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Monday, September 28, 2015

Tiger Heart by Katrell Christie and Shannon McCaffrey

Tiger Heart by Katrell Christie and Shannon McCaffrey
Published by Health Communications Inc. ISBN 978-0-7573-1858-0
Trade paperback, $15.95, 232 pages

As America is reflecting on the historic visit from Pope Francis, I just read a book that perfectly encapsulates everything he is trying to teach us. Tiger Heart, by Katrell Christie and Shannon McCaffrey, recounts Christie's efforts to aid young Indian women in Darjeeling.

Christie, who once skated competitive Roller Derby and now owns a small tea shop in Atlanta, was having a tough time when one of her customers asked her repeatedly to join her and her Rotary companions to work on a service project in India.

Christie had no interest, but after a bad spell at work with employees stealing from her and quitting on her, she impulsively said yes, she'd go to India. (As someone who once owned two fast food restaurants, I totally got that.)

She found her calling in Darjeeling, and began a project helping young orphaned women. These young ladies were about to be aged out of the orphanage where they grew up. At the age of seventeen, they had to move out the orphanage. In India, they would normally live with their families until they married, so living on their own would be a difficult prospect.

Christie took some of these young women and rented them a home to live in, helped them furnish it, and encouraged them to go to college. If not for Christie and people who helped her on this project, these young ladies would most likely ended up as domestic servants, or being sexually trafficked.

She changed the lives of these girls, and others who came after them. In addition to their school work and jobs, she asked that they volunteer their time helping others as a requirement of living in the apartment.

People she told her story to wanted to help as well. She had the fortunate opportunity to meet the Indian defense minister through a friend and after telling him of her project, he wrote her a personal check to educate one girl for an entire year!

She met a family who invited her to their home for dinner where they presented her with a new DVD player and a karaoke machine for the girls. This family, who did not have a lot of money, told her that each year they save up to do one charitable thing and this was their act for the year. I absolutely love this idea! How wonderful would it be if every family practiced this?

We also learned about Christie's personal life. When she was a young child, she bit other children and adults. She was thrown out of several preschools and after one incident where her father was told to come and get her and take all of her things with them, he began to cry in the car. She asked him what was wrong and he told her that she had superpower teeth and if she continued to bite people (including him), he was afraid she would use up all of her superpowers. It worked and she believed this until she was fourteen. What a clever dad!

She tells a story of a flamboyant gay family friend with whom she has dinner with every week who insists on bringing her a new, crazy outfit she was to change into at the restaurant and model for all. Outfits included ballroom gowns, Jackie O suits and onesie skating costumes.

Every month, Christie holds a Learning Tea dinner at her tea shop where people pay $20 and all the money goes towards her girls. You can help too by going to thelearningtea.com and clicking on the "India Trip" tab.

Tiger Heart is a quick and inspiritional read about a young woman with no special talents except her willingness to help young women a world away and her can-do spirit. I hope that between Katrell Christie and Pope Francis, people are encouraged to make the world a better place by helping others.

You can see a video about The Learning Tea here:

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on this tour. The rest of the tour stops are here:

TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS for Tiger Heart:

Monday, September 28th: Bookchickdi
Wednesday, September 30th: Run Wright
Thursday, October 1st: Lit and Life
Monday, October 5th: Read. Write. Repeat.
Tuesday, October 6th: The Things We Read
Wednesday, October 7th: Bibliotica
Monday, October 12th: Dreaming Big Blog
Wednesday, October 14th: Raven Haired Girl
Thursday, October 15th: A Bookish Affair
Friday, October 16th: Broken Teepee
Monday, October 19th: A Book A Week
Tuesday, October 20th: The Reading Cove Book Club
Wednesday, October 21st: #redhead.with.book
Monday, October 26th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Two End of Summer Books

Reprinted from the Citizen
The last (unofficial) day of summer is Labor Day, with the New York State Fair closing and school beginning that week, so to commemorate the last gasps of summer, this month’s Book Report features two books with summer in the title: “The Summer of Good Intentions” by Wendy Francis and Dan Bakopoulos' “Summerlong.” 
“The Summer of Good Intentions” is set at a family’s summer home on Cape Cod. The Herington family will once again spend all July together, but things have changed in the last year. Parents Arthur and Gloria are now divorced, although Arthur doesn’t understand why Gloria wanted to leave their quiet home in Maine to live in the big city of Boston. 
Oldest daughter Maggie is the typical oldest child, organizing everyone and everything so that things run smoothly for all. She is the one who makes sure that everyone has a new pair of flip-flops and a towel stuffed into a pail to begin the vacation. Maggie is married to a wonderful man, a Boston cop who is a calming presence and a terrific dad to their three children. When she learns that her mother is bringing her new younger boyfriend to the house, she worries how her father will handle it.
Middle sister Jess is trying to balance her work as a high school principal with being a mom to her children and marriage to a man who spends too much time involved in work. This has led Jess into a situation that could endanger her marriage.
Youngest sister Virgie lives across the country in Seattle, where she works as a TV news reporter while she works to get her way into the anchor chair. She works crazy hours, and because of that has had some health problems that she has ignored.
“The Summer of Good Intentions” is the perfect end-of-summer read. Francis brings the reader into the Herington family’s lives, and all of the happiness and sadness of families is one that anyone who is close to their family can understand. You’ll feel like you are right inside the vacation home with them as you read their story.
“Summerlong” also features a family during a summer month. Don Lowry is a realtor in a small college town in Iowa. His business has taken a turn in the down economy, and now he is on the verge of losing the family home, something he has yet to inform his wife Claire of. 
Claire wrote a semi-successful novel a decade ago, but now is floundering in her life. She loves her two children, but life in Grinnell is stifling her. While jogging she runs into Charlie, a young man returning home from an abandoned acting career, and they begin a friendship.
On that same night, Don meets ABC, a sad young woman who returned to her college town after the death of the woman she loved. ABC is a caretaker to the elderly Ruth, a wise and kind woman. ABC believes that Don will lead her to her dead love, and they begin a friendship, as well.
When the Lowrys lose their home, Charlie offers to take Claire and her children in to live in his parents’ home. Charlie’s father, a highly regarded professor at Grinnell College who had both Claire and ABC as students, is in a nursing home with dementia. Charlie finds hundreds of love letters that his father wrote to dozens of women, and doesn’t know what to make of it.
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Don moves in with Ruth and ABC, all the while looking for a way to get his family back. He wants to save his marriage, but Claire wants to move on. He has an idea for a last-ditch effort to save his marriage: a family vacation away from Iowa. The only problem is that Charlie, ABC and Ruth will be accompanying them.
"Summerlong" is primarily about the marriage of Don and Claire, but it also focuses on the different stages of the characters: ABC and Charlie are young adults trying to find their way in life, Don and Claire are almost 40 and struggling with where they go next to be happy, and Ruth is at the end of her life.
I found Ruth to be the most interesting character, perhaps because she has lived her life. She tells ABC that mothers have secrets and if those secrets get out, it is unforgivable. She knows this from experience.
Both "The Summer of Good Intentions" and "Summerlong" are fascinating reads, not light summer fluff — books that you can easily fall into as summer ends and autumn begins.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Three Books About The Schuyler Women by Beatriz Williams

Reprinted from The Citizen
Often, fiction authors will write a series of books featuring the same characters; many mystery writers have made entire careers out this (like Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski books, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone series and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books).
Author Beatriz Williams has written a series of books that feature female members of the Schuyler family. In each book, a member of the Schuyler family has a prominent role, and other members pop in and out of the background.
In “A Hundred Summers,” Lily Dane is the main character in a story set in 1938 in Seaview, Rhode Island. Lily’s mother, Christine, and her Aunt Julie are the Schuyler women, born into a prominent and wealthy family. 
We see Lily as a young, naive college girl, with her longtime best friend Budgie, a high society girl who goes after what she wants, as she meets handsome Dartmouth college football star Nick Greenwald. They fall madly in love and plan to marry when tragedy tears them apart.
Eight years later at her family’s beach house in Seaview, Lily runs into Budgie and Nick, now married and staying the summer in Seaview. Lily is unmarried and spends most of her time with her much younger 7-year-old sister, and seeing Nick and Budgie together shakes up her world.
“A Hundred Summers” put me in mind of a 19th-century Jane Austen novel, with its handsome, brooding, honorable hero, the lovelorn but strong-willed leading lady, and a look into the lifestyle, manners and rules of the wealthy.
Williams’ next novel, “The Secret Life of Violet Grant,” begins in 1964 with college graduate Vivian Schuyler working hard to become a writer at a popular magazine. One day she receives a battered suitcase that belonged to her Great Aunt Violet Grant, someone she knew little about. 
What she does know is that Violet disappeared in Germany in 1914 after killing her husband and running off with her lover. No one in the family had seen or heard from her since then.
Vivian believes that this is a story she could write for the magazine that would be her big break.
Vivian’s story alternates with Violet’s story. Violet wants to be a scientist at a time when there were not many women scientists. She studies in England under a well-respected doctor and ends up marrying him.
Their marriage isn’t quite what Violet thought it would be, so she throws herself into her work. Violet and her husband end up in Berlin just as the events leading up to WWI are swirling around them.
“The Secret Life of Violet Grant” is my favorite of the three Schuyler women books so far. I love that Violet is a scientist, a unique career for a woman at that time. Even now, you don’t find too many female scientist protagonists in women’s fiction.
Vivian is a great character, too, a very Rosalind Russell/Kate Hepburn '40s movie type of gal. Her wisecracks and interactions with her sister Pepper and Aunt Julie made me smile.
In “Little Tiny Thing,” Christina “Tiny” Schuyler is married to a politician on the rise (John Kennedy comes to mind). She spends the summer of 1966 at her husband Frank’s family summer compound with her mother-in-law, who rules the roost with an iron-in-velvet fist, a father-in-law who is determined that his son will be president, and various other relatives. 
Two weeks before Tiny married Frank, she met a man at a diner and, after a violent holdup at the diner, she and this mystery man became more than friends. Tiny was ready to end her engagement to Frank when she discovered that her mystery man was not whom she thought he was.
Back at the compound, Tiny receives a compromising photo of herself in the mail. The attached note requests money or else the photo will be made public, and she will ruin Frank’s chances of becoming a Congressman.
Tiny turns to her sister Pepper, who has shown up at the compound on vacation from her job as an assistant to Sen. Robert Kennedy. Pepper and Tiny try to find out who the blackmailer is, and along the way restore a 1933 rare German car they find hidden on the property.
I loved Pepper in this story, described as looking “like trouble at any angle.” I hope that the next book in the series will give us Pepper’s story; I know it will be a fabulous one.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo

The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo
Published by Harper ISBN 978-0-06-239054-7
Trade paperback, $15.99, 416 pages

With so much out there competing for our ever-dwindling attention span, a great first sentence is the key to grabbing the reader's eye. Melissa DeCarlo's debut novel The Art of Crash Landing has a doozy:
"Twenty-seven minutes is, if anyone ever asks, exactly how long it takes to cram everything I own into six giant trash bags."
I ask you, how can you not want to read the rest of this book?

Mattie Wallace is thirty years old, pregnant, underemployed, drinks too much and now she is moving out of her soon-to-ex-boyfriend's home. She goes to her deceased mother's former boyfriend, a man she calls Queeg, for help.

I loved the relationship between Queeg and Mattie. Mattie had a tough childhood, her mother was an alcoholic who moved around a lot and dated many men. They moved in with Queeg and although Mattie had her issues with him, he cares a great deal for her and she loves him too. He is the only solid thing in her life.

Mattie discovers that her mother's mother has died and with nowhere else to go, Mattie takes off for Grandy, Oklahoma, where her mother grew up. Her grandmother has just passed away, and Mattie received a letter from a lawyer stating that she may have an inheritance.

The tiny town of Grandy has an entire cast of interesting people, and the small-town feel shines through in this story. Mattie's car breaks down and she manages to find JJ, the town's mechanic who tells her it's going to be awhile and expensive to fix the car. He and Mattie clash right away.

Next up is a visit to the lawyer's office where she meets Luke, a paralegal, who tells Mattie that settling the estate may take awhile. While she waits, she stays in her grandmother's home. She has no cash and no job, so Luke takes pity on her and convinces his aunt, the town librarian, to give Mattie a job.

Mattie wants to find out why her mother just up and left her hometown when she was seventeen and never looked back. The woman people in town describe as her mother doesn't sound like the alcoholic, broken-down mother she knew. What happened in her past to make her this way?

The Art of Crash Landing has terrific characters in a wonderfully real setting, DeCarlo has some great lines in the book, like Mattie saying that "Sometimes my entire life has felt like one long exercise in lowering expectations." And Luke tells her that "needing to change your life isn't enough. You have to want it too."

Any book partially set in a library is sure to make me smile, and I laughed as Mattie goes to work on her first day "managing to achieve a reasonably arresting librarian--on-the-skids look" in her grandma's borrowed clothes. And her description of the group of middle-aged men who hang out at the library as "Grandy's intelligentsia" had me in stitches.

The Art of Crash Landing reminded me of Joshilyn Jackson's Someone Else's Love Story (they even have similar covers) in its tone, humor and sassy protagonist. I highly recommend The Art of Crash Landing and I'd love to return to Grandy in the future to see how Mattie and company is doing. (Sequel please!)

Melissa DeCarlo's website is here: http://www.melissadecarlo.com/

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Melissa DeCarlo's tour. The rest of the tour stops are here:

Melissa’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, September 8th: Books and Bindings
Thursday, September 10th: The Book Bag
Friday, September 11th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Tuesday, September 15th: Literary Lindsey
Wednesday, September 16th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Thursday, September 17th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Friday, September 18th: bookchickdi
Friday, September 18th: Fuelled by Fiction
Wednesday, September 23rd: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, September 24th: Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, September 25: 5 Minutes for Books
Monday, September 28th: BoundbyWords
Wednesday, September 30th: A Bookworm’s World
Thursday, October 1st: A Bookish Affair
Monday, October 5th: Kritters Ramblings
Tuesday, October 6th: Raven Haired Girl
Wednesday, October 7th: Novel Escapes
Thursday, October 8th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Friday, October 9th: My Book Retreat
Monday, October 12th: Snowdrop Dreams of Books
Tuesday, October 13th: Imaginary Reads
Tuesday, October 13th: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, October 14th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Wednesday, October 14th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Thursday, October 15th: Joyfully Retired

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Paris Time Capsule by Ella Carey

Paris Time Capsule by Ella Carey
Published by Lake Union Publishing ISBN 9781477829936
Trade paperback, $14.95 282 pages

Cat Jordan is trying to make it as a photographer in New York City and engaged to the wealthy and hard-charging financier Christian when she receives a letter from a lawyer in Paris telling her that she has inherited a Paris apartment from a woman she has never met in Ella Carey's novel Paris Time Capsule.

The lawyer insists that Cat must come to Paris to claim her inheritance and since Cat has always wanted to go to Paris, she makes the trip. She learns that the woman, Isabelle de Florian,  was close to her grandmother, but that still doesn't explain why Isabelle would leave her apartment to Cat instead of her own family.

As Cat visits the sumptuous apartment, she meets Isabelle's handsome grandson, Loic, who is astonished to learn that his grandmother owned such an ostentatious home. He and his mother Sylvie knew Isabelle to be a cleaning woman who struggled to make a living for her and Sylvie.

They learn that there is a painting in the apartment that could be worth a million dollars, and after some research they discover that Isabelle's mother was a famous courtesan. Isabelle and Cat's grandmother lived in the apartment until the beginning of WWII, when Cat's grandmother's parents ordered her home to safety. No one had been in the apartment since 1940.

Cat doesn't want to take the apartment, she believes that Loic's family are the rightful heirs, but Sylvie wants to follow her mother's wishes no matter how strange and hurtful it may be to her.

Cat and Loic grow closer as they travel throughout France to discover the reason behind Isabelle's decision.  She loves Christian, and he seems to love her, but he appears to be somewhat controlling in my opinion. (He even goes so far as to track her by GPS on her phone.)

Christian's mother sends the wedding planner, a former girlfriend of Christian's, to Paris to help Cat shop for a dress. I liked that the wedding planner wasn't a typical vengeful ex-girlfriend out to sabotage the wedding. She and Cat even become good friends.

It's also interesting that Carey chose not to tell her tale as two stories in two different time periods, as that is a popular construct that many writers use. We only see the story unspool as Cat discovers what really happened to Isabelle and her grandmother.

Carey's story comes from a kernel of truth. There really was a Marthe de Florian who was a famous courtesan and actress during the Belle Epoque, and her apartment was discovered in 2010, untouched in 70 years. I enjoy when an author takes a true story and spins an interesting fiction out of it.

Paris Time Capsule will appeal to fans of historical fiction and stories of woman finding their passion.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Ella Carey's tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Ella Carey’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Tuesday, September 1st: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, September 3rd: Daily Mayo
Friday, September 4th: Just One More Chapter
Monday, September 7th: Romance Novels for the Beach
Tuesday, September 8th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, September 9th: Bookchickdi
Thursday, September 10th:  girlichef
Friday, September 11th: Raven Haired Girl
Monday, September 14th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, September 16th: Bewitched Bookworms
Thursday, September 17th: Chick Lit Central – author guest post
Thursday, September 17th: Kahakai Kitchen
Monday, September 21st: Books a la Mode – guest post/giveaway
Monday, September 21st: 100 Pages a Day
Monday, September 21st: Kritter’s Ramblings
Tuesday, September 22nd: Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, September 23rd: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Thursday, September 24th: The Lit Bitch
Monday, September 28th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, September 29th: The Baking Bookworm

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Starlight on Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs

Starlight on Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs
Published by MIRA Books ISBN 9780778317951
Hardcover, $24.95, 380 pages

One of the reasons I was drawn to Susan Wiggs' Starlight on Willow Lake is that is set near the place where my husband grew up, in Ulster County in upstate New York.

Faith McCallum is a single mom to two girls, Cara and Ruby. Faith's husband Dennis died six years ago and left behind a mountain of debt, mostly in medical bills. Faith does her best to make ends meet as an LPN caregiver to private clients, but they are about to be evicted.

Financier Mason Bellamy is looking to hire a caregiver for his mother, who became a quadriplegic after being trapped in an avalanche that killed her husband. Alice Bellamy moved from Manhattan to the family's country house in Avalon, and has gone through a succession of live-in caregivers.

Faith responds to Mason's online ad and sees this job as an answer to her prayers. Faith, Cara and Ruby move into the Bellamy's spacious lakefront home and Faith can't believe that her luck has changed.

Alice is angry that the accident has taken away much of what she loved. She was an athletic, adventurous woman and now she was confined to a wheelchair. It was the loss of independence and privacy that hurt her the most, something a self-reliant woman like Alice found difficult to face.

While Alice held most people at arms' length, she took a shine to Cara and Ruby. She liked that the girls spoke openly and honestly to her, and getting to know them gave her something else to focus on.

Although Mason lives in Manhattan, he moves to Avalon for the summer at Faith's request. She feels that Alice needs to have not only a staff to care for her, but she needs her son as well.

Faith has had a difficult life, losing her mom and husband to early chronic illnesses and she has devoted her life to her daughters. But Mason has awakened feelings in her that she thought were dormant. Although Mason is engaged to Regina, a woman he works with who is as stylish, wealthy and career-driven as he is, he feels drawn to Faith.

What I liked about Starlight on Willow Lake is that through Faith we see the plight of the working poor, a growing demographic in society. Faith works hard, but getting out from under crushing debt is nearly insurmountable.

Cara understands their situation, and so she puts off her dreams of going to college because she doesn't want her mother to worry about paying for college. There are probably many people out there who feel like that.

There are many well written scenes in the book, but I most enjoyed the scenes of Alice bonding with the girls. Alice is a tough cookie, but the girls see through her rough exterior and speak to her honestly, as only children can.

I also loved the little shout-out to Wegmans (although there is no Wegmans near Ulster County, because if there was I would be able to hear my sister-in-law squealing with joy all the way here in NYC). I'm guessing that Susan Wiggs may know the Rochester area a bit because she also mentions Rochester as being represented in a college night program.

The characters in Starlight on Willow Lake are well-drawn and the storyline is intriguing. This book is part of Wiggs' Lakeshore Chronicles, and since it is mentioned that there are many members of the extended Bellamy family, I'm guessing the other books feature them. I will be looking for the rest of the series.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Susan Wiggs' tour. The rest of her stops are here:


Monday, August 24th: Book Reviews & More by Kathy
Tuesday, August 25th: The Sassy Bookster
Wednesday, August 26th: Books a la Mode – author guest post
Wednesday, August 26th: Romancing the Book
Thursday, August 27th: From the TBR Pile
Friday, August 28th: The Bookish and The Romantic
Monday, August 31st: Raven Haired Girl
Tuesday, September 1st: Books and Spoons
Tuesday, September 1st: Written Love Reviews
Wednesday, September 2nd: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Thursday, September 3rd: Kritter’s Ramblings
Friday, September 4th: Urban Girl Reader
Monday, September 7th: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, September 8th: Bookchickdi
Wednesday, September 9th: Mignon Mykel Reviews
Thursday, September 10th: Mom in Love with Fiction
Thursday, September 10th: Luxury Reading
Friday, September 11th: Not In Jersey
Monday, September 14th: Book Babe
Tuesday, September 15th: Booked on a Feeling
Wednesday, September 16th: Snowdrop Dreams of Books
Thursday, September 17th: Bibliotica
Friday, September 18th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers