Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Shelter Me Book Review

Shelter Me by Juliette Fay

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Blurb: Four months after her husband's death, Janie LaMarche remains undone by grief and anger. Her mourning is disrupted, however, by the unexpected arrival of a builder with a contract to add a porch onto her house. Stunned, Janie realizes the porch was meant to be a surprise from her husband - now his last gift to her.

As she reluctantly allows construction to begin, Janie clings to the familiar outposts of her sorrow - mothering her two small children with fierce protectiveness, avoiding friends and family, and stewing in a rage she can't release. Yet Janie's self-imposed isolation is breached by a case of unlikely interventionists: her chattering, ipecac-toting aunt; her bossy, over-manicured neighbor; her muffin-bearing cousin; and even Tug, the contractor with a private grief all his own.

As the porch takes shape, Janie discovers that the unknowable terrain of the future is best navigated with the help of others - even those we least expect to call on, much less learn to love.

Review by Brittany:

I picked this book up on sale at a used bookstore, never having heard of the book or author before. I had previously read a book similar to this, one that centered on the grief of becoming a widow, so I knew the topic would interest me.

The anger and grief that Janie feels throughout the entire book is so well written that I felt like I could relate, even though I've never been in Janie's situation before. There were scenes where she would be irrationally angry about things that were going on, and she would recognize how ridiculous she was being and still she couldn't stop herself. One such scene occurs when a fellow mother is late bringing Janie's 5-year-old son back from a playdate. Janie snaps in front of both her son and the other little boy, unloading pounds of anger onto the other mother. Janie's frustrations in this moment may be justified, but her reaction is not, and she is aware of this even as it's happening. The author always manages to make what Janie is feeling clear and relatable, including the times when Janie is appalled by her own behavior.

The characters in this novel are also all well written, including Janie's young children. She has her young son, Dylan, and her baby girl, Carly, who is about 10 months old when the book starts. Babies aren't typically given much personality or very many identifying traits, but the author took care to give some to Carly. Dylan is given scenes where his little boy silliness comes through, but he is also a character who reminds Janie of the value of forgiveness and the joys that still remain in life. There are times when Dylan struggles with understanding what happened to his father, and even those moments feel genuine - thanks to the writing.

The characters of Tug (the carpenter) and Father Jake (the priest at Janie's church) play pivotal roles in Janie's journey of grief. Tug becomes an unusual but close friend, and there are scenes he has with Dylan that are so funny and light - a nice change of pace in such a heavy book. Father Jake is there to help Janie deal with her grief, but the lines of their relationship blur throughout the story as they become more and more dependent on one another.

I loved this book. The author did a fantastic job of writing all of the characters and all of the emotions that each character experiences. I definitely recommend!

Notable quotes:

I can barely stand to feel my own feelings, let alone anyone else's.

I guess everyone wants to spend the day in bed sometimes, she told herself, but when you feel half dead to begin with, it's an urge you really ought to fight. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Immortal Circus Book Review

The Immortal Circus by A. R. Kahler

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Blurb: Murdered contortionists aren't exactly what Vivienne signed up for when she ran away to join the circus. But like most things under the big top, nothing is what it seems. With a past she can't quite remember, Vivienne finds that running away forever might not be as appealing as it once sounded - because forever means something quite different at the Cirque des Immortels.

Aided by her friends Kingston - a feisty stage magician whose magic is quickly stealing her heart - and his sarcastic assistant Melody, Vivienne finds herself racing against the clock to discover the culprit behind a series of deaths that should be impossible. However, the answer she seeks might reveal more about her own bloody past - and future - than she bargains for.

The show's just beginning.

Step right up...

The Immortal Circus is the first book in the Cirque des Immortels trilogy.

Review by Brittany:

Circus stories are interesting to me. I love the idea of magic and tricks and believing in what feels unbelievable. This book interested me because of the magical circus idea that I already love so much. This started out as a Kindle serial (released in parts) and was sold all together once the full story was released.

Vivienne is the main character of the story, which is told from her point of view, and she is ordinary living in a world of extraordinaries. Nothing with this circus is as it seems, and Vivienne learns that continually throughout the story.

The books opens up with the gruesome murder of a contortionist, but the show must go on, even as more murders are committed. The story became one about fey (not a spoiler as this is revealed early on) and two kingdoms are at war. Out of all supernatural characters, the fey tend to be the ones that I like the least, so that didn't appeal to me the way it might appeal to another reader.

One character that did really interest me was Lilith, a little girl who is essentially the right-hand man to the circus ringleader/Queen of the Winter Court, Mab. Throughout the book she is a mystery. Why is she still a little girl when others have been permitted to grow up? Why does she seem to have limited intelligence - or limited ability to verbalize her thoughts - when other characters don't? What is her relationship with the cat, Poe? By the end, some of the answers are provided, but there are still some mysteries circling Lilith.

Vivienne's struggle with her memory and her past adds some needed character depth. While other characters are mostly surface, Vivienne gets some depth in the story. She cannot remember much from before she joined the circus, and even as events are happening she is forgetting them. It is clear something is going on with her memories, but what?

There were some scenes in the book that were a bit gruesome, particularly the murder scenes that are described. There was one scene that was erotic without being graphic, but it was sexual in nature and is something to be aware of.

The ending of the book was well done and had enough of a cliffhanger to leave me intrigued, but not so much that I feel like I have to read the next installment to feel complete. This book could definitely be a standalone if you don't want to invest in a series, but it's also a great first piece to what I'm sure will be an excellent trilogy.

Notable Quotes:

"Which means, my dear servant, that I can no longer protect you from the hands of time."

It's amazing how fast things can fall to shit.

"Human skin is so...suffocating."

Keeping track of all these secrets is going to be impossible.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Place to Call Home Book Review

A Place to Call Home by Carole Matthews

Blurb: Ayesha knows that she must escape from her marriage for the sake of her daughter, Sabina. Slipping away in the dead of the night, they head for London to start a new life.

Hayden, a reclusive pop star, hides himself away in the mansion which he shares with two more damaged souls - Crystal, a professional dancer with a kind heart and Joy, an ill-tempered retiree.

When Ayesha and Sabina land on their doorstep, Hayden reluctantly agrees that they can stay with them too. And, although they're all different people with troubles of their own, they quickly form a loving if unlikely bond. So when their peaceful life is threatened, they do whatever it takes to save each other.

Heart-rending, emotional and uplifting, this is a story of finding love and A Place to Call Home...

Review by Brittany:

I am a huge Carole Matthews fan, so picking up this book was no question for me. Matthews is a UK bestselling author who lives in Milton Keynes, and most of her books are not released in the US, except on Kindle.

This book was a little bit heavier than most of her others. In this one, Matthews battles such topics as death, grieving, domestic abuse, suicide, and crime. Ayesha is a character who has suffered from domestic abuse at the hands of her husband, and slipping out into the night is the only way she can think to save herself and her child, Sabina. Luckily, Sabina has never been abused by her father, although she does show signs of recognizing the trauma her mother has gone through.

The other characters who live in the house - Hayden, Crystal, and Joy - are all well-developed characters who have suffered traumas of their own. I love how Matthews created Crystal to be so big-hearted, but her occupation and her appearance are not what you would immediately think of. She challenges her reader to drop the initial judgement of her character. Joy is an older woman in her seventies who basically just misses her family, and her grumpiness slowly dissolves as the story unfolds. Hayden suffered a loss of his own, the death of his fiancee, and has become almost a hermit. When Ayesha joins the group, she turns things around and each member of this dysfunctional family helps the other to heal.

Matthews always writes stories that end happily and that come together; it is merely a matter of getting there. The one complaint that I had about this book was that Hayden is a type of character that has become a trope - he is an attractive, unbelievable rich man who is so giving that no one in the book really has to worry about money. This has a bit of a false ring to it and is a character that is used often to allow writers to almost be lazy about the money thing. It is a small factor that does not take away from the character of Hayden or his development, but it is something that I see too much of in modern literature.

I would, of course, recommend this book as Matthews only writes winners. It is also a nice relief from the erotica and the emotionally tearing books that have become so popular recently.