Adult

Recommendation Tuesday: Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

I can't recall who specifically recommended Katherine Center's Happiness for Beginners, but I'm most glad that whomever that was mentioned it--because it's most definitely a Sarah book, despite that it involves **shudder** camping. (UGH!)

Recommendation Tuesday: Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

Review: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

She couldn’t change who she was, and she no longer wanted to, even if she could. She knew that who you are is a stone set deep inside you. You can spend all your life trying to dig that stone out, or you can build around it. Your choice.

In Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells, Sydney Waverley came home to Bascom, North Carolina with her own stone embedded deep inside her. She escaped a dangerous relationship to return to her family and to her roots. She brought her daughter, Bay, to her family home where both relished a newly found security. Syndney Waverely begins building her world around her family’s heritage and the love of her life, Henry. Garden Spells wove this beautiful tale of the Waverley with sheer elegance.

The unexpected sequel, First Frost, picks up the story’s thread with the family settled and waiting for the first frost of fall and what it may bring.

Review: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

3 Quickie Contemporary Romance Reviews

If you're having a rough week, it's probably not a good idea to read a novel set in hell--literally. A guaranteed happy ending is more the ticket in these situations. 

I recently picked up an assortment of contemporary romances, and have a few thoughts I'd like to share. Each of these novels belongs to a series of interconnected novels, but can be read as standalone stories. 

3 Quickie Contemporary Romance Reviews

Recommendation Tuesday: Jill Sorenson's Aftershock Series

Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.

View all of the past recommendations over here. 

I'm not sure how I discovered Jill Sorenson's Aftershock suspense series--it's highly likely that I first heard about it from Brie, when I was looking for a series to replace Laura Griffin's Tracers series, which isn't as fun as it once was.

Regardless, this series continues to hit that sweet spot of interesting characters and fabulous WTFery. (That's a compliment.)

There are several books and this series, and while they do stand alone, there's actually quite a bit of world-building in the first novel, Aftershock, which depicts the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic earthquake in San Diego. We're introduced to characters who will serve as protagonists in future installments and the earthquake influences characters' arcs in the future. So, basically, start with Aftershock and read in order if you get hooked.

Recommendation Tuesday: Jill Sorenson's Aftershock Series

Recommendation Tuesday: A Darker Shade of Sweden (Stories)

Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.

View all of the past recommendations over here. 

This week, Sandra is getting in on the fun and recommending a collection of short stories she really, really enjoyed, A Darker Shade of Sweden. 

Without any sense of shame, I admit to judging a book by its cover. I laser in on a beautifully bound book. But, a book can’t get by on looks alone. Intelligent writing is what truly endears it.

A Darker Shade of Sweden edited by John-Henri Holmberg has it all: beauty and brains. 

 

Recommendation Tuesday: A Darker Shade of Sweden (Stories)

Inspiring & Hopeful - Finding Me: A Life Reclaimed by Michelle Knight

That day I disappeared in 2002, not many people even seemed to notice. I was twenty-one, a young mom who stopped a a Family Dollar store one afternoon to ask for directions. For the next eleven years I was locked away in hell. That’s the part of my story you may already know. There’s a whole lot more that you don’t.

— Michelle Knight, Finding Me

A Life Reclaimed - these three simple words give voice to the heart and soul of Michelle Knight’s memoir, Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed, written with Michelle Burford. Less than half the book speaks of the horror that she, Amanda Barry and Gina DeJesus faced each day while held in captivity by Ariel Castro, who Knight refers to as "the dude." 

In concise and clear words that never softens the reality of her experience nor overly dwells on it, she communicates the fear and the pain she knew as her constant companion during her years chained and held captive at the whim of the dude. She held tight to her memories of better times when she cradled her beloved son close, laughing and playing games with him.

Inspiring & Hopeful - Finding Me: A Life Reclaimed by Michelle Knight

Recommendation Tuesday: More Like Her by Liza Palmer

There is more good than bad. Life and love win if you let them. If you believe in them.

Y'all know I've gushed quite a bit about Liza Palmer's books, especially last year's marvelous Nowhere But Home. As a result, I was surprised that I haven't written about any of her other novels beyond a vague, "Yo, this is awesome!"

I actually have a hard time picking a favorite of Liza's novels because I like them each for different reasons. More Like Her was actually the last Liza Palmer book I read, despite that I immediately bought her entire backlist after reading Nowhere But Home, and it sicks in my mind because it has one of my favorite final chapters (though, Liza pretty much kicks ass when it comes to last chapters).

That plus the fantastically well-done friendships and stickiness of work relationships makes More Like Her a can't miss novel and tied with Nowhere But Home for my favorite.

Recommendation Tuesday: More Like Her by Liza Palmer

Recommendation Tuesday: The Storied Life of A.J. Firky by Gabrielle Zevin

Y'all, last week, I put on my crown and declared that Tuesdays are now "Recommendation Tuesday." I will be recommending things on Tuesdays, because Tuesday is pretty much worthless and we all need more awesome in our lives. You're welcome to join the fun too. Tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.

Why is any one book different from any other book? They are different, A.J. decides, because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again. He selects one and holds it out to his friend. “Maybe this?”

— Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Gabrielle Zevin snuck up on me (metaphorically) and managed to snatch a spot on my forever auto-buy favorite authors list. I'm not sure how it happened, but her writing has a quality to it that sticks with my long after I've closed the covers of her books.

Her gripping futuristic family saga, the Birthright series, is a remarkable character-driven trio of books that is one of my favorite series, full-stop.

Her newest, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is no less awesome, though much different. 

Recommendation Tuesday: The Storied Life of A.J. Firky  by Gabrielle Zevin

A Solid Story Collection: The Firefly Dance by Sarah Addison Allen & Others

The title itself of this collection of novellas and short stories, The Firefly Dance, evokes an image of a warm summer evening—beautiful and breezeless, fireflies flittering in the dusk like jewels against a velvet sky. And like that quintessential summer scene, this unique collection brought me smiles, magical wonderment and even a few tears.

In My Dreams by Sarah Addison Allen

Sarah Addison Allen’s In My Dreams was the first novella I read--and the reason I snagged this collection from the library. I had read all of her novels with the exception of this one, and I couldn't bear to skip this one. I dove into it expecting a luscious read. Luscious does begin to express the beauty of In My Dreams.

This lovely tale told in the voice of Louise about her, her mother, her great aunt Sophie and a rich array of characters including her dog Lazarus that she seemingly brought back from the dead.

 

A Solid Story Collection: The Firefly Dance by Sarah Addison Allen & Others

A Feel-Good Novel with Surprising Weight: It Felt Like a Kiss by Sarra Manning

But then again, one kiss from someone could mean more than a two-year relationship with someone else. A kiss could change your life.

Sarra Manning’s Unsticky is a novel I recommend all the time—I love how Manning plays with common tropes and archetypes, subverting them into fresh and witty stories. Her newest novel, It Felt Like a Kiss, is no different. And, it has the added bonus of being something of a companion novel to Unsticky, as Vaughn from that novel plays an important role in this one as the owner of the art gallery where It Felt Like a Kiss protagonist Ellie Cohen works.

Ellie lives a carefully-produced life, a reaction to her chaotic, bohemian upbringing with her musician mother.

...when all around you was chaos, you needed to find some area of your life that you could control and let that define you. It didn’t matter that she was on free schoolmeals and had a mother who wore leopard-print catsuits and dressed her in charity-shop clothes, when Ellie had the neatest handwriting in her class and was homework monitor five years in a row. Or when she had a tidier bedroom and better manners than her many cousins, who all lived in two-parent, semi-detached splendour in Belsize Park. When your boss was giving you hell and your flatmates were fighting and you’d been dumped again, there was something cathartic and peaceful in spending the afternoon in your pristine, minimalist office, rearranging your reference books by height and colour. So, a girl who could parade around Glastonbury in a spotless white dress was a girl who was calm and in control. Sometimes you had to fake it to make it.

A Feel-Good Novel with Surprising Weight: It Felt Like a Kiss by Sarra Manning

A Grown-Up Romance for the Rest of Us: Live by Mary Ann Rivers

When I heard that Mary Ann Rivers had a series of full-length novels about an Ohio family coming out this year, I was pretty thrilled. I quite liked both of her novellas, one of which--The Story Guy--I recommended here on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves. 

He hadn’t thought that once Destiny understood where he was going with this, where he believed them to be going, that she would retreat. He had been prepared if she looked at him straight and told him no, that she knew she belonged here. He would know, if she told him in the way she always told him everything she was sure of, that she was right. He wanted to see the world with her because even the bits of it he’d seen would look different with her along. His home was with her.”

Live is the first in Rivers' series featuring the the Burnside siblings of Lakefield, Ohio (which seems quite a bit like a fictionalized version of Columbus, Ohio). The family is deeply-entrenched in their working class city neighborhood. Each of the siblings live in the area where they grew up and one is starting a medical clinic in their neighborhood. The Burnsides' parents have passed away, leaving them physically close to each other, but adrift at the same time. 

This first installment in the series focuses on one of the two Burnside sisters, Destiny (Des), who's never left Lakefield. At 27, she finds herself unemployed and spending her days at the public library searching for job openings and filling out applications online. After six months of job-seeking frustration, she finally loses it in the library after receiving yet another rejection.

A Grown-Up Romance for the Rest of Us: Live by Mary Ann Rivers

More Grit, More Awesome: Deadshifted (Edie Spence #4) by Cassie Alexander

When a series progresses to a certain point, it becomes nearly impossible to discuss without revealing important facets of the previous installments. Such is the case of Cassie Alexander's Edie Spence series, which is now deep into the series at book number four, Deadshifted.  So uncharacteristic brevity on my part is a necessity when talking about how Deadshifted brings even more gritty badassery than the previous installment, Shapeshifted.

I've written extensively about each of the books chronicles the misadventures of Chicago nurse Edie Spence, who found herself embroiled in the paranormal underworld in an effort to save her drug addict brother. This series has a lot to offer: action, drama, strong narrative voice and, of course, Edie's tumultuous love life--if you can call it that. 

[Note: Very minor spoilers of the sort revealed in the official book summaries follow.] 

Edie's latest exploits arrive while she an shapeshifter boyfriend Asher attempt to decompress from their recent encounter with some very nasty paranormal critters and their stressful day jobs at a health clinic in a tough Chicago neighborhood. They've embarked on a cruise and are basking in that new love glow. A promise of better things to come means that things are looking up for Edie.

Naturally, this being Edie's life, those precious moments of blissful peace don't last.

More Grit, More Awesome: Deadshifted (Edie Spence #4) by Cassie Alexander

Guest Post: The Evocative and Layered The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind is the first in a series of linked stories by Barcelona based Carlos Ruiz Zafon. (The Angel’s Game is a prequel which released later, A Prisoner of Heaven follows the story after The Shadow of the Wind and an as yet unreleased book will end the series).

1945 Barcelona is still coming to grips with the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and Daniel Sempere, our main narrator and hero, is the son of a book-dealer. The narrative starts when a young Daniel is taken by his father to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where he is allowed to pick only one book to take out with him. His father explains that once Daniel makes his choice, he must be the book’s caretaker, guardian and protector. 

Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.

The mysterious The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian Carax is the one that speaks out to Daniel, and later the very book that offers him solace from the loss of his mother. Curious about Carax’s other writing, Daniel stumbles upon a startling discovery – a shadowy figure who calls himself Lain Coubert (the name of the devil in The Shadow of the Wind book) has been systematically destroying every copy Carax has ever written; making Daniel’s copy potentially the only surviving. Over the span of a decade, Daniel unwittingly falls headfirst into his very own gothic mystery as he unravels the life of Julian Carax and gets much more than he ever bargained for. 

Guest Post: The Evocative and Layered The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Sly Subversiveness of Molly O'Keefe's Wild Child

It's no secret that Molly O'Keefe's novels are my favorites in the very crowded contemporary romance genre.  Her books, which on their surface follow the norms of romance novels (since that's what they are), are brilliantly subversive. All of the novels I've read by this author riff on romance archetypes and conventions in a deliciously satisfying manner. Molly's latest, Wild Child, is no different.

Wild Child focuses on Monica Appleby, famous reality television teen wild child, who wrote a bestselling tell-all memoir of her raucous and destructive formative years. She's alone, her closest friend having recently died and not having a relationship with her mother, and has returned to the town of Bishop, Arkansas to write her follow-up book, this time chronicling the events of her parents' tumultuous relationship and her father's subsequent death. Monica is all hard edges and walls, unwilling to make even casual connections with anyone.

Monica ignored Jackson as he slid into the booth across from her. First the Cracker dude and now Jackson. Good Lord, weren’t the headphones a giveaway? Did she need to make a Do Not Disturb sign? This was why she so rarely went to coffee shops to work, preferring her own company and her own music.

 

The mayor of Bishop is Jackson Davies, who dropped out of law school and returned to his hard-luck hometown to raise his younger sister, Gwen, after their parents were killed in a car accident. Jackson never wanted to make Bishop his home; the town is dying, with an empty factory gathering dust and many of the town's residents struggling in the blighted economy. His father was mayor of Bishop as well, and his goal at the town's leader is the turn the economy around, make sure his sister is safely away at college and then get out of town.

The Sly Subversiveness of Molly O'Keefe's Wild Child

Love Overdue by Pamela Morsi: Unevenness Defined

“D.J. considered herself some kind of an expert in compartmentalizing. It was undoubtedly a genetic trait. She’d shown early talent in boxing up every aspect of her life, careful never to taint any experience with another. Everything about life, the precious, the bitter, the uncertain, could be perfectly managed and excellently controlled if it was kept securely on its own.”

I read this one because another book by Morsi, The Lovesick Cure, was highly recommended to me, and was analyzed in-depth on Romance Novels for Feminists. So, of course, instead of reading that book, I read this random Morsi novel, Love Overdue, with one of those can't-resist-cute covers.

Yes, I am a sucker for those covers with the feet--don't judge me too harshly. 

While there were a number of elements that worked for me, particularly Morsi's writing--which is fast-paced and flows nicely, Love Overdue exemplifies the mixed bag, uneven novel, which are some of the hardest to write about. 

Read the rest --> 

Love Overdue by Pamela Morsi: Unevenness Defined

Review: Heart of Palm by Laura Lee Smith

Laura Lee Smith’s beautifully crafted novel, Heart of Palm is long, 449 pages, and each page illuminates the Bravo family, their home and Florida’s landscape. It captivated me with lovely language and beautiful storytelling. It’s alive, vibrant with a sense of  the people and place.

With each new twist in the novel, my admiration for Heart of Palm grew.

Heart of Palm brought me into the lives of the Bravo family, a family that at its core is like many families: difficult to define or understand, sometimes dysfunctional, yet complex with layers of love and hurt melding together. Its charm comes from characters and setting.

This is the Bravo family. Their world. Their uniqueness.

The Bravos live outside of St. Augustine, Florida in the fictional village of Utina. Their rickety and once-grand home, Aberdeen, stands along an intracoastal waterway that ebbs and flows to a slow southern rhythm. Named for the chief of the Utina tribe, the land of oaks and Spanish moss is enchantingly beautiful. Now it slowly slides into the 21st century with a culture solidly entrenched in the past. 

Real estate developers have no interest in the town’s colorful history. Instead, they have cast a hungry eye on the land, especially the Bravo’s: a marina, restaurants, Starbucks—ah, the endless possibilities to make money. The natural land must bend to progress as the moneyed class sees it. 

The plot develops less from this pull of money and more unfurls from the Bravo family, of how each has a secret that slowly unwinds toward resolution.

Review: Heart of Palm by Laura Lee Smith

Review: Viral Nation by Shaunta Grimes

Shaunta Grimes’ Viral Nation caught my eye earlier this year for a single reason: the cover.

The cover art depicts a teen girl, wearing very the very teen girl garb of jeans, a hoodie and Chuck Taylor sneakers, standing in the ruins of an urban landscape with an equally awesome-looking dog. 

Having suffered a mild case of Dystopian Burnout, like many readers I approach dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories with a bit of caution. However, Viral Nation is a creative, fresh entry into the crowded dystopian shelves--one that deserves much more attention than it’s received.

Viral Nation is set in a future version of Reno, Nevada. A catastrophic Ebola-like viral outbreak wiped out a large portion of the nation’s population, and the remaining citizens were moved into fifty walled cities across the country, where it’s easier to distribute the critical viral suppressant--discovered thanks to time travel--needed to prevent a future outbreak. 

Review: Viral Nation by Shaunta Grimes

Review: Shapeshifted (Edie Spence #3) by Cassie Alexander

I've been holding off on my review of the third installment of Cassie Alexander wonderfully unique Edie Spence series, as the farther along in a series one gets, the tougher it is to really talk book specifics without ruining the earlier novels.

So, please excuse the vagueness and generalities in my attempt to avoid being spoilerific.

 

Minor spoilers, which are also reference in the book's official summary, follow in this review. If you want to remain wholly unspoiled, read my review of the first novel in this series, Nightshifted.

I cannot express strongly enough how much I abhor being left behind. 

At the conclusion of Moonshifted, much of nurse Edie Spence's "normal" life was reset. The routine and community she'd developed--crazy though it was--fell apart and Shapeshifted finds her trying find a new place for herself in the wild, messy, complicated paranormal world she's embroiled in. This is made all the worst as Edie learns that her mother is terminally ill, and Edie is determined to utilize her, well, unusual, connections to save her.

As always, Edie's trying to go it alone, while also trying to save everyone.

Review: Shapeshifted (Edie Spence #3) by Cassie Alexander

Review: The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls

Jeannette Walls’ latest novel, The Silver Star, opens with Jean, AKA Bean, recounting the story of how her sister, Liz, saved her life when she was only an infant. Bean (aka Jean) and Liz are sisters, one twelve and the other fifteen, who have faced life as a team. They’ve always stuck together giving one another the stability that their mother did not or could not provide for them. When things got bad in one place, their mother would slide out of town in the dead of night taking her little girls with her.

Bean and Liz, one twelve and the other fifteen, are sisters who have faced life as a team. They’ve always stuck together giving one another the stability that their mother did not or could not provide for them. In one of their quick exits out of town, a problem arose because mom in her dash toward freedom, had stashed things in the trunk leaving her infant child in a carrier on the roof. Dash, rush, run - oops - she forgot the minor issue of said infant left in a carrier on top of the car. Three year old Liz begins screaming her baby sister’s name and pointing at the roof. It took a some time to communicate to the manic mother the state of affairs. She slammed on the brakes, the carrier slid onto the hood, baby’s strapped in, so no harm’s done. 

Their mother loved to tell the story. She thought it was hilarious. Neither child saw the humor. Mom’s version tilted itself in her favor, as always.
Mom was going through a rough period at the time of the near fatal incident. She had a lot on her mind -- craziness, craziness craziness, the girls would say when hearing the story time after time.

Like Half Broke Horses by the same author, The Silver Star is considered fiction, but draws heavily on Walls' own family. The first work of Walls I read was The Glass Castle. It’s the biographical account of her wildly eccentric family, one that defines disfunction. Her father dreamed of building glass castles for his family to live in while he traipsed from one town to the next with them in tow, often leaving under the cloak of night to avoid paying bills--they had no money, so escape was the quick solution while he wove tales of magical new opportunities that would surely appear soon.

 

Review: The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls