Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Julie's Review: The Lake House

Author: Kate Morton
Series: None
Publication Date: October 20, 2015
Publisher: Atria
Pages: 598
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Bottom Line: A mystery that shows what secrets can do to families
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Summary: Living on her family’s idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, innocent, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories. But the mysteries she pens are no match for the one her family is about to endure… One midsummer’s eve, after a beautiful party drawing hundreds of guests to the estate has ended, the Edevanes discover that their youngest child, eleven-month-old Theo, has vanished without a trace. What follows is a tragedy that tears the family apart in ways they never imagined. Decades later, Alice is living in London, having enjoyed a long successful career as an author. Theo’s case has never been solved, though Alice still harbors a suspicion as to the culprit. Miles away, Sadie Sparrow, a young detective in the London police force, is staying at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall. While out walking one day, she stumbles upon the old estate—now crumbling and covered with vines, clearly abandoned long ago. Her curiosity is sparked, setting off a series of events that will bring her and Alice together and reveal shocking truths about a past long gone...yet more present than ever. A lush, atmospheric tale of intertwined destinies, this latest novel from a masterful storyteller is an enthralling, thoroughly satisfying read. ~amazon.com  

Review: I'm pretty sure that I've had this on pre-order for about 9 months; so you could easily say that she is one of my favorite authors.  The Lake House is another great mystery that spans over 70 years with a lot of family heartache and secrets. It isn't as goth as The Distant Hours but the setting is just as gorgeous and a bit mysterious.

Sadie Sparrow is a Detective who's on a leave of absence because a case got under her skin. She hasn't exactly told her grandfather the whole truth about why she's visiting him in Cornwall. She happens upon Loeanneth while out on a run. She's intrigued because it's crumbling and looks like time is standing still. The detective in her decides to start digging into the history. Along with the case that Sadie is licking her wounds for, there's something else going on with her too.

Alice Edevane is a successful author but lately the past has been creeping up on her. It doesn't help as her sister, Deborah is bringing up the past as well. Both harbor feelings of guilt but for very different reasons. Both think that they each have a part in their brother's disappearance. As we all know, things are never what they seem and it turns out that their parents were keeping a huge secret from them as well.

Both Sadie and Alice are interesting characters and career driven women. Both of them are haunted by something in their past and hold onto their guilt. They are both honest and this suits each of them well when they first meet.

I kind of figured out one of the plot twists early on but it was still interesting the way that Ms. Morton pulled it all together. She does do a great job of really leaning you towards one answer and then slowly reveals that it couldn't have gone the way that you initially thought.

Besides the mystery and her intricate way of weaving different story lines together, Ms. Morton always has a way of  making me want to book a trip to the countryside of England. I want to take a walk and come upon a deserted house with a history and a mystery. She makes even the simplest things seem magical.

If you've never read a Kate Morton book, you better get going because they are some of the best dual time-period books I've ever read and she's got a decent backlog going now.


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Monday, October 5, 2015

Julie's Review: The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs

Author: Matthew Dicks
Series: None
Publication Date: September 8, 2015
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 224
Obtained: publisher via SheReads.org
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: A gem of a novel
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Summary: Caroline Jacobs is a wimp, someone who specializes in the suffering of tiny indignities in silence. And the big ones, too. But when the twinset wearing president of the local Parent Teacher Organization steps out of line one too many times, Caroline musters the courage to assert herself. With a four-letter word, no less. Caroline's outburst has awakened something in her. Not just gumption, but a realization that the roots of her tirade can be traced back to something that happened to her as a teenager, when her best friend very publicly betrayed her. So, with a little bit of bravery, Caroline decides to go back to her home town and tell off her childhood friend. She busts her daughter out of school, and the two set off to deliver the perfect comeback . . . some twenty-five years later. But nothing goes as planned. Long buried secrets rise to the surface, and Caroline finds she has to face much more than one old, bad best friend. THE PERFECT COMEBACK OF CAROLINE JACOBS is an enchanting novel about the ways in which our childhood experiences reverberate through our lives. It's the story of a woman looking to fix her life through an act of bravery, and of a mother and daughter learning to understand one another. Deceptively simple and highly engaging, this latest novel by Matthew Dicks is perfect for those of us who were last to be picked at sports, and for everyone who is thrilled not to be in high school any more. ~amazon.com  

Review: The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs is one heck of a small book. Everyone has that one person that they would love to give a piece of her mind or exact revenge on. If someone comes to your mind immediately, then you really need to pick up this novel. You really will breeze through it. As a woman of a certain age, I definitely identified with Caroline. We might have different personalities but I can see how life might have worn her down. She was betrayed by her best friend in high school and never fully got over it. It hasn't effected her day to day life but a bit of her broke that day in the cafeteria.

We all have a moment that we wish our reaction could have been different. Something snapped when Caroline had to go to school to pick up her daughter, Polly, for decking a girl in class. She decides to go on an impromptu road trip back with her teen daughter in town. It is probably one of the most honest conversations they've had in a long time. Caroline decides to tell Polly what happened to her as a teen and by opening up to her, Polly tells her about her own struggles.

As parents, we can often forget what kids/teens struggle with because we are wrapped up in being a parent. Kids never want to believe their parents went through similar struggles because "it's different". Plans never go as planned though right? So while Caroline has it all scripted in her head, her confrontation with Emily isn't exactly what she expected but maybe it's what she needed. Maybe just the idea of confrontation was all the therapy that Caroline needed.

There's also another thing that has been bothering Caroline for all these years, her sister Lucy's death. She has to reconcile what happened that day with her guilt. She also needs to repair her relationship with her mom but I think that might need a book of it's own. It is intriguing that her seeking revenge on Emily, her former BFF, has her also dealing with a time when she didn't exactly act the correct way either. It's a yin and yang she's got going on. I loved this novel. It's not very long but it's a gem. It is so powerful in an unassuming way.

I love the way Caroline and Polly are on two different ends of the earth when the book starts but end up being a lot closer. Is their relationship all the way healed? Of course not, but it's a lot better than it was and will continue to get better. We leave them where they have a better understanding of each other and themselves.

Do yourself a favor and pick up The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, you will have it read in less than 24 hours.


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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Julie's Book Challenge: 15 in 31

 photo 15in31_zps6xk61pc5.jpg So, while I don't know if I really will get to 15 books this month, I'm certainly going to try. It seems like lately I've been cruising through books lately, so I'm hoping that will keep up for this challenge.

Thanks Andi for being inspired to do this and that I saw her tweet. So far, these are the books that I've pulled off my shelves plus also the ones that are still on my nightstand. Maybe I can even read a few more if I get through these.



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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Julie's Review: All The Stars in the Heavens

Author: Adriana Trigiani
Series: None
Publication Date: October 13, 2015
Publisher: Harper
Pages: 464
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Bottom Line: Nothing like old school Hollywood to bring a little romance back
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Summary: Born in the golden age of Hollywood, All the Stars in the Heavens captures the luster, drama, power, and secrets that could only thrive in the studio system—viewed through the lives of an unforgettable cast of players creating magic on the screen and behind the scenes. In this spectacular saga as radiant, thrilling, and beguiling as Hollywood itself, Adriana Trigiani takes us back to Tinsel Town's golden age—an era as brutal as it was resplendent—and into the complex and glamorous world of a young actress hungry for fame and success. With meticulous, beautiful detail, Trigiani paints a rich, historical landscape of 1930s Los Angeles, where European and American artisans flocked to pursue the ultimate dream: to tell stories on the silver screen. The movie business is booming in 1935 when twenty-one-year-old Loretta Young meets thirty-four-year-old Clark Gable on the set of The Call of the Wild. Though he's already married, Gable falls for the stunning and vivacious young actress instantly. Far from the glittering lights of Hollywood, Sister Alda Ducci has been forced to leave her convent and begin a new journey that leads her to Loretta. Becoming Miss Young's secretary, the innocent and pious young Alda must navigate the wild terrain of Hollywood with fierce determination and a moral code that derives from her Italian roots. Over the course of decades, she and Loretta encounter scandal and adventure, choose love and passion, and forge an enduring bond of love and loyalty that will be put to the test when they eventually face the greatest obstacle of their lives. Anchored by Trigiani's masterful storytelling that takes you on a worldwide ride of adventure from Hollywood to the shores of southern Italy, this mesmerizing epic is, at its heart, a luminous tale of the most cherished ties that bind. Brimming with larger-than-life characters both real and fictional—including stars Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy, David Niven, Hattie McDaniel and more—it is it is the unforgettable story of one of cinema's greatest love affairs during the golden age of American movie making. ~amazon.com

Review: All the Stars in the Heavens is so easy to get swept up in. It is the time period of Hollywood that everyone refers to as the "Golden Age" and it's easy to see why. It is glitz and glamour but it's also heartbreak and heartache. It's also when the stars were tied to one studio which meant they were limited to what movies/roles they could get attached too.

It is quite apparent from a little google searching that I had to do while reading this book, that Ms. Trigiani did her research. Sometimes real life is more fascinating than anything a writer can dream up. That's probably why I do find historical fiction one of my favorite genres. Loretta Young was quite the character. She was young when she started in the business and her mom invested in real estate for her, which served her well later in life. She also knew her time in front of the camera was limited, so she tried her best to prepare for that.

Everyone knows who Clark Gable was but I never knew much about his personal life. To me, he was and pretty much always will be, Rhett Butler. It is evident he was quite the ladies man and didn't really know how to be with one woman. He was a man in love with love. He loved the feeling of finding out all the new things about someone but was never one around for the long haul.

It seems pretty easy to fall in love on set, especially when you are acting like you are in love. It's easy to believe it when you are playing it 12 hours a day. Back in the 30s it wasn't normal to go on location to film a movie, so when the file Call of the Wild was filmed in Washington state, it meant a lot of cold nights and long days being together for Clark and Loretta. Needless to say, what happens next isn't a big surprise.

In fact, none of the book is a surprise but it is tantalizing and romantic. It is easy to be transported back to the 1930s and pretend you are the one observing the rise and fall of the romance between Clark and Loretta. Everyone likes a good romance even if it doesn't always have a fairy tale ending.

If you are interested in the 1930s Hollywood, then you should definitely pick up All the Stars in the Heavens. If you have an afternoon you will find yourself not wanting to put the novel down.


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Monday, September 28, 2015

Alice's Review: Otherwise Engaged

Author: Amanda Quick
Series: None
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Pages: 352
Obtained: Purchased
Genre:  Historical Romance
Rating: 4
Bottom Line: A mysterious romp.
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Summary:  Miss Amity Doncaster, world traveler, is accustomed to adventure and risk. Benedict Stanbridge, a man of science and a spy for the Crown, has faced danger in the darker corners of foreign lands. Now they are about to face a threat that is shockingly close to home…One does not expect to be kidnapped on a London street in broad daylight. Yet Amity Doncaster barely escapes with her life after she is trapped in a carriage with the killer known in the press as the Bridegroom. He is unwholesomely obsessed by her scandalous connection to Benedict Stanbridge—gossip about their hours alone in a ships stateroom seems to have crossed the Atlantic faster than any sailing vessel could. Benedict refuses to let this resourceful, daring woman suffer for her romantic link to him—as tenuous as it may be.  For a man and woman so skilled at disappearing, so at home in the exotic reaches of the globe, escape is always an option. But each intends to end the Bridegrooms reign of terror in London. And as they join forces and prepare to confront an unbalanced criminal in the heart of the city they love, they must also face feelings that neither can run from…

Review: Earlier this month, I sailed the Seven Seas on a wonderful cruise vacation.  Although I have stacks of books to read, nothing in my TBR pile sang to me.  In my late teens and early twenties, I was a avid Historical Romance reader.  I loved getting swept away by a dashing hero just as much as the damsel in distress did.  As I got older, I realized women seriously need to save themselves.  A knight in shining armor won't save you, you need to do that on your own.  And just like that, my love of Historical Romance was gone.

I picked Otherwise Engaged on a whim because I wanted something light and fun, and I remembered how much I loved Amanda Quick.  Plus, it starts off with Amity on a cruise vacation in the Caribbean.  I thought it was a good sign, and man was I right.  I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was entertaining and the perfect thing to read poolside. It had plenty of action and mystery and a good dose of romance.  Amity was a free-spirit, independent.  She knew how to save herself and I loved that about her.  Benedict was an unexpected hero. He wasn't what I anticipated at all.  Usually the heroes are strong and fierce, doers not thinkers. Benedict was a good combination of the two.  In the end, I like to think that they saved each other.

I also enjoyed the side story of Penny and Inspector Logan.  I wished more than once that Amanda Quick would have written a novel staring these two.

I enjoyed the mystery surrounding Otherwise Engaged until the very end.  The conclusion was wrapped up in a neat little package, a little too coincidental for my liking.  Some aspects didn't make total sense to me, it was forced. Odd.  That was the only flaw in an otherwise delightful love story.

This novel renewed my love of Historical Romance.  Amanda Quick has not lost her touch of writing memorable characters, especially heroines. She keeps the romance classy and well, romantic.  That says a lot in the post Fifty Shades of Grey age.  If you are looking for something sweet and exciting, I recommend this.  I'm looking forward to picking up a few more of her novels.


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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Julie's Review: Who Do You Love

Author: Jennifer Weiner
Series: None
Publication Date: August 11, 2015
Publisher: Atria
Pages: 400
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: A beautiful love story
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Summary: An unforgettable story about true love, real life, and second chances… Rachel Blum and Andy Landis are just eight years old when they meet one night in an ER waiting room. Born with a congenital heart defect, Rachel is a veteran of hospitals, and she’s intrigued by the boy who shows up alone with a broken arm. He tells her his name. She tells him a story. After Andy’s taken back to a doctor and Rachel’s sent back to her bed, they think they’ll never see each other again. Rachel grows up in an affluent Florida suburb, the popular and protected daughter of two doting parents. Andy grows up poor in Philadelphia with a single mom and a rare talent for running. Yet, over the next three decades, Andy and Rachel will meet again and again—linked by chance, history, and the memory of the first time they met, a night that changed the course of both of their lives. A sweeping, warmhearted, and intimate tale, Who Do You Love is an extraordinary novel about the passage of time, the way people change and change each other, and how the measure of a life is who you love. ~amazon.com 

Review: Who Do You Love is another wonderful novel by Jennifer Weiner. Seriously, she never ceases to amaze me. What could resonate with most people than first love. Even though most first loves end up breaking your heart, they do always hold a special place there. Rachel and Andy meet in when they are 8 when Rachel is recovering from heart surgery and Andy is in for a broken arm. Rachel charms him with a retelling of Hansel and Gretel.

As the novel progresses Andy and Rachel find each other again in their early teens and their quick friendship turns to romance. It is evident that they have something special. You could easily dismiss it as first/puppy love but they seem to have an understanding of each other that is hard to find even as an adult.  First love is never easy but even more so with the distance between them but somehow Andy and Rachel fight through it.

It's not that you don't know how it will end, it's that you want to know how they figure it out and how they find each other again. It is pretty much how life would work, which is why this novel is so absorbing.

Honestly who doesn't remember their first love? Sure it probably broke our heart but we do remember it fondly. This is why Who Do You Love sucks you in as a reader. What if our first love turned out to be our lifelong love? You root for Rachel and Andy because they are the couple you know deserve to be together. Sure at times you want to smack them but most of the time you just want them to figure it out.

Jennifer Weiner has a wonderful novel here and it might be her most personal novel yet. 
I will say that there is a lot of sex in the novel and that did surprise me a bit but it isn't gratuitous. If you haven't read Jennifer Weiner, why not? If you need to start somewhere, this is a great novel to start with but you have to read her backlist.


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Monday, September 21, 2015

Julie's Review: The Last September

Author: Nina De Gramont
Series: None
Publication Date: September 15, 2015
Publisher: Algonquin
Pages: 320
Obtained: publisher via SheReads.org
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Mystery
Rating: 4.75/5.0
Bottom Line: The ties that bind us can tear us apart
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Summary: “When I look back now, it hurtles toward us like a meteor. But at the time we were too wrapped up in our day-to-day life to see it. Charlie and I lived in a borrowed house by the ocean. Our daughter, Sarah, was fifteen months old. September had just arrived, emptying the beaches at the very moment they became most spectacular.” Brett has been in love with Charlie ever since he took her skiing on a lovely Colorado night fourteen years ago. And now, living in a seaside cottage on Cape Cod with their young daughter, it looks as if they have settled into the life they desired. However, Brett and Charlie’s marriage has been tenuous for quite some time. When Charlie’s unstable younger brother plans to move in with them, the tension simmering under the surface of their marriage boils over. But what happened to Charlie next was unfathomable. Charlie was the golden boy so charismatic that he charmed everyone who crossed his path; who never shied away from a challenge; who saw life as one big adventure; who could always rescue his troubled brother, no matter how unpredictable the situation. So who is to blame for the tragic turn of events? And why does Brett feel responsible? Set against the desolate autumn beauty of Cape Cod, The Last September is a riveting emotional puzzle that takes readers inside the psyche of a woman facing the meaning of love and loyalty. ~amazon.com  

Review: The Last September is the study of human relationships and how we do weave some webs in our lives. We all know that in some relationships someone is more in love with their partner than the other. That person then has the power in the relationship. This was Brett and Charlie's relationship. Every since she met Charlie, Brett was head over heels in love. Never mind the fact that Charlie is her best friend, Eli's, brother and the complications that brings. For the longest time, that love was unrequited for Brett.

I think the most likable character in the book was probably, Daniel. He was solid and even-keeled. He was the rock for many of the characters in the novel. He was the person who stepped in to help Eli, when no one else would. Eli, is the most sympathetic character but based on what we know, the most suspicious. Could he harm Charlie? What would have set him off to destroy lives in an instant? Brett can't believe that it was Eli but yet all her evidence points to him.

 I wouldn't say that Brett and Charlie were the easiest people to like. Brett is intelligent but yet she had always had blinders on when it came to Charlie. The sun rose and set with him in her eyes. She even called off an engagement to be with him without any promise of a future. As far as Charlie was concerned, he was a charmer without any direction in life. He was quite happy riding the tailcoat of Brett but unfortunately there wasn't much to hold onto. Sometimes these personalities can compliment each other but in the case it really was oil and vinegar.

Ms. De Gramont knows how to build a story. Each chapter contained nuggets to move the story along. Just when you think that you have it all figured out, she shines a light on something you didn't consider, something that makes you question your thought process for the whole novel.

The Last September is an examination of how we see others and of how they might see us. It is a slow burning novel that keeps you guessing until the end. For those who like novels that focus on relationships with some mystery, then you shouldn't miss out on this one.


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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Jenn's Review: The Book of Life

Author: Deborah Harkness
Series: All Souls Trilogy #3
Publication Date: July 15, 2014
Publisher: Viking Adult
Pages: 561
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  contempory paranormal
Rating: 4.0
Bottom Line: Captivating
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 Blurb:  After traveling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s enchanting series, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches--with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency. In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.   

Review:  This is the final book in the trilogy and I have been looking forward to it for a long time.  Perhaps too long a time.  I wish I had had time to go back and read the first two books again -or even listen to them as audio books (but the library doesn't have them on tape)- because I think that would have helped to reconnect to the story.

For me the first book in this trilogy, A Discovery of Witches, was spectacular.  The second, Shadow of Night, though cumbersome was really intriguing.  The Book of Life is a good solid finish to the series, but nothing is as stellar as the first book.   Deborah Harkness has a fluid style that pulls you in as a reader.  I loved how things from the last book came into the third book as the travel to the past affected the future.  Some of the major plot points were resolved and tied up neatly however there were so many things I wanted to know more about.  I felt like The Book was never properly explained.  I hated how things ended with certain characters... especially Gallowglass.  I was not satisfied with the conclusion on Blood Rage especially with all the time spent researching it.  While I enjoyed the read, I ended up with a bit of a "that's it?" feeling at the end.  

That being said, I think the All Souls Trilogy is worth the read.  The first two books outshine the last book, but it's still a fantastic story.  Will I read Deborah Harkness again?  You bet.


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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Julie's Review: Tiny Little Thing

Author: Beatriz Williams
Series: Schuyler Sisters #2
Publication Date: June 23, 2015
Publisher: G.P. Putnam
Pages: 368
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.75/5.0
Bottom Line: Good girls can have a reckless side too
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Summary: In the summer of 1966, Christina Hardcastle—“Tiny” to her illustrious family—stands on the brink of a breathtaking future. Of the three Schuyler sisters, shes the one raised to marry a man destined for leadership, and with her elegance and impeccable style, she presents a perfect camera-ready image in the dawning age of television politics. Together she and her husband, Frank, make the ultimate power couple: intelligent, rich, and impossibly attractive. It seems nothing can stop Frank from rising to national office, and hes got his sights set on a senate seat in November. But as the season gets underway at the family estate on Cape Cod, three unwelcome visitors appear in Tinys perfect life: her volatile sister Pepper, an envelope containing incriminating photograph, and the intimidating figure of Franks cousin Vietnam-war hero Caspian, who knows more about Tinys rich inner life than anyone else. As she struggles to maintain the glossy façade on which the Hardcastle familys ambitions are built, Tiny begins to suspect that Frank is hiding a reckless entanglement of his own…one that may unravel both her own ordered life and her husbands promising career. ~powells.com

 Review: Tiny Little Thing is about the oldest Schuyler sister, Tiny, who has always been the one destined for greatness. Her mother pinned her success on Tiny. Except Tiny isn't so good and is hiding a secret. Also, just when her husband's career is starting to heat up, her past is coming back to haunt her. Some one has some delicate pictures of Tiny and is blackmailing her to keep quiet.

Tiny is an interesting but timid character in the beginning of the novel. It isn't until she finally figures out what she wants that she becomes a woman of her own mind. It also doesn't hurt that her husband also pushed her easily to the decision. Although unraveling herself from the Hardcastle family won't be easy. It is really unreal what her father in law will go to to keep Tiny on the path that they need her on. Once again it proves to me that money and power make people crazy.

I love how we get to see the other two Schuyler sisters through Tiny's eyes. It's always interesting to see a character that you got attached to through other characters that were on the peripheral. It also nicely sets up the next book in the trilogy focusing on Pepper.

Unlike A Hundred Summers or The Secret Life of Violet Grant, this is one doesn't have a lot of action. It's more about Tiny's self-discovery than a big storm or mystery. Tiny does transform and it's fun to see her become more bold in how she deals with situations involving her husband, her family and her in laws. 

While it might not be my favorite of Ms. Williams' books, she still has a gift for creating endearing and spunky female characters. It is also evident that she loves the time periods she writes about as well. This one she had to have done some research on politics and the effects of war.

I hope that Tiny surfaces in her next Schuyler sister novel because it's always interesting to see if the characters are as happy as you hope they are.  Along The Infinite Sea, the third novel in the trilogy, will be out on 11/3/2015.


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Friday, September 11, 2015

Julie's Review: The Last Pilot

Author: Benjamin Johncock
Series: None
Publication Date: July 7, 2015
Publisher: Picador
Pages: 320
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Personalized look at the sacrifices families made for the race to space
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Summary: "Harrison sat very still. On the screen was the surface of the moon." Jim Harrison is a test pilot in the United States Air Force, one of the exalted few. He spends his days cheating death in the skies above the Mojave Desert and his nights at his friend Pancho's bar, often with his wife, Grace. She and Harrison are secretly desperate for a child-and when, against all odds, Grace learns that she is pregnant, the two are overcome with joy. While America becomes swept up in the fervor of the Space Race, Harrison turns his attention home, passing up the chance to become an astronaut to welcome his daughter, Florence, into the world. Together, he and Grace confront the thrills and challenges of raising a child head-on. Fatherhood is different than flying planes-less controlled, more anxious-however the pleasures of watching Florence grow are incomparable. But when his family is faced with a sudden and inexplicable tragedy, Harrison's instincts as a father and a pilot are put to test. As a pilot, he feels compelled to lead them through it-and as a father, he fears that he has fallen short. The aftermath will haunt the Harrisons and strain their marriage as Jim struggles under the weight of his decisions. Beginning when the dust of the Second World War has only just begun to settle and rushing onward into the Sixties, Benjamin Johncock traces the path of this young couple as they are uprooted by events much larger than themselves. The turns the Harrisons take together are at once astonishing and recognizable; their journey, both frightening and full of hope. Set against the backdrop of one of the most emotionally charged periods in American history, The Last Pilot is a mesmerizing debut novel of loss and finding courage in the face of it from an extraordinary new talent. ~amazon.com  

Review: The Last Pilot is an inside look at what it took to race the Soviets to the moon. It's wrapped in the history of that time with some very famous names splattered throughout the book but the journey for Jim and Grace Harrison is very personal. It is of great triumphs, losses, heartbreak and reconciliation.

While Jim is stationed in the Mojave desert as an Air Force test pilot, him and Grace try for years to have a child with no avail. They make their lives work by surrounding themselves with friends who become family. A community where they are all out in the middle of  nowhere they ban together to support each other.  This community will also produce a lot of the astronauts for the space program.

Without explanation Grace becomes pregnant and gives birth to their daughter Florence. Florence brings both Grace and Jim much joy. She cements their marriage. When tragedy strikes, Grace and Jim deal with it in different ways. Graces folds into herself and Jim throws himself into his work. His dedication gets him recognized and is chosen to join the space program in Houston.

To say that Jim has an ego is an understatement but it's what makes him a fantastic pilot and an even better astronaut. You have to have a certain swagger to even be considered for that job and to be able to take the pressure. Unfortunately an ego can't belong in a marriage. As Jim and Grace deal with their grief, they freeze each other out in their own ways. Instead of coming together in their grief, they drive a wedge in their marriage.

What I thought that Mr. Johncock did so well was make Jim and Grace human. Meaning, that you don't root for one or the other but you root for them as a couple. They compliment each other but Grace's life has always hinged on Jim's and his career. This was expected at this time in society but to be expected to stay at home when you have no kids to raise and your husband always gone, had to be a very lonely life for her.

I didn't find myself siding with Jim or Grace more. I felt that I understood both sides of their story and could empathize with each of them. I also think that Pancho deserves her own novel or at least a short story. She was absolutely fascinating and sometimes the voice of reason that should have been in Jim's brain.

I'm not a space geek by any stretch of the imagination and I enjoyed reading about the names I knew about (Jim Lovell) and doing Google searches for those I wasn't familiar with. The space race takes a backseat though to the relationship of Jim and Grace. If you are looking for a novel that focuses on the space race, The Last Pilot  isn't it but if you are looking for a novel that uses the history of that time period to delve into a marriage during that time, this is it.


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