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Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams

Source: William Morrow
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams tells a twisted and dark tale reminiscent of Rebecca‘s Gothic nature and the secrets held back from the main character Virginia Fortescue — you may remember her sister, Sophie, from A Certain Age.  The narrative shifts between the early 1920s (Virginia’s present) and the Great War where as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross, she meets a charming doctor, Captain Simon Fitzwilliam.  Their relationship starts out as a friendship, but you can tell that there is a spark between them from the start — almost a magnetic pull.  Virginia, unfortunately, carries a great deal of baggage and has an inability to trust men because of her father and the death of her mother. Meanwhile, Simon is bent on protecting her by any means, including keeping secrets and telling lies.  Their relationship seems doomed from the beginning.

The pacing of this novel between the time lines, plus the additional twists and suspenseful moments, can leave the reader fatigued as they try to see through the lies and get at the truth.  Like Virginia, who is the main narrator, the readers is left wandering in a fog of lies with little light to guide them.  The relationship of Simon and Virginia is passionate, but the deeper connection they felt is so easily broken by the lies of others and the circumstances they cannot control.

Many years pass and the darkness has poisoned what was once between them.  It makes it difficult for the reader to have faith in the relationship at all given all that has happened and the inability to find even a little truth in the lies.  It’s like in all the years since WWI, Virginia remains that same naive girl who is easily lead astray.  Simon is a character who is hard to get a handle on because of Virginia’s inability to see who he truly is for nearly the entire novel.

What’s even more frustrating is the last third of the novel seems out of left field in places and overly dramatic (like a soap opera), which again may be related to the Gothic feeling of the novel.  Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams is enjoyable in many parts and definitely dramatic.  There is definitely a lot to discuss with a book club.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz Williams spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons, before her career as a writer took off. She lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore.

Find out more about Beatriz at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 368 pgs.
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Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine, published by HarperCollins, begins with an interview between the author and film maker and director Christopher Nolan about the making of the Dunkirk film.  This serves as a preface to the overall story, which examines the societal and political atmosphere in the late 1930s. He also tackles the myth of Dunkirk and the so-called “Dunkirk Spirit” — what it meant to individual soldiers and how it mirrored or did not mirror the actual events of the biggest defeat and evacuation in WWII history.

“As they arrived back in Britain, most soldiers saw themselves as the wretched remnants of a trampled army.  Many felt ashamed.  But they were confounded by the unexpected public mood.  ‘We were put on a train and wherever we stopped,’ says a lieutenant of the Durham Light Infantry, ‘people came up with coffee and cigarettes.  We had evidence from this tremendous euphoria that we were heroes and had won some sort of victory.  Even though it was obvious that we had been thoroughly beaten.'” (pg. 27)

Levine draws parallels between the rise of youth culture in Britain, Germany, and the United States, but unlike the United States where the culture was freer, British youth culture was slightly more constrained.  In Germany, the Nazis used the rise of the youth to create a generation with a nationalist fervor through brainwashing.

Levine chronicles battles in the early days where the French military is woefully unprepared for the cunning of the German army.  He highlights the use of small groups of German soldiers who made it possible for the Panzer tanks to cross into French regions to the surprise of many.  Meanwhile, Britain remained in political turmoil until Churchill was named as Chamberlain’s replacement as Prime Minister, and even then, many began to fear that Britain would lose the war.

Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine is more than a recounting of a great defeat or an effort of survival, it is a look at the war from the perspective of the soldiers, politicians, and common people engaged in it.  The anecdotes and stories from these soldiers and others bring to life the war, particularly the lack of communication and the naivete of those who joined up seeking adventure.  Reality can certainly be a painful experience.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Joshua Levine has written six bestselling histories including titles in the hugely popular ‘Forgotten Voices’ series. ‘Beauty and Atrocity’, his account of the Irish Troubles, was nominated for the Writers’ Guild Book of the Year award. ‘On a Wing and a Prayer’, his history of the pilots of the First World War, has been turned into a major British television documentary. He has written and presented a number of programmes for BBC Radio 4. In a previous life, he was a criminal barrister. He lives in London.

Find out more about Joshua at his website, and connect with him on Twitter.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 528 pgs.
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The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, available at HarperCollins, is a stunning and intricate look at the network of female spies during WWI (and later, in WWII) and how integral they were to many of the triumphs and near misses that occurred to bring down the Kaiser (and later, Hitler). Eve is just one of those spies, but the intersection of her story and that of Charlie St. Clair happens just after WWII as a pregnant young woman comes to England in search of the one woman who might know what happened to her cousin Rose. Both women carry extreme guilt for those they were unable to save and both have been broken by those failures.

“It was why she’d been hired, her pure French and her pure English. Native of both countries, at home in neither.” (pg. 25 ARC)

In a world in which men were called to war by posters seeking identical soldiers who would follow orders without question, Eve’s call to arms came in an unexpected way as she typed letters in other languages in an office. Her unassuming stature and her stutter rendered her nearly invisible and an outcast at once, and this is exactly what Captain Cameron sought in recruits. But she would need more than the ability to be invisible, she would need to transform into another person and be able to lie without being detected, even among those who were proud of their lie detecting abilities.

Both Charlie and Eve are women who face the double-standard — groomed to be or expected to want nothing more than to be mothers and wives but having the ability to be much more. Charlie, a walking adding machine, is searching for the cousin she loved like a sister who disappeared during WWII, and she bails on her mother’s hope for a brighter marriage. Eve is reluctant to join the search until a name from her past creeps up and her unfinished business rears its ugly head. Quinn has researched the network of spies well, but what she also has done is delved deep into the hearts of these patriotic women to uncover their desires, their fears, and their uncertainty in the face of the unknown.

Eve is real, a woman who should have lived during WWI and gained the respect of military men for her unwavering bravery, and Charlie is more than that wayward boarding school girl acting out. These women have experienced great loss and are forever changed by it. But together they realize that a future can still be had for the both of them, if they can only survive the past. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is a sure winner and a “best book of 2017.” It’s a book you won’t want to put down but sad to see end because you don’t want to leave these heroines behind.

RATING: Cinquain

I was happy to participate in a TLC Book Tours online Junket with Kate Quinn. Please check out the video below:

Blogger Junket Video:

Photo by Kate Furek

About the Author:

Kate Quinn is a native of Southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga and two books set in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. All have been translated into multiple languages. She and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia.

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

New Authors Challenge 2017

WWII Reading Challenge 2017

A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 327 pgs.
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A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams is set in the early 1920s when times were beginning to change and women were feeling a little freer to do more than marry and have children. Told from the points of view of Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue, New York, and Miss Sophie Fortescue, a naive younger daughter of an inventor who recently became wealthy, Williams weaves a mystery that can only come to light when the intersection of two similar panes of a prism come together unexpectedly. (I’ll leave the final panes of that prism a mystery) The novel brings to life the cloistered life of a newly rich family as a juxtaposition to old, wealthy families in New York society. Even as the clash of new and old money continues on the surface, bubbling underneath is a desire of women in both realms to break free into the world of Jazz, booze, and freedom.

“‘Still, it was a passion of yours, wasn’t it? There was a reason you loved it, there was a reason you loved flying that had nothing to do with shooting down other airplanes and killing people. So that reason must still exist inside you, waiting for the — the — tide to go back out.'” (pg. 110)

Theresa’s marriage has grown stale, as she’s tolerated her husband’s discreet dalliances and the birth of a child just months after her own first born. As she strives to take a risk and begin her own affair, she finds herself caught up in the same traditional web of matrimony and security as the young man she falls into bed with seeks more. A principled man, an ace pilot during WWI, Octavian Rofrano grabs onto her offerings like a life preserver. It is not until he becomes Sophie’s cavalier that he begins to see that there can be more to life than a casual love affair with a married woman.

Meanwhile, Theresa’s bachelor brother Ox has fallen in love with the slip of a girl, whose innocence has been cracked by a trip to Europe with her inventor father and her sister. Sophie has fallen for his charms, until she begins to see the wider world around her, and all of its possibilities. How these lives become tangled into a treacherous web will rivet readers to every word on the page. Williams has created a socialite set and a set of new money players who are drawn into tragic circumstances beyond their control. A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams raises questions about experience and innocence, age and beauty, love and lust, and emptiness and fulfillment — how do we reach our full potential without knowing our past and leaping into the future? Can scandal ruin it all?

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz Williams spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons, before her career as a writer took off. She lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore.

Find out more about Beatriz at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The Secrets of Nanreath Hall by Alix Rickloff

tlc tour hostSource: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 416 pgs.
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Secrets of Nanreath Hall by Alix Rickloff is an epic debut in the historical fiction genre in which both strong women — Lady Katherine Trenowyth and Anna Trenowyth — are challenged. Katherine, a budding artist, bucks societal expectations to follow her heart, but her actions have ramifications. Nurse Anna closes herself off from others following a tragic sinking of a ship and deaths that rock her world. These women choose hard, lonely paths, but their strength carries them through the good and bad. While Katherine knows when to accept help, Anna must learn this lesson on her own, which can be tough during a WWII when many things are uncertain and tragedy can strike at any moment.

Panicked like a wild thing caught and frozen by the hunter’s lamp. (pg. 293 ARC)

As Rickloff shifts between the points of view and the time periods, readers may expect to lose their place in these stories, but she does such a wonderful job integrating them, readers are bound to fall in love with both characters. Although we may want the best for them, the realities of war and circumstance will intervene. When Anna shows up to tend to the patients at Nanreath Hall, an ancestral home she’s never seen, her curiosity takes over, forcing her to uncover the secrets of her mother, where she comes from, and the family she never knew as a child.

Secrets of Nanreath Hall by Alix Rickloff is a carefully woven tapestry of generations of Trenowyths, whose lives are upended by the decisions they make, the passions they follow, and the wars they cannot control. This is historical fiction at its best with elements of romance, artistry, romance, and mystery. Get swept away by the mysterious ruins of lives past and learn to make a new path from the old.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Alix Rickloff is a critically acclaimed author of historical and paranormal romance. Her previous novels include the Bligh Family series (Kensington, 2009), the Heirs of Kilronan trilogy (Pocket, 2011), and, as Alexa Egan, the Imnada Brotherhood series (Pocket, 2014). She lives in Chestertown, Maryland, with her husband and three children.  Find out more about Alix at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. You can also follow her on Pinterest.

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

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Paperback, 304 pgs.
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After Alice by Gregory Maguire is a bit like being at the tea party with the Mad Hatter.  Everything is topsy-turvy in the real world and in Wonderland, but the only difference is that readers are familiar with the characters in Wonderland.  Ada, a girl who has a steel corset to keep her erect, finds herself falling down the rabbit hole after Alice.  While she spends a lot of time looking for Alice and meeting the characters her friend has already met and interacted with, she makes little impact on the Wonderland world and it seems to have little impact on her until nearly 200 pages into the story.

Maguire makes a point of highlighting Ada’s disability, but when she seems to freely wander about Wonderland without the aid of her corset, Ada, herself, does not appear to reflect on that much.  Readers could deduce that 10-year-old Ada is free of the constraints of society, the vicarage, and proper behavior once she sheds this corset, but there is little time spent on that.

“‘Perhaps I could join your troupe.  I should like to go to the garden party, too,’ said Ada. ‘I am hunting for a friend, you see.  I’m afraid that she may be lost.’

‘She’s no more lost than Paradise,’ said the Tin Bear.  Everyone looked at him. ‘Do you think even Paradise Lost could find itself in this fog? Really.'” (pg. 126)

There are a great many references to Noah’s Ark, Paradise Lost, and the like, and while readers can presume they are meant to be amusing in the land of wonder, they tend to fall a bit flat as there’s no real context or build-up to their usage.  For much of the novel, readers wonder why they are transitioning from the present to Wonderland — following Ada who is following Alice and following the governess and Alice’s sister, Lydia.

Although framing stories are often irksome, in this case, a frame might have improved the narrative here.  Allowing Ada to be the beginning and the end, while we examined what life was like without Alice in England.  However, even that would have made for a mostly uneventful story.  After Alice by Gregory Maguire is really just a case of a story chasing its own tale to no avail.

RATING: Couplet

About the Author:

Gregory Maguire is the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister; Lost; Mirror Mirror; and the Wicked Years, a series that includesWicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz. Now a beloved classic, Wicked is the basis for a blockbuster Tony Award–winning Broadway musical. Maguire has lectured on art, literature, and culture both at home and abroad. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.  Find out more about Maguire at his website and follow him on Facebook.

The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor

tlc tour hostSource: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 448 pgs.
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The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor is a dazzling dream of a young maid who worships the starlight in the dresses of London actresses on stage and loves to dance.  Dolly Lane has started from a small town and when her childhood love returns from WWI a broken man who no longer remembers her, she makes a tough choice to follow her own dreams.  Told from three points of view — Dolly, Teddy, and Loretta — readers are given a wide view of how lives were changed by war.  Gaynor’s leading ladies are different but similar.  Dolly wants to be in the limelight and Loretta has achieved that dream, and how these ladies lives become entwined is a stroke of chance.

“He pours milk into his tea. ‘I’m not that bad.  Am I?’
‘Yes, you are. Honestly, darling, sometimes it’s like spending time with a dead trout.  And you used to be such tremendous fun.'” (pg. 35 ARC)

Loretta is a brave woman who takes her life and makes something of it, living her life as she chooses. She becomes a famous actress and spurns the trappings of her family’s expectations. Dolly, on the other hand, has dreams but is waffling as to how to achieve them. She leaves the employment of a rich household to become a maid at The Savoy in the hope that she will meet someone to change her course, but what she doesn’t realize is that she must muster up the courage to make the most of even innocuous meetings.

“Instead, I tug at the counterpane on my bed, straightening the creases I’ve made by sitting on it.  A habit of mine.  If I can’t untangle the knots in my heart, it seems that my life must be spent untangling everything else, setting things straight, making neat all that has been messed up.'” (pg. 44 ARC)

War is hammer that shatters the lives of those soldiers directly involved, but the reverberations travel far beyond the front lines, crippling families thousands of miles away and showing those inspired to help the wounded and others that their selfish concerns are shallow.  Gaynor has meted out the historical details so well, readers will become immersed in this glamorous and mundane world — the two sides of the coin between the dreamers and those who live in the spotlight.  The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor reminds us that dreaming is not enough; we must learn to reach for those dreams and bring them to life.

RATING: CINQUAIN

About the Author:

Hazel Gaynor’s 2014 debut novel The Girl Who Came Home—A Novel of the Titanicwas a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. A Memory of Violets is her second novel.

Hazel writes a popular guest blog ‘Carry on Writing’ for national Irish writing website writing.ie and contributes regular feature articles for the site, interviewing authors such as Philippa Gregory, Sebastian Faulks, Cheryl Strayed, Rachel Joyce and Jo Baker, among others.

Hazel was the recipient of the 2012 Cecil Day Lewis award for Emerging Writers and was selected by Library Journal as one of Ten Big Breakout Authors for 2015. She appeared as a guest speaker at the Romantic Novelists’ Association and Historical Novel Society annual conferences in 2014.

Originally from Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland with her husband and two children.

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

The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler

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Paperback, 368 pgs.
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The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler is a stunning mystery that unravels piece by piece, and readers will first meet Mary Browning, an elderly woman in a writer’s group.  She believes she sees an apparition of her sister, Sarah, as a young lady walks into their public writing group.  This vision prompts her memories to resurface, and with the help of this young transcriptionist, she begins again on her memoir.  Leffler deftly weaves between the past and present, creating a multi-layered story that will capture not only the nostalgia of a former airplane pilot during WWII but also the immediacy of a young woman’s search for herself among the detritus of family drama.  Her characters resonate off of one another, like echoes of the past pushing forward the lives of the present into the future.  This ripple effect builds throughout the novel, until the final mystery is revealed.

“But my greatest fear of all was not having a voice of my own.” (pg. 5 ARC)

We all fear losing ourselves and not having a voice.  We are individuals in search of ourselves, but we also are sisters, mothers, daughters, and friends, among other roles that we play.  These connections can help us breathe life into our passions and desires, or they can stifle them.  The trick is to balance the needs and expectations of others with our own without hurting ourselves or those we care most about.

“… I learned how to squeeze my face closed and let myself soundlessly shudder, imagining my tears deep inside, dripping off my organs.” (pg. 31 ARC)

Mary has lived her life, much of it on her own terms, and while she has had a hard time compromising, she was able to do it for love, even to her own detriment.  When WWII was in full swing, she left home to do what she loved even as many told her she shouldn’t, and when she fell in love, she made a sacrifice that many would now see as unnecessary without having lived with the fear of persecution.

Very rarely is there a book that can equally make emotions soar and crash, taking readers on a complete journey wrought with obstacles and choices that you can only imagine facing.  For Mary Browning to have survived them and to have created a satisfying, but not ideal life, is nothing short of miraculous — much like when a heavy metal plane takes to the air with the birds and clouds.  The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler is equal parts coming of age story, WWII historical romance, and mystery, and it is so well balanced and amazing, readers will be left spent at the end of the runway.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Maggie Leffler is an American novelist and a family medicine physician. A native of Columbia, Maryland, she graduated from the University of Delaware and volunteered with AmeriCorps before attending St. George’s University School of Medicine. She practices medicine in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and sons. The Secrets of Flight is her third novel.

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

The Total Package by Stephanie Evanovich

tlc tour hostSource: TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 256 pgs.
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Tyson Palmer is The Total Package; he’s football’s biggest star quarterback with a pile of money, a hot bod, and a trail of broken hearts, including his own. His career as a star football player, with help from his father and those around him, is nearly over.  But a chance meeting at his college’s Homecoming with Ella Bella, a former tutor, has ramifications that he is blissfully unaware of thanks to his drinking and Percocet.  When he’s kidnapped and forced into rehab, Palmer comes to realize that forgiveness has to first start with yourself.  Signing with the Austin Mavericks, he has an opportunity to relive the golden days as a star quarterback, but he plans to do it differently.

He still has his critics, and one of them is Dani Carr, a sports commentator, who calls Palmer out for his egotism and his failure to win a Super Bowl.  There’s a deeper cause for her anger, one that will take Palmer a while to uncover.  Even as they argue back and forth, the foreplay is something they cannot ignore.  Stephanie Evanovich creates characters that are not only flawed, but forgivable.  Carr’s work with Marcus, who is the receiver the Mavericks have pinned their hopes on, brings her closer to Palmer.  Carr has focused on her anger for so long, it is hard for her to let go even when she feels pulled in by Palmer’s charm.

Palmer is a man who wants forgiveness, but he also wants to build the life he once dreamed about as a kid.  The Total Package by Stephanie Evanovich is a story about redemption and forgiveness.  It’s another great read from this author and would be perfect to pop in the beach bag or even to spend the afternoon with in the spring sun.

RATING: QUATRAIN

About the Author:

Stephanie Evanovich is a full-fledged Jersey girl who attended New York Conservatory for the Dramatic Arts, performed with several improvisational troupes, and acted in a few small-budget movies, all in preparation for the greatest job she ever had: raising her two sons. Now a full-time writer, she’s an avid sports fan who holds a black belt in tae kwon do.  Find out more about Stephanie at her website and connect with her on Facebook.

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Jessica Brockmole, Hazel Gaynor, Evangeline Holland, Marci Jefferson, Kate Kerrigan, Jennifer Robson, Heather Webb, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig

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Paperback, 368 pgs.
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Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Jessica Brockmole, Hazel Gaynor, Evangeline Holland, Marci Jefferson, Kate Kerrigan, Jennifer Robson, Heather Webb, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig is a collection of short stories set during World War I, the Great War. Love is at the crux of each story, whether its a lost love or the love of a child lost to war, and these men and women are tested by the ravages of combat.  These writers have a firm grasp of the subject and readers will never question their knowledge of WWI or the human condition.  From a childless widow of German heritage living in France in “Hour of the Bells” by Heather Webb to a young wife left in Paris alone and estranged from her husband’s family in “After You’ve Gone” by Evangeline Holland, people are torn apart by war in many ways and those who are left behind to pick up the pieces are weary and forlorn.  They must pick up their skirts or what remains of their lives and move on, despite the pull of the past, the future that will never be, or the emptiness of their homes.

“But the trick was not to care too much.  To care just enough.” (from “An American Airman in Paris” by Beatriz Williams, pg. 244 ARC)

“Sixty years gone like a song, like a record on a gramophone, with the needle left to bump against the edge, around and around, the music gone.” (from “The Record Set Straight” by Lauren Willig, pg. 44 ARC)

These characters care, they care a lot, and even after the war is long over, the past still haunts them, at least until they are able to make amends or at least set the record straight.  How do you get past the loss of loved ones, do you wallow? do you seek revenge? how do you hold on to hope? Sometimes the war doesn’t leave a physical reminder, but a mental and emotional one — scars that are harder to trace and heal.  These stories are packed full of emotion and characters who will leave readers weeping and praising the hope they find.

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Jessica Brockmole, Hazel Gaynor, Evangeline Holland, Marci Jefferson, Kate Kerrigan, Jennifer Robson, Heather Webb, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig takes readers on a journey through and over the trenches and to the many sides in a war — crossing both national and familial borders.

Rating: Cinquain

Connect with the Authors:

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m counting this as my Fiction Book Set During WWI.

 

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier by Ree Drummond

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 293 pgs.
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The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier by Ree Drummond, which was a February book club pick, is a fantastic cookbook for novice cooks and those with a little more experience.  This cookbook not only provides step-by-step instructions that are easy to follow, uses items that are pre-prepared (such as Pillsbury Crescent Rolls), and offers alternative ingredients, but it also tells a story of frontier life and gives step-by-step photos to show what recipes look like throughout the process to ensure that those following along are doing things as close to her instructions as possible.  I found the instructions and pictures of each step very helpful; they kept me on track, which I need with a 4-year-old helping in the kitchen who tends to get me easily distracted and missing steps.

For Thanksgiving week, I made the Peach-Whiskey Chicken using chicken legs, but you can use breasts and other types of pairings and types of chicken.  The directions were easy to follow with the measurements laid out, though the times for cooking in each step were approximate depending on your stove type and some steps could take longer.  We thoroughly enjoyed these messy chicken legs, and while I had a hard time finding peaches — I ended up using frozen peaches — it was good to make something so tasty from scratch.  This was the recipe that took me the longest time to prepare.

For the actual Thanksgiving dinner, I made the Whiskey-Glazed Carrots — are you sensing a theme here? — which was a relatively simple recipe to follow, though it took me a bit to find the skillet I have that has a lid — many of my pans do not have lids.  There’s something I do each Thanksgiving — I make different types of carrots with the hope that I can get Anna‘s daughter to eat them.  She doesn’t like carrots very much.  So far, I’ve gotten 2 okays in the last couple of years.  I’ll take it.  Next year, I’ll find another recipe for carrots.

After the Thanksgiving holiday, I had a day off to do some editing and decided to take a break and make Apple Dumplings using Pillsbury Crescent Rolls.  Cutting the apples was the hardest part because I don’t own an apple corer for some reason, so I had to cut the apples into 8 pieces — no they were not the same size — and core them once I cut the apple.  The rest of the recipe was a breeze, though I didn’t use Mt. Dew as the recipe indicated.  I used the variation of ginger ale, and I think they came out really well.  I don’t often eat ice cream, but I bet these would taste delicious with some vanilla bean ice cream.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier by Ree Drummond is delightful cookbook, filled with great recipes, anecdotes about frontier life, and advice on alternative recipes and pairings.  This is a cookbook I would recommend to anyone who wants to try something new but wants it kept simple.  I love that there are a variety of meals from spicy to mild, and the desserts in this book look so good just from the pictures.

About the Author:

Ree Drummond began blogging in 2006 and has built an award-winning website, where she shares recipes, showcases her photography, and documents her hilarious transition from city life to ranch wife. She is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling cookbook The Pioneer Woman Cooks. Ree lives on a working cattle ranch near Pawhuska, Oklahoma, with her husband, Ladd; their four kids; their beloved basset hound; and lots of other animals.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

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Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 368 pgs.
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Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman is a fanciful collection of short stories in a variety of forms, including those that use letters, poetry, and stories within stories. In the introduction, Gaiman explains what he means by trigger warnings and subsequently explains the seeds that began the stories and the thought processes behind them.  Readers who like surprises may want to skip the explanations and head right into the stories, because on their own, you can see how trigger warnings might be necessary for some readers.

“I’m thinking rather about those images or words or ideas that drop like trapdoors beneath us, throwing us out of our safe, sane world into a place much more dark and less welcoming. … And what we learn about ourselves in those moments, where the trigger has been squeezed, is this: the past is not dead.” (pg. XV)

Stories in the collection are twisted, have dark shadows that play at the edges, and will have readers contemplating what on earth they’ve just read.  “A Calendar of Tales” was a fun experiment conducted with the help of Twitter in which statements from strangers spawned ideas for stories, and these tales are spontaneous and captivating with images that references the months of the tales.  Readers will love the tone used by Gaiman, who builds little mysteries one word at a time.  Gaiman has chosen his formats and language very carefully — sucking readers in quickly and astonishing them by the end.  However, one story — The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains, previously reviewed here — that makes an appearance in this collection may be better read in its illustrated format — it’s so much richer.  But one of the creepiest and unsettling stories in the collection is “Click-Clack Rattlebag” in which a young boy asks for a scary, but not too scary story before bed from his babysitter.  The story that’s told is not what the babysitter or the reader expects, and it will have readers looking very closely about the shadows at the edges of the room.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman was a satisfactory collection and while the theme seems to be the inescapable past, many of these fanciful stories also seek answers to what happens when you begin forgetting or when the future you expected does not come to pass.

Other Reviews:

The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains

About the Author:

Neil Gaiman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books, and is the recipient of numerous literary honors. Originally from England, he now lives in America.

Find out more about Neil at his website, find all his books at his online bookstore, and follow him on Facebook, tumblr, and his blog.