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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Review: Slightly South of Simple by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Title: Slightly South of Simple
Author: Kristy Woodson Harvey
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Gallery
Publish Date: April 25, 2017 (Today!)
Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From "Caroline Murphy swore she’d never set foot back in the small Southern town of Peachtree Bluff; she was a New York girl born and bred and the worst day of her life was when, in the wake of her father’s death, her mother selfishly forced her to move—during her senior year of high school, no less—back to that hick-infested rat trap where she'd spent her childhood summers. But now that her marriage to a New York high society heir has fallen apart in a very public, very embarrassing fashion, a pregnant Caroline decides to escape the gossipmongers with her nine-year-old daughter and head home to her mother, Ansley.

Ansley has always put her three daughters first, especially when she found out that her late husband, despite what he had always promised, left her with next to nothing. Now the proud owner of a charming waterfront design business and finally standing on her own two feet, Ansley welcomes Caroline and her brood back with open arms. But when her second daughter Sloane, whose military husband is overseas, and youngest daughter and successful actress Emerson join the fray, Ansley begins to feel like the piece of herself she had finally found might be slipping from her grasp. Even more discomfiting, when someone from her past reappears in Ansley's life, the secret she’s harbored from her daughters their entire lives might finally be forced into the open."

My Two Cents:

"Slightly South of Simple" is the story of Ansley and her three daughters. During 9/11, Ansley lost her beloved husband and fled to her grandmother's house in Georgia that she inherited with her three daughters. It was a big change from New York City but the solace she found saved her. Her daughters are now grown with families and lives of their own. They are all fleeing back to Georgia after facing crises of their own. Will they be able to find the same solace?

This is the first book in a planned series. The story mainly focuses on Ansley, the mother, and Caroline, the oldest daughter of the Murphy family. The chapters are split between them so we can see both sides and get to know both characters. I instantly warmed up to Ansley. She has seen a lot in her years and she is trying to use her experience to help her daughters whether they want to admit it or not. Ansley is hiding her own secrets that begin to be unraveled throughout the book and only serve to endear her more to the reader.

Caroline was a harder sell for me. She spends the first part of the book being miserable, spoiled, and selfish. Yes, she is going through a very public divorce. Yes, the divorce happened when she was pregnant but she seems to drag herself into being negative at every turn at first. She is obsessed with how she looks even while pregnant and taking care of another daughter (who she seems to want to pass her own sensitivities to at every turn). Eventually we get to see some growth and realization that there is more to life than what life looks like from the outside of everything but it is a hard wrought lesson.

The relationship between mothers and daughters is an amazing relationship but it can be incredibly difficult as we see in this book. I love reading about these relationships and I love that we get to see the action in the story from both mother and daughter.

This is a light read and is perfect for when you're looking for a book with a lot of heart and a great small town setting!


Monday, April 24, 2017

Review: The Horse Dancer by Jojo Moyes

Title: The Horse Dancer 
Author: Jojo Moyes 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publish Date: April 11, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "When Sarah's grandfather gives her a beautiful horse named Boo--hoping that one day she'll follow in his footsteps to join an elite French riding school, away from their gritty London neighborhood--she quietly trains in city's parks and alleys. But then her grandfather falls ill, and Sarah must juggle horsemanship with school and hospital visits.
Natasha, a young lawyer, is reeling after her failed marriage: her professional judgment is being questioned, her new boyfriend is a let-down, and she's forced to share her house with her charismatic ex-husband. Yet when the willful fourteen-year-old Sarah lands in her path, Natasha decides to take the girl under her wing. 

But Sarah is keeping a secret--a secret that will change the lives of everyone involved forever."

My Two Cents: 

"The Horse Dancer" is the story of Tash and Mac and their marriage that is falling apart. It's the story of Sarah, a young teenager, whose grandfather gets sick and threatens to rip apart the only thing that has given her life stability: her love of horseback writing. Told with Moyes' signature heart and memorable characters, this book will drag your heart through the mud and leave you with hope and happiness.

I'm not a horse fan but I am an animal lover. I loved the bond that Sarah had with her horse, Boo. Sarah's grandfather has been a masterful rider in his own day and he passed his love of horses on to Sarah. I really liked how committed Sarah was to Boo and everything that she went through in order to continue practice horseback riding and then on top of it, how much she goes through in order to fix things for Boo.

Moyes is a master at taking the difficult and turning into a really heartwarming story. I love how she is able to turn this on its head - this always make for a super satisfying read! There are a few continuity issues throughout the book and it gets a bit predictable towards the end but because of the ending, it is still satisfying.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Historical Novel Society Conference 2017

If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I love historical fiction. I love being a member of the Historical Novel Society, in fact, I've been named Queen of my local chapter, the Chesapeake Bay Chapter

HNS has a conference every year. One year, it's in the United States and the next, it's across the pond in England. Unfortunately England is too far away to travel right now with little kids but I have been to the past two HNS conferences in Denver, CO in 2015 and St. Petersburg, FL in 2013. This year, the conference will be in Portland, OR and I'm going again!

I've never been to Portland before and I am so excited to go! Aside from the conference, I am looking forward to visiting Powell's Books and Voodoo Doughnuts

The conference should be amazing! I will be on a panel with Jenny of Historical Editorial and Let Them Read Books and Sarah of Reading the Past talking about book reviews!

One of the events that I am looking most forward to is Hooch through History: from Mead to Martinis. "Take a look at this description: Hooch through History: from Mead to Martinis will offer a tasting flight across the centuries, from the Middle Ages to the Mad Men era of the Swinging Sixties. On Friday from 5:00-6:30, our spirit-ual guide, food and beverage historian Isobel Carr, will lead us through the whats, whys, and wheres of six different period-accurate beverages. Never tasted absinthe before? Don’t know how it’s prepared? Wonder why it was banned and whether it really is an aphrodisiac? You won’t want to miss this! Participants receive a souvenir absinthe spoon as well" Sounds fun, no?

Who else is going to HNS? What else should I do while I am there?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: Schadenfreude, A Love Story by Rebecca Schuman

Title: Schadenfreude, A Love Story
Author: Rebecca Schuman 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publish Date: February 7, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "You know that feeling you get watching a pompous jerk whine into his cell as he’s booted out of a restaurant? When the elevator doors slide shut just before your sadistic boss can step in beside you? There’s a word for this mix of malice and joy, and the Germans (of course) invented it. It’s Schadenfreude, deriving pleasure from others’ misfortune, and with Slate columnist Rebecca Schuman, the Teutons have a stern, self-satisfied blast at her expense.

Rebecca is just your average chronically misunderstood 90’s teenager, with a passion for Pearl Jam and Ethan Hawke circa Reality Bites, until two men walk into her high school Civics class: Dylan Gellner, with deep brown eyes and an even deeper soul, and Franz Kafka, hitching a ride in Dylan’s backpack. These two men are the axe to the frozen sea that is Rebecca’s spirit, and what flows forth is a passion for all things German (even though, as everyone is quick to remind her, Kafka wasn’t German at all). Dreamy Dylan might leave the second he gets accepted to a better college than Rebecca does, but Kafka is forever, and in pursuit of this elusive love she will spend two decades stuttering and stumbling through broken German sentences, trying to win over a people who don’t want to be bothered."

My Two Cents:

In "Schadenfreude," Rebecca Schuman examines her time as a young person studying abroad in Germany. After being bitten by the language bug and fancying herself a linguistic expert, she goes to Germany where she realizes that she may not be the savant she fancied herself. What ensues is a story of one young woman trying to find her place in the world in a totally different place that she could ever imagine.

Oh, youth! How blind you make us! This book is about the author looking backwards to see how her experience of studying abroad in Germany and studying Germany affected her life and got her to where she is presently. She is initially pushed towards learning German because she falls for a guy in high school who pushes her to read more Kafka than just "The Metamorphosis" and then she decides that she is in love with Kafka (oh, who doesn't remember high school obsessions like that). She realizes how little she knows when she is reminded over and over again that Kafka was not German. 

She paints a picture of someone who doesn't realize that there is anything or anyone outside of herself in the beginning. Slowly her eyes begin to open. She's still naive throughout much of her travels but the past is oh-so-easily viewed in 20/20 vision. The book does get a little repetitive in some places but overall, this was a funny look at an outsider's view of Germany.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review: Purple Hearts by Tess Wakefield

Title: Purple Hearts
Author: Tess Wakefield
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Atria
Publish Date: April 25, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Cassie Salazar and Luke Morrow couldn’t be more different. Sharp-witted Cassie works nights at a bar in Austin, Texas to make ends meet while pursuing her dream of becoming a singer/songwriter. Luke is an Army trainee, about to ship out for duty, who finds comfort in the unswerving discipline of service. But a chance encounter at Cassie’s bar changes the course of both their lives

Cassie is drowning in medical bills after being diagnosed with diabetes. When she runs into her old friend Frankie, now enlisted in the Army, she proposes a deal: she’ll marry him in exchange for better medical insurance and they can split the increased paycheck that comes with having a “family.” When Frankie declines, his attractive but frustratingly intense friend Luke volunteers to marry Cassie instead. What she doesn’t know is that he has desperate reasons of his own to get married. In this unforgettable love story, Cassie and Luke must set aside their differences to make it look like a real marriage...unless, somewhere along the way, it becomes one.."

My Two Cents:

In "Purple Hearts," Luke is trying to keep old demons at bay and wants to do something with his life. Cassie is reeling after getting a medical diagnosis that threatens to break her financially. On a whim, they join in an agreement where they'll get married so Cassie can use Luke's health benefits from the military. It's an agreement of convenience. Neither of them can imagine how much more than convenience this arrangement will become.

This book takes a very real situation and turns it into a story that explores the emotional implications of going off to war, coming back home again, and what it is like to be struck with something manageable that threatens your way of life nonetheless. I liked how real the author made this feel. In light of some of the questions in our political system recently, I thought it was interesting how the author gave a face to people who struggle with medical insurance coverage. It certainly made this book feel timely.

I really liked the realistic way that this book was written. The author has a knack for writing conversation. The book is narrated by both Cassie and Luke. I loved getting to see both sides of the story. You get a lot of insight into what makes the characters tick. I loved their relationship. Even though you see the ending coming from far away, because you get to know the characters so well, you are still cheering.

Overall, this is a good, romantic take on some very modern challenges!

Friday, April 14, 2017

TLC Book Tours: Miss You by Kate Eberlen

Title: Miss You
Author: Kate Eberlen
Format: ARC
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publish Date: April 4, 2017
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "Tess and Gus are meant to be. They just haven't met properly yet. And perhaps they never will . . .

Today is the first day of the rest of your life is the motto on a plate in the kitchen at home, and Tess can't get it out of her head, even though she's in Florence for a final, idyllic holiday before university. Her life is about to change forever - but not in the way she expects.

Gus and his parents are also on holiday in Florence. Their lives have already changed suddenly and dramatically. Gus tries to be a dutiful son, but longs to escape and discover what sort of person he is going to be.

For one day, the paths of an eighteen-year-old girl and boy criss-cross before they each return to England.

Over the course of the next sixteen years, life and love will offer them very different challenges. Separated by distance and fate, there's no way the two of them are ever going to meet each other properly . . . or is there?"

My Two Cents:

In "Miss You," Kate Eberlen explores the idea of whether or not there is a person for everyone, a person that matches them so well that any other relationship will pale in comparison. Are our relationships fate or happenstance? We meet Gus and Tess in this book and the readers can see that they would be perfect for each other. They don't know each other and they will spend the entire book crossing paths but not knowing each other. Will true love be found?

I don't necessarily believe in fate when it comes to relationships. I believe that there can be a lot of different combinations in the world that work. Being very happily married to a guy where it feels like we are such a team and we are sooo on the same wavelength, I can easily see how one could believe in fate intervening and leading you to your perfect person. I loved exploring this in this book. I thought that it was really cool how the author shows us both Gus' and Tess' lives and how they keep crossing paths. At first they don't realize that this is happening. I loved that readers got to be in on this secret. It pulled me in a little more!

Throughout the book and Gus and Tess crossing paths over and over again, you find yourself wondering if this will be the time that Gus and Tess realize that they should be together. The author keeps you guessing. I like that love doesn't come easy in this book; it's worth the fight and the main characters realize this and they keep going.

This is the kind of book that you want to get lost in. This is a book for those that believe in the truth that love brings. I loved these characters and would love to see what else Eberlen comes up with!


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Review: A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe

Title: A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression
Authors: Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Harper
Publish Date: April 16, 2016
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "The decade-long Great Depression, a period of shifts in the country’s political and social landscape, forever changed the way America eats. Before 1929, America’s relationship with food was defined by abundance. But the collapse the economy, in both urban and rural America, left a quarter of all Americans out of work and undernourished—shattering long-held assumptions about the limitlessness of the national larder."

My Two Cents:

"A Square Meal" explores the food and the food culture during the Great Depression in the United States. The Great Depression fundamentally changed the way that Americans thought about and interacted with food. Food was, of course, rationed and individuals didn't have control over what kind of food they got many times. People were expected to do more with less and turn food that may not have been the best into meals for their family.

This book doesn't only explore what kind of food people made but the chain reaction set off by food scarcity. It was the Great Depression that first got the government involved in food relief for its own people. Prior to that, local communities were left to care for their own with what they had. The Great Depression was so wide ranging and hurt communities far and wide that first states started to step in and then the federal government. There were all sorts of logistics that various organizations and levels of government had to grapple with in order to make sure that people were able to get some sort of relief.

In times of food scarcity, you make do with what you get. The book explores a lot of what housewives did in order to stretch their rations. Let's just say that creativity was key! One of my favorite parts of the book was the recipes included and those talked about. There were tons of cookbooks created during this time period in order to cater to the home economist who was charged with feeding and nourishing their family.

In this day and age, I am lucky enough to be able to go to the grocery store, buy whatever I want, cook it, and feed my family. We have tons of choices. This book made me appreciate that so much more! This is a quirky look at an interesting history and it's definitely off the beaten path!

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