"No one can be lonely who has a book for company." ~ Nelle Reagan

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Have a Spooktacular Halloween!!!

I haven't done the whole "read a horror novel or thriller at Halloween" but I do have a favourite movie, one that's 20 years old, that I like to watch each Halloween.  It's Hocus Pocus.  The actresses who play the three witches do an astounding job of playing evil but crazy fun witches who love the essence of little children for it makes them young again.  But a black cat may just be their undoing!!!  In fact, I just watched it last night as my daughter and her boyfriend carved a jack-o-lantern here.

What are your Halloween traditions?  Do you read horror stories, thrillers or suspenseful books on Halloween or do you prefer to watch a favourite Halloween movie?  What is your favourite horror book or movie?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

Songs of Willow Frost
Author:  Jamie Ford
Published:  September 2013
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pages:  352
Genre:  General Fiction, historical fiction
Source:  a complimentary copy was provided by TLC Book Tours and the publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Receipt thereof bears no influence on this review.
From Jamie Ford, the New York Times bestselling author of the beloved Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweetcomes a much-anticipated second novel. Set against the backdrop of Depression-era Seattle, Songs of Willow Frost is a powerful tale of two souls—a boy with dreams for his future and a woman escaping her haunted past—both seeking love, hope, and forgiveness.
Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage ever since his mother’s listless body was carried away from their small apartment five years ago. On his birthday—or rather, the day the nuns designate as his birthday—William and the other orphans are taken to the historical Moore Theatre, where William glimpses an actress on the silver screen who goes by the name of Willow Frost. Struck by her features, William is convinced that the movie star is his mother, Liu Song.
Determined to find Willow and prove that his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigate the streets of Seattle, where they must not only survive but confront the mysteries of William’s past and his connection to the exotic film star. The story of Willow Frost, however, is far more complicated than the Hollywood fantasy William sees onscreen.
Shifting between the Great Depression and the 1920s, Songs of Willow Frost takes readers on an emotional journey of discovery. Jamie Ford’s sweeping novel will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home.

My Thoughts:

I haven't yet read The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet but I have had a few people strongly recommend it to me so when I saw this novel by the same author, I just had to say yes to reviewing it. I was really hoping to find a gem in Ford's writing.

Songs of Willow Frost is set in Seattle during the depression era where young William is the only "yellow" child who resides at Sacred Heart orphanage.  His best friends are Charlotte, a pretty blind girl, and Sunny, a native American.  Most of the children living there were either dropped off by parents who could no longer provide the means to support a child or they are orphans.  William believes he too is an orphan until his twelfth birthday.

On his birthday, which coincidentally is the same birthday as all the other boys in the orphanage (to make things simpler for the nuns), the children are taken to town to see a motion picture.  William sits with Charlotte, describing the movie to her, when a young actress captures his attention.  Her face, her voice, everything about her reminds him of his mother.  But that can't be because he was told she was dead.  Yet he has memories of her and he feels this actress, Willow Frost, may be his mother.

William later escapes from the orphanage with Charlotte and returns to the theatre where he again sees her and then he knows.  However, this brings up some deep issues and pain because the mother he remembers loved him dearly.  Why would she not come for him?  Why did no one tell him she was alive?

Alternately through Songs of Willow Frost we learn the heart-wrenching stories of mother and son as the writer slips back in time to Willow's story and forward again to the 1930's to William's story and how the two stories meld together.  It is sad and yet there's a thread of hope throughout.  Regardless of the sorrow and trials, abuse, and outcast of both mother and son in society, each struggles to look for the good and to seek the silver lining, and to find ultimately what each has lost....each other.

If you enjoy historical fiction or general fiction and a novel that will elicit tears and disgust as well as tender feelings, I readily recommend Songs of Willow Frost. It's a story of love and loss, prejudice and sorrow and, above all else, hope from the author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  A gem? Well a rhinestone at the very least.  I think I'll find that gem with his earlier book, his debut novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet!

Meet the Author:

The son of a Chinese American father, Jamie Ford is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which won the Asian-Pacific American Award for Literature. Having grown up in Seattle, he now lives in Montana with his wife and children.
Connect with Jamie on his websiteFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Review: Mrs Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train
Author:  William Kuhn
Published: October 8/13 (trade paperback)
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Edition:  Hardcover
Genre:  General Fiction
Pages:  384 
Source:  a complimentary copy was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Receipt thereof bore no influence over this review.

Mrs Queen Takes the Train is now available in trade paperback, the cover for which is depicted in the above photo.

After decades of service and years of watching her family’s troubles splashed across the tabloids, Britain’s Queen is beginning to feel her age. An unexpected opportunity offers her relief: an impromptu visit to a place that holds happy memories—the former royal yacht, Britannia, now moored near Edinburgh. Hidden beneath a skull-emblazoned hoodie, the limber Elizabeth (thank goodness for yoga) walks out of Buckingham Palace and heads for King’s Cross to catch a train to Scotland. But a colorful cast of royal attendants has discovered her missing. In uneasy alliance a lady-in-waiting, a butler, an equerry, a girl from the stables, a dresser, and a clerk from the shop that supplies Her Majesty’s cheese set out to bring her back before her absence becomes a national scandal.
Comic and poignant, fast-paced and clever, Mrs Queen Takes the Train tweaks the pomp of the monarchy, going beneath its rigid formality to reveal the human heart of the woman at its centre.
My Thoughts:
Mrs. Queen Takes the Train is a thoroughly engaging read that will find appeal with fans of Downton Abbey, Alexander McCall Smith (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and more), JK Rowling and Royal watchers alike.

Kuhn, a well-known biographer and historian, takes his first novel to the land of the British Monarchy where we are introduced to the servants and to her Majesty and to their lives and roles within the Buckingham Palace.

The Queen, we find, is not quite herself of late, in fact she feels herself to be rather in a depressed state.  It is ten years following the death of Princess Diana and she has just seen the passing of her mother and sister.  Alas, the world is changing before her very eyes and she is struggling to find her way as the Monarch and as her own person.

She is surrounded by loyal servants, Shirley (her dress-maid), Lady Anne (lady in waiting), William (butler), Luke  (Major Thomason), and Rebecca (stable-hand) who do her bidding, protect her, and care for her physically and personally.  This is their story as much as it is the Queen's for it is when the Queen decides to "sample the public train, have a look at Britannia, and take a bite of that cheese from Paxton & Whitfield" and disappears from the castle grounds without so much as a word to anyone that they all come into action.

Each of these servants takes it upon themselves to find her and as their journey to do so progresses, they find a kinship among themselves that they may never have had the opportunity to otherwise.  Here we witness some tender touching moments and some very raw emotions that enlivens their character to the reader to the point of us, as readers, feeling a kinship with them.

On the other end of the story, the Queen, wearing Rebecca's hoodie (at Rebecca's insistence as the weather has turned to sleet and the Queen had not come to the stable prepared for the weather), merges with common society and experiences the world as the public does on a daily basis.  She befriends a couple on a train, speaks with the homeless, makes a lasting friendship with a young man from Paxton & Whitfield whom she nicknames "Cheddar", and learns what it takes to truly make contact with people.  It's the flip side of the royal currency to be sure and it's apparent she finds some freedoms  in the act.

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train tackles such things as depression, status, roles, expectations and relationships, as well you might expect considering it is the Queen we are reading about, but Kuhn develops his characters so masterfully that it flows naturally and the reader enjoys the entirety of the fiction mixed with history and fact and before you know it it is done and you close the book with a smile of satisfaction at having just read one of the quaintest and memorable pieces of fiction of the year. 

Meet the author:

William Kuhn is a biographer and historian, and the author of Reading JackieDemocratic RoyalismHenry & Mary Ponsonby, and The Politics of Pleasure. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts. This is his first novel. His next book, a work of historical fiction, explores the friendship over nearly forty years of Isabella Stewart Gardner and John Singer Sargent.
Find out more about William at his website, connect with him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

In My Mailbox (aka It's Monday, What Are You Reading?)

Good morning all!  It's been forever since I joined Book Journey's mailbox meme, It's Monday, What Are You Reading?, but today, as I am up at the hour of ridiculousness (4:48 am to be exact), unable to turn off the inner alarm clock that usually relies on the bedside alarm for my early Monday to Friday wakeup, I chose to spend a few moments to share what I plan for you to see here in the future in the form of reviews and commentary.

So... since you've all slept in (jealous!) and I haven't, here's a head start on that meme that Sheila and friends have so much fun with!

This week I've received....

A tool for researching the setting for the novel I am writing.

The first book in Carolyn Hart's Death on Demand mystery series.  I ordered this specifically from the bookstore because I absolutely love this series!!

This, I believe, is the third book in the Death on Demand series.  I need to order the second one next.  (unusual order but I needed a dollar amount equivalent to the minimum necessary to get free shipping.  ;)

Want to find out what you're destined to do?
Here's a good book for you!

Themed recipes galore to go with your favourite movie!
Anyone up for movie night?

Once upon a time I was this lady's avid fan but I haven't been reading her lately.  That is until I read the cover for this novel. I was sold! 
"A magical transformation takes place in Danielle Steel’s luminous new novel: strangers become roommates, roommates become friends, and friends become a family in a turn-of-the-century house in Manhattan’s West Village." (Goodreads) 

I love underdog stories and absolutely love horses
 so when the two were combined in this true story, it was a must-read for me!

What are you reading this week?  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New Releases Today!!! Allegiant and Sycamore Row

Two highly sought after and long awaited novels release today!!

One choice will define you.

What if your whole world was a lie?
What if a single revelation—like a single choice—changed everything?
What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent. (from Goodreads)

The follow-up to A Time To Kill by John Grisham

John Grisham takes you back to where it all began . . . 

John Grisham's A Time to Kill is one of the most popular novels of our time. Now we return to that famous courthouse in Clanton as Jake Brigance once again finds himself embroiled in a fiercely controversial trial-a trial that will expose old racial tensions and force Ford County to confront its tortured history.

Seth Hubbard is a wealthy man dying of lung cancer. He trusts no one. Before he hangs himself from a sycamore tree, Hubbard leaves a new, handwritten, will. It is an act that drags his adult children, his black maid, and Jake into a conflict as riveting and dramatic as the murder trial that made Brigance one of Ford County's most notorious citizens, just three years earlier.

The second will raises far more questions than it answers. Why would Hubbard leave nearly all of his fortune to his maid? Had chemotherapy and painkillers affected his ability to think clearly? And what does it all have to do with a piece of land once known as Sycamore Row?

In Sycamore Row, John Grisham returns to the setting and the compelling characters that first established him as America's favorite storyteller. Here, in his most assured and thrilling novel yet, is a powerful testament to the fact that Grisham remains the master of the legal thriller, nearly twenty-five years after the publication of A Time to Kill. (from Goodreads)

*** How excited are you?  Did you pre-order either of these books?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

John Grisham on the Writing Process

This is an interesting interview with John Grisham about the writing process and the inspiration for his first novel, A Time to Kill, which is timely with the upcoming release of Sycamore Row, the follow-up novel to his first novel, A Time to Kill.  Sycamore Row releases October 22/13.  Have you pre-ordered your copy yet?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: The Bride Wore Size 12 by Meg Cabot

The Bride Wore Size 12
Author:  Meg Cabot
Published:  September 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Edition:  ARC
Genre:  General fiction, Chick lit
Source:  A complimentary copy was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours which in no way influenced this blogger's opinion nor this review.

Heather Wells is used to having her cake and eating it too, but this time her cake just might be cooked. Her wedding cake, that is.
With her upcoming nuptials to PI Cooper Cartwright only weeks away, Heather’s already stressed. And when a pretty junior turns up dead, Heather’s sure things can’t get worse—until every student in the dorm where she works is a possible suspect, and Heather’s long-lost mother shows up.
Heather has no time for a tearful mother and bride reunion. She has a wedding to pull off and a murder to solve. Instead of wedding bells, she might be hearing wedding bullets, but she’s determined to bring the bad guys to justice if it’s the last thing she does . . . and this time, it just might be.

My Thoughts:

It's a mystery.  No, it's chick lit.  Perhaps it's general fiction?   The Bride Wore Size 12 could fall into any of these categories but the best thing is all three categories make up this new novel by Meg Cabot.  This was my introduction to Meg Cabot as a writer and I have to say I will be coming back for more.  Cabot's writing is fluid and beckoning with a good dose of humour and before I knew it I was 2/3 of the way through this 400+ page paperback.

It's my first time meeting Heather Wells and her handsome PI fiancĂ© Cooper Cartwright but Heather's character is so well developed that I felt I really knew her before I had finished the novel.  She is what I call a "dynamo."  She's been through a lot, including betrayal by her agent and her mother, but she has spunk and she's not afraid to follow her instincts, nor to tell someone like it is.  In some ways Heather reminds me of a friend of mine; intelligent, fun, feisty and loyal.  Excellent attributes not only in a friend but in her line of work as a residence assistance manager at a local college they are necessary.  After the previous school term, Heather is determined that no student will die on her watch but she seems to find trouble regardless, as does her fiancĂ© Cooper but in a very different way.  They are quite the matched pair and the sparks fly away from home as well as in.

The Bride Wore Size 12 contains a mystery that turns out to be more of a secret but in revealing it, Heather also discovers a murderer among them, one whose selfish motives killed a fellow student, seriously injured another and became a potential threat to the student body as well as administration.  Heather finds it's not always popular to do the right thing but the underlying messages are good solid advice for anyone and The Bride Wore Size 12 proves that a YA author can write in other genres and do it well.  I'm impressed!

Meet the author:

Meg Cabot was born in Bloomington, Indiana. In addition to her adult contemporary fiction she is the author of the bestselling young adult fiction series, The Princess Diaries. She lives in Key West, FL with her husband.
Find out more about Meg at her website, follow her blog, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Highlights from Random House Fall Preview

Last Wednesday I  attended the Random House Fall Preview.  The presenters of the evening, Duncan, Jennifer and Carole (my apologies for not being clear on her name) were dynamic, especially Jennifer!  Due to road construction in the area, it was a bit difficult to maneuver the downtown area to get to the Stanley Milner Library and the parkade and having done so, I arrived a bit too late to see who the author was.

But the remainder of the evening (late afternoon, early evening) was spectacular!  This is the first year that I am aware of them presenting all guests with a pre-packed bag with a selection of three books and one chap-book (the sequel to SECRET).  Amidst the presentation, prizes of t-shirts and other miscellaneous items were awarded for answering a few trivia questions.  All that aside though, the best part of the evening was the presentation itself!

The Top 15 highlights as I see them (not necessarily in this order):

1.  How to Feed a Family by Laura Keogh and Ceri Marsh.  This cookbook is based on the blog "Sweet Potato Chronicles" which is a fun and playful approach to feeding your family.  The book runs along the same concept.

2.  The Son of a Certain Woman by Wayne Johnston.  This novel is the story of a boy, with a large birthmark, born to the town's or even the country's most beautiful woman.  It's a laugh out loud read and a good introduction to the author.

3.  The Once and Future World by J.B. Mackinnon.  This novel will see a major media tour and a major exhibit at the Vancouver Museum based on this book about what nature once was and what it may become.

4.  The Circle by Dave Eggers is for the lovers of social media.  Picture a "Silicon Valley" type work place and a new employee who starts a new job with a minute description of her job but who gets the finger wag from the head of HR when she goes away for the weekend for a family emergency, on her own time mind you, but is not to be found anywhere on social media.  "gasp".   She was "unavailable".  Apparently the biggest sin in this company!

5.  Legends, Icons & Rebels by Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot, Sebastion Robertson, and Jared Levine is a books of beautiful frame able photography of legends and icons.  There are four pages per artist and 2 CDs of their music.  Terrific gift for the music lovers.

5.  Longbourn by Jo Baker.  Attention Pride and Prejudice fans!  Here's one told from the point of view of the help, not unlike Downton Abbey.  Celebrate the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice with this perspective.

6.  Eye of Minds by James Dashner.  A new series begins with this novel by the same author of Maze Runner and that series.  Action packed book highly recommended for boys.

7.  Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock.  An October release told in graphic novel form.  You simply must touch this book!

8.  Correspondences by Anne Michaels.  A beautiful gift book that folds out like an accordion featuring the poetry of Anne Michaels and the illustrations of Bernice Einstein.  I put a star by this one as a book I definitely want to add to my collection.

9.  An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by astronaut Chris Hadfield.  This book will see an enormous nation-wide tour, including Edmonton!!  Hadfield got everyone's attention with his recent trip to space and his satellite communications with various classrooms!  Not only for the space enthusiast, future astronauts, but as an encouragement to pursue your dreams.

10.  Perfect by Rachel Joyce.  Yes, the same author who wrote The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry!  This novel is about perception and how one person's perception can change relationships and alter lives.

11.  This Land Was Made For You and Me (But Mostly Me) by Bruce McCall and David Letterman.  Yes, the one and only David Letterman of late-night television!  This cute book features quirky and crazy cottages and is illustrated by Bruce McCall.  Imagine a cottage on skis!  Indeed!

12.  99 by Al Strachan.  This is the only authorized biography of the great Wayne Gretzky.  Al Strachan has the privilege of being the only writer to have the opportunities to interview Gretzky, getting to know him as few do.

13.  Toxic Toxout by Bruce Laurie and Rick Smith.  All the gross stuff you are taking in, all the toxins in the air and in what we eat, and how to get them out of your body.

14.  The Start Here Diet by Tosca Reno and Billie Fitzpatrick.  This is predominately a memoir of a woman whose life was not going in the right direction, who suffered abuse, and who turned her life around. Tosca shares how she did it and includes five easy tips for diet and exercise.

15.  Hollow City by Ransom Riggs.  From the author of the peculiar novel Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, the story continues with this new novel for YA and adults.

Appealing?  Tell me about it.  Really, do tell.  What interests you of the 15 highlighted here?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Giller Prize Shortlist 2013 Announced This Morning!!

The contenders:

Lisa Moore for Caught.  Lisa is from St. John's.
Lynn Coady for Hellgoing (a short story collection).  Lynn is from Edmonton.
Craig Davidson for Cataract City.  Craig is from Toronto.
Dennis Bock for Going Home Again. Dennis is from Toronto.
Dan Vyleta for The Crooked Maid.  Dan is the second author in the shortlist from Edmonton.

'Literary excellence is recognizable. You feel it. Even if you can't say why [or] you can't always persuade someone else. You feel it'- Giller juror and author Jonathan Lethem

The winner will be announced November 5/13 at a televised gala which will air on CBC-TV.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: Mind Without a Home by Kristina Morgan

Mind Without A Home
A Memoir of Schizophrenia
Author:  Kristina Morgan
Published:  August 2013
Publisher:  Hazelden
Pages:  260
Contains a DSM-IV Criteria for Schizophrenia
Edition:  ARC
Source:  A complimentary copy was provided by TLC Book Tours and the publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Receipt thereof bears no influence over my opinion nor this review.

Experience the inner world of a woman with schizophrenia in this brutally honest, lyrical memoir. Kristina Morgan takes us inside her head to experience the chaos of the schizophrenic mind. With the intimacy of private journal-like entries and the language of a poet, she carries us from her childhood to her teen years when hallucinations began to hijack her mind and into adulthood where she began abusing alcohol to temper the punishing voices that only she could here. This is no formulaic tale of tragedy and triumph: We feel Kristina’s hope as she pursues an education, career and builds friendships—and her devastation as the insistent voices convince her to throw it all away. Woven through the pages of her life are stories of recovery from alcoholism and her journey to live a fulfilling life.

My Thoughts:

Mind Without a Home is a memoir that reads like a journal.  Sometimes disjointed and ragged, often emotionally jarring; Morgan opens her heart and pours it all out on the page allowing the reader personal insight into the disturbing elements of a disease that is so often misunderstood.

Imagine hearing voices that aren't there, seeing figures no one else does, feeling so alone and depressed.  To share what Morgan really hears and sees takes years and several attempts at suicide before she finally admits to herself that she is ill, mentally ill, and needs medication to help her.  For years this very thought and the fear of it thwarted any attempts to help her.

"Men are everywhere.  Their ears attach to the walls.  Their eyes to knobs.  Their palms to grass.  I think all this and it makes sense to me.....

I was not happy with the outcome.  I didn't think I needed to be here.  It didn't matter that the other realities were confusing me, or that I was being berated by voices.  There were common occurrences in my life that I was learning to live with.  However, I hadn't slept for days.  The voices were keeping me up, and in my tiredness, I was having a hard time of fighting back." (pgs 172-173 ARC)

It is amazing how she did manage to cope despite the months in hospital, the alcoholism, the catatonic states.  Morgan enrolled in a creative writing program during which her talent for poetry emerged and it is evident in her writing.

Mind Without a Home is not an easy read due to the subject matter and the manner in which it is written.  But the very nature of Morgan's illness becomes so much a parallel to the manner in which this memoir reads.  How better to form an idea of what she must have gone through and what she still battles to this day.  Mind Without a Home is naked, transparent, and disturbing in its blatant reality.  A true eye-opener.

Meet the Author:

Kristina Morgan is a first-time author. She is currently married, working, and managing her co-occurring disorders, schizophrenia and alcoholism with the Twelve Step recovery. She lives in Arizona.
Visit Kristina’s blog at MindWithoutAHome.com.
Visit other reviews in this tour here.


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