Monday, July 30, 2012

The Languarge of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

4.5 Star

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

Lydia - 4.5 Star

The Language of Flowers is heartbreaking, yet hopeful, and shines as a debut novel. We meet Victoria Jones on her emancipation day, a day she yearned for after spending her life being shuffled from foster home to foster home, introduced to potential adoptive parents only to be sent back and finally living in group homes until the day she was finally free. Only her freedom comes with a hefty price. She no longer has a roof over her head and meals on the table and with no one to help her, no one that cares, and no source of income, Victoria crawls under some bushes in a local park where she struggles to come to terms with her new situation.

I wanted to grab Victoria and hold on to her. I loathed watching her struggle, both as a child and as a young adult. Her torment and anguish is palpable and I cheered for her even when she isn't always that likeable, yet at other times I wanted to give her a good shake for some of the decisions she makes. This novel wasn't as grim as White Oleander, another gripping novel about the foster care system, which I found refreshing because I wasn't sure my heart could take it.

This novel could feel contrived at times as good things happen to Victoria at just the right moments and she seems to find herself in the orbit of good people who gravitate to her. But I think this depends on how cynical you are. I prefer to have faith that good can come from even the most horrific situations, believe in the compassion of people, and have hope that I would do what Renata and Elizabeth did and not only help, but open my heart to someone who so obviously needs love in her life. 

I adored the uniqueness of the language of flowers and the depth it brought to the novel, and how Victoria used flowers to communicate. The gardener in me loved reading about the meanings of different flowers and I found myself flipping through the dictionary at the back of the novel several times just to see the meanings of the flowers I have in my own gardens. The flowers weren't the only unique aspect to this story. The characters, her eventual living situation and even the relationships she begins to have with others are all quirky and seem to fit her character.

I really enjoyed the ending. Although it ends on a more positive note, not everything is picture perfect which in my opinion probably wouldn't have sat well with me. Ultimately ending with a feeling of hope, I really enjoyed The Language of Flowers and anyone looking for a great read about adoption or the foster care system will appreciate this complex novel. I look forward to more from Vanessa Diffenbaugh!

I ended up buying this lovely novel, but you can find the publisher, Random House Canada, here.

Connect with Vanessa Diffenbaugh here:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Just Say Yes by Phillipa Ashley

3 Star

But Lucy Gibson said no. On national TV. Now she's hated by nearly everyone.

Fleeing the spotlight's glare, Lucy holes up in a cottage in the country, where she just might find the right reasons to say yes after all...

Kathryn - 3 Star

Just Say Yes certainly provides all we expect from light-hearted chick lit and overall I enjoyed it for what it was.  It’s got quite a British feel to it and was combined with a reality TV twist which made it feel more modern.

I was initially interested in Lucy and her boyfriend Nick but that interest began to wane slightly when he really becomes invested in the reality show he’s been chosen for- I just felt that Lucy was being taken for a fool and she didn’t seem like that kind of girl to me.  Their relationship was described in detail for the first part of the novel but then once Lucy makes her “big decision” we’re thrown into a paparazzi scene of mayhem and Lucy immediately makes her hasty escape to the country- it seemed a bit quick and maybe it wasn’t necessary to go into so much detail about her relationship with Nick given how abruptly it ended?  Perhaps also I’m being naïve but I don’t know how many companies would be so offended by an employee’s 15 minutes of fame to offer her a month long leave of absence?

While I appreciated the need for drama I found myself losing interest in Lucy and her immediate attraction to new man Josh felt a bit rushed and superficial.  At this point I held on to best friend Fiona for some grounding influence and found that I quite liked Lucy’s quirky buddy but wished that Ashley had developed their relationship more and left Josh as the side-plot.

Having aired all my grievances I have to reconfirm that this novel does deliver what you would expect- it’s certainly fun and lighthearted, there’s romance, good friends and quite a few laughs. I would say though that if you like British chick lit, Just Say Yes would be a good summer read and wouldn’t stop me from reading another Philippa Ashley novel in the future.
Thank you to Sourcebooks for our review copy!

Connect with Phillipa Ashley here:

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner

4 Star

Actors aren’t the only ones trying to make it in Hollywood.…At twenty-three, Ruth Saunders left her childhood home in Massachusetts and headed west with her seventy-year-old grandma in tow, hoping to make it as a screenwriter. Six years later, she hits the jackpot when she gets The Call: the sitcom she wrote, The Next Best Thing, has gotten the green light, and Ruthie’s going to be the showrunner. But her dreams of Hollywood happiness are threatened by demanding actors, number-crunching executives, an unrequited crush on her boss, and her grandmother’s impending nuptials. 

Lydia - 4 Star

The Next Best Thing is a fun novel full of Hollywood antics. This book takes us on Ruthie's journey - one that has definitely not always been easy - and we follow her while she takes an enormous risk to chase her dream all the way to Hollywood where she hopes to produce the television show she's written based loosely on her life with her grandmother.

Weiner knows Hollywood and the television industry first hand from her sitcom, 'The State of Georgia', which was produced last year and then cancelled after just one season. It was fascinating from this novel to see the how little a finished television product might resemble the original script, the plot, characters and ideas. And wow, do I ever have a lot more respect for all those involved in producing a television show. I was exhausted just reading about it!

For the most part, I don't get sucked into all the Hollywood hype or the gossip so it surprised me when I became so invested in this novel. For anyone with a keen interest in Hollywood, they may very well enjoy this novel even more.

Ruthie and her grandmother's down to earth personalities were juxtaposed against all of Hollywood's narcissism, head games, egos, and money and it’s easy to see how Ruthie's dreams may become derailed. I enjoyed cheering for her. You can't help but root for her, even when she makes questionable decisions. I cringed along with her, adored her naiveté and even wanted to shake her a few times. She has a complicated past, she's kind, misguided and doubts herself often, but she had a kind heart and I really wanted to see her happy in the end.

The Next Best Thing is heavy with flashbacks, especially the first half of the novel, but Weiner somehow makes them work. She draws a marvelous portrait of Ruthie's relationship with her grandmother (who was so spunky - I loved her character!) during the years after the horrific car accident that killed her parents and left Ruthie disfigured as a toddler, as well as their cross country journey to Hollywood. Novels rarely have me shedding tears early in the story, however, around thirty pages in, Weiner has me chocked up. It’s a scene when Ruthie realizes at a young age that the scars on her face were permanent and that she would never resemble the characters on TV that she loved so much. She writes one sentence in the journal her grandmother keeps prodding her to keep, and then we're privy to her grandmother’s reaction. I crumpled, tears dripping.

Although I loved this novel, there were some elements that I had trouble with. At times Ruthie’s age confused me. I thought she was in her twenties, but then certain references brought me back to my childhood which confused me because I’m older). There were also references to laptops in high school classrooms in her freshman year which tossed me another curveball. That would have been fourteen years ago based on her age of twenty eight and I’m fairly certain that wouldn’t have been the norm and the school she was at wasn’t described as a wealthy private school either. Nitpicky, I know, but these things distract me and detract from my reading experience. I think if her age was mentioned earlier it would have helped. The other thing was that because I was aware of Weiner’s failed sitcom, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the story was autobiographical and whether she was taking shots at the industry with the Hollywood-type caricatures she portrays or if this was fiction.

Regardless, I still enjoyed The Next Best Thing. Not as much as Good in Bed, which is one of my all time favourites, but more so than her latest few. And I'm sure if you go for all the Hollywood hype, you may like it even more.  As always, I look forward to more from Jennifer Weiner.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for our review copy!

Connect with Jennifer Weiner here:


Monday, July 23, 2012

The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla

3.5 Star

November 9, 1938—Kristallnacht—the Nazis unleash a night of terror for Jews all across Germany. Meanwhile, the Japanese Imperial Army rampages through China and tightens its stranglehold on Shanghai, a city that becomes the last haven for thousands of desperate European Jews.
Dr. Franz Adler, a renowned surgeon, is swept up in the wave of anti-Semitic violence and flees to Shanghai with his daughter. At a refugee hospital, Franz meets an enigmatic nurse, Soon Yi “Sunny” Mah. The chemistry between them is intense and immediate, but Sunny’s life is shattered when a drunken Japanese sailor murders her father.
The danger escalates for Shanghai’s Jews as the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Facing starvation and disease, Franz struggles to keep the refugee hospital open and protect his family from a terrible fate.

3.5 Star

I really enjoyed The Far Side of the Sky due to the fact it showed me a part of the war that I'd never considered, or even really knew existed. I'm assuming, of course, that the story is based in reality and I would never have considered the so many Jewish people had escaped to Shanghai from Europe. It really brought a different perspective on the war to me and I liked that it was something unique since there are a fair amount of stories on the war already in existence.

That being said, the story didn't resonate with me. I really enjoyed it at first, perhaps because of it's uniqueness. Then the story became immensely frustrating to me as the characters seemed to stagnate in their desires. They seemed to be indecisive about their feelings, what to do about them and how to live their lives. Of course, I cannot really compare as I have never been in a position like theirs either. To be subject to an ongoing war, fearing for your life and being under military control so I imagine the author was portraying their reactions as he imagined in this situation.

I liked The Far Side of the Sky because the dialogue was truly realistic and I can tell this author is already accomplished but the story didn't make me love it and I had hoped very much that it would.
Thank you to Forge for our review copy!

Connect with Daniel Kalla here:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Colour of Tea by Hannah Tunnicliffe

 4 Star

Lost among the gaudy, busy streets of  Macau, Grace's life is slowly unraveling. Her marriage to Pete, her Australian husband, is fraying and her dreams of having a family seem hopeless. With the heralding of a new year she resolves to do something bold. Something her impetuous Mama might do. In this pocket of China, filled with casinos and yum cha restaurants, she opens her own small café called Lillian's. This sanctuary of macarons and tea becomes a place where the women of Macau come together, bridging cultural divides, to share in each other's triumphs and pain. But Grace's immersion in the cafe is taking its toll on her marriage, and when things start to crumble in the cafe, Lillian's suddenly feels like a burden rather than an escape. The recipe for disaster is complete when Pete does the unthinkable.

Amazon Kindle Kobo Nook

Kathryn - 4 Star

I will start by saying that I’m not sure I was completely in love with Grace at the beginning of The Colour of Tea. I think, though, that the author needed to give her some hard to love moments to create the depth of relationship between her and her husband – and having been faced with some of the same hurdles as Grace I could also feel compassion for her personally. Tunnicliffe was creative in having Grace’s emotions come through in a realistic manner and she did so without making the novel feel heavy.

The story moves through Grace’s trouble with conception to give her a very strong personal goal and I loved Grace’s determination and focus in tackling the dream to own her own cafe.  It’s almost as if she didn’t even pause to think about the implications of what she was trying to take on and just ploughed through the work to get to something she could be proud of.  It was so important that Grace find her own passion- independent of her husband- it helped bring her character to life.

For me the most special moments were Grace’s café and the women she hired to work there. They were beautifully unique and each brought much to Grace’s life and the story. I was drawn to them and craved more information about all of their lives once the novel was finished.  My favourite was Gigi and her special relationship with her grandmother- their support of each other was enchanting. 

My feelings towards Grace’s husband were indifferent- I’m not sure if Tunnicliffe meant for us to see him as an afterthought. He didn’t have much character and certainly wasn’t all that helpful for most of the novel. However, I did understand how his grief was affecting his marriage and I presume that his being in the background was intentional.

There are a few obvious twists to the plot but I would never say they brought down the progress of the action. The Color of Tea was a beautiful novel, the setting was unique and the plot imaginative.

Thank you to Macmillan for our review copy!

Connect with Hannah Tunnicliffe here:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Yours Truly by Kirsty Greenwood

5 Star

Newly engaged Natalie Butterworth is an easy-going girl. She’ll do anything for a quiet life and if telling a few teensy white lies keeps her friends and family happy, then so what? It’s not like they’ll ever discover what she’s really thinking…

Until one night, thanks to a pub hypnotist, Natalie’s most private thoughts begin to bubble up and pop out of her mouth. Things get very messy indeed. Especially when some sticky home truths offend her fiancé.

Natalie must track down the hypnotist before the wedding is officially cancelled. So along with bad influence bestie Meg, Natalie finds herself in the Yorkshire Parish of Little Trooley - a small village bursting with big secrets, nosy old folk and intriguing Wellington-wearing men.

When the girls get stranded in the village with no means of escape and no way to break the hypnotist's spell, Natalie is forced to face the truths she has been avoiding her whole life...

 Lydia - 5 Star

Move over Sophie Kinsella and let Kirsty Greenwood wiggle in beside you. Yes, this is an incredibly bold statement, but Greenwood's debut novel, Yours Truly, is so similar in voice and style to Kinsella that I couldn't wait to shout it from rooftops, so I bumped all my other reviews to post this one. I loved every word, and you will too. Seriously funny, fast paced, with perfect comedic timing, Yours Truly has brilliant characters to root for and a fabulous storyline. This is chick lit at its best. Pick this one up NOW!

Meet Natalie Butterworth. She likes to keep the status quo. She tells everyone what they want to hear. Then one evening out with her bestie she's accidentally hypnotized to never tell a lie. Only she has no idea. She returns to her cozy, secure and peaceful life with new fiance, Olly, and when he asks her a question, she answers, a brutally honest assessment flying from her lips that's far from complementary. Astonished, horrified, and dismayed at her outburst and offending her finance, Natalie Butterworth discovers she can't stop telling the truth and her perfect life begins to unravel.

This novel is absolutely hilarious. I laughed so hard I cried, I giggled throughout and I couldn't help but smile at Natalie's adventures and got more than one 'who's the nutter?' glance on the subway as I tried to control my laughter. I'm fairly certain Yours Truly is the funniest book I've ever read. Period. What could be funnier than having a main character that has absolutely no control over the truth spurting from their mouths when asked a question? Even the little white lies we all tell each other to protect those we love are blurted out as the truth, never mind the bigger things we may want to keep to ourselves. The possibilities were endless and I frantically flipped pages to see the trouble Natalie's truth telling would get her into and whether she would find the hypnotist in the tiny village of Trolley before it was too late to salvage everything she loved in her life.

I love novels where the heroine realizes that life isn't quite what she wants it to be and then pushes it forward in the right direction, regardless of the kind of shove she gets. You can't help but root for Natalie. She's really lovely, even with her pushover ways. I loved seeing her growth and realizations. I enjoyed the ending. I teared up. I really enjoyed it! Really. Got that yet?

No?  Ok, here's more: I loved the tiny English village, the dreamy bartender, her bestie Meg and even her overbearing sister and mother. The entire cast of characters was well drawn and delightful. Holy Foccachia is my newest, most favourite phrase, especially with the need to eliminate foul language around young parroting nieces and nephews.

Yours Truly is a fabulous debut from Kirsty Greenwood. Fans of Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series and Lindsey Kelk's I Heart series will love this one. This book should be made into a movie. Really.

I can't wait to see what else Kirsty Greenwood gives us next!

FYI - This novel is heavy on Britishisms, so if you're not familiar, it may detract from your enjoyment. I've read so much British Chick Lit that it didn't deter me, but wanted to throw that out there. You can always read the preview on Amazon. 

Thanks to Kirsty Greenwood for our review copy.
Connect with her here:


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Confessions of a Cake Addict by Emma Kaufmann

3.5 Star

Londoner Kate Pickles has hit rock bottom. She's funny, kind, and talented but totally unaware about all the great things she has going for her. Day in and day out, she sits back and whines to her sister Laurie in Sydney, Australia, as her boss walks all over her and her best friend Eva bags the hot guys while Kate ends up dating whack jobs and comfort eating cake. Pouring out her heart to Laurie in a series of letters and emails, Kate longs for her sister to confirm she really is the loser in love she fears she is.
Abruptly, Kate's life is turned upside down when, on a trip to Vienna with her glamorous pal, Eva, Kate falls for a sexy Austrian and gets sucked into making a Bollywood film.

Lydia - 3.5 Star 

Confessions of a Cake Addict got off to a slow start for me and it was only as it neared the end that I started really enjoying it. This was too little too late which was really unfortunate because there were many aspects I liked, but overall it didn't mesh as well together as I thought it would. 

The entire novel is written as series of long winded letters, mostly between Kate and her sister. I loved this! It reminded me of the 'novels' I used to write to my girlfriends exactly like this back in the day before email and social media. And yes, they were mostly about boys, much like Kate's stories. 

The concept of this novel intrigued me and I loved the letters Kate starts writing to her bestie's love interest and I was actually really stumped at what transpired which I could never have predicted, and I love it when novels surprise me! There was something left up in the air surrounding this in the end though which is never actually divulged which annoyed me somewhat. I wanted to know how it all transpired - sorry, I know that's cryptic, but no spoilers!!! 

There are funny bits that I laughed and giggled at and I really liked Kate's voice. She was spunky, funny and has amusing observations and an interesting way with how she retells her story to her sister, all of which kept me reading and entertained. 

Unfortunately though there were a few things that could have been strengthened. At times I became so immersed in the story that I forgot I was reading a letter and then out of nowhere, Kate would point something out to her sister or ask her opinion which stopped me cold.  I think if there were more of these to remind me that they were letters, or less....something needed alteration here. There were also several unnecessary instances of pointing out the obvious to her sister: remember my school friend so and so with details that weren't necessary or my favourite: remember, I think I told you our cousin died - WHAT! If I wrote that to one of my siblings either they would assume I was an idiot, or I thought they were morons because they might have forgotten that our cousin died. This last one in particular tossed me right out of the story and I was actually really annoyed. I know not all families are as close as mine, but still you'd think the sister wouldn't need a reminder. These did decrease throughout the novel when less explanation was required, but I still found it distracting.  

These days I'm more apt to enjoy novels about the main character's self discovery rather than finding a man or a pair of new shoes. And although there was some unusual aspects to this story, like the castle setting in Austria (which made me really want to read this as part of my heritage originates on a mountainside in Austria) and the Indian film, but overall, there wasn't much new in this novel. Much of it was actually a little cliche. The main character loved cake and was overweight because of it. She was searching for a man and hopelessly attracted to the wrong kind. Her best friend is tall, slim and perfect and at times a bit bitchy. Her boss is a nightmare and her love interests all disreputable, they both shop too much and have no money. Maybe I'm just getting older now though and these aspects don't appeal to me as much as they used to. Possibly a younger audience might appreciate this more.

Overall, I think Confessions of a Cake Addict could have used some more time in the editing room, not only with fleshing out characters to make them more rounded and taking away a bit of the erroneous action - I went here, I did this, and then this happened which occurred frequently but also with proofreading and formatting errors. Kaufman definitely has talent and I think with a few tweaks her novels will shine. 

Thank you to Emma Kaufmann for our review copy!

Connect with her here:

Monday, July 16, 2012

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

2 Star

"Housekeeper or housewife?" the soldier asks Silvana as she and eight- year-old Aurek board the ship that will take them from Poland to England at the end of World War II. There her husband, Janusz, is already waiting for them at the little house at 22 Britannia Road. But the war has changed them all so utterly that they'll barely recognize one another when they are reunited. "Survivor," she answers.

Silvana and Aurek spent the war hiding in the forests of Poland. Wild, almost feral Aurek doesn't know how to tie his own shoes or sleep in a bed. Janusz is an Englishman now-determined to forget Poland, forget his own ghosts from the way, and begin a new life as a proper English family. But for Silvana, who cannot escape the painful memory of a shattering wartime act, forgetting is not a possibility.

Lydia - 2 Star

The portrayal of World War II in 22 Britannia Road doesn't hold back, which I really appreciated, but unfortunately I found it came across as emotionally stilted - which maybe was the point. These were characters hardened by war and had lived through torturous years apart when the war separated the recently married couple. But I still couldn't help wanting more. I wanted to empathize and root for these characters and their relationship, but didn't seem to be able to. Unfortunately the idea of this novel was fabulous, but the follow through I ultimately found disappointing.

The one thing this novel opened my eyes too was just how many couples were displaced during and after the war and how easy it was to pick up and find a new life, completely abandoning the old one. I can see the appeal based on circumstance and how difficult it must have been to go back to normalcy after everything had changed and how much each person would have changed. It made me yearn for a more romantic story to come out of this novel, and this one was slow growing and didn’t fulfill what I had anticipated.

I wanted more of a spark to Janusz and Silvana’s relationship from the beginning, which might have made the rest of the novel more believable. A sense of duty brought them back together, but there wasn't anything there to hold onto and I found it difficult to root for their relationship. Janusz had more spark with Helene and their relationship seemed much more believable while Silvana was cold and emotionless most of the time.

None of Silvana's interpersonal relationships carried any depth nor did they seem real to me and I found her character to be contradictory. She’s a survivor and is like a big momma bear with her son, but then she lets Janusz tell her how to get on with things and what to do. I expected she would have stood up for herself a bit more. I do realize the time they were living in, but after her experiences, I thought she would have more spark when the war ended but maybe she was just happy to let someone else lead. The is especially evident where her son is concerned, but she pretty much lets Janusz do whatever he pleased, which surprised me after the lengths she went to keep her son safe.
I really wanted more shown of the boy and his feral ways. How he was suddenly shipped off to school after three months back to 'normal', in a different country, in a different language when he would never have been to school before surprised me. I wanted to see more from his perspective rather than him simply running away from school. I wanted to see his integration, as well as more of Silvana’s and had hoped for more here.

There were a few tender scenes that I did appreciate in 22 Britannia Road, but they came so late that I couldn’t really grow excited about them. Ultimately this novel fell short for me and I was disappointed that what could have been a fantastic plot was dragged down by wooden, unrelatable characters.

Thank you to Penguin USA for our review copy!

Connect with Amanda Hodgkinson here:

Saturday, July 14, 2012

All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith

4 Star

With a suitcase full of Jane Austen novels en español, Amy Elizabeth Smith set off on a yearlong Latin American adventure: a traveling book club with Jane. In six unique, unforgettable countries, she gathered book-loving new friends— taxi drivers and teachers, poets and politicians— to read Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice.

Whether sharing rooster beer with Guatemalans, joining the crowd at a Mexican boxing match, feeding a horde of tame iguanas with Ecuadorean children, or tangling with argumentative booksellers in Argentina, Amy came to learn what Austen knew all along: that we're not always speaking the same language— even when we're speaking the same language.

But with true Austen instinct, she could recognize when, unexpectedly, she'd found her own Señor Darcy.

All Roads Lead to Austen celebrates the best of what we love about books and revels in the pleasure of sharing a good book— with good friends.

Kaley - 4 Star

I consider myself a Jane Austen fan (I don’t think it matters that I have yet to read Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park) so when I got the chance to read All Roads lead to Austen, A Year Long Journey With Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith I was really excited. Happily, this book did not let me down!

I found that I was really interested in Smith’s life and wanted to find out how this yearlong trip changed her personally as well as academically. To me, a great travel memoir mixes fiction and research or travel commentary equally. I want to hear all about the exotic locations but I also want to know what’s going through the writer’s mind and all the personal issues they deal with too. I also like it when it reads like a story instead of a textbook. All that being said, I thought this book is a great example of a good travel memoir. I have never been to any countries in Latin America, and likely never will, so it was awesome to read about Smith’s adventures. She not only described the scenery but the culture and how she struggled with some things while she was abroad (including dengue fever – ugh! – and different Spanish dialects).  As a side note, I’ve also decided I want a tame iguana. I think he would be quite at home in Canada!

I thought Smith came up with such an awesome and unique research project. I love the idea of taking something that’s so familiar in your own culture, and something (or someone, in the case of Austen) that has such a mass following all over the world, and seeing what others think of it. I loved seeing what Smith found out about how Austen translates – literally and culturally. Can you imagine reading the first line of Pride and Prejudice in another language? I think it would be quite strange (PS the first line is: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”). Smith learned that other cultures do take something slightly different away from Austen but there were still some similarities, such as immediately comparing Austen’s characters to people in their own lives.

All Roads Lead to Austen has encouraged me to not only get around to reading those last two Austen novels but to also check out more travel literature. This is an interesting read for any Austen or travel fan!

Thank you to Sourcebooks for our review copy!

Connect with Amy Elizabeth Smith here:

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Helen Keller in Love by Rosie Sultan

2 Star

Rosie Sultan’s debut novel imagines a part of Keller’s life she rarely spoke of or wrote about: the man she once loved. When Helen is in her thirties and Annie Sullivan is diagnosed with tuberculosis, a young man steps in as a private secretary. Peter Fagan opens a new world to Helen, and their sensual interactions—signing and lip-reading with hands and fingers—quickly set in motion a liberating, passionate, and clandestine affair. It’s not long before Helen’s secret is discovered and met with stern disapproval from her family and Annie. As pressure mounts, the lovers plot to elope, and Helen is caught between the expectations of the people who love her and her most intimate desires.

Lydia - 2 Star

I really, really wanted to love this novel. Like many people, I knew some of Helen Keller's story before cracking open Helen Keller in Love but I wasn't familiar with her entire life. The idea of a secret love intrigued me and I had looked forward to learning more about her life and the love she kept secret, but I unfortunately I really struggled with this novel.

This must have been an incredibly challenging novel to write and kudos to Sultan for tackling it. I couldn’t even fathom writing a novel about Helen Keller’s life and how to portray her disabilities in text. There were great learning points in this story, and I did become more familiar with Helen Keller’s story, but overall I felt I needed more in the end.

There was much description at first through sight, which I found strange. I was expecting more of her other senses, especially earlier on in the novel to really reinforce that she was blind and deaf. But this was done repetitively by her internal dialogue as opposed to showing us exactly how she feels the world. There were some instances of this which I did like, but I had really hoped for more – especially at the beginning of the novel.

There was dialogue going on around her that she seemed to be privy too, but no mention was made of it being translated into her hand so I would get confused. And then she would speak, but not much was mentioned about how she ‘spoke’ and many times I would forget she was blind and deaf because of this as well as the descriptions. In addition, the dialogue of her love interest actually disturbed me at times. It was nothing at all how I envision anyone in 1916 speaking and came across as juvenile. The things he said to her were something I pictured a teenage boy today saying and this completely removed me from the storyline.

Unfortunately their relationship didn't come across as interesting or romantic to me. It started so abruptly. Suddenly she was in love with this man who she met a couple of times, and he her. It didn’t feel natural. There was also nothing endearing about him, so I didn’t care about their relationship and I couldn’t see what she saw in him and as this was the major focus of the novel, I lost interest. The sex scenes were odd to me too, and made me dislike him even more, although maybe that was the point.

I always pictured Helen Keller as a strong woman and was looking forward to a more humanistic glimpse into her life as opposed to the glorification she receives. Unfortunately though, she doesn’t come across as anything near how I envisioned Helen Keller to be. I realize that obviously not everything in her life would have been perfect, but in this portrayal I didn’t see a strong woman at all, just an insecure and whiney woman mooning about over a man. This may have been amplified by the ongoing repetition throughout the novel with her internal dialogue and thankfully some attention was devoted to her humanitarian side and her anti-war cries to deflect from some of this, but the main focus on this novel was her love life so she seemed one dimensional in that aspect.

The prologue made this story anti-climactic because it is actually the ending of the novel and this fact is easily discernible once you’re part way through. This might not have bothered someone that knows Helen Keller story inside and out, but I didn't, and when I realized that I was already told the ending, I almost gave up on the book. I was terribly disappointed that no new information was added beyond that point. I wanted to know what happened to her, how she moved on afterwards.

All in all, I was really disappointed with Helen Keller in Love and muddled through to continue. I really wanted to love it, but maybe it just wasn’t for me. There are plenty of reviews out there that enjoyed it though.

Thank you to Penguin USA for our review copy!

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

This Rock in my Heart by Tommie Vaughn

3.5 Star

They say only time will heal a broken heart but Frankie Spencer proves that theory wrong. Music was her guide, and a job at a legendary Hollywood recording studio was her gateway. Bravely fighting her way out of a suffocating relationship, Frankie began working at Cherokee Studios with a cast of characters fit for a royal tabloid court. From the amazon blonde drummer to the son of a rock legend, she danced, pranced, and sang with rock stars and strippers alike. Every strum of the guitar was like a beat of her heart, bringing her back from the edge into a whole new world of mayhem, romance and stuff “books are made of”. Frankie stepped into the Hollywood dream and made it her own. 
Sabrina-Kate - 3.5 Star

I liked This Rock in my Heart basically because I knew who the slightly obscure artist references were about. I think that there could be a bigger mass appeal if bigger known names had been referred to, though possibly it still wouldn't be everyone's choice to read.

The book was an interesting look at an insider's view into the music industry and what it takes to make it there. I think there was a lot of realistic detail yet it did seem to me that everyone seemed a little too helpful to each other. I would think that in such a highly competitive field that it would be a little more underhanded at times.

The characters were definitely approachable which was a strong point. Their development and interactions with each other were well thought out and constructed. The main character, Frankie, had an interesting background, which was alluded to many times with different details and I liked the fact that not too much was revealed yet it gave you insight into her character. The supporting characters were all individuals with strong personalities and characteristics whom I felt really meshed well together.

I rated this book a little lower than I could have because I didn't feel like there was enough conflict in the book like I would suppose would exist in this type of atmosphere and from what I know of the music industry. I think that it's a great debut by the author and am looking forward to seeing what the author has in store for us in the next book!

Connect with Tommie Vaughn here:


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