Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Black Venus Blog Tour and Review

Black Venus by James MacManus
Review copy provided Thomas Dunne Books via Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc. in exchange for a fair and honest review

Baudelaire’s fortunes rose and fell under the influence of his Venus Noir
Addictive as opium the voluptuous Haitian cabaret singer Jeanne Duval tortured and inspired Charles Baudelaire to create poetry that would forever change the world of literature. Their love played out against the backdrop of 19th-century Paris in the Left Bank cafes and taverns frequented by such giants as Édouard Manet, Honoré de Balzac and Alexandre Dumas.  Reviled by Baudelaire’s family, friends and publisher, Duval was Baudelaire’s muse, leading him to create the poetry whose dark and passionate imagery forever changed and influenced modern literature.

Baudelaire was squandering his small fortune on alcohol and women when he met Duval, who he called Black Venus and claimed as his mistress. Their fiery relationship became the catalyst for his work—without her he couldn’t write a word. Ironically, Duval scorned Les Fleurs de Mal—The Flowers of Evil—the slim volume of poems she inspired that outraged French morals causing Baudelaire and his publisher to be forced into a scandalous public trial for obscenity.  What hold did she have on him that he allowed her to betray him in every possible way, driving him into debt and opium addiction even as she openly slept with his friends?

Author James MacManus brings the world of the Left Bank vividly to life in his novel BLACK VENUS (Thomas Dunne Books; May 7, 2013) based on the historic facts surrounding their torrid love affair even as the arts flourished in Paris’s most decadent and prolific period.

My Take:

I jumped at the chance to read and review Black Venus for a couple of reasons. First, Baudelaire has always been an enigma to me; second, I love reading about the city of Paris during this time period. 

Baudelaire has always been a poet that I just had to appreciate the poetry without really understanding or pretending to understand the poet himself. He is such an important poet that I always hated that aspect of reading his poems -- even though we know Les Fleurs de Mal is all about Jeanne Duval -- who is looked down on by most everyone I have ever encountered. Black Venus by James MacManus is an historical fiction novel that tries to explore their relationship and at least try to explain how the dynamic between them  might have worked. The way their relationship worked, as explained in the book, is really quite fascinating and as described, makes quite a bit of sense. Unfortunately, their relationship, while quite passionate, pretty much destroyed them. As a couple, they seemed to bring out the worst in each other, and yet Duval was the inspiration for some of  the most important poems to come out of France.

Besides the interesting dynamic of the relationship between Baudelaire and Duval, the novel also gives a wonderful glimpse of Paris and its beauty and seediness and the fascinating contrast between the rich and the masses of poor living within the city. It brings to life this contrast as well as the lives of the artists and writers and the politics of the period.

I found Black Venus to be very readable and quite fascinating. While I enjoyed reading the book, I found both Baudelaire and Duval to be very complex people and both were somewhat hard to like. They were that  couple that stays together even when everyone around them knows they should break up - for their own well-being. So frustrating and fascinating.

I would recommend Black Venus to anyone interested in historical fiction, Baudelaire, poetry, Paris, the artists of the period, and the society and lifestyles of the various groups within Parisian  society.

You can check out the rest of the tour here.

About the author:
James MacManus, who was born in London, began his career with The Guardian first as a reporter in the London office and then as a foreign correspondent in France, Africa and the Middle East. Following a position on the diplomatic staff of the Daily Telegraph in London, he joined The Times, eventually rising to Managing Editor then Managing Director of The Times Literary Supplement. In 2006 his first screenplay became the major motion picture, The Children of Huang Shi, and in 2010 his critically acclaimed first novel, Language of the Sea, made its debut.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Armchair BEA Introduction

Design credit: Nina of Nina Reads

  1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? 
I'm a homeschooling mom. I have an English degree with a minor in history. Needless to say, I'm a book nerd - always have been. I have been blogging for three years. I got into blogging because I love to read and talk about the books I read. 

2.Where in the world are you blogging from? Tell a random fact or something special about your current location. Feel free to share pictures. 
I am blogging from Wisconsin. Random fact about Wisconsin. . . . Patrick Rothfuss is fromWisconsin and he is one of my favorite authors -- his signings are so much fun too.
3. What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2013? 
I am currently reading Spartacus: Rebellion, Royal Mistress and The Next Time You See Me

4. If you could eat dinner with any author or character, who would it be and why? 

This is a difficult question because there are so many authors I would love to eat dinner with. I think I'd have to choose Neil Gaiman, because . . . Neil Gaiman. No other explanation necessary.

5.  What literary location would you most like to visit? Why? 

I would love to participate in the Bloomsday Festival in Dublin. I'd get to see Dublin and participate in all the Joyce celebrations.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

I've been doing this for three years?

I can't quite believe that I've been working on this little blog for three years now. Time sure flies when you are reading like crazy and homeschooling three kids. The last three years have flown by, in no small part, due to all the reading and reviewing I have been doing. I have been participating in blog tours for about a year now and I am really enjoying that aspect of book blogging. I hope to continue working on my little blog and enjoying every minute of it.

Here's to the next three years.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Pepperland Blog Tour and Review

Pepperland by Barry Wightman
review copy provided by publisher via JKSCommunications in return for a fair and honest review
Book synopsis:

What happens when one revolution dies and a new one begins?

Think the Ramones meet Jane Fonda meets Bill Gates—a love story—where one woman has all the power.

She asks him—do you want to play your little rock ‘n roll songs or change the world? He says—both.

Pepperland is a ‘70s rock and roll race through the heartland of America—a love letter to the power of new-fangled computers and the importance of a guitar pick. Pepperland is about missing information, missing people, missing guitars, paranoia, Q & A, brothers, revolution, Agents of the Federal Government, IBM, Hugh Hefner, a Dark Stranger, love, death and the search for it amidst the wreckage of recession-wracked, entropically rundown mid-seventies America.

My Take:
Pepperland by Barry Wightman is an unusual, funny, nerdy, musical, trippy, wild, roller coaster ride of a book. I've never had such a hard time trying to describe a book before -- especially a book that I had such a fun time reading.

I loved the way that the book is divided into "Sides" and "Tracks" in reference to, yes, vinyl records. Remember those? And Pepper, the hero of the book, works in an actual record store. There is so much nostalgia in this book for those of us who can remember the days before cd's, cell phones, and laptops, and when we would carry change to use a pay phone and personal computers were just, well, a cool idea that hadn't quite made it yet and IBM was still the force to be reckoned with.

The love of Pepper's life is Sooz, a beautiful, extremely intelligent but impulsive young woman who gets in trouble with the law in her quest for pursuing what she feels is right . She comes back into his life just as he and his band seem to be on the path to success. Things happen quickly and there seems to be a groove going in their lives. Interestingly, and maybe not coincidentally, this is about the same time as a dark stranger appears at important moments - or is this some kind of mystical experience? It's hard to tell exactly what is happening in this regard. Regardless, it all makes for a great story. There is even a great villain of sorts - a member of the band who happens to be an accordion-playing insurance salesman. I mean, how perfect is that?

It seems to me that Pepperland is about music, technology, love, the pursuit of happiness, growing up and really just the love of life. If you like music, computers, nostalgia, the 70's, or just a really fun story, you should really read Pepperland.

About Barry
Barry Wightman
Barry Wightman by Chris Kirzeder
A rock ‘n’ roller at heart, Barry Wightman blends music, mayhem and love in his debut novel Pepperland due out this spring from Running Meter Press.
Born in St. Louis, raised in Chicago and New England, Barry, a business major at Principia College in southern Illinois, claims he should’ve been an English major. Living for many years in Chicago and Minneapolis, he raised a family with his wife Jill, and spent thirty years in the high tech industry, traveling the world, spending time in Silicon Valley, with countless trips to Asia, Australia, and much of the rest of the world. After all that, he earned an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2010. He currently serves as the marketing guy at Forward Health Group, Inc. of Madison, WI.
Barry is Fiction Editor for Hunger Mountain, a literary journal of the arts based in Montpelier, Vermont. He is a talented voiceover professional and a Wisconsin Broadcasters Association award-winning essayist, whose work has been heard on WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio.
He’s also a reviewer and review editor for the Washington Independent Review of Books. His music and book reviews have also appeared in various publications in Chicago, Milwaukee and Washington D.C. He is a voting member of the National Book Critics Circle.
Barry has lived in Elm Grove, Wisconsin since 2005. He is married with three grown children and plays guitar and keyboards in a rock ‘n’ roll band, The Outta State Plates.

You can find out more about the author at his website or at his blog.

Want to read more about Pepperland? Check out the rest of the tour:

May 13
Book Feature and Giveaway at To Read, Or Not To Read
May 18
Review at Willa’s Journal
May 20
Interview at Literary Lunes
May 21
Book Feature, Excerpt and Giveaway at My Fiction Nook
May 24
Review at A Book Geek
May 26
Book Feature and Discography at Kate’s Tales of Books and Bands
May 28
Interview at Chicago Center for Literature and Photography
June 1 & 2
Review and Guest Post at Of Books
Also on the Tour
Author Interview at The Indie Exchange
Book Feature at The Relentless Reader
Review from Goodreads Member Angela Rae
Review at Readers Favorite 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cascade Blog Tour and Review

Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara
Digital book provided by publisher through NetGalley via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for a fair review

During the 1930s in a small town fighting for its survival, a conflicted new wife seeks to reconcile her artistic ambitions with the binding promises she has made.
Fans of Richard Russo, Amor Towles, Sebastian Barry, and Paula McLain will devour this transporting novel about the eternal tug between our duties and our desires, set during in New York City and New England during the Depression and New Deal eras.
It’s 1935, and Desdemona Hart Spaulding has sacrificed her plans to work as an artist in New York to care for her bankrupt, ailing father in Cascade, Massachusetts. When he dies, Dez finds herself caught in a marriage of convenience, bound to the promise she made to save her father’s Shakespeare Theater, even as her town may be flooded to create a reservoir for Boston. When she falls for artist Jacob Solomon, she sees a chance to escape and realize her New York ambitions, but is it morally possible to set herself free?

My Take:

Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara is a beautiful book in so many ways. The cover is just amazing and the author does a wonderful job of describing Dez's drive to paint and the need to get an idea onto canvas. I found that I was really drawn to this aspect of the novel. I appreciated the love of Shakespearean theater conveyed throughout the story as well.

O'Hara does a good job of bringing to life the depression era and the situation for women of the time. Dez had lived a pretty pampered life until the depression hit. She was well educated, was able to go off to study art and had expected that she would go to New York to be an artist. Of course, the Depression changed many plans for many people. Even as many others are losing everything, she finds a marriage of convenience that allows her to care for her bankrupt, ill father and continue painting in a small studio in her husband's home. It isn't exactly what she wanted, but it was so much better than it could have been. Dez is aware of this, but she can't quite make herself be satisfied with the life she chose. In many ways, I can understand and sympathize with her situation; however, in other ways, I found some of the things she does pretty much inexcusable. Since Dez does eventually realize that she made many mistakes and seems to grow as a person through the novel, I found her to be a fairly sympathetic character, overall.

I thought the best parts of the book dealt with Dez and her art - her drive and the descriptions of how she worked. I found it interesting that so much of the book deals with Cascade and the possibility of it being flooded for the reservoir at the same time that Dez feels she is drowning in her marriage.  I was glad to see  that the book dealt with the expectations regarding women during the period and the racism that was still very common contrasted against the portrayal of often idealized small-town America.

There was a wonderfully ironic bit at the end of the book that I found to be so appropriate. I won't give it away, but I thought it fit wonderfully. I enjoyed the book very much even though I got really frustrated with Dez fairly often while reading. However, I did find her to be a very believable character - good intentions despite some of her decisions, driven by her art, trying to do the right thing, but flawed like all of us. I was quite satisfied with how the book ended because Dez did grow as a person and learned from her mistakes.

About the Author

Maryanne O'HaraMaryanne O’Hara was the longtime associate fiction editor at the award-winning literary journal Ploughshares. She received her MFA from Emerson College fifteen years ago, and wrote short fiction that was widely published before committing to the long form. She lives on a river near Boston.
For more information on Maryanne O’Hara, please visit her website.  You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and GoodReads.

Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Monday, April 29
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, April 30
Feature & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, May 1
Review & Giveaway at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Thursday, May 2
Review & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, May 3
Review at Tiny Library
Wednesday, May 8
Review & Giveaway at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Thursday, May 9
Review at A Bookish Affair
Review & Giveaway at The Relentless Reader
Friday, May 10
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Monday, May 13
Review at Write Meg
Tuesday, May 14
Review at Kinx’s Book Nook
Review & Giveaway at Bippity Boppity Book
Wednesday, May 15
Review at Raging Bibliomania
Thursday, May 16
Review & Giveaway at Ageless Pages Reviews
Friday, May 17
Review & Giveaway at The Blue Stocking Society
Monday, May 20
Review at Amused By Books
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book!
Tuesday, May 21
Interview & Giveaway at Oh, For the Hook of a Book!
Wednesday, May 22
Review & Giveaway at The Worm Hole
Thursday, May 23
Review at A Book Geek
Friday, May 24
Review & Giveaway at The Picky Girl
Monday, May 27
Review & Giveaway at The Novel Life
Tuesday, May 28
Review & Giveaway at Always with a Book
Review, Guest Post & Giveaway at The Lit Bitch
Wednesday, May 29
Review at Turning the Pages
Thursday, May 30
Guest Post at The Novel Life
Friday, May 31
Interview & Giveaway at Cheryl’s Book Nook
Monday, June 3
Review at Words and Peace
Tuesday, June 4
Review at Historical Tapestry & Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
Giveaway at Words and Peace
Wednesday, June 5
Review & Giveaway at A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, June 6
Review at The Little Reader Library
Friday, June 7
Review at A Novel Review

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Never Tell Blog Tour and Review

Never Tell by Alafair Burke
Review copy provided by Harper via TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

Even a perfect family has its secrets.

Sixteen-year-old Julia Whitmire appeared to have everything: a famous father, a luxurious Manhattan town house, a coveted spot at the elite Casden prep school. When she is found dead in her bathtub, a handwritten suicide note left on her bed, her parents insist that their daughter would never take her own life. But Julia’s enviable world was more complicated than it seemed. The pressure to excel at Casden was enormous. Abuse of prescription drugs ran rampant among students. And a search of Julia’s computer reveals that she’d been engaged in a dangerous game of cyberbullying against an unlikely victim.

NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher is convinced the case is a suicide, but she knows from personal experience that a loving family can be the last to accept the truth. As she is pressured to pursue a case she doesn’t believe in, she is pulled into Julia’s inner circle—an eclectic mix of precocious teenagers from Manhattan’s most privileged families as well as street kids from Greenwich Village. But when the target of Julia’s harassment continues to receive death threats, Ellie is forced to acknowledge that Julia may have learned the hard way that some secrets should never be told.

My Take:

Never Tell is the first book by Alafair Burke that I have read. It isn't the first book involving NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher and her partner Rogan, but honestly, this posed absolutely no problem for me. I was literally drawn into the story from the first page. Once I started reading, I could barely force myself to stop for meals. This book was so enjoyable that I read it in one day.

What starts out as a classic suicide by Julia, a privileged, wealthy teen whose parents were mostly absent and was basically on her own, quickly turns into something else. Despite their absence from the daughter's life, once she is found dead they stop at nothing to get to the bottom of what happened to her. Ellie isn't convinced and resists pursuing a homicide investigation - for a while. Her partner, Rogan, sees where she is letting her own past interfere with her work and calls her on it. Once Ellie is able to get past her own preconceived notions about the case, she changes her outlook and gets down to the business of solving a crime.

All of this is typical of crime fiction and is really well written; but Never Tell isn't what I would call typical because Ellie makes mistakes throughout the investigation, much like real human beings do. I appreciated that once she and Rogan became aware of where they veered off track, they immediately set things back on the right track and acknowledged their mistakes. It was nice to have main characters that aren't perfect at everything they do.

There are so many layers and so many issues that are interwoven into the story. There is the expensive, exclusive prep school that Julia attends that seems to be more worried about covering their own proverbial asses than about the death of a student; the mostly absent, overly indulgent parents, the friends who seem to be hiding things, the issues of drug use and alcohol use by minors and people who aren't quite what they seem as well as a rather surprising case of internet bullying. I found the novel to be so compelling. I loved every minute of it. I won't go into too many details because half the fun is reacting to the next revelation - and there are many.

Never Tell is definitely a book I will be recommending. The story was very involved and I loved every time I had to change my mind about a character. This book was just so much fun to read. If you like mysteries, crime fiction, well developed characters and a story that will surprise you over and over again, Never Tell is definitely a book you should check out. It seems rather obvious to point out, but I will be reading more of Burke's books in the near future.

About Alafair Burke

Alafair BurkeAlafair Burke is the bestselling author of nine novels, including the thrillers Long Gone and If You Were Here, and the Ellie Hatcher series: 212Angel’s Tip, and Dead 
Connection. A former prosecutor, she now teaches criminal law and lives in Manhattan.
Find out more about Alafair at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Alafair’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, May 14th: A Book Geek
Wednesday, May 15th: The Reader’s Hollow
Monday, May 20th: Reflections of a Bookaholic
Wednesday, May 22nd: Tina’s Book Reviews
Thursday, May 23rd: Literary Feline
Friday, May 24th: Drey’s Library
Monday, May 27th: A Bookworm’s World
Tuesday, May 28th: A Dream Within a Dream
Wednesday, May 29th: Traveling With T
Tuesday, June 4th: Brooklyn Berry Designs
Monday, June 17th: Peppermint PhD

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

All the Summer Girls

All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue
ARC provided by William Morrow in exchange for a fair review
Description from Goodreads:

In Philadelphia, good girl Kate is dumped by her fiance the day she learns she is pregnant with his child. In New York City, beautiful stay-at-home mom Vanessa is obsessively searching the Internet for news of an old flame. And in San Francisco, Dani, the aspiring writer who can't seem to put down a book--or a cocktail--long enough to open her laptop, has just been fired...again.

In an effort to regroup, Kate, Vanessa, and Dani retreat to the New Jersey beach town where they once spent their summers. Emboldened by the seductive cadences of the shore, the women being to realize how much their lives, and friendships, have been shaped by the choices they made one fateful night on the beach eight years earlier--and the secrets that only now threaten to surface.

My Take:
All the Summer Girls is pretty much a perfect beach read. The is a story about three best friends and their lives after the fateful day eight summers earlier that sent each of them down different paths. It is a story of friendship, loyalty, love, betrayal, choices and coming to terms with one's own actions.  I just loved this book. Each of the friends has her own life issues to contend with as well as trying to cope with her own ideas of responsibility and guilt over what happened that summer eight  years ago.

I was going to go into a detailed synopsis of the characters' lives, but that isn't necessary. If you are looking for a great book to read this summer about friendship, fun at the beach, love, grief, growing up -- you know, all those things that make up life, then definitely pick up All the Summer Girls. It's a fast read, the characters are likable and I felt empathy for each of their situations.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Nowhere but Home

Nowhere but Home by Liza Palmer
review copy provided by William Morrow
Description from Goodreads:
Queenie Wake, a country girl from North Star, Texas, 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 home to North Star. She can hope, maybe things will be different. Maybe her family's reputation as those Wake women will have been forgotten. It's been years since her mother-notorious for stealing your man, your car, and your rent money-was killed. And her sister, who as a teenager was branded as a gold-digging harlot after having a baby with local golden boy Wes McKay, is now the mother of the captain of the high school football team. It can't be that bad…

Who knew that people in small town Texas had such long memories? And of course Queenie wishes that her memory were a little spottier when feelings for her high school love, Everett Coburn, resurface. He broke her heart and made her leave town-can she risk her heart again?

At least she has a new job-sure it's cooking last meals for death row inmates but at least they don't complain!

But when secrets from the past emerge, will Queenie be able to stick by her family or will she leave home again? A fun-filled, touching story of food, football, and fooling around.

My Take:

What can I say about  Nowhere but Home? I actually loved the book. There was so much about it that I liked. I loved the way Queenie describes the food she cooks -- and she is a true Texas cook. I was constantly getting hungry from the chapter headings alone. An example: "Brisket, ranch beans, coleslaw, white bread, peach cobbler, and sweet tea." If you are from Texas or Oklahoma, this will bring back memories and make your mouth water.

North Star is just such a typical small town in Texas (or Oklahoma). Honestly, it could have been the town I grew up in. So true to form - long memories, scandal, reputations - both good and bad, that never die,  and the trapped feelings so many of us felt; as well as the love of family, small town life, the ordinariness of it all that can be comforting. Palmer does a great job of bringing all the contradiction to life. I laughed out loud at some of the descriptions of these small town women - because I knew these women. Unlike Queenie, I never had any reason to return to my small town, but it was fun to read about her return and the ways she grows by facing her past and her fears. If you like a bit of romance, you won't be disappointed - who doesn't like to see the good guys come out the winner?

There is plenty of small town football action - without any of the bad stuff - just small town kids enjoying the game and their family and the town supporting them. Sometimes I chuckled over the intensity of the enthusiasm over the sport, but it is true to life. I have just never really bought into that aspect of small town life though.

I really enjoyed this book and will be recommending it to my friends. The story is compelling and fun with characters that are easily related to and sympathized with. Unfortunately, now I won't be happy until I can get a really good chicken fried steak.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (12)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

I don't always participate in WoW, but when I do, it is for a book I am especially anxious about reading. I am so looking forward to finally reading the third book in the Goblin Wars trilogy by Kersten Hamilton.

When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears (Goblin Wars #3)
Kersten Hamilton
Clarion Books
Publication Date: July 10
People will die.”

Locked doors are opening, and uncanny creatures are tumbling through mysterious portals from Mag Mell, the world-between-worlds, into the streets of Chicago. The Dark Man has marked Aiden with a new song that’s scared him badly, and a frightening new group of sídhe is lurking nearby.

Teagan knows this is war, and she must protect her family. She leaves her flesh and bones behind to join Finn in hunting the evil beings across the city. Meanwhile, their relationship is heating up—almost faster than they can control. But he is still bound to fight goblins his entire life . . . and by blood she is one of them now.

Then the gateway to Mag Mell cracks open again, and the Wylltsons find themselves caught in a trap. As her loved ones begin to die, Teagan realizes that she must destroy the Dark Man and his minions once and for all in order to save those who remain . . .

. . . before it is too late

A Man of Honor Blog Tour and Review

  A Man of Honor, or Horatio's Confessions by J.A. Nelson Publication Date: December 9, 2019 Quill Point Press Paperback, eBook & ...