Wednesday, July 29, 2015

{Review} STUNNED by Sarah Noffke

File Size: 643 KB
Page Count: 314
Copyright: November 20, 2014
Publisher: One-Twenty-Six Press

Book Summary:
(Taken from Goodreads)

Roya desperately wishes she was above ground, on a sunny patio, watching the lake lap up on the shore. Instead, she finds herself trapped with the Lucidites. Her brother is mysteriously wasting away, and at every turn she finds a new betrayal. Just when she thinks she’s finally escaping the Institute, a new danger unveils itself. A secret society of Dream Travelers has declared war on the Lucidites by abducting a head official. It’s up to Roya to figure out who’s behind it and how to save everyone she cares about most. More action packed than its predecessor, Stunned is captivating and will leave audiences squirming from the tension and also begging for more.

Kathy's Review:

I am just going to admit that I am a big ol’, unabashed fangirl of this series. I’m totally Team Roya/Aiden. You can’t help but also like George, and feel bad for him, but the true chemistry is with Roya and Aiden.

I loved this book just as much as I loved the first book (Awoken), but to me it seemed odd that the main conflict in the book was wrapped up pretty much 2/3 of the way through. I was waiting for there to be something else. Once Aiden was rescued, I thought maybe he was compromised in some way that would be revealed later. What was going on with Joseph certainly was a big reveal at the end, but I would have liked more clues both about what he was doing, and Trey’s role.

My only other qualm about this series is the underdevelopment of the other characters. Samara, Trent, etc. We got to see Trent shine a bit in this book, but I still really don’t feel like I know much about them and their skills. Perhaps in book three, which I plan on reading ASAP!

*An ecopy of this novel was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

{Book Spotlight} MISS EMILY by Nuala O'Connor

ISBN #: 978-0143126751
Page Count: 256
Copyright: July 14, 2015
Publisher: Penguin Books

Book Description:

The American debut of an award-winning Irish writer that brings to life Emily Dickinson and will enthrall fans of Longbourn and Mrs. Poe

Nuala O’Connor’s enchanting American debut novel, Miss Emily, reimagines the private life of Emily Dickinson, one of America’s most beloved poets, through her own voice and through the eyes of her family’s Irish maid.

Eighteen-year-old Ada Concannon has just been hired by the respected but eccentric Dickinson family of Amherst, Massachusetts. Despite their difference in age and the upstairs-downstairs divide, Ada strikes up a deep friendship with Miss Emily, the gifted elder daughter living a spinster’s life at home. But Emily’s passion for words begins to dominate her life. She will wear only white and avoids the world outside the Dickinson homestead. When Ada’s safety and reputation are threatened, however, Emily must face down her own demons in order to help her friend, with shocking consequences.

Book Trailer:

Q&A with Nuala O'Connor:

How did the idea for MISS EMILY develop?

I studied Emily’s poetry at school, taking her for my final exams, and always loved her stark depth. A few years ago I discovered she loved to bake. I bake (I have a cookery blog - so I tried some of her recipes (coconut cake and gingerbread) and mused to myself about how wonderful it would be if she had had Irish servants. I did a bit of research and found the Dickinsons had indeed employed several Irish domestics. Immediately the germ for a novel was sown.

You did lots of research for this novel, traveling to Emily Dickinson’s home and doing work in the Dickinson archives. Could you tell us more about this research? Did you learn anything especially surprising or interesting?

Once you fall for Emily Dickinson, everything you unearth about her becomes interesting. Specifically, I loved seeing Emily’s delicate calling card on display at the Jones Library in Amherst. In the Frost Library at Amherst College I was shown a lock of her extraordinarily bright red hair. It was wonderful to see Emily’s last surviving white dress on display in Amherst Historical Society. I also saw her original cherry-wood writing desk at Harvard (it’s tiny). It was a privilege to see all of these things.

Emily’s home is now a museum and, having spent so long in her company while I wrote the novel, it was very moving to stand in her bedroom, within walls she was so familiar with. But little things you discover also bring joy: like the time Emily got a prize for bread baking and it turned out her sister, Vinnie, had been one of the judges. Or the occasion when she smashed a plate because her father complained there was a chip in it.

Because Emily’s life is a life of gaps, theories are rife about her mental health, the reasons for her seclusion, her love interests etc. Lyndall Gordon, one of her biographers, called her ‘a lover who joked; a mystic who mocked heaven.’ She also thought Emily might be epileptic. Others feel she was disappointed in love. I am happy to read the theories and debate them but, in the end my conclusion is simple: Emily was a writer, introverted and sensitive perhaps, but also direct and articulate, and utterly unafraid of her own talent and passion for words.

It’s well-known that Emily Dickinson was reclusive and eccentric, and in this novel you give readers a glimpse into why she might have preferred to be withdrawn—but she also appears fairly engaged with the world around her, if in an unusual way. Could you talk about this dynamic?

The Dickinsons were eccentric as a family – they were singular and separate, and yet the men in the family practically ran Amherst and were important and respected there.
MISS EMILY aims to show that while Emily lived a pared-back life, at a physical remove from the town, her engagement with the inner and outer world was large, emotional and important. She delighted in writing, in the natural world and in her close group of friends, family and servants. Emily was actually wry and funny – she was not the angsty, cheerless, obsessed-with-death recluse of legend. Yes, she was intense and sometimes cryptic, but she was dearly loved by those close to her as much for her warmth as for her brilliant mind.

Your novel explores the relationship between Emily and her sister-in-law, Susan, a friendship that Dickinson scholars aren’t sure how to classify—was it a close, intense friendship, or something more? How did you determine how to depict this relationship in MISS EMILY?

Their relationship was certainly very deep and ardent, perhaps moreso from Emily’s side. Many Victorian friendships had that kind of intensity that looks to us now more like a love relationship: sweet notes and poems exchanged, a sharing of beds etc. Emily said she hoped that she and Sue would be buried together (they weren’t). I think Emily was demanding as a friend, she was passionate and enthused. She only had a small circle and she expected a lot of each of the people in it. In the novel I wanted to show that Sue, especially, captured Emily’s heart and imagination: she adored her, idolized her. I doubt if they were lovers but they definitely loved and respected one another.

Is Ada based on a real person?

No. It was more satisfying for me to invent one of the main characters as I was already dealing with fictionalizing so many real people in the book (the Dickinsons et al). The family did not have a maid in 1866 so I inserted Ada in there and made her a cousin of Maggie Maher, who subsequent to 1866, became the Dickinsons’ real-life maid. It was useful to make Ada Maggie’s cousin because I was able to draw on the realities of Maggie’s family (their migration to the USA, their home-place in Tipperary etc.)

How did your identity as an Irish writer influence the development of Ada’s character?

Ada’s home-place, Tigoora, is my home-place in County Dublin (now called Palmerstown) and my grandparents worked on the Baron’s estate where Ada works at the beginning of the story. So her language is an older version of the language of my childhood and her landscape (the river Liffey, the fields) is one I am totally familiar with. Dublin people are known for their talkativeness and Ada talks endlessly; she is also imbued with religion and superstition, which marry quite happily in the Irish personality.

Many early fans of MISS EMILY have noted that the language of the novel evokes Dickinson’s poetry. Did you set out to channel her voice? If so, how did you go about this?

Yes, I wanted to make Emily sound as playful as she often was in her letters and poetry. But the problem is, if you reproduced her speech as it really was on the page, she would sound quite odd and overblown. So I had to tone her down a bit, while still maintaining her love of words. In a sense I had to write a new language for her, one heavily influenced by her writings but with a stripped down, more modern sensibility. In writing historical literary fiction, you never want to veer into pastiche. I refashioned many of Emily’s famous sentences, which may not please some purists but was an enjoyable task for me. And it was important too – she had to be my version of Emily.

While this is your American debut, you’re known in Ireland for several novels, short story collections, and poetry. How did your experience with all these different genres inform your approach to MISS EMILY?

I think it’s very useful being a multi-genre author when it comes to writing novels, especially literary fiction. Short stories teach you to value concision; poetry makes you inventive and sprightly with language; novels make you commit yourself easily to long projects. Language is something consecrated to me – I was brought up bilingual. Most of my education was through the medium of Irish (Gaelic) –up to Masters level – and we spoke English at home. So my ear was always tuned in to two separate languages. If you’re a voracious reader, as I have always been, and you live between two languages, that makes language/sentences/words/meaning important and interesting to you. When it came to writing MISS EMILY the prose had to reflect something of the staccato style of Emily’s poetry but it also had to have a poetry of its own.

What are some of your other literary influences? If you wrote about another author, who would it be?

I count so many writers as influences, among them Edna O’Brien, Anne Enright, Annie Proulx, Ernest Hemingway, Amy Bloom, Michel Faber and on and on.

I am endlessly fascinated by the lives of authors, which feels like a rude, nosy pursuit but I can’t help myself. I devour biographies and I have written separate short stories featuring Elizabeth Bishop, Frida Kahlo and Sylvia Plath, for example. In terms of a novel, Jean Rhys springs to mind. She was variously the author of Wide Sargasso Sea, a child of Dominica, a nude model, an actress and a demimondaine. Now there was a life!

At the moment I am writing another Victorian novel, based on a real-life London dance hall girl who married an Irish Viscount. Their story is fascinating.

If you could ask Emily Dickinson three questions, what would they be?

  1. Would you have liked to travel the world, other than in your glorious mind?
  2. How did you feel when your brother Austin betrayed his wife – your beloved Susan – with Mabel Loomis Todd?
  3. Does it please you how much your poetry is loved and venerated now?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

{2015 TBR Pile Challenge Review} THE LIKENESS by Tana French

Kathy's Review:
(Copied with her permission from her blog, Grown Up Book Reports)

This is the sequel to In the Woods, although it’s been so long since I read that one, that it may as well be a standalone book. I don’t think you need to read In the Woods to enjoy this one. I went back and read my review, which was pretty sparse. So that doesn’t tell me anything except that Cassie was a character in the book. In The Likeness, however, she is the main character. As a former undercover agent, Cassie is brought to the scene of a murder because the girl who has been killed not only looks exactly like Cassie, but has taken the identification of Lexie Madison, a pseudonym Maddox used when she was undercover. It’s doubly creepy.

Frank, a manipulative detective who worked with Cassie when she was undercover, convinces Cassie to assume the life of “Lexie” and see if she can uncover who murdered her. They somehow play off the fact that Lexie is dead, and invent a story about a coma. Once Cassie has studied as much as possible about the dead girl’s life, and her four housemates, she infiltrates.

The story unwinds slowly, and we are as much in the dark about Lexie’s fate as Cassie is. Bits are revealed but we don’t know what to make of them. There’s an element of fear that pervades through the book – at any moment, Cassie could be found out. And obviously the murderer knows he finished the job, so when will he reveal himself? (Or she. I guess.)

A tad disappointing in that there were a ton of red herrings and some loose ends that didn’t get tied up nicely. But a very interesting and unnverving story, written beautifully.

Another one to check off for the TBR Pile Challenge!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


ISBN #: 978-1514787267
Page Count: 314
Copyright: July 3, 2015
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

(Taken from back cover)

Living a secluded life in Belgium, Sei has no thoughts of returning to her former life as an assassin until a mysterious person confronts her with a contract she can’t possibly turn down. Payment isn’t monetary; instead, it’s information leading to the whereabouts of a little girl.


In a matter of seconds, Sei is pulled back into a world she left behind. She accepts the contract to chase the truth about her daughter, but what appears to be a routine mission turns into a fight for survival. If Sei is to have any hope of reuniting with her child, she must first save herself.

Charlene's Review:

Sei is first introduced to readers in Mr. Hutchinson’s Chinatown Trilogy. In Contract:Snatch, Sei has been enjoying a self-imposed hiatus from her work, until a mysterious message comes in and Sei is confronted with the possibility that the daughter she lost at childbirth is actually alive and being held in exchange for a dangerous mission.

Every time I receive a Ty Hutchinson book for review, it’s like Christmas. I am never sure what is inside but I know, without a doubt, the surprise will be delightful. Contract may be the most adrenaline fueled book yet. The protagonist is once again, an unassuming, ballsy female raised for the fight. From the very first page, the tone is set on high action, and it continues until the very last page.

Sei lacks the sarcasm of some of Mr. Hutchinson’s characters, which I missed, but her drive and acrobatics make for an interesting character study. As always, there is food, mystery and unexpected twists that accompany the storyline, and the ending leaves you breathless in anticipation. No "contract" is necessary here because waiting on Book Two is murder!

5 out of 5 stars!

*A physical copy of this novel was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

{Review} THOSE SECRETS WE KEEP by Emily Liebert

ISBN #: 978-0451471871
Page Count: 336
Copyright: June 2, 2015
Publisher: NAL

(Taken from Amazon)

Three women. Three lives. Three secrets.

On the surface, Sloane has the perfect life—an adoring husband, a precocious daughter, and enough financial security to be a stay-at-home mom. Still, she can’t help but feel as though something—or someone—is missing....

Hillary has a successful career and a solid marriage. The only problem is her inability to conceive. And there’s a very specific reason why....

As the wild-child daughter of old family money, Georgina has never had to accept responsibility for anything. So when she realizes an unexpected life change could tie her down forever, she does exactly what she’s always done: escape.

When these three women unite for a three-week-long summer vacation in beautiful Lake George, New York, even with the idyllic location as their backdrop, the tensions begin to mount. And they quickly discover that no secret can be kept forever....

Mandy's Review:

There comes a point in a person's life when it's thought, "Have I taken the right path?" What if I would've chosen a different spouse? What if I would've gone off to college instead of staying home? What if I would've taken the hard road instead of taking it easy all the time? Would I still end up here? I don't know if these are mid-life crisis questions or not, but I've looked at my life at times and have wondered some of these. Sloane is in the same situation. Her husband treats her like a queen. He loves her and would do anything to make her happy. When you have a spouse that does that all the time, you become used to having it and start taking him/her for advantage. That's what's happened with Sloane.

Her time at her aunt's lake house is supposed to be fore Sloane trying to figure out if she wants to stay in her marriage. Instead, Georgina crashes the "party" and creates a situation for Sloane that wasn't expected ... reuniting Sloane with her ex-flame. Spending time with her formal lover has Sloane desiring a life of luxury and ease. Will she give in to temptation and go where the grass seems greener?

Hillary, Sloane's newest best friend, seems like she's got it all together. Her marriage is one of the best Sloane has ever seen. We all have a secret we don't like to share, though, and Hillary is no exception. She's hidden hers for three long years and she's starting to feel guilty enough to share it with her husband. Will he still love her after he finds out?

Georgina is the wild-child of the group and Sloane's long-time best friend. She's never been really reliable, always skipping out when the going gets tough. Which should've given Sloane some type of clue as to why Georgina would just invite herself to come to the lake house, but it didn't. Probably because Sloane is so wrapped up in her own problems.

At first, this book seemed like a light read and, if you don't contemplate it too much, it stays that way. Me, though? I like to contemplate. The three women really showcase what I believe is inside every woman.

Georgina represents the side of us that just wants to run away when we can't take any more. Some responsibilities scare the bejeezus (sp?) out of us and we just want to go somewhere and forget about things for a while ... maybe forever. What do most of us do, though? We stick it out - have a slight panic attack every now and then - and then pick right back up where we left off. Because, deep down, we're nurturers and our sense of responsibility weighs on us heavily.

Hillary represents the side of us that enjoys being Suzy Homemaker. We're good at it, we do what we're supposed to, and we're always prepared while doing it. We always look presentable and that we have it all together.

Sloane represents the biggest part of us whether we want to admit it or not. It's the part we keep pushing down and hiding because of our sense of responsibility. We're always wondering if we chose the right path, if we're with the right person, if we should've done something different. It feels too late to do anything about it now though, right? You can always change your life, you just have to decide if you can really live with the consequences of your decisions. That's the real dilemma.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and appreciated that it was a quick read. It kept my interest throughout. I also appreciated the way it ended. It felt real and not something written just to make people happy.

*A physical copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

{Review} LOVE STORY FOR A NATION by Mark W. Sasse

ISBN #: 978-1514131978
Page Count: 232
Copyright: June 30, 2015
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

(Taken from back cover)

A country at a crossroads. Angry fists in the air. Night raids burn the city.

The mundane existence of Gerald Sanpatri takes a welcome and dramatic shift when Rosia walks into his life bringing laughter, joy, and unexpected love. She inspires the former revolutionary figure and writer to once again take up his pen and imagination to dream the impossible - a love story for an entire nation.

Charlene's Review:

When we first meet Gerald Sanpatri, he is celebrating his first wedding anniversary with his wife, Rosia, who has just revealed they are expecting a child. Living under a dictator, Gerald hides deep secrets to a past he thinks he’s left behind, in order to protect his new family. Unfortunately, Geralds life takes a drastic turn, and all he has left are the journals his beloved Rosia left him, and the determination to stand firm. As secrets unfold and protests reach a breaking point, Gerald uses his pen to give life to his unborn child, and a future to a country he loves.

There are numerous layers to unpack within this novel. Obviously, a love story between Gerald and Rosia, but also a story of a country under dictatorship, of personal betrayal, loss, and fear, and a story of ultimate surrender. The ending is a poignant portrayal of sacrifice.

I have enjoyed several novels by Mr. Sasse, but this story deeply affected me. Gerald, as a character, is submissive and powerful all at the same time. The oppression with which the country is faced is remarkable and Mr. Sasse’s writing reflects the fear and hopelessness of the people caught under it. The poetic justice of the story comes in the simple act of a humble man, standing firm against tyranny, without weapon or malice. Beautiful and hauntingly written.

*A physical copy was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

{Review} THE LOFT by Diane Paley

ISBN #: 978-1910530542
Page Count: 188
Copyright: April 24, 2015
Publisher: Mirador Publishing

Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

THE LOFT is a gripping story about a young couple who rent a fifth floor residential loft and are soon witnesses to ghostly apparitions. Later, they discover that their neighbors in the loft below them are satanic devil worshipers who are members of a little known evil and deadly cult that makes human sacrifices to Satan. Although THE LOFT includes episodes of several hauntings, the story is about so much more than the paranormal events. However, as the story unfolds and the apparitions no longer appear, the spirits still affect the lives of the main characters throughout the novel. The previous residents of the fifth floor loft felt certain that the cult was responsible for the disappearance of their beloved dog, and the owners of the sixth floor were convinced that the cult was responsible for the murder of their four-year-old daughter. Those residents eventually fled their homes out of sheer fear. Unknowingly, the young couple rented the fifth floor loft and, regretfully, their lives would be confronted with eerie hauntings and later they would become victims of the brutal satanic cult. Diane Paley's previous novels, SLANTED and BACKING AWAY FORWARD, were written in completely different genres. THE LOFT is as unique and compelling as her other novels.

Shelley's Review:

The Loft by Diane Paley is a unique and interesting twist on your typical mystery/whodunit. The main character, Mara, and her husband Noah suffer through the trials and tribulations of any newly married couple.  After finding out Mara is pregnant, and with twins, the couple agree that their tiny apartment is not  big enough and they find a beautiful loft with plenty of space.   Soon, though they realize something is not right.  Strange neighbors and sightings of things not of this world start to concern Mara and Noah.  And then, Mara disappears, and all clues point to the strange neighbors.  Mara finds herself a victim of a kidnapping with horrible intentions.

Ms. Paley managed something that few have.  She has constructed a mystery without the unnecessary blood and gore overload.  There is enough to keep the reader interested without wading through a cesspool of a story.

*A physical copy of this novel was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

{Review} OF FOREIGN BUILD by Jackie Parry

File Size: 1124 KB
Page Count: 402
Copyright: October 30, 2014

Book Summary:
(Taken from Goodreads)

After suffering an emotionally-brutal bereavement and against her counsellor’s advice, Jackie ran away. Suddenly within a new culture, with a new husband, and no friends, she was living in the obscure world of cruising with zero knowledge of boats.

Crashing within the first twenty-four hours, Jackie realised life would never be the same again; a floating home with no fridge or hot water, and with a dinghy instead of a car. Suffering self doubts, she became fearful of her new world.

The first off-shore voyage took Jackie into a ferocious storm, which battered her physically and mentally. Amid the raging seas, Jackie shed the fear she’d been harbouring.

Soon she was blissfully voyaging around the world, but she still carried the mixed emotions of losing one man, while falling head over heels in love with another.

Not only did Jackie deal successfully with the challenges of her new existence, she also battled with the testosterone fuelled nautical world to become both a professional captain and a qualified maritime teacher. Most importantly, Jackie found herself.

Kathy's Review:

This is a travel journal, really. It’s a history of her travels around the world, with a boat as her home. It is told in a very frank, unadorned manner; a stripped down, bare bones version of what happened. In that way, I think the writing style is a bit on the dry side. The book meanders on, kind of like the ocean itself – calm at times, then choppy, then calm again.

At each port, Jackie encounters a different culture, a different way the people either embrace or distrust them, different food, different attitudes toward women. I appreciated that part of it, because many, many places she visited I had either never heard of, or would probably never travel to myself.

And of course, Jackie’s personal journey is interwoven throughout. It’s great to see how she evolves as a person, in her marriage, and in her confidence with the seas she is sailing. Truly inspirational to anyone who’s ever considered giving up a desk job to do something unconventional. This is about as unconventional as you can get!

Thanks to Jackie, who participated in an author chat with Literary R&R several months ago. Her stories were very engaging and we all came away from that chat feeling very inspired.

*An ecopy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
If you are using, you can simply drop the html below in a widget in the footer or at the bottom of the sidebar.