Tag Archives: TLC

Salvage the Bones – Book Review

I will tie the glass and stone with string, hang the shards above my bed, so that they will flash in the dark and tell the story of Katrina, the mother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered.  Her chariot was a storm so great and black the Greeks would say it was harnessed to dragons. She was the murderous mother who cut us to the bone but left us alive, left us naked and bewildered as wrinkled newborn babies, as blind puppies, as sun-starved newly hatched baby snakes. She left us a dark Gulf and salt-burned land. She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes. – from Salvage the Bones –

Esch is fourteen and pregnant, living with her brothers and her father on a hardscrabble piece of land they call “The Pit” in the small, coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. Left motherless when their mother died giving birth to Junior, who is now seven years old, the siblings are fiercely loyal to each other. Skeetah, devoted to his fighting dog, China, is determined to stand up to their father – a man who has been mostly absent and drunk, and can become volatile and abusive.

He reaches to grab Skeetah’s arm, to pull him to standing and then shove him, probably. This is what he does when he wants to manhandle, humiliate; he pulls one of us toward him, shakes, and then shoves us hard backward so that we fall in the dirt. So that we sprawl like toddlers learning to walk: dirt on our faces and our hands, faces wet with crying or mucus, ashamed. – from Salvage the Bones –

Randall, the eldest boy, longs to find his way out of The Pit through his skill as a basketball player. Junior, too young to fully understand the family dynamics, clings to Randall. Junior’s innocence, his childish body and desperate longing for attention, are heartbreaking.

Sometimes I wonder if Junior remembers anything, or if his head is like a colander, and the memories of who bottle-fed him, who licked his tears, who mothered him, squeeze through the metal like water to run down the drain, and only leave the present day, his sand holes, his shirtless bird chest, Randall yelling at him: his present washed clean of memory like vegetables washed clean of the dirt they grow in. – from Salvage the Bones –

Salvage the Bones is narrated in the observant voice of Esch in the ten days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, culminating in the storm and its aftermath. The novel opens with the birth of China’s puppies – creatures which represent money and prestige to Skeetah. As with all the characters in the book, the puppies are born into a world which challenges their very survival…and China, muscular and bred to fight, is far from a competent mother.

What China is doing is fighting, like she was born to do. Fight our shoes, fight other dogs, fight these puppies that are reaching for the outside, blind and wet. – from Salvage the Bones –

Jesmyn Ward’s writing is breathtaking, raw and completely honest. She portrays a family who is somehow surviving against all odds – ragtag, poor, and with only each other to depend upon. China takes center stage in a novel about determination and fighting for one’s life. She is sleek, muscular and focused. China’s heart belongs only to Skeetah, a young boy who has mastered a brutish beast with a penchant for killing. China’s presence is both a representation of loyalty and love, and a sinister threat – the siblings constantly admonish Junior to stay away from her, she is not allowed in the house, and Randall (a fit and toned athlete) is frightened of her. Against the backdrop of China is the myth of Medea. Esch is reading Medea’s story and the themes of betrayal, suffering, and injured love are strong in the novel. In the Greek play, Medea seeks vengeance against the father of her children when he betrays her love. Medea’s jealously is violent and murderous – and her story weaves in and out of Salvage the Bones, giving the novel a dark and foreboding feel.

Salvage the Bones is like nothing I have ever read before. I found it hard to tear myself away from these characters whose lives were so fragile and yet were defined by an inner strength which was both admirable and grim. Ward’s ability to draw the reader into a world which is sad, brutal and nearly hopeless, speaks volumes about her talent. Because, despite the bleakness, the novel allows for a glimmer of something which could be called hope. There is something remarkable about Esch, Skeetah, Randall and Junior – their fierce protection of each other, the love that surfaces through the dirt and despair of their lives, and the determination to find the light in the darkness.

Salvage the Bones is stunning, beautiful, tragic, heartbreaking, and wholly absorbing. Readers should be warned – Ward includes scenes of dog fights, and it is difficult to read – but, it is not gratuitous. China’s story is as much a part of the novel as the stories of Esch, Randall, Skeetah and Junior…in fact, China’s story provides the structure from which all of the other stories spool out.

Salvage the Bones is an original, beautifully wrought piece of literary fiction.

Highly recommended.

  • Quality of Writing:
  • Characters:
  • Plot:

Overall Rating:

Want to win a copy of this book?

Visit THIS POST to enter the contest to win a copy of Salvage the Bones (must be a book blogger and have either a US or Canada mailing address to be eligible).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jesmyn Ward is a former Stegner fellow at Stanford and Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Her novels, Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, are both set on the Mississippi coast where she grew up. Bloomsbury will publish her memoir about an epidemic of deaths of young black men in her community. She is an Assistant Professor at the University of South Alabama. Consider following Ward’s blog.

FTC Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher who sent me a copy of this book for review as part of a TLC Book Tour.

 

TLC Book Tour: Guest Post by Jenny Wingfield (…and a giveaway!)

 

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
336 pages
ISBN 978-0-385-34408-1
Random House (July 12, 2011)

I am thrilled to have author Jenny Wingfield here today for a guest post…and also to be able to offer one lucky reader a copy of Wingfield’s novel: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Read my review

Read other reviews of the book by following the links on the TLC Book Tour page.

From the Publisher:

With characters who come to life like members of one’s own family, Jenny Wingfield’s THE HOMECOMING OF SAMUEL LAKE is a novel with the universal reach of the most memorable and lasting works of fiction.

ABOUT JENNY WINGFIELD:

Jenny Wingfield lives in Texas with her rescued dogs, cats, and horses. Her screenplay credits include The Man in the Moon and The Outsider. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is her first novel.

Jenny Wingfield’s novel The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is about a family living in Arkansas in the 1950s. Included in the story, are not only the lovingly drawn human characters…but also a big white horse named Snowman whose zest for life and courage in the face of danger drew me in. In “real” life, Wingfield rescues dogs, cats, and horses…so her depiction of Snowman in the novel comes from the heart. Given that both the author and I share a common love of animals, I was delighted when Jenny agreed to post about her rescued dog, Charlie. I hope you will enjoy this as much as I did!

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MEET CHARLIE
By Jenny Wingfield

We had enough dogs. (In our household, the word “enough” is a euphemism, meaning “more than a dozen, but not more than we can count”.) Having just found forever homes for a couple of strays that we’d had so long we’d come to think of them as lifers, we were congratulating ourselves on our success.

“Just think,” we said to each other, “if we can do that again five or six times, we just might get our canine population down to a manageable number.”

Of course, things never stay manageable around here for long, because we can’t pass a starving dog without picking it up. Not to mention, people drop them off near our house knowing we’ll take them in. And other people call us to say that someone has dumped a dog at their place, and they just don’t know what they’re going to do unless we take it. Usually, they add that they reckon they’ll have to “haul it off”, since there’s no way they can give it the life it deserves.

We always take them, and that day was no different. A friend of ours came by with an emaciated female dog and five scrawny pups that she’d found scrounging beside the road. They were big-eyed bags of bones, nothing more.

Within a couple of days, one died. Another started failing. A trip to the vet and a quick surgery told us why. Those babies had been so hungry for so long that they’d been eating rocks and plastic, just to have something, anything, in their stomachs.

That was several months ago. Charlie is one of those pups, and if he remembers how bad things used to be, he doesn’t dwell on it. He’s much too busy nudging humans for love pats, or dozing in the sun. I’m sure that when he sleeps, he dreams.

Probably of a forever home.

Photograph of Charlie, courtesy of Jenny Wingfield

BOOK GIVEAWAY

  • Contest open through 5:00 pm (PST) on August 16th, 2011.
  • US and Canada mailing addresses only please.
  • To enter, complete the form by following the link below:

Click here to take survey

  • I will randomly choose one winner and announce that winner on my blog on August 17th. I will also email the winner for their snail mail address at that time.

GOOD LUCK!!!

Guest Post & Giveaway: Author Ann Joslin Williams

Down From Cascom Mountain, by Ann Joslin Williams

336 pages
Bloomsbury USA (June 7, 2011)

It is my pleasure to welcome author Ann Joslin Williams to my blog today. I just finished reading her wonderful novel, Down From Cascom Mountain, and was excited when Ann agreed to a guest post. I am also thrilled to be able to offer one copy of the book as a give away to one of my US or Canadian readers. Let me tell you a little about both the novel and the author…

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Read my review.

Get links to reviews from the TLC Book Tour.

Read an excerpt.

From the publisher:

In Down From Cascom Mountain, newlywed Mary Hall brings her husband to settle in the rural New Hampshire of her youth to fix up the house she grew up in and to reconnect to the land that defined her, with all its beauty and danger. But on a mountain day hike, she watches helplessly as her husband falls to his death. As she struggles with her sudden grief, in the days and months that follow, Mary finds new friendships–with Callie and Tobin, teenagers who live and work on the mountain, and with Ben, the gentle fire watchman. All are haunted by their own losses, but they find ways to restore hope in one another, holding firmly as they navigate the rugged terrain of the unknown and the unknowable, and loves lost and found.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ann Joslin Williams grew up in New Hampshire. She earned her MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She is the author of The Woman in the Woods, a collection of linked stories, which won the 2005 Spokane Prize for Short Fiction, and her work has appeared in StoryQuarterly, the Iowa Review, the Missouri Review,Ploughshares, and elsewhere. She was the winner of an NEA grant for her work on Down from Cascom Mountain. Williams is an assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire.

Learn more about Williams and her work by visiting the author’s website.

My thanks to Ann for writing a wonderful piece for this post – I completely related to it because I grew up in New Hampshire, like the author, moved away from New England to the San Francisco Bay area, and later went on to volunteer in search and rescue. I hope that you will enjoy this guest post as much as I did.

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Guest Post: Author Ann Joslin Williams

I was living in San Francisco when I started writing Down From Cascom Mountain–a long way from New Hampshire where I’d grown up.  I was homesick for the woods and mountains of New England, so it was a pleasure to write every morning, following my characters through the woods and fields I loved and knew so well.

Leah, New Hampshire is actually a fictional town, an invention my father Thomas Williams, a National Book Award winner, used in his own fiction. When I’d started writing, often setting my stories on the mountain where my parents had built a cabin and where I’d spent my childhood summers, my father suggested I use his fictional geographical names.  He passed them on to me, and I am honored to use them in my fiction now.

Much like Mary Walker’s parents’ house in Down From Cascom Mountain, my parents’ cabin was isolated.  My brother was my playmate, but when he was old enough and elected to go to boys’ camp, I was on my own.  I spent a lot of time in the woods, carting my stuffed animals on adventures, constructing houses out of branches, and befriending boulders that looked like giant creatures.  I knew my way around our land.  There were shortcuts to the brook, paths that cut across the valley, logging roads leading to open fields and trails up the mountain.  For the most part, I was content with the wilderness and my imagination.

Then, one day I “got lost” in the valley.  I stood in the middle of a field I knew well and bawled, calling out for my parents until a strange man came out of the woods.  He was a logger who’d been working nearby.  Realizing that I belonged to the cabin on the hill, he took my hand and walked me up the logging road to my incredulous mother.  She was comforting, but truly baffled at my claim, given the logger’s description of where he’d found me.

In Down From Cascom Mountain Mary has a similar memory of “getting lost” when she was a girl.  In her loneliness, she wanted her parents to notice she was “missing” and come rescue her.  Later, contemplating the autonomy her parents had encouraged, she reflects, “The mountain had raised her as much as they had.”

In many ways, my own relationship with the New Hampshire landscape has informed the way I navigate life and view the world, just as many of my own experiences have found their way into Down From Cascom Mountain, shaping events and details.

As a teenager I worked for the Appalachian Mountain Club.  I spent two summers at the lodge not far from my parents’ cabin and one summer at Pinkham Notch at the base of Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the northeastern U.S. and a wilderness rich with ghost stories.  While there, I participated in the search for a missing albino man—the spark for the legend of the ghost girl who appears in Down From Cascom Mountain.

As a crew member for the AMC we cleared trails, led hikes, cooked, cleaned, served meals, mowed, dug drainage ditches–just about anything you can think of, including search and rescue.  Later, after I left the AMC for college, I learned a crew member had fallen from a cliff and died–an event that bewildered me in the details and influenced the early chapters in my novel.

Setting my fiction in this terrain is rewarding for me, not only because it can be rugged and sometimes dangerous which is good for creating tension, but the natural world is also beautiful, full of mystery and magic.  It’s through the eyes of this wondrous  teacher that my characters find their way, sometimes lost before they can be found.

Now, having moved back to New Hampshire I treasure “getting lost” in the White Mountains whenever I can.

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BOOK GIVE AWAY

I hope I have tempted you to add this book to your to-be-read pile! You now have a chance to win a copy of the novel from the publisher. Here is how to enter:

  • Leave a comment on this post no later than June 23rd by 5:00 pm PST. Tell me one thing about the natural world which deeply resonates with you.
  • Contest is open to US and Canada mailing addresses only.
  • I will draw one winner randomly sometime after 5:00pm on June 23rd and announce the winner here on my blog by the end of the day on June 24th. I’ll also send the winner an email.

That’s it – easy, right? Good luck!!

The London Train – Book Review

[…] it was remarkable, he thought, how little mark the tumult of inward experience leaves on the external shells we inhabit. – from The London Train, page 315 –

Paul is grieving the death of his elderly mother and feels oddly detached from his wife, Elise, and their two small daughters. When he gets a frantic call from his ex-wife that their daughter, Pia, has disappeared, Paul boards a train from his home in Cardiff, Wales in order to travel to London in search of her. He finds Pia pregnant and living with her Polish boyfriend and her boyfriend’s sister, Anna, in a rundown flat. Inexplicably drawn to Anna, Paul eventually abandons his family in Wales and moves into Pia’s flat in London.

In a parallel story, Cora finds herself disenfranchised with her marriage to the much older Robert. She leaves him in London and moves back to her childhood home in Wales which she inherited after the death of her parents. When she learns that Robert has gone missing, she rushes back to London in search of him.

The London Train is about these two characters. What appears to be divergent stories, eventually weave together through a series of flashbacks, memories, and the unexpected crossing of paths during a train ride. The first half of the book follows Paul’s journey through grief and loss, betrayal and abandonment. The second half of the book, which I found much more compelling, examines Cora’s life shortly after her mother’s death and the disintegration of her marriage. It is through Cora’s story that the reader discovers the connection between Paul and Cora.

Tessa Hadley’s prose is subtle. Her narrative ebbs and flows, giving glimpses into the lives of her characters, revealing their flaws and fears, showing us their daily lives and how a chance meeting reverberates beyond them to touch the lives of those closest to them.

They were all of them sleepwalking to the edge of a great pit, like spoiled trusting children, believing they would always be safe, be comfortable. – from The London Train, page 90 –

Thematically, the novel centers around grief and loss, and  how we cover our emotional wounds. The journey through grief is symbolically captured in the relentless, monotonous movement of the London train – it moves forward and back, from London to Wales, and back to London – just as our emotions click back and forth from loss to recovery. Interestingly, the effect this had on me as a reader was almost hypnotic. The characters’ feelings are strangely muted at times – a disconcerting thing in the face of their great losses and dislocation.

With the loss of her parents behind her, and the loss of the babies she might have had ahead, she was withdrawn out of the past and future into this moment of herself, like a barren island, or a sealed box. – from The London Train, page 234 –

The London Train is a very slow moving novel. I must admit, the first half of the book dragged for me. I did not particularly like Paul, a man whose narcissism causes him to cheat on his wife, then abandon her and his children. Even when he returns to Elise, he seems to lack any understanding as to how his behavior has injured her. Luckily, the second half the book, which focuses on Cora, was better paced. Cora, although also seriously flawed and only marginally more likeable, was a character whose struggles were more relate-able to me. Cora’s grief over the loss of her mother, her inability to have children, and her loneliness were believable, and Cora becomes a more empathetic character as her story unfolds.

Overall, I found The London Train to be a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I enjoyed some of the subtlety of the novel, and Hadley’s writing drew me in. On the other hand, the pace was so slow at times, and the characters so unlikeable (especially Paul), that I found my mind drifting – I wanted these characters to just get on with their lives, figure it out, and stop being so selfish.

The London Train was long listed for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction.

Readers who enjoy literary fiction and subtle writing styles might want to give The London Train a try. Read other reviews of this book by following the links on the TLC Book Tour page.

  • Quality of Writing:
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Overall Rating:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tessa Hadley is the author of The Master Bedroom, Sunstroke and Other Stories, Everything Will Be All Right, and Accidents in the Home. Sunstroke and Other Stories was a New York Times Notable Book of 2007, and Accidents in the Home was long-listed for The Guardian’s First Book Award. She lives in Cardiff, Wales, and teaches literature and creative writing at Bath Spa University.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review on my blog through TLC Book Tours.

Wrecker – Book Review and Giveaway

They couldn’t control him and so they gave up trying. But neither could he control them, and he, too, came to understand this, and the shimmering tentative thing that stretched between them those first days thickened into something workable, something like love in overalls, love with a spade in its hand. – from Wrecker, page 28 –

Wrecker is born in 1965 in a public park in San Francisco to a mother who is homeless and desperate, but who loves him in a fierce and protective way. For three years, Lisa Fay raises her child in the best way she knows how. And then, she is arrested and imprisoned and Wrecker is turned over to social services, and eventually to an Uncle he has never met. Len brings Wrecker to the Mattole Valley located in the heart of Humboldt County, California where Len works in the timber industry and struggles to care for his disabled wife, Meg. Bow Farm is a wild place, a magical place…and it is there where Wrecker meets Ruth, Willow, Melody, and Johnny Appleseed who offer him not only sanctuary, but acceptance and love. Spanning nearly two decades, Summer Wood’s enchanting and poignant novel follows Wrecker from a toddler into early adulthood.

Wood writes with a heartfelt honesty which keeps the novel from being overly sentimental. She takes care in developing her characters, people who are flawed and damaged by life, but have room in their hearts for a young boy who helps them heal. Wood captures the exuberance and joy of childhood, and the fearlessness of a young boy growing up with beautiful, descriptive prose.

Len hadn’t even shut the engine when Wrecker was out of the truck bed and halfway to the water, his shirt wrenched off in one fluid motion and flung backward to catch in the blackberry thorns. He paused briefly to yank the boots from his feet and step out of his jeans, left his shorts on in deference to Meg, and used the giant boulder as a springboard into the fat dry August air. It held him suspended. Fourteen. Broad-shouldered. Stringy from sudden growth. And then he raised his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them and made himself a compact bullet, a musket ball swallowed with enormous splash and spray by the shining sheet of river below him – down, down, bubbles of zany laughter escaping – pushed off the soft muck of the river bottom to twist and torpedo up and break the surface with a whoop, his sun-bleached hair water slicked and slung sideways with that quick flick of the neck – “Len!” he shouted, his voice lurching up the register, “Get in here!” – from Wrecker, page 165 –

Wood explores themes of loss, grief, redemption and the healing power of love in her novel. Set against the backdrop of the breathtaking beauty of nature, her characters struggle with their every day lives, turning again and again to the common thread which binds them together – Wrecker.

What I loved most about this novel was the joy which is discovered in the most simple of things – the “sheer ambrosial sweetness of wild blackberries,” the spun wool turned into “weavings that dazzled the eye and caught the heart,” and the stretching arms of a venerable maple tree “as much part of the hillside as the rocks and soil.” What Wood does so effortlessly is capture the small things which bring us solace and wonder.

Wrecker is the story of a boy, but it is also the story of a family – a family which is not defined by blood, but which is defined by the love and care that grows between the characters. And perhaps this is what elevates the novel from a simple coming of age story to something deeper. If you are like me, Wrecker will capture your heart and leave you feeling that life, with all its ups and downs, is worth the journey when it is traveled with those who love us.

Highly Recommended.

  • Quality of Writing:
  • Plot:
  • Characters:

Overall Rating:

 

Read other reviews of this book by following the links from the TLC Book Tours page.

FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog as part of a TLC Book Tour.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Summer Wood is the author of the novels Arroyo (Chronicle Books) and Wrecker (Bloomsbury, 2011). Her non-fiction work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler and other venues. Wood teaches writing to adults at the University of New Mexico’s Taos Summer Writers’ Conference. She lives in Taos with her partner, Kathy Namba. They have three grown sons and have served as foster parents through New Mexico’s Child Protective Services. Learn more about Wood and her work by visiting the author’s website.

Read an interview with Summer Wood about Wrecker.

Follow the author’s blog, The Where of It.

BOOK GIVEAWAY

I am thrilled to be able to offer a copy of WRECKER to one lucky winner here on my blog. Giveaway is restricted to US and Canada mailing addresses. To enter:

  • Leave a comment on this post no later than May 16th at 5:00 pm (PST) indicating that you would like to be entered in the giveaway.
  • I will randomly draw a winner on May 17th and announce their name here on my blog. I will also email the winner who must respond to that email within 5 days with their snail mail address.

That’s it! Easy peasy, right?

Good luck!

Guest Post: Author Julianna Baggott (Bridget Asher) and Giveaway

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher
416 pages
ISBN 978-0-385-34390-9
Bantam (March 29, 2011)

Do you love books grounded in setting? Do you dream of visiting the French countryside? Do you love novels which include luscious descriptions of food? Do you love to read about the lives of enchanting characters? If you answered yes to all of these questions, you will not want to miss Julianna Baggott’s latest novel (written under her pen name Bridget Asher). I read this book in one day…and loved it. I am really happy to invite Julianna to my blog today for a guest post – and I am thrilled to offer a copy of the book to one lucky winner.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Read my review.

Follow the links on the TLC Book Tours page for more reviews.

Purchase this book on Amazon or at an Independent Bookstore.

“An enchantment of a book, woven out of Bridget Asher’s tenderness toward her characters, her love of the French countryside, and a gentle faith in possibilities. It held me spellbound from the first word to the last, when I put it aside with a sigh of both regret and deepest satisfaction….I madly, madly, madly loved this book!
—BARBARA O’NEAL, author of How to Bake a Perfect Life

“Unabashedly romantic and unafraid of melancholy, Asher’s book is a real charmer about a Provencal house that casts spells over the lovelorn.”
Kirkus Reviews

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Critically acclaimed, bestselling author Julianna Baggott also writes under the pen names Bridget Asher and N.E. Bode. She has published sixteen books over the last ten years. In 2006, Baggott and her husband co-founded the nonprofit organization Kids in Need – Books in Deed, that focuses on literacy and getting free books to underprivileged children in the state of Florida. She lives in Florida with her husband writer David G.W. Scott and their four kids, and is an associate professor at Florida State University’s Creative Writing Program. Learn more about Baggott and her work by visiting the author’s website. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and on her blog.

GUEST POST, by Julianna Baggott

This is one of my dirty little secrets – I had a happy childhood. Now, sure, I had an older sister who chased me with a knife, another older sister who pretended to be an exact robotic replica of herself by sometimes stuttering words and motions — “Do you want – do you want some orange juice?” she’d say jerking the carton back and forth. — and a brother who babysat me by balling me up in one of his sweatshirts and tying the sleeves behind my back and sometimes playing catch, using me as a ball.

And, yes, my mother once threw a fork into the kitchen because it was the wrong one and a dinner roll at my father because he wouldn’t split one with her.

And, yes, my father did yoga in his underwear in front of the bay windows.

And, yes, my grandfather was a double amputee who lived three blocks away in a house with handguns shoved under the sofa cushions and a grandmother with a penchant for toy poodles and not wearing any underclothing beneath her muu muus.

But, all in all, we weren’t hungry, destitute, hostile. My parents rarely argued with any real intent. It was a loud house, but not an unhappy one.

And, luckily, my mother’s side is made up of storytellers while my father’s side is comprised of secret keepers. It was the best of both worlds. On the one hand, I was handed down a goldmine of family stories and, on the other hand, I learned how potent secrets are within families. I believe that all families have wild stories to tell – some spill ‘em and some don’t.

Naturally, I write inter-generational novels. In THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED, the house in Provence that’s been in the family for generation is famous for its love stories. And Heidi’s mother passes these stories down to her two daughters, now grown. Heidi is grieving the loss of her husband and her mother finds a way to get her back to the house in Provence. Once there, Heidi – with her son and niece in tow — comes back to herself through senses, chief among them the sense of taste.

But, too, she is compelled to find out more about her mother’s secret summer in Provence. The past always haunts my novels. It haunts me. One of the crucial lines in the novel is that “Every good love story has another love hiding within it.” Sometimes these love stories are plotlines that run from one generation to the next. That’s my own reality and the one that I can’t help but bring to light in my work.

There is Heidi’s love story at the heart THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED, but it’s not the only one.

BOOK GIVEAWAY:

  • Contest open to U.S. addresses only please.
  • To enter, leave a comment on this post before 5:00 pm PST on May 2nd telling me you would like to be entered. If you’d like to, I would love to hear any story YOU have about visiting France!
  • I will draw ONE winner by May 3rd and announce it on my blog. I will also send the winner an email which they must respond to within 5 days with their snail mail.
  • The book will be sent to the winner from the publisher.

Good luck!!


The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted – Book Review

Why were we here? The three of us suddenly seemed like an unlikely trio. This was a time for Charlotte to broaden her horizons, a chance for Abbott to overcome his fears, and me? I was on a pilgrimage for the brokenhearted and was supposed to learn to live again – to be alive. – from The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, page 134 –

Heidi is still grieving her husband Henry nearly two years after his tragic death. She has closed herself off from her business as a pastry chef, and from her family and friends. Her focus is on her troubled and fearful eight year old son, Abbott. She tells him stories about his father to keep Henry’s memory alive. When Heidi’s mother proposes that Heidi travel to Provence to renovate a house which has been in their family for decades, Heidi decides to make the trip and brings Abbott and her sixteen year old niece Charlotte with her. All three characters arrive in France with emotional baggage – Abbott carries his fears of death, Charlotte is seeking acceptance after being caught between her divorced parents, and Heidi hopes only to reconcile her grief and learn how to live her life again without Henry. Beneath the warm Provence sun, surrounded by the heady aromas of French cooking, and immersed in the secrets of the past, all three will find that healing is possible.

Julianna Baggott (writing under the pseudonym Bridget Asher) captures the beauty of the French countryside and made my mouth water with her gorgeous descriptions of food which is such a huge part of French culture.

I could see the pale gold chicken resting in its deep sauce of tomatoes, garlic, peppers. I could smell the garlic, wine and fennel. Veronique served and the juices ran sparkling to the edges of my plate, carrying a hint of citrus. And the smell bloomed. – from The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, page 242 –

The characters in this novel ring true. Baggott reveals their strengths and weaknesses, and creates characters who begin to feel like old friends. In addition to Heidi, Charlotte and Abbott, there is Henry – who lives on the page through Heidi’s memories – and Heidi’s mother, a “proper” French woman who harbors a secret from her “lost summer” in Provence when Heidi was just a young girl. Julien, the Frenchman who Heidi remembers from long ago, is equal parts charm and vulnerability as he reveals that his heart is wounded after a divorce. I found myself absorbed in these characters’ lives, believing their stories, and wanting to see them find happiness.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the house in Provence which becomes a character in its own right. Throbbing with the stories of love and miracles that have unfolded within its walls, the house holds its own secrets.

The house’s mythology was not just my mother’s. It was passed down through generations – how else could it have survived and thrived? – mostly down the line of women. – from The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, page 75 –

Grief and loss and the idea of moving forward and healing are strong themes in the novel. Baggott also explores the connections between mothers and daughters and between sisters. But it is the idea of opening one’s heart to another and the liberating exhilaration of finding love which is perhaps what turns this novel of loss into one of joy and redemption.

When you’ve felt shut down and then begin to open back up, what comes alive first? You think of all the usual suspects: the senses, the heart, the mind, the soul. But then maybe all of these things are so interconnected that you can’t differentiate a stirring of the heart from a scent, the rustling of the soul from a breeze across your skin, a thought from a feeling, a feeling from a prayer. – from The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, page 241 –

I found myself racing through this novel, gulping it down and immersing myself in its comforting words. Julianna Baggott writes from the heart. Her prose is deeply felt and honest. I loved her descriptions of the French countryside, her understanding of her characters, and the way she was able to merge the stories of multiple characters into a cohesive and compelling novel.

Readers who love novels that are grounded in setting and those who are drawn to women’s fiction, will love this novel.

  • Quality of Writing:
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Overall Rating:

Want a chance to win this book? Visit the author’s guest post and learn how to enter to win a brand new copy of the book!

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for a book tour through TLC Book Tours.

Read other reviews of the book by following the links from the TLC Book Tours page.

The Postmistress – Book Review and Giveaway

If there was a place on earth in which God walked, it was the workroom of any post office in the United States of America. Here was the thick chaos of humanity rendered into order. Here was a box for each and every family in the town. Letters, bills, newspapers, catalogs, packages might be sent forth from anywhere in the world, shipped and steamed across water and land, withstanding winds and time, to journey ever forward toward this single, small, and well-marked destination. Here was no Babel. Here, the tangled lines of people’s lives unknotted, and the separate tones of voices set down upon a page were let to breach the distance.  Hand over hand the thoughts were passed. And hers was the hand at the end. – from The Postmistress, page 85 –

Frankie Bard is a young journalist at the height of her career when she finds herself in London during the Blitz, walking the streets and finding the stories which she is tasked with reporting objectively. An ocean away, in the small (fictional) town of Franklin on the tip of Cape Cod, Iris James works as the postmistress. Dedicated to her job, she believes that order and rules will keep everyone safe. Iris’s only risk in life is in love as she begins to envision a future with Harry Vale who spends hours high in the tower of the town hall, searching the waters for German U-boats. Also living in Franklin is Emma, newly wedded to the town’s doctor, Will. America has yet to enter the war raging in Europe and no one can imagine that they could possibly be in danger. But for each character, the war will touch their lives.

The Postmistress seesaws back and forth from Europe to America. When a routine child birthing goes horribly wrong, Will decides to go to London, hoping to make a difference. He leaves behind Emma who walks each day to the post office to pick up Will’s letters and leave her own to find their way back to him. Meanwhile Frankie reports the news from London – news which touches the people of Franklin, and which, for many, is too much for them to hear. As the Blitz continues with bombs falling nightly on London, Frankie begs her boss to send her into France where it is rumored that Jewish people are being rounded up. When her wish is granted, the war suddenly becomes very personal to Frankie.

Surely God ought to look down and see that one part of the story had been separated from the other, and find a way, somehow, to put them side by side. How could He stand these gaps, these enormous valleys of silence? And Europe was full of people vanishing into this quiet. – from The Postmistress, page 218 –

For Iris, a woman who has always prided herself on delivering the mail faithfully, there comes a moment when a letter arrives which she chooses to keep undelivered. She decides instead, to keep watch, to take care, to safeguard another from harm.

The Postmistress is historical fiction, but it is so much more. This is not your typical war story – instead it tells the individual stories which slide around the edges of the war.

Those tiny red lights in the dark going forward and moving away, those single Lucky Strikes, that’s what it was to be human. We lived and died, all of us – lucky strikes. Single lights and voices in the dark. – from The Postmistress, page 165 –

I found myself mesmerized by this novel which examines the very human need to shield ourselves and those we love from horror. While America sat isolated across an ocean, tens of thousands of people were being rounded up, murdered, and imprisoned – and yet that story was one which went largely unreported in the early years of WWII. When Frankie Bard decides to capture the voices of the Jews riding the trains through Europe, she is stunned by their stories. She is overwhelmed that for many of these people, she will never know what happens. The weight of this knowledge silences her – and she becomes a journalist who can no longer tell the story and deliver the news.

Some stories don’t get told. Some stories you hold on to. To stand and watch and hold it in your arms was not cowardice. To look straight at the beast and feel its breath on your flanks and not to turn – one could carry the world that way. – from The Postmistress, page 342 –

What I found most memorable about this book – apart from the poignant, beautifully crafted writing – was how the message it delivers is as current today as it was in the early 1940s. The character of Frankie keeps telling everyone “Pay attention.” Life itself depends on this for one of the characters, but in the larger picture what Frankie is saying is to take notice, learn from our mistakes, sit up and be aware, don’t look the other way. Who among us does not wish to shut off the nightly news when it gets a little too raw or violent? Don’t we sometimes want to deny others’ suffering lest it make us feel that we must do something instead of nothing? Throughout history wars have been fought, human rights have been disregarded, and the suffering of others has been buried beneath political messages. What Blake so aptly does in her novel is put a human face to the horror of war and to remind us that looking away has consequences.

The Postmistress has been getting rave reviews everywhere – and they are well deserved. Blake’s writing is sensitive, observant, and filled with the simple truths of what makes us human. I loved this book. I loved its tempo, its characters, and its message. I found nothing between its pages to criticize. Readers of historical fiction as well as literary fiction will be swept away by The Postmistress.

Highly recommended.

To read more reviews of this book, follow the links at TLC Book Tours.

Scroll to the bottom of this post to enter for a giveaway of this amazing book (contest ends March 14, 2011).

About the Author:

Sarah Blake is a New York City native. She earned her B.A. from Yale University and Ph.D. in English and American Literature from New York University. The Postmistress was a New York Times hardcover bestseller in the United States and has been sold to publishers in 13 other countries.  Blake also won South Africa’s 2010 Boeke “Readers’ Choice Prize (modeled after the UK’s Man Booker Prize) for the novel. Blake’s first novel, Grange House, (Picador, 2000) was named a “New and Noteworthy” paperback in August, 2001 by The New York Times. Blake’s essays and reviews have appeared in Good Housekeeping, US News and World Reports, The Chicago Tribune and elsewhere. Sarah Blake currently lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, and their two sons. To learn more about Blake and her work, visit the author’s website.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review on my blog through TLC Book Tours.

Book Giveaway

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
ISBN 978-0-425-23869-1
384 pages
Berkley Trade; Reprint Edition (February 1, 2011)

Thanks to the generosity of Penguin, I am happy to be able to offer one of my readers a trade paperback edition of The Postmistress.  Details:

  • Giveaway contest open from March 7 – March 14, 2011 (at 5:00 PM PST)
  • Contest open ONLY to United States and Canada mailing addresses (the publisher is mailing the book)
  • To enter, simply leave a comment on this post (before the close of the contest) telling me you would like to be entered. I would love it if you would share a memory about a particular letter – either one you received or one you sent – which had an impact on your life in some way.
  • I’ll randomly choose a winner after 5:00 PM on March 14th and announce it on my blog; I’ll also email the winner.

Good luck!!

Readers wishing to purchase this book from an Indie Bookstore may click on the book link below to find Indie sellers. I am an Indie Associate and receive a small commission if readers purchase a book through this link on my blog.

Shadow Tag – Book Review and Giveaway

If Gil didn’t know that she knew about him reading her diary, she could write things there to manipulate him. Even hurt him. She thought she would start with a simple test, some irresistible hook. – from Shadow Tag, page 27 –

A soul could be captured through a shadow. It was in the Ojibwe language. Waabaamoojichaagwaan – the word for mirror also can refer to shadow and to the soul: your soul is visible and can be seen. Gil had placed his foot on Irene’s shadow when he painted her. And though she tried to pull away, it was impossible to tug that skein of darkness from under his heel. – from Shadow Tag, page 40 –

Gil and Irene are married with three children: thirteen year old Florian (a math genius who learns from his mother to calm his anger with alcohol and drugs), eleven year old Riel (who plots elaborate survival plans to save her family in the event of disaster), and five year old Stoney (who clutches his stuffed animals in order to feel safe in a home which is becoming increasingly unpredictable). Gil is a successful artist who paints only portraits of Irene – portraits which are often humiliating and verge on the pornographic. Irene longs to leave her marriage to a man who is emotionally abusive to her and has begun to strike out at his children. But, their shared history, complicated by a love that requires Irene to submit and Gil to control, holds Irene in the marriage. When she discovers that Gil has been reading her diary, she decides to use this as a means to manipulate him, a way to force him to leave her.

Shadow Tag is a dark, disturbing, and psychologically thrilling novel about the unraveling of a marriage and the consequences for children living in a dysfunctional family. Gil is a highly intellectual man who is obsessively attached to his wife. He believes she is unfaithful to him, and is even jealous of Irene’s love for his children.

He was taciturn, depressed, sarcastic, charming. He’d grin when Irene though he was going to yell, turn fond on a dime. And he hadn’t always been so angry. The truth was, he needed Irene’s full attention. He’d had it before the children came. They took it away and he was jealous from the beginning. – from Shadow Tag, page 56 –

Irene lacks the strength to walk away from Gil – his control over her is nearly complete – so she becomes pathologically passive-aggressive, leaving tantalizing untruths in the diary she knows that Gil is reading. Their relationship becomes a game – like the title of the book, they take turns baiting each other, and all I could think about was the childhood game of tag, where one runs up and slaps another, turns and sprints away yelling “Tag, you’re it!”

Gil had a wall. Irene had a wall. Between the two walls there was a neutral, untouched area, a wilderness of all they did not know and could not imagine about the other person. – from Shadow Tag, page 151 –

Louise Erdrich’s prose is mesmerizing. She builds the tension between Gil and Irene beautifully. There can be no happy end, and yet the reader continues to read, anxious to see what will happen next, afraid to look away even though tragedy is just around the corner. Woven through the novel are references to Native American lore. Riel, the only daughter in the family, clings to her heritage for the power it represents. Irene examines and seeks understanding in the stories of her tribe and even names her daughter after an Indian poet.

A sure sign of a great book is the number of stickies that cling to its pages when I am finished reading. Shadow Tag had dozens of them. Erdrich’s writing has a poetic, yet stark quality to it. Her characters come alive on the page. She deftly controls the plot, teasing out tantalizing morsels of information that keep the reader turning the pages. Shadow Tag is not an enjoyable read – it made my mouth grow dry and my heart ache. There is an element of  inevitability which informs the story. How can things possibly be fixed between these two characters? How can the children ultimately be saved from the wreck of their family?

As I turned the final page, I found myself emotionally spent. But, even though I cannot say I enjoyed the novel, I was blown away by it. Louise Erdrich is the consummate story teller. Once the reader is in her capable hands, there is nothing to do but allow her to carry them to the end.

Readers who love literary fiction, psychological thrillers, and beautifully told stories with magnificent language, will want to read this book.

Highly recommended.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher as part of a TLC Book Tour.

Readers may read other reviews of this book by visiting the TLC Tour page for Shadow Tag and following the links.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Louise Erdrich is the author of thirteen novels as well as volumes of poetry, short stories, children’s books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel Love Medicine won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse was a finalist for the National Book Award. Most recently, The Plague of Doves won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Louise Erdrich lives in Minnesota and is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore.

BOOK GIVEAWAY

Because I had bought a hardcover copy of this book when it first came out, I have a trade paperback version of the book which the publisher provided. I am happy to give away my trade paperback to one lucky winner. Here are the details of the giveaway:

  • Contest open from February 24th through March 4th, 2011. Comments close for the giveaway on March 4th at 5:00 pm PST.
  • Contest is open INTERNATIONALLY.
  • To enter, leave a comment on this post telling me you want to be entered. If you don’t want to be entered, but want to leave a comment on the review, feel free to do so. If you do NOT say “ENTER ME,” you won’t be entered!
  • I’ll pick ONE winner using Random.org sometime after 5:00 pm PST on March 4th and announce their name on my blog. I’ll also send the winner an email.

Good luck!!

Readers wishing to purchase this book from an Indie Bookstore may click on the link below to find Indie sellers. I am an Indie Associate and receive a small commission if readers purchase a book through this link on my blog.


Shop Indie Bookstores

Small Wars – Book Review

The outrage of the collective frees the individual  to commit terrible acts. – from Small Wars, page 141 –

In the quiet times, when he thought of the siege on Pappas’s mountain camp and its conclusion, he felt doubt, like a betrayal, shadowing him. Hal had known these things happened in wars; he had thought the wars would be different. – from Small Wars, page 121 –

Hal Trehene is an officer in the British military. Bright, motivated, and moving up in the ranks, he is eager for battle but finds himself instead on Cyprus where the bright blue skies and inviting waters seem very far from war. When Hal’s wife, Clara, joins him there with their twin daughters, the mood on Cyprus is becoming tense and the rumblings of violence are growing louder. The EOKA – an anti-colonial, anti-imperialist nationalist organization – has begun to commit terrorist acts against the British military and their families in an effort to liberate Cyprus from British rule. Hal finds himself on the cusp of war where loyalty to one’s country may conflict with one’s inner moral compass.

Small Wars, Sadie Jone’s elegant second novel, is set during a difficult time in British history. The EOKA, led by George Grivas, focused their efforts against the British military, but the conflict was decidedly political and attracted front page headlines. The EOKA campaign lasted until March 1959 and was defined by terrorism, brutality, and the deaths of not only military personnel, but civilians as well. The guerilla methods of EOKA have been widely studied as an example of anti-colonial, national-liberation struggles in a period of decolonization. Into this volatile mix, Jones places her characters: the reserved and proper Hal who thinks he is prepared for war, but finds himself struggling with a type of post-traumatic stress; and the lovely Clara, who wants to support her husband but begins to feel as though she does not really know him.

This introspective novel is really about the impact of war on relationships and our sense of identity. Hal struggles with the moral decisions he is forced to make. He finds himself torn between doing the “right thing” and doing what he must do to support the military’s agenda and ultimately his country. Unable to communicate his vulnerability and fears to Clara, he instead erects an emotional wall against her which further isolates him. Clara struggles with being the good, military wife and mother while finding herself more and more alone in a dangerous situation. Neither character communicates effectively, leaving room for misunderstanding, anger, and an escalation of their own fears.

Sadie Jones is adept at getting beneath the skin of her characters. The tension in the novel is subtle, but as events begin to escalate, the reader’s unease and anxiety begins to parallel that of the characters. As in Jones’ previous novel, The Outcast (read my review), the characters are flawed, their relationship with each other seeming almost too damaged to be mended – and yet, in the end, Jones allows for the idea of redemption and leaves the reader a glimmer of hope for a happy future.

Small Wars is a gem of a novel – carefully constructed with an understated, yet elegant, plot. The historical background and geographical setting lend themselves well to the overarching theme of the small internal wars we fight to remain whole in the face of disaster. Readers of historical fiction will find this novel a compelling look at the struggle against colonial rule, and the men and women who found themselves in the middle of it.

Highly recommended.

About the author:

Sadie Jones’s first novel, The Outcast, won the UK’s coveted Costa First Novel Award and was a finalist for the Orange Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction. She lives in London. Small Wars was recently long listed for the 2010 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction.

Follow the TLC Book Tour for this novel:

FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog. Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to tour this novel.