Review: The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani

Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani

HarperCollinsPublishers, 2012

My Review (5 Stars: Loved it!)

This is the love story of two Italian immigrants.  I loved the inside look into their lives.  My grandparents came through Ellis Island to America from Ireland,  so I had a special interest in what it was like in New York during the early 1900’s.

Ciro Lazzari and  Enza Ravanelli had a significant fateful meeting in the Italian Alps in their early teens.  However, Ciro, an orphan, suddenly found himself being shipped off to America.  For a long time Enza would not know what happened to him.

Years later Ciro and Enza have additional fateful encounters in America.   I was rooting for Ciro and Enza to succeed in America and recognize that they were meant for each other.

Author Adriana Trigiani does an excellent job in laying out these characters lives.  Her writing style is eloquent.  This is the novel she “was born to write” as it is based on the true story of her grandparents.    I was amazed at her skill in recounting this beautiful love story.

Continue reading “Review: The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani”

Review: Gray Mountain by John Grisham

Gray Mountain: A Novel by John Grisham

Doubleday, a division of Random House LLC, 2014

My Review (3 Stars: Liked it!)

Gray Mountain: A Novel by John Grisham was a pleasant read over the course of a few days.  It is easy to see why Grisham is so popular.  The story was fast paced and his writing style is fluid.

I’ve categorized Gray Mountain as Historical Fiction as it takes place in 2008.  The recession has hit Wall Street law firms and, third year attorney,  Samantha Koefer is escorted out of her office.  She goes to work, without pay, for a legal aid clinic in a small town in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia.

Samantha along with others, tackle litigation involved in fighting the giant coal companies who are strip mining the beautiful mountains in Appalachia.

Samantha encounters several cases depicting struggles of some of the locals.  For Samantha, these cases have much more meaning than the work she was doing for a big law firm in New York.  Grisham, brings a hometown country feeling to the story with other characters and descriptions of the area.

There is another lawyer in town, handsome Donovan Gray, whose family lost so much to the coal companies in the past.  He does everything in his power to defeat them, even if, like the coal companies, he has to cheat.

Overall, Gray Mountain was an enjoyable read about an important topic.

First Paragraph

“The horror was in the waiting – the unknown, the insomnia, the ulcers.  Co-workers ignored each other and hid behind locked doors. Secretaries and paralegals passed along the rumors and refused eye contact.  Everyone was on edge, wondering, “Who might be next?”  The partners, the big boys, appeared shell-shocked and wanted no contact with their underlings.  They might soon be ordered to slaughter them.”

Also By John Grisham

The Theodore Boone Books

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer

Theodore Boone: The Abduction

Theodore Boon: The Accused

Theodore Boon: The Activist

Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

St. Martin’s Press, 2015

Description(from the author’s website)

In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gaetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

My Review (5 Stars: Loved It!)

I’m afraid my short review will not do this exceptional novel, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, justice.

The setting is during WWII, German occupied France.  If I didn’t know better, I would think Kristin Hannah actually lived through the experience, it seems so real.  The occupation is such a sad state of affairs.  The Germans took so much from the French.  We easily feel this while reading.  The first half of the novel lays the groundwork for the emotional second half.

Vianne is at home with her daughter Sophie when her husband leaves to fight the war.  They live in the small village Carriveau near an airfield.  Her goal is to survive and stay under the radar of the Germans who occupy her town.  Eighteen year old Isabelle, is sent from Paris, by her father, to live with her older sister, Vianne.

As is often with sisters, they have different personalities and clash.  Isabelle is bold and rash.  Vianne is more timid and unsure.  Isabelle joins the Resistance and returns to Paris.  It is their two remarkable stories, and the intersection of their stories, we follow as they come to learn how important it is to love and express love, as times are fleeting.

The atrocities they both face and their bravery throughout the war is amazing.  This novel will stay with me for a long time to come.

I also want to mention that the artwork for the cover of the hardcover edition of this novel is elegant and suits this novel well.  It has a gold embossed image of a Nightingale and the Eiffel Tower in the dark background.

Kristin Hannah has written many novels (see list below), but this is her personal favorite.  She knows she’s not supposed to say that (See book trailer below).  I have not read her previous novels, but became a fan of hers after reading the intro she wrote for Grand Central.

 First Line

“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”

What Others Are Saying (from the book cover)

“In this epic novel, set in France in World War II, two sisters who live in a small village find themselves estranged when they disagree about the imminent threat of occupation. Separated by principles and temperament, each must find her own way forward as she faces moral questions and life-or-death choices. Haunting, action-packed, and compelling.”

—Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train

“A beautifully written and richly evocative examination of life, love, and the ravages of war, and the different ways people react to unthinkable situations–not to mention the terrible and mounting toll of keeping secrets. This powerhouse of a story is equally packed with action and emotion, and is sure to be another major hit. I loved it!”

— Sara Gruen, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants

Also by Kristin Hannah

Fly Away

Home Front

Night Road

Winter Garden

True Colors

Firefly Lane

Magic Hour

Comfort & Joy

The Things We Do For Love

Between Sisters

Distant Shores

Summer Island

Angle Falls

On Mystic Lake

Home Again

Waiting for the Moon

When Lightning Strikes

If You Believe

Once in Every Life

The Enchantment

A Handful of Heaven

Review: My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Group (USA), February 10, 2015

Description (from

My Sunshine Away unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson—free spirit, track star, and belle of the block—experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too.

In My Sunshine Away, M.O. Walsh brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love. Acutely wise and deeply honest, it is an astonishing and page-turning debut about the meaning of family, the power of memory, and our ability to forgive.

 My Review (5 Stars: Loved it!)

“My Sunshine Away”, are the last few words in one of Louisiana’s state songs, “You Are My Sunshine”, (Wikipedia).  This fictional story takes place in Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana.  It begins with the following first line.

“There were four suspects in the rape of Lindy Simpson, a crime that occurred directly on top of the sidewalk of Piney Creek Road, the same sidewalk our parents had once hopefully carved their initials into, years before, as residents of the first street in the Woodland Hills subdivision to have houses on each lot. “

The narrator was a young adolescent boy, a year younger than Lindy.  He was extremely obsessed with her.  He thought he was in love.

This is a coming of age story.  Later in life, the narrator wonders what was he thinking about, other than Lindy.  His parents were divorced.  He lived with his mother.  His two older sisters were living on their own or at college.  When tragedy strikes his family, the narrator was concerned about his heartbroken mother, but didn’t seem to know what to do about it.

Some of the other characters are the neighbors living on his street, in his mid to upper-class neighborhood, Woodland Hills. The children start out as innocents, running and playing in the woods.  However, as time goes on, the stalking begins, a violent crime is committed and the stalking continues.  This novel, on many levels, is about innocence lost.

As a women, I could not help but wonder, how much of this boy’s behavior was attributed to being a normal adolescent boy and how much was extreme.  My Sunshine Away was an interesting change of pace for me and kept me wondering and stunned right up to the end.  Kudos to author of My Sunshine AwayM.O. Walsh.

About the author (from the author’s website)

M.O. Walsh was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  His stories and essays have appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Southern Review, American Short Fiction, Epoch, and Greensboro Review.  His short stories have also been anthologized in Best NewAmerican Voices, Bar Stories, Best of the Net and Louisiana in Words. He is a graduate of the Ole Miss MFA program and currently lives in New Orleans, LA, where he is the Director of the Creative Writing Workshop at The University of New Orleans.  He also directs the The Yokshop Writers Conference in Oxford, MS.  You can follow him on Facebook.

What Others Are Saying

I would like to thank the author, M.O. Walsh and publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, for providing me this book, free of charge for review.

Disclosure of Material Connection:

I received this book free from the publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Group (USA). I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker

Mercy Snow: A Novel by Tiffany Baker

Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group, First Trade edition: January, 2015

Reading Group Guide, 2015

Description (from amazon)

In the tiny town of Titan Falls, New Hampshire, the paper mill dictates a quiet, steady rhythm of life. But one day a tragic bus accident sets two families on a course toward destruction, irrevocably altering the lives of everyone in their wake.

June McAllister is the wife of the local mill owner and undisputed first lady in town. But the Snow family, a group of itinerant ne’er-do-wells who live on a decrepit and cursed property, have brought her–and the town–nothing but grief.

June will do anything to cover up a dark secret she discovers after the crash, one that threatens to upend her picture-perfect life, even if it means driving the Snow family out of town. But she has never gone up against a force as fierce as the young Mercy Snow. Mercy is determined to protect her rebellious brother, whom the town blames for the accident, despite his innocence. And she has a secret of her own. When an old skeleton is discovered not far from the crash, it beckons Mercy to solve a mystery buried deep within the town’s past.

 My Review (3 Stars: Liked it!)

Mercy Snow is a somber, philosophical story.  It’s setting is in New Hampshire, along the Androscoggin River (Wikipedia), during the 1990’s.

June McAllister thought she had everything she ever wanted.  Her husband  was the owner of  the Titan Falls paper mill.  The paper mill was central to the survival of almost everyone in this backwoods town.  This made the McAllister’s a very prominent family.  Three extremely poor, orphaned, Snow children, Mercy, Zeke and Hannah, reclaim their nearby property and everything changes.

The author, Tiffany Baker, provides rich descriptions of the area and the filthy, dangerous river.  She richly describes the poor Snow family’s pitiful living conditions and struggle to survive during the brutal winter in contrast to the McAllister’s comfortable life.

This story pivots around June’s husband and Mercy Snow’s brother being involved in a deathly bus accident.  The two women are at odds with each other.  In the end they both get some of what they wished for, but for a price.  Mercy Snow reminds me of the idiom: Be careful of what you wish for, because you just might get it.  (What does Be Careful What You Wish For Mean? (WiseGeek))

A bright spot in this story is Hazel, the bus driver’s wife, who like Mercy, is a survivor.  She raises sheep and unlike most of the people in the area, is not dependent on the paper mill.  Another bright spot is that Mercy Snow seems to have inherited her mother’s healing ability which adds a certain bit of magic to the plot.

There are many facets to this story and interesting characters which made Mercy Snow an enjoyable read.

I would like to thank author, Tiffany Baker, the She Reads Organization and the publisher,  Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group,  for providing me with this book, free of charge, for review.

Other books by Tiffany Baker

The Gilly Salt Sisters

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

Visit Shereads’ page to read more about their winter selections  @ 2015 She Reads’ Books of Winter.

Disclosure of Material Connection: 

I received this book free from the publisher, Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group, as a member of the She Reads Network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You: A Novel by Celeste Ng

Penguin Group (USA), 2014

Description (from the author’s website)

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . .

So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is certain that the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest of the family—Hannah—who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened.

A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

My Review (4 Stars: Liked it a lot!)

I read this book over the course of three days and thought about the Lee family in between.  It is 1977, when girls slathered themselves in baby oil and sunbathed.  (I hope they don’t do that now.)  I can relate to this time period.

This story is about a mixed family, Chinese-American and American.  The parents Marylyn and James and their two older children Lydia and Nathan, because of their mixed origins, do not fit in with American culture at the time, despite their efforts.  Their third, youngest, child, Hannah, struggles to fit in with her, seemingly self-absorbed, family.  Lydia is found dead in the nearby lake.  Reading Everything I Never Told You gives the back story leading up to this tragic death.

When I finished this novel, I think my jaw dropped open.  I was very impressed with author, Celeste Ng‘s, style.  She shows this family’s dynamic very well.  This is a sensitive and touching debut novel.  We are clearly shown the disconnect between parents and their children and with each other.  While this is fiction, it seems like a very realistic story.  In the end, it is a heartbreaker.


Review: The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman

The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman

The Berkley Publishing Group, (Penguin Group (USA) LLC)

Berkley Trade Paperback, On-sale: September 2, 2014

Description (from the author’s website)

Written in dazzling prose and set against the rich backdrop of World War II Italy, Garden of Letters captures the hope, suspense, and romance of an uncertain era, in an epic intertwining story of first love, great tragedy, and spectacular bravery.

Portofino, Italy, 1943. A young woman steps off a boat in a scenic coastal village. Although she knows how to disappear in a crowd, Elodie is too terrified to slip by the German officers while carrying her poorly forged identity papers. She is frozen until a man she’s never met before claims to know her. In desperate need of shelter, Elodie follows him back to his home on the cliffs of Portofino.

Only months before, Elodie Bertolotti was a cello prodigy in Verona, unconcerned with world events. But when Mussolini’s Fascist regime strikes her family, Elodie is drawn into the burgeoning resistance movement by Luca, a young and impassioned bookseller. As the occupation looms, she discovers that her unique musical talents, and her courage, have the power to save lives.

In Portofino, young doctor Angelo Rosselli gives the frightened and exhausted girl sanctuary. He is a man with painful secrets of his own, haunted by guilt and remorse. But Elodie’s arrival has the power to awaken a sense of hope that Angelo thought was lost to him forever.

My Review (4 Stars: Liked it a lot!)

I quickly found myself engrossed in The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman.  The setting: Italy at the time of the German Occupation (WWII, 1943).  Cello prodigy, Elodie Bertolotti becomes involved with the organization of the Italian Resistance.  This is essentially a love story propelled by tumultuous times.

Just as there is an intense rhythm to Elodie’s playing, there seems to be a rhythm in the writing throughout the book.  In the Author’s Note and Acknowledgments, Richaman says:

“For most of my career, I’ve woven themes of painting and art into my novels.  This time, though, I wanted to write about another form of art: music.  Not only did I want to write about how a musician experiences the world, but I also wanted to explore a more musical element – how we as human beings are able to communicate without the use of words.”

This novel easily transports the reader to a different space and time.

Note: Questions for Discussion are included in the book.

About the author (from the author’s website)

Alyson Richman is the author of: The Mask Carver’s Son, The Rhythm of Memory(formerly published as Swedish Tango), The Last Van Gogh and The Lost Wife. Her books have received both national and international critical acclaim and have been translated into fifteen languages. The Last Van Gogh was nominated as a Book Sense Notable Pick in 2006 and The Lost Wife was nominated as one of the best books of 2012 by the Jewish Journal of Books. A graduate of Wellesley College and a former Thomas J. Watson Fellow, she currently lives with her husband and children in Long Island, New York.  Her fourth novel, The Lost Wife, was The 2012 Long Island Reads Selection and is now a national bestseller with over 100,000 books in print.  Her next novel, The Garden of Letters, about a messenger for the Italian Resistance who sends coded messages through her music, will be published by Berkley/Penguin in September 2014.

Note: Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received this book  free from the publisher, The Berkley Publishing Group, Penguin Group (USA).  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.  

Review: Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion

Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion
Berkley Books, New York, 2014

A collection of short stories by:
Melanie Benjamin, Jenna Blum, Amanda Hodgkinson, Pam Jenoff, Sarah Jio, Sarah McCoy, Kristina McMorris, Alyson Richman, Erika Robuck, Karen White

Introduction by Krisin Hannah

Description (from amazon)

A war bride awaits the arrival of her GI husband at the platform…

A Holocaust survivor works at the Oyster Bar, where a customer reminds him of his late mother…
A Hollywood hopeful anticipates her first screen test and a chance at stardom in the Kissing Room…

On any particular day, thousands upon thousands of people pass through New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, through the whispering gallery, beneath the ceiling of stars, and past the information booth and its beckoning four-faced clock, to whatever destination is calling them. It is a place where people come to say hello and good-bye. And each person has a story to tell.

Now, ten bestselling authors inspired by this iconic landmark have created their own stories, set on the same day, just after the end of World War II, in a time of hope, uncertainty, change, and renewal….

Featuring stories from

Melanie Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator’s Wife
Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us
Amanda Hodgkinson, New York Times bestselling author of 22 Britannia Road
Pam Jenoff, bestselling author of The Ambassador’s Daughter
Sarah Jio, New York Times bestselling author of Blackberry Winter
Sarah McCoy, New York Times bestselling author of The Baker’s Daughter
Kristina McMorris, New York Times bestselling author of The Pieces We Keep
Alyson Richman, bestselling author of The Lost Wife
Erika Robuck, bestselling author of Call Me Zelda
Karen White, New York Times bestselling author of After the Rain

With an Introduction by

Kristin Hannah, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Home Front

My Review (5 Stars: Loved it!)

I first learned of this anthology at the end of last year when reviewing:  The Pieces We Keep by Kristina McMorris.  I was so excited to have recently been offered the opportunity to review  Grand Central prior to it’s publication date: July 1, 2014.

Kristina McMorris spearheaded the idea of gathering ten best selling authors to commemorate 100 years since the creation of one of the nations most historical landmarks, Grand Central Terminal.  All of these unique short stories feature Grand Central Terminal in some way and are also about the time when WWII ended.

After reading the wonderful introduction by Kristin Hannah, I felt this was going to be good collection and it was.  I didn’t read the stories in the order they were presented in the book.  I quickly read the two stories by the authors I was most familiar with: The Reunion by Kristina McMorris and The Harvest Season by Karen White.  I loved both.  Both made me cry!  Then I took my time and enjoyed the others.  They did not all make me cry, but were all so clever.  I was happy to have the chance to preview some new authors that I was not familiar with.

The creativity of these writers is amazing.  They each took a common theme and wrote completely different short stories.  Each one was very enjoyable in its own way.

Introduction by Kristin Hannah   vii
Going Home by Alyson Richman   1
The Lucky One by Jenna Blum   39
The Branch of Hazel by Sarah McCoy   77
The Kissing Room by Melanie Benjamin  113
I’ll Be Seeing You by Sarah Jio   147
I’ll Walk Alone  by Erika Robuck  181
The Reunion by Kristina McMorris  217
Tin Town by Amanda Hodgkinson  255
Strand of Pearls by Pam Jenoff  289

The Harvest Season by Karen White  321

I would like to thank the publishers, The Berkley Publishing Group, Penguin Group (USA) for sending me this book, free of charge, for review.

Disclosure of Material Connection:

I received this book  free from the publisher, The Berkley Publishing Group, Penguin Group (USA).  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2014

Description (from the author’s website)

Published by Viking, January 7, 2014
Selected for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0
A New York Times #1 BestsellerFrom the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees: a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world.Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimkes’ daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.Sue Monk Kidd’s sweeping new novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday in 1803, when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful, who is to be her waiting maid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement, and the uneasy ways of love.As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.Inspired in part by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in search for something better, and Charlotte’s lover, Denmark Vesey, a charismatic free black man who is planning insurrection.This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at one of the most devastating wounds in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

My Review (5 Stars: Loved it!)

Chapters in The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd alternate between two main characters: Hetty Handful Grimke’ and Sarah Grimke’.  Hetty is a young slave belonging to the aristocratic Charleston Grimke’ family.  Sarah is one of the Grimke’ children.  Sarah is given ten year old Hetty as a gift on her eleventh birthday.  Sarah is opposed to slavery and deals with the oppression of her times, while Hetty deals with the  oppression of slavery.I was immediately drawn into this story and felt connected to both Hetty and Sarah.  The relationship between them was complicated due to their differences, but they cared for each other.  Below is a quote from early in the book, when the girls were young:

“”She laid the book down and came where I was standing by the chimney place and put her arms round me.  It was hard to know where things stood.  People say love gets fouled by a difference big as ours.  I didn’t know for sure whether Miss Sarah’s feelings came from love or guilt.  I didn’t know whether mine came from love or a need to be safe.  She loved and pitied me.  And I loved her and used her.  It never was a simple thing.  That day, our hearts were pure as they ever would get.”  — Handful (p. 54)

I felt Sue Monk Kidd did a wonderful job in this book.  We get details of the awful way slaves were treated and learn about their resilience, strength and love for one another.  We also learn about the real life Sarah Grimke’ who became a famous/infamous abolitionist and speaker for women’s rights.There is so much more to this novel that I can’t write in a short review.  This is one of the best I’ve read this year.

Review: A Long Time Gone by Karen White

A Long Time Gone by Karen White 
Penguin Group (USA), June 2014

Description (from the author’s website)

“We Walker women were born screaming into this world, the beginning of a lifelong quest to find what would quiet us. But whatever drove us away was never stronger than the pull of what brought us back….”

When Vivien Walker left her home in the Mississippi Delta, she swore never to go back, as generations of the women in her family had. But in the spring, nine years to the day since she’d left, that’s exactly what happens—Vivien returns, fleeing from a broken marriage and her lost dreams for children.

What she hopes to find is solace with “Bootsie,” her dear grandmother who raised her, a Walker woman with a knack for making everything all right. But instead she finds that her grandmother has died and that her estranged mother is drifting further away from her memories. Now Vivien is forced into the unexpected role of caretaker, challenging her personal quest to find the girl she herself once was.

But for Vivien things change in ways she cannot imagine when a violent storm reveals the remains of a long-dead woman buried near the Walker home, not far from the cypress swamp that is soon to give up its ghosts. Vivien knows there is now only one way to rediscover herself—by uncovering the secrets of her family and breaking the cycle of loss that has haunted her them for generations.

My Review (3 Stars: Liked it!)

A Long Time Gone by Karen White combines the stories of three Walker women from Indian Mound, Mississippi: Vivien Walker Moise (starting, April 2013), Carol Lynne Walker Moise (starting, August 5, 1962) and Adelaide Walker Bodine (starting, June 1920) into one story about their resilience and strength.

The first half of the novel starts out at a slow pace, but picks up very well during the second half.

Vivien returns home because, after her divorce, she has nowhere else to go.  She is dependent on anxiety drugs to get through her days.  While trying to find the identity of the buried women that was found near her home, she comes to terms with her past and gains some control over her life.

Carol Lynn has dementia.  She was a drug addict, living in a commune, but later returned home.  She had left her children to be raised by their grandmother.  Part of Carol Lynn’s story is told in her diary and gives insight into her feelings about her children.

Adelaide’s story provides most of the mystery/action.  She married a bootlegger and had a wild girlfriend.

I enjoyed many of the characters in A Long Time Gone, especially Chloe, Vivien’s twelve year old step-daughter.  Chloe, in many ways, had been abandoned by her natural parents.

I enjoyed the small home town feeling imparted about Indian Mound and the descriptions of life in the Mississippi Delta.  Each Walker women, in different ways, had a strong pull toward home.

Note: I don’t think Indian Mound is an actual town.  Here is a link for more information about: Indian Mounds of Mississippi.

I would like to thank the publisher, Penguin Group (USA), for providing me with this book, free of charge, for review. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book  free from the publisher, Penguin Group (USA).  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell

The Maid’s Version: A Novel by Daniel Woodrell
Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition: September 2013

Description (from Amazon)

The American master’s first novel since Winter’s Bone (2006) tells of a deadly dance hall fire and its impact over several generations.

Alma DeGeer Dunahew, the mother of three young boys, works as the maid for a prominent citizen and his family in West Table, Missouri. Her husband is mostly absent, and, in 1929, her scandalous, beloved younger sister is one of the 42 killed in an explosion at the local dance hall. Who is to blame? Mobsters from St. Louis? The embittered local gypsies? The preacher who railed against the loose morals of the waltzing couples? Or could it have been a colossal accident?

Alma thinks she knows the answer-and that its roots lie in a dangerous love affair. Her dogged pursuit of justice makes her an outcast and causes a long-standing rift with her own son. By telling her story to her grandson, she finally gains some solace-and peace for her sister. He is advised to “Tell it. Go on and tell it”-tell the story of his family’s struggles, suspicions, secrets, and triumphs.

My Review (3 Stars: Liked it!)

In The Maid’s VersionDaniel Woodrell’s writing style is distinctly different from other authors.  I wondered at first if is he was using dialect specific to The Ozarks and the time frame of the story or if his writing was poetic in some fashion.  Then I read, on the back cover of the book, comments about a previous book by Daniel Woodrell, Winter’s Bone (2006), also placed in The Ozarks which indicates the same style.

Winter’s Bone

“Woodrell’s novels tap a ferocious, ancient manner of storytelling, shrewdly combining a poet’s vocabulary with the vivid, old-fashioned vernacular of the backwoods.”

— ADAM WOOG, Seattle Times

“If William Faulkner lived in the Ozark Mountains today and wrote short, powerful novels set in that little-understood, much maligned swath of rural America, he might sound a lot like Daniel Woodrell.”

— DENISE HAMILTON, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Woodrell’s Old Testament prose and blunt vision have a chilly timelessness that suggests this novel will speak to readers as long as there are readers.”

— DAVID BOWMAN, New York Times Book Review

The Maid’s Version is told in short clips of what was going on during the time of the great dance hall explosion in 1929.  It is pieced together very well.  The book is only 164 pages short.  It spans different generations and at times gets a little confusing, but the gist of the story is not lost.  Looking back, it is amazing how much story telling the author packs into this short novel.

Review: The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell

Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group, May 2014
(Originally published in the united Kingdom by Orion, June 2013 and in Australia by Hachette Australia, May 2013)

Description (from the author’s website)

On a sultry summer’s day in 1980, five friends stumble upon an abandoned lakeside cottage hidden deep in the English countryside. For Kat and her friends, it offers an escape; a chance to drop out for a while, with lazy summer days by the lake and intimate winter evenings around the fire. But as the seasons change, tensions begin to rise and when an unexpected visitor appears at their door, nothing will be the same again.

Three decades later, Lila arrives at the same remote cottage. With her marriage in crisis, she finds solace in renovating the tumbledown house. Little by little she wonders about the previous inhabitants. How did they manage in such isolation? Why did they leave in such a hurry, with their belongings still strewn about? Most disturbing of all, why can t she shake the feeling that someone might be watching her?

The Shadow Year is a story of secrets, tragedy, lies and betrayal. It’s a tale that explores the light and dark of human relationships and the potential the past has to not only touch our present, but also to alter our future.

My Review – 4 Stars

The Shadow Year is a page turner that has a slightly ominous edge throughout.  Author Hannah Richell skillfully uses descriptions of nature and characters that keep you wondering about what happened in the past and what is going to happen.
In 1980 the five friends who agree to live together at the cottage by the lake are Kat who is obsessively in love with Simon, Simon who assumes the role of leader of the group, Ben and Carla who are an inseparable, and Mac the awkward and quiet member of the group. Certain events occur and the balance of the group is precariously shifted.
Switching between the 1980s and thirty years later is seamless.  Lila is grieving and struggling to make it through her days.  She inherits the beat up cottage by the lake from an anonymous benefactor.  She decides to ‘hide’ there.  As she refurbishes the cottage, she begins to recover some semblance of her life.
These two story lines wrap up nicely.  The Shadow Year had me guessing throughout.  I wonder if anyone who has read it, at any point, predicted how it might end.

Note: The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell, is the May Book Club Selection for She Reads. You can go to the SheReads’, May Book Club Selection page, to find links to additional reviews on this book and enter their contest to receive one of five free copies of this book.

I would like to thank the She Reads Organization and the publisher, Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group for providing me with this book, free of charge, for review.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher, Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group as a member of the She Reads Network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.