Review & Giveaway: Under a Summer Sky


Under a Summer Sky
Under a Summer Sky
By Nan Rossiter
(Kensington Publishing Corporation, Paperback, 9780758283917, April 2014, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

Faith, love and family in a gorgeous Cape Cod setting.

The Rest of It:

Laney Coleman and her minister husband Noah live in an old, beloved Cape Cod house with their five rambunctious boys. Their lives are full, but happy. With the two oldest boys heading out to college, this particular summer seems bittersweet. Her boys are growing up and when her youngest son is bullied, their lives take on a complexity that threatens to mar this perfect time. But as with most situations, faith and patience is what pulls Laney through and when she finds herself hosting her brother-in-law’s wedding, she decides to embrace the chaos.

If you haven’t read Rossiter’s books before, you are in for a real treat. This book can be read as a stand-alone novel but it builds on the characters introduced in her previous books. It’s really a culmination of all of her novels. It was nice to visit these characters again, given the heartache that some of them endured in the past.

This is one of those books that you reach for and then smile while reading. It’s a feel-good book. You know the type I am talking about. It contains characters that you care about, a gorgeous setting, food talk (think chowder and peach cobbler), and I can’t forget the furry, four-legged members of the family because Rossiter manages to work them into every book. But as pleasant as it is to read Rossiter’s books, I am always surprised as how she manages to weave in the heavier topics. Aging, health concerns, bullying and characters who question their faith are all included here and it’s what makes this family so real.

This is the perfect summer read because it offers up a lot more than just a sunny locale. It’s filled with feel-good moments but at the same time, really makes you think about the issues presented. Rossiter never fails to impress me. I don’t know how she does it! Her books are always a hit with me and I love how she writes about what she loves. She makes it all look so effortless. The inclusion of the some of the recipes featured is a big plus. I have already made the pasta sauce once and it’s about to be made again later this week.

I have suggested Rossiter’s books to more people than I can count so when she offered a copy for me to give away, well… I jumped at the opportunity. If you’d like a chance to win your own copy, check out the details below.


GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of Under a Summer Sky and is open to the US and Canada. One winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the author. Only one entry per person. Giveaway closes on June 6, 2014 (pacific). I will contact the winners for his/her mailing address.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY! (now closed)

Source: Sent to me by the author.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review, Tour & Giveaway: Cutting Teeth

Cutting Teeth

Cutting Teeth
By Julia Fierro
(St. Martin’s Press, Hardcover, 9781250042026, May 2014, 336pp.)

The Short of It:

Parenting. It’s no picnic.

The Rest of It:

Parents are the bones on which children cut their teeth  — Peter Ustinov

A playgroup, which consists of five families and a nanny, head to a beach house for a little vacation. Although Nicole’s intention is to provide respite to those within the playgroup, her invitation serves another purpose. It gives her a reason to escape the city. The internet rumors about the end of the world and how it happens to fall on that particular weekend have left Nicole more than a little paranoid. No longer taking her anxiety medication, she resorts to smoking pot. A mother of a three-year-old resorting to pot and spending the weekend with a house full of kids during what she fears is the last weekend of her life? Yep, makes for some good storytelling.

Characters

The dynamics of the playgroup is, in my opinion, what makes the story so compelling. This is a diverse group of people and it’s hard to go into the book without giving you a sense of who they are. So here’s some info on the rest of the group:

There’s Susanna and Allie and their twins Levi and Dash. Susanna is in the late stages of their 3rd pregnancy and so Allie goes along on the trip, mostly to appease Susanna but knowing that a playgroup weekend is not really her thing.

Rip and Grace and their four-year-old Hank, have a different story. Hank is a result of an anonymous sperm donor and although Rip desperately wants another child, mostly to extend his role as a stay-at-home dad which he treasures more than anyone knows. Grace isn’t drinking the Kool-Aid.

Leigh comes with her two children, Chase and Charlotte but her husband Brad does not join them. Chase is “on the spectrum” and is a handful for Leigh. As his mother, she does the best she can do for him but feels that her best if often not good enough. Brad has no patience for the kid, which hurts Leigh deeply although she doesn’t admit this to her husband.

Tiffany and Michael are engaged to be married and their daughter, Harper Rose is three, going on thirty. Tiffany is clearly the outcast of the group. Young and beautiful, she gets along best with Leigh but the rest of the playgroup barely tolerates her. Except for Rip, who seems to have eyes for her. She is attractive in an obvious way and not afraid to show it.

Then there is Tenzin, the Tibetan nanny. She is the wise, doer of all things, fixer of all boo-boos for both the children and the adults. Even though she has a family of her own and cannot be with them, she does her best to surround these children and parents with love and positivity. Something that they don’t see too often.

The Story

There is no sugar-coating going on here. The story is told in alternating chapters, so you get a real feel for what these people are made of. Their hidden agendas, their secret attractions and their frustrations over their own relationships with both their significant others and their children. NONE of these people want to be there. They accepted the invitation to be polite, but also hoped to get a little relaxation in at the same time. Impossible to do with so many people and children in the house. Even with a nanny putting out fires at every turn, tempers flare. How can they not?

Sensitivities over parenting style, breastfeeding, the whole work-out-of-the-home/stay-at-home debate and even diet come into play. No one is spared the scrutiny of the other parents and it’s impossible to turn away from it. Dysfunction is compelling and dysfunction that you can somehow relate to? Even more compelling.

I was not a model mom when my kids were young. I did all the right things but I was anxious all the time. Why did they cry ALL the time?? I had one kid that did not want to breastfeed no matter what I did (if you know me, you can probably guess which one) and then the other wanted to breastfeed forever. I had ZERO patience for the tantrums and could not do the whole playgroup thing. The women seemed vacuous and too perfect on the outside. I was the one with the spit-up in her hair. The one that always looked like she could use a nap. Probably because in those days,  I functioned on less than three hours of sleep a night.

Yep, I get it. So to me, this book was like a breath of fresh, dysfunctional, pot-laden air. This is how it really is. But then, that made me sad. There are two characters that piqued my interest the most. Tiffany, the outcast, and Rip, the stay-at-home-dad. To me, they both seemed to be the best parents of the group, if you can give anyone a medal for their parenting, but living your life through your children? That is something I see a lot of and it’s a sad state of affairs. Rip uses his stay-at-home status as a way to hide from the real world and Tiffany’s only hope of having friends is being a part of a playgroup. Sad.

The inclusion of the Tibetan nanny was interesting. I have to admit, that I groaned a little when she first entered the picture. I am half Tibetan and I worried about her character being too stereotypical but I worried for nothing. Tenzin provides the much-needed balance. Without her, there’d be no voice of reason and these people would kill each other. I do wonder how the author came to include a Tibetan character in her novel. Maybe she knows someone from Tibet?

I suspect that this book will be getting a lot of buzz in the coming months. I’d be surprised if it didn’t. It’s complex and at the same time, very difficult to put down. I read it in a couple of sittings but it’s one of those books that I will be thinking about for a very long time. The picture Fierro paints of Nicole smoking a joint after putting her son down. I bet lots of parents do that, they just don’t admit it or maybe their joint is a glass of wine. Whatever the vice, I can relate.

Make sure you pick-up a copy because people will be talking about this one.


GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of Cutting Teeth and is open to the US and Canada. A winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the publisher. Only one entry per person. Giveaway closes on May 31, 2014 (pacific). I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY! (now closed)

Julia Fierro

To visit her website, click here.

To visit her Facebook page, click here.

Follow @JuliaFierro on Twitter!

Follow Julia Fierro on Pinterest!

To visit her other tour stops, click here.

TLC Book Tours

Source: Review and giveaway copy provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review, Tour & Giveaway: He’s Gone

He's Gone

He’s Gone
By Deb Caletti
(Bantam, Paperback, 9780345534354, May 2013, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

Hands down, the most riveting book I’ve read this year.

The Rest of It:

I don’t know about you, but I love a good book about marriage. Especially if it’s about an imperfect marriage and let me tell you, this marriage is not perfect!

Dani Keller wakes one morning and realizes that her husband Ian is not in bed. It’s Sunday, and Dani’s slight hangover clouds her memory of the night before. As she goes about her normal, everyday activities it doesn’t really occur to her that something is wrong. Not until later in the day when her husband has not returned any of her calls. What she remembers of the party the night before is the small argument they had, but she can’t actually recall him coming through the door. Did he come home with her? Why can’t she remember? As it becomes more and more apparent that Ian is in fact, gone, the police begin to investigate the case, Dani’s family comes for support and Dani herself continues to rake her memory for clues to his whereabouts. What makes the story juicy, is their past and it ALL comes out as Dani wades through the delicate threads of matrimony.

This is a second marriage for both Dani and Ian and it’s clear that there is some emotional baggage that has not been completely unpacked and the reader learns this as Dani’s self-doubt begins to overwhelm her. We learn how their relationship came to be, about the children that Ian left behind, about Dani’s abusive ex-husband and although none of it is fairy tale material, it is fact what makes up a marriage today. Dani’s reflections on marriage in general are not surprising, but the aspect that Caletti focuses on is when a marriage loses its shine; that moment where the honeymoon ends and the marriage begins.

I knew what happened to Ian very early on, and although most will turn those last few pages, smack their head and shout, “I knew it!”, if you’re being honest, you’ll also admit that you really didn’t, because Caletti artfully guides you into more dangerous waters where ANYTHING could have happened and all of it would have been plausible. She’s sneaky that way.

Some have criticized the book saying that there is a lot of telling and not enough showing,  but I felt it worked here. If a person goes missing, and you aren’t telling all of the story, at least not all at once, you are going to begin the dreaded internal dialogue with yourself over whether or not you did the right thing. This piecey introspection is what kept me reading. I freakin’  loved it!

The Seattle setting and the supporting characters that Caletti introduces add the necessary back story to make the situation plausible. From the very first page I was riveted and could not put it down. I blew through the first one hundred pages in one sitting and when I closed the book for good, I felt satisfied. You can’t ask for more than that.

Toss it in your bag this summer. You won’t be sorry. It’s that delicious mix of good pacing, flawed characters and doubt. Love it.

Thanks to the publisher and TLC Book Tours, I have a copy to giveaway! Details below.

Deb Caletti

To visit her website, click here.

To visit her Facebook page, click here.

Follow @debcaletti to follow her on Twitter!

To visit her other tour stops, click here.

TLC Book Tours

Source: Review and giveaway copy provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.


GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of He’s Gone and is open to the US and Canada. A winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the publisher. Only one entry per person. Giveaway closes on June 16, 2013 (pacific). I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!

 

Review, Giveaway & Tour: In the Garden of Stone

In the Garden of Stone

In the Garden of Stone
By Susan Tekulve
(Hub City Press, Paperback, 9781891885211, April 2013, 250pp.)

The Short of It:

Full of sorrowful, memorable characters with writing that immediately pulls you in.

The Rest of It:

The story begins in War, West Virginia and spans from 1924 to the 70’s. After a rail accident buries her home in coal, sixteen-year-old Emma is rescued by a railroad man by the name of Caleb. Shortly thereafter, the two marry and begin their life together. Caleb is a good man but prone to dreaming and when he dreams up a garden to rival that of any found in Sicily, Emma has her doubts but she goes along with it. When tragedy strikes and Emma is left to fend for herself, what we are given is only a brief glimpse of what is to come. Told in alternating chapters and ending with Emma’s granddaughter, Hannah, this is a family saga that began strong but left me wanting more.

Emma’s story was the most appealing to me. I wanted to know more about her and Caleb but when it jumped to her son Dean as an adult, I began to lose interest. Dean was not likable and his marriage to Sadie and her eventual decline in health, made me not like him even more. And when the story ended with Hannah, his daughter, I found myself even less interested. From the strong beginning, I had high hopes for this one. In the end, I enjoyed the book but not as much as I had hoped.

Had this story stuck with Emma and Caleb I think I would have liked it more. The dreamy, fantastical part of Caleb was particularly interesting against Emma’s more sensible nature. What these characters all share is a sense of longing. The type that can never be fulfilled. They seem to struggle with happiness. Both what it is and how to achieve it. Flawed as they are, the story doesn’t dwell long enough on any one aspect of their unhappiness so it steers clear of the depression you’d expect to find in a book like this. If I were to take the story out of the equation, I’d say that the writing was lovely. Lovely, without being over-the-top. The imagery and the voice of the characters came through enough for me to want to finish the book and I would absolutely read another book by Tekulve.

If you are intrigued by anything I’ve said here and want to read it for yourself, enter to win your own copy. Details below.

Susan Tekulve

To visit the publisher’s website, click here.

To visit her other tour stops, click here.

TLC Book Tours

Source: Review and giveaway copy provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.


GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of In the Garden of Stone and is open to the US and Canada. A winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the publisher. Only one entry per person.  Giveaway closes on June 14, 2013 (pacific). I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!

 

Review, Tour & Giveaway: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Constellation of Vital Phenomena

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
By Anthony Marra
(Hogarth, Hardcover, 9780770436407, May 2013, 400pp.)

The Short of It:

A haunting glimpse of war, as seen through the eyes of those affected.

The Rest of It:

I know little about the War in Chechnya. That’s the first thing I’ll tell you as I attempt to review a book that pushed me away as much as it pulled me in. The second thing I’ll admit is that I’ve never read a book quite like this one. Marra’s handling of the subject is both delicate and brutal. A combination that I was not expecting.

The story follows a handful of characters as they experience war between the years of 1994-2004. Havaa, a young girl who ran from her home as the Russians took her father away. Akhmed, the neighbor next door who lives with his ill, bedridden wife, Ula. Sonja, a brilliant surgeon, trying to keep a hospital open with just two full time staff to run it. Natasha, Sonja’s sister, addicted to heroin and nowhere to be found. Khassan, an old man who lives across from Havaa and is the father to Ramzan, a young man who has been enlisted by the Russians as an informer. Dokka, Havaa’s father, who gives refugees a bed to sleep in as they make their way to the camps.

The character list is short, but the complexities of each character make this a very rich story, filled with moments that will haunt your memories for days. The hospital serves as a gateway to the other side. Many come for help, but some never leave given their injuries or the lack of supplies available to Sonja. She makes do with dental floss for sutures, heroin instead of morphine and when Akhmed brings the young girl to her and asks her to provide a place for her to sleep, Sonja is not ready to care for a child. Akhmed’s only saving grace? The mediocre medical experience he holds. Help is what she desperately needs so she takes what she can get and agrees to take the girl in.

The pace of the story falters a bit as Marra takes us back and forth through time. At times I zipped through the pages and at other times, I had to push myself to get through a chapter. It wasn’t until the final third of the book that I found myself unable to put the book down. The fate of these characters and how Marra walks us down each of their paths was riveting and heartbreaking.

It’s beautifully written and the complexities of war are displayed in acts both large and small. The amputation of a limb, a young girl’s collection of items left behind by refugees, feeding a band of loyal dogs. This is one of those books that seeps into you slowly but it’s a story that you will never forget.

Enter to win your own copy. Details below.

Anthony Marra

To visit her Facebook page, click here.

Follow @anthonyfmarra to follow him on Twitter!

To visit her other tour stops, click here.

TLC Book Tours

Source: Review and giveaway copy provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.


GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and is open to the US and Canada. A winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the publisher. Only one entry per person.  Giveaway closes on June 7, 2013 (pacific). I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!

 

Review & Giveaway: More Than You Know

More Than You Know

More Than You Know
By Nan Rossiter
(Kensington, Paperback, 9780758283894, April 30, 2013, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

A wonderful, heartwarming tale about family, faith and the memories that bind us.

The Rest of It:

This is a feel-good book. The kind that warms you from the inside out and puts a smile on your face. I know what you are thinking, “But Ti, you always read such heavy books!” Yes, I know! I do prefer a meaty chunkster to most mainstream fiction but I also like to feel good too and Nan Rossiter has perfected the art of writing books that fall into the feel-good category and her latest is no exception.

Mia Graham’s world changes in an instant when the sudden death of her husband is immediately followed by the delivery of her beautiful baby girl. Beryl and her older sisters Isak and Rumer, grow-up under Mia’s watchful gaze. She is always there for them, helping  them through the challenges of life and when the girls are grown and Mia is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it’s the girls, especially Beryl who come to her aid. But after a long battle, Mia is taken from them and they are forced to return to their childhood home to go through her belongings and lay her to rest. While going through her things they discover her diary and realize that their mother had been keeping a secret from them for years. Curious, they dive into her story.

There is a lot of “wonderful” in this novel. When the girls gather at their childhood home in New Hampshire, it’s as if they’ve stepped back in time. Suddenly, they are young girls again and remembering all the special little things that their mom did for them. Simple things like making them cinnamon toast and a good cup of tea. The work of preparing the house for sale is bittersweet but its weight is made lighter by the casual conversations and the meals they share together as a family. Their interactions with close friends and the rest of the town, are enough to sustain them. And let me tell you, if you are a foodie, you will want some comfort food on hand as the food talk really got to me at times! Rossiter must have known this because she included recipes of some of the dishes mentioned in the book.

Of course, I made the one dish that was not included in the back of the book! A dip using cream cheese, chili, green chiles and cheese and let me tell you, my family gobbled it up.

More Than You Know Hot Dip

As far as the story goes, I loved the way Rossiter handled the diary aspect. Shared in sections and read by the girls, it took on a very personal tone and when all was said and done, I really felt as if I got to know Mia quite well which made her passing all the more real.

If you’ve not read Rossiter’s work before, I should tell you that she is a dog lover from way back. Her books always include a canine companion which I find especially nice. And this particular book has some surprises in it. Readers of her other books will notice right away what they are. I enjoyed discovering them on my own so I won’t mention any more about them here.

Overall, a very touching and enjoyable read. I can see LOTS of you reading this one over the summer while sipping a tall glass of iced tea. Gosh, I adore Rossiter’s books.

And a little surprise for you, the author has provided a copy for me to giveaway! If you’d like a chance to win a copy, check out the details below.

Source: Review and giveaway copy provided by the author. Thank you!
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.


GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of More Than You Know and is open to the US and Canada. A winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the author. Only one entry per person.  Giveaway closes on May 17, 2013 (pacific). I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!

Review, Tour & Giveaway: Orphan Train

Orphan Train
Orphan Train
By Christina Baker Kline
William Morrow & Company, Paperback, 9780061950728, April 2013, 273pp.)

The Short of It:

Alternating between heartbreak and hope, Orphan Train is a story of resilience and survival.

The Rest of It:

Molly Ayer is a foster kid, trying to make do with the life she’s been dealt. At seventeen, she’s been bounced around from one family to another; none of them a home. Her current situation is no better. Willful and defiant, she often argues with her foster parents and when she steals a book from the library, she finds herself in a boatload of trouble.  Her friend, Jack, finds her a community service opportunity helping an elderly lady clean out her attic. Molly’s not too excited about spending all those hours helping a perfect stranger. But as Molly gets to know Vivian and the history contained within those boxes, Molly begins to realize that they have more in common than she thought.

The story is told in alternating chapters and takes us from Vivian’s story in 1929, to Molly’s story which takes place in 2011. Vivian’s story is absolutely heartbreaking. Losing her family in a fire, Niamh (pronounced Neev) is placed aboard a train of orphans. The train stops in each town with the hopes of finding homes for the children aboard. Niamh, at ten years of age is already considered too old to adopt. If she finds a home at all she is guaranteed  life of hard labor. Whether it be taking care of children or working her fingers to the bone doing mending or cleaning or whatever else comes to mind. She also quickly realizes that she won’t be able to retain the name given to her by her family. Her fierce red hair and Irish descent raises an eyebrow everywhere she goes so when a family steps up and offers her a place in their home as a seamstress, she quickly learns that she’ll be Dorothy. Something that she is forced to accept and a practice that is repeated until she settles on the permanent name of Vivian.

Vivian’s story is riveting, but as sad as it was to read about her poor living conditions as a child. I found myself gravitating towards her chapters more so than Molly’s. Molly is difficult to like. She assumes the role of troublemaker by dying her hair dark, wearing a nose ring and playing the all-around bad girl. Only those very close to her know that she’s not that way. Her friend Jack for one, and perhaps her guidance counselor, but her story did not pull me in as much as Vivian’s, so I didn’t feel as connected to Molly as I wanted to be.

However, when these two unlikely characters meet, Kline does a good job of weaving between the two stories and figures out how to make them come together in a satisfying way. My only quibble, is that the ending was a tad rushed and perhaps, too convenient.

Nevertheless, this is a riveting story and highly readable. I should mention that these trains actually existed. Yes, I know, it’s hard to believe but it’s true which of course makes the story even more interesting.

If you’d like a shot at winning the book, I have a copy to giveaway to one of my readers! Details below.

Christina Baker Kline

To visit her website, click here.

To visit her Facebook page, click here.

Follow @bakerkline to follow her on Twitter!

To visit her other tour stops, click here.

TLC Book Tours

Source: Review and giveaway copy provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.


GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

This giveaway is for one copy of Orphan Train and is open to the US and Canada. A winner will be chosen randomly by me. The book will come directly from the publisher. Only one entry per person.  Giveaway closes on April 30, 2013 (pacific). I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address.

Click here to enter the giveaway

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