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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Review: The Girl from Berlin by Ronald H. Balson

Title: The Girl from Berlin
Author: Ronald H. Balson
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: October 9, 2018
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "An old friend calls Catherine Lockhart and Liam Taggart to his famous Italian restaurant to enlist their help. His aunt is being evicted from her home in the Tuscan hills by a powerful corporation claiming they own the deeds, even though she can produce her own set of deeds to her land. Catherine and Liam’s only clue is a bound handwritten manuscript, entirely in German, and hidden in its pages is a story long-forgotten…

Ada Baumgarten was born in Berlin in 1918, at the end of the war. The daughter of an accomplished first-chair violinist in the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic, and herself a violin prodigy, Ada’s life was full of the rich culture of Berlin’s interwar society. She formed a deep attachment to her childhood friend Kurt, but they were torn apart by the growing unrest as her Jewish family came under suspicion. As the tides of history turned, it was her extraordinary talent that would carry her through an unraveling society turned to war, and make her a target even as it saved her, allowing her to move to Bologna―though Italy was not the haven her family had hoped, and further heartache awaited.

What became of Ada? How is she connected to the conflicting land deeds of a small Italian villa? As they dig through the layers of lies, corruption, and human evil, Catherine and Liam uncover an unfinished story of heart, redemption, and hope―the ending of which is yet to be written."

My Two Cents:

"The Girl from Berlin" is the fifth book in Ronald H. Balson's Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart series. It is a story told in dual times. One takes place in the present day as Liam and Catherine are trying to solve the mystery and help a friend in Italy. The other takes place as the Nazis are consolidating power in Germany and Ada, a young woman, is making her way through the ranks of an orchestra that will take her all over Europe.

The story in this book is fascinating although I was much more interested in Ada's story. She captures the fear of watching all that she has known change under the Nazis as well as her excitement to be a part of the orchestra and to travel to places she has never been before. She watches as the continent of Europe is marred by war. The present day story was okay but did not have the same draw for me as Ada's story.

The writing of the book was alright. There were many places in the book both in the present day story and the past story where too much was told rather than showed. It worked okay for the past story where Ada told her story in first person point of view so that the telling rather than showing almost gave her part of the book a diary-like feel. It did not work so well for the present-day story and really made the narrative drag in some places.

This was an interesting story but it would have been nice for the detail to have been better woven in.


Friday, October 12, 2018

Review: The Burn Zone: A Memoir by Renee Linnell

Title: The Burn Zone: A Memoir
Author: Renee Linnell
Format: Paperback
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publish Date: October 9, 2018
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "After seven years of faithfully following her spiritual teacher, Renee Linnell finally realized she was in a cult and had been severely brainwashed. But how did that happen to someone like her? She had graduated magna cum laude with a double degree. She had traveled to nearly fifty countries alone before she turned thirty-five. She was a surf model and a professional Argentine tango dancer. She had started five different companies and had an MBA from NYU. How could someone like her end up brainwashed and in a cult?"

My Two Cents:

"The Burn Zone" is a memoir by Renee Linnell, a smart woman who ends up in a cult. Cults have always been fascinating to me. Whenever I read about them, I always wonder about whether or not I would be able to recognize what I was walking into and getting away from it or would I be sucked in? Linnell's story shows just how easily it can happen. This was a fascinating memoir that was scary and absorbing but luckily, ends up well.

We all want to be accepted and needed. Both of those things are such basic human desires. Linnell had an incredibly difficult childhood and young adulthood and was looking for a path to being accepted and loved. She thinks she finds the path to that in a meditation group. The leader and her co-leader start out giving Linnell whats she thinks she needs but as she gets deeper into the group, the leaders get more controlling. I thought the author did a really good job of capturing the push and pull of wanting to totally belong while not being sure of this path.

The writing of the book was good. It's nicely paced and you're rooting for Linnell along the way. She was a great person to follow through a situation like this. One thing that tripped me up was the timeline of the book jumps back and forth between different points in Linnell's life. At some points, it wasn't clear what time the book was talking about, which was a little confusing. Overall, this was a great memoir!


Thursday, October 11, 2018

HFVBT Review: Lady of a Thousand Treasures by Sandra Byrd

Title: Lady of a Thousand Treasures
Author: Sandra Byrd
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publish Date: October 9, 2018
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "Miss Eleanor Sheffield is a talented evaluator of antiquities, trained to know the difference between a genuine artifact and a fraud. But with her father’s passing and her uncle’s decline into dementia, the family business is at risk. In the Victorian era, unmarried Eleanor cannot run Sheffield Brothers alone.

The death of a longtime client, Baron Lydney, offers an unexpected complication when Eleanor is appointed the temporary trustee of the baron’s legendary collection. She must choose whether to donate the priceless treasures to a museum or allow them to pass to the baron’s only living son, Harry—the man who broke Eleanor’s heart.

Eleanor distrusts the baron’s motives and her own ability to be unbiased regarding Harry’s future. Harry claims to still love her and Eleanor yearns to believe him, but his mysterious comments and actions fuel her doubts. When she learns an Italian beauty accompanied him on his return to England, her lingering hope for a future with Harry dims.

With the threat of debtor’s prison closing in, Eleanor knows that donating the baron’s collection would win her favor among potential clients, saving Sheffield Brothers. But the more time she spends with Harry, the more her faith in him grows. Might Harry be worthy of his inheritance, and her heart, after all? As pressures mount and time runs out, Eleanor must decide whom she can trust—who in her life is false or true, brass or gold—and what is meant to be treasured."

My Two Cents:

In "Lady of a Thousand Treasures," Eleanor is struggling. Her father has passed away and her uncle is ill. She wants to keep the family business alive but it's the 1870s and women don't have an easy time of it. Can Eleanor find a way to keep the business while protecting her heart from a man that she once loved. Part romance, part mystery; this book had a lot to like!

Eleanor is a great main character. She's smart. She's driven. Her father and uncle trained her keen eye to look for priceless antiquities and she loves the job. Although the antiquities business at the time was rarely a woman's game, Eleanor wants to keep her family's business going. You're rooting for her the whole time!

This book has a fantastic romance in it. Enter Harry, who Eleanor once had a romance with. When the book opens, Eleanor wants to do everything to keep her heart intact. But the chemistry between them is uncanny and I found myself wanting them to fall for each other through all the difficulties they go through throughout the book!

The book also has a good dose of mystery, which made for the book moving very quickly. I was fascinated by the world of antiquities collecting back in Victorian times. It was a brand new world for me and made for some good fodder for the central mystery in this book (don't want to give anything away).

This was a great ride and another good one from Sandra Byrd!


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Review: The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow by Alyssa Palombo

Title: The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow 
Author: Alyssa Palombo 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: October 2, 2018
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "When Ichabod Crane arrives in the spooky little village of Sleepy Hollow as the new schoolmaster, Katrina Van Tassel is instantly drawn to him. Through their shared love of books and music, they form a friendship that quickly develops into romance. Ichabod knows that as an itinerant schoolteacher of little social standing, he has nothing to offer the wealthy Katrina – unlike her childhood friend-turned-enemy, Brom Van Brunt, who is the suitor Katrina’s father favors.

But when romance gives way to passion, Ichabod and Katrina embark on a secret love affair, sneaking away into the woods after dark to be together – all while praying they do not catch sight of Sleepy Hollow’s legendary Headless Horseman. That is, until All Hallows’s Eve, when Ichabod suddenly disappears, leaving Katrina alone and in a perilous position.

Enlisting the help of her friend – and rumored witch – Charlotte Jansen, Katrina seeks the truth of Ichabod Crane’s disappearance, investigating the forest around Sleepy Hollow using unconventional – often magical – means. What they find forces Katrina to question everything she once knew, and to wonder if the Headless Horseman is perhaps more than just a story after all."

My Two Cents:

"The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel" is a retelling of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." I've never read the story but am familiar through it from the numerous movies and books related to the story. I was looking forward for a fresh take on the story and that you definitely got. I was also expecting something different, something perhaps more creepier or a little more supernatural. You get a bit of magic but it is subtle. Most of the book had to do with the romance between Ichabod Crane and the title character, Katrina Van Tassel.

Forbidden love stories are always attractive to me. I was interested to see Palombo's take on the Ichabod/ Katrina duo. Much of the book seems to follow a very standard guy and girl meet, fall in love, girl is promised to another but can't let go of the one she loves. Then everything changes one night but it takes us awhile to get there (like a long while). Once everything changes, the book stars moving much faster.

The book isn't scary but does have a gothic feel to it, which I liked. One of the high points of the book was the setting. I was just in New England for vacation and the author really captured the feeling of the location.

Overall, I wish the first part of the book were a little more streamlined but the atmosphere is still worth the trip.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

HFVBT Review: The Game of Hope by Sandra Gulland

Title: The Game of Hope
Author: Sandra Gulland 
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Viking Books 
Publish Date: June 26, 2018
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "Paris, 1798. Hortense de Beauharnais is engrossed in her studies at a boarding school for aristocratic girls, most of whom have suffered tragic losses during the tumultuous days of the French Revolution. She loves to play and compose music, read and paint, and daydream about Christophe, her brother's dashing fellow officer. But Hortense is not an ordinary girl. Her beautiful, charming mother, Josephine, has married Napoleon Bonaparte, soon to become the most powerful man in France, but viewed by Hortense as a coarse, unworthy successor to her elegant father, who was guillotined during the Terror.

Where will Hortense's future lie? For Napoleon regards all his family as pawns to be used in his rise."

My Two Cents:

"The Game of Hope" is the story of Hortense, who is mostly concerned with managing her friendships and getting through school. This is made a lot more difficult by her stepfather, Napoleon Bonaparte. Hortense goes to school with his sister, which makes having her own life even more difficult than it would be. Her every move is watched. While Hortense's mother, Josephine, is utterly devoted to Napoleon, Hortense regrets him taking the place of her beloved father. This was a great take on a story that I haven't heard before!

This book was a venture into the realm of YA by Sandra Gulland! I think she found a great in for younger readers to introduce them to the world of Napoleon and Josephine. Although most of the book is focused on Hortense's school life and her thoughts about what she is going through in her letters to her brother, Gulland does give a little taste of the palace intrigue surrounding Napoleon and his family and the way that Napoleon is able to ingratiate himself in France in such a way to rise to the highest heights.

This book was slow paced in some parts but I really liked seeing how Hortense deals with normal, every day school girl drama as well as some much deeper drama as Napoleon climbs to power. Overall, I liked the story and liked seeing Napoleon and Josephine in a different light than I have read about them in before.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Review: The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher

Title: The Kennedy Debutante
Author: Kerri Maher
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publish Date: October 2, 2018 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "London, 1938. The effervescent "It girl" of London society since her father was named the ambassador, Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy moves in rarified circles, rubbing satin-covered elbows with some of the 20th century's most powerful figures. Eager to escape the watchful eye of her strict mother, Rose, the antics of her older brothers, Jack and Joe, and the erratic behavior of her sister Rosemary, Kick is ready to strike out on her own and is soon swept off her feet by Billy Hartington, the future Duke of Devonshire. But their love is forbidden, as Kick's devout Catholic family and Billy's staunchly Protestant one would never approve their match. When war breaks like a tidal wave across her world, Billy is ripped from her arms as the Kennedys are forced to return to the States. Kick gets work as a journalist and joins the Red Cross to get back to England, where she will have to decide where her true loyalties lie--with family or with love . . ."

My Two Cents:

When I read books like "The Kennedy Debutante," I always wonder why there isn't more historical fiction about the Kennedy family. To some degree, the family still looms large in the American psyche. There are still Kennedys in Congress and on the world stage. It's hard to give the "right" treatment to such famous subjects that loom so large in our collective memories but as Maher shows in this book, it can definitely be done and be done well.

Our main character, Kick, may not be the most famous Kennedy but she is definitely interesting and very worthy of her own story. I loved seeing how she goes from high society in London to trying to carve out a life for herself outside of riding on the Kennedy name. She is definitely a woman before her time - willing to put herself out there, take a stand, and make her own way in the world.

I loved all of the historical detail that the author packed in and the wonderful story that she was able to weave. This book is a debut novel, which makes it all the more impressive. This book will definitely appeal to those who avidly follow the Kennedys (like me) and those who don't know much about them at all. I can't wait to see what else Maher writes!


Review: Giraffe Problems by Jory John, Lane Smith (Illustrations)

Title: Giraffe Problems
Author: Jory John, Lane Smith (Illustrations)
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: September 25, 2018
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Can you guess what's making this giraffe self-conscious? Could it be . . . HIS ENORMOUS NECK Yes, it's exactly that--how on earth did you figure it out?

Cyrus the giraffe can't understand why his neck is as long and bendy and, well, ridiculous as it is. No other animal has a neck this absurd. He's tried disguising it, dressing it up, strategically hiding it behind bushes--honestly, anything you can think of, he's tried.

Just when he has exhausted his neck-hiding options and is about to throw in the towel, a turtle swoops in (well, ambles in, very slowly) and helps him understand that his neck has a purpose, and looks excellent in a bow tie."

My Two Cents:

Like Nora Ephron, Cyrus the giraffe feels bad about his neck. Yeah, he's a giraffe but he wants nothing to do with his super long neck. When he meets a new little friend in the form of a turtle, Cyrus realizes that having a super long neck is actually quite a good thing. This is a sweet story about how friends bring out the best of us and how important self-acceptance is.

As many of you know, I have toddler twins and thank goodness, they love books! Story time is a big deal in our house and this is such a perfect book. Between the good messages, the sweet friendship, and the great illustrations, this book has quickly become a bedtime story favorite in our household. There is always something more to talk about when reading the book and it's become a great jumping off point for having age appropriate discussions about self-acceptance and being a good friend.

This is a wonderful story and it got thumbs up from my whole family!


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Review: Button Man by Andrew Gross

Title: Button Man
Author: Andrew Gross 
Format: ARC
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publish Date: September 18, 2018
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Morris, Sol, and Harry Rabinowitz grew up poor but happy in a tiny flat on the Lower East Side, until the death of their father thrust them into having to fend for themselves and support their large family. Morris apprenticed himself at twelve years old to a garment cutter in a clothing factory; Sol headed to college and became an accountant; and Harry, the youngest, fell in with a gang as a teenager and can’t escape. Morris steadily climbs through the ranks at the factory until he’s running the place and buys out the owner, and Sol comes to work with him. But Harry can’t be lured away from the glamour, the power, and the money that comes from working for mobster Louis Buchalter, an old bully from the neighborhood. And when Louis sets his sights on the unions that staff the garment makers’ factories, a fatal showdown is inevitable, and puts brother against brother."

My Two Cents:

"Button Man" is the story of three brothers growing up in New York City. They will go in three different directions: Morris seeks a career in the garment industry, Sol will eventually join him, and Harry will be thrown into a direction that will put his life in danger. It's the early 20th century in NYC and the mob is king. Morris and Sol will fight to get Harry out from the mob's clutches. 

I love family sagas and this one is a great one. The three brothers are very different from each other but the importance of family has been instilled in them since they were very young. After losing their father, all three brothers deal with the fallout in very different ways. I liked seeing their personalities shine through as they grapple with trying to carve out a life for themselves and their family when things are terribly difficult. 

The writing of the book was good. There were a few places that I felt the book could have been streamlined but overall, the book is nicely paced. 

The setting is fantastic and the historical detail that the author uses really worked for me. New York City is one of my favorite cities and I loved seeing this side of it. I had no idea about the origins of the unions that still to this very day wield a lot of power over this city. I loved how the author was able to weave in so much detail without bashing the reader over the head with it (always tricky for authors). There's a fine line there and Gross is on the right side of it!

I really enjoyed this book for the family story and the detail! This was a good historical fiction that almost feels like a thriller in some places (it's no wonder - Gross's other books have mostly been thrillers). This was a good read!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Review: The Heart of War: Misadventures in the Pentagon by Kathleen J. McInnis

Title: The Heart of War: Misadventures in the Pentagon
Author: Kathleen J. McInnis
Format: ARC
Publisher: Post Hill Press
Publish Date: September 25, 2018 (Today!)
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Dr. Heather Reilly has been an anti-war activist since her brother died fighting the Taliban. But her crushing student loans drive her to take a job working on a peace plan for Afghanistan, in the last place on Earth she ever thought she'd be employed: the Pentagon. On her first day, however, her position is eliminated and she’s shuffled to a war-fighting office focused on combating Russian aggression. Unfortunately, she knows little about Russia and has deep moral reservations about war. Making matters worse, she’s also working for Ariane Fletcher—a woman so terrifying, she eats generals for breakfast. As Heather learns to navigate the Pentagon’s insane bureaucracy and petty power struggles, she finds that her successes come at the expense of her personal life... and that small mistakes can have major consequences in the Department of Defense.

From Washington D.C.'s corridors of power to the dusty streets of Kabul, Kathleen McInnis spins a smart, hilarious, and heartwarming tale that shines a light on the often frustrating but sometimes rewarding experience of a career in the Pentagon.  Packed with insider knowledge about one of the least-known—yet most-powerful—organizations in U.S. national security, McInnis' debut novel establishes her as a major new literary voice with a point of view we've never seen before."

My Two Cents:

In "The Heart of War," Heather gets a plum job at the Pentagon. It isn't exactly what she wants and she worries a little bit about compromising her values but it will pay the bills and so she tries to make the best of it. She quickly finds herself swept up in many directions that she could have never anticipated and she will learn a lot about herself through her adventures and many misadventures. This book started out a bit slow but hits a really nice pace and captures the trials and triumph of a life in public service.

This book is near and dear to me as it echoes some of my own experiences (I don't work at the Pentagon but am familiar with the bureaucratic rigmarole. I thought that the author did a really good job of capturing the day to day. I do wonder how interesting that might be for people outside the bureaucratic hamster wheel and how well it will be understood but the author definitely captures it true to life.

The book really picks up as Heather's life begins to take all sorts of directions she never expected and when she begins to do work that she finds both meaningful and maybe uncomfortable. I thought that the author did a really good job of capturing that inner struggle and shedding a lot of light on what makes Heather tick. Not only do we get to see Heather at work but the book also has a heavy dose of her personal life and the way that it is changed by her work at the Pentagon.

This book would be perfect for anyone looking for some political drama with a likeable character in difficult circumstances! I enjoyed it!


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

#BookReview : The Washington Decree by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Title: The Washington Decree
Author: Jussi Adler-Olsen
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Dutton
Publish Date: August 7, 2018 (originally 2006)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Sixteen years before Democratic Senator Bruce Jansen was elected president of the United States, a PR stunt brought together five very different people: fourteen-year-old Dorothy "Doggie" Rogers, small-town sheriff T. Perkins, single mother Rosalie Lee, well-known journalist John Bugatti, and the teenage son of one of Jansen's employees, Wesley Barefoot. In spite of their differences, the five remain bonded by their shared experience and devotion to their candidate.

For Doggie, who worked the campaign trail with Wesley, Jansen's election is a personal victory: a job in the White House, proof to her Republican father that she was right to support Jansen, and the rise of an intelligent, clear-headed leader with her same ideals. But the triumph is short-lived: Jansen's pregnant wife is assassinated on election night, and the alleged mastermind behind the shooting is none other than Doggie's own father.

When Jansen ascends to the White House, he is a changed man, determined to end gun violence by any means necessary. Rights are taken away as quickly as weapons. International travel becomes impossible. Checkpoints and roadblocks destroy infrastructure. The media is censored. Militias declare civil war on the government. The country is in chaos, and Jansen's former friends each find themselves fighting a very different battle, for themselves, their rights, their country . . . and, in Doggie's case, the life of her father, who just may be innocent."

My Two Cents:

"The Washington Decree" is the story of an American President who starts out with a noble cause: to end all gun violence after his pregnant wife is shot in cold blood. But he goes about it in such a way that the American government begins to resemble a dictatorship. The country is at chaos and many of the people that once cheered President Jansen on will have to question their past and their futures and how they will fix the country and stop the chaos.

In today's political climate, this book is striking. It is hard to believe that the book was written almost 10 years ago. The book still feels very fresh as it tackles questions of Presidential power and how far is to far. Is peace by any means necessary really peace? I liked that this book made me consider some of the things that are currently happening in this country. I love when a book can make me ponder.

The book is well written and thought out. I appreciated that Adler-Olsen looked at Executive Orders that are already on the books to create some of the events that happen throughout this book. It lent an air of reality to the book. At over 500 pages, the book is huge and I did feel like there could have been a lot that could have been streamlined. There are a lot of places in the book that are concerned with some of the secondary characters ponder what is going on and have a lot of hand wringing over what they should do about it and what role they have played in where the country is going. The events in the book are so stunning that you really don't need the hand wringing in order to understand the full gravitas of these events.

Overall, this was a solid read. It could have been streamlined but left me with a lot of unsettling thoughts to ponder.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Review and Giveaway: Vox by Christina Dalcher

Title: Vox
Author: Christina Dalcher
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Berkley
Publish Date: August 21, 2018
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial--this can't happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

But this is not the end.

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice."

My Two Cents:

"Vox" is the story of Dr. Jean McClellan, a linguist who has always loved her profession. When a new government comes to power in the United States, it seeks to regulate the unruly women. Women are now expected to be subservient to men and to right the evils of being too independent, too outspoken, too everything. All females, even young girls, will have to wear monitors to count how many words they speak in a day. They are only allotted 100 words a day and if they go past that, they will get a very painful electric shock. Women are no longer allowed to travel or to work or to vote. They must be devoted only to home, family, and their husbands.

Oh, the idea of this book was so frightening and I am so glad that it seems unrealistic at this point (thank goodness!!!). But the thing about speculative fiction is that it does make you think "what if" even if the action of the book thankfully seems far away. Being a fiercely independent woman, this book made me think a lot about how lucky we are that we have the rights we have but as this book shows, complacency should never, ever be an option.

Jean is a wife to Patrick, who works at the White House and seems content to follow orders even if it hurts his wife and his young daughter. Jean is also the mother to a teenaged son, tween twin sons, and a younger daughter. In this book, we get to see a full transformation of Jean. She starts out as someone who doesn't think voting is that important. She doesn't speak up when her rights first start getting rolled back. She only wants to speak up when it's too late and the power women has is restricted to a non-existent later. An opportunity presents itself that may allow Jean to reclaim some of her independence. I loved seeing this transformation throughout the book!

Jean hates the changes that she sees in her family and she has very little control over the turn her family has taken. Her eldest son, Steven, was one of the worst and most frustrating characters in this book. His character definitely seems to explore the idea of toxic masculinity when allowed government-permitted free reign.

I really enjoyed this book and know it is going to stick with me for a very long time after I close the book.


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Thursday, August 23, 2018

TLC Book Tours: The Daisy Children by Sofia Grant

Title: The Daisy Children
Author: Sofia Grant
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: August 7, 2018
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "Sometimes the untold stories of the past are the ones we need to hear...

When Katie Garrett gets the unexpected news that she’s received an inheritance from the grandmother she hardly knew, it couldn’t have come at a better time. She flees Boston—and her increasingly estranged husband—and travels to rural Texas.

There, she’s greeted by her distant cousin Scarlett. Friendly, flamboyant, eternally optimistic, Scarlett couldn’t be more different from sensible Katie. And as they begin the task of sorting through their grandmother’s possessions, they discover letters and photographs that uncover the hidden truths about their shared history, and the long-forgotten tragedy of the New London school explosion of 1937 that binds them."

My Two Cents:

"The Daisy Children" is the story of Katie, a young woman whose perfect life is spinning out of control. When her grandmother's (who she barely knew) death presents her with an escape route to go to Texas to sort through family secrets. When she gets there, she reconnects with her distant cousin and she and Katie could not be more different. They are left to sort the remainders of their grandmother's life and will learn much about their family along the way. This was a good read full of twists and turns!

This book had so many things going for it! I love books about family secrets! It's always so interesting to me that some of the most surprising things can be found in your own families. I thought the author did a really good job of slowly unfolding what Katie's family was hiding to keep you wanting to find out more. The pacing was great!

I also was very interested in learning about the school explosion in New London, Texas. I had heard of the event before but didn't know many details of this terrible tragedy. Much of the book focuses on the aftermath of this tragedy and on the "replacement" children that the families who lost children in the tragedy. These "replacement" children are well aware that they exist in order to fill a void of the children that were lost. It's such an interesting position to be in and I really liked how the author explored this.

The writing of the book was good! The author does a good job of capturing the personalities of the different characters and really bringing them to life. While some of the events in the book were quite sad, this book also had a great sense of hope about it, which made for good reading!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

TLC Book Tours: Another Woman's Husband by Gill Paul

Title: Another Woman's Husband
Author: Gill Paul 
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: August 21, 2018 (Yesterday!)
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "Divided by time. Bound by a secret...

1911: When fifteen-year-old Mary Kirk meets Wallis Warfield at summer camp, she’s immediately captivated by her fearless, brazen, and self-assured personality. And Wallis has a way with the boys who are drawn to her like moths to a flame. Though Mary’s family isn’t crazy about her new best friend, she steadfastly stands by her side—even years later when they’re adults and rumors swirl about Wallis and her reckless behavior with none other than the Prince of Wales. But when Mary’s loyalty to Wallis comes into question, their friendship will be put to the ultimate test.

1997: After a romantic proposal in Paris, Rachel and her fiancé Alex are in a cab when suddenly the car ahead crashes. They’re stunned to learn Princess Diana is in the car. By the wreckage, Alex finds a heart pendant with an engraved letter “J” and Roman numerals XVII and gives it to Rachel to hold. Haunted by the crash and Diana’s subsequent death, Rachel is intrigued when she discovers that Di had visited the last home of Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, only hours before the accident. Eventually, the revelation of a long-forgotten link to Wallis Simpson leads Rachel to the truth behind a scandal that shook the world..."

My Two Cents:

I have to admit that I was a little torn on reading this book. I am fascinated by Wallis Simpson. Here's a woman who shook up the entire British monarchy and changed the course of its history. She is fascinating and I love reading about her, both in fiction and non-fiction. I also am fascinated by Princess Diana. I was just barely a teenager when she passed away but that day still stands out very much in my mind. It was the part of the book about Princess Diana that tore me on reading this book. Luckily, I gave it a go and found a very interesting story with lots of great detail that kept me reading. 

This book is split into two parts. There is the story of Wallis as seen through her childhood friend Mary, a woman who lives a relatively quiet life in comparison to all of Wallis's glitz, glamour, and jet-setting. In 1997, Rachel is a newly engaged woman who happens to be just behind Princess Diana's car when it crashes in that Parisian tunnel. Both parts of the book are so different but so exciting. I loved the historical detail of the parts with Wallis. I also loved all of the mysteries that surrounds the part of the book that takes place in 1997. As someone who followed Diana's life and her untimely death closely, the questions of what could've happened were especially intriguing to me. 

This is the first book that I have read by Gill Paul but the great execution of this book makes me want to read more by her. I really enjoyed both parts of the book and thought that the author did a good job of keeping both story lines moving and exciting. This was a good read!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Review: Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey

Title: Not Her Daughter
Author: Rea Frey
Format: Paperback
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: August 21, 2018
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Abandoned by her mother. Kidnapper.
Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal--and when a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her, far away from home. But if it's to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?

Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure she wants her daughter back.
Amy's life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now she's gone without a trace.

As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But her real mother is at home, waiting for her to return--and the longer the search for Emma continues, Amy is forced to question if she really wants her back."

My Two Cents:

In "Not Her Daughter," when Sarah first sees Emma, she is enchanted by the sweet little girl and frightened by how her mother seems to treat her. When Sarah has a second chance meeting with Emma, she knows she has to do something. She could go to the authorities and try to fight an uphill battle that Sarah thinks will end with Emma having to remain in an abusive home or she could take matters into her own hands. It's crazy but Sarah doesn't seem to have much foresight when it comes to Emma - she just wants to save her.

I love books that can turn your feelings and everything you think you know on your head. Kidnappers are bad, right? This book will make you think a little bit harder. What if the parents are bad and the kidnapper is kind and gentle? Does it make it right? What if the mother is not redeemable? What if the kidnapper could give a child a much better home? How do your reconcile this? I went back and forth through all of these questions throughout the book and I loved the mental gymnastics. As this book shows, there is nothing that is black and white.

This was an interesting book to read as a mother. I would do anything for my kids and I had such a hard time understanding Amy, Emma's mother, in this book. How could she favor one kid so much over the other? Why did she become a parent in the first place? Was she ever happy with Emma? What was her relationship like with Richard, her husband, before kids? I like when you get so into a book that you wonder so much about the characters.

The book had nice pacing. There were a couple parts of the narrative that I wish would have been explored a little more like the relationship between Sarah and Ethan and Sarah and Ryan. I also found myself wanting more from the ending. While I like the ending, it felt a little rushed and perhaps not realistic. It felt abrupt compared to the rest of the book. That being said, this book was a good read that really pushed me to think about some difficult topics.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Review: Before She Sleeps by Bina Shah

Title: Before She Sleeps
Author: Bina Shah
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Delphinium
Publish Date: August 7, 2018
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "In modern, beautiful Green City, the capital of South West Asia, gender selection, war and disease have brought the ratio of men to women to alarmingly low levels. The government uses terror and technology to control its people, and women must take multiple husbands to have children as quickly as possible.

Yet there are women who resist, women who live in an underground collective and refuse to be part of the system. Secretly protected by the highest echelons of power, they emerge only at night, to provide to the rich and elite of Green City a type of commodity that nobody can buy: intimacy without sex. As it turns out, not even the most influential men can shield them from discovery and the dangers of ruthless punishment.

This dystopian novel from one of Pakistan’s most talented writers is a modern-day parable, The Handmaid’s Tale about women’s lives in repressive Muslim countries everywhere. It takes the patriarchal practices of female seclusion and veiling, gender selection, and control over women’s bodies, amplifies and distorts them in a truly terrifying way to imagine a world of post-religious authoritarianism."

My Two Cents:

In Green City, it is the job of every woman to take as many husbands as the government allows and to have as many babies (hopefully many female babies) as they can in order to overcome the gender crisis that has left Green City with many more men than women. It is very mechanical and there is not much room for love and affection. The women of the underground fulfill the need for touch and affection of the non-intimate kind but when one of the powerful men that employ their services goes too far, everything will be upended.

I love dystopian and was looking forward to reading this one, which takes place outside of the Western world in South West Asia. This part of the world has a very interesting history that led to a great background for how this story transpires. I loved that the setting of this book was off the beaten path.

The story follows three women who all have very different reasons for ending up where they are. They all handle their lives in the underground of society in some way. Some are happy with their existence out of the eye of the government, others would give anything for things to be different and to find some sort of genuine love. Others just want to watch the world burn. I loved seeing how these very different woman deal with this difficult situation that they find themselves in. I did wish that we got to know a little bit more about these characters and what makes them tick.

The book has nice pacing but I wish that the end would have not come so abruptly. It's a great ending but I found myself wondering what happened after the end of the book. More of a conclusion would have been nice. Overall, this was a good read!


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

HFVBT Review: Tiffany Blues by M.J. Rose

Title: Tiffany Blues
Author: M.J. Rose
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: August 7, 2018 (Yesterday!)
Source: HFVBT

What's the Story?:

From "New York, 1924. Twenty‑four‑year‑old Jenny Bell is one of a dozen burgeoning artists invited to Louis Comfort Tiffany’s prestigious artists’ colony. Gifted and determined, Jenny vows to avoid distractions and romantic entanglements and take full advantage of the many wonders to be found at Laurelton Hall.

But Jenny’s past has followed her to Long Island. Images of her beloved mother, her hard-hearted stepfather, waterfalls, and murder, and the dank hallways of Canada’s notorious Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women overwhelm Jenny’s thoughts, even as she is inextricably drawn to Oliver, Tiffany’s charismatic grandson.

As the summer shimmers on, and the competition between the artists grows fierce as they vie for a spot at Tiffany’s New York gallery, a series of suspicious and disturbing occurrences suggest someone knows enough about Jenny’s childhood trauma to expose her.

Supported by her closest friend Minx Deering, a seemingly carefree socialite yet dedicated sculptor, and Oliver, Jenny pushes her demons aside. Between stolen kisses and stolen jewels, the champagne flows and the jazz plays on until one moonless night when Jenny’s past and present are thrown together in a desperate moment, that will threaten her promising future, her love, her friendships, and her very life."

My Two Cents:

I was drawn to this book initially because I wanted to learn more about Louis Comfort Tiffany. I love his glass work. It's gorgeous and I have always been impressed with how he was able to capture the light in every scene. Capturing light, both metaphorically and actually, is a huge message in this book. Historical fiction with a side of art is incredibly attractive to me and this book pulled me in and made for a beautiful escape!

Our main character is Jenny, a young woman with a dark past. She has escaped to New York City but still feels like she is constantly being chased by her childhood memories, which are terrible and scary (I don't want to give anything away). I thought it was really effective how the author didn't give everything about Jenny's past all at once. We get little details as the story unfolds and I really liked how it made me feel for Jenny more and appreciate all of the terrible things that happened to her a little more. I was pulling for her throughout the book.

I was fascinated by the details about Louis Comfort Tiffany's compound, Laurelton. After years of neglect, the buildings burnt down in the late 1950s. The reason for the fire is still a mystery. Laurelton sounds like the kind of place that I would like to visit so I was so happy to see all of the detail Rose packs into this book. We see why Jenny is so affected by her past and how she channels something truly terrible into her beautiful paintings.

This is a story about resilience and finding the light in even the darkest of situations. I really enjoyed it!


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

TLC Book Tours: The Locksmith's Daughter by Karen Brooks

Title: The Locksmith's Daughter
Author: Karen Brooks 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publish Date: July 31, 2018 (Today!!!)
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins 

What's the Story?:

From "In Queen Elizabeth's England, where no one can be trusted and secrets are currency, one woman stands without fear.

Mallory Bright is the only daughter of London's most ingenious locksmith. She has apprenticed with her father since childhood, and there is no lock too elaborate for her to crack. After scandal destroys her reputation, Mallory has returned to her father's home and lives almost as a recluse, ignoring the whispers and gossip of their neighbors. But Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's spymaster and a frequent client of Mallory's father, draws her into his world of danger and deception. For the locksmith's daughter is not only good at cracking locks, she also has a talent for codes, spycraft, and intrigue. With Mallory by Sir Francis’s side, no scheme in England or abroad is safe from discovery.

But Mallory's loyalty wavers when she witnesses the brutal and bloody public execution of three Jesuit priests and realizes the human cost of her espionage. And later, when she discovers the identity of a Catholic spy and a conspiracy that threatens the kingdom, she is forced to choose between her country and her heart.

Once Sir Francis's greatest asset, Mallory is fast becoming his worst threat—and there is only one way the Queen’s master spy deals with his enemies…"

My Two Cents:

"The Locksmith's Daughter" is the story of Mallory Bright, a young woman with an amazing ability to pick any lock. She eventually finds herself in service to Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's masterfully powerful spymaster. At first, Mallory sees her service as a way to escape her past but she will begin to see it as something much darker. I love reading about Queen Elizabeth's spies and I love reading in this time so this exciting book was a perfect pick for me!

Mallory is a great character. I was fascinated reading about how she learned how to pick locks and what she was able to do with a skill set that very few had. While it would have been interesting to read about Mallory's spy escapades on its own, I like that the author chose to give her a much more rounded out history. This woman has been through a lot when we first meet her in this book and I loved seeing how her past shapes her future and all of the decisions that she makes throughout this book. Having so much detail about her past really made me care and appreciate her resilience about her throughout the book.

I have liked the books of Karen Brooks' in the past so I was looking forward to this book on its own. This book has a lot of good detail! You get a great sense of what Mallory deals with and how she moves throughout her world. This book is fast paced and kept me reading. Walsingham and his exploits will always make for good reading! 


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

TLC Book Tours: A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

Title: A Place for Us
Author: Fatima Farheen Mirza
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: SJP for Hogarth
Publish Date: June 12, 2018
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "A Place for Us unfolds the lives of an Indian-American Muslim family, gathered together in their Californian hometown to celebrate the eldest daughter, Hadia's, wedding - a match of love rather than tradition. It is here, on this momentous day, that Amar, the youngest of the siblings, reunites with his family for the first time in three years. Rafiq and Layla must now contend with the choices and betrayals that lead to their son's estrangement - the reckoning of parents who strove to pass on their cultures and traditions to their children; and of children who in turn struggle to balance authenticity in themselves with loyalty to the home they came from.

In a narrative that spans decades and sees family life through the eyes of each member, A Place For Us charts the crucial moments in the family's past, from the bonds that bring them together to the differences that pull them apart. And as siblings Hadia, Huda, and Amar attempt to carve out a life for themselves, they must reconcile their present culture with their parent's faith, to tread a path between the old world and the new, and learn how the smallest decisions can lead to the deepest of betrayals."

My Two Cents:

"A Place for Us" opens with the son and youngest child, Amar, of a Muslim-American family returning to attend his sister's wedding. It's a bittersweet return. Amar is loved by his family but also has caused a lot of trouble for his family through his decisions. Going back and forth between the present and various points in the past in the lives of this family, secrets will be uncovered and roles will be revealed. I really loved this book and loved the depiction of the relationships between the various family members!

This is an incredibly ambitious novel by a debut author and it's wonderful. This book could have been a disaster as the events in the book go back and forth between the present and so many different parts of this family's past. But as a reader, you are so interested in figuring out what would have caused Amar to leave the family only to come back at such a big moment. The fact that the author writes with super vivid language and includes wonderful descriptions doesn't hurt in keeping everything straight in your head.

I loved following this family. It is clear that they deeply love each other and it is clear that they are all just imperfect people trying to do the best that they can. These are the kind of characters that stick in your brain long after you close the book. I loved the way that the author described the tangled spiderweb of relationships between each of the family members. We see how each of their relationships have similarities and vast differences. These characters feel very individual but you also get to see how they work as a family as well.

This was a powerful meditation on how important family is and how complicated they can be. I cannot wait to see what this author writes next!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Novel Expressions Spotlight: THE SECRET LIFE OF MRS. LONDON by Rebecca Rosenberg

Rebecca Rosenberg, author of the new historical novel, The Secret Life of Mrs. London, revealing the love triangle between Houdini, Charmian and Jack London.
Only One Woman Could Beguile Two Legends!
Join Rebecca in a visual romp back to San Francisco, 1915, when famed author Jack London and his wife, Charmian London, attend the Great Houdini’s Chinese Water Torture Escape in San Francisco. What happened next was almost lost to history!

San Francisco, 1915. As America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, wrestle with genius and desire, politics and marital competitiveness. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband, but Jack doesn’t see it that way…until Charmian is pulled from the audience during a magic show by escape artist Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own complicated marriage. Suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her and entranced by his sexual magnetism, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape.
As Charmian grapples with her urge to explore the forbidden, Jack’s increasingly reckless behavior threatens her dedication. Now torn between two of history’s most mysterious and charismatic figures, she must find the courage to forge her own path, even as she fears the loss of everything she holds dear.
About the Author:

California native Rebecca Rosenberg lives on a lavender farm with her family in Sonoma, the Valley of the Moon, where she and her husband founded the largest lavender product company in America, Sonoma Lavender. A long-time student of Jack London’s work and an avid fan of his daring wife, Charmian, Rosenberg is a graduate of the Stanford Writing Certificate Program. THE SECRET LIFE OF MRS. LONDON is her first novel, following her non-fiction, LAVENDER FIELDS OF AMERICA.
Rebecca Rosenberg’s next historical novel is GOLD DIGGER the story of BABY DOE TABOR.
Buy the Book:
Blog Tour Schedule:
July 9th- Book Review - Kate Braithwaite
July 10th – Book Excerpt – Just One More Chapter
July 11th -Book Spotlight and Highlighted Reviews – before the second sleep
July 12th- Book Review -Book Babble
July 13th – Book Review - Strange & Random Happenstance
July 14th – Book Spotlight – Fictionophile
July 15th - Book Spotlight- Layered Pages
July 16th – Book Spotlight & Book Review – Svetabooks
July 17th- Book Spotlight – A Bookish Affair
July 18th – Guest Post – A Bookaholic Swede
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