Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Review: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin


Title: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Hardcover: 260 pages
Published: April 1, 2014 by Algonquin Books
Setting: Alice Island, Massachusetts (US)
from Goodreads:

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

Alleluialu's Review

It's so good. You have to read it! "A town isn't a town without a bookstore." It made me want to open one. This novel is filled with the best characters: a cranky bookseller who knows what he likes, a baby-child-teenager who is so smart, such a nerd, who loves books; the quirky book agent who just belongs there; the cop who learns he loves to read... And books, and books, and books, and books. This review is a bunch of babble, but the bottom line is - this book is so good, you have to read it. Thank you, Ms. Zevin, for sharing it with us. 

At our book club meeting, we discussed the relationship to the short stories listed at the beginning of each chapter and the chapter itself. It gave such a new depth to this novel, I couldn't believe there was an even better reason to read it again! Every one of our members liked the book and had a different reason for doing so. It's such a good book. You have to read it. 

If you think I would give this anything but 5 notes - A Symphony - you haven't read my babbling post above. This is an outstanding selection and a book worth reading! 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review: The Other Shakespeare by Lea Rachel


Title: The Other Shakespeare
Author: Lea Rachel
Published: The Writer's Design press 2015
Paperback: 197 pages

from Goodreads: 

What if Shakespeare had been born a woman? What would have happened to her? And, what would she have accomplished?

Virginia Woolf first posed these questions in her acclaimed novel A Room of One’s Own…and now maverick author Lea Rachel steps up to tell the rest of the story.

The Other Shakespeare carries readers back to the sixteenth century to follow Judith Shakespeare, the older sister of William, as she tries to make a name for herself in a male-dominated society that consistently denies women their independence. Born with as much talent, creativity, and drive as her younger brother, she is stifled by the world around her and ultimately resorts to extreme measures to get accepted and have her talent recognized.

Judith’s story is rich with history, conflict, and drama and is sure to appeal to fans of Virginia Woolf, William Shakespeare, and character-driven fiction.

Alleluialu's Review

Okay, now I'm sad. There may be spoilers in this review. I'm just warning you, I can't help it. I was given this book by the author's agent to review and I just finished it. I liked it very much and I am glad I got the opportunity to read it. It held my interest and was well-written. After the final page, the author challenges the reader to find the Shakespeare quotes she embedded in every chapter. Unfortunately, I am not familiar enough with most of Shakespeare's writings to do that, although I did catch a reference or two. That certainly would be fun for Shakespeare fans. I immediately caught the Virginia Woolf references however, especially the final one. That could be a spoiler, but only if you know anything about Virginia Woolf. As I said previously, the story was well-written. Situations were believable for the time period, except I doubt a woman would be welcomed so frequently by a troupe of male actors at their pub without them thinking the worst of her. It was sad that she couldn't get any recognition for her writing talent. I kept trying to figure out in my mind how the world discovered Judith's "Romeo and Juliet" and attached William's name to it. Did she tell Robert Greene her brother wrote it just to have it accepted and then did Judith collect the royalties in her brother's name? It could have worked. There were several pages when I tried to tell her to do that, but alas, she didn't listen. Such a sad ending and stupid James Burbage just watched. I expected more from him. The author definitely engaged me in the story which is why, as I said, I'm sad now.

I'm giving this book 4 notes as well - another Concerto: I really liked it and you should go out and find it on Amazon here or on Barnes & Noble here

Book Review: The Deception of the Emerald Ring by Lauren Willig


Title: The Deception of the Emerald Ring
Author: Lauren Willig
Published: November 16, 2006 by Dutton Adult
Series: Pink Carnation #3
Setting: Dublin, Ireland 1803 and London, England 1803

from Goodreads: 

A dangerous ring of spies, a game of mistaken identities, and a heartwarming romance of unlikely pairs come together in Lauren Willig's engaging and exciting third novel THE DECEPTION OF THE EMERALD RING. Praised for the "cheerfully postmodern and energetic . . .romance-adventure hybrids [that] have escaped the clutches of niche fiction." (The Onion A.V. Club), her Pink Carnation series is garnering her critical acclaim and a loyal fan base. 

Lauren Willig's debut The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, appeared on retailer bestseller lists in hardcover and made a big splash in sales in trade paperback. Her second book, The Masque of the Black Tulip, was selected as a BookSense Pick for January 2006, and continues to rack up incredible reviews. Lauren Willig's passion for authentic historical detail coupled with her talent for enthralling love stories make her series the perfect read for lovers of romance, history and adventure.
The year is 1803 and England and France remain at odds. Hoping to break the English once and for all, Napoleon backs a ring of Irish rebels in uprisings against England and sends the Black Tulip, France's most deadly spy, to the Emerald Isle to help. What they don't know is that also in Ireland is England's top spy, the Pink Carnation, who is working to shut the rebels down. Meanwhile, back in England, Letty Alsworthy intercepts a note indicating that her sister, Mary, is about to make the very grave mistake of eloping with Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe (second in command of the League of the Purple Gentian). In an attempt to save the family name, Letty tries to stop the elopement, but instead finds herself swept away in the midnight carriage meant for her sister and is accidentally compromised. Geoff and Letty, to each other's horror, find themselves forced into matrimony. Then, Geoff receives word that he is to travel to Ireland to help the Pink Carnation and disappears immediately after their wedding ceremony. Letty learns of Geoff's disappearance and, not to be outdone by her husband, steals away on a ship bound for Ireland, armed and ready to fight for her husband …and to learn a thing or two about spying for England.
As in her previous tales, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation and The Masque Of the Black Tulip, our modern-day heroine and hero, Eloise Kelly and Colin Selwick, continue their budding romance in this captivating third novel in the series.
Alleluialu's Review
Spies are in England, spies are in France, spies are in Ireland, spies are everywhere! Code names like the Pink Carnation, the Black Tulip, the Purple Gentian, the Scarlet Pimpernel! Exciting, interesting, and clever. That's a good way to describe Lauren Willig's book series - very clever. This one was mostly set in Ireland just before the second uprising in the early 1800's. A young British lass is mistaken for her sister and kidnapped by her sister's beau. Of course her reputation is ruined unless he marries her. That is just the beginning. Letty, the lass, follows her new husband to Ireland and gets involved with the Pink Carnation to try to stop the Irish uprising. The things that happen are amusing, but Letty shows that she can fend for herself. It is a good read. Fun? yes. Predictable? Of course, but worth it just the same. I listened to the audiobook while reading the paperback version of this tale. That made it even more enjoyable. 

I'm giving this selection 4 notes - A Concerto: I really like this book. You should go find it either at your local library, Amazon here or Barnes & Noble here. If you want a real treat, you should listen to the audiobook!  

Friday, January 9, 2015

Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

This November and December, I participated in the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge once again. I love reading Christmas novels and I came across some very good ones this year. In this post, I am going to list all of the books I read - 5 total - and my impression of each of them. Here goes: 


Title: Papa's Angels
Authors: Collin Wilcox Paxton & Gary Carden 
This is one of those little hardcover books I borrowed from my amazing local library. The story is told by one of the children of an Appalachian family who had lost its Mother the Christmas before. The Father is crippled by grief and doesn't want anything to do with Christmas. In true Christmas novel fashion (the best ones do this), when all appears lost, the children along with their Grammy show that family love is the most important thing at Christmas and when it is present, magic things can happen. It's a wonderful and inspiring story. I gave it 5 notes - a Symphony!


Title: A Nantucket Christmas
Author: Nancy Thayer
Nantucket seems to come up alot in Christmas novels. Apparently it is a magical place at that time of year. This book also came from my public library. The central character in this novel is Nicole Somerset, a newly-wed who is spending her first Christmas on Nantucket with her new husband. Her husband's pregnant daughter, Kennedy, arrives and wants to get her mother and father back together and Nicole out of the picture. Nicole isn't going to let that ruin her Christmas, however. There is also a cute side story happening involving a little dog who is abandoned on the island and shows up in Nicole's yard. I really liked hearing this little dog's thoughts. This novel is interesting and heartwarming and comes complete with a Christmas miracle. I gave it 5 notes as well. 


Title: The Special Guest: A Christmas Story
Author: Lee and Donna Allen
This is a lovely little book - only 96 pages - but full of the wonder of Christmas. A young man does a kind deed and welcomes a stranded stranger into his home for Christmas. Wonderful things start to happen and on Christmas morning the young man realizes "in welcoming strangers, you may find yourself welcoming angels unawares." A delightful story. Another 5 notes! 


Title: The Christmas Sweater
Author: Glenn Beck
When I asked my Facebook friends for suggestions of Christmas novels, my nephew told me about this one and offered to lend it to me. I was surprised that he would read a Christmas novel, let alone have it in his possession. That's not very nice, forgive me. Anyway, this novel is a strange one. It was an interesting story, compelling, very sad at times. There is a giant twist in it that is meant to result in a happy ending, I suppose, but it just made me angry that I went through heartwrenching sadness to end up that way. I don't expect such trickery in a Christmas novel. I gave it 4 notes for that reason. It was an interesting story as I said. I just didn't appreciate the twist. Maybe you will. 


Title: Winter Street
Author: Elin Hilderbrand
This was a popular Christmas book selection this year. It was on several lists and I saw it in several bookstores. While it was a story about family - and on Nantucket to boot - it wasn't what I wanted to read about in a Christmas novel. Too contemporary, too much drinking and cheating on each other. It was too realistic - no Christmas magic. Sorry. I gave it 3 notes. Too bad I had to end this Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge reading a book that had no Christmas magic. Oh well, I still have a couple Christmas novels on my bookshelf to read next year. 

Along with the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge, I pariticipated in the FaLaLaLa Films portion. I always watch Christmas movies during the holidays - yes, those Hallmark and Lifetime films as well as old classics that make it Christmas for our family. Here's my list. Actually, it's only a partial list because sometimes I forget to write down the movies I watch. Here goes: 

1. Miracle on 34th Street - the original - watched on Thanksgiving evening!
2. The Christmas Blessing with Neil Patrick Harris - a sequel to one about the Christmas shoes. 
3. Elf of course - a holiday tradition
4. The Santa Clause - the first one with Tim Allen - the best in our opinion
5. Signed, Sealed and Delivered - an interesting twist on a Christmas theme
6. A Very Mixed Up Christmas - saw this one last year as well - I liked it
7. Christmas Vacation - a crazy holiday tradition - especially loved by my husband
8. A Royal Christmas - a Christmas princess story - loved Jane Seymour since her Dr. Quinn days and totally figured out the love side story before it was revealed. 
9. A Season for Miracles - sorry to say I'm not remembering exactly what happened in this one. 
10. Mrs. Miracle - saw this one last year, too. It's a rendition of Debbie Macomber's novel of the same name. I don't usually like Debbie Macomber's novels for some reason, but the movie is classic Christmas magic. 
11. White Christmas - we waited to watch this until our eldest daughter came home for Christmas. I have seen this movie every year since I was 5 years old and my Daddy and I walked down to the local movie theatre to watch it. It always brings back that warm feeling of spending time with my Dad. 

I know there were other movies I watched, as I stated above, but I didn't write them down here. I look forward to the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge and the FaLaLaLa Films. Now I guess I will have to start taking down my Christmas decorations. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Book Review: Letters from Home by Kristina McMorris

Hi readers! Sorry I've been off the grid a bit. Christmas came and family things - but I was still reading, just not posting. Soooo, I'm trying to catch up. I so appreciate you visiting my blog. One of my New Year's resolutions is to work on this blog and make it better - for you! and for me! 

Title: Letters from Home
Author: Kristina McMorris 

Paperback: 364 pages
Published: February 22, 2011 by Kensington Books


Literary awards: HOLT Medallion, Dixie Kane Memorial Contest for Historical (2006), Kay Snow Fiction Award, Golden Palm Award, Touch of Magic Contest, Goodreads Choice Nominee for Best Historical Fiction (Semifinalist)(2011)

 from Goodreads: 

Chicago, 1944. Liz Stephens has little interest in attending a USO club dance with her friends Betty and Julia. She doesn't need a flirtation with a lonely serviceman when she's set to marry her childhood sweetheart. Yet something happens the moment Liz glimpses Morgan McClain. They share only a brief exchange--cut short by the soldier's evident interest in Betty--but Liz can't forget him. Thus, when Betty asks her to ghostwrite a letter to Morgan, stationed overseas, Liz reluctantly agrees.

Thousands of miles away, Morgan struggles to adjust to the brutality of war. His letters from "Betty" are a comfort, their soul-baring correspondence a revelation to them both. While Liz is torn by her feelings for a man who doesn't know her true identity, Betty and Julia each become immersed in their own romantic entanglements. And as the war draws to a close, all three will face heart-wrenching choices, painful losses, and the bittersweet joy of new beginnings. 

Beautifully rendered and deeply moving, Letters from Home is a story of hope and connection, of sacrifices made in love and war--and the chance encounters that change us forever.

Alleluialu's Review:

I loved this book so much that I told my book club about it and they selected it for our February 2015 selection! I envisioned this story in my mind as a movie - I do that alot. It would make a great movie. The girls are very different which makes it interesting. The basic plot is an old one, but there are other plots involved here. One girl goes off to find her purpose, one nearly turns her back on her dream, and the other falls in love with a man who thinks she is someone else. It's a wonderful book. I hope I do it justice when I review it for our book club! I need to look for other Kristina McMorris novels!

I gave this selection 5 notes (I am a musician after all) - A Symphony! It was excellent! I didn't want it to end. I bought this book brand new from Barnes & The copy is lovely and you can get one, too, right here. AND, you can get it from here. If you want to read more about Kristina McMorris, here is a link to her Goodreads author page. I plan on contacting her and asking her for an interview I can post here in February.