Category Archives: Women’s Fiction

A Fresh Turn on the Path Not Taken: YOUR PERFECT LIFE by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

Your perfect life reviewA very happy Pub Day to Liz & Lisa!

The Book:

Best friends since childhood, Casey and Rachel couldn’t lead more different lives. While workaholic Casey rubs elbows with celebrities daily as the host of Gossip TV and comes home nightly to an empty apartment, stay-at-home mom Rachel juggles an “oops” baby, two fiery teenagers, and a husband who barely seems the man she fell in love with two decades before. After an argument at their twentieth high school reunion, Casey and Rachel throw back shots to get the night back on track. Instead, they get a life-changing hangover.

Waking up in each other’s bodies the next morning, they must figure out how to navigate their altered realities. Rachel is forced to confront the reason she gave up her broadcasting dreams when she got pregnant in college, and Casey finally steps out of the spotlight to face the truth about why she’s alone. And they soon discover that they don’t know themselves—or their best friend—nearly as well as they thought they did.

Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke bring humor and heart to every page of this novel that is sure to please fans of In Her Shoes and The Opposite of Me. Your Perfect Life is a story about two very different women, what they didn’t know about each other, and how, by switching lives, they each learn to appreciate their own.

The Authors:

If you love ::ehem:: Contemporary Women’s Fiction, you’re probably familiar with long-time book bloggers Liz Fenton & Liza Steinke’s  Chick Lit is NOT Dead. Their fun and fabulous site features book reviews, author interviews, and tons of book giveaways. With the release of YOUR PERFECT LIFE,  Liz  & Lisa have transformed it into their own author site. The duo has been best friends for 25 years and survived high school and college together. Liz lives in San Diego, CA with her husband and two children. Lisa, a former talk show producer, now lives in Chicago, IL with her husband, daughter and two bonus children.

Find Liz & Lisa at:  Their Website  *  Twitter  *  Facebook  * Goodreads

 

The First Line:

My mouth tastes like ass.

The Good Stuff:

Admit it: you’ve had that dream where you switch lives—just for a blessed moment—with someone who doesn’t appreciate your brand of daily chaos. Maybe it’s the friend who doesn’t get how you can spend an entire day constructing the perfect paragraph, the Mother-In-Law who thinks you eat bonbons all day while you stay at home with a houseful of kids, or the old college friend who’s accomplished her career aspirations and so much more, has a nanny and a wine cellar, a perfect husband, and zero body fat. We always think there’s someone out there who has it all together, whose life is so easy compared to our hot mess of domestic and/or professional existence.

Liz and Lisa tapped into our imaginations, constructing the perfect “what if” story. We’ve all read/watched versions of this story before, but what could have ended up as a hokey cliche becomes fresh and funny in their hands. The characters are extremely likable, slightly sassy, and feel—well, kind of like us. I wanted to invite them over to share a pitcher of sangria by the pool and  dish about our days. (Daiquiris would work, but I couldn’t handle the Belvedere and sodas they swig in the book.) Maybe it’s because Casey and Rachel are right about my age. Maybe it’s because I’m a long-time SAHM who just went back to a “real” job and I relate to both sides of that great debate. Maybe it was just a smart, sweet, and insightful take on how women reflect upon that path not taken—and how with one sharp turn we can find our true direction.

And did I mention it was funny? Just look at that first line. If you’re reading this in public, watch out. Snort-worthy.

The Recommendation:

If you enjoy contemporary women’s fiction, a good laugh, or need a fun beach read, buy it. Perfect for a flight, long drive, or vacation read. You’ll breeze right through it, and wish it didn’t end.

The Details:

Your Perfect Life by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
Release date:
June 10, 2014
Print Length: 304 pages
Publisher: Washington Square Press

 Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an advanced review copy. All opinions are my own.

A portrait of a broken marriage set against a kidnapping in Peru… CHASING THE SUN by Natalia Sylvester

The Book:chasing the sun

Andres suspects his wife has left him—again. Then he learns that the unthinkable has happened: she’s been kidnapped. Too much time and too many secrets have come between Andres and Marabela, but now that she’s gone, he’ll do anything to get her back. Or will he?

As Marabela slips farther away, Andres must decide whether they still have something worth fighting for, and exactly what he’ll give up to bring her home. And unfortunately, the decision isn’t entirely up to him, or up to the private mediator who moves into the family home to negotiate with the terrorists holding Marabela. Andres struggles to maintain the illusion of control while simultaneously scrambling to collect his wife’s ransom, tending to the needs of his two young children, and reconnecting with an old friend who may hold the key to his past and his wife’s future.

Set in Lima, Peru, in a time of civil and political unrest, this evocative page-turner is a perfect marriage of domestic drama and suspense.

The Author:

If you are at all a part of the supportive writer/reader online community, you probably know of debut novelist Natalia Sylvester. Born in Peru, she came to the U.S. at age four and grew up in South Florida where she received a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Miami. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Austin. CHASING THE SUN is partially inspired by her own family events. She blogs regularly on her own website and posts each Tuesday on The Debutante Ball.

Find Natalia at:  Her Website  *  Twitter  *  Facebook  * Goodreads

 

The First Lines:

He is always thinking of the last words he said to her—thank you, see you at dinner, rarely as simple I love you—as if they were status reports to a colleague, a quick memo to see where they stood. Andres always speaks last; Marabela has never cared for last works because her power lies in silences.

The Good Stuff:

CHASING THE SUN is a tense domestic drama that happens to be about a kidnapping. You’d think the plot would hinge on the kidnapping part, but this story is much more about dissecting the crumbling marriage of Andres and Marabela.

Life is tense in Lima, Peru in the early 1990’s. Civil unrest fills the streets, kidnapping for ransom is a lucrative business, and the wealthy live in their own walled worlds to stay safe. Through nearly two decades of hard work and dedication, Andres has built a successful printing company. His wife hides in her dark room when not busy with one of her fund-raisers or social obligations, still clinging to bitterness about the photography career that was yanked away from her. Marabela already walked away from the marriage once, and neither seems sure why they remain together.  For their children? Their families?

Those of us in happy marriages can’t imagine sacrificing everything—from our money to our very souls—without hesitation to ensure the safe return of a spouse. But once the ransom negotiations begin, Andres struggles with how much more he must surrender to for his wife. The kidnapper’s demand is far more than he’s worth. If he gives them everything—every penny he’s earned, his business, his assets—will it be enough to secure her safety?

Complications arise when Andres learns that his first love, the woman he and his family imagined he’d marry, is at a psychiatric facility recovering from the aftermath of her own kidnapping. Would Marabela also come back broken in spirit and body? Would she come back to him at all? Deep down, does he even want her to?

The Recommendation:

Read it.

I can’t express hochasing the sun revieww delighted I was to win a signed copy from Natalia—even though I already had a Netgalley copy downloaded. There’s something about reading a print copy (especially one with that extra sprinkle of the author’s love) that makes the experience that much more immersive. But even if I had no idea who wrote this, I would have picked up a copy just because of the beautiful cover. That, and the premise for the story is just so unique.

Despite it’s eye-catching cover, CHASING THE SUN isn’t a light and frothy beach read. I still raced through it in about two days. (Okay, much of it was a “pool read” on a gorgeous Florida day.)

It’s challenging to “label” this book, as it could easily be considered literary fiction, Latino fiction or even women’s fiction—although the story is told mostly through a male POV. Natalia balances suspense and tight drama, making us weigh how long we must pay for the choices we make and the the half-truths we tell.

 

The Details:

Chasing the Sun by Natalia Sylvester
Release date: June 1, 2014  (Kindle), June 3 (hardcover)
Print Length: 306 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0544262174
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing/New Harvest

Secrets, tragedy, betrayal and a lakeside cottage… The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell

the shadow yearThe Book:

On a sultry summer’s day in 1980, five friends stumble upon an abandoned lakeside cottage hidden deep in the English countryside. For Kat and her friends, it offers an escape; a chance to drop out for a while, with lazy summer days by the lake and intimate winter evenings around the fire. But as the seasons change, tensions begin to rise and when an unexpected visitor appears at their door, nothing will be the same again.

Three decades later, Lila arrives at the same remote cottage. With her marriage in crisis, she finds solace in renovating the tumbledown house. Little by little she wonders about the previous inhabitants. How did they manage in such isolation? Why did they leave in such a hurry, with their belongings still strewn about? Most disturbing of all, why can t she shake the feeling that someone might be watching her?

The Shadow Year is a story of secrets, tragedy, lies and betrayal. It’s a tale that explores the light and dark of human relationships and the potential the past has to not only touch our present, but also to alter our future

The Author:

Hannah Richell was born in Kent, England and spent her childhood years in Buckinghamshire and Canada. After graduating from the University of Nottingham in 1998 she worked in book publishing and film. Hannah began to write in early 2008 while she was on maternity leave, and the result was her first novel, Secrets of the Tides, which was shortlisted for the Australian Independent Bookseller Best Debut Fiction Award, ABIA General Fiction Book of the Year (2013) and ABIA Newcomer of the Year (2013). Her second novel The Shadow Year, published in 2013 .She now lives in Sydney with her husband, their two young children and a black-and-white cat called Lennie and returns to the UK as often as possible to spend time with family and savour the green grass of home.

The Good Stuff:

Told from the alternating perspectives of modern-day Lila and Kat thirty years ago, the story unfolds at a good clip. It took me a few chapters to really become vested in the story (I’ll totally blame that on real life, not the book though) but once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. From the prologue, we know something bad is going to happen to someone, but who? Would Lila get back with her husband—and did I even want her to?  Would the peaceful 1980’s dropouts find the commune-like tranquility they longed for or would their de facto leader, Simon, turn it into some cultish situation?

The cottage, which sits beside a peaceful lake in the hills of the Peak District (England), seems the perfect escape when the 1980 group arrives during tha sultry summer, but the harshness of a damp winter soon set in, giving the setting depth and reflecting the characters emotions.

The Recommendation:

This isn’t one of those quaint novels about a woman redecorating a cozy lakeside cottage while she fixes up her life. (Although I do enjoy those stories, too!) This is fraught with unease–it opens with a possible drowning then flashes to a woman still grieving the death of her preterm infant. The flawed characters, moral ambiguity, and intriguing blend of drama and mystery will keep you guessing how all the stories fit together until the end.

 

she reads new

The Shadow Year is the May She Reads Book Club selection. And guess what? They’re giving away copies to FIVE lucky readers (ends May 30th). Drop by SheReads.org to find out more about Hannah Richell and The Shadow Year, check out other fabulous reviews, and enter to WIN.

Read an excerpt of THE SHADOW YEAR here.

The Details:

Connect with Hannah:

Website | Twitter | Facebook

 

I received this book free from SheReads.org/Grand Central Publishing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Links above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Review: Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

lost lake by sarah addison allen

From the author of New York Times bestseller Garden Spells comes a beautiful, haunting story of old loves and new, and the power of the connections that bind us forever…

The first time Eby Pim saw Lost Lake, it was on a picture postcard. Just an old photo and a few words on a small square of heavy stock, but when she saw it, she knew she was seeing her future.

That was half a life ago. Now Lost Lake is about to slip into Eby’s past. Her husband George is long passed. Most of her demanding extended family are gone. All that’s left is a once-charming collection of lakeside cabins succumbing to the Southern Georgia heat and damp, and an assortment of faithful misfits drawn back to Lost Lake year after year by their own unspoken dreams and desires.

It’s a lot, but not enough to keep Eby from relinquishing  Lost Lake to a developer with cash in hand, and calling this her final summer at the lake. Until one last chance at family knocks on her door.

Lost Lake is where Kate Pheris spent her last best summer at the age of twelve,  before she learned of loneliness, and heartbreak, and loss. Now she’s all too familiar with those things, but she knows about hope too, thanks to her resilient daughter Devin, and her own willingness to start moving forward. Perhaps at Lost Lake her little girl can cling to her own childhood for just a little longer… and maybe Kate herself can rediscover something that slipped through her fingers so long ago.

One after another, people find their way to Lost Lake, looking for something that they weren’t sure they needed in the first place:  love, closure, a second chance, peace, a mystery solved, a heart mended.  Can they find what they need before it’s too late?

At once atmospheric and enchanting, Lost Lake shows Sarah Addison Allen at her finest, illuminating the secret longings and the everyday magic that wait to be discovered in the unlikeliest of places.

***************

 I was first introduced to Sarah Addison Allen’s work with Garden Spells, and I was immediately enchanted by her charming characters, serene Southern settings, and dashes of magical realism that draw you into to her world.  Each time she released a new novel, I devoured it within a few days, enjoying the stories too much to let one linger on my nightstand.

Lost Lake was no different.

The cover alone is enticing and dreamy, luring readers to visit the quaint Georgia retreat of Lost Lake—you can almost smell the earthy air, feel the moisture clinging to the Spanish moss draped below the canopy of trees.

Kate Pheris needs Lost Lake. She’d been just a shell of herself since her husband died a year ago. As the book begins, she’s sold the home she shared with him, packed up his things, and pushed her memories aside—at the urging of her domineering mother-in-law. But instead of moving in with the bossy woman as planned, she and her precocious eighth-year-old daughter make a sudden detour to Lost Lake, the resort Kate’s Great-Aunt Eby owned once upon a time—a haven she’s not sure still exists.

“You can’t change where you come from, but you can change where you go from here. Just like a book. If you don’t like the ending, you make up a new one.”

When they find what’s left of the once quaint resort, the antique-filled cabins are falling into states of neglect and the property is about to be sold to a developer. A few loyal guests return for one last summer, drawn to Lost Lake for their own reasons. These secondary characters are quirky and endearing, from the mute Lisette, a French woman who has been Eby’s best friend for decades, to the local handyman who’s loved Kate since the summer she spent there years ago. The small town cast’s fierce loyalty and open hearts make you want to pack your bags and join them for your own getaway by the lake.

Sarah Addison Allen has a way with words, an ability to mix reality with dreams; she creates a world where a little boy’s spirit can inhabit a talking alligator, where love potions work, and where ghosts of lost loves patiently wait in the corner chair. Somehow you believe it can be.

Overall, it’s a charming story about second chances, finding your unique place in the word, and the bonds of family and friendship — with a delightful dash of romance and magic. It’s a perfect light read for the temperate days of spring ahead, for relaxing with a good book, and for falling into your own daydreams.

Lost Lake is the She Reads March book club selection.  The wonderful people at SheReads.org and St. Martin’s Press are giving away FIVE copies of Lost LakeCLICK HERE for details!

Lost Lake
by Sarah Addison Allen
St. Martin’s Press (January 21, 2014)
303 pages

 

Sarah’s website Facebook | Twitter | Pintrest

 

Waking Kate

If you enjoyed Lost Lake (or just want to get a taste of Sarah Addison Allen’s world), download Waking Kate, a free e-short story tie-in to Lost Lake,
available on Amazon or wherever e-books are sold.

 

I received this book free from Netgalley/SheReads.org/St. Martin’s Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Links above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Novel (Rocket) Surprise

I haven’t been writing.

There. My big dirty secret is out.

You see, I got busy. I know, I know, we’re ALL busy. Real writers don’t find time, they MAKE time.

It could be considered a sabbatical. Since writing was my “full-time job” for a few years, technically I’ve been on an extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest, acquiring new skills or training, etc. Yeah. That’s it. I’ve been on sabbatical. It’s amazing what one can learn about the publishing industry by working in a library. Seeing which books people REALLY read (at least in my local market) has reshaped my entire concept of what’s marketable. But more on what I’m learning from deep in the stacks another day.

I’ve also been cutting back on screen time, trying to connect with the friends and family close enough to hug instead of living within my extended cyberworld.

I’ve been on a journey to find balance in my life. I’m still searching.

But enough with these excuses. The true reason I’ve been shying away from my quest to become a published writer is that I got scared. My manuscript isn’t good enough. I’M not good enough. (This is why so many writers become drug addicts and drunks, right?)  I should just bury that damn manuscript in a drawer below the pretty panties I never wear like thousands—perhaps millions—of other wannabe writers.

Then a package appeared on my doorstep.

I hadn’t ordered anything. The square brown box was far too large to contain a book for review. My birthday wasn’t for months. I opened it tentatively.

Inside I found hope.

It came in the form of a delicate sculpture. My Novel Rocket Launch Pad trophy arrived at the perfect time.

 novel rocket trophy CollageI photographed the trophy around my yard, attempting to capture the sway of the delicate blown glass, the sparkles of sunlight shimmering off the surface.

Amidst the spring blooms, turquoise waters, and clear blue skies I realized that despite its outer artistry, its true beauty was intrinsic. Inside the rocket’s seemingly hollow body swirled inspiration, affirmation, passion, pride. . . and hope.

I am a writer.

I decided the glorious reminder of not only what I won, but what I can be, would shine in any environment. It should be placed where it will serve the highest purpose: on my desk.

Perhaps it will evoke more magic—aided by hefty doses of perseverance, hard work, tenacious editing, and perhaps a smidgeon of talent. Instead of being weighed down by too many fears, this work of art will remind me to fill myself with hope, light as the stars.

launch pad trophy

A heartfelt thanks to everyone at Novel Rocket.

novel rocket card

And to Joy Alyssa Day at GlassSculpture.org for sending me such a graceful work of art.

And now a reminder from my son’s 4th grade teacher:

why do we write

 

Mama’s Losin’ It
Prompt: Write about something you have too much of: fear & hope.

 

 

Review: The Art of Falling by Kathryn Craft

“Of course it hurts, darling. Use it! It’s what artists do. Life has a wisdom of its own. It dumps shit on you and stirs you up until your soil is fertile. Accept the challenge and plant some seeds. This is how artists grow.”  ~from The Art of Falling

One wrong stethe art of falling kathryn craftp could send her over the edge.

All Penny has ever wanted to do is dance—and when that chance is taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.

Kathryn Craft’s lyrical debut novel is a masterful portrayal of a young woman trying to come to terms with her body and the artistic world that has repeatedly rejected her. The Art of Falling expresses the beauty of movement, the stasis of despair, and the unlimited possibilities that come with a new beginning.

~from Goodreads

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Dreams. Aspirations. We all have them. Some of us dedicate our lives to the fierce pursuit of them. Some of us dabble. Some of us push our bodies and our minds to the breaking point. Some of us just let our dream silently slip like sand through our fingers.

Some of us jump—or fall—like a wounded songbird unable to cling to its lofty perch. Like Penelope “Penny” Sparrow.

When I was a child, I had a book called A Very Young Dancer. Through its story and photos I felt the excitement, apprehension, and passion that courses through a dancer’s blood. After briefly trying dance lessons, I knew it wasn’t in me. I had the grace of a buffalo and the dedication of a hamster. My body and my heart didn’t feel that passion—unlike like Kathryn Craft, who spent years as a dance teacher, choreographer, and critic. Unlike her protagonist, Penny, whose lifelong dedication to the often brutal world of dance leaves her broken—both physically and emotionally.

The Art of Falling leaps into some tough subjects: toxic relationships, eating disorders, devastating diseases, suicide, and the never ending quest for self-acceptance. Craft deftly handles each with transparency and grace, following Penny as she comes to terms with her damaged relationships with her dance-mom mother, backstabbing lover/boss, and herself.

Penny Sparrow would never have learned to fly again without guidance from two unlikely new friends. Marty the baker, whose car broke her fall, shows her how food can feed the soul instead of just being a mere source of bare-bones nutrients, something to savor instead of vilify. And new roommate Angela is trapped in a body stricken by Cystic Fibrosis—though she can’t control her body’s betrayal, she shines with optimism.

The Art of Falling exemplifies Craft’s talent as a choreographer of not only dance, but words.  Her background as an editor is apparent as well, her prose tight yet seemingly effortlessly balanced, a feat unusual for the work of a debut novelist.

This novel would be an excellent addition to any book club list.

Connect with Kathryn Craft:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

The Art of Falling
by Kathryn Craft
Paperback, 368 pages
January 28th 2014, Sourcebooks Landmark


I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Links above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Review: The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

the husbands secret

 

This month’s She Reads Book Club selection has spent weeks topping the bestsellers lists. (See—Women’s Fiction does sell!) It’s a smart, spellbinding read that has captured audiences around the globe. Australian author Liane Moriarty’s  previous novels The Hypnotist’s Love Story and What Alice Forgot drew rave reviews and are going on my to-read lists immediately.

From the inside cover:

From the author of the critically acclaimed What Alice Forgot comes a breakout new novel about the secrets husbands and wives keep from each other.

My Darling Cecilia
If you’re reading this, then I’ve died . . .

Imagine your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret – something so terrible it would destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others too. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive . . .

Cecilia Fitzpatrick achieved it all – she’s an incredibly successful business woman, a pillar of her small community and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia – or each other – but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s devastating secret.

*********

This is the story of three women and the secrets that hide within marriages. Cecilia is your typical Type-A suburban mom—a PTA queen bee and Tupperware diva whose life is perfect because she organizes it that way. Rachel is a grandmother mourning the possible loss of her beloved grandson after his parent announce a move across the globe. More importantly, she’s still grieving her daughter, murdered 28 years ago. Rounding out this trio is Tess, who hides the secret of her social anxiety disorder as she struggles with her own husband’s admission that he’s in love with her best friend/cousin.

But that’s not this story’s BIG secret.

When Cecilia finds a letter from her husband in an old box—a letter to be opened only upon his death—she stares at the temptations of Pandora’s box.  She wavers: should she open it? Throw it away like he insisted? Forget she ever saw it? What could he possibly have done? They’d been married for decades. She knew everything about her spouse, right? After a few strange circumstances and odd comments, she give in. She reads the letter. And everything  changes.

Most of this novel takes place inside these three womens’ heads—a running commentary of their fears, their hopes, their desperation. It’s almost a comedy of manners, tossing observant snippets of suburban melodramas across the page—until the issues grows too big for the page to contain.

I suppose I related to Tess the most, with her self-diagnosed social anxiety disorder and undying love for her son—not the husband/love triangle part. (This made me just go take one of those online tests, and what do you know, I have severe social anxiety. Back in my day we called it painfully shy.)  Or perhaps the parts of the other women I did relate to, were parts of me I don’t like. If the women had been perfect (as they tried to be on the surface) they would not have been as intriguing; instead we were drawn to their flaws.

Overall, The Husband’s Secret is an engrossing read that you’ll stay up late reading. And you’ll never want to dig through old boxes of paperwork again . . .

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, film rights have been snapped up by CBS Flims. Read it before it hits the screen. The book is ALWAYS better.

she reads
The Husband’s Secret
by Liane Moriarty
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
Released July 30, 2013
416 pages

 

 

Nowhere but Home and Last Meals

While on vacation last month, I ate up Liza Palmer’s Nowhere but Home. Though not the typical beach read, I savored each word as I relaxed in the Florida Keys. The book came out in April, I read it in August, and I’m just reviewing it in September. (How the hell is it September already?) Slap a slacker sticker across my forehead. I’ve been so sucked into my own writing that my eyes go blurry at the end of the day. My books backlog is ridiculous. My reviews—overdue. Mea culpa. But I just couldn’t forget this story.

From the back cover:

Nowhere but Home nowhere but home - liza palmer-last mealsby Liza Palmer

The strategy on the gridiron of Friday Night Lights is nothing compared to the savagery of coming home . . .

Queenie Wake has just been fired from her job as a chef for not allowing a customer to use ketchup . . . again. Now the only place she has to go is North Star, Texas, the hometown she left in disgrace. Maybe things will be different this time around. After all, her mother—notorious for stealing your man, your car, and your rent money—has been dead for years. And Queenie’s sister, once the local teenage harlot who fooled around with the town golden boy, is now the mother of the high school football captain.

Queenie’s new job, cooking last meals at the nearby prison, is going well . . . at least the inmates don’t complain! But apparently small-town Texas has a long memory for bad reputations. And when Queenie bumps into Everett Coburn, the high school sweetheart who broke her heart, she wishes her own memory was a little spottier. But before Queenie takes another chance on love, she’ll have to take an even bigger risk: finding a place to call home once and for all.

********************************

First off, this cover doesn’t do the book justice—though it’s pretty and charming, the story is far more Texas grit than fluff. As always, Liza Palmer’s characters are irreverent, a little rough around the edges, bitingly funny—and all the more gripping because of that. If you’ve read any of her other books, you know that she delves into some deep stuff—the cover of More Like Her may feature three chicks in heels, but the story starts with a shooting. Grit lit, not chick lit.

In Nowhere But Home, Queenie Wake slinks back to North Star, the tiny town she’d fled years ago trying to escape from her shame and herself. The mean girls from her past might be married with kids, but as they grew older, their claws grew sharper. They won’t let Queenie forget how her mama was shot dead by her best friend after being caught in bed with her husband. The small-town social hierarchy painted Queenie and her sister as trashy, no-good, tramps, too—even if the women are anything but. In a town overflowing with dirty little secrets, Queenie must learn that she can’t outrun the past, and sometimes, holding onto your roots can set you free.

A couple of plot twists into the story, Queenie accepts a rather unusual culinary position—cooking last meals for convicts about to be executed. Cheerful job, right? But someone has to do it. Queenie takes the job seriously, working tirelessly to recreate each prisoner’s request, down to figuring out where in Mexico one man’s grandmother came from so she could make the proper type of tamale. The details of the requests—from a meal that read like a Mexican Christmas dinner to the significance of a pack of Skittles—got me thinking.

What foods would I want to savor, knowing I was about to die? Which foods would bring me comfort, draw blissful memories, transport me to a time and place far from the fear of death?

(A difficult subject to ponder while staring into turquoise waters in a picture postcard setting.)

nowhere but home, liza palmer, florida keys, bahia honda

My first thoughts drifted to foods from my travels: the crepes a la Florentina from a cozy trattoria in Florence, the near perfect tortellini in white sauce savored while overlooking a Venetian canal, the delicate lemon cake from my wedding night in Rome. All recipes I’ve been unable to recreate, all foods that set my taste buds in a tizzy as I reminisce . . . all hoity-toity delicacies that represent a part of my life I want to relive, but not who I really am.

After hours of thought, I figured it out.

Veal cutlets, mashed potatoes, Le Seur canned peas, onion gravy. My family’s traditional sage stuffing. My mom’s caramel brownies with a side of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Beverage . . . I don’t think they’d let me have any chardonnay, so . . . root beer?

I grew up eating this simple meal. (Okay, the stuffing went with turkey on holidays, but dammit, it’s my last meal. It sops up gravy perfectly.) I still make it regularly.  We call it comfort food, as in: “What’s for dinner?” “Comfort food.”  And we all know exactly what’s on the menu. When I’m sick, when I’m sad, when I just don’t want to eat anything, this always makes me feel warm inside.

Guess that fits the bill.

As for the book—Nowhere but Home is rich, satisfying, and will leave you cheering for the disreputable Wake girls. Buy it. Read it. You’ll laugh, shed a tear or two, and get really hungry.

{psst—you can find my final request recipes for Mom’s Magic Caramel Brownies here and the Traditional Sage Stuffing here…good stuff…}

Your turn—what foods would you choose to fill not only your gut, but your heart? What would be your last meal?

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.com

 

{Okay, technically a book review isn’t PYHO material, but the deep thought involved with last meals certainly took a lot of thought and heart to write.}

 

Best Summer Reads (part 2)

Yes, I know, for many people Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer. This post has been patiently waiting in my draft bin as the blog went through some changes (noticed anything different around here…?). After about two weeks of beating my head on my desk (seriously, I have dent marks) I mostly finished my switch from Blogger to WordPress. I’ll tell you that story another day.

Today is all about books.

I devoured SO MANY fabulous books during these sweltering summer days. Several of my favorites listed below aren’t new, but if you missed them, I highly recommend you pick them up.  And if you missed the books I reccomended on my Best Summer Reads (part 1), check them out here.

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Former piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her—her identity, her spirit, her will to live—pay.

Josh Bennett’s story is no secret: every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.

Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

The Sea of Tranquility is a rich, intense, and brilliantly imagined story about a lonely boy, an emotionally fragile girl, and the miracle of second chances.

I’m still not sure if this book is a romance, YA, New Adult, or just fiction. I don’t care.
This book Blew. Me. Away. Read the full review at Bookshelf Bombshells. 

 

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has never been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

I’d heard so much about this one. While Louisa had a Bridget Jones quality to her (that wonderful self-depreciating English spunk) this story dove into some deep places. What else can you expect from a love story involving a quadriplegic? This book made me cry (dammit, I hate crying), but it also left me filled with beauty and hope. Thrilled Jojo Moyes’ The Girl You Left Behind is waiting on my Kindle, as she could become one of my favorite authors.

One and Only by Lauren Sandler

A humorous, tough-minded, and honest case for being and having an only child.

Journalist Lauren Sandler is an only child and the mother of one. After investigating what only children are really like and whether stopping at one child is an answer to reconciling motherhood and
modernity, she learned a lot about herself—and a lot about our culture’s assumptions. She brings a passion and a laser-sharp intelligence to the subject that cuts through the anxiety, doubt, misinformation, and judgment about what it means to
be an only child and what it means to have one.

In this heartfelt work, Sandler legitimizes a conversation about the larger societal costs of having more than one. If parents no longer felt they had to have second children to keep from royally screwing up their first, would the majority of them still do it? And if the literature tells us that a child isn’t better off with a sibling than without one, and it’s not something parents truly want for themselves, then whom is this choice serving? One and Only examines these questions, exploring what the rise of the single-child family means for our economies, our environment,
and our freedom. Through this journey, Sandler has quite possibly cracked the code of happiness, demonstrating that having just one may be the way to resolve our countless struggles with adulthood in the modern age.

As an only child raising an only child, there is SO much I need to write about this phenomenal book. That’s why my full review is up at Bookshelf Bombshells. If you’re an only, raising an only, or debating if you should have more kids just because you’re “supposed to,” read the review, then read this book. {If you have a bunch of kids and love your life, you’ll probably hate it. Vive La Différence!} 

 

The Glass Wives by Amy Sue Nathan

Evie and Nicole Glass share a last name. They also shared a husband.

When a tragic car accident ends the life of Richard Glass, it also upends the lives of Evie and Nicole, and their children. There’s no love lost between the widow and the ex. In fact, Evie sees a silver lining in all this heartache—the chance to rid herself of Nicole once and for all. But Evie wasn’t counting on her children’s bond with their baby half-brother, and she wasn’t counting on Nicole’s desperate need to hang on to the threads of family, no matter how frayed. Strapped for cash, Evie cautiously agrees to share living expenses—and her home—with Nicole and the baby. But when Evie suspects that Nicole is determined to rearrange more than her kitchen, Evie must decide who she can trust. More than that, she must ask: what makes a family? 

This book reminded me of growing up in South Florida, for some reason.  Maybe because I miss my Jewish friends and their rich traditions (and I long for a real bagel?). The characters felt like people I knew, and I enjoyed following them along on their journey. Poignant, funny, and fresh.

What are you reading now? Anything worth recommending?

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