

TLC Book Tours: The Last Blue by Isla Morley

Title: The Last Blue
Author: Isla Morley
Format: ARC
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publish Date: May 5, 2020 (Happy book birthday!)
Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From "In 1937, there are recesses in Appalachia no outsiders have ever explored. Two government-sponsored documentarians from Cincinnati, Ohio—a writer and photographer—are dispatched to penetrate this wilderness and record what they find for President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration.

For photographer Clay Havens, the assignment is his last chance to reboot his flagging career. So when he and his journalist partner are warned away from the remote Spooklight Holler outside of town, they set off eagerly in search of a headline story.

What they see will haunt Clay into his old age: Jubilee Buford, a woman whose skin is a shocking and unmistakable shade of blue. From this happenstance meeting between a woman isolated from society and persecuted her whole life, and a man accustomed to keeping himself at lens distance from others, comes a mesmerizing story in which the dark shades of betrayal, prejudice, fear, and guilt, are refracted along with the incandescent hues of passion and courage."

My Two Cents:

In "The Last Blue," Jubilee Buford definitely stands out. Her coloring is blue and she comes from a family that has some members who have had this distinctive coloring and have been the subject of a lot of scrutiny and intolerance at the hands of others in their small Kentucky town in the middle of Appalachia. Clay Havens, a photographer, finds himself in the middle of Appalachia to document everyday life for President Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration. What he will find, or rather who, will be anything but everyday. This book tackles a fascinating bit of history with a wonderful romance at the center of it!

Initially this book sort of almost has a magical realism vibe to it. Jubilee truly has a blue hue to her skin. When she goes out, she can't be missed. Her family is often equal parts protective and mystified by her condition. Because of her blue skin, she has bared the brunt of so much hatred and misunderstanding by those who won't even begin to give her a chance. I felt so bad for her throughout the book. It's clear that she is a really kind and decent person but she is often not given the chance to just be a normal person. The hate she faces is so raw and so devastating and so maddening.

Jubilee hates herself for what she looks like and she hates how much attention her looks bring her. When Havens first meets her, he is of course drawn to her because of what she looks like and as a photographer, he can't help but to want to take pictures of her. As he gets to know her, he sees that she is both beautiful inside and out and he falls so hard for her. I really loved the romance between Havens and Jubilee. They both initially come together with some trepidation but that quickly melts away as they get to know each other as people. The detail of how they fall for each is really amazing and I love how the author got us to cheer for this unlikely pairing.

I've said it before and I'll say it again but I love how historical fiction can introduce readers to things that they've never read about before. There really were blue people in Kentucky and they faced a lot of the things that Jubilee faced. This bit of history makes a great basis for a story that was really all-consuming for me. And the writing, oh, man, the writing! There are some amazing scenes throughout the book that really took me from the highest highs to the lowest lows and back again! I loved how much of a ride this book was! A mark of a good book for me is when I can't stop thinking about the story or the characters after I close the pages and these characters and their story are very much stuck to me!


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Review: Feels Like Falling by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Title: Feels Like Falling 
Author: Kristy Woodson Harvey 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publish Date: April 28, 2020 (Happy Book Birthday!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "It’s summertime on the North Carolina coast and the livin’ is easy.

Unless, that is, you’ve just lost your mother to cancer, your sister to her extremist husband, and your husband to his executive assistant. Meet Gray Howard. Right when Gray could use a serious infusion of good karma in her life, she inadvertently gets a stranger, Diana Harrington, fired from her job at the local pharmacy.

Diana Harrington’s summer isn’t off to the greatest start either: Hours before losing her job, she broke up with her boyfriend and moved out of their shared house with only a worn-out Impala for a bed. Lucky for her, Gray has an empty guest house and a very guilty conscience.

With Gray’s kindness, Diana’s tide begins to turn. But when her first love returns, every secret from her past seems to resurface all at once. And, as Gray begins to blaze a new trail, she discovers, with Diana’s help, that what she envisioned as her perfect life may not be what she wants at all."

My Two Cents:

 In "Feels Like Falling," the book opens as Gray is feeling pretty low. Her husband has just left her for another woman and she's trying to navigate what her life is going to look like now that she feels like everything is in shambles. Enter Diana, a down-on-her-luck woman, who is hoping that her life will turnaround and that she can finally find some firmer footing. And then, of course, she loses her job at the accidental hand of Gray. These two woman will join forces, along with a great cast of secondary characters, to find a new sense of normal.

When the story opens, Diana believes that Gray has no cares in the world and Gray thinks Diana's life is much simpler. As the book unfolds, they both realize that the grass isn't always greener on the other side and they also realize that even the hardest things are a little easier when you have a good friend by your side. I loved both of these characters - the way the author weaves together details of their personalities and their back stories as well as the situations that happen in the book is really great.

This book is a great celebration of friendship and how it has the power to get all of us through some pretty tough times when it seems like everything is falling apart. I have really enjoyed Harvey's other books and this book is definitely full of the same warmth that drew me to her other books! I have been craving comfort reads and this book definitely fit the bill!

Monday, April 27, 2020

TLC Book Tours: The German Heiress by Anika Scott

Title: The German Heiress
Author: Anika Scott 
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: April 7, 2020
Source: TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins

What's the Story?:

From "Clara Falkenberg, once Germany’s most eligible and lauded heiress, earned the nickname “the Iron Fräulein” during World War II for her role operating her family’s ironworks empire. It’s been nearly two years since the war ended and she’s left with nothing but a false identification card and a series of burning questions about her family’s past. With nowhere else to run to, she decides to return home and take refuge with her dear friend, Elisa.

Narrowly escaping a near-disastrous interrogation by a British officer who’s hell-bent on arresting her for war crimes, she arrives home to discover the city in ruins, and Elisa missing. As Clara begins tracking down Elisa, she encounters Jakob, a charismatic young man working on the black market, who, for his own reasons, is also searching for Elisa. Clara and Jakob soon discover how they might help each other—if only they can stay ahead of the officer determined to make Clara answer for her actions during the war."

My Two Cents:  

"The German Heiress" is the story of Clara, the daughter of an iron business empire, who took over the reins of her family's company as Germany crumpled into chaos during World War II. Held high by the Third Reich, she rose to infamy during the war as her family's company turned to supplying with the tools of war that allowed the Nazis to get as far as they were able to get in the war. Was she a victim or an active participant? How thin is that line? Does it even matter? All of these questions and more are explored in this great book that explores the devastating aftermath of WWII.

With as much World War II fiction as I have read, I feel like I have not read a whole lot set in the direct aftermath of the war. Even those that escaped the war were deeply affected as they tried to put their lives back together again. Clara wants a new start but as the book opens, we see her pulled very quickly back to a place where she will most definitely be under suspicion of being a war criminal as she led her family's business during the war. I've read plenty of books about those that did good during the war and those that were pure evil but what about those that were in the middle? Are they complicit? Are they victims of the time? How does self-preservation factor in?

I love when my emotions are tugged in many different ways and this book certainly did that for me. This book definitely explores a lot of gray areas and I loved how it was able to change my emotions towards the characters as we the readers get to uncover what truly happened during the war. The tug of war over Clara and how bad to feel for her was a really fantastic journey that I definitely enjoyed.  

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Review: The Borgia Confessions by Alyssa Palombo

Title: The Borgia Confessions
Author: Alyssa Palombo 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: February 11, 2020
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From "During the sweltering Roman summer of 1492, Rodrigo Borgia has risen to power as pope. Rodrigo’s eldest son Cesare, forced to follow his father into the church and newly made the Archbishop of Valencia, chafes at his ecclesiastical role and fumes with jealousy and resentment at the way that his foolish brother has been chosen for the military greatness he desired.

Maddalena Moretti comes from the countryside, where she has seen how the whims of powerful men wreak havoc on the lives of ordinary people. But now, employed as a servant in the Vatican Palace, she cannot help but be entranced by Cesare Borgia’s handsome face and manner and finds her faith and conviction crumbling in her want of him.

As war rages and shifting alliances challenge the pope’s authority, Maddalena and Cesare's lives grow inexplicably entwined. Maddalena becomes a keeper of dangerous Borgia secrets, and must decide if she is willing to be a pawn in the power games of the man she loves. And as jealousy and betrayal threaten to tear apart the Borgia family from within, Cesare is forced to reckon with his seemingly limitless ambition."

My Two Cents:

"The Borgia Confessions" is a historical fiction tale told from two perspectives that looks at the infamous Borgia family. Cesare is the son of Rodrigo Borgia who is now pope. It is up to Cesare to help his father maintain power over the various factions that threaten to take him down. It is a heavy responsibility but Cesare is driven to do whatever it takes to succeed. Maddalena is employed as a servant but quickly become integrated into the some of the deepest secrets of those that occupy the Vatican. These two points of view breathe new life into a well-trodden topic and show why the Borgias continue to fascinate and titillate people still to this day.

I really liked that the story was told through alternating points of view between Cesare and Maddalena. You get both an insider's and outsider's point of view. The detail included really helped me get into the story and to understand what was going on and all of the palace intrigue included in the book. Cesare is hyper-focused on the power structures of the Vatican and how he maintains his family's power. Maddalena finds herself in a brand new world where she is still very much trying to learn the power structures and who can pull which levers.

This is a book where you definitely want to make sure that you read the Author's note at the end of the book. It gives a lot of insights into the decisions that Palombo made to shape the story, including some of the big events that occur throughout the book (I don't want to give away any of the surprises). Some of the choices go against some of the general conventions about some of the Borgia history but it works well for this story.

This is a great pick for when you just want to get a fresh perspective on an infamous family! 

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