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It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown by Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez & Giveaway

Source: Dey Street Books
Hardcover, 160 pages
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It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: The Making of a Television Classic by Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez provides an inside look at how the television special about the great pumpkin and Charlie Brown came to be.  The prologue illustrates just how engrained Charlie Brown and the gang’s antics are in our popular culture, as politicians recently started using iconic scenes from the comics and movies to illustrate their own disappointments.

When Charles Schulz, Mendelson and Melendez created the Christmas special, they had low expectations that it would do well, but when it ranked #2 in 1965, they figured they earned a little confidence from the network, CBS.  The network executives, however, were still skeptical and were still not convinced even after the creation and success of a second special, Charlie Brown’s All Stars!  The executives basically called on them to create a blockbuster or else.  The recounted brainstorming session with Schulz is fantastic and the back-and-forth is inspiring as the animator and the creator of the comic bounce ideas around the room with Mendelson.

Included in the book are some great strips from the newspaper, photos of the creative team and actors, and the music sheets.  The book also includes the illustrated script for the special.  It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: The Making of a Television Classic by Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez is another wonderful keepsake or gift for the Charlie Brown aficionado in your life.  Slightly smaller than coffee table size, but great to put on the shelf, pull out on the holidays, and just share with the family any time.

About the Cartoonist:

Charles M. Schulz, nicknamed Sparky, was an American cartoonist, best known for the comic strip Peanuts. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential cartoonists of all time, cited as a major influence by many later cartoonists.

Giveaway:

For U.S. residents.  Leave a comment below about one of your Halloween or Christmas Traditions and one winner will be chosen to get both books — It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: The Making of a Television Classic and A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition!

Deadline to enter is Sept. 30, 2014, at 11:59 pm EST.

Other reviews:

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition

My Mother’s Secret by J.L. Witterick and Giveaway

Source: Penguin Random House
Paperback, 180 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

My Mother’s Secret by J.L. Witterick is inspired by the real-life story of Franciszka and Helena Halamajowa who in Nazi-occupied Poland were able to save several families and a German soldier from being killed by the Nazis.  Told in understated, spare prose, the novel travels through the perspectives of Helena who grows up in Poland with her mother and brother without a father; Bronek, the head of one of the Jewish families; Mikolaj, the son of a premiere Jewish doctor before the Nazi occupation; and Vilheim, the German soldier who is vegetarian and does not want to kill.

“In all of us, there is a child that exists while we have our parents.

With my mother gone, I feel a sadness for the loss of the child within myself.” (page 68)

Helena’s perspective is the most developed of the four, in that readers garner a deeper understanding of her family and the losses they endure. Despite those hardships, she admires her mother’s commitment to doing the right thing. Her relationship with her brother is heart-warming from the beginning as they struggle to keep their stomachs full and steer clear of their father’s rage. Her mother’s secret is not so much that she begins hiding families from the Nazis but that she has the strength and conviction to do so no matter how much it could cost her personally. And while Helena sees herself differently, she carries with her that same strength, especially when her way of life changes drastically under Nazi occupation.

My Mother’s Secret by J.L. Witterick covers the range of reasons people were in hiding during WWII, and examines the perseverance of those hiding them. But it also takes a look at how keeping up appearances and going unnoticed can be the key to survival, as is showing love to fellow man with no expectation of getting anything in return.

About the Author:

Originally from Taiwan, J.L. Witterick has been living in Canada since her family’s arrival in 1968. She attended the University of Western Ontario, graduating from the Richard Ivey School of Business. My Mother’s Secret is her debut novel. It is a bestseller in Canada and has been published in several countries around the world. Witterick lives in Toronto with her husband and son.

Giveaway:

U.S./Canada residents 18+ can leave a comment below to be entered; list a WWII book that you’ve loved. Deadline to enter is Sept. 22, 2014, 11:59 PM EST.

58th book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

18th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Germany/Poland)

 

 

 

29th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

23rd book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

The House on Mermaid Point by Wendy Wax

Source: Berkley Books
Paperback, 416 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

The House on Mermaid Point by Wendy Wax is like getting together with old friends — Nikki, Avery, Deidre, Kyra, and Maddie.  These renovation gurus are back shooting another season of their Lifetime television series, Do Over, but the next location is a surprise hidden in the Florida Keys.

(If you haven’t read the previous books in this series, this review could contain spoilers for previous books.)

Nikki and her man, Joe, seem to be on the right track, but she’s still got commitment issues after the brother she raised was sent to prison for his Ponzi scheme that took her money and those of her clients.  Meanwhile, Kyra and her son Dustin are adjusting to her mother’s new life as a 50+ single woman.  Maddie’s decided that its best to leave a sinking ship, and her ex-husband seems nonplussed about the break up.  Avery and Chase are still playing house and she’s still shutting out her mother, but the tensions are less on these pairings and more about Maddie and her search for a new life.  Like the name of their show implies, life is full of second chances, and many of these ladies have been given theirs in more ways than one.  Maddie is just the latest who needs to spread her wings.

“Close up, the house was far larger than they’d been able to discern from the water and in far worse shape.  The board-and-batten siding was not just devoid of paint but had been badly pummeled by the elements.  Like a boxer who’d gone one too many rounds, the house almost seemed to be standing upright from sheer force of will.  Of possibly from habit.” (page 51)

Mermaid Point, their next renovation project, is hidden on a private island, and private is how ex-rocker William Hightower would like to keep it.  Like the house, Hightower is a battered rocker who’s looking to redeem himself, just as some of these ladies have picked themselves out of the dumps and started new.  Hightower has a lot of repairing to do, from his relationship with his son to his ability to connect with people who want to get close to him.  There’s a lot of gentle nudging as they scrape the layers off the old wood to smooth it down, but as Hightower lets down his walls he’s struck by what’s been missing in his life — a sense of belonging and of family.  Like his home, he transforms little by little coming out from the jungle and the weathered walls to expose himself to scrutiny and relationships he never thought possible.

The House on Mermaid Point by Wendy Wax is a great summer beach read; these ladies will make you laugh, make you cry, but most of all want to hold all of your friends close.  Avery, Maddie, Deidre, Kyra, and Nikki all face their troubles head on, even if it is with a little push from their friends.  These ladies are ready to take on the next big challenge, and readers will be ready to go with them on their next adventure.

About the Author:

Award-winning author Wendy Wax has written eight novels, including Ocean Beach, Ten Beach Road, Magnolia Wednesdays, the Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist The Accidental Bestseller, Leave It to Cleavage, Single in Suburbia and 7 Days and 7 Nights, which was honored with the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion Award. Her work has sold to publishers in ten countries and to the Rhapsody Book Club, and her novel, Hostile Makeover, was excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine.

A St. Pete Beach, Florida native, Wendy has lived in Atlanta for fifteen years. A voracious reader, her enjoyment of language and storytelling led her to study journalism at the University of Georgia. She also studied in Italy through Florida State University, is a graduate of the University of South Florida, and worked at WEDU-TV and WDAE-Radio in Tampa.

Also Reviewed:

Giveaway for 1 copy of The House on Mermaid Point by Wendy Wax for 1 U.S. resident.  Leave a comment below by July 16 by 11:59 PM EST.

Giveaway: Newly Reissued Tim O’Brien Books

Tim O’Brien is my go-to writer for Vietnam War-related literature, but even for those who are not interested in war literature, he’s a fantastic story-teller.  You can get lost in his books, totally taken in by his prose and his damaged characters.

I have read everyone of his books, except Going After Cacciato, which Anna and I will be doing later this year in a read-a-long at War Through the Generations in December.

Random House has kindly offered a prize pack of Tim O’Brien books (those 4 books pictured above) for one of my U.S.-based or Canada-based readers.

Giveaway will run through June 6, 2014, at 11:59 PM EST  Use the form.

Interview with Beth Hoffman, Author of Looking for Me

LookingForMePaperbackLooking for Me by Beth Hoffman, which made my Best of 2013 list, is due out in paperback this month.  Her second novel weaves “a story that will enchant readers with not only its southern charm and hospitality, but also the mysteries of family connections and miscommunications.”

Today, Beth will regale us with her wit and charm in a short interview.

Thank you so much for inviting me to chat with you, Serena.

1. In Looking for Me (on Kobo), Teddi Overman has a gift for restoring old furniture, but she seems unable to cope with the past. How do you think her ability to restore furniture reflects her inability to address her own past or the life she leads after high school?

Teddi adores her brother, and her hope for his survival is a tangled mess of guilt, unbearable grief, and even anger. These feelings translate into how she believes even the most severely damaged piece of furniture can be resurrected. By immersing herself in her craft, each repair represents how she’s trying to mend herself and her past.

2. Have you ever restored furniture or found a piece that just spoke to you?

Though I’ve restored a few pieces, I don’t have the patience to do what Teddi did. She was a master. Yes, certain pieces speak to me, and when they do it’s like being reunited with an old friend. Years ago I walked by an antiques shop and saw a circa 1908 Herschell-Spillman carousel horse in the window. My reaction was so powerful that nothing could have stopped me from having him. He was far outside my budget, but I found ways to scrape together enough to finally bring him home. I named him Ziggy.

3. When we leave home, we often leave behind who we were or were expected to be, how is this true of Teddi and do you think those pieces we leave behind can ever be recaptured?

The best way I can sum up my feelings is to quote Teddi: “I thought about that old saying, how we can never go home again. But I think it’s more like a piece of us stays behind when we leave—a piece we can never reclaim. One that awaits our next visit and demands that we remember.”

4. Between Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and Looking for Me, could you describe your experience in publishing and editing the books? How were they the same and how were they different?

CeeCee’s story was my debut, and I had no idea what to expect once it was acquired.

I had edited the manuscript with a ruthless hand, so the re-pub editing was minimal and easy. But when the book published I felt like I’d been shot out of a cannon! I’m an introvert, so having a big spotlight shined on my face was frightening. Plus, I didn’t know how grueling a book tour could be. But it was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade.

When Looking for Me published I knew the ropes and had my feet beneath me, so I was better prepared.

5. What current projects are you working on? Care to share any details?

I recently started a new novel, and so far I’m enthralled with the characters. The story takes place in two historic districts that sit back-to-back in Northern Kentucky (Newport and Covington). The two female main characters (one in her early 30s and one in her silver years) are both hiding something. It’s through their unusual friendship that their mysteries unfold.

Thanks, Beth, for sharing a little bit about your books with us and about your new work. I know I cannot wait to read it!

****Enter to win a copy of Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman by leaving a comment here.  You must live in the continental U.S. to enter.  Deadline to enter is May 9, 2014, by 11:59 PM EST.***

Ode to Childhood: Poetry to Celebrate the Child edited by Samuel Carr

Source: Sterling Children’s Books
Hardcover, 96 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Ode to Childhood: Poetry to Celebrate the Child by Samuel Carr is a collection of poems from a variety of poets about children, parenthood, and their own childhoods, and no collection about children would be complete without William Blake, who has four poems included.  Blake is a poet that spoke about the innocence of childhood in a great many poems, which can be found in his Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.  His childlike lines and voice evoke the childlike quality readers will immediately reference in their own experiences, but his poems also speak of a duality in childhood between desire and the more enlightened search for knowledge.  He demonstrates that children learn from the reactions and action of others in “Infant Sorrow,” learning that smiles get reactions that wailing did not.

Longfellow image

Reprinted with permission from Ode to Childhood © 2014 Batsford, distributed by Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography by TFL from the London Transport Museum collection.

While each poem in the collection is about children or childhood, they are by turns nostalgic for a childhood lost, a celebration of innocence and play, and a homage to the joys that children bring to parents, others, and themselves.  Many of these poems are from classic poets and could be harder to comprehend upon first reading because of the difference in modern language, but the gist of the poems can be easily discerned from the overall atmosphere in the poems.

From “The Schoolboy” by William Blake (page 76)

I love to rise in a summer morn
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the sky-lark sings with me.
O! what sweet company.

But to go to school in a summer morn,
O! it drives all joy away;
Under a cruel eye outworn,
The little ones spend the day
In sighing and dismay.

The rhymes and rhythms of these poems could be read aloud almost like lullabies, but there are deeper meanings and stories that are told.  Coupled with the vibrant drawings that pop when readers turn the page, nostalgia for a by-gone era can take over —  remember scampering through those hills, playing follow-the-leader, or just chasing other kids around.  Ode to Childhood: Poetry to Celebrate the Child by Samuel Carr is not just a celebration of childhood or innocence, but a celebration of life.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO WIN ODE TO CHILDHOOD edited by Samuel Carr, tell me a childhood memory in the comments. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter. Giveaway ends April 15, 2014, at 11:59 PM EST

Book 8 for the Dive Into Poetry Reading Challenge 2014.

 

 

For today’s 2014 National Poetry Month: Reach for the Horizon tour stop, click the image below:

Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad, illustrated by Benny Andrews

Source: Sterling Children’s Books
Hardcover, 48 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad, illustrated by Benny Andrews for ages 8+, is a collection of poems that won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award in 2007.  Hughes’ poems grew from a love of Whitman and a desire to express the joys of Black culture through verse and in an unapologetic way — and many of his poems are steeped in the urban experience from New York’s Harlem to Washington, D.C.  where is poem “Big Buddy” has become an anthem for the Split This Rock Poetry Festival.

Hughes’ introduction is long, and well it should be given his influence and his numerous works, but there is enough in here to conduct an entire lesson about American culture in the 1920s and beyond.  Like in the other books of this series, there are accompanying illustrations and explanations of what the poet thought or where the inspiration came from, and more importantly, dialects, unusual terms, and geographic locations are explained in the footnotes at the bottom of the page.

From “I, Too” (page 22)

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

The beauty of Hughes’ poems is the ways in which he illustrates not only the beauty of his people, but that of America with his people in it.  Infusing poems with a musicality of jazz or blues evokes an even greater emotional response when read aloud.  Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad, illustrated by Benny Andrews, is poignant, fun, and full of history.  Poems that are less about the darker side of life and more about the joys that we find within it.

Also in the series:


IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO WIN POETRY FOR YOUNG PEOPLE PRIZE PACK, name a favorite poet or poem in the comments. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter. Giveaway ends April 15, 2014, at 11:59 PM EST

Book 7 for the Dive Into Poetry Reading Challenge 2014.

 

 

For today’s 2014 National Poetry Month: Reach for the Horizon tour stop, click the image below:

Going Over by Beth Kephart

You must start with the toe-tapping video for Going Over by Beth Kephart. The music, the quotes from respected authors, the story summarized in the most eye-catching video about 1980s Berlin, at the height of punk rock and in a city fiercely divided arbitrarily by a literal wall and its politics, with Germans caught in the middle.

Source: Chronicle Books
Hardcover, 264 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Going Over by Beth Kephart, which reaches stores in April, examines the division of a country and how it effects its people who are separated from their loved ones by a wall and barbed wire. Ada Piekarz, a professor of escapes and a graffiti artist, and her mother, Mutti, and grandmother, Omi, live in Kreuzberg, West Berlin, while Omi’s sister Grossmutter and Stefan live in Friedrichshain, East Berlin. Ada and her family can cross into East Berlin for visits occasionally, but the distance in time and space is too far for love to grow uninterrupted between Ada and Stefan, though it does remain strong in absence. Amidst this love story between Ada and Stefan is the love of a family, Omi and Grossmutter, who hold onto their pasts tightly, even the painful events when the Soviets and then the Stasi came.

“Omi is hiding. The shelter is dark, but Omi will be found, and her mother, and her best friend, Katja, too, who can trade cigarettes for flour, a used pair of boots for a wool jacket, a tulip bulb for a bird in a cage, and who will grow up and be old, who will become Stefan’s Grossmutter.” (page 111 ARC)

Kephart balances the points of view of Stefan and Ada beautifully, and the tension is built page after page as Ada says she can no longer wait for Stefan to decide whether to escape to West Berlin or not. Stefan is unsure if he should leave his grandmother who has lost so much, but he’s also feeling the guilt that comes with leaving her and being part of the reason she has already lost so much. Grossmutter is a woman who was talented and strong, but with the erection of a wall and the loss of her family, she’s become frail — at least on the outside — but she still has the power to surprise even her grandson.

Ada fronts strength, but even she has her limits as a punk painter of walls. She loves Stefan so much that it hurts, but she also loves the kids she cares for at the daycare where she works, including Savas. Savas’ story is here to remind us that Germans were not the only ones harmed by the wall and the separation of the country, but so too were the Turks who were called in to fulfill jobs that remained vacant. His family lives in the Turkish section of Germany, run by its own rules and rarely subject to German authority. It is this separation that leads to tragedy. Kephart demonstrates that differences make us stronger, that love can bind us together, and improve our lives despite the obstacles.

Kephart’s Going Over is stunning, and like the punk rock of the 80s, it strives to stir the pot, make readers think, and evoke togetherness, love, and even heartbreak — there are lessons in each.

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of 10 books, including the National Book Award finalist A Slant of Sun; the Book Sense pick Ghosts in the Garden; the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, Flow; the acclaimed business fable Zenobia; and the critically acclaimed novels for young adults, Undercover and House of Dance. A third YA novel, Nothing but Ghosts, published in June 2009. And a fourth young adult novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, released in March 2010. “The Longest Distance,” a short story, appears in the May 2009 HarperTeen anthology, No Such Thing as the Real World.

Kephart is a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize, among other honors. Kephart’s essays are frequently anthologized, she has judged numerous competitions, and she has taught workshops at many institutions, to all ages. In the fall of 2009, Kephart will teach the advanced nonfiction workshop at the University of Pennsylvania.

Click here for the discussion questions for Going Over.

Also, a free sampler for Kindle.

5th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; this is set in Germany.

 

 

11th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

To win 1 copy of Going Over by Beth Kephart, leave a comment about your favorite 80s band!

You must have a U.S. or Canadian address to enter. Leave your comment by April 5, 2014, 11:59 PM EST

A Year With Six Sisters’ Stuff: 52 Menu Plans, Recipes, and Ideas to Bring Families Together

Source: Shadow Mountain
Paperback, 242 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

A Year With Six Sisters’ Stuff: 52 Menu Plans, Recipes, and Ideas to Bring Families Together is a selection of 52 menus with recipes for main meals, desserts, appetizers, salads, and side dishes.  These menu plans can make the busy family life a little bit easier when you have a plan for every evening meal of the year, thanks to these ladies.  Each menu plan includes the ingredients, the steps for creating the meals, and pictures of the final product — and these pictures will make your mouth water.  Although there are some recipes you’ll have to modify if you have allergies — which is easy enough with some ingenuity — for the most part these recipes will allow you to use what ingredients you have on hand or in the cupboards.  For those who like to plan ahead, they can map out a week’s worth of meals and shop accordingly.

For instance, in menu 45 — Parmesan Spinach-Stuffed Mushrooms, Spinach Lasagna Rolls, and Garlic Breadsticks — I used the ingredients I had in the house to make the lasagna rolls, but not the other elements in the menu plan.  Making the stuffing for the rolls was as easy as mixing the cheese ingredients with egg and chopped spinach, but rather than use traditional lasagna noodles, I used my no-boil lasagna noodles.  Here’s the crazy part — I boiled them, but just long enough to make them pliable for rolling purposes — and that took less time that it would have if I used normal lasagna noodles, though these no boil noodles are shorter.  The recipe does make exactly 9 rolls and if you run out of sauce from a jar, you can always do what I did and used diced Italian-seasoned tomatoes from a can.  Here’s a picture of what they looked like before they went in the oven for 40 minutes:

Spinach Lasagna Rolls

And I can tell you, my husband is not a big spinach eater, but he gobbled these right up.  My next attempt at using the cookbook was for my daughter’s belated birthday bash with Anna and her family.  We used Menu # 27, which included Homemade Chicken Nuggets, Slow Cooker Macaroni and Cheese, and Applesauce Oatmeal Cookies.   Everything from this seemed to go over really well, though the cookies came out very cake-y and Anna and I prefer more crunchy cookies.  Also, my daughter selected her own dessert — rather than birthday cake — from a Menu # 48, Chocolate Raspberry Brownie Parfaits, which were really easy to make.

The chicken nuggets took the longest to make because of all the steps with cutting the chicken breast and preparing the breading, but you could cut out some steps by purchasing Kabob-ready chicken pieces.  The slow cooker mac-and-cheese took the next longest amount of time, and we wondered if cooking the pasta beforehand was necessary, but we did shorten the timing in the cooker because 2 hours seemed way too long.  The parfaits were easy to do once you made the box pudding and the brownies — all that was left was assembling them in dishes.  We also took from Menu # 1, the strawberry lemonade slush, which just needs lemonade from frozen concentrate, frozen strawberries, water, and some lemon-lime soda.  Check out the rest of the photos.

chocolatebrownie

After a big day at the house with friends, I hopped back into the cookbook to make something for breakfast that I’ve never made before — Egg Souffle from Menu #26. if you’re like me and get freaked out by large words like Souffle…this cookbook is for you. It made this so easy. After preparing the souffle and cooking it in the oven, I made bacon to go with it, rather than the French toast and strawberry sunrise drink — that will be for another day. Delicious, light, and moist.

A Year With Six Sisters’ Stuff: 52 Menu Plans, Recipes, and Ideas to Bring Families Together is not just a menu planning helper or cookbook, there are fun activities for the family to do together — like having a night where you shop for anything for dinner and end up with a smorgasbord of everyone’s favorites from cookies to bananas and pizza. Everyone at my house loved the food and it was something we’d definitely try again, and I cannot wait to try out more of these recipes.

About the Authors:

The Six Sisters—Camille, Kristen, Elyse, Stephanie, Lauren, and Kendra—grew up in Utah, but a few of them have lived in other parts of the country since moving out of the house. Between them there are five nieces and three nephews, and all of the sisters love playing “aunt.” The sisters started the blog in February 2011 to keep in touch while they were apart, but it has since gained popularity, garnering more than 9 million viewers per month and more than 307,000 followers on Pinterest. Check out their Facebook page.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Rebel Pirate by Donna Thorland

Source: Berkley/NAL, Penguin Group USA
Paperback, 416 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Rebel Pirate by Donna Thorland, the second book in the Renegades of the Revolution series, set during the Revolutionary War uncovers the double-dealing spying that occurred on both sides of the war, as well as the privateering that local businessmen resorted to when the British cut the colonies off from trade and banned them from trading with other countries, while levying extraordinary taxes.  Sarah Ward finds her ship, the Sally, boarded by the British crew of the Wasp, and she has little recourse but to dress as a boy to protect her younger brother Ned from being pressed into military service.  Despite being loyalists, she takes the only action she can in expelling the threat and taking the Wasp’s Captain James Sparhawk prisoner.

“Boston’s North Shore had been the haunt of pirates for a hundred years, almost every inlet and harbor a supposed hiding place for their loot.  Blackbeard’s silver was rumored to be buried somewhere in the Isles of Shoals; the hoard of Quelch in a cave at Marblehead; that of Veal in the Lynn Woods.  The American Main was the stuff of pirate legend.” (page 201)

Readers will be captivated by the headstrong and stubborn Sarah Ward as she navigates the town of Salem, which considers her the jilted lover of Micah Wild, a savvy businessman looking out for himself, and her loyalties to her family.  Her father, a pardoned pirate, is captive in his own body, while Mr. Cheap is a loyal shipman who is protective of the family and its interests.  Enter Sparhawk and his reputation as a rake, who is charmed beyond reason by Sarah.  He cannot think straight around her, and against his better principles and naval code, agrees to follow along in her scheme to keep her safe from Wild’s wrath regarding the demolished Sally and the lost French gold.

Thorland’s series is detailed in its history, is trussed up in mystery and romance, and unfolds like a spy thriller as all of the characters become embroiled with one another’s affairs.  These are the kinds of Revolutionary War books readers will love because they are rich in history and imagination.  The Rebel Pirate by Donna Thorland is a captivating book that will have readers up late at night rushing through the pages to finish.  The midnight candles will be burning with this sexy read.

Thorland answered a few questions for the blog tour today:

Q: Sarah and James have such intense chemistry. Is that easy to write? How do you make two characters seem so attracted to each other?

A: I’m interested in love stories where two people meet who have the potential to become true partners in life, and who will challenge one another to become their best selves. That begins with the ability of the hero and heroine to see through the masks they’re both wearing. And I think that’s where chemistry comes from—the process of the hero and heroine stripping each other down to their essential selves. Seeing and accepting each other, as Rainer Maria Rilke put, “whole against the sky.”

Q: What is your favorite thing about writing historical romance?

A: There’s so much to love in this category. But let’s boil it down to its essentials: my favorite thing is going on an adventure with a heroine—a heroine who will be rewarded with love at the end of the story.

About the Author:

Graduating from Yale with a degree in Classics and Art History, Donna Thorland managed architecture and interpretation at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem for several years. She then earned an MFA in film production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. She has been a Disney/ABC Television Writing Fellow and a WGA Writer’s Access Project Honoree, and has written for the TV shows Cupid and Tron: Uprising. The director of several award-winning short films, her most recent project aired on WNET Channel 13. Her fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Donna is married with one cat and splits her time between Salem and Los Angeles.

Check out my other reviews for this series:

The Turncoat by Donna Thorland

7th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

ENTER TO WIN — The Rebel Pirate by Donna Thorland

U.S. addresses only.  Leave a comment by March 17, 2014, at 11:59 PM EST

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

Source: Random House and TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 256 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

 

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith is a fresh short-story collection that spans the Vietnamese culture, myths, and the immigrant experience, straddling reality and the magical.  The Vietnam War hovers in the background of the characters’ lives as the mothers struggle to garner U.S. visas for themselves and their children born of American soldiers in “Guests” or in “Boat Story,” where a grandson asks his grandmother to explain her escape from Vietnam during the war.  Kupersmith’s style is clear and engaging, and the myths and magical moments are told in a storytelling style that is reminiscent of the oral traditions in Vietnamese culture.

“Whatever spirit had reanimated the corpse must have been a feeble one, for the body moved clumsily, legs stiff but head dangling loose as it struggled to keep its balance on the angry waves.  Grandpa sank down to his knees next to me, and we peered over the gunwale in helpless horror as the body tottered closer and closer.” (Page 8 ARC)

From ghosts in the Frangipani Hotel to the spirits in the woods, Kupersmith weaves in magic and myth seamlessly with reality. Her characters are oddities and not; they are rational but also open-minded about the unseen.  From the twin girls who border on feral to the young man who finds a ghost in the hotel, her characters are both real and unreal — they have a mystical quality.  The prose is witty, with a few moments that will leave readers chuckling.  At other times, the stories tackle serious issues like immigration and the soldiers who leave women behind with babies when the war is over, though with a sense of irony that never feels misplaced.

She can lull readers into a sense of complacency before her prose unsettles their world, and the mark of a great storyteller is one that can shift from male and female points of view with ease and who can create stories that will stay with readers long after they’ve been read.  The stories in The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith shift in setting and time, but the roots do not change, merely grow and curl as the tales unfold.

***U.S. residents can enter to win 1 copy of Violet Kupersmith’s The Frangipani Hotel by leaving a comment by March 10, 2014, 11:59 PM EST.***

About the Author:

Violet Kupersmith was born in rural Pennsylvania in 1989 and grew up outside of Philadelphia. Her father is American and her mother is a former boat refugee from Vietnam. After graduating from Mount Holyoke College she received a yearlong Fulbright Fellowship to teach and research in the Mekong Delta. She is currently at work on her first novel.

7th book (Vietnam War) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

 

 

6th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

10th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith

Source: TLC Book Tours and Random House
Hardcover, 352 pages
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A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith is set in the 1930s when the United States was sending the mothers of soldiers overseas to France to the cemeteries where their children had been buried after WWI.  Smith bases her novel on the diary of Colonel Thomas Hammond, who began his career in the military with one of the pilgrimages of the Gold Star Mothers, and he appears as a young principled officer seeking to live up to his family’s illustrious military history.  As these mothers make their journey across the Atlantic to pay respect to their lost sons, Hammond is unaware how much the journey will affect him and these women.  Smith builds the story from a small island town in Maine where Cora Blake struggles alongside her neighbors to make ends meet as the United States wallows in Depression to the deepest emotional hum a human being can experience at a foreign graveside in a country that is still rebuilding after war.

“He was in grave number 72, identified by his dog tags, which were apparently nailed to a stake.  The second card asked that she state her relationship to the deceased and answer yes or no to the question: ‘Do you desire that the remains be brought to the United States?'” (page 15 ARC)

Cora Blake is a young widow, who also has lost her son to a war in Europe, but she’s just beginning to breathe and learn that there could be happiness around the corner with Linwood Moody, a recently widowed soil scientist.  Mrs. McConnell is an Irish-American who knows the struggle of working for the wealthier classes, while Minnie is a Russian-Jewish immigrant who has seen discrimination first hand.  Mrs. Russell is a woman who has been struggling with mental breakdowns for much of her married life, but is determined to see where her son died.  Just as determined as Mrs. Russell, railroad-heir Mrs. Olsen is seeking some form of closure from this trip.  Smith shines in her characterization of these mothers, showing how they are bonded over grief, but also that class distinction and experience can still separate them.  It’s a novel about the struggles for equality that still threatened to separate every American — immigrant or not — but how the great tragedy of war made no such distinctions when taking their sons.

“Cora’s world had expanded so rapidly, but not from the vista.  She remembered what Selma told her in the women’s waiting room in Boston.  ‘You got a lot to learn.’” (page 89)

Smith’s research into the time period, the Gold Star Mother’s tours, and the war itself — including the artillery and tactics used — shines through in the story, the plot, the characters, and the emotional roller coaster these women find themselves on.  Once in France, these women are swept along with military precision, but even the military is not prepared for the will of a mother’s love and her defiance against being told what will placate them the easiest.  They are here for the full experience, they want the truth of their sons’ sacrifices and will accept nothing less.  Along the way, they are treated to the best France has to offer, the eccentricities of Paris artists, the bigotry of Europeans who see Americans as arrogant, and the mysterious ways in which injured soldiers and American reporters, like Griffin Reed, cope.

A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith is stunning without being overwrought with emotion, weaving the lives of these women and their children into reader’s minds and souls.  In reflective prose, Smith deftly handles the grief of these women, the tension between grief and duty, and the peace that comes from knowing their loved ones are at rest.  From the cutting edge of facial reconstruction to the remnants of war that could still be found in the weeds of Verdun, Smith has crafted a novel that breathes life into history, ensuring that we never forget the past.

To win a copy of this book, you must be a U.S. resident, age 18 and over.  Leave a comment below by Feb. 14, 2014, at 11:59PM EST.  

4th book (WWI) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

 

 

 

7th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

 

 

 

4th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; this is set in France.

 

 

 

4th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.