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Sinful Folk

Title: Sinful Folk
Author: Ned Hayes
Publisher: Campanile Books
Publication Date: January 22, 2014
ISBN: 9780985239329
Number of Pages: 331
How I got it: direct from author

Press Release Summary:
In December of the year 1377, five children burned to death in a suspicious house fire.  The historical record shows that a small band of villagers traveled 200 miles across England in midwinter to demand justice for their children's deaths. Two hundred miles. In that time, an unimaginable distance for villagers who lived their entire lives only a few miles from their birthplace. 
SINFUL FOLK is the story of this treacherous journey as seen by Mear, a former nun who has lived for a decade disguised as a mute and fearful man, raising her son quietly in this isolated village. When her son is killed, Mear wakes from her complacent life and undertakes a desperate journey. 
The villagers travel across a harsh and unforgiving winter landscape. Propelled forward by a vision of justice, the villagers persevere in the face of bandit raids, ecclesiastical execution orders, starvation, kidnapping, and dissension in their own ranks. 
The chief danger lies in their midst: Mear soon discovers that one of her fellow travelers lit the fire that burned the children for his own nefarious ends. Mear must not only uncover the murderer, but also stay alive long enough to reach London, where she can seek athe king's justice. 
In the course of this pilgrimage, Mear finds old enemies, forgotten friends and hidden strengths. Mear's long-hidden intelligence and authority gradually come to the forefront as her gender, her articulate insight and her lineage are unveiled- first to her fellow villager and then to the world, as she enters the Star Chamber and , in the end, presents her case before the king's court. SINFUL FOLK begins in terror and heartache, and ends in triumph and redemption.

My review:
Medieval is usually not a big draw for me, but when author Ned Hayes contacted me with information about his newest release, I was intrigued. The story of a woman concealing herself as a man in a remote village is fascinating enough, then add in a child (and that child's death) and I believe you have got a story that really has some teeth. I must admit I was a little confused at the beginning of the novel with keeping track of the characters' names and I advise paying close attention to who's who when you begin reading this story. However, once a reader finds the rhythm, they will find it rolls smoothly and is difficult to put down.

The book is broken down into 47 chapters which makes for easy stopping points (but good luck with that.) I would reference this story as "The Road" meets "Game of Thrones" as it is a true journey story with multiple obstacles and the shock factor will have you gasping and flipping the page. The fact that this novel is an historical retelling of an actual event is fascinating and the author provides information about the original story at the end of the book. 

The struggles and expectations of gender in this novel are obvious to a modern reader but so ingrained into expectations of the time. Births, deaths, lovers (both welcomed and rejected) play major roles and don't forget that any woman with independence or thoughts of her own was deemed a witch. 

A book I originally approached with lukewarm interest grew to overtake my time when I put it down. I was constantly thinking about Mear and who was to blame for the boys' deaths when I wasn't reading the book. I think that is the true test of a great novel: How much a reader thinks about the story when they are NOT reading it. 

I also thought of Mists of Avalon and The Red Tent while reading this story. Too often historical novels are lumped into being aristocratic love stories, SINFUL FOLK fills out the genre with a gritty, winter story of a journey across the English countryside. 

** I received this book in exchange for an honest review **

A Century of Restaurants

Title: A Century of Restaurants: Stories and Recipes From 100 of America's Most Historic and              Successful Restaurants
Author: Rick Browne
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Publication Date: October 15, 2013
ISBN: 9781449407810
Pages: 408
How I Got It: Razonia McClellan PR

Press Release:
New restaurants are a dime a dozen, but sprinkled throughout the United States are remarkable restaurants filled with rich American history and delicious dishes that have kept people coming back for decades. Author and TV host Rick Browne shares this amazing history and some of the country's most coveted recipes in his new cookbook, A Century of Restaurants: Stories and Recipes from 100 of America's Most Historic and Successful Retaurants.  In a A Century of Restaurants, Browne profiles 100 restaurants, all at least a century old- and in some cases, 200 or more years old. From the oldest restaurant in the US (White Horse Tavern in Newport, Rhode Island, which began serving hungry folks "Stewed Pompion" and "Roast Beef-Stake" in 1673) to the youngest centenarian (The Pleasant Point Inn, a famed resort in Lovell, Maine, which began its long run in 1911,) each restaurant played a major part in shaping US culinary culture. They represent the best of family traditions, have provided jobs for millions of people, entertained and fed millions more, and in many ways define what we call American hospitality. Throughout his 46,066-mile journey to visit America's oldest restaurants, Brown talked to the owners, the chefs and cooks, the waiters and busboys, the customers who return year after year, and the folks who have just walked in the door or the first time, looking for the magic that has kept people coming into their dining rooms for ten decades or more. Readers can take a step back in time as they immerse themselves in the food history that shaped our country, prepare the recipes that sustained the restaurants throughout the years, and reminisce about years gone by with the unique photography featured in A Century of Restaurants. 

My Review:
First of all, this book is gorgeous. It is a hardback, 400-plus page book that is fit for a coffee table. Filled with tons of pictures, recipes, and interesting facts, it allows readers to take a trip across the United States and visit 100 different restaurants. My restaurant visits are restricted to a radius of a few miles near my home, with an occasional trip further into the city. Rick Browne traveled for the readers like me, bringing an insider's view and gossip. Statistically restaurants only have a 50% success rate, but each of the restaurants featured have succeeded for 100-200 years! It's reasonable to say that any establishment in business for such an extended amount of time will have its own full history.  Each restaurant indeed has a story (or two,) some are shocking and some are hilarious. Special cups of coffee during Prohibition, dishes named after famous locals, and story after story of community love and support for historic restaurants fill this delicious book. Some people visit cities for cultural events or sightseeing, but I always want to try the restaurants. This book would be a great gift for anyone with a love of food and American history. 

** I was given this book in exchange for an honest review **

Under the Wide and Starry Sky

Title: Under the Wide and Starry Sky
Author: Nancy Horan
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: January 21, 2104
ISBN: 9780345516534
Number of Pages: 496
How I Got It: NetGalley

NetGalley Description:

The much-anticipated second novel by the author of Loving Frank, the beloved New York Timesbestseller, this new work tells the incredible story of the passionate, turbulent relationship between Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and his wild-tempered American wife, Fanny.

In her masterful new novel, Nancy Horan has recreated a love story that is as unique, passionate, and overwhelmingly powerful as the one between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney depicted so memorably in Loving Frank. Under the Wide and Starry Sky chronicles the unconventional love affair of Scottish literary giant Robert Louis Stevenson, author of classics including Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and American divorcee Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. They meet in rural France in 1875, when Fanny, having run away from her philandering husband back in California, takes refuge there with her children. Stevenson too is escaping from his life, running from family pressure to become a lawyer. And so begins a turbulent love affair that will last two decades and span the world.
My Review:
This book took a very long time for me to read. I waffled at the beginning. I wasn't loving it but I wasn't ready to toss it to the wayside just yet. Then somewhere in the middle I was about to give up again. But then! *dramatic pause* I fell in love with the story. As in wistful, sighing, love. Looking back on the story in its entirety, I see why I started, stopped, sputtered, and about gave up. Horan's story (and my struggle with getting in stride with the story) is exemplary of marriage itself! Fanny van de Grift and Robert Louis Stevenson's paths cross, become messily entangled, and eventually merge into a loving marriage.

The story, spanning almost 30 years, begins in France, where Fanny is studying art with her children in tow, but her philandering and drunkard husband has been left behind in America. She befriends fellow artists and falls in sync with their bohemian lifestyle. Here she meets Robert Louis Stevenson (Louis) when he makes a grand entrance...through a window! Their eventual pairing is slowed by another love interest and the unfortunate fact that Fanny is indeed still married.

The cast of characters is vast but not overwhelming. The story includes multiple friends and family members and spans so many years that characters pop in and out and re-emerge with entirely new sets of circumstances.  Louis' health drives he and Fanny to destinations around the world from the coldest parts of Europe, to London, to New York, to Sydney and the South Seas. The entire second half of the novel takes place on islands full of natives, mostly on Samoa.

The story is full of intercontinental correspondence among the couple's literary circle, Louis' writing, Fanny's critiquing, and the daily ebbs and flows of family and marriage. The couple's interaction with each other and their interaction with others is the backbone of the story and quite admirable. Coming in at almost 500 pages it is impossible to give a synopsis that comes close to including everything touched upon in this story (Henry James, mining towns, death, mental and physical illnesses, sea voyages, accused plagurism, colonialism...)

I am not personally drawn to stories of romance that are all flowers and candlelight, or bodice rippers,  or aristocratic marriages. Instead, the story of Fanny and Louis' marriage is much more realistic and satisfying. I highlighted this book profusely and would like to re-read it someday (and I never say that!)

** I received this book in exchange for an honest review **

The Smart Girl's Guide to Going Vegetarian

I use the plagiarism checker at Grammarly.com because I like pirates but not pirated thoughts! 

Title: The Smart Girl's Guide to Going Vegetarian
Author: Rachel Meltzser Warren MS, RDN
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
ISBN: 9781402284915
Number of Pages: 240
How I Got It: NetGalley

NetGalley Summary:
Whether you’re full vegetarian or on the fringes, nutritionist and national health writer Rachel Meltzer Warren presents an irreverent, supportive, agenda-free guide for teens who are interested in a veggie diet while still looking good, keeping healthy, and eating deliciously. 
Half of American students have experimented with some type of vegetarianism before they get to college. This bookstarts with a fun quiz, helping the reader identify where she falls on the “Veggie Spectrum” (ranging from "less meat please" all the way to vegan). 
It goes on to cover important topics like uncovering myths and realities about “going veg,” nutrition basics, a guide to eating out, finding a veg-friendly college, dealing with doubtful parents, and more. The book also includes 40 meat-free recipes that the whole family will love.
My Review:

While this book is geared toward young women, I found it very insightful and will suggest it to other demographics. I've tried to "go vegetarian" several times in my life but felt like I "failed" if I eventually ate meat. This book describes vegetarianism as a spectrum and helps you find where you currently are in your eating habits and gives advice for getting to where you want to be. I've read and seen documentaries where you are shocked, scared, or grossed out to the point that I have changed my eating habits but this book eliminates the theatrics and focuses on positive aspects. Warren dissects myths and provides information for the long list of questions that comes with eliminating / reducing meat in diets. The most common question is usually in regards to receiving adequate nutrients, especially protein. This book provides equations for figuring each person's daily protein intake, followed by a list of several foods with their corresponding protein value. Warren goes on to give multiple samples of what a day's food items might be and how they will add up to an appropriate amount of protein. I really liked the suggestions in this area (pitas with hummus or string cheese)  because they weren't filled with elaborate or exotic offerings like many other vegetarian advice/cook books. A Smart Girl's Guide to Going Vegetarian has a great recipe section as well as references for further study. The book also handles such topics as eating disorders or how to talk to your parents about your decision to go vegetarian. The "talking with the parents" section gives valuable advice that can be incorporated into telling your friends and family, so although it is written for a young girl speaking to her parents, anyone trying to go vegetarian may be asked a lot of the same questions. The style of the book is very loose and friendly. Even the scientific aspects are broken down into 'teen speak." If you can get past the fact that you may not be a teen girl, but are interested in vegetarianism, this book would be a great support tool. If you know of a teen girl that is interested in vegetarianism, you can suggest this title to them and feel comfortable knowing that it is packed with valuable information.    

** I received this book in exchange for an honest review **

Love Water Memory

Title: Love Water Memory
Author: Jennie Shortridge
Publisher: Gallery / Simon & Schuster
Publishing Date: January 14, 2014
ISBN: 9781451684841
Number of Pages: 352
How I Got It: SheReads

Goodreads Summary: 
If you could do it all over again, would you still choose him?

At age thirty-nine, Lucie Walker has no choice but to start her life over when she comes to, up to her knees in the chilly San Francisco Bay, with no idea how she got there or who she is. Her memory loss is caused by an emotional trauma she knows nothing about, and only when handsome, quiet Grady Goodall arrives at the hospital does she learn she has a home, a career, and a wedding just two months away. What went wrong? Grady seems to care for her, but Lucie is no more sure of him than she is of anything. As she collects the clues of her past self, she unlocks the mystery of what happened to her. The painful secrets she uncovers could hold the key to her future—if she trusts her heart enough to guide her.

My Review:
I like a good amnesia story and Lucie's was different from most I'd read before. While a lot of the stories focus on the trauma that caused the amnesia, I really liked the focus on Lucie's emotional journey of self-(re)discovery. She held her feelings in for so long and controlled her emotions through her search for perfectionism. The pre-amnesia Lucie is recognizable in millions of women trying to succeed in their career, deny themselves any culinary indulgences in order to maintain a slim physique, and obssessing over their youth by shopping for clothing, make-up and cosmetic procedures. The laid-back Lucie represents the true inner happiness so many women are searching for by trying for more, more, more, when in fact if we let go of materialism, our search for perfectionism, and make peace with our feelings, we can become our most authentic selves. As for Grady, I alternated feeling sorry for him and wanting to kick him to tell him to open up to Lucie. Then I thought "Could you imagine?" I mean women are complicated in general and now he's given this situation? Poor guy, I guess the best thing he could do was to keep quiet! 

I liked this book for how it made me daydream and think what I would do if I suddenly didn't remember anything....

** I received this book in exchange for an honest review **

The Invention of Wings

Title: The Invention of Wings
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Publisher: Viking
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
ISBN: 9780670024780
Number of Pages: 384
How I Got It: NetGalley

NetGalley Description: 
From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, a magnificent novel about two unforgettable American women

Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world.

Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.
This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

My Review:
Sue Monk Kidd's childhood in Sylvester, Georgia influenced her debut novel, The Secret Life of Bees. After publication in 2002, it didn't budge from the New York Times bestseller list for almost three years. After selling more than 8 million copies worldwide, it would be an understatement to say that anticipation of her latest release is met with high expectations. So let me tell you...it doesn't disappoint.

Inspired by the historical figure Sarah Grimke, Sue Monk Kidd describes The Invention of Wings as "a magnificent novel about two unforgettable American women. A masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world."
The novel opens on Charlotte telling her ten year old daughter, Hetty "Handful," a story of people in Africa being able to fly, but after they were taken as slaves their magic disappeared. Charlotte tells this story while the two are snuggled up in their bed in the Grimkes' barn. The next day, Sarah Grimke's eleventh birthday, Sarah's parents give her Handful as a gift. Sarah rejects her gift, and is exiled to her room to write eighteen letters of apology to the party's guests, while Handful is positioned in her new sleeping quarters on a mat outside of Sarah's door. She'd "lay on the floor in the hall, trying to stay warm in the draft, twisting round in search of the softest floorboard."

Over the next thirty-five years, each woman sees the injustices of slavery and dreams of freedom. While her entire family, (as well as most Southerners,) defends slavery, Sarah Grimke rejects it at every turn. Handful gains knowledge, strength, and cunning from her mother, Charlotte. She experiences losses but finds a sense of self by realizing "I have one mind for the master to see.  I have another mind for what I know is me."  Sarah's aspirations, loves, and acceptance by her family are all crushed. Her comment on one occasion is "My aspiration to become a jurist had been laid to rest in the Graveyard of Failed Hopes, an all-female establishment." Each woman repeatedly challenges the restrictions placed upon them and each setback merely serves to motivate them further.

It is only her younger sister, Angelina, that shares Sarah's views of equality between men and women and the abolition of slavery. Due to a large gap in age, Sarah treats Angelina like her own daughter and Angelina follows in her older sister's attempts to have her voice heard and do something to change the current institutions. History tells us how the the two sisters were leaders in the suffragist movement, but Kidd provides a backstory of how they may have come to their beliefs.

The Invention of Wings has recently been selected by Oprah Winfrey for her Book Club 2.0. Winfrey explained that her choice was made the moment she finished reading the novel because “these strong female characters represent the women that have shaped our history and, through Sue’s imaginative storytelling, give us a new perspective on slavery, injustice and the search for freedom.”

Taking four years to complete, it is hard to distinguish which characters are real or invented, just as it impossible to tell which parts of the story are factual and which are imagined. Kidd provides great detail in a special section at the end of the novel about her thoughts while she was creating what is sure to be her next best seller.

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

The Scent of Pine

Title: The Scent of Pine
Author: Lara Vapnyar
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
ISBN: 9781476712642
Number of Pages: 192
How I Got It: NetGalley

NetGalley Summary:
Though Lena is only thirty-eight, she finds herself in the grip of a midlife crisis. She feels out of place in her adoptive country, her career has stalled, and her marriage has tumbled into a spiral of apathy and distrust—it seems impossible she will ever find happiness again. But then she meets Ben, a failed artist turned reluctant academic, who is just as lost as she is. They strike up a precarious friendship and soon surprise themselves by embarking on an impulsive weekend adventure.On the drive to Ben’s remote cabin in Maine, Lena begins to open up, for the first time in her life, about the tumultuous summer she spent as a counselor in a Soviet children’s camp twenty years earlier, when she was just discovering romance and her own sexuality. At a time when Russia itself was in turmoil, the once-placid world of the camp was growing equally unsettled, with unexplained disappearances and mysterious goings-on among the staff; Lena and her best friend are haunted by what they witnessed, or failed to witness, and by the fallout from those youthful relationships. It was a time of intense emotions, confusion, and passions, and ultimately very little turned out to be exactly as it seemed.As Lena reveals to Ben secrets she has long kept hidden, the lovers begin to discover together not only the striking truths buried in her past, but also more immediate lessons about the urgency of this short, stolen time they have together. A stirring, sexy, and breathtaking novel with an unforgettable twist, The Scent of Pine is both a poignant love story and a provocative tale of loneliness, longing, youthful romanticism, and the fickle nature of desire.

My Review:
I requested this novel because I'm always interested in women's midlife crises. I like that most of these types of novels focus on how the woman has "had enough" and is now "going to put herself first." This novel alternates between Lena discovering her sexuality at camp and having a sexual re-awakening when she steals away for the weekend to a cabin in Maine. Not a comfy, cozy cabin but a cabin with no heat and no toilet. Not exactly condusive to wild romance.  As Lena confides her memories of being a camp counselor, there is an undercurrent of fear. Missing soldiers, scared children, and aliens, (yes, aliens) pepper the stories she tells Ben.  The climax is expected to be startling and shocking but instead is just a series of sad twists and false memories. 

I would not recommend this book. 

** I received this book in exchange for an honest review **