Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Idea of Him (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: The Idea of Him
Author: Holly Peterson
Publication Information: William Morrow, Trade Paperback, April 2014
Genre: Fiction verging on Chick Lit
Setting: 21st Century NYC
Plot: Chick lit used to refer to a genre of fiction involving sprightly single women experiencing the travails of love and a usually not too demanding career, surrounded by friends and family (in that order).  The genre expanded (perhaps as that first group of Bridget Jones readers aged, or perhaps because the industry needed some fresh plots) to include busy working women, with bland or troubled marriages, facing some kind of challenge, sometimes with the spouse.  Points/extra credit if the book is set in a vibrant city like New York or London, though I am partial to the quaint village backdrop which is a favorite of British authors such as KatieFforde.

Here, heroine Allie Crawford is an overcommitted mother of two, a public relations executive living on the Upper East Side with a gregarious husband, Wade, who runs a trendy magazine.   Soon we learn that Allie is defined by two things that predate her seemingly happy family life: the loss of her father in a plane crash when she was 16 and her belief that she missed out on the love of her life with her closest childhood friend, James.  From time to time she also longs to resurrect the writing career she abandoned to help support the family.  In the midst of all this angst, she makes an extremely unlikely friend and becomes involved in uncovering a mystery encompassing nearly all the men in her life.   Ultimately, Allie has to decide what she really wants and if she is obsessed with the idea of a man in her life, rather than any actual man.

Audience: Fans of Jane Heller, Olivia Goldsmith, and my fellow NNHS alumna Laura Zigman.  Bestselling author Holly Peterson worked in magazine publishing and was an award-winning producer for ABC News - she knows her audience and genre.  You can connect with Holly on Facebook or Twitter.
What I liked: Even the parts of this book that were extremely improbable were entertaining; the author’s writing style is amusing and ironic.  I thought the book worked best when describing Allie’s job and acquaintances, rather than dwelling on her ongoing self pity.  I liked the screenwriting class she took, with an absurd teacher, and didn’t object to the appearance of a handsome male character turning up just when Allie’s ego needed boosting (alas, there are always more attractive single men in NYC fiction than in real life).  In some ways, Allie’s NYC life was not very different from many of my friends and neighbors when I lived on East 89th Street.  Overall, The Idea of Him is a fun read with plenty of humor to offset the somber moments.   I enjoyed Peterson’s previous book, The Manny, and recommend this one also as a fast and pleasant read.

What I disliked:  Allie spends a lot of time whining instead of doing anything, and leans on others too much.   Luckily, the author agreed with me and addressed this issue - in fact, you could say it's the theme of the book! 

Source:  I received this book from TLC Book Tours, and invite you to visit other stops on the tour below for other perspectives on The Idea of Him.   In addition, the publisher has generously provided a copy of the book for me to give away along with the candle pictured above.  Please leave a comment about your favorite book set in NYC if you are interested.

Holly’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, April 1st: cupcake’s book cupboard - Review and Giveaway
Wednesday, April 2nd: Mom in Love With Fiction
Thursday, April 3rd: bookchickdi
Friday, April 4th: BookNAround
Monday, April 7th: Olduvai Reads
Wednesday, April 9th: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Thursday, April 10th: Always With a Book - Review and Giveaway
Monday, April 14th: Anita Loves Books - Review and Giveaway
Tuesday, April 15th: Luxury Reading - Review and Giveaway
Thursday, April 17th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Friday, April 18th: From L.A. to LA - Review and Giveaway
Monday, April 21st: The many thoughts of a reader
Tuesday, April 22nd: No More Grumpy Bookseller - Review and Giveaway
Wednesday, April 23rd: Teresa’s Reading Corner
Thursday, April 24th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, April 25th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews - Review and Giveaway
Monday, April 28th: Sara’s Organized Chaos - Review and Giveaway
Tuesday, April 29th: Book-alicious Mama (Q & A)
Tuesday, April 29th: Drey’s Library - Review and Giveaway
Wednesday, April 30th: Seaside Book Nook - Review and Giveaway

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Winter Siege (Book Review)

Publication Information: Electric Reads, 2013, trade paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction     
Setting:  17th Century England 
 Plot:  “...but pray tell me, are you for the King or for Parliament?”

1643. The armies of King Charles I and Parliament clash in the streets and fields of England, threatening to tear the country apart, as winter closes in around the parliamentary stronghold of Nantwich. The royalists have pillaged the town before, and now, they are returning. But even with weeks to prepare before the Civil War is once more at its gates, that doesn’t mean the people of Nantwich are safe.

While the garrison of soldiers commanded by Colonel George Booth stand guard, the town’s residents wait, eyeing the outside world with unease, unaware that they face a deadly threat from within. Townspeople are being murdered – the red sashes of the royalists left on the bodies marking them as traitors to the parliamentary cause.  When the first dead man is found, his skull caved in with a rock, fingers start being pointed, and old hatreds rise to the surface. It falls to Constable Daniel Cheswis to contain the bloodshed, deputizing his friend, Alexander Clowes, to help him in his investigations, carried out with the eyes of both armies on his back. And they are not the only ones watching him.

He is surrounded by enemies, and between preparing for the imminent battle, watching over his family, being reunited with his long-lost sweetheart, and trying, somehow, to stay in business, he barely has time to solve a murder.  With few clues and the constant distraction of war, can Cheswis protect the people of Nantwich? And which among them need protecting? Whether they are old friends or troubled family, in these treacherous times, everyone’s a traitor, in war, law, or love.

When the Winter Siege is through, who will be among the bodies?

Audience: Fans of historical mysteries by authors like Sharon Kay Penman  (like me, an alumna of Rutgers Law School) and Ariana Franklin.
Charles I
What I liked: I enjoyed the author’s recreation of the town of Nantwich, familiar to anyone who has read as much as I about the English Civil War, but Bradbridge vividly depicts the everyday aspect of town in a way I had not encountered before.  I particularly liked the descriptions of Cheswis’ cheese business and his friendships with other merchants and townspeople.   I also appreciated the way the Royalists and the Roundheads interact throughout book – some authors ignore the fact that there were periods of time without any battle when people from different sides had to get along.  American readers more familiar with our own War Between the States will get a good understanding of the issues in the English Civil War.

What I disliked:  Cheswis is a pleasant character and the story moved along well, but I wished the mystery had been compelling.  I had a hard time keeping track of the characters at first and finally made a list.  I would have recommended that the author hire a professional copyeditor so as to avoid a grammatical error like that on page 24 (“it was made clear to Sawyer and I”) and the frequent use of “alright” which I dislike.  However, the author’s passion for history shines through and keeps the reader interested.
Source: I received this book from the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and urge you to stop by the tour to learn more about the author and see what others have to say about it.   

Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Monday, April 7-Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, April 8-Review at Must Read Faster

Friday, April 11-Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews

Monday, April 14-Review at Princess of Eboli

Wednesday, April 16-Review at Caroline Wilson Writes
-Interview at Layered Pages

Thursday, April 17-Interview at MK McClintock Blog
-Review & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick

Friday, April 18Review at bookramblings
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Common Ground (A Pictorial Review)

When David Scheper, former Harvard center turned attorney, was in Boston recently, he told me Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas, was one of his favorite books, and asked me to describe how the Boston neighborhoods depicted in that book geographically relate to the parts of Boston with which he is more familiar.  Common Ground, a Turbulent Decade in theLives of Three American Families, won the Pulitzer in 1986 for its memorable depiction of three Boston families from very different backgrounds experiencing Boston school desegregation in the 1960s and 1970s.   My father, having worked with legendary judge W. Arthur Garrity in the U.S. Attorney’s Office (who later issued the decision that mandated school busing), was one of the first people Tony Lukas interviewed for the book, and I am very familiar with it.
I started by drawing the Boston neighborhoods on a napkin, starting in Allston with Harvard’s football stadium and basketball’s Lavietes Pavilion, where we had just attended a game.   I added Brighton, where I lived as a child, then added my current neighborhood, near the southwest city limits.   I sketched in the three neighborhoods which Lukas focused on in his narrative, and the next day I found myself giving an actual Common Ground tour.  Having lent my copy to a law firm colleague who never returned it, I borrowed one from my parents, which has lovely map endpapers. 
West Newton Street in Boston's South End
We started in the South End, where the first family profiled, the Divers, resided in a neighborhood that was then just beginning its gentrification and is now extremely trendy and expensive.  Colin Diver was an Amherst College and HLS educated assistant to then Mayor Kevin White.   He later became the president of Reed College.  Like many well educated Bostonians, he and his wife were torn about whether to send their children to city schools or to move to the suburbs.   We found 118 West Newton Street where the Divers had bought a townhouse for $27,000 in 1970 (I assume it would be more than a million dollars now).
View up to the Monument
Next we drove to Charlestown, the oldest neighborhood in Boston and one of the prettiest.   Although it has nothing to do with the book, I had always wanted to climb to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, so we made a brief detour (what is known in the legal world as a frolic).  The Battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775) received its name because it took place nearby, and Dr. Joseph Warren, a noted doctor and Patriot (who attended Roxbury Latin like my father and brother) was killed in combat when the British stormed Breed's Hill where the battle took place.  Dr. Warren is honored on the ground floor of the Monument.   The British won but suffered great loss of men and the Colonists gained confidence for the future.

Dr. Joseph Warren, Harvard Class of 1759
David and Constance

The infamous Charlestown High School faces Monument Square.  The housing project where the second family lived, the white Irish-Catholic McGoffs, is a few blocks away.   It does not appear to have changed much in the intervening years, although Charlestown itself is a neighborhood that has moved in two directions with a poor section and affluent young professionals.   The original high school, dedicated in 1848, had been replaced by a neo-classical building in 1907 which was attractive on the outside, and in recent years was converted to expensive condos (a 1427 square foot corner unit is currently on the market for $849K).
Old Charlestown High School
The third family, the African-American Twymons, lived in Dorchester.  By the time we reached their former street, it was raining which added to the lurking depression of the neighborhood.  A few teens were playing basketball but the other people hanging around outside did not look welcoming.  We weren’t sure which house was correct and decided against lingering but David gamely posed, having previously phoned his wife in California to warn her he was heading to a dangerous part of town.  “Then I’m glad you called to say goodbye,” replied the imperturbable Barbara.
Near the McGoffs' Building in the Charlestown projects
I remember my mother explaining to me as a child that the bigots in South Boston who threw rocks at school buses didn’t even realize that the schools in their neighborhood weren’t any good either and that they should be fighting for better standards, not targeting innocent children.   She also believes that if Richard, Cardinal Cushing (best known outside Boston as the priest who officiated at President Kennedy's wedding and his funeral), a member of the NAACP, had not died in 1970, he would have ridden the school buses with the African-American children bused to Southie and no one would have dared throw a rock.  His successor, Cardinal Medeiros, did his best, condemning the violence and bigotry but he was not liked by the Irish Catholics of Boston, who ignored him.
This Dorchester building on the Twymons' block looks better in the photo than in real life
The book examined how desegregation divided the city of Boston, and how these three families shared a common goal of wanting a good education for their children, and how frustrated all of them were by the court ordered busing and the disruptive fallout.  Lukas interviewed many families before finding three that were willing to share, not just their stories but their sociological perspectives: one white and upper middle class, one white working class, and one African-American working class.   The McGoff and Twymon daughters wound up being classmates at Charlestown High School, both from large families headed by a very assertive mother.    In fact, Alice McGoff was a vocal leader of the anti-busing movement.   The hardest parts of the book for me were reading the descriptions of the Twymon family’s struggles as the matriarch, Rachel Twymon, lost control over of her children and her heartbreak resulting from their destructive behavior.  Her passionate belief in education couldn’t help preserve her family or improve their lives.  For those reading the book, Lukas created a panoramic glimpse of the history of Boston and the way urban education fails many of those enrolled, including those who most need it. 
There were quite a few menacing guys loitering and the police were not taking notice - in fact, were nowhere to be seen.  We did not linger.
It was a great excursion, and is now part of my literary tour lexicon.  Happy Birthday, David!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bellagrand (Book Review)

Title: Bellagrand       
Author: Paullina Simons
Publication: William Morrow, hardcover, March 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction   Setting: 20th century
Plot:  Bellagrand is a sequel to Sons of Liberty (which might be a better starting point for new readers than this book) and written as a backstory to Simons’ bestselling trilogy, which begins with The Bronze Horseman.  In Sons of Liberty, blueblood and Harvard educated Harry Barrington met a beautiful Italian immigrant, Gina Attaviano.  They eloped prior to Bellagrand and, disowned by his wealthy Brahmin family and unable to hold a job, Harry continues and escalates his involvement in radical politics while Gina takes on the most menial jobs to support him and her infirm mother.  Gina’s worry about Harry’s incendiary ideas and companions is made worse by her longing for a child.  Ultimately, she and Harry share a bond that survives through passion, betrayal and heartbreak.

Audience: Fans of historical fiction authors such as Adriana Trigiani, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Jennifer Niven,  and Judith Lennox.

What I liked: My favorite parts were those set in Lawrence (I was there just a few weeks ago), where Harry and Gina live as newlyweds with her mother, and in Boston where her brother Salvo works.  I enjoyed the descriptions of the tight knit Italian communities in Boston’s North End and the labor disputes in the Lawrence mills (having represented one of the few modern day leftovers, Polartec, this was especially poignant).  The author played with Boston readers a bit when she has Gina’s brother get a job in the molasses factory in the North End (“No, no, no,” I muttered to myself).  There are intriguing scenes set in Concord, MA, one of my favorite places, where Gina volunteers with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s daughter, Rose.

I am partial to historical fiction with Russian settings or characters, such as my all time favorites, Masha and The Youngest Lady in Waiting by Mara Kay, so I will return to Simons' books in the future.  If you also enjoy this setting, here is a list of historical fiction set in Russia.
What I disliked: Harry was a very unsympathetic character, and Gina enables his behavior by staying with him, which made their story somewhat dark and depressing.  However, most contemporary characters would have expected nothing less of her because marriage was supposed to be forever.  Admittedly, because Gina and Harry were not married in the Catholic church, she was no longer a practicing Catholic and not bound by Catholic doctrine that forbade divorce.  However, the author makes clear that Gina remains influenced by her religious upbringing, which modern readers may not understand.   One thing that surprised me was her crossing herself whenever anyone uttered the words, “Our father;” I had never heard of that particular Catholic tradition.

About the Author:  Paullina Simons is the author of the acclaimed novels Tully, Red Leaves, Eleven Hours, and The Bronze Horseman. Born and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia, she graduated from the University of Kansas (Rock Chalk, Jayhawk), and has lived in Rome, London, and Dallas.  Find out more about Paullina at her website, follow her on Twitter and connect with her on Facebook.
Source: I received this book from TLC Book Tours and urge you to stop by the tour to learn how this book fits into the story of Alexander Belov - not the Soviet basketball player!   

Bellagrand Tour Stops

Tuesday, March 25th: Ageless Pages Reviews
Wednesday, March 26th: Always With a Book
Thursday, March 27th: Dwell in Possibility
Monday, March 31st: Becca Rowan
Wednesday, April 2nd: Patricia’s Wisdom
Thursday, April 3rd: Spiced Latte Reads
Monday, April 7th: The Most Happy Reader
Tuesday, April 8th: Italian Brat’s Obsessions
Wednesday, April 9th: Historical Tapestry
Thursday, April 10th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Someone is Watching

My younger sister gets an email from the school library every time her six year old checks out a book.  This would have infuriated me as a child because I liked reading books adults often thought were too old for me.   I remember three specific incidents:  in third grade I was reading The Fellowship of the Ring, and although my mother had read The Hobbit to my middle sister and me I suspected she might think this book was too scary or over my head[1] so I kept it tucked in my desk drawer with a red felt pen I used to write down an occasional vocabulary word.  On Teacher’s Night, Mrs. Freilich[2] exposed my secret to my parents!  I think my mother was amused and my father reclaimed his pen (which were apparently banned at school, although no one had told me) but I certainly never trusted her again.

The next year my parents were duly waiting their turn behind a husband and wife they knew very slightly.  These people were complaining that someone in the class had given their daughter an extremely unsuitable book.   Somehow my mother guessed it was me and waited apprehensively to see what it had been. Then Miss Barnes said audibly, “Maybe Suzanne wasn’t quite ready for The Secret Garden but it is a lovely book she will enjoy some day.”   See, I was just helping her improve her mind!   Miss Barnes and I did not always see eye to eye but she read aloud often and introduced me to some wonderful books:  On to Oregon, The Black Stallion, and The Phantom Tollbooth (this latter became such a favorite I chose it to giveaway in World Book Night last year.
Later, in seventh grade, at a new school where the library contained little new fiction but was full of Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and religious-themed books like Miracle at Carville, I discovered Anya Seton and became entranced by her masterpiece, Katherine.   I must not have been very good at concealment because, thinking the book was very racy based on the cover, I hid it under my pillow where my mother, innocently changing the sheets, found it.  I came into my room to find her curled up with John of Gaunt, and she happily told me she had read that book the year she finished high school when it was serialized by the Ladies Home Journal.   The only remonstrations I ever got from her regarding my choice of books was her desire that I would not race through an author too quickly, denying myself the pleasure of anticipating a delightful read. 

[1] My mother would not have been totally wrong.  I had read Carolyn Haywood’s book, Primrose Day, the previous year, which features an English girl named Merry (and inspired my interest in evacuation stories).  As a result, I thought Tolkien’s hobbit Merry was a female hobbit.  There were plenty of male possessive pronouns but I airily dismissed those as typos and wondered about a possible romance between Merry and Pippin for some time.   I paused in my reading when Gandalf fell in the Mines of Moira and did not return to the Lord of the Rings until I turned 11 or 12.

[2] She already had a conflict of interest issue that had been unaddressed.  She had previously taught the other first grade section and one of her students, Laura Rabinowitz, who later attended Brown, was a flower girl at her wedding.  Fourteen months later, Mrs. Freilich began to teach third grade and Laura was in our class!  Favoritism resulted.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Accident (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: The Accident
Author: Chris Pavone
Publication Information: Crown Publishers, Hardcover, 2014
Genre: Suspense 
Plot: When New York literary agent Isabel Reed receives the manuscript of a potentially bestselling book, it causes incredible danger for anyone who reads it because it reveals a damaging secret of a powerful media mogul.  For Isabel, in addition to fearing for her life and those she has involved, an added element is that she guesses the identity of the anonymous author.  A CIA operative is leading a covert operation extending from Copenhagen to the US to prevent the manuscript from ever being published, and he will let nothing stop him from burying the true story of the long-ago accident.

Audience: Fans of DavidBaldacci, Owen Laukkanen, and Joseph Finder.

What I liked: I had read reviews of Pavone’s first book, The Expats, and kept meaning to pick it up.   I was pleased to get the opportunity to read his second book, which is set in the back-biting media world of the 21st century and is getting just as much praise.   Having worked for NYC publishers for 17 years, I particularly enjoyed the publishing setting, which was perfectly drawn and set the book apart from ordinary thrillers  – my two favorite parts were 1) when the Subsidiary Rights Director helped herself to the anonymous manuscript and 2) the description of an editor’s joy when his lunch date cancels.  As the action picked up, interrupted by flashbacks to the fatal night of the accident, even the slightest characters played an important part in a startling resolution.  I look forward to sharing this with my Book Group, as it is a very different genre from our usual fiction.  And I plan to go back to the Expats to read about my favorite character, Kate.

What I disliked:  I found the pace slow, especially at the beginning, when seemingly unconnected elements were being set up for the reader.  I also found the author’s use of the present tense somewhat distracting, although it was probably meant to add to the sense of urgency.

Source: I received this book from TLC Book Tours and urge you to stop by the tour to see what other bloggers have been saying about The Accident:

Chris Pavone’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, March 3rd:  No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, March 3rd:  Drey’s Library
Monday, March 3rd:  Why Girls are Weird
Wednesday, March 5th:  A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, March 6th:  Bookish Ardour
Friday, March 7th:  She Treads Softly
Monday, March 10th:  Joyfully Retired
Tuesday, March 11th:  Bound by Words
Tuesday, March 11th:  Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Tuesday, March 11th:  Kritter’s Ramblings
Wednesday, March 12th:  Book Dilettante
Friday, March 14th:  River City Reading
Tuesday, March 18th:  Bookchickdi
Wednesday, March 19th:  Book-alicious Mama
Thursday, March 20th:  Chaotic Compendiums
Friday, March 21st:  Not in Jersey
Monday, March 24th:  A Bookworm’s World
Tuesday, March 25th:  Reading Reality
Wednesday, March 26th:  Bibliotica
Thursday, March 27th:  Ageless Pages Reviews
Friday, March 28th:  Patricia’s Wisdom

Giveaway:  I have a book to give away (US only) – if interested, post a comment telling me your favorite suspense writer, and I will pick a winner in April.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!