Inauguration Day Memories and What Would Martin Say? Giveaway

January 20, 2009 at 8:00 am | Posted in Family, LIfe | 12 Comments
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Photograph from Jimmy Carter Library, Atlanta, Georgia

Photograph from Jimmy Carter Library, Atlanta, Georgia

On January 20, 1977, I was just over 5 years old.  I was in kindergarten that year and what I remember was the parade.  What I remember is sitting on the carpet in front of the TV in our first family home in Sparta, MI.  I am not sure if I was watching the original telecast, but I could have been because I was the morning kindergarten class.  It could have been a recast, though.  At first I enjoyed watching President and Mrs. Carter walking down Pennsylvania Ave.  Then, I got very bored of listening to all the talking and wished that I could watch something else.  Today, I think Jimmy Carter’s Inaugural Parade was perfect for him.  He was and is a down to earth, good man.  Although there had already been two presidents during my then short life, Jimmy Carter is the first I remember.  Although my memories of him as president are dark due to the Iran Hostage Crisis that was to come, I am glad to have the memory of what it was like for a very young child to watch such a parade.  Because I remember Jimmy Carter’s day, I know that Emma, my 6 year old kindergartner, will remember Barack Obama’s.

Emma is in school today and I am at work.  She may get to watch the festivities at school, but just in case I’m DVRing it for later.  I would love to sit and watch Obama’s parade with her.  She will be a member of the first generation not to know an America without an African American president.  For her and her classmates, race will not be something that will keep a man from becoming the President of the United States.  When a man can become president, a man can do anything.  I hope that we don’t have to wait for Emma to watch an inaugural parade with her oldest child before the same can be said of women.

cover-of-what-would-martin-say Happy Inauguration Day!  Please leave a comment to this post about your impressions of today’s inauguration.  What did you think of the speech?  The parade?  What do you think was the most memorable moment?  What did you children think?  All comments about the inauguration left today will qualify to win a copy of Clarence B. Jones’ book, What Would Martin Say?


#133 ~ The Sister

January 2, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Posted in Books, Family, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 4 Comments
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The Sister by Poppy Adams, read by Juliet Mills

Virginia Stone, a 70 year old spinster, lives alone with her moths at Bulburrow Court, her family’s mansion.  She is an eccentric old woman who grew up during WWII and its aftermath.  She is peculiar, most especially about time and tea.  To say she is set in her ways would be an understatement.  When her younger sister Vivien returns to Bulburrow Court after leaving the family home and her sister for London nearly 50 years earlier, Ginny reflects on her life, from her alcoholic mother  Maud, her lepidopterist father Clive, who mentored her in the study of moths, and her love for her absent sister.  She approaches her history with the same unemotional scientific eye that she uses with her moths and other insects.  It doesn’t take long to start questioning Ginny’s reliability as a daughter, sister, and narrator.  This novel held my interest from the beginning with Vivi’s tragic, near-fatal fall and the numerous mysteries and questions that continued to come up to the surface.

Poppy Adams is an extremely detailed writer.  Her use of entomology and the study of the moth clearly stem from a great deal of research.  While Ginny loves to go into lengthy and often gory detail about her science, the minutia she shares with the reader provides important insights into Ginny’s morality, mental state, and obsessive compulsiveness. There is an interesting passage about a colony of ants taken over by a butterfly larva that still has me thinking about Ginny and what the truth about her family might have been.

This is the first audio book I truly enjoyed.  No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July and Savannah by John Jakes (which I couldn’t finish) were complete flops for me – both because of the narration.  In addition to the story itself, The Sister had what the others so far have not – the perfect reader.  Juliet Mills’ voice and reading was such a complement to Ginny that I can’t image there being a more perfect vocal performer for the novel.   The way she enunciated “pupal soup” throughout the novel was both sickening and dead on for Ginny’s character.  She expertly read dialog for the other characters as well.  There was a scene where Maud, drunk, could not hold her tongue to Ginny about her opinions of Albert, Vivi’s boyfriend.  That exchange between Maud and Ginny was wonderful and riveting.  Although I’m tempted to read the physical book the next time around, I can’t imagine reading it without hearing Mills’ voice.

This novel, because it is narrated by Ginny, does not provide answers to all of the questions that are raised.  Who exactly is the sister?  What exactly did the rest of the family and the village of Bulburrow know about Ginny that she did not?  If she has been mentally ill her entire life, why in the world would Vivi and Albert entrust her with their family in the way that they did?  Did she truly carry on Clive’s work after he retired? What exactly went on with Dr. Moyse?  At first, this made the ending fall a little flat for me.  However, upon further reflection, it would be impossible to know what Ginny did not and this is made even that much more difficult as she had a talent for blocking out the unpleasant portions of stories and conversations.  Truly, this novel is open-ended, allowing the reader to discern the truth from the delusion.  The Sister invites additional readings.  It would be very interesting to read this a second time to see what I might have missed the first time.  While under no circumstances would I ever sit down for tea with Ginny Stone, I’d love to study her in more depth.  She is a fascinating character whose voice, like that of Vida Winter from The Thirteenth Tale and many of Patrick McGrath’s narrators, will stay with me for a long time to come.

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To buy book in audio, click here.
To buy this book, click here.

Christmas Picture Outtakes

December 16, 2008 at 11:24 am | Posted in Family | 12 Comments
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As many of you probably already know, trying to make your rugrats look well-behaved, cute and lovable in Christmas pictures for friends and relatives can be an interesting experience.  Last night we decorated our Christmas tree and I thought I would use that opportunity to take a nice picture of the girls to send out in our cards (pray God they’re in the mail tomorrow).  Here are the outtakes for your enjoyment…

First Emma…

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Then Allison…

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Incidentally, the first picture ended up being the winner, but I’m going to wait to post that until Christmas day.

We’re All Sick and/or Tired

December 15, 2008 at 4:23 pm | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading | 12 Comments
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Hello everyone.  I haven’t been very prolific in my blogging or my commenting this month because ever since Thanksgiving one or more of us have been sick.  Danny has been sick since Thanksgiving.  Allison has had a cold/congestion last week that kept Danny and I up a couple of hours a night for a few nights until we discovered that nasal spray helped her.  Then, I was off on Friday with Emma.  She had a temperature of 104, keeping us up a good part of the night Friday/Saturday.  Needless to say, I’m a bit exhausted and haven’t had much energy.  What time I do have I need to put into finishing my Christmas cards.  I make them by hand and I’m really under the gun to get them out by Wednesday.  Normally I have them out the first week of December…

I am currently reading The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer.  I’m enjoying it, but it’s not as compelling as The Reluctant Widow (although, it’s becoming more compelling as of what I read during my lunch break).  I was also able to finish The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones (I absolutely loved) and My Husband’s Sweethearts (enjoyable).  I’m hoping to have those reviews between now and Wednesday if I can.

I am feeling a whole lot better about my near fatal ARC pile up now that I’ve finished over half of those that I promised.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now and it feels good.  I’ve been peaking at what is ahead and I’m really excited.  The Triumph of Deborah is up next, followed by Tomato Girl.  Both of those novels read very well over the first few pages.

I recently found out about a fun Book Club application for Facebook.  I don’t know if any of you have Facebook accounts or not, but you might be interested in it, too.  I’ve been using it some over the weekend and enjoy it.  It allows users to create their own book clubs and I like how that is set up.  I think this might work a whole lot better than what we used for Immortal.  Check it out and let me know what you think.  I’m planning on starting a Historical Fiction book club.  I’ll post an update.  If anyone would like to add me as a friend on Facebook, my email address for that is speedhaven (at) gmail (dot) com.

As much as I love the holidays, I’m looking forward to the New Year and getting back into my blog and yours!

#124 ~ Midwife of the Blue Ridge ~ Book Review and Giveaway

November 22, 2008 at 11:29 am | Posted in Books, Culture, Family, Historical Fiction | 26 Comments
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Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins

Maggie Duncan lost her family as a very young girl during a massacre between the British and the Scottish.  Her destiny falls into place when she helps a injured man find his way home to his wife, Hannah.  Hannah, a midwife and local healer, realizes almost instantly that her husband’s gangrene will end his life.  Childless, she sees Maggie’s arrival as the blessing to bloom from her husband’s death.  She takes Maggie under her wings and teaches her healing and midwifery.  Unfortunately, the little Scottish town in which they live is superstitious.  They think that Maggie is bad luck given what happened to her parents.  They believe she possesses the powers of the evil eye.  When Hannah gets sick with consumption, she gives Maggie one last gift before she dies – she plants the seed about going to the America.  After Hannah’s death, Maggie is living hand to mouth.  When she’s offered the opportunity to sale to America at the cost of spending four years as an indentured servant, Hannah’s words come back to her and she travels to find her destiny in the New World.

The Midwife of the Blue Ridge is an engaging novel about the joys, struggles, and courage of those who took the risk of leaving their home land in order to make their own way in Virginia.  From the very beginning, America was seen as a land of opportunity to those whose futures in their home countries was set from the moment of their conception.  It says a great deal that people would knowingly agree to four years of indentured service under unknown masters in order to have a shot at creating their own fortunes and secure their own land.  Christine Blevins brings this all to life through Maggie, Seth Martin and Tom Roberts.  Just as vividly, Blevins writes of those who were forced to go to the New World by their privileged and wealthy families found them to be an embarrassment best kept an ocean away.  Their resentment over their circumstances colored their view of this new land and how they treated other people.  In the Colonial Virginia painted in this novel, it is a toss up as to who was more savage, the Shawnee warriors or the disgraced lords of England.

Maggie Duncan is one of the most delightful heroines I’ve encountered in a long time.  Although her accent was difficult for me to catch on to at first, I was soon caught up in the story of this clever, sassy, and giving young woman.  The very scrappiness that was viewed suspiciously by her Scottish kinsmen was what kept her safe and gave her the advantage she needed to get off to a good start as Seth’s servant.  She endeared herself to Seth, Naomi and their children by her generous spirit and her strong work ethic.  Her sarcastic spunkiness endeared her to almost every single man she encountered.  I admired her optimistic yet pragmatic attitude toward life and the courage she displayed under the most stressful conditions found in the Virginia wilderness.  I enjoyed every minute I spent with her and hope that my daughters growing up in the Blue Ridge of Virginia four centuries later will develop her same strength of character.

Over the past couple of years I’ve read a great deal of wonderful historical fiction.  For the most part, I’ve shied away from historical fiction set in my own country.  I have read The Winthrop Woman and Devil Water by Anya Seton and, while they were both novels I enjoyed, they did not ignite in me the same excitement for my country’s history that Midwife of the Blue Ridge has.  Colonial America, just like Tudor England and Venice has its own charms and dangers to explore.  After reading Blevins’ novel, I am looking forward to spending some more time at home.

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Christine Blevins was kind enough to send me two copies of Midwife of the Blue Ridge, but that’s not all.  She also sent some wonderful smelling goodies!  If you would like a chance to win your own copy of Midwife of the Blue Ridge, a bar of handmade lavender soap and a bag of tea leaves, please leave a comment below about your favorite heroine or your favorite destination when you read historical fiction by 11:59pm EST on Monday, November 24.  I’ll take all the entries and add them to the List Randomizer.  The first name in the list will win the grand prize.  The last name in the list will also win a bag of tea leaves.  Based on the way the tea leaves smell, they will make a wonderful and relaxing cup of hot goodness during the winter.  The winners will be announced by noon EST on the 25th.  Good luck!

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To buy this novel on Amazon.com, click here.

#117 ~ Janeology

November 7, 2008 at 5:23 pm | Posted in Books, Family, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 7 Comments
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Janeology by Karen Harrington

Janeology, Karen Harrington’s first novel, opens after Jane, young mother of toddler twins, who suffers from depression following a miscarriage, turns manic and drowns her son Adam and nearly drowns her daughter Sarah as well.  This novel, however, does not tell this story from Jane’s perspective.  Instead, it is told from her husband Tom’s perspective.  After Jane is found innocent of Adam’s murder by reason of insanity, Tom is indicted for neglect.  The state decides to prosecute him for not recognizing the depth of Jane’s illness and for leaving his children solely under her care while he went to work.  This truly is something that could very easily happen today.

Once the initial shock of what has happened to his family wore off and Jane’s trial came to an end, Tom was eager to be or at least to feel punished for what happened to his family.  He might not have even defended himself at all had his mother not hired an attorney.  Luckily, she did, and Dave Frontella proposes a revolutionary defense strategy.  In it, he holds Jane’s genealogy ultimately responsible for what happened and this was nothing that Tom could have ever known.  Not only is the defense unconventional, his means of determining what it was in Jane’s genes is entirely controversial.  Dave locates Jane’s half-sister Mariah, a clairvoyant.  Mariah knows about a family trunk in the attic.  Inside this trunk are photographs and other heirlooms of which Tom was completely unaware.  She uses those to invite Jane’s ancestors to tell their stories.

Just like Tom, I had to suspend disbelief as Mariah embodies Jane as a young child.  As the stories of her family keep unfolding, I was drawn more and more into the history until I was almost frustrated with Tom for being so stubborn and not admitting that things are making more and more sense.  This mixture of historical fiction within a “ripped from the headlines” story worked very well for me.  Tom is a college literature professor, but like many such men, he comes off as being somewhat removed from his own emotions.  He is numb and could only seem to feel safe experiencing his life was back when things were right – back when he and Jane were young and in love.  Jane’s ancestors, however, are quite the contrary.  They are true to their nature.  They are messy, they are passionate, and they are entirely flawed.  I may not like them all, but I could wrap my arms around them and feel compassion.  I was acutely aware that my feelings toward Jane’s ancestors mirrored those Tom held in his heart for his wife.  He was unable to shake his love for Jane because he could not forget the story of their lives and love before she snapped.

Reading Janeology was a powerful experience for me.  As someone who suffered from post-partum depression, I could relate to Jane very well.  I could also very well understand Tom.  I feel that he very much did his best to make it through Jane’s depression, hoping that one day she would come back to her family.  In that way, he provided insight into what my own husband experienced.  I was also lucky to have read this novel while I was in Boston because some of the most important revelations about Jane’s family centered in that city.  It was thrilling for me to have come back from a three hour walking tour of historic Boston only to read about one of streets I crossed along the way.  It made that section of the novel that much more real for me.

In addition to being compelling, most especially during Mariah’s sessions with Jane and her ancestors, Janeology asks a question that cannot easily be answered: How much of who you are is determined by what your ancestors were?  In some ways this makes me wish I had a Mariah who could tell me the stories of my family.  In other ways, I think I’d rather not know.  Regardless, I enjoyed my time reading Janeology and look forward to reading Karen Harrington’s next novel.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#115 ~ Constitution Translated for Kids

November 5, 2008 at 12:17 pm | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe | 6 Comments
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Constitution Translated for Kids by Cathy Travis

If there is ever a time that the American government and its processes our on our minds, it’s during an election year.  Although this nation’s founding and its history are taught in every school and university throughout this nation, the Constitution is much discussed, but not fully understood. The Constitution Translated for Children is a wonderful resource.  I can see a great deal of practical application for this book at home or in the classroom – or, more importantly, both.  Within this book, Cathy Travis does a wonderful job breaking down the Constitution into understandable language and provides relevant examples.  The exercises are challenging and encourage the reader to expand upon the text.  After reading this book, I felt like I had a much better understanding of the document that framed my government than I ever had before – without feeling as if I was being talked down to because it is geared toward children.

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To buy this book, click here.

#113 ~ Capote in Kansas

October 28, 2008 at 11:09 pm | Posted in Books, Family, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 5 Comments
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Capote in Kansas: A Ghost Story by Kim Powers

It is my great honor and pleasure to be the host of Kim Powers’ last stop on his absolutely fabulous book tour for Capote in Kansas, which is sponsored by TLC Book Tours.  For more information on this tour, please click on the TLC logo to the left or select the links that interest you from the listing at the end of this review.  I only hope that my review today is only half as good as the stops that went before me.  Now, on to my review…

There are times when fate conspires to bring two people together only to tear them apart.  This is true of Nelle Harper Lee and Truman Capote.  Truman’s mother, who had no time or interest in her eccentric son, sent him to live with his family in Monroeville, Alabama.  Nelle grew up next door.  She was not blind to his idiosyncrasies.  in fact, she understood and cared for him like no one else.  Nelle was there for him to type up his stories when they were children and to help him connect with people in Kansas while he worked on In Cold Blood.  Their bond, however, was not indestructible.  Although they complement each other in many ways, it is the ways in which they are alike that drives a wedge between them.  It was a distance that might only be bridged by the ghosts from their past.

There is much to love about this novel, but what struck me the most was the impact that writing about another person can have on both the author and the subject.  Truman Capote was most definitely in search of fame when he made the decision to write about the Clutter family after their tragic and brutal murders in Kansas.  He was haunted by their ghosts later in life because they did not want the attention In Cold Blood brought to them, even though they were deceased at the time.  Lee, on the other hand, wrote her neighbor into To Kill a Mockingbird in the form of Boo Radley as a tribute to him.  His family never understood her intentions and blamed her for the disruptions her fans made in his life.  Whether a depiction is fictional or biographical, putting a person down on paper proved to be the equivalent of stealing that person’s soul.  That Lee was sensitive to this from the beginning while Capote didn’t start confronting it until his work became responsible for his being ostracized from New York society – and even then not fully until it was forced upon him as his life was in a downward spiral – that fleshes these characters out fully. By choosing to explore this theme within a novel about two of the most famous and influential American authors in recent time makes this novel fresh, engaging, and memorable.

Although I had read To Kill a Mockingbird prior to reading Capote in Kansas, I knew very little about Lee or Capote when I opened this novel.  I did not know about their friendship or that there was a rift tore them apart.  In the novel, Capote and his actions were responsible for their estrangement, but it wouldn’t have happened at all were it not for the personal and professional insecurities of they both shared.  I found this story fascinating, especially as Powers told it from within the context of the midnight phone calls, the memories, and the ghosts who visited them both in the middle of the night.  Whatever the reality of their friendship may have been, I left this novel hoping that they were able to make peace with each other before Capote’s death.

I read this novel over the course of a single day.  It was interesting and compelling throughout.  It was with satisfaction that I finished the novel and closed the back cover.  It’s clear from his writing that Powers’ respects his characters and is compassionate yet honest when dealing with their flaws.  I found that it was not necessary to have much knowledge of Lee and Capote to be swept up by their star crossed friendship and to experience their pain as life, love, and childhood loyalties do not work out as they had planned.  Despite some potential spoilers about the Clutter family and their killers found within Capote in Kansas, I’m now genuinely interested in reading Capote’s most famous work.  I typically avoid books about real-life murders because they get under my skin and give me nightmares.  Now, I am curious to see what more it might reveal about him.  I have no regrets.

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For more about Capote in Kansas and author Kim Powers, please check out the previous stops on this book tour:

Wednesday, Oct. 1st: Bookgirl’s Nightstand
Friday, Oct. 3rd: Book Room Reviews
Monday, Oct. 6th: A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook
Wednesday, Oct. 8th: Tripping Toward Lucidity
Friday, Oct. 10th: book-a-rama
Monday, Oct. 13th: Ready When You Are, C.B.
Wednesday, Oct. 15th: Bibliolatry
Friday, Oct. 17th: Books and Movies
Monday, Oct. 20th: Booking Mama
Wednesday, Oct. 22nd: Diary of an Eccentric
Thursday, Oct. 23rd: Maw Books
Friday, Oct. 24th: Book Club Classics
Monday, Oct. 27th: Books and Cooks
Tuesday, Oct. 28th: Devourer of Books

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To buy this novel, click here.

Literate Housewife Spotlight ~ October

October 1, 2008 at 10:15 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Family, Historical Fiction, LIfe, Reading, Religion | 11 Comments
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Several months ago, when I was compiling the list of books I’ve reviewed for this blog, I found some that I had forgotten all about.  That doesn’t necessarily meant that I didn’t enjoy them.  They just didn’t stick with me.  There were others that easily remembered and know that they were read and raved about by other authors.  There were still others, however, that I truly loved that I have not found much other discussion about at all.  I couldn’t quite figure out why more people hadn’t reviewed them.  The more I thought about this, the more the idea of featuring these novels in a different way started to shape and take form.  That idea is becoming a reality this month in my first installment of the Literate Housewife Spotlight.  Every other month I will be featuring a book that has stayed with me after I closed it for the last time.  It is a book that I believe in and want to share with you.  As part of the Literate Housewife Spotlight,  each Thursday I will post something new about the book, its topics, or its author.  I hope that you get as much out of this as I do.  Mostly, I hope to encourage you to find a copy of the book and check it out for yourself.

The first novel featured in The Literate Housewife Spotlight is The Witch’s Trinity by Erika Mailman.  I read this novel last winter and was drawn into the world of Güde Müller, an elderly woman living in early 16th century Germany.  It was a time of superstition, just ripe for the witch trials sweeping through Europe.

Witchcraft, witch trials, and the political and social vulnerability of women are timely themes.  I’ve recently read Sisters of Misery by Megan Kelly Hall and have read several wonderful reviews of The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent.  Both of these novels take place in or near Salem, Massachusetts.  The Sisters of Misery takes place in modern day while The Heretic’s Daughter takes place during the height of the witch trials in the United States.  During Salman Rushdie’s discussion about his newest novel, The Enchantress of Florence, he touched on these topics as well.  He made one especially interesting observation.  The now stereotypical signs of witchcraft in that day and age, the pointy hat, the broom, and even the cat were common to almost any woman.  If the woman was ugly, that could be the sign of a witch.  If the woman was beautiful, she was a temptress for the devil.  In every situation, all that was ever needed was an accusation.  That is it.  In essence, all a woman needed to be was eccentric, envied, hated, or seen as an easy scapegoat to be a witch.  Imagine what it must have felt like to know that a witch hunter was coming to town.  What would you do to survive?

The following is a reprint of my review from February of this year:

The Witch’s Trinity tells the story of Güde Müller, an elderly grandmother who lives with her only son Jost and his family. They live in Tierkinddorf, Germany and have been experiencing two years of extreme famine. The strain of living without adequate food is taking its toll on the family and the town as a whole. Güde can tell how much Irmeltrud, Jost’s wife, resents her being alive and taking food that would ordinarily go to her children. After a Catholic priest is called in to investigate whether witches are to blame for the town’s hard luck, one of Güde’s childhood friend is burned at the stake. Still, the town is desperate. The able-bodied men leave the village in search of food. While they are gone, the village starts to turn on one another and it seems that no one is safe from being accused of witchcraft.

This book had a powerful affect on me. It made it difficult for me to sleep well for almost a week. It’s unbelievable the things that humans will do to one another and it’s frightening how open women and the elderly are to abuses of many kinds. It’s especially shameful how women turn on each other instead of supporting each other. The terror experienced by Güde and other helpless citizens of Tierkinddorf was so believable that there were entire sections of this book that had my heart racing. I left this book feeling thankful to be alive in 2008 instead of 1608. Witch trials make workplace cattiness seem like child’s play.

As with many books, The Witch’s Trinity was tidied up too quickly and neatly. I would still suggest that anyone interested in witch trials or the plight of women or the elderly read it. You will continue to think about this book and its themes long after you’ve finished it. That certainly sets this novel by Erika Mailman apart from the rest.

The Witch’s Trinity is being published in paperback on October 7th.  Over the course of this month, Erika Mailman is graciously offering copies of this novel to three lucky readers.  Come back each week for details on how you can win your own copy of this novel.  Not willing to leave it to luck?  Click here to order a hard cover copy of this novel for yourself.

#100 ~ House and Home & My 100th Review Contest

September 8, 2008 at 12:00 am | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 50 Comments
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Today I have the great pleasure of hosting Kathleen McCleary on her House and Home book tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours.  I very much appreciate the invitation to participate in this tour as well as the opportunity to read Kathleen’s novel.  Please click on Kathleen’s name below to visit her website.  Click on the TLC Book Tours graphic for more information on this wonderful new book tour program.

House and Home by Kathleen McCleary

By outside appearances, Ellen Flanagan had it all: a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, a house she decorated and maintained with love and dedication, and Coffe@Home, a business that merged her passion for antiques with her interest in coffee and fine tea.  All was not what it seemed.  Sam, her adventurous and creative husband, had a passion for inventing.  When he created a baby beeper he thought would make it big, the couple put a second mortgage on their home.  When the baby beeper didn’t pay off, that second mortgage cost them the home Ellen so dearly loved and her 18 year marriage.  As time got near to vacate the house they sold, Ellen found she couldn’t part with it.  She decided that she’s rather see it burn than to allow another family to call it home.

The opening paragraph to this novel, after explaining Ellen’s attachment to the home, ends by saying that she would burn it down.  I was instantly curious, especially since this seemed pretty hard core for a novel with such a beautiful and inviting cover.  That paragraph brought to mind the song “Sunny Came Home” by Shawn Colvin.  I was eager to find out what it was about Ellen or the house that drove her to even think about arson.  When at first I couldn’t find any logical explanation for her planning something so destructive, it was frustrating.  Ellen wasn’t mentally ill, she and Sam were on amicable terms despite the fact that they were divorcing, her business was thriving, and she had the most thoughtful and supportive best friend in the world.  Why?  Then it occurred to me.  As much as she loved that house, her fixation was a protective cover. She believes that burning down her house will keep others out.  Truthfully, if not subconsciously, what she’s doing is making all that she has lost and all that she is losing tangible and visible, especially to Sam.

This is really a novel about relationships, both the good and the bad.  Sometimes there is a cost to starting them.  Sometimes there is a cost to losing them.  There are times when the cost may be too high; but in the end, you can’t live your life fully without them.  Be they with your best friend, your lover, your family, business associates, or even mere acquaintances, your interactions with other people teach you how to play, work, love, hurt, forgive, learn, laugh, cry, hold on, and to let go.  Ellen spent the first 44 years fighting to control her life. House and Home is the story of how she learns that what makes life worth living requires you to constantly take leaps of faith.

Kathleen McCleary is a clear and concise writer and she brought some wonderful characters to life.  You can feel Ellen’s pain and the anxiety brought about by her need to be in control from the start, even if you don’t completely understand it at first.  You can see how it blinds her to what she has.  House and Home is a reminder that when life feels like one crisis after another, the only way not to get lost in it all is to focus on your friends and loved ones.  It is a celebration of friendships, relationships, and family.  If you’re like me, you’ll find this novel every bit as heartwarming as the cover suggests.

Literate Housewife’s 100th Book Review Contest

I am so excited about today because it marks the day I am posting my 100th book review online.  My blog started on Blogspot and it was called “52 Books or Bust.”  I started it in January, 2007 to give me a way to be accountable to my personal goal of reading 52 books that year and to also provide me with a way to remember what I read.  It was from those meager beginnings that The Literate Housewife Review started.  I had no idea that 21months later I would be celebrating today.

In order to mark this day, I wanted to hold a contest to thank you, my readers.  Without your comments and support I can’t say that I would still be doing this today.  In honor of reaching the 100 book mark, I’m going to give one of my lucky readers a copy of House and Home and ten other books I’ve read to date.  Here is a picture of the book and the links to those reviews:

The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson ~ #24
Portrait on an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett ~ #37
Gilding Lily by Tatiana Boncompagni ~ #66
The Lady Elizabeth By Alison Weir ~ #70
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan ~ #78
Mrs. Lieutenant by Phyllis Zimbler Miller ~ #81
Regina’s Closet by Diana M. Raab ~ #84
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson ~ #88
37 by Maria Beaumont ~ #89
Castaway Kid by R.B. Mitchell ~ #94

When Kathleen McCleary read that this was my 100th review and would be holding a contest in its honor, she wanted to get in on the fun, too.  So, to sweeten this contest even further, the winner will also get the opportunity to talk with the author personally!  What a fun and wonderful opportunity!  And that’s not all! The second and third place winners in this contest will also get their own autographed copies of House and Home!

Have I peaked your interest enough?  Are you wondering what you need do to enter?  Here goes:

1. Leave a comment to this post by 11:59 EST on September 9 and you will receive two entries.  Comments left beginning on September 11 at midnight receive one entry.  If you comment includes a question about House and Home, for Kathleen McCleary, or about any of the other books in the contest, you will receive an additional entry (three entries possible).

2. If you have a blog, write a post about this contest by 11:59 EST on September 9 and leave me a message with the link to earn two entries.  If you do not have a blog, you can send an email telling 3 or more friends about this contest (copy me) by 11:59 EST on September 9 for those two entries.

Selecting the winners: I will be out of town starting Friday, so this is going to be a quick contest.  I will be using the List Randomizer on random.org to enter the names and will it will determine the winner at noon on Thursday, September 11 EST.  [I have wised up since my last contest. No more writing names down on sheets of paper, cutting them out, folding them, and putting them in a box and asking my beloved husband or bewildered co-workers to pick them out.]

Posting the results: I will be posting the names of the winners at 1pm EST.  The name of the person in lucky number 1 spot wins the copy of House and Home, the selection of 10 books I’ve previously reviewed, and a phone conversation with Kathleen McCleary!  The names of the people in lucky spots number 2 and 3 (assuming that there aren’t any repeating names – if there are, the second and third unique names) will also receive an autographed copy of House and Home.

Good luck to everyone who enters and a special thanks to Kathleen McCleary for making this contest that much more special!

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To buy this novel, click here.

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