New Fiction Friday

9780316205856_p0_v1_s260x420Christmas has come and gone.  We still have our tree up, at least for a few more days, and way more sweets thank I think we can actually eat!  Now hopefully around here we can get back to what we love doing – reading!  This will be the last New Fiction Friday of the year, but there are many more to come in 2014.

Just last week I finished reading The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell, which was first published in September.  This is his latest book since Winter’s Bone, which was released in 2006, and was made into a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence.  Woodrell is an interesting writer with quite a unique voice.  Most of his books are centered in the Ozarks, an area he knows well, as he was born in southern Missouri, and spent most of his life there.  He has a way of channeling the midwest through his stories, and does so well through this varied cast of characters.

Based on a true story of an explosion at a local dance hall, which took place in 1929, events unfold through the voices of many different witnesses.  The incident resulted in 42 deaths, including a young woman named Ruby, who is the younger sister of Alma, one of the main characters.  Alma is the first to recount the event that took her sister’s life, but it’s not until 1965 that she begins to really talk about it.  Alek, her grandson, had been to her house for the summer.  She’s a bit of an eccentric, now lives alone almost as an outcast in the town.  She spent most of her life serving the well to do families of the town, and had some pretty strong opinions of them.  This leads to some raised doubts, and as the event is retold through other characters, it seems she’s not the only one with those suspicions.

Not until nearly the last page are any real details revealed about who was behind the explosion.  So many people are suspected, and accused.  Was it “city folk” or mobsters from St Louis?  Could it have been the banker who had been having an affair with Ruby?

I actually found this book hard to follow, as it involves so many characters, and is told in third person from the perspective of many different witnesses.  I do have to say I was surprised by the ending though.  One of the things I like most about Woodrell’s writing is the location of his stories – this one takes place in rural Missouri, just outside of St Louis.  That is my hometown, and I emjoyed the mentioning of local landmarks, like Lindenwood College and Arlington raceway.  Now I’m interesting in reading some of his other books – I’m definitely putting Winter’s Bone on my to-read list!

A Seaside Christmas

9780778315117_p0_v2_s260x420Merry Christmas eve!  We’ve been doing a lot of reading of Christmas-themed books lately.  This will be our last book in our Christmas series this month.  Next week we’ll be reviewing our favorite books of 2013, so stay tuned for that!

Sherryl Woods is the woman behind the Chesapeake Shores Stories, book ten of this series is A Seaside Christmas.  In it, the O’Briens are back, well sort of…  We do see them in this book but the focus is Jenny Collins.  Jenny had a hard time adjusting to her mother Connie marrying Thomas O’Brien and then having a baby.  She’s seen her baby brother, now several years old a total of once.  Jenny went away to college and then on to Nashville where she has become a renowned country songwriter.  After a breakup splashed across the tabloid pages because she had been dating megastar Caleb Green, she returns home to Chesapeake Shores to help her Aunt Bree by writing songs for a Christmas play.

Caleb was drunk, that was his excuse and he knows it’s not a good one.  He’s been through rehab, his band has moved on without him and it’s time to break out on a solo career.  He hears a young man sing the song he knows can set his career back on track, a song he knows was written by Jenny.  After speaking with the boy, a boy he and Jenny discovered, he sets off for Chesapeake Shores to follow Jenny and get her permission to sing the song.  While he’s there he decides it’s time to get her back.  He’ll have to face the united front of a pissed off O’Brien clan which he finds out right off by stopping at the Inn at Eagle Point.  Jess allows him to stay one night with the warning that if Jenny wants him gone he will be.

Jenny always wanted to be part of a large family when she was growing up with just her mother and Uncle Jake to watch out for her, but the O’Brien’s while trying to include her always leave her feeling like an outsider and she’s not sure how to break through.  On her first full day back Jenny gets a visit from high school sweetheart who would like to try again, on his heels comes Caleb to tell her the same thing.

Watching Caleb work to regain Jenny’s trust and Jenny fight it with every step makes A Seaside Christmas a very enjoyable read.  I was glad to get a chance to visit Chesapeake Shores once again, and I hope there are still more stories to come as there is a whole new generation of O’Briens, even if they have other names, coming of age.

Christmas on 4th Street

So, Christmas is two days away…  Of course you probably don’t need reminding!  This is always such a busy time a year, my one wish for everyone is that you take time to really enjoy everything.  Of course I hope you’re finding time to read too!  If you’re not in the spirit yet, it’s not too late, hopefully this will help!

9780373777822_p0_v3_s260x420Here it is: Fool’s Gold book 12.5, yes that’s the way it’s listed on the author’s website.   Noelle, former lawyer, recently survived a brush with death and decides it’s time to change her life.  She is no longer satisfied with trying to fight her way up the ladder to a partnership in her law firm, and they no longer seem interested in her.  Her solution: close her eyes and stick a pin in the map.  The pin lands on Fool’s Gold where she moves to set up a Christmas store.

Gabriel Boylan, twin brother of local radio station owner/DJ Gideon Boylan, an army doctor sustained an injury while working on a patient in the ER.  He’s been placed on medical leave and therefore has no excuse when Felicia invites him to spend the Christmas with Gideon, Carter and herself in FG.  He might not have minded the invite if it was strictly for him but it wasn’t.  Felicia has also invited Gideon and Gabriel’s parents.  While both men love their mother they have a tenuous relationship with their father, Gabriel more so than Gideon.  Boylan Sr. is a former army drill instructor, yeah I can’t imagine growing up with that kind of a dad my mom’s cleanliness rules and schedule were more than enough for me thanks.  Gabe just can’t seem to relate to his father and has really given up trying.  Felicia and Mrs. Boylan both want this family to be one big happy family and are determined to see it happen.

Gabriel is seeking an escape from all that family togetherness and the stress of trying to make a decision on continuing his army career so he takes a job at Noelle’s store for the season.  The two begin to flirt, enjoy each other’s time, and kiss.  The problem they have a totally different view as to how to live their lives in the shadow of the thought that you could die tomorrow.

Christmas on 4th Street was another great trip to Fool’s Gold and a wonderful early start to the Christmas season.

New Fiction Friday

9780061458576_p0_v1_s260x420Lionel Shriver’s newest novel Big Brother has some pretty big shoes to fill.  Her previous work has won a number of prestigious literary awards and accolades.  This is the first book of hers I’ve read, and having just turned the last page I understand why she has received so much praise.  One of her earlier books, We Need to Talk About Kevin, was made into a movie in 2011.  She has an incredible knack for language, every sentence was eloquent, and each emotion seemed real.  The two main characters, Pandora and Elliot, are brother and sister who seem to have strayed far from each other – emotionally and physically.  Pandora lives in Iowa with her husband and two step children, and Elliot had been living in New York City when the story begins.

After not having seen each other for almost four years, and finding out that things weren’t exactly going well for Elliot, Pandora reaches out to her brother.  He flies to Cedar Rapids, Iowa and she barely recognizes him.  His weight has climbed to almost 400 pounds, which is surprising to her, having spent most of his life tall and rather slim.  This isn’t the only major change in his life, and the story progresses as she unravels the details of his tailspin.

Their bond is incredibly strong, having survived a rather unusual childhood.  Their father Travis had been the star of a goofy sitcom called Joint Custody, which was a Brady Bunch-esque popular show that was still being aired in syndication well after the show originally aired.  While working on the show Travis began a not-so-private affair with his costar, which broke their mother’s heart.  Their mother was not an actress, not a celebrity in any way (other than being his wife), and couldn’t handle the Hollywood life.  Pandora’s mother committed suicide when she was just 13 years old.  This strengthened the bond between her and her brother, as they struggled to survive this loss, and their father’s continuing Hollywood career and relationship with the other woman.  Watching reruns of Joint Custody is both a way to reminisce and an unusual, cathartic form of therapy.

Having grown up in Hollywood, both have a different response to that unusual upbringing, each going down a different path.  Elliot is a jazz musician, has toured the world several times and recorded with some of the most popular and successful jazz musicians of the era.  She owns her own modestly successful company, one that started and grew almost unintentionally.  He is a rebel without a cause, in the darkest time of his adult life, eating was both an escape, and a form of rebellion.  It takes a while for Pandora to fully understand just why Elliott’s situation has deteriorated so badly:

“His weight had narrowed his professional opportunities, which was depressing, which made him eat, which made him fatter.  It narrowed his romantic and sexual opportunities, which was depressing, which made him eat, which made him fatter.  Fat itself was depressing, which made him fatter.”

Despite many warnings from her friends, and more notably her husband, she decides to stage an intervention.  Pandora feels that she is the only one in the world who cares about her brother, and the only one who can possibly help him.  She embarks on a mission to help him lose weight – which is quite a lofty goal, as he sets his “goal weight” at about 200 lbs lighter than when he first arrived in Iowa.  Wow!

I loved this deeply emotional story – could relate to the strained relationships Pandora had with both her brother and her husband, and how torn she was between them.  It’s such an incredible about family – and just how depression can impact an individual.  I will now look forward to anything Ms Shriver writes – and may work on reading her previous books.

Cape Light Christmas

9780425205495_p0_v1_s260x420We hope you enjoyed reading about the Cape Light series, it ties in with today’s post about Cape Light Christmas!

After the first four books in the Cape Light series we are invited back to visit each year at Christmas starting with A Christmas Promise.  Reverened Ben Lewis has a good friend also a minister, James Cameron.  James has taken a leave from his missionary work in Central America due to an illness and is spending the holidays in Cape Light.  On his way into town he runs into Leigh Baxter’s car.  Leigh is on the run hiding from an abusive husband.  Leigh is forced to stay in town. James reaches out to her but how will he react when he finds out her secret?

Jessica and Sam Morgan want a child and it is not as easy as they imagined it would be.  Christmas is not the joy they would like it to be as they struggle with their options.

9780515143577_p0_v1_s260x420Churches, towns, and homeowners across the country put up nativity scenes in their yards each year.  Many leave the baby Jesus out until Christmas Eve night so it is a surprise and shock to all when a baby is found in the cradle in Cape Light.  Emily takes the child in until someone else can be found to care for her.  The little girl reaches out and grabs Emily’s heart only partially healed from reuniting with the daughter she gave away so many years before.  She sees this as her second chance at motherhood, but her husband Dan wants nothing to do with babies.  He raised his children, he’s done.  It’s shaping up to be a very tense Christmas at their house with The Christmas Angel.

9780425217153_p0_v1_s260x420I think the third Cape Light Christmas book is my favorite.  In A Christmas to Remember we finally get to see behind the veil so to speak with Lillian Warwick.  We get a glimpse of her life long ago.  Lillian has been confined to bed with pneumonia and while she’s there she drifts back to 1955 when she first met her husband Oliver.  Seeing how Lillian was raised is an eye-opener, it makes it much easier to see her as a sympathetic character and much harder to dislike her.

9780515147292_p0_v1_s260x420The title of book five A Christmas Visitor is a bit misleading as there are three visitors to Cape Light this holiday season.  First a man found lying in the orchard field by Sophie’s granddaughter.  He can’t remember anything about himself or where he came from, can they trust him?  Second an angel figurine appears at the church.  Finally there is an unexpected pregnancy, just when their children are almost grown one Cape Light couple will face the trials of a newborn or will they?

9780425229934_p0_v2_s260x420A Christmas Star brings us back to Sam and Jessica Morgan devastated just before Christmas when the home they built so lovingly burns down.  They are forced to take their children and spend the season as guests in other’s homes.  On the edge of town at the Christmas tree farm Jack Sawyer is still mourning his wife, when single mom Julie Newton appears on his doorstep in need of help with her daughter in tow.  She offers to help him out at the farm but will he warm up to her at all.

9780515150094_p0_v1_s260x420Back to the tree farm we go a year later when Jack’s son David returns home from Iraq an injured war veteran.  He finds his home changed with his mother gone, father remarried, a new step-sister, and his ex-girlfriend whom he still loves though she has moved on working there.  In town Emily and Jessica have become concerned about their mother living alone but when Dr. Ezra Elliot falls ill Lillian steps up to care for him and discover that maybe there is more to this friendship than she has allowed herself to feel.  It seems everyone has A Wish for Christmas.

9780515151176_p0_v1_s260x420For years Lucy and Charlie Bates’ marriage has been on the rocks.  They’ve had good times and bad though it always seem the bad outnumber the good. In On Christmas Eve a young lost sick teenage girl crosses Lucy’s path and Lucy takes her in.  This just might be the final straw in Charlie’s eyes.  Betty Bowman has been busy, busy, busy with her real estate agency and being an active partner in Molly Willoughby’s bakery and catering business.  She has no time for love and no desire for it either, well that’s not true she wouldn’t mind love if she could just find the right person.  Is Santa the one?

9780425253205_p0_v1_s260x420Beloved town member Reverend Ben has been neglecting his health.  One Sunday morning it catches up with him as he collapses at church, his heart is in trouble and he goes in for bypass surgery.  Reverend Isabel Morgan is sent to care for his church while he is recuperating.  She quickly finds herself enjoying the town and it’s people, becoming more attached than she thought possible.  This was not the type of work she thought she was being called to do when she was called to be a minister.  Ben is at home trying to decide if this was the sign that he is to retire and hand his church over to the popular Rev. Morgan.  Can he do it and if he does will she accept?  Reading Christmas Treasures is the only way to find out.

9780425253717_p0_v1_s260x420A Season of Angels ties together Kinkade and Spencer’s two series Cape Light and Inn at Angel Island.  Adele Morgan is old and finding she has regrets in her life chief among these is the distance between her and her family in Cape Light, specifically her son Joe.  Afraid of rejection from him she instead reaches out first to his children, her grandchildren Molly and Sam.  Each have differing reactions that lead them to fighting bitterly.  Adele fears she has waited to long to make things right and gives serious thought to giving up her room at the Inn on Angel Island.  Also at the Inn is graduate student Jonathan Butler come to spend the holidays and try to find out the truth behind the myth of the angels that gave the island it’s name.  While spending his time at the Cape Light historical society he meets local undergraduate Tess Wyler also fascinated with the legend of the angels.  While he is skeptical she is most definitely a believer will this simply put them at odds or will Tess change his mind?

9780425255698_p0_v1_s260x420I love the yearly visit to Cape Light and have the brand new 2013 release Songs of Christmas in my stack at home just waiting to be read.  As soon as I finish it you can expect another post.  If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of it all this Christmas take a trip or several to Cape Light.

What’s your favorite book to read to escape the madness of the holidays?  We’re always looking for suggestions!!

Cape Light

You’re probably familiar with Thomas Kinkade’s art, but did you know that he has also co-written quite a few books?

The Painter of Light has now become the writer of light, with the help of Katherine Spencer that is.  I was first given the Cape Light books by my grandmother who enjoys reading Christian novels.  One the whole I enjoyed the series though there were times when I felt it became too preachy, still I read on.

9780425188415_p0_v1_s260x420The opening book of the set is Cape Light itself.  A small town on the coast of Massachusetts, Cape Light is inhabited by people who have real life problems just like anyone else.  The difference between these books and many others is the strength of faith that most of these characters have. The Warwick family seems to be the backbone of the town with Emily the mayor, Jessica assistant bank manager, and Lillian the family matriarch.  The Warwick family fell on hard times while the girls were in school, the family mansion was given to the town and they went from being the richest in town to struggling.  Emily seems to have weathered this well, while Jessica sees it in the eyes of everyone she meets in town.

As in many series, you meet so many characters in the first book it can be very hard to keep track of them.  It is worth continuing to read.  The further you get into the books the easier it is to keep track of everyone and the more you want updates on everyone you’ve met.

9780515138955_p0_v1_s260x420There is one central character that appears in every book.  As this is a Christian series it comes as no surprise that the character is the leader of the town church: Reverend Ben Lewis.  He is a rock to lean on to his congregants yet he suffers from his own regrets.  I love that he is a human, with human problems.  I think many times ministers are viewed as different, holy, on a pedestal.  Ben is simply another human being who has devoted his life to God but struggles in his faith at times like so many others.

Home Song continues to focus on the Warwick family, this time with Emily at the center.  We find that she has her own set of regrets, a widow at a very young age she also gave up her daughter for adoption.  She has spent 20 years wondering what has become of her little girl.  After seeing Lillian’s reaction to Jessica’s fiance it comes as no surprise that it was at Lillian’s urging Emily gave away her daughter.  Lillian has a very strong sense of right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable.  It’s hard to dislike her completely though.  I wondered for a long time what kind of upbringing she had that made her so stiff, if it was the tragedy she weathered, or merely her age.  She also shows signs of love and caring that help keep you hoping she will change.

9780425195932_p0_v1_s260x420Emily is finally able to relax and enjoy life a bit more after the mayoral election is done.  She can begin to focus on her relationship with the publisher of the town newspaper Dan Forbes.  Ok I have to be honest here, this little plot to me dropped how I would rate this book as he seemed to just echo the story of Judge Olivia Lockhart and newspaperman Jack Griffin in the Cedar Cove series by Debbie Macomber, also set in a small coastal town.  Now other than that relationship the two series are different enough for this not to feel like Cape Light was merely a copycat, however that element did throw off my enjoyment somewhat.  Still as there was so much going on such as Reverend Ben struggling with his family including the consequences of his own actions towards his son, Charlie Bates is unhappy (nicest way to put it) that his wife Lucy has gone back to school to get her nursing degree, and Digger a beloved old seaman in the town sinks deeper into dementia.  All of this occurs in The Gathering Place.

9780515140668_p0_v1_s260x420The final installment in the original set of Cape Light books is A New Leaf. The story in this book shifts away from the the Warwick family.  Molly Willoughby, Jessica’s sister-in-law, is a single mother of two.  She has been working a number of odd jobs to make ends meet.  She dreams of having her own business catering and baking but can’t seem to get there.  Alone since her divorce she suddenly has the option of two suitors: the new doctor in town also a single parent and shockingly her ex-husband Phil.  Dr. Matthew Harding is recently widowed and not sure he’s ready to move on but Molly intrigues him.  As their daughters become friends he and Molly begin to spend more time together getting to know one another.  Phil shows up in Cape Light claiming he is a changed man.  He wants a second chance to be a good father and a second chance as a husband.  Molly wants to believe him, she wants her daughters to have their father in their lives but in the past he was notoriously unreliable.

Officer Tucker Tulley’s  step-brother Carl has been released from prison and Tucker takes him in, to his wife’s consternation.  Carl takes a job at the church as sexton, maintenance man.  He struggles to find his way in town though facing old demons and a reputation that has lived on in his absence.  Tucker hears comments from many of the townspeople about his brother as well as his wife, while Carl seems less than grateful for the help.

Elsewhere in town Sophia must decide what to do with the apple orchard that has been in her family for years now that her husband has died.  Her children are sure the answer is to sell the orchard but Sophia doesn’t want to leave the only place she’s ever known as home.

This is not the end of the Cape Light books however the rest are Christmas themed books, so I’ll give them their own post.  Keep an eye out for that!

What’s your favorite Christmas book??

New Fiction Friday

9780425264720_p0_v1_s260x420One of the best books I read over the summer is now available in paperback, just in time for the holidays!  Dave Barry has long been known as a great comedic writer and satirist, profiling his adopted state of Florida in most of his writing.  Barry got an early start in journalism, eventually writing for the Miami Herald, and it was this turn in his career that earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1988.  Florida is notorious for its multi-cultured population and ridiculous antics, both of which is well-represented in this book.  It had been a few years since he had written a new book, so his latest book Insane City was much-anticipated!  This tale of a mismatched couple getting married in the Florida Keys was hilarious!  The funniest thing about this book is that the crazy things that happen to this couple and the wedding party don’t sound that far-fetched from what normally seems to happens in Florida!

One of Barry’s contemporaries, Carl Hiassen, whose stories also feature the state of Florida released a book around the same time.  Bad Monkey also came out this summer.  I did read and enjoy both, yet wasn’t Monkey wasn’t as funny as Hiassen’s standard.  Hiassen has  written so many great books, all of them super funny, yet in my opinion this one wasn’t half as funny as Insane City.  Hiassen’s book features a capuchin monkey, Barry’s book features a Burmese albino python, both of which are being kept as inappropriate pets.  That’s really where the similarities end.

Seth Weinstein, the anti-hero in this novel, is even in his own description of himself is kind of a schmuck.  He is engaged to Tina, an accomplished attorney in D.C., whose father is a multi-millionaire.  Needless to say, Tina’s father isn’t a big Seth fan and isn’t a big supporter of their relationship.  The entire book centers on their wedding, which is set to take place at the Ritz Carlton on Key Biscayne.  Upon arrival at the Miami airport, it doesn’t take long for Seth and his group of groomsmen to get into trouble.  The boys get into a taxi together, with a driver who doesn’t seem to speak English well, and definitely doesn’t know where the Ritz-Carlton is.  After circling the city, getting lost, and repeating the name of their hotel multiple times, they eventually decide to stop for a drink.  It is here that Seth gets super-drunk and separates from the rest of the wedding party.  The rest the weekend is spent recovering from this mishap in order to make it to the wedding on time.

I could not put this book down – and at one point I laughed so hard I cried!  Seth’s luck could honestly not get any worse!  His mishaps include a lost wedding ring, lost luggage, Haitian refugees which are temporarily hiding in his wedding suite, and of course, the snake!  Along the way, both Seth and Tina question their relationship and wonder whether they’re really right for each other.  This whole wedding seemed like a shipwreck from the beginning – but it sure was fun watching it sink!!!