The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag

The Dress Shop of DreamsThe Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag

For fans of Alice Hoffman, Sarah Addison Allen, and Adriana Trigiani, The Dress Shop of Dreams is a captivating novel of enduring hopes, second chances, and the life-changing magic of true love.

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires.

Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. Cora’s studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her forever. Determined not to allow Cora to miss her chance at happiness, Etta sews a tiny stitch into Walt’s collar, hoping to give him the courage to confess his feelings to Cora. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry. After Walt is spurred into action, Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a sweet, charming tale with characters that are easy to love. If you like magic realism and you are looking for a story to take you away from everything, this would be a good book to choose.

I liked the characters right away. This is one of those stories that will transport you away from your daily stresses and make you smile and feel warm inside. The relationships between the characters, (both family and love interest,) are interesting and different from other books. You feel as if you have gotten to know these people within the first few chapters and after that, it is like you have become part of the story yourself.

The magical surprises in this book are many and as the story continues, you find yourself hoping that everything will work out the way you want it to.

This was a great book, with a lot to recommend it.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher as part of the shereads.org blogging program. All opinions are my own.

The Connicle Curse by Gregory Harris

The Connicle Curse (Colin Pendragon Mysteries, #3)The Connicle Curse by Gregory Harris

Victorian London’s private detective Colin Pendragon learns that the cost of wealth can indeed be dear as he investigates the grisly fate of a well-heeled financier. . .

When wealthy Edmond Connicle suddenly disappears, his distraught wife enlists the services of master sleuth Colin Pendragon and his loyal partner, Ethan Pruitt. Already on the case, however, is Scotland Yard’s Inspector Varcoe. He suspects the Connicles’ West African scullery maid of doing in her employer, especially when a badly burned body is discovered on the estate grounds with a sack of Voodoo festishes buried beneath it.

But all is not as it seems, and as more bodies are found, the pressure mounts on Varcoe, forcing him to forge an uneasy alliance with his nemesis, Pendragon. At the same time, Mrs. Connicle’s fragile mental state appears increasingly more precarious. Could madness, not black magic, be at the root of these murders? To untangle the twisted truth, Pendragon and Pruitt must penetrate the hidden lives of the elite and expose the malevolent machinations of a ruthless killer. . .

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I say yay for character development. Whereas some series tend to fizzle out after a while because the characters become predictable and so do the events, Gregory Harris has ensured that this didn’t happen with these novels.

I’m always excited to see what Colin and Ethan are going to get themselves into with each new book, and what location they will find themselves in. This has become one of my very favourite series and this book reminded me once more, why I love these books so much.

The relationships in these stories are as complex as the plot and mysteries within. I like that the reader finds out more about the pasts of the two main characters with each new novel, and the emotional connection I have with these two unlikely heroes grows every time I read another one.

Of the three books thus far, this one has the most intricate mysteries, involving a larger group of suspects. I appreciate that try as I might, I can’t guess what is really going on until it is fully revealed in the end.

This book made me laugh as usual. The relationships between Colin and those he is forced to work with to solve these cases allows for many snarky remarks and uncomfortable situations, easing the tension of the grim subject matter. I was sad to see a favourite character go in this book, but liked the way it ended overall.

In the end, I find myself impatiently waiting for the next book and hoping it isn’t a long wait.

Always recommended.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Flat out, there is no other way to describe this book–I loved it.

For anyone who has an interest in the German Occupations during WWII, this book will likely be interesting. Even if you don’t, this book still has something to offer.

Have you ever read a book that brought you so close to the characters that you forgot you were reading a book at all? That is what happened to me whilst reading this. I found myself so involved in the lives of these characters that I felt their pain, longing, loss and redemption.

Down to the very last detail, this is a beautifully written and immaculately researched novel.

One of the things that made me love this book, is that the characters seem to truly belong in the setting. Everything does not turn out perfectly at the end as so many books seem to force. The sad times of war including, cold, hunger and loss of lives is well described here and the characters experience it, enough that the reader feels it too.

The relationships in this story are complex and go far beyond those in the average book. The people grow and change and make you believe in them even when all hope seems to be lost.

I can’t say enough good things about this novel. It is amazing.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.


Mourning Lincoln by Martha Hodes

Mourning LincolnMourning Lincoln by Martha Hodes

Read

Mourning Lincoln

The news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on April 15, 1865, just days after Confederate surrender, astounded the war-weary nation. Massive crowds turned out for services and ceremonies. Countless expressions of grief and dismay were printed in newspapers and preached in sermons. Public responses to the assassination have been well chronicled, but this book is the first to delve into the personal and intimate responses of everyday people—northerners and southerners, soldiers and civilians, black people and white, men and women, rich and poor.

Through deep and thoughtful exploration of diaries, letters, and other personal writings penned during the spring and summer of 1865, Martha Hodes, one of our finest historians, captures the full range of reactions to the president’s death—far more diverse than public expressions would suggest. She tells a story of shock, glee, sorrow, anger, blame, and fear. “’Tis the saddest day in our history,” wrote a mournful man. It was “an electric shock to my soul,” wrote a woman who had escaped from slavery. “Glorious News!” a Lincoln enemy exulted. “Old Lincoln is dead, and I will kill the goddamned Negroes now,” an angry white southerner ranted. For the black soldiers of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts, it was all “too overwhelming, too lamentable, too distressing” to absorb.

There are many surprises in the story Hodes tells, not least the way in which even those utterly devastated by Lincoln’s demise easily interrupted their mourning rituals to attend to the most mundane aspects of everyday life.  There is also the unexpected and unabated virulence of Lincoln’s northern critics, and the way Confederates simultaneously celebrated Lincoln’s death and instantly—on the very day he died—cast him as a fallen friend to the defeated white South.

Hodes brings to life a key moment of national uncertainty and confusion, when competing visions of America’s future proved irreconcilable and hopes for racial justice in the aftermath of the Civil War slipped from the nation’s grasp. Hodes masterfully brings the tragedy of Lincoln’s assassination alive in human terms—terms that continue to stagger and rivet us one hundred and fifty years after the event they so strikingly describe.–From Goodreads

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Truly one of the best “Lincoln Books” that I have had the pleasure of reading.

Rather than just showing the side of America (and the world at large) that felt sorrow for the loss of the sixteenth president, this author researched, learned and wrote a book that shows both sides of the after effects the death of Lincoln had.

Whilst some were angry, disbelieving and sorrowful over the new of the president’s assassination, others were jubilant, relieved or even boastful. This book defines the boundaries between the belief systems of the North and South in a way that I have seen no other book attempt.

Through a multitude of first person accounts, the author manages to paint a picture of the American public after the death of Lincoln and show the reader what was really happening in the minds and hearts of those who survived the event.

From describing the feeling of some that mourning the loss of the president was a collective effort of everyone, to the reality that it was not, the author does a brilliant job of recounting history.

I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who is looking for further information about Lincoln, and the period after his death. A smartly researched, intelligently written book.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

First Frost (Waverley Family #2)First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

From the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells comes a story of the Waverley family, in a novel as sparkling as the first dusting of frost on new-fallen leaves…

It’s October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly. As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree… and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store.

Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies. Though her handcrafted confections—rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds—are singularly effective, the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and her belief in her own precious gifts.

Sydney Waverley, too, is losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby— a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries, the more her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has.

Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to…if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke?

When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before. And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.

Lose yourself in Sarah Addison Allen’s enchanting world and fall for her charmed characters in this captivating story that proves that a happily-ever-after is never the real ending to a story. It’s where the real story begins.–from Goodreads

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are a fan of Sarah Addison Allen or new to her work, this book is certainly a pleasure. Encompassing all the qualities of family, magic and love that her books represent, this latest novel reminded me why I love her work so.

I truly enjoyed this novel. Bay is an amazingly realistic character with a big heart and an unlimited supply of reasons for readers to adore her. In previous novels this author has managed to wow and amaze me with her ability to write from the heart and create moments and characters so viable and tender that you feel as if you know them first hand. She has done so again with First Frost, and I was again sorry to see this book end.

The relationships in this novel are born of strong family ties, and gave me, as the reader, a sense of belonging with this family throughout their discoveries, trials and tribulations. Sisterhood, marriage and mother/daughter ties are strong in this book and it made me smile, cry a little and look forward to the next book in the Waverly series.

I strongly recommend this book if you enjoy characters that are full of life and novels that make you feel a part of things. There is no match for this author’s ability to invite her readers into her world and feel welcomed.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine AwayMy Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh
It was the summer everything changed.…

My Sunshine Away unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson—free spirit, track star, and belle of the block—experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too.

In My Sunshine Away, M.O. Walsh brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love. Acutely wise and deeply honest, it is an astonishing and page-turning debut about the meaning of family, the power of memory, and our ability to forgive.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a book to read on the way through Baton Rouge! Incidentally I was reading this book on the way to NOLA, so it was very appropriate.

I honestly can’t think of a single negative thing to say about this novel. It starts out raising the curiosity of the reader and keeps that pace and momentum going until the very end.

This book deals with a very serious issue, rape, but also with what it is like to come of age in a typical American neighbourhood. The trials and tribulations of an adolescent boy’s life are laid out plainly and truthfully on these pages, but in such a way that even a person never having been in the same situation can understand and appreciate.

The descriptions that M.O. Walsh uses in his writing are more than adequate, they transform a page full of words into a hot Louisiana night, where you can smell the air and see the happenings of the neighbours.

I was impressed with the way he chose to end this book as well. Since the story was built mostly around one important event, I half expected it to end the way most authors would have chosen to take it. This was different. Well thought out and unexpected, the climax of this story did the rest of the book justice.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Tasteful, exciting, fresh writing from an author I hope to see much more from.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault

The Peculiar Life of a Lonely PostmanThe Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault
A beautifully tragic and thought-provoking tale that perfectly reflects the elegance and style of Murakami and the skill and plotting of Julian Barnes

Bilodo lives a solitary daily life, routinely completing his postal rounds every day and returning to his empty Montreal apartment. But he has found a way to break the cycle—Bilodo has taken to stealing people’s mail, steaming open the envelopes, and reading the letters inside. And so it is he comes across Ségolène’s letters. She is corresponding with Gaston, a master poet, and their letters are each composed of only three lines. They are writing each other haikus. The simplicity and elegance of their poems move Bilado and he begins to fall in love with her. But one day, out on his round, he witnesses a terrible and tragic accident. Just as Gaston is walking up to the post-box to mail his next haiku to Ségolène, he is hit by a car and dies on the side of the road. And so Bilodo makes an extraordinary decision—he will impersonate Gaston and continue to write to Ségolène under this guise. But how long can the deception continue for? Denis Thériault weaves a passionate and elegant tale, comic and tragic with a love story at its heart.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve got mixed emotions about this book. I would certainly call it more experimental than mainstream, and yet there is a certain brilliance in the way the author made this book less about character development and more about the art of Haiku. It is almost like the poetry replaces the main character in much of the book.

This is a strange book. The reader never really gets to know a lot about the main character, but you get the sense that loneliness controls his every thought and action. The author did a good job of portraying what it is like to be an extreme introvert and I liked the relationship the character built with someone he had never met–even if the way he did it was somewhat creepy.

This novella has a few different interesting themes and the author explores the human heart, mind and decision making abilities of his main character well.

Overall, I thought this was worth the time to read. If nothing else, it will make you think.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.