Category Archives: She Reads

Review: The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

“You see, nothing is more immediate, more complete than the sense of smell. In an instant, it has the power to transport you. Your olfactory sense connects not the the memory itself, but to the emotion you  felt when that memory was made. To recreate a scent memory is one of the most challenging, eloquent pursuits possible. It’s poetry, in its most immediate form.”

***

Ever since my yoga teacher began laying cloths spritzed with essential oils over my eyes during final rest time (Savasana), I’ve considered concocting my own unique fragrance. Nothing sultry or elegant, but a delicate aroma which could trigger scent memories, carrying me away to a place of consummate relaxation. I haven’t done it yet, but after reading this book, I want to even more.

THE PERFUME COLLECTOR tells the tale of Grace Munroe, a sheltered 1950s young Englishwoman seemingly unsuited for her current situation. The former debutante from an aristocratic family married well, yet she never fits into the fashionable social scene. Though she tries to fulfill her expectations, her outspokenness, and intellectual aspirations leave her feeling detached from her contemporaries.

A spark of excitement (and confusion) ignites her world when she receives in inheritance from an unknown benefactor in France. After she discovers her husband may be having an affair (with a socialite who is the very antithesis of her), she impulsively flies to Paris to unravel the mystery.

The story flips in narration between Grace and the mysterious benefactor, Eva d’Orsey, who we first meet as an orphaned young maid in the 1920s. Eva’s story takes us from New York to Monte Carlo, as she uses her wits, looks, and unusual talents to rise out of a life of servitude. . . in a way.

Grace’s quest to discover her connection to Eva leads her to a stunning Paris apartment and a long-abandoned Left Bank perfume shop filled with the lingering scent of secrets. By following the scent, Grace uncovers the story of brilliant perfumer and his muse, and how one can trust their own scent memories to remember the past.

Almost everyone loves a Cinderella story. Personally, I’d rather read about smart woman transformed by a sleek haircut and stunning black Balenciaga dress than a prince and a frou-frou ballgown. While this story certainly has a fairy godmother, the happily ever after focuses on a woman’s journey to find herself, not her prince charming.

The supporting characters are eccentric, egotistical, and fun to read, adding another layer of sometimes maniacal charm to the story. And as always, I love a novel that can sweep me to faraway times and places while educating me a bit on subjects I know little about. I’ll escape to Paris any day, and I had no idea how fragrances were extracted—fascinating!

The dual storylines blend intoxicatingly creating a sweeping jaunt through the decades. **possible spoiler*** Though the final mystery was no great surprise, it was still an enjoyable ride.

Though the  THE PERFUME COLLECTOR is over 400 pages, it is an easy read, the plot carrying readers along at a quick pace.

I’ll certainly pay finer attention to the scents around me, and I’ll make sure I spritz some of my signature scent, Channel Allure, before I walk out the door each day.

Preview THE PERFUME COLLECTOR is the She Reads August selection.
For more about the book, the author, and general book love, check out SheREADS.org.

About the Author: Kathleen Tessaro is the author of ELEGANCE, INNOCENCE, and THE DEBUTANTE. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son.

THE PERFUME COLLECTOR
by Kathleen Tessaro
HarperCollins Publishers
469 pages

Review: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

“He sent his mind in search of me that morning.”

Nicola Marter was born with a gift so rare and dangerous she keeps it buried deep. When she encounters a desperate woman trying to sell a small wooden carving called “The Firebird,” claiming it belonged to Russia’s Empress Catherine, it’s a problem. There is no proof.

But Nicola’s held the object. She knows the woman is telling the truth.

With elements of mystery and magical realism, The Firebird intertwines contemporary romance with historical drama, sweeping readers from modern day Scottland to 18th century Russia. I hadn’t read a historical fiction book in a while, so this was a refreshing change. I don’t think I’ve picked up a historical with elements of the paranormal since Deborah Harkness’s last release.

In present day London, Nicola works with fine Russian works of art. While she’s a savvy and well educated woman who excels at her position, she also has a secret: she can see an object’s past with just a touch. Nicola fears her power, for the most part ignoring it, until the day she sees—actually “sees”—the visitor’s firebird in the presence her ancestor, Anna, and the  Empress Catherine. But without revealing her visionary powers, she has no proof.

Knowing she cannot control her power enough to trace the origins of the firebird and prove its provenance, Nicola seeks out Rob, a man from her own past—a man gifted with the power to envision history from just being in proximity. A man she once may have loved.

Nicola easily enlists Rob to join her in her quest to prove the firebird’s provenance. Rob, a kind-hearted policeman, is more interested in developing Nicola’s talents and possibly rekindling their relationship. Together they travel from seaside Scottish ruins, to rainy streets where a Belgian covenant once stood, to the palaces of St. Petersburg.

Anna’s story is more intriguing than Nicola’s present day quest. A child born during the Jacobean Rebellion, she’s been hidden away from her parents’ powerful enemies. Allies faithful to her family’s cause—a grandfatherly colonel and a mysterious soldier— whisk her away when danger nears. Clever Anna makes her way in her ever changing worlds, finding strength, family, and love in  times where no one is who they seem.

I found the tales of the Jacobites who fled to Russia to serve Their King James in the Russian courts of Peter the Great interesting, as that is a slice of history I don’t recall studying thoroughly. And, as you may know from my previous reviews, I love learning something while engrossed in a work of fiction.

Kersley supposedly continues some story lines from her previous novel, The Winter Sea. (I’ve yet to read it, so I won’t mention anything as it may be a spoiler.)

The Firebird will appeal to lovers of historical fiction. It’s elements of paranormal and romance are far from overwhelming, and this would be a lovely read to pair with a cup of tea on a chilly day.

Preview
The Firebird is the She Reads July book club selection.The wonderful women at She Reads are giving away FIVE copies of THE FIREBIRD. One reader will receive this book and four more of Susanna’s novels.(Again, thanks to the wonderful people at Sourcebooks).  Visit SheReads.com today for your chance to win, and throughout the month to discover more about the book, the author, and other fabulous summer reads!

The Firebird
by Susanna Kearsley
Sourchebooks
530 pages

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

From Harper Collins: Orphan Train is a gripping story of friendship and second chances from Christina Baker Kline, author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be. 

Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse… 

As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance. 

Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are. 

My review: 

From a historical standpoint, this book captured my attention. Before I read Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone earlier this year, I’d never heard of the “orphan trains.” Between 1854 and 1929, thousands of orphaned and abandoned children were packed up like damaged goods, shipped from the East Coast to the Midwest, then  passed off to any adult with an interest in a child. Didn’t matter what that interest might be—older boys sometimes became field hands, older girls might end up (as in this book) as nannies or seamstresses. The infants and toddlers most likely went to families who actually wanted a child to become a part of their family, but often the older kids (I’m talking eight-ish and up) sometimes ended up as nothing more than free labor.

We know going into this, the now 91-year-old Vivian Daly must not have been one of the lucky children.  After a tragic fire kills her family, she’s shipped to Minnesota, and due to hear age and red hair, found hard to place. Life is hard—harder than almost any modern day middle class kids can imagine—as she’s bumped between “homes” where she’s treated not better than a slave. She’s exposed to a life no 9-year-old girl should know. But things like that happened back then—and in some parts of the world today, they still do.

 I almost wanted this book to be a middle grade or YA novel. Something about adult novels told by children and in narrated first person point of view throws me off. Several chapters in, I realized Vivian (then Niamh—her name is changed several times thought her childhood) is the same age as my son. And she was about a thousand times more layered, eloquent, mature, and verbose than he could aspire to be on his best day at age nine. But as the story is told in rotating present tense, every time Vivian had these profoundly beautiful thoughts, I stuttered over the prose a bit, remembering she’s only nine. And her only education came by her poor Irish migrant mother teaching her some reading.

If I didn’t currently have a kid this age, I don’t know if this would have phased me, but…

Now Molly, the 17-year-old modern day foster kid, rang more true to me. Her voice was distinctive. There was a clear shift in point of view.  Even though she was older than the young flashback Viv, she seemed  far less mature, yet age appropriate.


I enjoyed the way Vivian and Molly’s relationship grew together, and how by discovering their similarities, they discovered their strengths. Though the times described were often tough, this book was a short, easy, engrossing read. I couldn’t help but be drawn into the story, knowing that since present day Vivian seemed not only wealthy, but content, things would eventually turn out for her—but how?

You’ll have to read it yourself to find out.

Preview 

Orphan Train is the She Reads May Book Pick.

To WIN ONE OF TEN COPIES visit SheReads.com.

Orphan Train
by Christina Baker Kline
William Morrow, 304 pages 

Review: And Then I Found You by Patti Callahan Henry

Katie Vaughn runs a successful boutique in South Carolina. When she finds an engagement ring in her boyfriend’s drawer, she goes into panic mode, realizing she must confront her past before she can move forward. You see, Katie has a secret that has weighed on hear heart for over a decade—a secret which can open up a world of joy or condemn her to more heartbreak.

Flashback: On the first day of spring, thirteen-year-old Katie falls in love with Jack. From their first kiss under a lazy Southern moon they believe they’re meant to be. College parts the couple, then law school for Jack. When Katie finds meaning as a counselor for troubled teens in the wilds of Arizona, Jack feels abandoned. He doesn’t understand her need to be so far away and pleads with her to return. She keeps telling him just a few months more…a few too many times. On their last visit together, Jack announces he’s moving on without her. Emotions run hot, and the couple has one last night together…a night with consequences that will echo for the rest of their lives.

Back in Arizona, Katie discovers she’s pregnant, and that Jack has married someone else. She bravely decides to give their daughter, whom they nickname Luna, up for adoption. And they go about their lives, trying to forget, but yearning to fill the empty aching places inside.

Now, thirteen years later, Katie (now calling herself Kate) impulsively decides to track down her first love in an attempt to figure out how it all fell apart, hoping she can mend her heart. She sets of a chain of events that will change them forever.

*********
I loved this book. I’d been meaning to pick up some of Patti Callahan Henry’s other novels, so I was overjoyed when She Reads announced And Then I Found You  was the April book pick. Now I must go back and read her previous books while I deal with the guilt of having missed yet another fabulous Southern Women’s Fiction writer.
This is a sometimes heartbreaking novel of love and loss, but it’s not one to have you crying or feeling sorry for the characters throughout. Kate is pretty tough, closed off and protective even, and feels she did the right thing when she placed her daughter up for adoption. Even though she was twenty-one at the time. Even though she was close to her supportive family—a family who offered to raise the baby for her, who begged her not to give away their first grandchild. She hand picked the family she wanted her daughter to have, with two parents who loved each other and wanted a child more than anything. Her Jack was married, and his commitment lay with his new family.
I wanted to like Jack more than I did.  It vexed me how he never told his wife about Luna (even after they divorced), how he dumped everything on Katie. They had such a rich history. He was a lawyer by then, not just some poor loser boyfriend. But he was married to someone else. He and Katie exchanged letters once a year on Luna’s birthday, and that was it. Then when Katie did show up on his doorstep, he still kept that wall up.
The tension between the two pulled me as if I was on a stretcher. Add in the tightness between Kate and her current beau, Rowan, and I was just frustrated with all men. At times I didn’t know who I wanted her to end up with, as I fluctuated between liking and wanting to kick both of the men in her life.
Then there is the whole adoption issue. I don’t want to include spoilers, so I’ll just say this: the emotions of everyone involved were beautifully written. The angst, the unknowing, the excitement, the desperation, the pure love…it was all there, feeling so real I just wanted to reach out and hug some of the characters. It was not at all surprising to learn that this novel was based on a true story. I only hope the real version worked out so well.
 
And Then I Found You isn’t a tearjerker, but it is a sweet story of love, loss, the need to feel wanted, and ultimately asks if we can open our souls to recapture what was once lost.

Read it. {Read an excerpt of And Then I Found You HERE}

Did I mention that Patti Callahan Henry will be featured at one of the author panels at the UCF Book Festival?  (I’ll be getting my copy signed for sure.) If you are anywhere near Orlando on April 13th, you won’t want to miss this event where book lovers and writers unite. If you’re going, drop me a line—I’d love to say ‘hi’!

Aaannnddd…as mentioned before, And Then I Found You is the She Reads April Book Club selection.  Head over there and comment for a chance to win one of ten copies of And Then I Found You! 

And Then I Found You
Patti Callahan Henry
April 9th, 2013, St. Martin’s Press
272 pages

Review: Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

“I knew almost right away Miss Isabelle carried troubles more significant than worrying about the color of my skin. As pretty as she was for an eighty-year-old woman, there was something dark below the surface, and it kept her from being soft. But I was never one to press for all the details—could be that was part of the beauty of the thing. I’ve learned that people talk when they’re ready. Over the years, she became much more than just a customer. She was good to me. I hadn’t ever said so out loud, but in ways, she was more like a mother than the one God gave me. When I thought it, I ducked, waiting for the lightening to strike. 

Still, the favor Miss Isabelle asked me, it did come as a surprise.”

Calling Me Home is debut author Julie Kibler’s story of a heartbreaking, forbidden love in 1930’s Kentucky and an unlikely modern-day friendship.

Dorrie’s life hasn’t turned out as planned. After marrying her high school sweetheart, she dreamed of white picket fences—instead she ended up a single mom running her own small beauty salon in East Texas. She’s thinks she’s finally found a guy, a good guy, but her previous betrayals by a list of losers has left her unable to trust.

Yet she barely thinks twice when Miss Isabelle, a longtime elderly customer who has turned into a dear friend, asks Dorrie to escort her to a funeral in Cincinnati. The next day. With no real explanation as to why. Close up her shop and leave her kids for a week?  Sure—she has some things to work out anyway (including a nagging suspicion that her teen son may soon be a daddy) and, well, Miss Isabelle needed her.

Once the car trip begins, the two women of different generations and skin colors open up about their pasts. But this is really Miss Isabelle’s story. She confesses how at seventeen she fell deeply, madly in love Robert Prewitt, a would-be doctor and the son of her family’s black housekeeper. These things did not happen in 1939, in a small Kentucky town where blacks were not even allowed to set foot after dark.

Julie Kibler spins a wonderful tale piping with strong female voices. The story kept me up late not only reading, but reflection upon how horrible things were not so long ago, and how things still aren’t quite as they should be. The blatant racism—signs on the edge of town telling “negros” to get out by dark—may be a thing of the past, but the subtle sneers and looks still linger for some.

At times Dorrie and Isabelle’s interwoven stories got me spitting mad, and mind went off on silent tirades about ignorance and injustice and just what the hell is wrong with some people and wishing I could banish the intolerant folks to their own island. And then I thought about my son, and how at age six he tried to tell me about one of the kids he’d befriended at the park. I’d asked him to point him out amidst the whole mess of kids tearing around the playground. It took a seemingly infinite amount of descriptors (brown hair, blue shirt, tall, loud voice, dinosaur shoes, standing by that girl) before he even mentioned that the boy had “brown skin.” It wasn’t important enough to be noticed or commented upon. It gave me hope for the future.

But this book isn’t just about race relations. At its heart is a love story—several, in fact. It’s a story about following your heart no matter what odds you must overcome. It’s a story about learning to trust your heart after it’s failed you so many times. And it’s a story about how kindness and love can form bonds far stronger than genetics, how family is what you make it.

I closed Calling Me Home with a delicate gasp, a shy tear, and a heartfelt smile.

This is one you’ll pass along to your friends.

Calling Me Home is the February She Reads book club pick

Enter to win one of the TEN copies She Reads is giving away, courtesy of St. Martin’s Press (just leave a comment on their post (linked here)–winners will be chosen on Friday)

Calling Me Home
by Julie Kibler
336 pages
$24.95 [hardback] $11.99 [Kindle]
St. Martin’s Press

*I received this book courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and the She Reads Blogger Network. All opinions are my own.

Review: The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro


“No,” I cry, and it sounds like a moan.

I should have guessed from the size of the canvas. This is no ordinary Degas. It’s one of his masterworks.
After the Bath, the last of five he gave the same name, but by far the most famous.


And thats the least of it. This painting was torn from the walls of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, ripped from its frame. It and all the other works taken that rainy night by a couple of bumbling thieves have never been recovered.

In front of me stands on of the most valuable paintings stolen in the greatest unsolved art theft in history.

Claire Roth is a talented, struggling young artist. She paints in the style of masters such as Degas. One of her works hangs in the prestigious Museum of Modern Art. Unfortunately, that painting is accredited to her former art professor and lover, and by claiming that she actually painted the work, she was blackballed by the art industry. To pay the bills, Claire paints reproductions (legal copies not passed off as originals) of masterpieces for an above board company while she waits for memories of the scandalous “incident” to fade and her own career to come alive.

Aiden Markel, one of Boston’s most powerful gallery owners, drops by her loft/studio with a Faustian deal she simply cannot refuse. If she can effectively forge a Degas missing since the still-unsolved 1990 Gardner Museum heist, he will sell the forgery to some shady art connoisseur (who doesn’t deserve the real painting anyway), return the original back to the museum for the world to enjoy, and grant Claire her own show at his gallery.  Her rent will be paid, her own works will finally be acknowledged, and the missing masterpiece will be returned to the masses. “There’s illegal, and there’s illegal.” What could possibly go wrong?

Everything.

The Art Forger effectively blends fact with fiction, coloring a vivid world full of obsessed artists, connoisseurs, and criminals…yet who is who?  Shapiro’s style is too simple for me to consider it “literary” but I consider that a compliment. When reading about the mysteries I don’t enjoy overly verbose clutter distracting me from the plotting. When reading about art I don’t want the writer’s judgements obscuring my visions.

And Shapiro’s descriptions of the forging process are absolutely intriguing. While the missing Degas is a work of fiction (most likely a compilation of several of Degas’ bathers series), the techniques used to create the forgery are carefully researched, vividly detailed, and completely absorbing.

Claire is by far the most fleshed-out character. While her reasoning and taste in men might be found lacking, she is engrossing, skilled, and perceptive enough to make her amateur detective skills believable. Correspondence from Isabella Stewart Gardner is interspersed throughout the story, a plot device used to clue the readers in on the true origins of the painting. While I found the tales of  her journeys through Europe acquiring her impressive art collection interesting, her fictionalized relationship with Degas required some suspension of disbelief. Not that she may have had such relationship (although one has never been alluded to in reality), but that she would discuss it so openly in a letter.

While some aspects of the crime story were predictable, there were enough swerves to keep me reading until the wee hours. I’m also a sucker for novels that leave me feeling as if I’ve gained some knowledge along the way, and Shapiro expertly blends facts into a masterful tale, making me pull out some of my tomes on art history and wish I remembered more from my classes. Any art lover will adore this book.


The Art Forger is the January She Reads book club pick. She Reads is GIVING AWAY 10 COPIES of The Art Forger (courtesy of Algonquin Books). Enter to win and check out more reviews of the book by clicking here.

The Art Forger 
by B.A. Shapiro
368 pages
$23.99 [hardcover] $9.58  [Kindle ed.]
Algonquin Books

*I received this book courtesy of Algonquin Books and the She Reads Blogger Network. All opinions are my own.

Review: Man in the Blue Moon by Michael Morris

Ella Wallace is sinking faster than a brick-bound body in a Florida swamp. Her opium-addicted husband, Harlan, ran off leaving her with three boys to raise, a county store to run, and a second mortgage she didn’t sign for and can’t pay. This is no great surprise to many townsfolk in the panhandle town of Dead Springs; they’d been waiting for her fall since she threw away her chance to study art in Europe and made that charming scoundrel her husband.

There’s something special about Ella’s land, the only thing she has left from a family long gone. The unscrupulous banker who holds the mortgage thinks so, too. There’s an old spring bubbling up on the back of her property, and the local Indians believe it may have some special healing properties. Enter a big time evangelist itching to build a retreat to help heal his sickly, wealthy wife. Some men will do anything to make a hearty profit in a hardscrabble town.

On the verge of financial and emotional collapse, Ella gambles on a special delivery her husband arranged before going AWOL, and sets of a chain of events testing her faith in everything she’d ever known. When the mysterious Lanier Stillis, claiming to be her husbands relation, suddenly appears on the scene, no one quite knows quite what to do with him.  Women on their own don’t take in strange men, especially when those men are on the run and tainted or blessed with some peculiar powers. But Ella needs any break she can get, and with Lanier’s help she fights to save her family and her land.

****

As a native Floridian, I gravitate towards any book set in this colorful, often corruptible state.  Dead Springs, set just outside the then busy port town Apalachicola, exemplifies Old Florida. It’s Southern to the core, filled with honest folks, scoundrels, and those just scraping by working the soggy land.

Setting is often a character. In Man in the Blue Moon, Morris intimately captures the languid sway of Spanish moss in a breath of breeze, the sodden weariness after working in the brutal heat of a late-summer day, the complex organic scent of a cypress swamp after a storm. He puts you there.

Southern fiction has a tendency to move slowly,  yet Morris manages to propel the reader on currents of suspense, drama, and some curious elements of mysticism. While some characters at first exemplify the archetypes of the time (the no-good husband, single schoolmarm, small-minded sheriff), Morris rounds them out and captures their weariness and hopes as they rebel against circumstance.  And I couldn’t  help rooting for the tenacious Ella, a strong mother fighting for what is hers, on a quest to banish the snakes from her Eden.

Man in the Blue Moon is a beautifully rendered a turn of the century tale, vivid in colors and contrasts, so rich you feel as your sitting around a campfire fire listening to a  master storyteller spin a yarn.

Southern Grit Lit at its finest. Read it.


Man in the Blue Moon
by Michael Morris
$13.99 [paperback] $3.99 [Kindle]
Tyndale House Publishers
400 pages

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Man in the Blue Moon  is the November She Reads Book Club selection. If you’d like to win a signed copy of the novel or a “blue moon” necklace head over and comment or join in the book club conversation. For more about Michael Morris, links to other blogger’s reviews of the book, or suggestions for other great reads visit SheReads.org.
*I received this book courtesy of Tyndal House Publishers and the She Reads Blogger Network. All opinions are my own.

Review: Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

BLACKBERRY WINTER: a period of cold weather in late spring when the blackberries are in bloom.

As a native Floridian, I had never herd the term blackberry winter. A late-season snowstorm? In MAY? I was intrigued. Then the story began…

May 1, 1933. A late-season snow storm blankets Seattle. Struggling single-mom Vera Ray must leave her young son bundled in their shabby apartment while she slogs through the snow to work her night shift as a maid in the upscale Olympic Hotel. She kisses her son good-bye. . .and never sees him again. Police refuse to search for the boy and consider the 3-year-old to be a runaway, just another faceless loss during the class struggles plaguing the Depression Era. Her simple life disappears faster than the snow melt, and Vera forces herself to grasp ANY option that may help her find her beloved Daniel.

May 1, present day. A late season snowstorm surprises Seattle reporter Claire Aldridge. She has been stumbling through the last year in a haze of grief, unable to come to terms with the results of a horrific accident. With a marriage on the rocks and a disintegrating career to save, she delves into the 80-year-old mystery of the missing boy.

The story bounces in time between the two women, sharing snippets of their stories, pulling us along until we find the connections which bind them together. And whether it be fate, serendipity, or artistic license, the coincidences cropping up during Claire’s search for the truth are as heavy as a foot of wet snow.

As a mother this story hit me with a a punch. Losing a child is a parent’s greatest fear, and watching both women throw themselves into the search for the vanished toddler and cope with a devastating loss will pull at any parent’s heartstrings. Claire’s quest to discover what happened to Daniel is really a quest to save herself. If she can just find out if that lost child survived, if his story had a happy ending, perhaps she can start living her own life again.

Both women’s stories are revealed with an air of mystery. In Claire’s present day story we wonder what happened to her marriage. Will she be lured away from it by the kind guy at the coffee shop? What’s the major trauma that broke her spirit? Yet I found Vera’s strength and story far more gripping. Who is Daniel’s father? Why is he allowing her to live such a destitute life? And will she ever find her child?

And if you loved Sarah’s debut novel The Violets of March, you will appreciate a cameo appearance during Claire’s visit to Bainbridge Island. Sometimes it’s so nice to catch up with old friends.

I’ve been a fan of Sarah’s since her days on The Debutante Ball blog, and Blackberry Winter did not disappoint. While the plot is slightly predicable, the story is highly readable and tough to put down. Blackberry Winter is a perfect light read to snuggle up with during an early fall cold snap. Keep a box of tissues nearby, just in case.

Blackberry Winter
by Sarah Jio
$15 [paperback] $9.99 [Kindle] 
320 pages

Sarah’s website | Twitter | Facebook

Blackberry Winter is the October She Reads Book Club selection. For more about Sarah Jio, links to other blogger’s reviews of the book, or suggestions for other great reads visit SheReads.org.

*I received this book courtesy of Plume and the She Reads Blogger Network. All opinions are my own.

The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March

The Meryl Streep Movie Club: A SheReads Review

Newsflash: Today is the official launch of the She Reads Blog Network!

September’s Book Club Pick is The Meryl Streep Movie Club by debut author Mia March:  a novel of love, family, and movie night.

Through everything, Lolly has always been there for them, and now Isabel, June, Kat—and Meryl—must be there for her. Finding themselves. Finding each other. Finding a happy ending.

Fifteen years ago, a New Years Eve car accident shattered Lolly Weller’s family. She took in her orphaned nieces Isabel and June and raised them with her daughter Kat, but the girls have not remained close over the years. Now, faced with a tragic diagnosis of her own, Lolly calls them home to her coastal Maine inn to support her—and each other.

Each woman just happens to be at a crossroad in her life. June struggles as the ex-good girl who dropped out of college after her only whirlwind love affair left her as a single mother. Seven years later, she is desperate to discover why her lover abandoned their blooming relationship and her son yearns to find the father he has never known. Isabel is still railing after finding her husband with another woman. Can she brush aside the pain of her betrayal to find the life and the family she has always wanted?  Kat remained by her mother’s side all these years, helping Lolly run the The Three Captains’ Inn with charm and grace. She’s ambivalent about upcoming wedding and wonders if she will be settling instead of following her passions.

The three women, now stuffed together in their old attic bedroom, barely tolerate each other in the beginning.  All it takes is a little Meryl Streep (during the inn’s weekly Movie Nights) to get them to open up and see each other—and themselves—in a new light.

The story highlights how movies can touch a part of us we keep hidden and open clogged channels of communication. The “deep meanings” each woman pull from each movie are a tad bit too neat, but they come together nicely to mend the fractures in the family.  I could almost see the light bulbs going off over each character’s head she had her “ah-ha!” moment. But movies can do that. Especially Meryl Streep movies.

Though The Meryl Streep Movie Club delves into deep subjects, the writing keeps a light tone. The back cover proclaims it follows in the footsteps of The Friday Night Knitting Club and The Jane Austin Book Club, so readers should keep this genre in mind. Expect to get a bit teary-eyed, but it won’t rip you up. It’s more Mama Mia than Sophie’s Choice (but that’s good because I’ve watched Mama Mia at least a dozen times but can’t bring myself to watch Sophie’s Choice). I still found it light enough escapism to enjoy at the beach.

If you need a refresher on the classics or you’re looking for some movie night suggestions check out the list of all the films mentioned in the book (along with some fun movie & snack pairings) on the publishers website. It’s just one of the unique details that would  make this novel an entertaining book club selection. Women’s fiction and chick lit fans can not only discuss the book, but their favorite movies as well.

So grab some popcorn, keep a tissue in your pocket (just in case) and curl up in your favorite cozy chair (or beach lounge) with this book about love, loss, and family movie night. Just be prepared to hold your own Meryl Streep movie marathon soon after.  (I just added Out of Africa to my queue—I am embarrassed to admit I’ve never watched the movie or read the book—a problem I shall soon remedy.)


by Mia March
Gallery Books
325 pages

Read more about Mia: Facebook, Twitter and her website.

Review: Wallflower in Bloom by Claire Cook

      “Poor little you. You’ve got it so bad. All you’re after is sympathy. Well, you can find it in the dictionary between shit and syphilis, and it’ll do you about as much good.”

     “Eww,” I said. “Don’t you dare ask me to write that down.”
Deidre Griffin is more than just an ordinary wallflower — she’s her families’ indispensable go-to girl and doormat. She lives in the shadow of her charismatic, New Age guru brother Tag—think Deepak Chopra meets Bono—and literally in the shadow of his home (she in a converted sheep-shed, he in the mansion). Though Tag employs his entire family, Deidre is the woman behind the curtain who runs all aspects of his business and life—by sacrificing her own.
When her long-term sometimes boyfriend announces he’s going to marry his knocked-up current fling, Deidre does what every woman would want to do: she rams him with her brother’s golf cart. Fueled by disappointment and disgrace, she tries to drown her worries in a Ben & Jerry’s Triple Caramel Chunk/chocolate soy milk/vodka milkshake. The next morning she discovers she *might* have taken advantage of Tag’s vast social network to vote herself into a coveted role on Dancing With the Stars.
Once the DWTS producer starts calling, Deidre realizes she may have conned her way into her opportunity of a lifetime. She decides to hideout in Hollywood, thinking she can escape her family, learn a few dance steps, and drop a few pounds before they realize she’s a fraud. A  fabulously talented dance partner, a new love interest (who still liked her after accidentally catching her in her rattiest underwear), and meddling ex-Deadhead family members round out the zany cast of characters on Deidre’s journey.
So many of us lose ourselves in our family. This delightful story is a daydream for millions of women who fantasize about breaking out, breaking a leg, and doing something just for themselves. Readers will cheer her on as she strives to learn her dance steps and battles her urges to inhale every junk food in sight. (When in doubt, eat. When in eat doubt.)
Playing into the whole Facebook, Twitter, and Dancing With the Starts frenzy, Wallflower in Bloom is a lively, timely read. I am embarrassed to admit I discovered the magic of Claire Cook books only a few months ago, and I am rushing to catch up on her past novels. Reading them is like settling into your most comfortable chair with your favorite romantic comedy movie or novel. Easy. Funny. Heartwarming.
On a side note: I also admit I’ve never watched DWTS. ::Cue gasps:: Okay, I did watch once when Heather Mills was on—I had to see how Sir Paul’s ex could foxtrot with a prosthetic leg—quite well, actually. Though I’m not a reality TV fan, Wallflower in Bloom gave me new insight into the work that goes on behind-the-scenes of the show. I still don’t know if I’ll ever watch it, but I absolutely will pick up Claire Cook’s next book.
Peace in, peace out.
by Claire Cook
257 pages
Touchstone
*Wallflower in Bloom is the She Reads Book Club August selection.  Check out SheReads.org  for author interviews and book club discussions.
**I received this complimentary book from SheReads.org. All opinions are my own.