Blog Tour & Book Review: The Hummingbird

The Hummingbird

I’m delighted to be participating in the blog tour celebrating the release of The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan. Thank you, TLC Book Tours, for including me!

Synopsis:

Deborah Birch is a seasoned hospice nurse who never gives up—not with her patients, not in her life. But her skills and experience are fully tested by the condition her husband, Michael, is in when he returns from his third deployment to Iraq. Tormented by nightmares, anxiety, and rage, Michael has become cold and withdrawn. Still grateful that he is home at last, Deborah is determined to heal him and restore their loving, passionate marriage.

But Michael is not her only challenge. Deborah’s primary patient is Barclay Reed, a retired history professor and fierce curmudgeon. An expert on the Pacific Theater of World War II, Barclay is suffering from terminal kidney cancer and haunted by ghosts from his past, including the academic scandal that ended his career.

Barclay’s last wish is for Deborah to read to him from his final and unfinished book—a little-known story from World War II that may hold the key to helping Michael conquer his demons. Together, nurse, patient, and soldier embark on an unforgettable emotional journey that transforms them all, offering astonishing insights into life and death, suffering and finding peace.

Told with piercing empathy and heartbreaking realism, The Hummingbird is a masterful story of marital commitment, service to country, the battles we fight for those we love, learning to let go, and finding absolution through wisdom and acceptance.

My thoughts:

The Hummingbird is a quiet yet powerful look at love, acceptance, peace, and dignity. With a hospice nurse as its central figure, The Hummingbird has a calmness to it even when dealing with sorrow and anger.

Deborah is a remarkable woman, and it’s hard not to marvel at the peaceful focus and commitment she brings to her work. Deborah doesn’t view her patients as tragedies or medical lost causes. Instead, her job is to focus on each patient as an individual. Death is already a certainty; it’s Deborah’s purpose to make sure that her patients meet death with the comfort and space they need in order to have a dignified end.

At the same time that we witness Deborah’s work with the Professor, we see her struggling to reclaim her warrior husband Michael, a damaged soul who returns from his third tour in Iraq full of violence, rage, and guilt. Through her work with Barclay Reed and her reading of his unpublished manuscript, Deborah begins to find clues that will help her reach Michael. The more she reads about the Japanese soldier who became a man of peace and forged relationships with his former enemies, the more she learns about how to take steps toward her husband and help him truly find his way home again.

I found The Hummingbird incredibly moving. While I’d had certain preconceptions about the concept of hospice, I’ve never actually encountered it in my own life or in my reading until now. Reading about Deborah, her attitude and her approach, and what hospice provides for patients and their families was eye-opening for me. I was so impressed and touched by the degree of caring, the focus, and the compassion on display. Deborah’s interactions with Barclay are beautiful — not sugar-coated or avoiding the messier elements of illness, but simply caring and placing the patient’s total self above any other concerns.

Deborah’s relationship with her husband was quite touching as well. Michael is damaged and seems almost unfixable, but Deborah doesn’t accept that he’s beyond reach. It isn’t easy and it isn’t pretty, but we see scenes that show the rawness of returning veterans, their inability to fit back into society, and how little true help is available without a fight. It’s sad to realize how real this all is, and what’s more — as illustrated by an affecting scene involving Michael and a Vietnam vet — how little has changed or improved for soldiers in terms of how they’re treated when their fighting is done.

I would be remiss not to mention how powerful the third element of this story is. In chapters interspersed with the modern-day story, we read Barclay Reed’s manuscript, titled The Sword, telling the story of a Japanese bomber pilot whose World War II mission was to firebomb Oregon and cause panic and destruction on US soil. Although his mission did not succeed, the impact of his mission was felt by him and by the Oregon community targeted by his mission for decades to come. The story of connection and reconciliation is lovely, and surprised me by not going in the direction I’d expected.

These three threads — Deborah and the Professor, Deborah and Michael, and the story of The Sword — are woven together to create a beautiful story of redemption and forgiveness. The Hummingbird makes clear that it’s human connection that matters above all else, and that it’s never too late to find peace.

I strongly recommend The Hummingbird. The writing is lovely, the subject matter is quite unusual, and the characters will touch your heart.

Links:

Goodreads:
 
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About the Author:

Stephen P. KiernanStephen P. Kiernan is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. During his more than twenty years as a journalist, he has won numerous awards, including the Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Award, the Edward Willis Scripps Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment, and the George Polk Award. Kiernan is the author ofThe Curiosity, his first novel, as well as two nonfiction books. He lives in Vermont with his two sons.

Find out more about Stephen at his website and connect with him on Facebook.

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The details:

Title: The Hummingbird
Author: Stephen P. Kiernan
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: September 8, 2015
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours

tlc logoFor further information, visit the author’s website or stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.

 

Blog Tour & Giveaway: The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach

Thank you for joining me for my stop on the blog tour for Pam Jenoff’s new historical romance, The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach! And don’t forget to check out my giveaway — scroll down to enter… and good luck!

Last Summer

Synopsis:

Summer 1941  

Young Adelia Monteforte flees fascist Italy for America, where she is whisked away to the shore by her well-meaning aunt and uncle. Here, she meets and falls for Charlie Connally, the eldest of the four Irish-Catholic boys next door. But all hopes for a future together are soon throttled by the war and a tragedy that hits much closer to home.

Grief-stricken, Addie flees—first to Washington and then to war-torn London—and finds a position at a prestigious newspaper, as well as a chance to redeem lost time, lost family…and lost love. But the past always nips at her heels, demanding to be reckoned with. And in a final, fateful choice, Addie discovers that the way home may be a path she never suspected.

My Thoughts:

I have really mixed feelings about this book. First, the positive: I thought the author did a great job conveying the feel of Philadelphia and the Jersey beaches in the 1940s. The street scenes and depictions of life in a summer beach town were very convincing. I really enjoyed seeing Adelia’s unofficial adoption into the Connally clan. This big, noisy Irish family just opened their hearts and home to her, and it was heartwarming to see this lonely, frightened immigrant girl find a place to fit in.

Likewise, the scenes set in wartime London were stirring, especially seeing the devastation of the Blitz and the danger of simply walking down a street, as well as the sad plight of war orphans and the courage of the war correspondents and soldiers setting off on secret missions. The risks and uncertainty add a sense of breathlessness to every interaction, and I liked seeing Addie find a place amidst the chaos and confusion, seeming to discover a calling of her own.

What worked less well for me was the romance, or rather, romances, that are at the heart of the story. To put it bluntly, I just didn’t buy any of Addie’s love interests. I found her actions and decisions confusing, and even by the very end of the story, I wasn’t convinced by her supposed motivations or feelings. Part of the problem may have been the condensed time frame of the story, covering about four years starting from when Addie is sixteen. An awful lot happens in that amount of time, including romantic entanglements that spring up almost instantly and some that seem to dissolve just as quickly.

For me, The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach seemed over-plotted, and I didn’t feel that the emotional arcs built, but rather jumped from point A to point B (or even C). The romantic aspects of this book just didn’t gel, but I did enjoy the historical setting and the way the descriptions evoke a real sense of a by-gone era.

Find out more:


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Purchase Links

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

About the Author:

Pam-Jenoff-credit-Dominic-Episcopo-200x300Pam Jenoff is the Quill-nominated internationally bestselling author of The Kommadant’s Girl. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University and a master’s degree in history from Cambridge, and she received her Juris Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania. Jenoff’s novels are based on her experiences working at the Pentagon and also as a diplomat for the State Department handling Holocaust issues in Poland. She lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.

Connect with Pam:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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The details:

Title: The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach
Author: Pam Jenoff
Publisher: Mira
Publication date: July 28, 2015
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours

tlc logoFor further information, stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.

 

 

 

GIVEAWAY!

I’m excited to be giving away a bookbag and finished copy of the book! Want to win? No fancy footwork required — just leave a comment below answering any one of these questions:

– What’s the best book you’ve read set during wartime?
– What beach holds special memories for you, and why?
– If you could live in a different period in history, what would you choose?

Extra credit: Do you follow Bookshelf Fantasies? Let me know in the comments if you follow me and how (email, Twitter, WordPress, etc), and you get an extra entry in the giveaway!

That’s it! I’ll do a random drawing on September 1st to pick a winner. Thanks for playing along!

(Sorry — US/Canada only this time around)

Blog Tour & Book Review: What You Left Behind

What You Left BehindWith thanks to Sourcebooks Fire, I’m delighted to be participating in the blog tour celebrating the release of What You Left Behind, the new teen novel by Jessica Verdi.

About the Book

Jessica Verdi, the author of My Life After Now and The Summer I Wasn’t Me, returns with a heartbreaking and poignant novel of grief and guilt that reads like Nicholas Sparks for teens.

It’s all Ryden’s fault. If he hadn’t gotten Meg pregnant, she would have never stopped her chemo treatments and would still be alive. Instead he’s failing fatherhood one dirty diaper at a time. And it’s not like he’s had time to grieve while struggling to care for their infant daughter, start his senior year, and earn the soccer scholarship he needs to go to college.

The one person who makes Ryden feel like his old self is Joni. She’s fun and energetic—and doesn’t know he has a baby. But the more time they spend together, the harder it becomes to keep his two worlds separate. Finding one of Meg’s journals only stirs up old emotions. Ryden’s convinced Meg left other notebooks for him to find, some message to help his new life make sense. But how is he going to have a future if he can’t let go of the past?

My Thoughts:

I’ll keep this brief… because if that synopsis doesn’t grab you and make you want to read this book, like, yesterday, then I’m not sure what else I could possibly say to grab your attention!

What You Left Behind is unusual in the increasingly crowded field of contemporary young adult fiction: It’s a teen drama full of loss and hope, told not through the eyes of the tragically dying Meg or by new love interest Joni, but by Ryden himself. I don’t recall reading any other YA novels recently with a male narrator who’s experienced anything quite like Ryden. Age 17, high school senior, father. Bereaved as a teen without every really getting to start a life with the girl he loved. Work, school, soccer, trying to be a good dad, trying to be a good son, and still trying to understand what really happened with Meg.

You can’t help but love Ryden. He didn’t ask for any of this. Meg insisted on keeping the pregnancy, even though it meant going without chemo for all those months. All Ryden wanted was to love Meg and do anything in his power to keep her healthy… and here he is six months after her death, stressed out, feeling like a terrible father, having to face the reality that the life he thought he was meant for is now forever out of reach.

Jessica Verdi’s writing is beautiful in its heartfelt sorrow and frustration and bitterness. Ryden is a giant mess, and he screws up a lot — but I challenge any reader not to feel complete sympathy with him. He’s in a horrible situation, and even though he has an amazing mother who supports him wholeheartedly, his life really does suck at the moment when we first meet him. Watching him go through the process of grieving and figuring things out and finally starting to see a glimmer of hope is painful. Ryden’s emotions are raw and brutal, and he makes some big mistakes, and really doesn’t understand the world around him or what his new life really is a lot of the time. But it’s impossible to blame him for anything. He’s in a horrible situation, not of his making, and — he’s only 17! He’s bound to make mistakes, but I can’t help but admire the courage and grit he shows in just waking up and moving forward day after day.

The author knows how to get inside a teen’s head and explore all the contradictory wants and needs lurking there. The writing doesn’t condescend and doesn’t shy away from showing the good, the bad, and the ugly. The story didn’t necessarily go where I thought it would, but I was invested every step of the way and couldn’t look away.

My only complaint is that the author made me care so much about these characters that I wanted more at the end. I like the ending of the book very much, which makes it clear that a new chapter is just beginning and that Ryden finally has a path ahead of him that can lead to happiness. But (and maybe this is the mom in me speaking!), I wanted to know more. I really want to know what Ryden’s life is like in a year, in two years, and in five. What happens next? What does he decide to do with himself? How does he grow as a person and as a father? I think it’s a testament to the power of this novel that I feel invested enough to have so many questions.

Bottom line: If you enjoy contemporary YA fiction that deals with tough subjects with honesty and emotion, don’t miss What You Left Behind. And for more by Jessica Verdi, check out her excellent previous novel, The Summer I Wasn’t Me (reviewed here).

More Info:

Purchase Here:

What You Left Behind

Amazon | Apple | B&N | BAM | !ndigo | IndieBound | Kobo

About the Author

Jessica Verdi lives in Brooklyn, NY and received her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School. Her favorite pastimes include singing show tunes at the top of her lungs (much to her husband’s chagrin), watching cheesy TV, and scoring awesome non-leather shoes in a size 5. She’s still trying to figure out a way to put her uncanny ability to remember both song lyrics and the intricacies of vampire lore to good use. Follow Jess on Twitter @jessverdi.

Connect with Jessica Verdi

Website – http://jessicaverdi.com/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/JessVerdi

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/authorjessicaverdi

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6442339.Jessica_Verdi

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The details:

Title: What You Left Behind
Author: Jessica Verdi
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date: August 4, 2015
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Sourcebooks Fire

Blog Tour & Book Review: The Uninvited

The Uninvited

I admit, I had seen a ghost or two.

I’m delighted to be participating in the blog tour celebrating The Uninvited, a new novel by Cat Winters. This is the author’s first book for adults, following two successful YA releases. Thank you, TLC Book Tours, for inviting me to participate!

Synopsis:

Twenty-five-year-old Ivy Rowan rises from her sickbed after being struck by the great influenza epidemic of 1918, only to discover that the world has been torn apart in just a few short days.

But Ivy’s lifelong gift—or curse—remains. She sees the uninvited ones—ghosts of loved ones who appear to her, unasked for and unwelcomed, for they always herald impending death. On that October evening in 1918, Ivy sees the spirit of her grandmother, rocking in her mother’s chair. An hour later, she learns her younger brother and father have killed a young German out of retaliation for the death in the Great War of Ivy’s other brother, Billy.

Horrified, she leaves home and soon realizes that the flu has caused utter panic and the rules governing society have broken down. Ivy is drawn into this new world of jazz, passion, and freedom, where people live for today, because they could be stricken by nightfall. She even enters into a relationship with the murdered German man’s brother, Daniel Schendel. But as her “uninvited guests” begin to appear to her more often, she knows her life will be torn apart once again, and terrifying secrets will unfold.

My thoughts:

The Uninvited crept up on me, little by little, until I was completely hooked. I wouldn’t say it has a slow start, because there’s certainly nothing about the pace to criticize. What I mean, really, is that it’s subtle and quiet to start with. The author sets the story in small-town Illinois, which should give the book a quaint, peaceful feel — except for the particular place in history chosen as the setting.

It’s October of 1918. Anti-German (and more generally, anti-foreigner) sentiment couldn’t be higher. The American Protection League is busy harassing outsiders into isolation and flight, spying on “good” Americans to make sure they’re behaving correctly, and inciting anger and violence in formerly friendly neighbors. While families lose husbands and sons to the Great War overseas, the horrible and deadly influenza pandemic strikes without warning, and the death toll mounts unbelievably quickly.

Ivy, the main character, is a young woman raised on a farm, frightened by her alcoholic, violent father, in mourning for her brother Billy, killed in the war. Hatred and fear are the overriding emotions all around her, but once she flees her family home to start fresh in town, she encounters friendship, passion, and love that she never expected. Ivy is an unusual character, really well defined, who seeks independence when she realizes how intolerable her family has become. She sets out to make a difference any way she can, and ends up driving an ambulance on a rogue mission to rescue the poor and unwanted flu victims who aren’t white or American enough to merit treatment in the one good hospital in town.

I loved Ivy’s backbone. She goes where she needs to go, stands up to creepy APL members, and chooses connection and physical intimacy despite all the reasons to stay away. She’s drawn to the wild jazz music she hears every night, which represents freedom and a new kind of society to her.

From setting the stage at the beginning, the author builds the tension and stakes as the story progresses. And then, bam! By about 3/4 of the way through the book, I suddenly found myself gobbling up every word, unable to look away.

Something happens along the way which changes the meaning of everything that came earlier, but I won’t say more than that. It’s enough to say that this is one of those books that’ll make you want to start all over again from the beginning once you’ve read it, to see what you missed the first time around and look at events from a different angle.

The Uninvited is a curious mix of historical fiction and ghost story, and the combination really works! The setting and time could not be more dramatic, and I loved the cast of characters, including memorable supporting characters (such as the frightened Red Cross volunteers and Ivy’s ex-suitor) in addition to Ivy herself and her sexy but aloof love interest Daniel.

Absolutely recommended for anyone with an interest in the time period, as well as anyone who enjoys well-developed characters and a plot that informs, moves, and surprises the reader. Okay, basically, recommended for everyone! I plan to read Cat Winters’s YA books as soon as I can, and I do hope she’ll continue writing more for adults as well.

Find out more:

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Purchase Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble
 

About the Author:

Cat WintersCat Winters’s debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, was released to widespread critical acclaim. The novel has been named a finalist for the 2014 Morris Award, a School Library Journal Best Book of 2013, and a Booklist 2013 Top 10 Horror Fiction for Youth. Winters lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two children.

Find out more about Cat at her website, and follow her on tumblrPinterestFacebook, and Twitter.

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The details:

Title: The Uninvited
Author: Cat Winters
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication date: August 11, 2015
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours

tlc logoFor further information, stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.

 

 

Blog Tour & Book Review: Second Life

Bookshelf Fantasies is participating in the blog tour for the release of Second Life, author S. J. Watson’s second novel following the huge hit Before I Go To Sleep.

Second Life

Synopsis:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Before I Go to Sleep, a sensational new psychological thriller about a woman with a secret identity that threatens to destroy her.

How well can you really know another person? How far would you go to find the truth about someone you love?

When Julia learns that her sister has been violently murdered, she must uncover why. But Julia’s quest quickly evolves into an alluring exploration of own darkest sensual desires. Becoming involved with a dangerous stranger online, she’s losing herself . . . losing control . . . perhaps losing everything. Her search for answers will jeopardize her marriage, her family, and her life.

A tense and unrelenting novel that explores the secret lives people lead; and the dark places in which they can find themselves, Second Life is a masterwork of suspense from the acclaimed S. J. Watson.

My thoughts:

In Second Life, Julia is a part-time professional photographer married to a successful surgeon named Hugh. Julia and Hugh have adopted the baby son born to her sister Kate, now grown into a teenage boy, Connor. Life is good — until Julia gets the horrifying news that Kate has been murdered, apparently the victim of a random mugging.

Distraught and wracked with guilt, Julia decides that there’s more to the story. She begins to dig into her sister’s life, uncovering bits and pieces of a world that her estranged sister never shared with her. Kate lived a free and easy life in Paris, and was an active participant in the “hook-up” lifestyle, meeting men online for cyber and real-world sexual encounters.

Julia decides that Kate’s hidden life must hold a clue to her murder, and begins to explore. But at some point, the exploration stops being about Kate, as Julia gets sucked into an online flirtation with a stranger that turns sexual, and before long, Julia is consumed by the affair she’s stumbled into.

We know early on that Julia has a history of addiction, involving both alcohol and heroin, and the temptation of a drink is ever-present in Julia’s mind as she deals with her guilt and grief over Kate’s death. It’s easy to see that she’s channeled her out-of-control emotions into yet another addiction, her obsession with the online world — and the seemingly perfect and sexy man she meets there.

Second Life spends a great deal of time detailing Julia’s headlong rush into an affair, and unfortunately, the emphasis on the seedy details of Julia’s seemingly willful endangerment of her marriage and family takes center stage for far too much of the book. For large sections, the mystery of Kate’s death is almost an afterthought. Julia throws herself completely into the affair, and the book bogs down in the sexual encounters and hotel trysts.

After a somewhat slow start, the book picks up momentum by about the halfway mark, as Julia starts to realize that her perfect lover is hiding all sorts of secrets from her, and as her affair starts to overshadow everything else in her life that she values. Eventually the pace quickens and the plot becomes more intriguing, as the dangers closing in on Julia become connected back to Kate, as well as to Julia’s hidden young adult past.

I hate to say it, but Second Life overall didn’t really work for me. The main plotline was highly unappealing, with its voyeuristic emphasis on the details of Julia’s infidelity. I understand that Julia was acting out her grief and loss, giving in to her addictive tendencies and flirting with danger to numb herself in some way from the pain of losing her sister. But I just couldn’t sympathize, and felt that her horrendous choices were so clearly illogical and bad for her family (including the son she claims to love so much) that the plot teetered on the edge of becoming completely implausible.

As my own personal bias, I think it’s only fair to add that a book about infidelity had better have a lot of other compelling elements going for it if it’s going to appeal to me in any way. Otherwise, it’s a turn-off — and that was the case for me with Second Life.

I did find myself hooked for the last 100 pages or so… until the abrupt and unsatisfying ending. I won’t say more about it, but the answers to the mystery were fairly prediction, and what’s more, the final scene was a lousy payoff for the tense build-up.

I really enjoyed Before I Go To Sleep and ended up recommending it to lots and lots of reader friends. Sadly, Second Life does not live up to the promise of the earlier book.

I usually try to find a reason to recommend or praise a book if I’m participating in a blog tour. While Second Life didn’t work for me, I could imagine that readers who are into thrillers and aren’t bothered by the subject matter the way I was might enjoy this book. If you read it and have a different opinion, please share your thoughts!

Find out more:

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Purchase Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble
 

About the Author:

S-J-WatsonS. J. Watson was born in the Midlands and lives in London. His first novel was the award-winning Before I Go to Sleep, which has sold over four million copies in more than forty languages around the world. It was recently adapted into a major motion picture starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong.

Find out more about S.J. at his website, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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The details:

Title: Second Life
Author: S. J. Watson
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: June 9, 2015
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours

tlc logoFor further information, stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.

Blog Tour & Giveaway: The Mapmaker’s Children

TMCBanner

Today, I’m celebrating the release of The Mapmaker’s Children, a new historical novel by Sarah McCoy, and I’m delighted to be participating in the blog tour sponsored by TLC!

Mapmaker's Children

Synopsis:

When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril.

Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance.

Ingeniously plotted to a riveting end, Sarah and Eden’s woven lives connect the past to the present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way.

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Purchase Links

Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble

About the Author:

Sarah McCoySARAH McCOY is the  New York TimesUSA Today, and international bestselling author of The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; The Time It Snowed in Puerto Ricoand The Mapmaker’s Children (Crown, May 5, 2015).

Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an Army physician, and their dog, Gilly, in El Paso, Texas. Sarah enjoys connecting with her readers on Twitter at @SarahMMcCoy, on her Facebook Fan Page or via her website, www.sarahmccoy.com.

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The details:

Title: The Mapmaker’s Children
Author: Sarah McCoy
Publisher: Crown
Publication date: May 5, 2015
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours

tlc logoFor further information, stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.

 

 

 

GIVEAWAY!

Want to win a copy of The Mapmaker’s Children? No fancy footwork required — just leave a comment below answering any one of these questions:

– What’s your favorite historical novel?
– What historical figure would you love to see featured in fiction?
– What time period do you enjoy reading about the most in historical fiction?

Extra credit: Do you follow Bookshelf Fantasies? Let me know in the comments if you follow me and how (email, Twitter, WordPress, etc), and you get an extra entry in the giveaway!

That’s it! I’ll do a random drawing on May 20th to pick a winner. Thanks for playing along!

(Sorry — US/Canada only this time around)

Blog Tour & Book Review: The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

The Bookseller (2)I’m delighted to be participating in the blog tour celebrating The Bookseller, a debut novel by Cynthia Swanson. Thank you, TLC Book Tours, for inviting me to participate!

The Bookseller is the touching and intriguing story of one woman living two lives.

As the book opens, we meet Kitty, a single career woman in 1962. 38 years old, she and her best friend Frieda own a small bookshop in a no-longer-thriving neighborhood of Denver. Kitty lives alone with her cat Aslan, enjoys the sister-like company of her friend, and thrives in a loving relationship with her devoted parents. She’s happy, and really doesn’t regret the life choices she made that brought her to this point in her life.

But when Kitty goes to sleep, she wakes up in a strange bedroom in a lovely home, beside a loving man names Lars who refers to her by her full name, Katharyn. It’s 1963, and she appears to be married to her soulmate, living in a comfortable house in a newer Denver neighborhood, a stay-at-home mother to triplets.

Kitty is absolutely confounded by this dream world of hers. When she wakes up again, she’s haunted by how realistic this imaginary world seems, and is struck by the thought that she’s encountered the unusual name Lars before. She remembers that in her real life, she’d almost had a first date with a man named Lars eight years earlier, but he stood her up and so they never met.

Each time Kitty goes to sleep, she crosses from one world to another. Her dream world is vivid and distinct. She discovers an enormous depth of feeling for her husband Lars, and she loves her adorable children, despite being confused and somewhat frustrated by her son Michael, who is, apparently, autistic. Sadly, in this dream world, Katharyn and Frieda have fallen out years earlier, although she has no idea why.

Gradually, the lines begin to blur. Each world feels real and seems to want to claim her. The more time Kitty spends in her dream world, the more memories come back to her… but so much still remains elusive. Finally, Kitty has to sort out which is her real world, where she truly belongs, and which life is the one she must let go.

… And let me just pause here from providing plot summary and say — wow. What a book.

With hints of Sliding Doors as well as certain points that reminded me of The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer, The Bookseller asks us to pass from dream world to reality and back to dream world right along with Kitty. Both lives are rich and detailed. Both are filled with people who matter to her. Could she really have forgotten a life in which she’s a wife and mother? But how can all of her memories be about her life in the bookstore with Frieda, if her other life with Lars feels equally real?

I loved the construction of this emotion-packed novel. We flow right alongside the main character as she shifts abruptly, never entirely sure of when or where she’ll wake up in a different life, sometimes in the middle of a scene, so to speak, already under way. The writing is matter-of-fact, yet startling at times, as when Kitty gazes into the face of her dream husband for the first time or is suddenly struck by the knowledge that she has children.

The 1960s setting works magnificently here. The author weaves in all sorts of small details that make the time period seem real, from the admiration of Jackie Kennedy’s fashion sense to the fears of the Cuban Missile Crisis to the simple joys of listening to Patsy Cline and checking out the newest books by J. D. Salinger and Katherine Anne Porter.

It’s also a marvelous tribute to the choices available to a woman at that time and the courage needed to chart her own course. Staying single, owning a business — these are not easy paths, and certainly not common or expected. Likewise, the challenges facing a young mother are daunting. Despite being well-off and with a supportive husband, dealing with three children is all-consuming. The medical world was only just waking up to the meaning of autism at the time, and the only resources Kitty can find on the subject pin the “blame” squarely on the mother, with no guidance available on finding ways to connect with the child or even how to provide him with an education.

The Bookseller had me hooked from the first chapter, and I truly loved the main character. Her two lives, as Kitty and Katharyn, each offer her something special — but each is missing some key element that makes the other life hard to turn away from. Her confusion and pain feel real, as does her love for Lars and her children, her parents, and Frieda.

I highly recommend The Bookseller. Its shifting reality twists will absolutely keep you guessing! With an engaging yet mysterious plot, a well-earned resolution, and emotions that ring true, this book should appeal to anyone who enjoys stories about strong women confronting unusual and unpredictable challenges. Check it out!

Find out more:

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Purchase Links

Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble

About the Author:

Cynthia SwansonCynthia Swanson is a writer and a designer of the midcentury modern style. She has published short fiction in 13th MoonKalliopeSojourner, and other periodicals; her story in 13th Moon was a Pushcart Prize nominee. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband and three children. The Bookseller is her first novel.

Find out more about Cynthia at her website and connect with her on Facebook.

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The details:

Title: The Bookseller
Author: Cynthia Swanson
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: March 3, 2015
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours

tlc logoFor further information, stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.

Blog Tour & Book Review: The Hurricane Sisters

I’m delighted to be participating in the blog tour celebrating the paperback release of The Hurricane Sisters by Dorothea Benton Frank.

Hurricane Sisters

Synopsis:

Hurricane season begins early and rumbles all summer long, well into September. Often people’s lives reflect the weather and The Hurricane Sisters is just such a story.

Once again Dorothea Benton Frank takes us deep into the heart of her magical South Carolina Lowcountry on a tumultuous journey filled with longings, disappointments, and, finally, a road toward happiness that is hard earned. There we meet three generations of women buried in secrets. The determined matriarch, Maisie Pringle, at eighty, is a force to be reckoned with because she will have the final word on everything, especially when she’s dead wrong. Her daughter, Liz, is caught up in the classic maelstrom of being middle-age and in an emotionally demanding career that will eventually open all their eyes to a terrible truth. And Liz’s beautiful twenty-something daughter, Ashley, whose dreamy ambitions of her unlikely future keeps them all at odds.

Luckily for Ashley, her wonderful older brother, Ivy, is her fierce champion but he can only do so much from San Francisco where he resides with his partner. And Mary Beth, her dearest friend, tries to have her back but even she can’t talk headstrong Ashley out of a relationship with an ambitious politician who seems slightly too old for her.

Actually, Ashley and Mary Beth have yet to launch themselves into solvency. Their prospects seem bleak. So while they wait for the world to discover them and deliver them from a ramen-based existence, they placate themselves with a hare-brained scheme to make money but one that threatens to land them in huge trouble with the authorities.

So where is Clayton, Liz’s husband? He seems more distracted than usual. Ashley desperately needs her father’s love and attention but what kind of a parent can he be to Ashley with one foot in Manhattan and the other one planted in indiscretion? And Liz, who’s an expert in the field of troubled domestic life, refuses to acknowledge Ashley’s precarious situation. Who’s in charge of this family? The wake-up call is about to arrive.

The Lowcountry has endured its share of war and bloodshed like the rest of the South, but this storm season we watch Maisie, Liz, Ashley, and Mary Beth deal with challenges that demand they face the truth about themselves. After a terrible confrontation they are forced to rise to forgiveness, but can they establish a new order for the future of them all?

Frank, with her hallmark scintillating wit and crisp insight, captures how a complex family of disparate characters and their close friends can overcome anything through the power of love and reconciliation. This is the often hilarious, sometimes sobering, but always entertaining story of how these unforgettable women became The Hurricane Sisters.

My Thoughts:

In The Hurricane Sisters, we meet three generations of Southern women, including dynamo matriarch Maisie, her daughter Liz, and granddaughter Ashley. All three have secrets, all three have struggles.

Maisie is the quintessential 80-year-old who’s lived long enough to tell it like it is. Her romantic relationship with (gasp!) a younger man, the 65-year-old who was originally hired to be her driver, scandalizes Liz and Clayton, but their own relationship isn’t exactly a bed of roses. Maisie is the absolute life of the party in this book — she’s feisty, opinionated, funny, and full of passion. She’s also not afraid to tell the hard truths and give out some pretty stern advice, which is exactly what some of these confused family members need.

When Ashley becomes infatuated with a rising state politican, everyone in the family warns her to watch out. In Charleston, anyone of good family knows everyone else’s business, and Porter Galloway has an unsavory reputation that’s only whispered at. Meanwhile, on the surface, he’s all Southern charm and good looks, and Ashley is too swept up in her dreams of being the next Jackie O. to take the warnings seriously.

Of course, the various threads all come together in interesting and unexpected ways… and of course, Maisie is right about everything!

The dark thread throughout this mostly upbeat novel is violence against women. Liz is a fundraiser for a women’s shelter, and through her pitches to prospective donors, we learn some of the bleak and staggering facts about the incredibly high numbers of domestic violence cases in the US, as well as the fact that South Carolina is among the worst on record in terms of domestic homicide and violence. It’s not exactly a surprise when a certain character is revealed to be abusive, but it’s still startling and harrowing to read and to see how easily this person manages to hide in plain sight and continue carrying out abusive acts in relationship after relationship.

I was annoyed initially to see Ashley’s naiveté, especially knowing her mother’s work. But I think this book makes a very good point, that it’s one thing to know academically what abuse is and what it looks like, and quite another thing to recognize it in real life without prettying it up with denial and excuses. I won’t go into too much detail here as I don’t want to give away any major plot points, but let’s just say that what I initially thought was a too-light response to terrible acts turns into major empowerment as the family comes together to make sure that abusive behavior is not swept under the rug.

I ended up loving all of the family relationships, the intricacies of their connections and interdependence, and the various ways they all misunderstand one another. By hearing the story from mulitple points of view, we’re treated to the inside scoop on why an action that one family member finds incomprehensible actually makes complete sense and has a totally different meaning when explained by someone else.

An especially delightful component of this book is the lush description of the Charleston area. The author does a splendid job of conveying the beauty of the Lowcountry, and made me absolutely mad with nostalgia (I lived in Charleston once upon a time for a couple of years) and dying for a return visit.

If you enjoy books that include family drama, quirky characters, and humorous dialogue — but aren’t afraid to tackle more serious subjects as well — definitely check out The Hurricane Sisters. Now available in paperback, it’s a slice of Southern fiction that I think would make a great beach read this summer.

About the Author:

Dorothea-Benton-FrankNew York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank was born and raised on Sullivans Island, South Carolina. She is the author of many New York Times bestselling novels, including Lowcountry Summer and Return to Sullivans Island. She resides in the New York area with her husband.

Find her on the web at www.dotfrank.com, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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The details:

Title: The Hurricane Sisters
Author: Dorothea Benton Frank
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: 2014 (paperback released April 7, 2015)
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours

tlc logoFor further information, stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.

 

Blog Tour & Book Review: The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M. J. Rose

04_The Witch of Painted Sorrows_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

I’m delighted to be participating in the blog tour ( courtesy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours) for the newest historical fiction release from M. J. Rose, author of The Collector of Dying Breaths, Seduction, and The Book of Lost Fragrances.

Publication Date: March 17, 2015
Atria Books
Formats: Hardcover, Ebook
Pages: 384

Genre: Historical Mystery

Possession. Power. Passion. International bestselling novelist M.J. Rose creates her most provocative and magical spellbinder yet in this erotic, gothic novel set against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris.

Sandrine Salome runs away to her grandmother’s Parisian mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires.

Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten – her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s become possessed by La Lune: A witch, a legend and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse.

This is Sandrine’s “wild night of the soul,” her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love and witchery.

 

My thoughts:

The Witch of Painted Sorrows surprised me in all the right ways! Elegant, steamy, and haunting, The Witch of Painted Sorrows follows a young woman, Sandrine, as she seeks a new beginning away from her cruel husband and painful memories. She takes refuge with her grandmother, a renowned and sought-after courtesan, who seems fearful when Sandrine arrives unexpectedly in Paris. Sandrine’s grandmother’s cardinal rule has always been to never fall in love — but why? To remain free and unattached, admired but never trapped? Or is there something more to the warning, something perhaps much more sinister?

There’s so much to enjoy in The Witch of Painted Sorrows. We view the thriving, competitive world of art academies and ateliers, as Sandrine pursues her new-found calling. We see a young woman’s awakening to lust and sexual satisfaction. We also see the hidden world of occult enthusiasts, séances, alchemists, and more, as the odd occurrences that surround Sandrine become harder and harder for her to ignore.

I loved the many layers of the story, as the writing takes us through hints of dark secrets, supernatural phenomena, and human emotions. The answers aren’t as easy as they might seem, and it becomes increasingly difficult to know whether we’re seeing through Sandrine’s eyes or through the eyes of the obsessed spirit of La Lune. As an added bonus, the depiction of Paris at the end of the 19th century is stimulating and visceral, capturing the sense of grandeur on the cusp of a new, exciting era. The familiar Parisian landmarks add a touch of realism to the story, rooting it deeply in a particular time and place, and at the same time conveying the wonder of it all.

There are some wonderful characters in this story. Sandrine herself goes through the most startling and dramatic transformation, but I also really enjoyed her grandmother, a woman of sixty-six who’s vital, sexy, and smart, and absolutely knows how to use her brains and beauty to get her way. It’s refreshing to see a woman of her age who so clearly is still at the center of a non-stop crowd of adoring men. Sandrine’s lover, Julien, is also quite wonderful, and it’s easy to understand Sandrine’s connection to him. The sparks practically fly off the page!

All in all, I’d say that The Witch of Painted Sorrows is a skillfully drawn portrait of a moment in history, infused with a chilling supernatural element that adds a real shiver of fright to the story. And just wait until you get to that ending! With an enveloping atmosphere, characters who break free of their gender-defined, society-approved roles, and a family past shrouded in secrets, The Witch of Painted Sorrows is a compelling read that’s hard to put down. Don’t miss it!

Buy the Book

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About the Author

03_M.J. Rose AuthorM.J. Rose grew up in New York City, mostly in the labyrinthine galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, the dark tunnels and lush gardens of Central Park and reading her mother’s favorite books before she was allowed.

She is the author of more than a dozen novels, the co-president and founding board member of International Thriller Writers and the founder of the first marketing company for authors: AuthorBuzz.com. She lives in Greenwich, Connecticut. Visit her online at MJRose.com.

Connect with M.J. Rose on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Goodreads.

Sign up for M.J. Rose’s newsletter and get information about new releases, free book downloads, contests, excerpts and more.

Blog Tour & Book Review: Girl Runner

girl runnerI’m delighted to be participating in the blog tour celebrating the release of an inspiring new novel: Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder.

Girl Runner is the story of Aganetha Smart, a Canadian farm girl who gains a brief moment in the spotlight when she wins gold for Canada running the 800 meter race in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.

When we first meeting Aganetha, however, she is 105 years old, living in a hazy dream-state in a nursing home, alone and forgotten by the world, having outlived her entire family and anyone who ever knew her. With the unexpected arrival of a young man and woman, Aganetha finds herself bundled up for a supposed family visit with these two strangers, who proceed to drive her to her family’s old farm.

As she travels the familiar roads, Aggie’s thoughts return to her early days. Bit by bit, we learn of her family’s tumultuous past, the sibling love and tensions that featured throughout her life, and that small period of time in which Aggie was a star.

From early childhood, Aggie ran so fast she was practically flying, and her need to run is a core piece of her soul. In fact, as she tells us through her fractured memories, Aggie kept running until midway through her 90s, when a final family tragedy seems to have sapped her of her drive to run once and for all.

Through Aggie’s reminiscences, we gain a picture of what life was like for young women in Canada in the 1920s, with a heady mix of independence in the big city, the glory of being selected for the national Olympic team, and the pain of love gone wrong and friendship betrayed.

As we move further into the story, Aggie reveals secrets upon secrets, until the deepest, darkest mystery of her lonely life is finally unearthed. Through her memories, we get a glimpse of the life of a strong woman who achieved great things yet never had what she most wanted.

Girl Runner is a moving story that seems simple at the outset, yet eventually moves into the complicated territory of a large family with criss-crossing needs, deceptions, joys, and shames. Each new memory unravels yet another thread in the mystery of Aganetha’s life and helps us understand how she lived so long and yet ended up so lost and alone.

I did find the time jumps somewhat distracting. The story bounces between modern-day Aggie, wheelchair bound in the nursing home, and her memories of the past — but her memories come in a jumble, not chronologically. I suppose this makes sense, in that we’re seeing the events of the past as they resurface in this very old woman’s confused mind — so of course, it’s not linear and neatly spelled out.

While this approach works in finally revealing the full story by the end of the book, it does make it a bit challenging for the reader to unknot the storylines and put together the pieces into a coherent, logical picture.

However, it’s worth sticking it out. While the narrative jumps take some getting used to, once the story hits its stride, it flows nicely and quickly. By the end, I couldn’t stop reading. I just had to know what really happened and how it all fit together.

Told in language that’s brisk but personal, Girl Runner is an intriguing family story as well as a tribute to pioneering girl athletes and the obstacles along their path to glory. Despite its long time arc, spanning about 90 years, Girl Runner is less than 300 pages in length. It’s not a long book, but it is deep and emotional, and I recommend it to anyone who might enjoy an historical novel built around a strong, enigmatic woman.

About the Author:

Carrie-SnyderCarrie Snyder’s Girl Runner is shortlisted for the 2014 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Her previous book, The Juliet Stories, was shortlisted for the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award and named one of the Globe and Mail‘s Top 100 Books of the Year. Her first book, the short story collection Hair Hat, was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Award for Short Fiction. A mother of four, Carrie lives with her family in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Find out more about Carrie at her website, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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The details:

Title: Girl Runner
Author: Carrie Snyder
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: February 3, 2015
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Adult fiction (contemporary/historical)
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours

tlc logoFor further information, stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.