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Book Review

Tea Time: The Essential Tea Companion

The Essential Tea Companion: Favorite Menus for Tea Parties and Celebrations

essential tea companion

Publisher: Hearst

Release Date: May 5, 2009

Source: library copy

Rating: 4 out of 5

This book is so beautifully done I can’t even stand it. Whether you are looking for ideas for a tea party or the recipe for the ultimate scone, this is your book. A lot of people don’t know where to start when they want to learn about tea and all of the fun things that go along with it. There are so many books out there that are so detailed and involved that they can seem pretty overwhelming. The Essential Tea Companion brings together some great information for beginner tea aficionados as well as original recipes for the more experiences connoisseur.

The photographs of various china, settings, and sweet goodies are absolutely gorgeous. You can tell that these photographs were very well thought out and planned. Not only are they colorful, but they perfectly display some great ideas for special events like a bridal shower and a children’s party. My favorite part of this book is the very back where there is a list of resources for tea equipment, sources for tea and accessories, tea salons, clubs, organizations, and museums. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to jumpstart their interest in all things tea!

REVIEW: Goodnight June by Sarah Jio

Goodnight June by Sarah Jio

goodnight june

Publisher: Plume

Release Date: May 27, 2014

Source: personal copy

Rating: 5 out of 5

Goodnight Moon is an adored childhood classic, but its real origins are lost to history. In Goodnight June, Sarah Jio offers a suspenseful and heartfelt take on how the “great green room” might have come to be.

June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown—and steps into the pages of American literature. - from the publisher

Y’all know just how much I’ve loved Sarah Jio’s books in the past – this is by far my favorite out of all of her books, and probably in my top ten books of the year. I absolutely loved Goodnight Moon as a child. I’m pretty sure my parents still have our childhood copy in their basement some where. It’s one of those books that sticks with you for the rest of your life and one that you want to pass down to your children and grandchildren. The words are magnificent and the illustrations are exquisite. Jio captures the magic of that beloved picture book with June’s quest to discover her aunt’s real past, as well as the history behind the making of Goodnight Moon. While June is exploring the past, she realizes that her present isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. Sure she has a great job, but is it really worth it when it jeopardizes her health and happiness?

The aspect that I really loved about this novel was the theme of sisterhood. Margaret Wise Brown, Aunt Ruby, and June all have strained relationships with their sisters. They all learn that they have to treat being a sibling just like any other relationship in that you have to work for it. Family is so ridiculously important, especially in this age of digital disconnect, that reading this book really made me look at my own relationships with my sisters. Always make that phone call, write that letter, or send that text just letting them know that you’re thinking about them. No matter how you think they might have wronged you, family is forever. And it’s worth it.

Jio creates such real situations that I wonder if she is taking from her own relationships. Each of her novels has an historical element, but I found this book’s look at the past to be the most intriguing and the most well-developed. With each page turned, I stepped deeper into June’s reality, and I wanted to stay there. I truly hope that you get a chance to read this book. It’s great for summer – it was easy to read, and is definitely a page-turner. Even though it moved quickly, I found myself rereading passages just because they were so meaningful. I highly, highly recommend this book.

REVIEW: No Graves as Yet by Anne Perry

No Graves as Yet by Anne Perry

no graves as yet

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Release Date: August 26, 2003

Source: library copy

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

The year is 1914. Joseph and Matthew Reavley have just found out their parents have been killed in a gruesome car accident. Matthew, a member of the Intelligence Service, knows that his father was on his way to bring him a document that could change the fate of England, as well as the rest of the world. Matthew and Joseph know that their parents’ deaths could not be a mere accident when such a document is involved. Especially since when they search their parents’ car and belongings there are no such documents found. Joseph is soon shocked when one of his best students, Sebastian Allard, is found murdered in his university rooms. Are the two deaths connected? Will the document be found and change the world as they know it?

I love reading mysteries set in World War I, and this novel was particularly intriguing since it is set right before the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. I actually read this book as part of my Mystery Book Club at my local library, so it was great to hear other people’s opinions when I have such strong ones. I really wanted to love this book. Maybe I had too many expectations going into it since Perry is such a famous and beloved author. The philosophy in this novel is absolutely brilliant. Joseph and Sebastian have an amazing discussion about war and peace and how civilization could be destroyed in an instant by an act of war. The political views and historical perspective discussed are fascinating, especially considering that the document and scandal talked about in the book are actually thought to be real.

What I really had a problem with was the pace of the plot. The mystery is quite intricate and definitely well thought out, but I just felt that the book took too long to go nowhere. I was not able to predict the “who-done-it” of the book, but by the end of the novel, I just didn’t care. I really just wanted to be over and done with it. It seems like Perry is trying to write about religion, politics, and humanism all within the plot of an historical mystery, but it just becomes too much like a treatise rather than a thriller. Perry’s characters are no-doubt outstanding, they just meander until they trip across the finish line more accidentally than anything. I think that I will try to read one of Perry’s other series, as I do like her writing style, but I don’t think I will be reading the rest of this series.

REVIEW: Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

Northanger Abbey  by Val McDermid

northanger abbeyPublisher: Grove Press

Release Date: April 15, 2014

Source: library copy

Rating: 2 out of 5

There is a new series of retellings of Jane Austen’s novels called The Austen Project. Famous authors picked their favorite Austen novel and retell it in a modern setting. Mystery and suspense author Val McDermid picked Northanger Abbey.

Cat Morland is ready to grow up. A homeschooled minister’s daughter in the quaint, sheltered Piddle Valley in Dorset, she loses herself in novels and is sure there is a glamorous adventure awaiting her beyond the valley’s narrow horizon. So imagine her delight when the Allens, neighbors and friends of her parents, invite her to attend the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh as their guest. With a sunny personality, tickets every night and a few key wardrobe additions courtesy of Susie Allen, Cat quickly begins to take Edinburgh by storm and is taken into the bosom of the Thorpe family, particularly by eldest daughter Bella. And then there’s the handsome Henry Tilney, an up-and-coming lawyer whose family home is the beautiful and forbidding Northanger Abbey. Cat is entranced by Henry and his charming sister Eleanor, but she can’t help wondering if everything about them is as perfect as it seems. Or has she just been reading too many novels? A delectable, note-perfect modern update of the Jane Austen classic, Northanger Abbey tells a timeless story of innocence amid cynicism, the exquisite angst of young love, and the value of friendship. - from the publisher

I was so excited to hear about this series, especially since I’ve loved many of McDermid’s novels. I have to say that I was very disappointed with this book. Austen’s Catherine Morland is naive and easily excitable, but she is not such a shallow character as the Cat in this book. Austen is making a statement on girls obsessed with Gothic novels and who life in their daydreams about fictional characters. McDermid tries to recapture this message, but ends up falling short of the intended goal.

I think with any retelling of a story, you really need to reform the narrative and make it yours, rather than follow every detail to a T just making it in a modern setting. I felt that especially with McDermid’s background, she could have made the story more thrilling, or even darker. McDermid has such a distinctive style, but I didn’t see it come through at all in this version of the story. It seemed almost too light, with none of the gritty flare that usually accompanies McDermid’s writing. There just isn’t enough of that daring Austen wit and charm in this retelling. Maybe if I had never read the original novel I would have liked this book more, but the prose felt too flat and superficial for me. I cannot really recommend this particular book, but I do encourage you to read the original Northanger Abbey as well as Val McDermid’s wonderful thrillers.

REVIEW: Moving Day by Jonathan Stone

Moving Day by Jonathan Stone

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Publisher: Thomas and Mercer

Release Date: June 1, 2014

Source: publisher

Rating: I don’t even know how to rate this book

Forty years’ accumulation of art, antiques, and family photographs are more than just objects for Stanley Peke—they are proof of a life fully lived. A life he could have easily lost long ago.

When a con man steals his houseful of possessions in a sophisticated moving-day scam, Peke wanders helplessly through his empty New England home, inevitably reminded of another helpless time: decades in Peke’s past, a cold and threadbare Stanislaw Shmuel Pecoskowitz eked out a desperate existence in the war-torn Polish countryside, subsisting on scraps and dodging Nazi soldiers. Now, the seventy-two-year-old Peke—who survived, came to America, and succeeded—must summon his original grit and determination to track down the thieves, retrieve his things, and restore the life he made for himself.

Peke and his wife, Rose, trace the path of the thieves’ truck across America, to the wilds of Montana, and to an ultimate, chilling confrontation with not only the thieves but also with Peke’s brutal, unresolved past.
-from the publisher

Ever since I finished this book, I’ve been having a hard time processing what I feel about it. From the description, it just seemed to be a thriller with an element of suspense. The first half of the book or so filled this description nicely. Peke had been hurt by these thieves and was going to do anything to get his possessions back. An older man who had survived the Holocaust wasn’t going to let some idiots take everything away from him again. I’m not going to lie, I thought the first half of the book was kind of slow and predictable. But then, you get to the second half (and especially the final confrontations in the book) and you’re just like WHAAAAAAAAA?

It’s true, we start to see more of Peke’s character as the story progresses, but nothing can really prepare you for his transformation towards the end. It is so bizarre and unpredictable that my jaw hit the floor at some point. It’s so hard to talk about without ruining a major turning point, but if you do read the book, I would LOVE to talk about it with you. Nick, the thief, also goes through an ironic transformation when Peke starts fighting back, and some of his actions really surprised me since he is seemingly so intelligent throughout the rest of the story. I don’t really know how I feel about the ending, but I did feel as if I could not put down this book until I reached it. The novel has also been optioned for a film, which really makes sense since it is written so much like a movie would play out.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for letting me host a stop on this tour. For more information, click here.

REVIEW: Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By by Elizabeth J. Duncan

Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By by Elizabeth J. Duncan

penny brannigan

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Release Date: October 29, 2013

Source: Library copy

Rating: 4 out of 5

There’s just something magical about browsing in your local public library and discovering a new series which you just can’t put down. About a month ago, I saw this book on the New Books shelf at my library. I read the description and thought, “Oh my goodness, I have to read this book!” But then I looked through the book and saw it was the fifth book in the series – so of course I had to read the first four books before starting this one! Although you can read Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By as a stand-alone mystery, I would definitely recommend reading the other books in the series for Penny’s character development.

Penny Brannigan moved from Canada to Wales about 25 years ago to start her very own nail salon in the small town of Llanelen. As a favor to a friend, she has agreed to give a talk at a clerical conference in Gladstone’s Library along with her boyfriend, DCI Gareth Davies. Although they think this trip is going to be a relaxing getaway for a few days, they are gravely mistaken as two people are soon dead.

I have to say, I am a sucker for all things British/Welsh, cozy mysteries, and small-town settings. You can tell that Duncan has really done her research for the location and feel of the people. You have your typical small-town characters, but there are so many other characters added into the mix that it never gets boring. I will say that in the first two books, I was able to predict “who-done-it”, but in the later books, Duncan really hones her mystery-writing talent and makes this a book you won’t want to miss. There really is a unique quality to Penny’s character that separates her from so many female heroines. She isn’t afraid to do things for herself or be on her own. She definitely takes a step away from your traditional single woman in a small town, and I can’t wait to read more of her mysteries.

REVIEW: To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis by Andra Watkins

To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis by Andra Watkins

to live forever

Publisher: Word Hermit Press

Release Date: March 1, 2014

Source: Publisher

Rating: 4 out of 5

Explorer Meriwether Lewis has been stuck in Nowhere since his mysterious death nearly two centuries ago. His last hope for redemption is helping nine-year-old Emmaline Cagney flee her madame mother in New Orleans and find her father in Nashville. To get there, Merry must cross his own grave along the Natchez Trace, where he duels the corrupt Judge, an old foe who has his own despicable plans for Em. - from the publisher

So after reading the description of this book, I was a little skeptical. I mean, I love books about mystical journeys and the supernatural, but Meriwether Lewis? The concept kind of blew my mind. But then I thought, hey, what’s the harm in trying? This book was freakin’ awesome. Of course Meriwether Lewis was real and so is the Natchez Trace. It is about 400 miles long going from Mississippi to Tennessee, and you can still walk it today. But Merry walks such a different path – it is more philosophical and spiritual than literal. I couldn’t help but keep thinking back to the Gunslinger’s journey in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. This book obviously isn’t as bizarre and scary, but it does remind me of the strange way that the Gunslinger, Roland, kept moving on no matter what happened or what he had to do to complete his journey. Instead of Roland’s fantasy world, Merry’s journey is more of a magical realism which I truly enjoyed. Emmaline faces such hardship, but she never really loses hope in all of the darkness.While she is still only a child, she manages to reflect a depth not seen in many children’s characters.

To Live Forever was wonderful because it combined one of my favorite periods in history with a relatable modern-day struggle. The book has a fast-moving plot, but still contains an emotional side to the humanity of Merry. I immensely enjoyed this book, and I hope you will give it a try.

Thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for hosting this tour. For more information, click here.

REVIEW and GIVEAWAY: A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

hundred summers

Publisher: Berkley Trade Paperback

Release Date: April 1, 2014

Source: publisher

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Lily Dane is back in Seaview, Rhode Island with her mother and sister for the summer of 1938. She thinks it’s going to be just like any summer at the beach. That is, until her former best friend, Budgie, and former love, Nick, show up together and married. Flashback to 1931: Budgie and Lily go to a football game to watch Budgie boyfriend play. Little does Lily know that she will soon meet the love of her life. Alternating between the years of 1931 and 1938, A Hundred Summers follows the fate of Lily as we see her past decisions and watch as she makes new ones.

Reading this book made me feel as if I had stepped back in time to an upperclass drama filled with unspoken truths and lies that can destroy lives. Lily wants to badly to be with Nick, but he is from a Jewish family, while she is from a Christian one. Even though they live in New York, they are still faced with the judgment of the society families. When Lily believes that Nick is lost to her forever, she dedicates her life to taking care of her sister who is only six years old. So many stories of love lost are created from miscommunication. The idea seems so simple, and yet Williams executes it so brilliantly. Can true love really overcome all obstacles? Can a couple overcome society’s hatred of change?

I highly recommend this book for a weekend sitting on the porch in the sun with a gin and tonic. I think that fans of Erika Robuck and Karen White will love this story with its mix of history and romance.

Thanks to the publisher I have one copy of the book to give away! Please comment on this post by 11:59 pm April 30th. U.S. only please.

REVIEW: Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear

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Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Release Date: April 8, 2014

Source: Publisher

Rating: 4 out of 5

In the latest Maisie Dobbs mystery, Maisie has become restless with her life in England. She wants to remain independent, but she also loves her longtime friend and companion, James Compton. Just as she is thinking of heading on a tour of the globe, Scotland Yard comes to her in need of help with the murder of an Indian woman, Usha Pramal. As a former governess, Usha was a rare woman who had gone to college and traveled to London with an English family to teach their children. When they fired her without aide to get home, she found lodgings and a job and was seemingly on her way back to India. Yet, when she is found in the river with a gunshot to the head, Scotland Yard can only turn to Maisie with no leads in the case.

I have loved the Maisie Dobbs series for quite some time, and this latest addition to her story is excellent. I do highly recommend reading the previous novels in the series first, as there is much background knowledge that would make the book easier to follow. Over the years, Maisie has changed so much as a woman that it is through her cases and trials in life that we see who she becomes. In this book, she is dealing with a particularly difficult decision. How does she maintain her identity while remaining a partner to James? This case will also test her relationships with her employees, Billy and Sandra, as they try to find a balance between kindness and overbearing control.

I am always excited to read a new book in this series, and Leaving Everything Most Loved is no exception. I will say that the last few books have been very serious with little release in term of moments of happiness. Most of Winspear’s books contain a bit of silver lining in the storm clouds, but as we approach the era of World War II, each book has taken on a new gravity. I highly, highly recommend this book, but I also would recommend reading it on a bright sunny day with some chocolate at hand :)

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for letting me host this book. For more information, click here.

REVIEW: Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

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Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Release Date: January 21, 2014

Source: publisher

Rating: 5 out of 5

Kate has had a hard time in life. Her husband has just died, and she and her eight-year-old daughter, Devin, need time and space to try and heal. What better place than Lost Lake? Kate spent so many magical moments throughout over a summer with her aunt at this wonderful resort, but once she returns with her daughter, she soon realizes that Lost Lake has lost its magic and only she can help get it back.

Sarah Addison Allen is one of my favorite magical realism authors. I’ve read and loved all of her previous books, and this one is even more magical since she wrote it during and after such a difficult period of her life. Allen battled cancer and own, and in interviews she states how writing this book helped her to heal and become herself again. I found Kate’s journey to be so inspiring and true to all women who have faced such hardships. More than anything, she wants to create a safe place for her daughter to build a new life and recuperate after such life-changing events. Allen shows how even at our lowest points in life we can always rise to the challenge for those we love.

I also love each little tiny bit of magic Allen adds to her stories. It is never enough to be distracting or out of place – it always fits in just the right spot to show you just how magical ordinary life is as well. That small mystic touch adds some fun and dreamlike qualities that we all have no trouble believing in when we are children.

There is a small love story when Kate connects with a man from her past. The novel is not a romance, but I think in connecting with this man, Kate is able to see what she really wants out of life for herself and her daughter. The southern atmosphere and charm always add a brilliant glow to Allen’s stories, and this one is no different. I’ve always loved southern fiction, and this book made me want to drive all the way to Georgia the minute I finished it. I highly recommend this book, especially to get you in the mood for Spring.

Lost Lake is also the March pick for She Reads book club. For more information, click here.