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Pies & Peril by Janel Gradowski

Source: Janel Gradowski, the author
ebook, 192 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

Pies & Peril: A Culinary Competition Mystery by Janel Gradowski is punchy and fun, a perfect read for kicking back on a rainy day or on the beach during the summer.  While “beach read” if often a looked down on term, these are the kinds of books readers crave when they want pure entertainment and to enjoy characters and their stories.  Gradowski’s characters are not like those in typical cozy mysteries; they have good heads on their shoulders, are professional, and are not throwing themselves in harm’s way without thinking things through first.  Amy Ridley is no dumb blonde. She’s focused to win every culinary baking contest she enters, but when things go awry for her former friend and now baking nemesis, Mandy Jo, she takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of her death.

“The physical side effects of becoming a triple champion made her feel like she had been caught in a stampede of tap dancers from Ms. Carrie’s Dance Academy.” (ARC)

“Okay.  Dirty dishes didn’t talk, but she couldn’t stand to see them sitting there, like batter coated chore devils perched on her shoulder.” (ARC)

Amy is spunky and determined to uncover the truth, but she’s also aware that there should be boundaries to her tenacious search for a killer.  She’s lurking in corners to eavesdrop and running into clues, but she’s also wise enough to know that she should be careful and scared of the killer who is writing her threatening notes.  Her friend Carla is a doll, and readers will enjoy their banter as they go over some of Amy’s theories about the murder and her even more outrageous theories behind the murder.  Gradowski’s style is filled with humor and characterization; readers will get to know these characters in such a short period of time, it will feel like they are friends known for much longer.  The author has a way of packing in a lot of background and characterization in a small space, making it easier to flow with the relationships and the story as it unfolds.

“… The Cookbook Nook.  Not a single auto repair or vampire book could be found on the shelves.  Just cookbooks.  Glorious, fascinating cookbooks.” (ARC)

Pies & Peril: A Culinary Competition Mystery by Janel Gradowski will have readers’ mouths watering, and it includes recipes at the end to keep those taste buds dreaming.  Cozy mysteries may drive some readers crazy for their dopey heroines that carry their infants into dangerous situations or just rush headlong into places they shouldn’t as they investigate mysteries, but Gradowski has found the perfect balance between the cozy mystery formula and strong heroines that leave the tough stuff up to the cops.

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski lives in a land that looks like a cold weather fashion accessory, the mitten­-shaped state of Michigan. She is a wife and mom to two kids and one Golden Retriever. Her journey to becoming an author is littered with odd jobs like renting apartments to college students and programming commercials for an AM radio station. Somewhere along the way she also became a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking recipes found in her formidable cookbook and culinary fiction collection. Searching for unique treasures at art fairs, flea markets and thrift stores is also a favorite pastime. Coffee is an essential part of her life. She writes the Culinary Competition Mystery Series, along with The Bartonville Series (women’s fiction) and the 6:1 Series (flash fiction). She has also had many short stories published in both online and print publications.  Check her Website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.  Check out her books.

Other books by this author, reviewed here:

China Dolls by Lisa See

Source: Random House
Hardcover, 400 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

China Dolls by Lisa See spans pre-WWII, WWII, and after the war when Chinese immigrants and American-born Chinese were constantly stereotyped and pushed to the sidelines, and when America goes to war against Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor, proving you’re American becomes even more important.  Grace Lee has left Ohio in a hurry and ends up in San Francisco with crushed dreams and no friends, until she meets Helen Fong, who is from a traditional Chinese family in Chinatown.  She’s uptight and traditional, harsh on Grace and later on Ruby Tom, but she’s also searching for her own path, wishing that her own dreams could be realized.  Hollywood is often considered the land where dreams come true, but in this case, these Asian women find their dreams in San Francisco, though those dreams are often marginalized by their own pettiness and the world that looks down on their culture and abilities.

“Helen and I sat on the floor a little apart from the other ponies, who massaged one another’s feet, stretched, and gossiped.  Every day Helen arrived at rehearsal in a dark wool skirt, long-sleeved black sweater, and charcoal-gray wool stockings, but she quickly changed out of them.  To my eyes, it seemed like she was shedding not just layers of clothing but layers of tradition.” (page 47 ARC)

Grace is a broken young woman of seventeen and very naive, and in many ways Helen and Ruby are all too happy to teach her lessons about the real world, but they often underestimate her resiliency, her willingness to forgive, and her determination to succeed.  Whether she is running from her past in Ohio, her failed attempt at stardom at the Golden Gate International Exposition, or the rumors that circulate around her during WWII, Grace must turn inward to find her strength and remain true to her dream.  She may take advantage of every opportunity around her when it presents itself, even if it comes as something tragic befalls her friends, but she never purposefully creates those opportunities.  Ruby and Helen, on the other hand, are downright Machiavellian, though in Helen’s case, her machinations come from an emotional devastation that she struggles to keep hidden daily.

“I don’t want to remind them”—and it didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out I was talking about the FBI and the WRA—”I exist.  I don’t want to risk being sent to Leupp to join my parents.  I want to forget all that.  You left your mother behind.  Now I’ve left mine.” (page 262 ARC)

China Dolls by Lisa See is about chasing your dreams, making them come true, and all the petty jealousies and ups and downs that come with that, particularly in show business.  See masterfully weaves the history of the time period into these ladies’ lives.  It would be an excellent selection for book clubs as it raises questions about racial discrimination, inter-race relations, and prejudices within cultures based on socioeconomic and cultural differences, as well as what it means to be patriotic.

About the Author:

Lisa See, author of the critically-acclaimed international bestseller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005), has always been intrigued by stories that have been lost, forgotten, or deliberately covered up, whether in the past or happening right now in the world today. Ms. See’s new novel, Shanghai Girls, once again delves into forgotten history.  Visit her Website, Facebook, and Twitter.

17th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews

Source: Tandem Literary
Hardcover, 448 pages
On Amazon, on Kobo

Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews came unexpectedly in the mail, but my mom decided to pick it up when she was here on vacation.  Rather than write a traditional review, I offered to ask her some questions about her reading experience.

Who are the main characters?

Cara, Brook, Jack, Bert, Gordon, Patricia, Cullen Kane, Marie, and Ryan.

Cara is a florist and wedding planner originally from Ohio who moves to Georgia.  She has issues with love after her divorce.

Ryan and Jack are carpenters who restore buildings.  Bert works for Cara in her shop.  Brook is supposed to get married to Harris, but has a bit of cold feet.  Gordon and Patricia and Marie are Brook’s parents.

Does Cara blend in well with Savannah residents?

She seems to fit in with everyone well, and she has a lot of friends.  She also gets a lot of referrals to her flower shop.  She does floral arrangements for weddings, funerals, graduations, etc.

Is it obvious who Cara’s love interest will be?

Yes.  She meets him at his brother Ryan’s wedding.  They hit it off for a bit and then end up going their separate ways, etc.

What’s the theme?

Love has a restorative power.

Overall impression?

Read to see what happens.  5-star reads.

Mom read this one in a couple of days.  Share your thoughts about this one.

She Likes It Rough by GVR Corcillo

Source: Blackbird Press
Paperback, 302 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

She Likes It Rough by GVR Corcillo is not the erotica novel most will imagine when they see the title for the first time.  In fact, Lisa Flyte, the protagonist, is eager to live life to the fullest, get braver, and do something positive and improve the lives of others.  She meets Jack Hawkins in her MBA class, and knows he’s the one to teach her about bravery.  He’s an outdoor adrenaline junkie who designs professional equipment for similar people, but he’s also got a secret and Lisa’s going to help him achieve that goal.

“I should stop.

In fact, I should’ve stopped chasing Jack twenty minutes ago.  That’s when he veered off the trail and disappeared into the forest.  But I didn’t stop.  I kept after Jack.  I pulled into the lot just in time to see him lope off the path and vanish into the green mess of a mountain.  Without stopping to consider for even a second, I put my car in park, popped the trunk, grabbed my workout bag, and jammed on my running shoes.  Then I stripped off my jacket and followed Jack into the wild.” (page 1-2)

Corcillo has a flare for comic timing, and this is a laugh fest that readers will enjoy over the summer and recommend it to others on the beach.  Female readers in particular will laugh out loud as these two spar with one another from the most mundane activities to their own trajectories in life.  Jack and Lisa are polar opposites when it comes to tackling physical and emotional challenges, but they are destined to learn from one another.  While there are moments that are overly dramatic and soap opera-like, it’s a fun ride and readers will love the antics of Lisa.  She’s a klutz who takes every challenge thrown at her by Jack, but he’s a little more reluctant to take on the challenges she throws at him.

She Likes It Rough by GVR Corcillo was fun, engaging, and a wild ride, but worth it.  Spending an afternoon with these characters is like watching a comedy.  It’s certainly that feel good read, with a good deal of romance thrown in, plus some quirky sidekicks.  Readers should be cautioned that there is some harsh language as Lisa is not a shrinking violet.

About the Author:

Winner of Rebecca’s Reads Choice Awards for Best Indie Book of 2013 and Best Humor Book of 2013!   With her Ivy League education, white-trash sensibility, and pop culture savvy, Corcillo writes humorous women’s fiction about characters who try not to trip as they valiantly march to their own bongo beat.

33rd book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

Black Lake by Johanna Lane

Source: Little, Brown and Company
Hardcover, 224 pages
On Amazon, on Kobo

Black Lake by Johanna Lane is set in Northern Ireland at the Campbell estate of Dulough, which translates to Black Lake.  A pool, a cold lake, hills, valleys, mountains, cottages, and a massive estate would seem overwhelming to any newlywed, and it is hard to believe that it can be run by just three people — John Campbell, Mary Connelly, and Francis Connelly.  Woven with alternate points of view, Lane provides the reader with a well-rounded view of the hardships this family faces.  Young Philip is named after the first ancestor who built Dulough and threw out the Irish tenants after the Great Famine, and he has a legacy that weighs heavily on his head, but he’s not the only Campbell to feel the weight of family history in this place.  Will the deal with the government be enough to keep the family estate in tact or will the deal break this family from its moorings.

“Finally, he began clearing a patch of brambles and thistles; their roots went deep into the earth and he had to be content with lopping them off at ground level rather than pulling them out altogether.” (page 66-7 ARC)

John is a quiet man who knows how to deal with solitude in the Irish country, but his wife Marianne must grow accustom to the quieter life after living so long in Dublin.  His ability to be alone becomes a detriment in matters of his family, though he does enjoy schooling the children at home.  His relationship with his wife is enigmatic because he is less expressive, and she passively follows his lead until she reaches a breaking point.

“The whole painting gave the impression that Dulough might be engulfed at any moment, the lake rising to envelop the house, the sea covering the island, and the land reclaimed, the work of his ancestor obliterated.” (page 194 ARC)

Deep beneath the surface of this family are hidden bonds that only can surface in tragedy and loss.  From a man who is backed into a corner to maintain a large estate without the inheritance to do so to wife and son who have come to love their home as much, if not more, than their ancestors.  Black Lake by Johanna Lane is by turns as dreary as the rainy countryside and as dangerous as the quick-footed tide that nearly swallows the island where the estate church and graveyard lie.  Readers will be swept away by Lane’s frail family and their struggles.

About the Author:

Johanna Lane was born in Ireland, studied English Literature in Scotland, and earned her MFA at Columbia University. She teaches composition and creative writing in New York City.  Check out her Pinterest board for the book.

12th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge(Set in Ireland)

 

 

 

 

32nd book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

 

 

 

 

2nd book for the Ireland Reading Challenge.

Born & Bred by Peter Murphy

Source: Story Plant
Paperback, 395 pages
On Amazon, on Kobo

Born & Bred by Peter Murphy set in 1970s Ireland is a Boyle family saga.  Like many families, there are those members who have secrets, those that are well loved, and those who are tolerated because of their connection with someone revered in the family history.  Danny Boyle, a young teen who is growing up at his grandmother’s knee, is caught in the middle of God and religion and his father’s alcoholism and his mother’s mental illness.  He’s found solace in religion, but as he grows up and is pulled into drugs and the seedier side of Ireland, he’s spiraling so fast, that he barely sees everything as it whizzes past his bleary eyes.

“Danny had thought about it for a moment but he couldn’t say no.  He had been at the edge of everything that happened for so long.  Now he was getting a chance to be connected — to be one of those guys that everybody spoke about in whispers.  Sure it was a bit risky but he could use the money and, besides, no one would ever suspect him.  Most people felt sorry for him and the rest thought he was a bit of a spaz.”  (page 3 ARC)

He wishes for his mother’s return, but when he gets his wish, behind-the-scenes events lead to the loss of his one anchor in his life.  While many people in town sympathize and feel sorry for him, they also are not surprised when he gets in trouble.  There are few that believe him incapable of murder after a “pagan-like” dance in church, but there are some who are behind him and pulling for his reformation.  Murphy is an accomplished story-teller shifting between points of view to round out the story that is Danny Boyle’s life in Ireland, though there are moments toward that end that draw out the suspense a little too much.

Born & Bred by Peter Murphy raises questions about whether family genetics, upbringing, or environment can lead us to the actions we take or whether there is free will at all when God has a plan for us all.  Murphy’s setting and characters bring to life 1970s Ireland in a way that is disturbing, realistic, and harsh, but those realities help to shape Danny.  As the first book in a series, Murphy has created a lasting story with great potential in future installments.

About the Author:

Peter Murphy was born in Killarney where he spent his first three years before his family was deported to Dublin, the Strumpet City.

Growing up in the verdant braes of Templeogue, Peter was schooled by the De La Salle brothers in Churchtown where he played rugby for ‘The Wine and Gold’. He also played football (soccer) in secret!

After that, he graduated and studied the Humanities in Grogan’s under the guidance of Scot’s corner and the bar staff; Paddy, Tommy and Sean.

Murphy financed his education by working summers on the buildings sites of London in such places as Cricklewood, Camden Town and Kilburn.

Murphy also tramped the roads of Europe playing music and living without a care in the world. But his move to Canada changed all of that. He only came over for a while – thirty years ago. He took a day job and played music in the bars at night until the demands of family life intervened. Having raised his children and packed them off to University, Murphy answered the long ignored internal voice and began to write.

I’ve also reviewed:

Lagan Love

1st book for the Ireland Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

16th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose

Source: Atria Books and Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Hardcover, 384 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose (the 6th novel in the Reincarnationist series and available on Kobo) can be read on its own given that Rose provides enough background on Jac L’Etoile and her previous adventures.  The experience of reading these reincarnation books is enriched when the reader delves into The Book of Lost Fragrances and Seduction first.  With that said, Rose has outdone herself in the latest installment, as we see Jac taking the initiative — even if she’s slightly pushed into it by her brother Robbie and Malachai — to deal with her memory lurches and reincarnated lives.  Through a dual narrative — one in the past (1500s) and one in the present — Rose builds on the suspense until the very last page is turned.  Jac is forced to deal with tragedy early on, but she soon immerses herself in a project that keeps her focused and forces her to engage with her questions about reincarnation and more.  In the past, we are given a glimpse of the fine line between perfume and poison as Catherine de Medici’s perfumer René le Florentine, or Renato Bianco, navigates political intrigue, falls in love, and strives to completes his mentor’s — Serapino’s — work on reanimating dying breaths.

“His quest was to capture a person’s last elusive exhalation, to collect his dying breath, then to release it into another living body and reanimate that soul.  To bring it back from the dead.” (page 4 ARC)

Rose’s prose is always sensual, slowly building a mystery that changes at every turn.  Readers are spellbound by Jac’s search for truth, clinging to the hope that Rene’s formula for reanimating breath is real.  Rene and Jac are connected, and that connection only gets stronger as she uncovers the secrets at his chateau in Barbizon, France.  Like the scents that can evoke memory, Jac is drawn once again to Griffin, a man that has captivated for since college, and as they learn more about the past, their future becomes clearer.  Romantic, dark, mysterious — Rose creates a world that is all-encompassing, allowing readers to suspend disbelief about reincarnation and more.  As Jac faces her own demons and those swirling about her, she’s forced to see that fate does not mean she must surrender to an inevitable death or tragedy.

The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose is stunning in its passion, characterization, and setting, with Jac coming to terms with who she has been and who she will be in this life.  Her passion for perfume is the connection she needs to survive the trials before her, and the love of her brother and Griffin are there to sustain her.  Rose is one of the premier writers of mystery and romantic suspense, and she does not fail to captivate her audience from page one to the end.

About the Author:

M.J. Rose is the international best selling author of fourteen novels and two non-fiction books on marketing. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many magazines and reviews including Oprah Magazine. She has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio. Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the ’80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors – Authorbuzz.com. The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose’s novels in the Renincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and runs the blog- Buzz, Balls & Hype. She is also the co-founder of Peroozal.com and BookTrib.com.

Rose lives in CT with her husband the musician and composer, Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled and often photographed dog, Winka.

For more information on M.J. Rose and her novels, please visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

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16th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

10th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge(Set in France)

When the Cypress Whispers by Yvette Manessis Corporon

Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins
Hardcover, 368 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

When the Cypress Whispers by Yvette Manessis Corporon melds the island tranquility of Greece’s Erikousa with the Greek Gods and Goddesses and whispering of the Cypress, creating a modern-day mythology.  Daphne is a modern woman, her heart heavy with the loss of her first husband and her struggles as a single mother rising to the top in New York City’s restaurant scene.  She comes back to her island home to have a traditional Greek wedding, despite her fiance Stephen’s misgivings about constrained traditions, and to reconnect with her Yia-yia (grandmother).

“In hushed, reverent tones, Yia-yia insisted that the cypresses had their own secret language that traveled between the trees on the gentle morning breeze and quieted down again as the afternoon stillness set in.”  (page 4-5 ARC)

The juxtaposition between Daphne’s American life of being always on the go and struggling to make time even for her daughter is clear once she returns to the island.  It is not that as a child life was so much more care-free (though it was), but life on the island is slower and more connected to family and tradition than it is in the business world and career-focused life Daphne was building for herself.  Evie, her daughter, was named for her great-grandmother, but she’s never met her or been to the island until now.  Corporon’s focus on Daphne brings together the family story as it shifts between her childhood, her time in America, and the present time with the wedding planning.  Tensions are increased as a mysterious man, Yianni, begins making assumptions about her and seems too close to her grandmother.  A WWII mystery is revealed and Daphne sees the error of her judgments and realizes that she may have more in common with this mystery man than she first expected.

When the Cypress Whispers by Yvette Manessis Corporon has it all — well-drawn characters, mythology and tradition, love and loss, and the power of family.  An emotional, heartfelt novel about the traditions and cultures that make us who we are and the dangers of committing halfway or only looking at the surface.

Photo credit Dia Dipasupil

About the Author:

Yvette Manessis Corporon is an Emmy Award-winning writer, producer, and author. She is currently a senior producer with the syndicated entertainment news show Extra. In addition to her Emmy Award, Yvette has received a Silurian Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the New York City Comptroller and City Council’s Award for Greek Heritage and Culture. She is married to award-winning photojournalist David Corporon. They have two children and live in New York.

Find out more about Yvette at her website, follow her on Twitter, and connect with her on Facebook.

 

 

7th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; It is set in Greece.

 

 

 

20th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

 

 

 

12th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

9th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

 

 

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

Three Souls by Janie Chang

Source: William Morrow and TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 502 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Three Souls by Janie Chang — a stunning debut — is a sweeping novel set in late 1920s China when factions were battling for supremacy over land, wealth, the people, and politics — the Nationalists versus the Communists.  Song Leiyin is the third daughter in a large and wealthy family, and she loves pleasing her father with her good grades and is dutiful to her sisters and her father’s concubine, known as Stepmother.  She’s young and impetuous, and like her father often acts without taking a breath and thinking before she acts.  When she’s introduced to Yen Hanchin, a poet, her heart is captured by his intelligence and charm, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s translated Anna Karenina, which has been banned by her school but that she’s reading anyway.  Leiyin soon discovers that while her father had a Western education he’s still a very traditional man and not as liberal as some of their social peers, and when she pushes his limits of tradition too far, she has to live with the consequences.

“We have three souls, or so I’d been told.
But only in death could I confirm this.” (page 1)

Chang’s approach to story-telling is not unique, but how it is presented is. We know at the start that Leiyin is dead, but like her we learn through her memories — siphoned through her three souls: yin, yang, and hun — how she came to be in limbo and how she lived her life. She was a young, headstrong girl in love with a Communist leader of sorts, who was also a poet and an editor of China Millennium. While he filled her head with new ideas about what China could become, he also filled her naive head with longing and lust. Her infatuation with him led her to defy her father, and while the consequences were overly harsh, they were in line with traditional Chinese thinking and practices.

Chang’s story unfolds slowly and Leiyin is forced to think about her actions without hindsight, but as an observer of her own life — reminiscent of one’s life flashing before one’s eyes before death. However, her struggle is only beginning as she learns how her actions had farther reaching consequences than she ever imagined.  She must come to terms with her behavior, life choices, and learn that things are beyond her control.

With allusions to the Leo Tolstoy novel, Chang brings to life the class struggles in China, the inspiration the Communist movement strove to ignite, and the tangled web of lies that many leaders on both sides pursued to craft future China.  Three Souls by Janie Chang is epic, heart-warming, and multi-layered, incorporating Chinese tradition, class struggle, and the burden of a life cut too short.

About the Author:

Born in Taiwan, Janie Chang spent part of her childhood in the Philippines, Iran, and Thailand. She holds a degree in computer science and is a graduate of the Writer’s Studio Program at Simon Fraser University. Three Souls is her first novel.

Find out more about Janie at her website, follow her on Twitter, and connect with her on Facebook.

12th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

 

 

 

8th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

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.

Ripper by Isabel Allende


Source: Harper and TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 496 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

 

Young Amanda Jackson is the game master for an online game, Ripper, in which participants — including her grandfather — examine evidence of heinous crimes and try to solve them. Up until recently, the gamers had focused on Jack the Ripper and other past cases, but when a rash of murders with unusual elements surface after a bloody premonition by local psychic Celeste Roko, the members set their sights on solving the new crimes. Ripper by Isabel Allende, translated by Oliver Bock and Frank Wynne, psychologically gets under the skin of the reader as they meet with the Ripper members and become part of the characters’ lives — Indiana, a homeopathic healer and Amanda’s mother; Ryan Miller, an ex-Navy SEAL and security specialist; Pedro Alarcón, Miller’s business partner and former guerrilla fighter from Uruguay; Alan Keller, a socialite man quickly running out of prestige and pennies; and more.

“The cold was like a sudden blow to the body, but soon he was feeling the heady euphoria of a swimmer.  At moments like this — feeling weightless as he defied the treacherous currents, withstanding the near-freezing temperatures that made his bones creak, propelling himself with the powerful muscles in his arms and his back — he was once again the man he used to be.  After a few strokes he no longer felt the cold, and could focus on his breathing, his speed and his direction, orienting himself by the buoys that he could just pick out through his goggles and the fog.”  (page 150 ARC)

Amanda’s online detective game becomes more real than she expects, and the consequences of not solving the case are more dire than she would ever have imagined.  While her mother is free-spirited and lives on little, Amanda longs for something greater, taking cues from her father’s investigations as a policeman and the novels and books she reads on some of the greatest crimes in history.  Graduating from a fascination with wolves and vampires, Amanda has set in motion the ultimate game to pass time with her online friends, but when murders and kidnappings begin to hit too close to home, she has little choice but to take matters into her own hands.

Allende’s modern setting of San Francisco comes alive, with its mysterious fog obscuring some of the characters until such a time they are revealed in their full, flawed glory.  Although the plot is slow moving and the narrative jumps between characters — giving detailed descriptions of their pasts and current issues — Allende is creating a quilt of intrigue, leaving readers to shuffle through the red herrings and the clues to solve the mystery.  What’s stunning here is her characters, particularly ex-Navy SEAL Ryan Miller and his issues with PTSD following a raid in Afghanistan and Indiana with her unending capacity to give to others.  Ripper by Isabel Allende deliberately uncovers psychological motivations in each character, peeling back the skin a little bit at the time to reveal not only petty jealousies but the selflessness of love and family connection.

About the Author:

Isabel Allende is the bestselling author of twelve works of fiction, four memoirs, and three young adult novels, which have been translated into more than twenty-seven languages, with more than 57 million copies sold. In 2004, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She received the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award in 2012. Born in Peru and raised in Chile, she lives in California. Find out more about Allende, her books, and her foundation and visit her on Facebook.