The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

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When Scottie’s Italian teacher–a teenager with secrets of his own–disappears, her search for him leads her to discover other, darker truths about herself, her husband and her country. Michael’s dedication to saving the world from communism crumbles as he begins to see that he is a pawn in a much different game. Driven apart by lies, Michael and Scottie must find their way through a maze of history, memory, hate, and love to a new kind of complicated truth. Half glamorous fun, half an examination of America’s role in the world, and filled with sun-dappled pasta lunches, prosecco, charming spies and horse racing, The Italian Party is a smart pleasure.

Review

How would you feel if you were newlywed in the 1950s and having to move to a foreign country, more specifically, Italy? That is how the Italian Party begins. You don’t know much about Michael and Scottie at first, but you get a sense that they are both not quite who they make themselves to be. Michael is a first-generation Italian-American, who moves to his family’s homeland on the pretense that he works for Ford. Scottie is the cute all-American blonde who has a secret of her own. On the surface, they look like the perfect couple, but when Scottie’s Italian teacher goes missing we embark on a series of events that take place in the 50s, in the middle of the Cold War, and the fight against communism.

This book was not quite what I was expecting. Just like Lynch’s characters in this book, the novel gives you an erroneous idea that this is another beautiful love story set against a beautiful backdrop of romantic Italy in the 1950s. As you get more and more involved in the book, you realize that nothing about this book is what it seems to be on the surface.

I really enjoyed being transported to this beautiful, and rather, innocent time. I loved all the descriptions of Italy, the Italian way of life, and all the wonderful food. This was a great read and a little history refresher for me. I highly recommend it.


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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. “The best of all the Greeks”—strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess—Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine—much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles’ mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

Review

I just realized this book was first published in 2011. Oh, how I wish I had known about this book back then! Luckily, it’s never too late to find a gem–and this book is truly a gem! Even if you have never heard the expression Achilles’ heel, or known that you have a tendon named after the guy, or maybe you are not into Greek mythology, or never heard or read the Iliad, you can still enjoy this book.

That’s the magic that Madeline Miller brought to these pages. She has made a classic story accessible to everyone, young and old. Her prose is lyrical, poetic, and beautiful–but never in a snobbish way.

The plot revolves around the Trojan War, and we learn about Achilles from Patroclus’ eyes. That, my friend, makes all the difference in this book.

Patroclus is Achilles’ closest friend and because of his love for Achilles, we see a more humane version of the Greek hero.

“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”

This book has left me crying and wishing for more. I highly recommend this delightful book about love and friendship.

“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, & our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.” 


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Review: First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

 

Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing; Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes their family, their different responses to the event splinter their delicate bond. Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first-grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter ends up in her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands. On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately, Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired. As the anniversary of their tragedy looms and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them but also come to terms with their own choices.

Review

I feel the need to start this review by explaining how I managed to give this novel 4-stars when I completely disliked every character in this book. I am usually drawn to a good family drama, especially stories about siblings. So, the premise of this book was a huge selling point. Another reason that brought me to this novel was the author. I really enjoyed Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed and Something Blue, and I was already familiar with her style of writing. Indeed, I think Giffin really shines in family drama and the description of everyday life in a way that’s interesting and smart.

This book surrounds the story of this family, the Garlands, who after losing their oldest son in a car accident become extremely dysfunctional. There is something to be said about grief and tragedy. It either brings out the best out of people, or it brings the absolute worst out of them. In the case of the Garlands, it certainly brought out the worst.

Although this story does not really have a plot, Giffin still manages to make the narrative engaging and the dialogues dynamic. The format of the novel is set up with alternating chapters between Josie’s accounts and Meredith’s accounts of their life. Josie is reaching her late 30s. She is an elementary school teacher, self-absorbed, and selfish. Meredith’s not much better either.  She is an OCD type lawyer who, although she doesn’t see it, is also extremely selfish. Both sisters, together with the father and the mother have never truly processed the death of Daniel fifteen years earlier and somehow those scars have dictated their lives, their choices, and the relationship (or the lack of) they have with each other.

I really tried to sympathize with these sisters, but I just couldn’t. I believe Meredith’s complete ungratefulness and inability to see anything beyond her belly button had me brace myself not to slap her in the face a couple of times. And that is one of the reasons this novel deserves 4-stars. Although parts of the story are predictable and even impossible, Giffin’s character development was so good that I had a very clear idea of the voice and mannerisms of these characters by the time I was done with the book. This is an emotional and well-written novel with themes of grievance, forgiveness, friendship, and love.

I received an early copy of this book for free from Penguin Random House First To Read in exchange for my honest review.


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Review: All The Single Ladies by Dorothea Benton Frank (Tour Stop)

Few writers capture the complexities, pain, and joy of relationships—between friends, family members, husbands and wives, or lovers—as beloved New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank. In this charming, evocative, soul-touching novel, she once again takes us deep into the heart of the magical Lowcountry where three amazing middle-aged women are bonded by another amazing woman’s death. Through their shared loss they forge a deep friendship, asking critical questions. Who was their friend and what did her life mean? Are they living the lives they imagined for themselves? Will they ever be able to afford to retire? How will they maximize their happiness? Security? Health? And ultimately, their own legacies? A plan is conceived and unfurls with each turn of the tide during one sweltering summer on the Isle of Palms. Without ever fully realizing how close they were to the edge, they finally triumph amid laughter and maybe even newfound love.

Review

Lisa St. Claire is a divorced nurse who works in a nursing home named Pallmetto House. The book starts with the death of one of Lisa’s favorite patient, Kathy Harper. After the death of Kathy, Lisa becomes good friends with Kathy’s friends Suzanne and Carrie and the three take on the job of cleaning out the old lady’s apartment. In the process, the three middle-aged ladies embark on a mission of discovery and friendship.

I have to say that I was a little disappointed with this book. I felt that most of the dialogues were choppy and that the story did not flow well. As for character development, apart from Miss Trudie (Suzanne’s grandmother) who was a darling, I had a hard time connecting with the three ladies. Overall, this book is an easy read with some really funny parts and a sweet story about friendship, aging, and learning to accept life’s hurdles. However, I didn’t feel this book was as good as her other novels.

I’d like to thank TLC Book Tours  for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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About The Author

Dorothea Benton Frank is the New York Times best selling author of ten novels.Dottie has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, Parker Ladd’s Book Talk and many local network affiliated television stations. She is a frequent speaker on creative writing and the creative process for students of all ages and in private venues as the National Arts Club, the Junior League of New York, Friends of the Library organizations and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. She has also been a guest speaker at the South Carolina Book Festival, Novello, North Carolina’s festival of books and the Book and Author annual event in Charleston, SC, sponsored by the Post & Courier. Before she began her writing career, Dottie was involved extensively in the arts and education, and in raising awareness and funding for various non profits in New Jersey and New York. Dottie, who was born and raised on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina, currently divides her time between South Carolina and New Jersey.

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Captivating Covers

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Captivating covers is a book meme created by Jbelkbooks. Once a week you showcase “captivating” book covers that you come across. It may be a cover that you saw online, at a book shop, or at a library. You don’t have to have purchased the book as long as the cover has  captivated your eyes.

This week I came across this cool cover. Modern Manhood by David Wallace Flemming has a great cover and an interesting title.

Title: Modern Manhood

Author: David Wallace Fleming

Genre: Fiction

First published: August 5, 2011

Blurb

What it means to be a man in times when most employment consists of clicking a mouse and making a PowerPoint? (Nobody really knows anymore). Trust me. I’ve looked. I’ve read. I’ve asked around the usual places.There are people who can give a biblical interpretation; there are people who can give a biological interpretation; there are people who can give an interpretation based upon historical inequality. But if you’ve ever asked yourself, “Am I there yet? Is this it?” or “Wasn’t there supposed to be a boom? Some luminous flash of light…” chances are you live in the United States, between 18 and 40, and male. Ah, the hopeless, pathetic, forgotten male is he a relic, an anachronism, a vestigial bundle or excessive upper-body strength no longer needed in an era of unmanned attack drones, seven adjective lattes and dual income families? Was Beyonce right? Do girls run the world? To answer all these questions and more, we must do what men do best: Get our bearings. Not just in space–but in time.

Review: Lowcountry Stranger by Ashley Farley

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There’s a stranger in town. And it’s no coincidence when she shows up uninvited at a Sweeney family wedding. All eyes are drawn to this urchin who seems to have washed in with the tide. Before the night is over, the doe-eyed waif charms young and old with her street smarts and spunky personality. For better or worse, Annie Dawn is here to stay. The memorable Sweeney sisters from Her Sister’s Shoes have returned with more suspense and family drama to hold you spellbound until the dramatic conclusion. As she approaches the next stage of her life as an empty nester, Jackie is torn between expanding her fledgling design business and spending these last precious months with her boys before they fly the coop. Her own worst enemy, Sam is terrified of making a commitment to Eli Marshall, handsome police officer, true love of her life. Her resolve is tested when a ghost from her past shows up after nearly two decades. Faith nurtures her seven-year-old daughter who is recovering from the trauma of her abusive father. Is the threat in the past, or is there more danger on the horizon? The sisters seek guidance from their mother, Lovie, a true Southern matriarch who shows them how to respond to adversity with grace and dignity. Things are heating up in the Lowcountry. The Sweeney sisters remind us, once again, that being a part of a family is about more than sharing the same DNA.

Review

This is book number two of the Sweeney sisters, and I received a copy from Kimberly the Caffeinated Book Reviewer in exchange for my honest review. I was a little hesitant to read the second book in a series when I still had book one, Her Sister’s Shoes, on my TBR list. I’m glad I did. This is my first book by Ashley Farley, and I really loved the way she writes. It seems to me that there’s a strong family element of love, bonding, and loyalty between the sisters that truly fascinated me. I’m an only child, so I’m always amazed at stories about sibling love. This is definitely one of those stories. Another great thing about this novel is that as you read the blurb of the story you might get a feel that this is going to be one of those books that are predictable, and what I loved about Lowcountry Stranger is that it is full of twists and surprises. When you think the story is going one way, Farley adds another twist to make it even more interesting.

I absolutely loved some of the characters. I want to go back and read Her Sister’s Shoes to get to know a little more about Faith and her ex-husband. I loved their mother Lovie, the character of Moses, and obviously the sisters Sam, Faith, and Jackie. I really enjoyed meeting the Sweeney sisters, and I’m looking forward to reading her next books in the series.

This book is scheduled to be published July 1, 2016.

5 star


About The Author

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Ashley Farley is a wife and mother of two college-aged children. She grew up in the salty marshes of South Carolina, but now lives in Richmond, Virginia, a city she loves for its history and traditions.After her brother died in 1999 of an accidental overdose, she turned to writing as a way of releasing her pent-up emotions. She wrote SAVING BEN in honor of Neal, the boy she worshipped, the man she could not save. SAVING BEN is not a memoir, but a story about the special bond between siblings.


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Teaser Tuesday

Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books And A Beat. To join in just grab your current read, open to a random page, share 2 sentences (without spoilers),share the title and author so others can add it to their TBR list.

This week’s teaser comes from Sejal Badani’s book Trail of Broken Wings.

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“My childhood home holds me like a steel trap.Once inside, I feel the walls close around me, welcoming me like a spider into its web.” ~p.18. “Trail of Broken Wings” by Sejal Badani

 

Add this book to your TBR list at Add-to-Goodreads-badge

 

Review: The Lake House by Kate Morton

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Living on her family’s idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, innocent, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories. But the mysteries she pens are no match for the one her family is about to endure…One midsummer’s eve, after a beautiful party drawing hundreds of guests to the estate has ended, the Edevanes discover that their youngest child, eleven-month-old Theo, has vanished without a trace. What follows is a tragedy that tears the family apart in ways they never imagined.

Decades later, Alice is living in London, having enjoyed a long successful career as an author. Theo’s case has never been solved, though Alice still harbors a suspicion as to the culprit. Miles away, Sadie Sparrow, a young detective in the London police force, is staying at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall. While out walking one day, she stumbles upon the old estate—now crumbling and covered with vines, clearly abandoned long ago. Her curiosity is sparked, setting off a series of events that will bring her and Alice together and reveal shocking truths about a past long gone…yet more present than ever. A lush, atmospheric tale of intertwined destinies, this latest novel from a masterful storyteller is an enthralling, thoroughly satisfying read.

This is a novel I felt started really strong and somehow I lost some interest. I really wanted to love this book, but in reality, I didn’t. I liked it. I just couldn’t bring myself to love it. The narrative alternating between past and present is a technique that works for some novels, but one that also gets very tiresome to me. The book is long, but that was not the reason I couldn’t love it. The writing was beautiful and the characters were very well crafted. The plot is definitely unpredictable but difficult to understand at times. I can’t truly pinpoint why this novel didn’t do it for me except that the jumping back and forth between eras made it really hard for me to keep track of the story.

3 star

Review: Five Roses by Alice Zorn

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Fara and her husband buy a house with a disturbing history that reawakens memories of her own family tragedy. Maddy still lives in the house, once a hippie commune, where her daughter was kidnapped twenty-seven years ago. Rose grew up isolated with her mother in the backwoods north of Montreal. Now in the city, she questions the silence and deception that shaped her upbringing.

Fara, Maddy, and Rose meet in Montreal’s historic Pointe St-Charles, a rundown neighborhood on the cusp of gentrification. Against a backdrop of abandonment, loss, and revitalization, the women must confront troubling secrets in order to rebuild their lives. Zorn deftly interweaves the rich yet fragile lives of three very different people into a story of strength and friendship.

Alice Zorn writes a beautiful story against the backdrop of rural Quebec. Montreal is certainly on my bucket list of places to check out and thanks to Zorn’s description of the rural outskirts of Montreal as well as the city, the reader gets a chance to be transported to this side of the world. I loved the way Zorn depicted each one of these characters allowing the reader to truly empathize with each one of them.

This novel has some sad parts, some slow parts, but for most of the book, you get a well-crafted story with believable and captivating characters.

I’d like to thank NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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Review: Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

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Growing up on her family’s Sonoma vineyard, Georgia Ford learned some important secrets. The secret number of grapes it takes to make a bottle of wine: eight hundred. The secret ingredient in her mother’s lasagna: chocolate. The secret behind ending a fight: hold hands. But just a week before her wedding, thirty-year-old Georgia discovers her beloved fiancé has been keeping a secret so explosive, it will change their lives forever.
Georgia does what she’s always done: she returns to the family vineyard, expecting the comfort of her long-married parents, and her brothers, and everything familiar. But it turns out her fiancé is not the only one who’s been keeping secrets…

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave was May’s book selection for my monthly book club, and let me start by saying that I really, truly, tried to like this book. Since this was my selection, I felt that a book about wine, vineyard, wine country and a bit of romance was a recipe for a great book club discussion. Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t.

This is the story of Georgia, who after finding out that her fiancé Ben has been keeping this “massive” (sorry, it really isn’t) secret from her, decides to leave L.A. on the same day she’s trying out her wedding dress and dashes back to her hometown of Sebastopol in Sonoma county. When she gets home, Georgia finds out that apparently her family has also been keeping some secrets of their own.

Let me start by saying what did not work for me in this novel. Laura Dave’s writing really did not impress me at all. I couldn’t relate or like any of her characters. The chapters were very short and choppy, and the whole back and forth between present and past and her father’s memory really didn’t do it for me. I must have put this book down at least three times and read a couple of other books in between. I eventually managed to finish the book in order to discuss it during book club meeting. Definitely not my cup of tea.

2 star