Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tour Book Review: The Writing Desk, by Rachel Hauck



The Writing Desk
Rachel Hauck
Hardcover, 352 pages
Zondervan
July 10, 2017
Christian Fiction, Contemporary Fiction,
Contemporary Romance, Historical Fiction,
Historical romance




From the New York Times bestselling author of The Wedding Dress comes a new, captivating novel of secrets, romance, and two women bound together across time by a shared dream.

Tenley Roth’s first book was a runaway bestseller. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who has run out of inspiration?

With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.

A century earlier, another woman wrote at the same desk with hopes and fears of her own. Born during the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of the old money Knickerbockers. Under the strict control of her mother, her every move is decided ahead of time, even whom she’ll marry. But Birdie has dreams she doesn’t know how to realize. She wants to tell stories, write novels, make an impact on the world. When she discovers her mother has taken extreme measures to manipulate her future, she must choose between submission and security or forging a brand new way all on her own.

Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds, but fate has bound them together in a way time cannot erase.




Note
I received a complimentary ARC from
the author in exchange for an honest review.

This most unusual plot, in which two women from very different eras are somehow tied to each other through the process of writing, was a delightful read, in spite of its rather bittersweet ending.

Birdie Shehorn and Tenley Roth are both strong women, both New Yorkers, both writers, both dealing with personal issues related to romance. And they also share the same writing desk, although years apart.

I was immediately drawn to this story, thanks to the vividness of the characters, their dilemmas, and their individual settings. Birdie, who lived at a time in which women were still expected to conform to their families' and society's expectations, yearned to write, to have her work published. Tenley, who lives in the present, with its more improved opportunities for women, must still struggle with her identity as a writer. Ironically, she finds it harder to follow up her initial success with a second one, whereas Birdie, struggling with the limitations of her time, somehow finds it much easier to write.

The narrative switches back and forth from one timeline to the other, and I wondered at first what the exact connection was between Birdie and Tenley. Only toward the end of the novel does the author reveal just what this connection is, and it's a rather poignant, as well as ironic, one. 

I enjoyed going back and forth in time, and seeing the differences in the way these two women lived. Birdie's life was a very sheltered one, and she was totally controlled by her mother, who wanted to force her into a marriage that would be advantageous to their family, even if Birdie was not in love with the man selected for her. In contrast, Tenley is living with her boyfriend, Holt, who is a screenwriter. She was abandoned by her mother at the age of 9, and her father, a famous writer, has recently died.

Eli is Birdie's true love. His inner strength of character is revealed through his unfailing support of Birdie's writing. In contrast, Holt fails to support Tenley's decision to fly down to Florida to help her mother as she undergoes chemotherapy. Not only that, but he goes off by himself to Paris, instead of accompanying Tenley to Florida. Although he's apparently supportive of Tenley's writing, he doesn't stay the course with her. If she's not at the top of the literary world, he's no longer interested in her.

Jonas, the man Tenley meets in Florida, is totally different. Like Eli, he appreciates Tenley's talent, and in addition, cares about helping her mother right along with Tenley. He has the same quiet strength possessed by Eli, the same passionate love for a woman whom he also admires. Holt, in contrast, is very shallow, easily seduced by fame, and therefore, fickle. Of course, I totally adored both Eli and Jonas!

Secondary characters are always important in a novel. Sometimes they can either make or break the book. In this particular instance, I especially loved Blanche, Tenley's mother. She was the principal secondary character in the plot. I was totally prepared to dislike her, since she had abandoned Tenley and her dad years before. However, Hauck actually made me love her, and I grew to appreciate her just as much as Tenley eventually did. In fact, I ended up forgiving her, just as Tenley did, too. To her credit, Blanche made up for lost time with her daughter, and a beautiful relationship developed between the two of them, one that was very touching, as well.

Although he had already passed on when the narrative opened, Conrad Roth, Tenley's dad, was another great secondary character. He was in the same category as Eli and Jonas, and was a wonderful role model for Tenley. He never spoke a word against his errant wife, fully forgiving her for her abandonment. And, he never stopped loving her, either. His influence on Tenley was enormous, and enormously positive.

I really liked the interweaving of a Christian world view throughout the novel. It's a gentle interweaving, too; one that is never judgmental, never rigidly righteous. For example, not once does Jonas bash Tenley over the head with his beliefs. He very simply and lovingly lives them, and they are actually part of the reason she falls so deeply in love with him.

Although I've lived in Florida myself for many years, I had never heard of Cocoa Beach before reading this novel. The passages dealing with this city were wonderful, evoking that mellow, although very hot, summer mood. Jonas and his family lived very close to the beach, and it was actually relaxing to read about their family get-togethers and games, right on the beach. Blanche's house, which was located not far from the Sullivan house, evoked the same mellow mood, and I suddenly began to appreciate the life here in Miami, in spite of the heat!

While I did love and enjoy this novel, there were a couple of things that bothered me. For instance, I didn't like the way Tenley ultimately handled her writer's block; her actions just seemed completely out of character to me. 

Another problem I had concerned Blanche herself. I won't say more so as to avoid spoilers, but will say that something related to her was not resolved satisfactorily. I wasn't expecting this, either, and it totally floored me. 

Because of these objections, I have given this novel four instead of five stars. However, I still enjoyed it tremendously, and would definitely recommend it to all readers who love compelling stories whose female protagonists courageously face personal and societal obstacles. 

This was my first Rachel Hauck novel, and I am definitely interested in reading more of her books! 

MY RATING:





Purchase Links





New York Times, USA Today & Wall Street Journal Bestselling author Rachel Hauck writes from sunny central Florida.
A RITA finalist and winner of the Romantic Times Inspirational Novel of the Year, she writes vivid characters dealing with real life issues.
She loves to hear from readers. She also loves to encourage new writers and sits on the Executive Board of American Christian Fiction Writers.
A graduate of Ohio State University with a BA in Journalism, Rachel is an avid OSU football fan. She hopes to one day stand on the sidelines in the Shoe with Urban Meyer.
An avid Diet Coke fan, she is caffeine free. Sometimes you just have to compromise.
She's never skied or jumped out of an airplane. She leaves such hijinks to Jason Bourne.





To access the complete tour schedule, just click on the button below!



http://tlcbooktours.com/2017/05/rachel-hauck-author-of-the-writing-desk-on-tour-julyaugust-2017/




Can't Wait Wednesday No. 29: Speak Easy, Speak Love, by McKelle George





Welcome to "Can't Wait Wednesday"!
   
This is a weekly event hosted by
Tressa @ Wishful Endings, and inspired by "Waiting On Wednesday", which used to be hosted by
 Jill @ Breaking the Spine.

For more information, please click HERE.

As in the previous meme, this one showcases future releases  we book  bloggers 
are eagerly anticipating!!
There's also a Linky widget, so participating blogs can link up!



Here's my choice for this week!



 Speak Easy, Speak Love
McKelle George
Hardcover,  432 pages
Greenwillo Books
September 19, 2017    
Historical Fiction, Retellings,
Romance, Young Adult Fiction


https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30640834-speak-easy-speak-love?ac=1&from_search=true





Six teenagers’ lives intertwine during one thrilling summer full of romantic misunderstandings and dangerous deals in this sparkling retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

After she gets kicked out of boarding school, seventeen-year-old Beatrice goes to her uncle’s estate on Long Island. But Hey Nonny Nonny is more than just a rundown old mansion. Beatrice’s cousin, Hero, runs a struggling speakeasy out of the basement—one that might not survive the summer. Along with Prince, a poor young man determined to prove his worth; his brother John, a dark and dangerous agent of the local mob; Benedick, a handsome trust-fund kid trying to become a writer; and Maggie, a beautiful and talented singer; Beatrice and Hero throw all their efforts into planning a massive party to save the speakeasy. Despite all their worries, the summer is beautiful, love is in the air, and Beatrice and Benedick are caught up in a romantic battle of wits that their friends might be quietly orchestrating in the background.

Hilariously clever and utterly charming, McKelle George’s debut novel is full of intrigue and 1920s charm. For fans of Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins, and Anna Godbersen.




Why I can't wait for this one!

OMG!!  A Shakespeare retelling?! I DEFINITELY need to get this book!! Not only is that cover STUNNING, but the plot sounds SO cute, funny, and romantic!! Plus, I LOVE the 1920s setting and quirky characters! There's NO way I'm passing this one up!!





McKelle George is a reader, writer of clumsy rebels, perpetual doodler, and associate librarian at the best library in the world. She mentors with Salt Lake Teen Writes and plays judge for the Poetry Out Loud teen competitions (but has no poetic talent herself). Her debut young adult novel Speak Easy, Speak Love comes out from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in 2017, and she currently lives in Salt Lake City with an enormous white german shepherd and way, way too many books.







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Monday, August 14, 2017

Book Review: Bound Souls, by N.D. Jones


Bound Souls
(Forever Yours, Book 1)
N.D. Jones
Trade Paperback, 
Kuumba Publishing
February 10, 2017
Diverse Reads, Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Science Fiction
Source: Author

Synopsis:  Regent Lela of Asiya is the most powerful person on her planet, but she is powerless to save the life of her beloved soulmate — Zion Grace. For thirty years they lived as husband and wife, but Zion’s time is at an end. Lela must go on without him.

“There will never be anyone else for me.”

Despite having died, nothing can keep Zion from his soulmate. He’s back, but not as the man he once was. Zion must help Lela move on with her life, lest he lose her forever. But how can Zion convince Lela to accept the love and affections of another man when he still wants her for himself?

“I love you, Lela. My heart is forever yours.”

Lela and Zion are bound souls, destined to live eternity together. For these lovers, death is not an end, but a fateful beginning.



https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34369474-bound-souls?ac=1&from_search=true








I started this book with mixed feelings. In fact, I stopped reading it after about 100 pages. But then, after taking care of some other book reviews, I returned to this novel, having decided to give it another chance. And I'm so glad I did, too! I started from the beginning again, and this time, was able to finish it. I very much enjoyed it, as well!

What I had initially objected to was the way the love triangle in this novel was handled by Jones. I wasn't very comfortable with that. I won't say more, as I don't want to include any spoilers. However, the second time around, I was able to move beyond this to an appreciation of the great love that both Zion and Ammon, the two male protagonists, felt for Lela, the female protagonist.

Zion, Lela's first husband, was from Earth. From the descriptions in the novel, it became apparent that he was also an African-American. 

Ammon, like Lela, was from the planet of Asiya. The inhabitants of this planet have an unspecified ethnicity, and are much like humans.

Although Lela was bound to Zion for eternity, she also loved Ammon. Her relationship with him was no less beautiful than the one she had with Zion, although she was unable to give her heart fully to Ammon. Still, she loved him as much as she was capable of loving him. 

I did feel sorry for Ammon. As Lela's second husband, he was well aware that her heart totally belonged to Zion, but his love for Lela was unconditional, so he gladly accepted what she was able to give him.

This is a science fiction romance novel, so the emphasis is on the romance. Thus, it's not a fast-paced novel. Initially, this was another thing that bothered me. During the second reading, I saw and felt that the gentle pacing was just perfect for this particular story. This is, after all, a character-driven novel. It's the characters' emotions and thoughts that are important. 

The narrative opens with an argument between Zion and Lela, a few years before his death. It closes with a beautiful, peaceful reconciliation/reunion between them. In between, we go through all of Lela's tumultuous feelings right along with her, as she tries to come to terms with Zion's passing, as well as her acceptance of Ammon as her second husband.

I loved both Zion and Ammon, each being wonderful in his own way. I loved how much they each loved and treasured Lela. Both men also accepted Lela as the strong woman she was. As Regent of the planet of Asiya, Lela was indeed in a powerful position, and they respected that.

The secondary characters were wonderful as well! I especially liked Sage, Zion's sister. She and Lela were not only sisters-in-law, but also best friends. Their relationship was truly special. If Sage often came across as a bit domineering (she was constantly urging Lela to move on, as 7 years had gone by after Zion's death), it was because she truly cared for Lela, and wanted her to be happy. Sage also loved her brother, and missed him terribly. This became very evident when he unexpectedly revealed himself to her, asking for her help in helping Lela to move on.

I also loved Xavier, Zion and Lela's son. He, too, was very concerned about his mother, and was very devoted to her. I felt for him, too, as he struggled with the circumstances of his father's passing, which had left him feeling embittered and angry. 

The world-building in this novel was very well done, although I did feel that it could have been more detailed. However, readers can still get a feel for the world and culture of Asiya, which are both fascinating! I especially liked all of the rituals involved in courtship. They were absolutely beautiful! 

Interestingly, there seem to be references to Greek mythology with the presence of the three Fates. These are the closest thing to gods that the Asiyans have. As in Greek mythology, the Fates control the destiny of all Asiyans, and, of course, the destiny of any off-worlders married to Asiyans, as well.

I also found it interesting that Lela's first husband is named "Zion". This is also the name of a specific mountain located near the city of Jerusalem, and the name is often used as a synonym for the city itself. Furthermore, in the Rastafari religion, which developed in Jamaica in the 1930s, the name "Zion" refers directly to Ethiopia. So there's symbolism involved in the name of this character. 

I also thought that Zion's last name, "Grace" was very significant. I think it refers specifically to the grace of God, which He abundantly bestows on His children. It also has something to do with the concept of elegance and refinement in the carrying out of one's duties. Certainly Zion, as a diplomat assigned to the world of Asiya, possessed these qualities.

Lela's second husband is named "Ammon". (He has no last name; Asiyans are instead identified by their Houses, or clans.) This name actually refers to "an Iron Age Semitic-speaking nation occupying the east of the Jordan River, between the torrent valleys of Arnon and Jabbok, in present-day Jordan." (Source: Wikipedia) The Ammonites are mentioned in the Bible, in Genesis 19:37-38. "It is stated there that they descended from Ben-Ammi, a son of Lot through incest with his younger daughter. Bén'ámmî, literally means "son of my people"." (Source: Wikipedia article mentioned above)

These two names are significant for a reason. I would guess that they are meant to express the initial, strong rivalry that existed between Zion and Ammon. After all, in the Bible, the Hebrews were always contending with pagan nations. The Wikipedia article referenced above also points this out. "Throughout the Bible, the Ammonites and Israelites are portrayed as mutual antagonists. During the Exodus, the Israelites were prohibited by the Ammonites from passing through their lands. The Ammonites soon allied themselves with Eglon of Moab in attacking Israel."

How fascinating that, in this novel, Zion and Ammon, who were initially rivals, eventually came to a peaceful resolution in their mutual love for Lela, although Zion was the one she was bound to for all eternity.

The name "Sage" is also significant. Not only is this an aromatic plant, but the noun is also defined as "a profoundly wise person". (Dictionary.com) So this is a very appropriate name for Lela's sister-in-law. Not only did she do her best to soothe Lela's sorrow, which is something that alludes to the aromatic plant, but she also provided Lela with excellent advice, and always had Lela's back.

This beautiful, heartbreaking story is also poetically and sensitively told. Using a third-person narrative with several POVs, Jones weaves a tale that is vividly real, vividly poignant. It also becomes depressing at a certain point, as it seems that Lela will never be able to move beyond her sorrow. But then, the tone of the story changes to one of hope, and ends on this note. Even though the author's take on the afterlife is totally alien to me, I was able to appreciate the fact that everything came to a lovely conclusion. The great romantic cliche that "true love always wins out in the end" was beautifully depicted.

This is such an emotionally powerful novel! It's also a very philosophical one, as several themes are touched upon, such as life after death, the enduring power of love, the ideal of peace among all lifeforms in the universe, and the impact of one's legacy on future generations.

I've never read an SF novel like this one before. When I finished reading it, I did indeed feel as if I had lived this life, as if I, like Lela, had had to deal with the passing of a beloved spouse, as well as the conflicting emotions elicited by another. By the end of the book, all of the characters felt like family, with all of the lovable qualities and flaws typical of families. I was, of course, very sorry to see all of it come to an end.

At the back of the book, the author has included a beautiful short story titled "The Garden". This story was the seed from which Bound Souls sprang into full form. It focuses on the same theme as the novel, but resolves the central issue in another way. And, it, too, was very beautiful!

I highly recommend this novel, which I'm sure I will re-read at some point in the future. I am also planning to read the other PNR novels written by this highly-talented author!
  

MY RATING:







N. D. Jones lives in Maryland (USA) with her husband and two children. Having earned an M.A. in Political Science, she is a dedicated educator. She taught high school Social Studies and served as chair of the Social Studies Department. Currently, she is a Professional Development Teacher Specialist with a local Maryland school system, working on increasing student achievement through teacher and administrator efficacy. She is a lifelong learner, pursuing her doctorate in Community College Leadership.

She is the founder of Kuumba Publishing, an art, audiobook, eBook, and paperback company. Kuumba Publishing is a forum for creativity, with a special commitment to promoting and encouraging creative works of authors and artists of African descent. Her teenage daughter created the image design for Kuumba Publishing, while her son has written a role-playing game original character bio for a new paranormal romance series--making Kuumba Publishing a true family affair.

A desire to see more novels with positive, sexy, and three-dimensional African American characters as soul mates, friends, and lovers, inspired the author to take on the challenge of penning such romantic reads. She is the author of two paranormal romance series: Winged Warriors and Death and Destiny. She's also embarked on a science fiction romance series, Forever Yours. N.D. likes to read historical and paranormal romance novels, as well as comics and manga.







Saturday, August 12, 2017

Shelf Candy Saturday No. 222: An Enchantment of Ravens, by Margaret Rogerson



Welcome to Shelf Candy Saturday!



This is my weekly feature
showcasing beautiful covers!
It also provides information, 
if available, on their 
very talented creators!


Here's my choice for this week!!



An Enchantment of Ravens
Margaret Rogerson
Hardcover, 304 pages
Margaret K. McElderry Books
September 26, 2017
   Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction


https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30969741-an-enchantment-of-ravens



My Thoughts About This Cover

This exquisitely elegant cover reminds me of one of the paintings of Botticelli, known as "Primavera".  If you compare this cover image with the illustration shown below, you will see certain similarities, although there are some obvious differences, as well. 




Primavera
Sandro Botticelli
(late 1470s or early 1480s)
Tempera on panel
Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy


The color scheme is very similar in both the cover and the painting, and the detail on the sleeve of the cover model is very much like the ones on the gown of one of the characters in the painting; specifically, the third one from the right.

The profile on the book cover looks more modern, of course; in fact, it has an almost cartoonish -- perhaps even a "Disneyish" -- quality about it. However, the overall lighting does remind me of the lighting in the Botticelli painting. 

The flowing hair of the young woman on the cover also reminds me of the equally flowing hair of the young women standing to the left, in Botticelli's painting.  

The classical font used for the title is effective, although I would have preferred a more ornate one.

Another element of this cover that I love is the way the ravens frame the young woman's profile. This is very effective indeed!

The brilliant artist behind this glorious cover is Charlie Bowater, an illustrator born in the UK. She was indeed raised on cartoons, especially those by Disney, as I discovered when I Googled her. She is a full-time Lead Concept Artist and Illustrator, having worked on many projects such as book covers and concept and marketing art for games. She's also an avid reader.

And my list of favorite cover artists just keeps growing and growing!



Online Links



What do you think of 
this week's cover?
Do you have any further
observations about this cover?
Please leave a comment
and let me know!








Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Can't Wait Wednesday No. 28: A Conspiracy In Belgravia, by Sherry Thomas





Welcome to "Can't Wait Wednesday"!
   
This is a weekly event hosted by
Tressa @ Wishful Endings, and inspired by "Waiting On Wednesday", which used to be hosted by
 Jill @ Breaking the Spine.

For more information, please click HERE.

As in the previous meme, this one showcases future releases  we book  bloggers 
are eagerly anticipating!!
There's also a Linky widget, so participating blogs can link up!



Here's my choice for this week!



 A Conspiracy In Belgravia
(Lady Sherlock, Book 2)
Trade Paperback,  336 pages
Berkley Books
September 5, 2017    
Historical Fiction, Mystery,
Sherlock Holmes


https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33931130-a-conspiracy-in-belgravia






The game is afoot as Charlotte Holmes returns in the atmospheric second novel in New York Times bestseller Sherry Thomas's Victorian-set Lady Sherlock series.

Being shunned by Society gives Charlotte Holmes the time and freedom to put her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, she’s had great success helping with all manner of inquiries, but she’s not prepared for the new client who arrives at her Upper Baker Street office.

Lady Ingram, wife of Charlotte’s dear friend and benefactor, wants Sherlock Holmes to find her first love, who failed to show up at their annual rendezvous. Matters of loyalty and discretion aside, the case becomes even more personal for Charlotte as the missing man is none other than Myron Finch, her illegitimate half brother.

In the meanwhile, Charlotte wrestles with a surprising proposal of marriage, a mysterious stranger woos her sister Livia, and an unidentified body that surfaces where least expected. Charlotte’s investigative prowess is challenged as never before: Can she find her brother in time—or will he, too, end up as a nameless corpse somewhere in the belly of London?



Why I can't wait for this one!

OMG!! I'm an OBSESSED fan of Sherlock Holmes, and this author has turned him, and Holmes's faithful assistant, into women, which makes me even MORE interested in this book!!!
Here is a new adventure, yet another of the great detective's brilliant exploits, except that now, as it turns out, this brilliance is due to a female brain! Are you surprised to hear that I've already pre-ordered this novel? And I would have NEVER heard of it, had it not been for the FABULOUS Barb, who blogs over at  Booker T's Farm: Books and Nails and Puppy Dog Tales!! Yes, I discovered this TERRIFIC book on Barb's "Stacking The Shelves"/"Sunday Post" post, which you can access HERE. Thanks SO much, Barb!!







Sherry Thomas writes both historical romance and young adult fantasy.

On the romance side, she is one of the most acclaimed authors working in the genre today, her books regularly receiving starred reviews and best-of-the-year honors from trade publications. She is also a two-time winner of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award.

On the young adult fantasy side,  her debut book, The Burning Sky, book 1 of the Elemental Trilogy, has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and been named to the Autumn ’13 Kids’ Indie Next List.

Sherry writes in her second language. She learned English by reading romance and science fiction—every word Isaac Asimov ever wrote, in fact. She is proud to say that her son is her biggest fanboy—for the YA fantasy, not the romances. At least, not yet…







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