Murder by the Book



Title: Murder by the Book
Author: Eric Brown
Publisher: Creme de la Crime
Publication Date: July 1, 2013
ISBN: 9781780290515
Pages: 224
How I got it: Net Galley

I don't usually read mysteries or crime fiction but the cover of this book drew me in.  And I'm glad it did! Set in the 1950's London literary scene, I was instantly engrossed and transported. Literary agent Charles Elder calls on one of his writers to assist him in "a delicate matter."  "Scribbler" Donald Langham pens the Sam Brooke series but previously worked for a detective agency, which is why Elder has chosen to confide in him. Elder is being blackmailed. Having received photos of him and his lover, Kenneth, in a bathhouse, Elder can't go to the police due to homosexuality being a punishable offense.  Blackmail turns into the discovery of a series of murders and a killer on the loose. Elder's secretary Maria Dupre assists Langham with chasing down the blackmailer and the two of them make quite the team.  Maria is smart, independent and definitely not a pushover. She provides some balance to the male-dominated novel and becomes charmed by Donald Langham. 

My only complaint might be that there were a lot of characters. I'm not sure if this is common in the genre so as to provide multiple suspects, but I did lose track of a few of the minor players.  The novel is pure English through and through with terms like "boot" and "bonnet," and lots of Earl Grey and pints. I enjoyed a lot of the phrases and the fact that Brown isn't afraid to use thesaurus worthy words. 

I read this book at the end of June in sweltering hot Georgia and loved it, but I recommend reading it on a crisp fall evening snuggled up by a fire. 

My Three Summer Reading Picks


With summer officially started, there are tons on beach reads lists.  I would like to add my two (three?) cents and give my three recommendations

On Grace by Susie Orman Schnall
I liked this book for its relatability. Real problems in marriages and friendships. Daily struggles of the multiple roles played by wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends. Read my full review here: http://www.ivoryowlreviews.blogspot.com/2013/06/on-grace.html


The Wishing Tree by Mary Beth Whalen
I'm still reading this one so I can't give a full review, but Ivy Marshall finds out that her husband cheated on her the same day that her sister is proposed to on national television. She returns to her family's coastal home to help her sister plan her wedding and mend her broken heart.
Sweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky
Two women reuite after ten years apart. Secrets unite them and will tear them apart.  Add an island setting, good blogging and some romance.  I'm calling it Something's Gotta Give meets Message In A Bottle. Read my full review here: http://www.ivoryowlreviews.blogspot.com/2013/06/sweet-salt-air.html

Check out some other great lists here:
SheReads
Publisher's Weekly
Go Local Prov
Oprah's 6 Sizzling New Beach Reads
And download this list for FREE from Amazon
Atria Summer 2013 Beach Reads

On Grace


Title: On Grace
Author: Susie Orman Schnall
Publisher: Sing Out Press
Publication Date: June 9, 2013
ISBN: 978-0615809830
Pages: 258
How I got it: from the author



SUMMARY (Author Supplied)
Grace May is truly excited about turning 40 in a few months. And now that her boys are both in school and she has a stimulating new writing job, the next chapter in her life can finally begin. She can't wait to rediscover the intelligent and interesting woman deeply buried under the layers of mother and wife.
But when Grace loses her job and gets unexpected news from her husband and her best friend, life suddenly gets complicated. Grace stands to lose everything: her marriage, her best friend, and her sense of self. But by her 40th birthday party, Grace will realize who and what matter most. With laughter. With tears. With grace.
ON GRACE embraces themes that will resonate with every woman who owns at least one pair of Spanx: fidelity, friendship, and finding oneself at 40. It's soulful and sweet, sexy and sad, straight up and smart, and, ultimately, quite satisfying. The story's relatable authenticity definitely connects with readers. 

***********************************************************

Have you ever read the first ten pages of a book and sat, mouth gaping, saying "This is my life."? Well I hadn't until I read ON GRACE. The novel opens with Grace anticipating her soon to be free days. Her youngest will be starting school and she can now decide what she wants to fill her days with beyond the demands of motherhood. Wanting to re-enter the workforce, Grace encounters obstacles due to her lapse in work history and rethinks what she should be doing with her time. Should she keep pursuing trying to get a writing job or should she focus on non-employment endeavors?

It is important to note that this should not be categorized as a "mommy wars" novel, as the story is not centered around working versus stay-at-home mothers. Schnall presents characters doing variations on that previously presented binary with the focus not on the labels themselves but how each woman expresses her individual identity.  However, Schnall doen't shrink from drawing attention to the inequalities and benefits of unpaid labor.  For example:

As I chop lettuce, I fantasize about the stay-at-home moms going on strike. Picketing all the school book fairs, hospital benefits, and canned food drives that, if it weren’t for their unpaid labor, would never happen.

Expanding out from Grace's individual career decisions Schnall provides a realistic and identifiable view of Grace as a wife, friend, sister, daughter and mother. Grace is faced with deciding if one mistake eradicates years of wonderful marriage, as well as stepping up for a friend in need.

Author Susie Orman Schnall provides a glimpse behind the white picket fence but not in a dramatic, "Desperate Housewives" sort of way. She gives us an everywoman with Grace, a woman juggling all her duties and always looking ahead with equal parts fear and excitement. Written in an approachable style with relatable characters, dialogues, and events, Schnall's style captures an entire demographic and provides comfort to those that identify with her work. I will be recommending ON GRACE not only for the story itself, but for Schnall's true voice.  I hope for more great works from her in the future.


** I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review **

The Disrespectful Interviewer


Title: The Disrespectful Interviewer
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Publisher: Hat City Press
Publication Date: 2013
ISBN:
Pages: (100?)
How I got it: from the author

Lauren Baratz-Logsted takes a refreshing angle in her thirteen author interviews. It seems unbelievable and uncomfortable to believe that an author could ever be asked some of the questions Logsted presents, but she has obviously encountered interviewers with the level of tactics she is employing. While some of the subjects interviewed seem perplexed by the attack, others embrace and run with it, giving great silly responses. Snarky Kristy Kiernan quips to "Chew on that for a while, Logsted." While others, such as  Adriana Trigiani, prove their loveliness and could put even the most disrespectful interviewer on their best behavior.  

Each interview starts off with Logsted trying to throw these authors off their game, but many of  the interviews  evolve into  very informative conversations.  For example, J.A. Konrath offers great ideas of how to "fix" big publishing. 
Not wanting to jinx anyone into having to be the thirteenth interview, Logsted interviews herself and ends the series on a hilarious note. 

The interviews also include great questions such as "If you were stranded on a desert island, what book do you want?" and "What's the one book you wish you had written?" Logsted also invites subjects to discuss and respond to their worst reviews.
I found myself chuckling several time because I personally try to be as polite and appreciative as possible, but I know that that is not always the case. 

This book will especially be enjoyed by anyone that has been shocked by an interview question or been challenged to think of an interesting new angle to interview someone. Although I wouldn't suggest employing Logsted's exact line of questioning...

Sweet Salt Air


Title: Sweet Salt Air
Author: Barbara Delinsky
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: June 18, 2013
ISBN: 9781250007032
Pages: 402
How I got it: Wunderkind PR




Open this book and escape to Quinnipeague for a story that is Something's Gotta Give meets Message in a Bottle. Dreamy landscapes and island charm will have you feeling the sand beneath your feet and the sweet salt air in your hair. 

Nicole Carlysle grew up wealthy in all ways as an only child. She and her family summered every year in their sprawling summer home on idyllic Quinnipeague Island. Charlotte Evans had a less than ideal upbringing, but as Nicole's best friend she summered with the Carlysles every year. Ten summers ago, on Charlotte's wedding weekend,  one drunken decision changes their lives.  In the time since, Charlotte has become a jet-setting global travel writer based out of New York. Nicole is wife to her Philadelphia-based neonatal-surgeon husband as well as a farm-to-table food blogger with a massive following. When Nicole is faced with the task of returning to Quinnipeague to prepare her family's summer home for sale after her father's death, she invites Charlotte to stay with her. With hopes of repairing their friendship and collaborating on a cookbook, Nicole is expecting a summer filled with closure and immortalizing local Quinnipeague herbs and recipes. But each of the women have a secret that the other doesn't know. Secrets that are devastatingly linked and exposed upon the women's reunion. 

Nested within the story is another novel. Both women find themselves reading the same bestseller, Salt, when they arrive at the island for the summer.  Through their discussion of the book, they give insight to their differing views on relationships. Views that become very verbalized when Charlotte becomes involved with the island's local "bad boy." 

I personally found the descriptions of Nicole's blog and cookbook wonderful and inspiring. I also loved the realistic dialogue and conversations. I did have problems with the flow of reading due to a lot of grammatical mistakes such as missing, repeated or incorrect words, but I'm sure these were cleaned up in the final round of edits. All in all, a great summer read!

**I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review**


Rules of Conception


Title: The Rules of Conception
Author: Angela Lawrence
Publisher: Harlequin Enterprises Australia
Publication Date: May 1, 2013
ISBN: 9781743560365
Pages: 320
How I got it: Net Galley


In recent years terms such as artificial insemination, surrogacy, and IVF have become mainstream.  Angela Lawrences' Rules of Conception integrates these terms and additional jargon regarding non-traditional conception.  Rachel Richards is 35 years old and rising in her career. Her dating life is not on quite the same trajectory so she decides to not wait around for Mr Right.  Having saved enough to take a year off work, she decides to have a child on her own. After some online research and a not-quite-what-she's-looking-for support group, she finds a "known donor" website, which leads her to Digby Howarth.  

This novel is refreshing in that the traditional route of marriage then children is not what many people subscribe to any longer.  I admire Rachel's determination to control her own future.  I especially liked the Australian setting in that it lent an interesting view to the parental leave option and the alternate legal aspects of sperm donation to the United States. 

The storyline alternates between Rachel's struggles in the workplace and her quest to find a donor and get pregnant.  It read a bit uneven in places and the ending felt rushed. I would have enjoyed more about the pregnancy itself. I liked the powerful message of intentionally choosing to be a single mother, but I would have liked more about the challenges.  

This is a great addition to the "mommy genre" books in that I currently can't think of anything comparable. With the growing number of non-traditional pregnancies, this novel may be at the forefront of an upcoming literary trend. 







Read here why author Angela Lawrence HAD to write this book

**I received this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review**

The Summer without Men


Title: The Summer without men
Author: Siri hustvedt
Publisher: Picador
Publication Date: May 2011
ISBN: 9780312570606
Pages: 182
How I got it: Library

So often I start my reviews with my preconceived notions going into a book and The Summer without Men is no different. Based on the title and cover, I expected light and snarky humor, but my notions were turned on their ear.

The inside dust jacket describes Mia Fredrickson as the "wry, vituperative, tragicomic poet narrator" of The Summer without Men. Happily married to her science nerd husband for thirty years, she is thrown into a tailspin when he asks for a "pause." The opening lines of the novel are: "sometime after he said the word 'pause,' I went mad and landed in the hospital. He did not say 'I don't ever want to see you again' or 'its over,' but after thirty years of marriage 'pause' was enough to turn me into a lunatic whose thoughts burst, ricocheted, and careened into one another like popcorn kernels in a  microwave bag."  After leaving the psych ward, Mia  rents a home in the same small town where her mother is residing in an assisted living facility. 

The story rotates between the women residing with her mother, "the Five Swans," Mia's troubled neighbor, and the girls in her poetry workshop.  These adolescents' academic works showcase what its like to be a young teen girl. But it is their personal interactions that eventually require an intervention.  (Trigger warning for personal reflection on the fragility of teen friendships and flashbacks of emotional whirlwinds related to sleepovers. )

The novel is peppered with symbolism, discredited "scientific" research and literary references to the inequality of the sexes. Lola's Chrysler building, Eiffel  tower, and tower of Pisa earrings represent poor, young abused wives' lack of opportunities and movement. Mia reflects how scientists previously claimed that women who used their brain too much would have inadequate anatomy, such as shriveled uteruses. Emily Dickinson's dissatisfaction at the privileges denied to the "weaker sex. " 

Don't be fooled by the title of this book.  It is not "anti-men" but a social and cultural view of phases of women and their relationships.  It is "The Bell Jar" meets "When Women Were Birds." Labeled as fiction, I find it in a grey area of non-fiction fiction.  Siri Hustvedt's characters represent women in every stage of life.  Female readers will identify with and male readers will be given insight to the complexities of female emotions and relationships. 

Daughters of the Witching Hill



Title: The Daughters of Witching Hill
Author: Mary Sharratt
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: 2010
ISBN: 9780547069678
Pages: 333
How I Got It: Library



Mary Sharratt sculpts this historical novel from the real characters and events recorded by Lancashire court clerk Thomas Potts's in his 1613 publication The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster.  Cunning woman, Bess Southerns, heals the local animals and citizens of Pendle Forest. Her descendants as well as one of her childhood friends share her abilities, though each have individual strengths.  Illegitimate children, changing religions, and individual relationships in a small pastoral community fill the majority of the novel.  While most of the Bess's neighbors welcome her and provide work for her family members there are those that that are wary.  Only when her granddaughter Alizon is grown do the accusations of witchcraft begin to brew and fingers are pointed. 

I personally enjoy books about the Salem witch trials and found this interesting because I don't think I've read anything about England's witch trials.  It is interesting to note that the Salem trials were around 1692 and the trials in England were around 1612.  Evolving religion and ever-changing rulers brought about similar circumstances continents apart.  

Sharratt did a wonderful job showing the juxtaposition of calm country life and the aggressive rule of those in power.  Her characters are well rounded and their personalities are detailed.  I also find it admirable when an author gives me a character that I "love to hate" and Sharratt does not disappoint when she gives us Jennett.  


My new love NetGalley and Buzz Books of 2013 Fall/ Winter edition

Okay. I admit that sometimes I'm the last to figure things out.  Then when I catch on, I think that everyone else must already know about it so I play cool like "Oh, I knew that all along."  Well, a couple of weeks ago I discovered NetGalley. If you are a book lover (which you probably are since you are on my site) and you aren't familiar with NetGalley, let me introduce you to the first words my new love "spoke" to me:

"Do you love to spread the word about new books? Do you review and recommend books online, in print, for your bookstore, library patrons, blog readers, or classroom? Then you are what we call a "professional reader," and NetGalley is for you. Registration is free, and allows you to request digital titles to read on your favorite device."
....It was like the angels sang and true love was found.  I giddily signed up, created a profile and started requesting.  One of the first choices that jumped out at me was Buzz Books of 2013 Fall/ Winter edition.

I'm always trying to be one step ahead and "in the loop" so this was the cherry on the sundae.  I personally don't like cherries so that idiom doesn't really apply, but I digress.  This collection has an introduction including over 100 upcoming titles and "exclusive excerpts from 40 top new titles."  Divided into fiction, debut fiction, non-fiction and YA, I chose some titles that interested me, got to read the first chapters and then sculpted out my fall wish list.

Here's my top 15:
August:
The Color Master by Aimee Bender
The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
The Affairs of Others by Amy Grace Loyd
September:
Just What Kind of a Mother are You? by Paula Daly
The All Girl Filling Station by Fannie Flagg
The F Word by Jennifer Weiner
October:
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson
November:
Maddadam by Margaret Atwood
Untitled / Bridget Jones by Helen Fielding
Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk
January:
On such a Full Sea by Chang Rae-Lee


Hopefully I can get my hands on these titles before they are released and now that I know about NetGalley I feel like I might have a little bit of a better shot.  I'm excited!  I feel like I've got the inside scoop. Now that's my kind of idiom.


Cat Island


Cat island

Don't be deceived by the size of John Cuevas's Cat Island:  The History of a Mississippi Gulf Coast Barrier Island.  While under 200 pages, it is filled with the exhaustive history of the T-shaped island. Full of photos,  illustrations, charts, graphs and maps, this book leaves no stone of the island unturned. 
Cuevas provides an extremely detailed account of his personal ancestry and the island's heritage. This single island has an amazing history full of pirates, soldiers, Seminoles, and gangsters. It boasts of  lighthouses, turpentine and lumber businesses, and top secret military dog training. That's quite a variety and that's not even the whole list! I personally found the mercantile store journal chart, with the types of items and prices in 1861, fascinating.  Bread was four cents and and wine was a quarter.  But the Cuevas probably didn't buy any at the store because they were making their own "white grape wine."  Make my own wine? Live on an island? Sign me up!  John Cuevas makes no secret of his love for this island ( he's is a one man tourist council.) His research has produced a historical summary that his descendants, tourists and scholars will be using as reference for many years to come. 




Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns


Revenge Wears Prada

Look out summer reading lists!  Lauren Weisberger is back with Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns, a sequel to her 2003 debut novel The Devil Wears Prada.  For those of you living under a rock, The Devil Wears Prada shot to the top of the best-seller lists ten years ago and inspired the 2006, $27 million opening weekend film, starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway.


Weisberger wrote three more best-selling "luxe life" novels since Devil (Everyone Worth Knowing, Chasing Harry Winston, and Last Night at Chateau Marmont) but thankfully returned to give readers a little more Andy Sachs.

Revenge picks up at Andy's wedding to media heir and darling Max Harrison.  Joining forces with now friend and business partner Emily to produce their own high-end bridal magazine, The Plunge, Andy feels that her life is perfect.  But as the inside cover of the novel so eloquently states, "karma's a bitch." Andy accidentally finds a letter to Max from his mother on the day of their wedding begging him not to marry her.  If that weren't enough, Miranda wants to acquire The Plunge and Andy's life is turned upside down with one phone call.   

Devil was delicious with luxury goods and voyeuristic insight to Runway and readers rooted for the fashion-afflicted, second "Emily." Revenge will be enjoyed by those who've "been there done that" with demanding and degrading bosses and have decided to invest their talents in themselves. 

A large portion of the book focuses on a new person in Andy's life but is not hinted at in press releases or the dust jacket.  This storyline will be a great third book in the Prada series.  I also loved Miranda's entrance in this novel! I can visualize how it would look on the big screen and I desperately want that to happen. Maybe I'll give my two cents to the wonderful Lauren Weisberger next week at the Book Festival of the MJCCA?  As I'm sure she is waiting on pins and needles for my suggestions....

Here's what others are saying:
The Washington Post
NY Daily News

Do you have a review of Revenge Wears Prada? Let me know and maybe I will link it here.