My Top 10 Favorite Books of 2014

After much thought, I've made the final decisions for my top books of 2014. While some books I read were more detailed or may appeal to a larger audience, I made my decisions based on which books I enjoyed and would love to read again. There were so many that I loved (see my Long List,) but I really, really loved these. I've written reviews of all but two that I squeezed in reading in the last few weeks. I will be reviewing each of them very soon. 


Did you read any of these? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @IvoryOwlReviews 

Fiction:

Henna House by Nomi Eve
The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier
Sinful Folk by Ned Hayes
The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh
While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell
On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee

Non-fiction:

American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning by Kate Sweeney
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

My Long List: Best Books of 2014

Well, I know tons of "Best Books of 2014" lists have already been circulating but I have been trying to squeeze in a few more reads these last few days that I thought had big potential. The 2014 releases I didn't get to will now go into the master TBR and I will try to return to them in the upcoming year. I haven't narrowed my top picks down yet but here is my long list of the best 2014 releases with links to my reviews (in no particular order):

Non-fiction:

Short Stories:

  • Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood 

Fiction:

Fantasy Fiction:

    Dystopian:

    • On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee
    • The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

    Children's:

    Historical Fiction:


    Memoir:

    Thriller:

    Cookbooks / Food Trends:

    Magic Realism:



    I'll be making my choices for the best book in each category and posting within the next few days!

    Survey / Giveaway for Suzanne Redfearn's Upcoming Book

    Do you enjoy novels by Jodi Picoult, Liane Moriarty, JoJo Moyes or Anita Shreve? Then you are the perfect reader to help up-and-coming author Suzanne Redfearn choose the title and cover for her next women’s fiction novel. For participating, you will be entered into a drawing for a $50 gift card to Barnes and Noble.

    Here's a little about the book:

    Four-year-old Molly Martin is as cute as they come. With her mop of curls and precocious personality, it's no wonder the crowd fell in love with her when she stepped forward to do an impromptu jig with a street musician in Santa Monica. But when a YouTube video of her performance goes viral, it turns into another thing altogether. Swept into the vortex of Hollywood, Molly's star rises at lightning speed, straight to the pinnacle of stardom, as the world falls completely
    in love with her. At first it seems like the family has hit the jackpot--fame, fortune, opportunity--but when the reality of their new life settles in, the dark trappings of celebrity are revealed and their world begins to splinter apart. Molly's mom struggles to hold it together, but when her ex-husband
    appears to cash in on the action, and Molly's older sister, Emily, finds herself on the fast track to trouble, things begin to unravel. And in a business where everyone is an actor and every move you make is scrutinized by the world, it is difficult to know who to trust. Becoming famous was easy, becoming unfamous will require the performance of a lifetime.

    Take the survey and give your opinion here

    Here's the choices:









    Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn

    Title: Lost for Words
    Author: Edward St. Aubyn
    Publisher: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux
    Publication Date: May 20, 2014
    ISBN: 9780374280291
    Number of Pages: 262
    How I Got It: NetGalley 
    Format: Kindle

    NetGalley Description:

    Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels were some of the most celebrated works of fiction of the past decade. Ecstatic praise came from a wide range of admirers, from literary superstars such as Zadie Smith, Francine Prose, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Michael Chabon to pop-culture icons such as Anthony Bourdain and January Jones. Now St. Aubyn returns with a hilariously smart send-up of a certain major British literary award.
    The judges on the panel of the Elysian Prize for Literature must get through hundreds of submissions to find the best book of the year. Meanwhile, a host of writers are desperate for Elysian attention: the brilliant writer and serial heartbreaker Katherine Burns; the lovelorn debut novelist Sam Black; and Bunjee, convinced that his magnum opus, The Mulberry Elephant, will take the literary world by storm. Things go terribly wrong when Katherine’s publisher accidentally submits a cookery book in place of her novel; one of the judges finds himself in the middle of a scandal; and Bunjee, aghast to learn his book isn’t on the short list, seeks revenge.
    Lost for Words is a witty, fabulously entertaining satire that cuts to the quick of some of the deepest questions about the place of art in our celebrity-obsessed culture, and asks how we can ever hope to recognize real talent when everyone has an agenda.

    My Review:
    The intellectual delegation for awarding the Elysian Prize is funny and oh so shady! The candidates are bed-hopping. The submissions are mistakenly admitted and excluded. One character (who believes he should be a candidate, despite publishing his novel privately in India) is the six hundred and fifty-third maharaja of Badanpur. The messy personal lives of the judges, candidates, and secondary characters all intertwine and the snobby, caustic remarks alone are worth reading this book. A very impressive feat by Edward St. Aubyn to write multiple excerpts of the candidate's works for inclusion in the text.


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

    The Paper Magician Trilogy (Books 1 & 2) by Charlie N. Holmberg


    Titles: The Paper Magician / The Glass Magician
    Author: Charlie N. Holmberg
    Publisher: 47 North
    Publication Date: Sept. 1, 2014 / Nov. 4, 2014
    ISBN9781477823835 / 9781477825945
    Number of Pages: 224 / 222
    How I Got It: NetGalley
    Format: Kindle



    The Paper Magician Description:
    Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.
    Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.
    An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

    The Glass Magician Description:
    Three months after returning Magician Emery Thane’s heart to his body, Ceony Twill is well on her way to becoming a Folder. Unfortunately, not all of Ceony’s thoughts have been focused on paper magic. Though she was promised romance by a fortuity box, Ceony still hasn’t broken the teacher-student barrier with Emery, despite their growing closeness.
    When a magician with a penchant for revenge believes that Ceony possesses a secret, he vows to discover it…even if it tears apart the very fabric of their magical world. After a series of attacks target Ceony and catch those she holds most dear in the crossfire, Ceony knows she must find the true limits of her powers…and keep her knowledge from falling into wayward hands.
    The delightful sequel to Charlie N. Holmberg’s The Paper Magician, The Glass Magician will charm readers young and old alike.

    My Review:

    This was a fun YA read. I really liked the first book but the second one had me lose interest about halfway through. I was trying to figure out what some of the terminology was for the magic and was a little lost on how the spells were woven and how they could be broken. I don't want to be overly critical because I don't usually read YA and I'm not sure if this is a common theme to ensure a continued reading. I might give the third book in the trilogy a read when it is released next year but it is not at the top of my list.



    ** I received copies of these books in exchange for honest reviews **

    What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know by Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey



    Title: What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know
    Author: Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey
    Publisher: New York University Press
    Publication Date: January 17, 2014
    ISBN: 9781479835454
    Number of Pages: 394
    How I Got It: NetGalley
    Format: Kindle


    Description:

    An essential resource for any working woman, What Works for Women at Work is a comprehensive and insightful guide for mastering office politics as a woman. Authored by Joan C. Williams, one of the nation’s most-cited experts on women and work, and her daughter, writer Rachel Dempsey, this unique book offers a multi-generational perspective into the realities of today’s workplace. Often women receive messages that they have only themselves to blame for failing to get ahead—Negotiate more! Stop being such a wimp! Stop being such a witch! What Works for Women at Work tells women it’s not their fault. The simple fact is that office politics often benefits men over women.
    Based on interviews with 127 successful working women, over half of them women of color, What Works for Women at Work presents a toolkit for getting ahead in today’s workplace. Distilling over 35 years of research, Williams and Dempsey offer four crisp patterns that affect working women: Prove-It-Again!, the Tightrope, the Maternal Wall, and the Tug of War. Each represents different challenges and requires different strategies—which is why women need to be savvier than men to survive and thrive in high-powered careers. 
    Williams and Dempsey’s analysis of working women is nuanced and in-depth, going far beyond the traditional cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approaches of most career guides for women. Throughout the book, they weave real-life anecdotes from the women they interviewed, along with quick kernels of advice like a “New Girl Action Plan,” ways to “Take Care of Yourself”, and even “Comeback Lines” for dealing with sexual harassment and other difficult situations. Up-beat, pragmatic, and chock full of advice, What Works for Women at Work is an indispensable guide for working women.
    Joan C. Williams is Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of Law. Her books include Unbending Gender: Why Work and Family Conflict and What to Do About It and Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter.

    Rachel Dempsey is a writer and student at Yale University’s School of Law. Her work has appeared online in publications such as The Huffington Post and Psychology Today, among others.
    My Review:
    This book is a great addition to "Lean In" and covers aspects other books such as "The Feminine Mystique" missed. For example:
    "The women who were interviewed for this book, represent a wide range of ages, ethnicities, ad backgrounds. Joan C. Williams interviewed 67 women for The New Girls' Network. These women were roughly 40 to 60 years of age and at the top of their fields. They worked in business, medicine, academia, government, and the legal profession. Three ran their own businesses. Eleven identified themselves as women of color, specifically as black (or African American), Latina, and Asian (or Asian American). The interviews were conducted over the phone between June 2, 2010, and November 6, 2012."

    "For the National Science Foundation Project, 60 women-of-color scientists were interviewed by Erika R. Hall, a PhD candidate at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. The scientists interviewed represent a variety of scientific disciplines Most of the women worked in academic settings. They identified as black (or African American), Latina, and Asian (or Asian American). These women were roughly 30 to 60 years of age. The interviews were conducted over the phone between June 4, 2012, and October 5, 2012."
    With a foreword by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Williams and Dempsey identify four patterns of behavior that create the primary obstacles to women's advancement to leadership positions across every industry:

    1. Prove-It-Again!
    2. The Tightrope
    3. The Maternal Wall
    4. Tug of War
    After detailing these four behavior patterns, the authors give readers great section such as BADASS WOMEN WHO BROKE THE RULES, options for how to respond to various situations, and how to protect your rights. 


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

    Susan Jane Gilman Interview at Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta


    I attended the Susan Jane Gilman book talk at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta a few weeks ago and (if it is possible) grew to love Gilman even more. Her intelligence, humor, and determination are sure to keep her on best-seller (and my personal favorites) lists for years to come.  Here are some of the best parts of her interview with journalist Melissa Long:

    SJG's previous releases:

    As a child, SJG created her own imprint and made her own books out of Woolworth's notebooks, the top half of each page was the story and the bottom half was an illustration. When she was writing a feminist humor column she asked herself, "How do we talk back to a culture that tells us to live 'The Rules', consume 1200 calories a day, and be fake?" So she wrote "Kiss My Tiara." Then she set out to write The Great American Novel but September 11 happened and everyone wanted short stories and humor. She started collecting stories and published "Hypocrite in a White Pouffy Dress." Next she traveled to China and thought she would write a book like "Eat, Pray, Love" or "Under the Tuscan Sun", but found that "travel is not about conquering, it's about surrendering." Her experiences of being over her head on the other side of the world is told in "Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven."

    The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

    Inspired by the backstories of Tom Carvel, Haagen-Das, and Ben and Jerry and recognizing that "we haven't had a lot of female anti-heroes in literature" SJG created Lillian Dunkle by drawing from Paula Deen, Martha Stewart, and Scarlett O'Hara. Noting that "Scarlett is beautiful and she uses that. What if I take that away?" SJG very deliberately wrote a woman who is 75 years old so she could show the quest for youth and that women get tougher as they get older.

    Research:

    SJG worked at Carvel and traveled to Italy to make gelato (tough research!)

    Her High School English Teacher:

    Like so many writers, SJG's high school English teacher believed in her and pushed her to write. Maintaining a correspondence as she continued publishing, he contacted her to send her a little bit of his galleys to read. Something called "Angela's Ashes." Yes, her high school teacher was Frank McCourt!

    Reviews:

    SJG: "I don't read Amazon and Goodreads reviews. The approval of your parents and your hometown paper are not important to me....but Oprah's accolades were pretty good."

    Writing Environment:

    SJG: "I need a sensory deprivation tank to write. Not at a Starbucks."

    Edits:

    SJG: "I'm a damn good writer. But my first draft isn't as good as my fourth draft."

    Hachette Embargo:

    SJG: "Amazon is controlling the intellectual and literary access of a nation."

    Favorite Ice Cream Flavors:

    Mint Chocolate Chip and Chocolate (Mine, too!!)

    Book Recommendations:

    The Orphanmaster's Son and The Goldfinch


    Read my review of "The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street" here

    ***All quotes are taken from my handwritten notes and may differ slightly from original spoken statements. However, I did my absolute best to stay true to the interview***




    Review & Giveaway: The Paragraph Ranch by Kay Ellington and Barbara Brannon


    Title: The Paragraph Ranch
    Author: Kay Ellington and Barbara Brannon
    Publisher: Booktrope
    Publication Date: August 29, 2014
    ISBN:  9781620154618
    Number of Pages: 266
    How I Got It: Direct from author
    Format: paperback

    Description:
    EVERY WRITER KNOWS YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN. But that's just what is required of West Texas expatriate Dee Bennett-Kaufmann when her mother is badly injured in a mysterious car accident. Single-again “Dr. Dee” has never been on the “A-team” in her trendy East Coast MFA program. When a prestigious summer fellowship gives her the chance to finally finish her book, salvage her career, and spend some quality time with her college-age daughter — Dee's certain her luck is about to change. Returning to care for her irascible, widowed mother threatens all of that. With so much at stake, Dee engineers a series of unorthodox strategies and creative trade-offs to keep her options in play—and despite herself finds friendship, love, and the power of words in the unlikeliest of places.

    My Review:
    From the first sentence of this book I was transported to dusty Texas farms and technologically barren landscapes. Dee Bennett and her siblings must decide who will care for their newly injured, headstrong mother. Her brother, a football coach, is in the middle of his coaching season. Her sister, a real estate agent, is in the middle of planning her daughter's wedding. Dee, a college professor, has just been granted a fellowship so she can finish her book. With everyone claiming to be too busy to take time to help their mother, the siblings leave all the responsibility for their mother's care and the farm's upkeep up to Dee. Now in a bind as to how she can make it to her fellowship, she uses her time at the farm to work on the novel as well as sort out her relationships with her ex-husband, boyfriend, daughter, siblings, and her cranky mother. She also barters her services as a writing professor with the town librarian and starts a writing club. This story of a southern summer on a Texas farm was a fun read. If I had to complain about anything, I would only say that I wish it was longer.



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


    Six Questions with Author Sally Wiener Grotta

    I'm so excited to feature an interview with Sally Wiener Grotta today! She talks about editing, story creation, the power of names, and of course: "The Winter Boy."  Be sure to enter the giveaway in my sidebar to win your own signed copy and let me know what you think of this interview in the comment section below.


    Six Questions with Author Sally Wiener Grotta

    Q1:  What is your writing routine?

    A1:  Whenever possible, I try to devote my mornings to writing, though life often intervenes. 
    The first draft of any novel or short story is me telling myself a story, listening carefully to the characters who become my constant companions. I am often surprised by a plot twist or sudden veering within the dialog, but I hold tight and enjoy the ride.

    In the second draft, I start to take control over the story and the characters. Often, this is when I introduce sharper, more delineated tension, and fill out the details that give depth.

    In the third draft – well, I usually lose count of the number of rewrites; it’s often in the dozens, if not scores. I work and rework the prose and plot, sculpting the personalities and histories, refining and polishing the story, while making sure every word I use is the one I really meant. Writers are often divided into two camps: those who struggle with rewrites and those who love the challenge and satisfaction of rewriting. I’m definitely in the latter camp.

    After I’m finished with the nth draft and feel it’s ready, I turn it over to my editor, who will mark it up unrelentingly. I’ve been very lucky in my editors over the years, and have learned to depend on them to help me make sure that any of my work that is published is something we’ll both be very proud of.

    Then I take it back and rework through several more drafts, after which I return it to the editor and then the copy editor. Back and forth we go until we’re satisfied.

    The entire process can take years. And when it is over, there’s a hole in my heart where those characters had lived with me every moment of my days and nights. I’ve learned that I must have another story ready to work on right away, or I suffer from author’s postpartum depression. That’s one of the reasons I always have more than one story in various stages. Well, and the fact that I can’t help myself. When a story takes hold of me, I have to write it.

    Q2:  How did you come up with all the different names for your characters and the concept of multiple names for each character?


    A2:  When a character is born in my mind, he or she has a name, a history and a problem or problems. Like Athena born from Zeus’s head, the individuals are – to me – fully formed, flesh-and-blood, with personal faults and foibles, and something special that catches and holds my attention for the years it takes to tell their stories.

    Their names are as much a part of them as their eye color or the sound of their voices. I don’t so much make up their names as hear the sound of them, feel how they shape the individuals who carry them. The names help define them for me.

    I had one crisis with naming. A key character in The Winter Boy originally introduced herself to me as Niv. It was a good strong name for a very strong character. I had never heard of the name and thought it belonged to the world of my imagination. Then my niece married a man named Niv. He assured me that it didn’t bother him to have a sharp tongued, though brilliant woman with his name in my novel. But when they had two wonderful boys, I just couldn’t accept the idea that they might grow up thinking I had meant to insult their father with this character. So, I had to rename her.

    But Niv was her name. It was who she was. Just as I am Sally, and you are Rhiannon. What’s more, another important character had given her the derogatory nickname of “Knife,” and that was something I wasn’t willing to give up.

    Eventually, I renamed her Kiv, as a compromise. However, when I do public readings from The Winter Boy, I have to watch myself that I don’t accidentally use her “real” name – Niv.

    And that takes me to the other part of your question… the multiple names in The Winter Boy. Throughout human history, naming has been a symbol of power, of acceptance, of transition and of initiation. For instance, in “primitive” tribes everywhere in the world, the rite of passage from childhood to adult is often marked by the giving of a new name to represent the new person the child must become. Some tribes give two names: a public one that may be used by strangers, and another that is shared only with fellow “insiders” (which may be other members of the village, or age-group peers, or other such exclusive division).

    But we don’t have to look at exotic rituals to recognize similar name changes. In traditional weddings, the bride takes the groom’s family name. Why? Because it was a symbol of her new allegiance and acceptance to the new family (and away from her own, supposedly).

    How many different names have you had? I can count at least a dozen in my life. Childhood nicknames, a mother’s term of endearment, a father’s tease that becomes a name shared only with him, the names girlfriends use or lovers. Currently, depending on who I’m with, I’m Sally, Sally Wiener Grotta, Sally Grotta, Mrs. Grotta, Ms. Wiener, Sal – all representing a different aspect of who I am and how I’m perceived. Plus there are those names that special people use for me that I don’t care to disclose.

    The society of The Winter Boy is built on the interlocking circles of highly personal relationships. Given how important the bonds created within these relationships are to the very foundation of the civilization, it is natural that they would use the power and intimacy of naming to solidify them. As the Storyteller from Ryl/Dov’s village taught him, “Relationships define us. Important bonds and pacts change us. And the names we share within the privacy of those relationships represent this, sealing us to the ‘other.’”

    Q3:  Who are some of your favorite authors / works and what books inspired you to create the world of the Alleshi, Birani, and Mwertik?


    A3:  I can’t think of any that had a direct link to it. The world, people and story of The Winter Boy sprang from my mind after a lifetime of literary, social, political and personal influences, but none of them inspired the specifics of my creation. Instead, I considered, absorbed, digested and synthesized ideas from all of them – and from everything and everyone I have encountered.


    Of course, I’m a voracious reader, as any author is, and I have been influenced and inspired by a multitude of authors in terms of the sound of beautiful prose, the rhythm of great dialog, meaningful character development, passion for social issues and such. Some of my favorite authors are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ursula K. LeGuin, Daniel Grotta, Margaret Atwood, George Orwell, William Shakespeare, Socrates, Robert Heinlein… and a whole slew of others.


    Q4:  Do you consider “The Winter Boy” a feminist work?


    A4:  Yes, in all the positive meanings of that categorization. The Winter Boy is set in a society built by women who are fully empowered, but who also work as equals and partners with men. Together, they strive to govern their world with equanimity and intelligence.

    Feminism to me is humanism, an essential acknowledgement of every individual regardless of gender. In some novels, many films and other pop culture outlets, characters (especially woman) are often “placeholders,” stick figures meant to represent an idea (often a sexual object). In The Winter Boy, the women are as fully imagined as the men, so that they can do ill as well as good, be frail or even evil as well as strong or righteous. They have a history that affects how they function, and a future that they can choose to have a hand in influencing.

    Q5:  Ryl’s younger “brother” may have been saved/abducted from a Mwertik raid but we don’t find out in this book. Do readers find out more about him in the next book?


    A5:  Yes, definitely, but I’m not going to spoil the surprise by revealing anything further about him quite yet.

    Q6:  What other characters will be in the next book? 


    A6:  The next book set in the Alleshine world will be Sex Witch, and most of the story will take place beyond the Valley of the Alleshi. Rishana/Tayar and Ryl/Dov will definitely feature in it. They will encounter Kiv and the Mwertiks, with some narrative and dialog from those “other” points of view. Lilla, Ryl’s former fiancĂ©, isn’t a woman a man can simply put aside; she will have a pivotal role in the story. Of the Alleman we’ve briefly met in The Winter Boy, we’ll get to know Mistral, Tedrac and Eli, as well as Ryl’s triats Aidan and Sim.


    However, while I plan other books in this series, I intend to have each one be able to stand on its own. That way, whatever Alleshine book you would pick up first will be a good entré into this world.

    Other books I plan to write in this world include Kaith’s Song, which will look back into the old caretaker’s youth and how she came to The Valley, and The Inn at the Crossroads, in which the Mwertik will take center stage for a good portion of the story.

    But I also have novels in various stages of development that aren’t part of this world. As I said, I can’t help myself.




    October's Month in Review: Book Talk, Reviews, and My Book Bloggers to Follow List

    Here's all the cool bookish stuff I did this month. All were great but everyone LOVED the Book Blogger List! Remember to let me know if I need to add anyone to this list. I plan on doing an update at the beginning of the New Year.


    Book Talk with R & T featured Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman. Tamara and I had so much fun reading and chatting about a thriller. We were messaging each other every couple pages we read because we were on the edge of our seats. Here are my Book Talk posts, be sure to click on Tamara's name (above) and check out her accompanying posts.



    I read several books in October but I only reviewed 5. The Winter Boy and The Memory Garden were my favorites.


    The biggest response and success this month was my 115 Book Bloggers You Should Be Following
    I posted this list on my blog and BlogHer. It made the daily email list the day after I posted it and I've been hearing about it all month. I'm so happy that it is connecting our book blogging community.

    What a great month. What were your successes? What are you looking forward to in November? 

    The Winter Boy by Sally Wiener Grotta


    Title: The Winter Boy
    Author: Sally Wiener Grotta
    Publisher: Pixel Hall Press 
    Publication Date: November 6, 2014
    ISBN: 9780988387133
    Number of Pages: 508
    How I Got It: contacted by publicist
    Format: Kindle

    NetGalley Description:
    Reminiscent of Margaret Atwood, Mary Doria Russell and Ursula K. LeGuin, "The Winter Boy" explores important political and social issues within a dynamic, character-driven otherworld. The Valley of the Alleshi is the center of all civilization, the core and foundation of centuries of peace. A cloistered society of widows, the Alleshi, has forged a peace by mentoring young men who will one day become the leaders of the land. Each boy is paired with a single Allesha for a season of intimacy and learning, using time-honored methods that include storytelling, reason and sex. However, unknown to all but a hidden few, the peace is fracturing from pressures within and beyond, hacking at the very essence of their civilization. Amidst this gathering political maelstrom, Rishana, a young new idealistic Allesha, takes her First Boy, Ryl, for a winter season of training. But Ryl is a “problem boy,” who fights Rishana every step of the way. At the same time, Rishana uncovers secrets and conspiracies that could not only destroy Ryl, but threaten to tear their entire society apart. And a winter that should have been a gentle, quiet season becomes one of conflict, anger and danger.
    My Review: 
    What a great read! I was excited about this book as soon as I was contacted to review it. I was drawn in as soon as I started reading the story but was worried that 500+ pages would cause me to lose interest somewhere along the way. That was not the case. It is hard to describe this book because I haven't really read anything like it. This is a book that is difficult to fit into a single genre but I will try. The setting is not dystopian nor post-apocolyptic but occurs in a time after The Great Chaos. The village is modern yet rustic, (there is a library and upholstered furniture but no technology.) I got a feeling of "The Lord of the Rings" in that there are other villages, journeys, and deeper lessons in every action, but this novel contained no magic or fantasy creatures. There are sex lessons but this is not erotica. The story is a feminine retelling of warrior training stories. Where other such stories focus on physical strength, brutality, pain, and imminent battle, this story tells of young men being trained to maintain The Peace by being taught to honor other tribes, to read someone by their body language, use their intelligence, and resort to combat as a final option in defense of their villages. I'm pleased to hear that the author is currently working on another book to accompany this one that will tell the story from a handful of other characters' points of view.

    Read an excerpt and get more info about The Winter Boy here

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

    Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan



    Title: The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris
    Author: Jenny Colgan
    Publisher: Sphere 
    Publication Date: March 14, 2013
    ISBN: 9781405514651
    Number of Pages: 416
    How I Got It: NetGalley
    Format: Kindle

    NetGalley Description:
    As dawn breaks over the Pont Neuf, and the cobbled alleyways of Paris come to life, Anna Trent is already awake and at work, mixing and stirring the finest, smoothest, richest chocolate; made entirely by hand, it is sold to the grande dames of Paris.
    It’s a huge shift from the chocolate factory she worked in at home in the north of England. But when an accident changed everything, Anna was thrown back in touch with her French teacher, Claire, who offered her the chance of a lifetime -- to work in Paris with Claire's former sweetheart, Thierry, a master chocolatier.
    With old wounds about to be uncovered and healed, Anna is set to discover more about real chocolate -- and herself -- than she ever dreamed. 


    My Review:
    What a great foodie fiction read! Chocolate and Paris? Oui and Oui, please. Anna is injured on the job at her chocolate factory. While in the hospital, Anna rooms with her high school French teacher, Claire, and the two strike up a new friendship. Claire recommends an old French acquaintance to Anna, who may be able to assist Anna in working with chocolate again. But, English mass produced chocolate is worlds apart from Parisian artisinal chocolate production. The master chocolatier, Thierry, is appalled at Anna's concept of what is considered acceptable chocolate but he holds a soft spot for her because of Claire. 
    The book alternates between Claire's teenage visit to Paris and Anna's current one. This is my idea of a perfect "chick-lit" meets "foodie fiction" read!

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

    Small Blessings by Martha Woodruff





    Title: Small Blessings
    Author: Martha Woodruff
    Publisher: St. Martin's Press
    Publication Date: August 12, 2014
    ISBN: 1-250-04052-1
    Number of Pages: 320
    How I Got It: St. Martin's PR
    Format: Hardcover

    Description:
    Tom Putnam, an English professor at a Virginia women's college, has resigned himself to a quiet and half-fulfilled life. For more than ten years, his wife Marjory has been a shut-in, a fragile and frigid woman whose neuroses have left her fully dependent on Tom and his formidable mother-in-law, Agnes Tattle. Tom considers his unhappy state self-inflicted, since Marjory's condition was exacerbated by her discovery of Tom's brief and misguided affair with a visiting poetess. But when Tom and Marjory meet Rose Callahan, the campus bookstore's charming new hire, and Marjory invites Rose to dinner, her first social interaction in a decade, Tom wonders if it's a sign that change is on the horizon. And when Tom returns home that evening to a letter from the poetess telling him that he'd fathered her son, Henry, and that Henry, now ten, will arrive by train in a few days, it's clear change is coming whether Tom's ready or not.

    My Review:
    I always think it is strange when Virginia is referred to as the South but this novel is charmingly Southern without being stereotypical. Tom Putnam is a perfectly lovable character. He's accepted that his life will be small. His wife is a recluse and his social circle consists of a few other college professors and his live-in mother-in-law, Agnes. Agnes tends to side with Tom so at least he doesn't have an overbearing woman, who is not his wife, telling him what to do. I was hopeful for Tom and the new bookstore manager, Rose, to strike up something more than a friendship, even knowing he was a married man. But then Tom's world turns on its head and things take a different direction. A boy is arriving on the train who is supposedly Tom's son, but the circumstances are strange to say the least.
    I was really trying to figure out who was going to ally with who during each of the mini crises that arose and I didn't anticipate the story's climax when I started reading. I am always a sucker for a collegiate or a bookstore setting and I loved that this book offered both. I read this in a hardback and I'm really excited to pass it along to a friend.



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

    7 November Novels You Shouldn't Miss



    I am trying to get my hands on these 7 November releases and I think should, too. What are you looking forward to reading in November? 






    Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet (Satire/ Magic Realism) (Nov 1)

    "Mermaids, kidnappers, and mercenaries hijack a tropical vacation in this genre-bending sendup of the American honeymoon.
    On the grounds of a Caribbean island resort, newlyweds Deb and Chip—our opinionated, skeptical narrator and her cheerful jock husband who’s friendly to a fault—meet a marine biologist who says she’s sighted mermaids in a coral reef.
    As the resort’s “parent company” swoops in to corner the market on mythological creatures, the couple joins forces with other adventurous souls, including an ex–Navy SEAL with a love of explosives and a hipster Tokyo VJ, to save said mermaids from the “Venture of Marvels,” which wants to turn their reef into a theme park. Mermaids in Paradise is Lydia Millet’s funniest book yet, tempering the sharp satire of her early career with the empathy and subtlety of her more recent novels and short stories. This is an unforgettable, mesmerizing tale, darkly comic on the surface and illuminating in its depths."

    My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni (Mystery/Detective) (Nov. 1) 

    "Tracy Crosswhite has spent twenty years questioning the facts surrounding her sister Sarah’s disappearance and the murder trial that followed. She doesn’t believe that Edmund House—a convicted rapist and the man condemned for Sarah’s murder—is the guilty party. Motivated by the opportunity to obtain real justice, Tracy became a homicide detective with the Seattle PD and dedicated her life to tracking down killers. When Sarah’s remains are finally discovered near their hometown in the northern Cascade mountains of Washington State, Tracy is determined to get the answers she’s been seeking. As she searches for the real killer, she unearths dark, long-kept secrets that will forever change her relationship to her past—and open the door to deadly danger."

    The Glass Magician by Charlie M. Holmberg (Fiction/Fantasy) (Nov. 4)

    "Three months after returning Magician Emery Thane’s heart to his body, Ceony Twill is well on her way to becoming a Folder. Unfortunately, not all of Ceony’s thoughts have been focused on paper magic. Though she was promised romance by a fortuity box, Ceony still hasn’t broken the teacher-student barrier with Emery, despite their growing closeness.When a magician with a penchant for revenge believes that Ceony possesses a secret, he vows to discover it…even if it tears apart the very fabric of their magical world. After a series of attacks target Ceony and catch those she holds most dear in the crossfire, Ceony knows she must find the true limits of her powers…and keep her knowledge from falling into wayward hands.The delightful sequel to Charlie N. Holmberg’s The Paper Magician, The Glass Magician will charm readers young and old alike."



    Blackmail, My Love by Katie Gilmartin (Illustrated Murder/ Mystery/ Queer History)  (Nov 11)

    "Josie O'Conner travels to San Francisco in 1951 to locate her gay brother, a private dick investigating a blackmail ring targeting lesbians and gay men. Jimmy's friends claim that just before he disappeared he became a rat, informing the cops on the bar community. Josie adopts Jimmy's trousers and wingtips, battling to clear his name, halt the blackmailers, and exact justice for the many queer corpses. Along the way she rubs shoulders with a sultry chanteuse running a dyke tavern called Pandora's Box, gets intimate with a red-headed madam operating a brothel from the Police Personnel Department, and conspires with the star of Finocchio's, a dive so disreputable it's off limits to servicemen — so every man in uniform pays a visit. Blackmail, My Love is an illustrated murder mystery deeply steeped in San Francisco's queer history. Established academic and first-time novelist Katie Gilmartin's diverse set of characters negotiate the risks of same-sex desire in a tough time for queers. Humor leavens the grave subject matter. Set in such legendary locations as the Black Cat Cafe, the Fillmore, the Beat movement's North Beach, and the sexually complex Tenderloin, Blackmail, My Love is a singular, visually stunning neo-noir experience."


    I Belong to You (Inside Out #5)  by Lisa Renee Jones (Erotica/ BDSM) (Nov. 18)


    "Master… 


    Being that person, that man is how I define myself, how I allow the rest of the world to define me as well. And now, with a terrible loss shredding me inside out and someone trying to destroy my family to punish me, control is more important than ever. It is everything. It is what I need. It is all I need. Or maybe I just need…her."







    A Second Bite at the Apple by Dana Bate (Foodie Fiction) (Nov. 25)

    "Sydney Strauss is obsessed with food. Not with eating it--though she does that too--but with writing about the wonders of the gastronomic world, from obscure fruit hybrids to organic farming techniques. Since food journalism jobs are more coveted than Cronuts®, Sydney pays her bills working for one of TV's biggest egomaniacs--until she's left scrambling for shifts at a local farmers' market. 
    Stacking muffins for the Wild Yeast Bakery isn't going to win her any James Beard awards. But soon Sydney is writing the market's weekly newsletter, and her quirky stories gain attention from a prominent food columnist. After years of putting her love life into deep freeze, she's even dating again. And then Sydney gets a shot at the story, one that could either make her career or burn it to a crisp--along with her relationship and her reputation.."



    Sister Eve, Private Eye by Lynne Hinton (Murder/ Mystery/ Religion(?) (Nov. 25)

    "Sister Eve knows God moves in mysterious ways. And Eve adores a good mystery. Especially a murder.  Two decades into her calling at a New Mexico monastery, Sister Evangeline Divine breaks her daily routine when a police officer appears, carrying a message from her father. Sister Eve is no stranger to the law, having grown up with a police captain turned private detective. She's seen her fair share of crime--and knows a thing or two about solving mysteries.  But when Captain Jackson Divine needs her to return home and help him recover from surgery, Sister Eve finds herself taking on his latest case.  A Hollywood director has disappeared, and the sultry starlet he's been running around with isn't talking. When the missing man turns up dead, Captain Divine's case escalates into a full-blown murder case, and Sister Eve's crime-solving instincts kick in with an almost God-given grace.  Soon Sister Eve finds herself soul-searching every step of the way: How can she choose between the vocation in her heart and the job in her blood?"

    ***All Descriptions Provided by GoodReads***



    The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert


    Title: The Memory Garden
    Author: Mary Rickert
    Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
    Publication Date: May 6, 2014
    ISBN: 9781402297120
    Number of Pages: 304
    How I Got It: NetGalley
    Format: Kindle

    Goodreads Description:
    Nan keeps her secrets deep, not knowing how the truth would reveal a magic all its own.
    Bay Singer has bigger secrets than most. She doesn't know about them, though. Her mother, Nan, has made sure of that. But one phone call from the sheriff makes Nan realize that the past is catching up. Nan decides that she has to make things right, and invites over the two estranged friends who know the truth. Ruthie and Mavis arrive in a whirlwind of painful memories, offering Nan little hope of protecting Bay. But even the most ruined garden is resilient, and their curious reunion has powerful effects that none of them could imagine, least of all Bay.

    My Review:
    I've pitched this novel as Practical Magic meets Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood with a dash of White Oleander: A house on the outskirts of town, a baby left on a doorstep, a secret from the past, and a reunion of friends. Each chapter begins with a short excerpt on a flower or herb and the powers it holds. Several are noted as abortifacients and there is an underlying theme of abortions (herbal and medical) throughout the novel.
    There were so many for a while there, and then, when the law changed, there were less and less until she was no longer needed. There were stragglers, of course; those who didn't want a doctor. 
    The run down house and garden setting is very comforting and there is a lot of food to make this novel a really delicious read. I really, really loved this book and thought it was absolutely perfect for October.  If I had to pick something I didn't like, I would say it was a bit frustrating having conversations interrupted constantly. Someone would be trying to say something important and the person they were trying to tell just wouldn't let them spit it out.  


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

    The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes



    Title: The Shining Girls
    Author: Lauren Beukes
    Publisher: AudioGo
    Publication Date: August 13, 2013
    ISBN: 9781478952152
    Number of Pages: 375 (in hardcover)
    How I Got It: Library
    Format: Audio CD

    Goodreads Description:
    The Time Traveler's Wife meets The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in this story of a time-traveling serial killer who is impossible to trace—until one of his victims survives.

    In Depression-era Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. He stalks them through their lives across different eras until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and starts hunting him back.

    Working with an ex-homicide reporter who is falling for her, Kirby has to unravel an impossible mystery.

    The Shining Girls is a masterful twist on the classic serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing girl in pursuit of a deadly criminal.(less)

    My Review:
    I saw this on a lot of reading lists last year and missed it. I saw the eye-catching cover at the library and thought I'd give it a try. I'm glad I chose the audio format because I believe I would have given up if I was reading this story. I'm comfortable with multiple characters and story lines, even large spans of time, but this story had those plus time travel. In all fairness, I knew this when I began listening but the problem was that I couldn't understand the chronology of the killer's days. I'm sure this was deliberate disorientation on the part of the author to parallel the unlikely clues and search for the killer, but it was a bit too jumbled. In different hypothetical situations, I've wondered what I would do if I won the lottery, could hold a dinner party with famous people, or could time travel. I think that most people would do somewhat similar things to me but this novel poses the option of someone choosing quite differently than me or you. If I was time traveling back and forth between 1990's Chicago and 1930's Chicago, I would have bought the "magic house" in this novel with the "magic money" so that I'd be sitting pretty on a great real estate investment right now. But Harper Curtis wants to kill women then jump back into his "magic house" to evade police.

    I was interested throughout the novel's entirety but I wasn't excited to continue like so many other great audio options.




    Book Talk with R & T: SPOILER Day for Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman


    I hope everyone is loving this week's feature on Book Talk. Today we are talking *SPOILERS* of Ruin Falls. T & I were DMing on Twitter all the jaw dropping pages and now we want to chat about them a little bit. So if you haven't read this Thrillerlicious novel .... read no further!
    *SPOILER ALERT*

    Me: "I'm on page 38. Trying to figure this out. Hmmm."
    I can usually figure out a plot line pretty quick but I was still not sure where this was going.

    Me: "Gah. I can't put this one down. I'm on page 140. This is a very fast read for me."
    This was right after I read: "Of the cast of characters back then, the first was missing and the second was dead. Which meant that Liz had better track down the third." I thought this would just be about Liz trying to find her kids but here we started getting some back story of why her husband may have done what he'd done.

    Tamara: "Good grief you were right, RF is soo good! I'm on pg 100 & I'm all 'omg' & 'wtf'!

    Me: "I know! I'm thinking survivalists. Is he going to take them to some kind of bunker? I'm on 142 & a ton happens between 100-142. Whoa!" Paul is teaching some end of the world shit to his students, poor Madeline Jennings' mother is hijacking her pregnancy, a child falls out of Liz's tree, Marjorie tells Liz about the accident and Coach being in prison, Paul's memorial garden. 

    Tamara: "Whoo, idk! That's kind what I'm thinking. I mean even b4 he took the kids he was a bit on nutty side so that makes sense!" What not every dad monitors the carbon footprint of fruit snacks?

    Tamara: "168 & PEW is giving me the creeps."

    Tamara: "She's just found his chat in PEW."

    Me: "What p are u on? I just hit 195 & oh shit!" When the PEW acronym is explained, you knew that shit was going to get crazy. 

    Me: "I just got another eye popper on 198!" The man who called himself the Shoemaker spoke up for the first time. De-lurking after the initial flurry of posts. "WELL? LET'S DO IT." (I just got goosebumps typing that now!) My heart was racing when I read this and I was like "WHAT? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?"

    Me: "I freaked out: 195 when u find out what PEW means, then 198 when The Shoemaker posts his 1st comment & u make connection between story lines"

    Tamara: "Yes! Total freak out moment"

    Me: "236!!!!!!!" " I need a Xanex. Lol" That was the best stand-off scene! So intense! I was holding my breath!

    Me: "I love Earl" Earl is just reminiscing about making love to his wife in the afternoons and finds himself in a hostage situation. But he keeps his cool and protects those kids! I love Earl!

    Tamara: "I'm on pg 288 & am getting nervous/tingly feeling! Shoemaker just attacked Liz cpl pages ago!" Reid has made the kids' second phone call and now Liz is on to where they might be. Finally, a clue!

    Me: You know when u watch a movie through your fingers because you do and don't want to watch what happens?  That.    P 307" Now she has all the kids but needs to get away...and the only option is crossing at the falls? Oh no!

    Tamara: "It's not going to be Annabelle or The Conjuring scary?!" T & I do NOT like scary movies and we do NOT like the commercials for these two movies either! No dolls and no hand clapping, please!

    Me: "No. Not that kind. I keep thinking she can't surprise me anymore....then she does!"

    Me: "Ok. Finished. I need wine"

    Tamara: "I finished...omg, so good. I was curled up with tension waiting to see how it would end. And the shoemaker?!!  Wow. he was a character. He really was!" Total #LiteraryCreep  When he was in the house with Liz and when he talked to the women on the farm. Never mind that he killed a mother and took a baby from another mother. His parents screwed him up good!

    Me: When he revealed he was the coach's cell mate my jaw dropped when my brain was making the connections." That's a lot of time to plan your revenge...only to be taken down by your target's son. Ouch. Karma's a bitch, Shoemaker!