Friday, December 30, 2011

My Favorite Reads of 2011

I've made it a rule since my college days to read at least one book (novel or nonfiction) per week or one short story a day...And this year, I had the good fortune to start reviewing books for Shelf Awareness.  That meant that I read a lot more than usual, but I had a little less time to devote to all the books I had planned on reading. The good folks at Shelf Awareness for Readers send me an often ecclectic list of nonfiction/fiction, mysteries and romances--books I might not normally choose for myself, per se, but titles I have enjoyed reading that broaden my range. Of late, this blog tends to highlight a majority of those titles. However, I read a lot more than what I post. 

Therefore, below is a list of my Top 12 Personal Favorite Books from 2011. Please note: there is no special ranking.  Each book is so different in content/form/subject matter that I feel it is unfair to qualify them in that way. The numbers are there to simply keep the list orderly.  And unless otherwise noted, all books referenced are fiction/novels. To learn more about any of the selections, link on the title for additional information:

1)    Faith - Jennifer Haigh
2)   Coming Up for Air - Patti Callahan Henry
3)   Let's Take the Long Way Home - Gail Caldwell (memoir)
4)   The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress - Beryl Bainbridge
5)   Bin Laden's Bald Spot - Brian Doyle (short stories)
6)   The Women Jefferson Loved - Virginia Scharff (nonfiction)
7)    Emily and Einstein - Linda Francis Lee 
8)    The Solitude of Prime Numbers - Paolo Giordano
9)    Emory's Gift - W. Bruce Cameron
10)   I Married You for Happiness - Lily Tuck
11)   The Train of Small Mercies - David Rowell (short stories)
12)   Blood, Bones and Butter - Gabrielle Hamilton (memoir)

Here is a list of books I had wanted to read this year, but never got around to...I'll add them to my stack for 2012:

1)     State of Wonder - Ann Patchett
2)    The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides
3)    The Art of Fielding - Chad Hardbach
4)    Falling Together - Marisa de los Santos
5)    Death Comes to Pemberly - P.D. James

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Christmas Memory

"I've always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when He came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don't know it's getting dark. And it's been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I'll wager it never happens. I'll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself . . . I could leave the world with today in my eyes."
~from A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

I read A CHRISTMAS MEMORY by Truman Capote every year, and every year this carefully crafted story, steeped in great sensory detail and palpable atmosphere, takes on more depth and resonance. 

The setting is the rural South of the 1930s, during the Great Depression.  The story is told looking back via the perspective of a then, seven year-old boy remembering a Christmas he spent with his much older cousin, a childlike woman in her sixties who has never "seen a movie...eaten in a restaurant, traveled more than five miles from home, received or sent a telegram, read anything except funny papers and the Bible, worn cosmetics, cursed, wished someone harm, told a lie on purpose, let a hungry dog go hungry." These two seemingly lost souls are largely disregarded while living in a house populated with other people (some family members), and their being lost in the shuffle forges their friendship, along with a dog named Queenie, who rounds out the trio. 

During this one recalled Christmas, the best friends pool their nickels and dimes and set out on a quest to bake 31 Fruit Cakes (complete with a trek to acquire illicit whiskey from a creepy man named Mr. Haha Jones) to send to "persons we've met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who've struck our fancy. Like President Roosevelt."

This aptly titled memory story is filled with details that evoke a sense of nostalgia, loss and ultimately, longing. It is a poignant, beautifully rendered tale about the bonds of love and friendship, gift-giving and the often simple pleasures that bring joy and meaning to our lives - however fleeting.  Truman Capote has given us a great gift in crafting, A Christmas Memory.  It reminds us that nothing last forever, but if we're lucky, memory does - and that is precisely what can sustain us.

Merry Christmas to all!

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
(30th Anniversary Special Edition Hardcover)
Publication Date: 2006
Knopf Books, $17.95, 9780375837890, 49 pp

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
(A Tale Blazer Paperback)
Publication Date: 1990
Perfection Learning,  $3.35, 9780895986634, 36 pp

Note:  This story was originally published in 1956.
To order this book (paperback edition) via INDIEBOUND click HERE

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Voice of the River

In the rural Northwest Rockies, a 17 year-old boy and his dog have gone missing.  It is suspected that they might've fallen through the ice of a frozen river near their home. But where are they - dead or alive? A whole community rallies to find them as acclaimed novelist and short story writer, Melanie Rae Thon (Iona Moon, In This Light) sets out to discover their whereabouts in The Voice of the River. 

The narrative is prefaced with a lengthy character description list to keep track of the various families tied to the search.  Structured in chapters set at various times amid the course of one single day, this novel appears to be about rescuing the missing.  But beneath the surface, the story probes the psyches of those who come together in this one community and how they are bound by personal tragedies and loss; grief, love and longings. Amid the search are interlude-like chapters which reflect individual characters as they struggle to find meaning and purpose for life and reconcile the secret, hidden places within their own hearts.

This is a beautifully written novel rendered via a stream-of-consciousness prose style. While this aptly coincides with the river theme, it also makes for a rather challenging read in both form and content. However, the reward of this novel is experiencing the river, all that it represents and every person drawn to it, as a moving meditation about navigating the changing currents and undercurrents of life.

FC2-Fiction Collective 2/The University of Alabama Press, Trade Paper, 978-1573661621, 216 pp.
Publication Date: September 9, 2011
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Please note: This review is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Day Column
November 24, 2011
Opinion/Editorial (Section A-22)
To read the op-ed in its entirety, click on the highlighted article title above

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The New Face of Publishing

Publishing models and platforms are changing at a rapid pace.  E-books sales already account for more than 10% of all books sold - and some in the industry claim this statistic is much higher than actually reported.  With the release of more affordable e-readers, lower priced Kindles and the launch of the new Kindle Fire from Amazon, some say that figure is bound to double by the end of 2011.  In a recent article featured in Shelf Awareness, is reporting that Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch said the company, "expects the size of the print book market to decrease by a third by 2015, while the e-book market grows by 700%."

With that in mind, I am pleased to host Nicole Langan of Tribute Books for an extended Q&A regarding her exciting new publishing venture.  Nicole started Tribute Books in 2004. She has successfully published fiction and nonfiction books (in print and electronic form) that have gone on to win a host of industry awards. But for 2012, she has decided that Tribute Books will now concentrate solely on publishing great new Young Adult (YA) books via e-publishing platforms only.  

Kathleen GerardWhat inspired you to make this big change to YA only e-books?

Nicole Langan:  Our main reason is the explosion in popularity of e-readers such as the Kindle, Nook and iPad. Over the course of 2011, we've watched our ebook sales outpace our print sales by 2 to 1. The under $5 price point of most of our titles and the ease of purchase and delivery are surely contributing factors.

On a business level, the young adult genre sells especially if it is well written and has a paranormal romance theme. On a marketing level, the devotion of the young adult fan base is unparalleled. On a personal level, I thoroughly enjoy a good young adult novel and review many on my blog at

KGWhat kind of author are you looking for?

NL: My preference is for damn good writing, the particular topic is secondary in importance. However, books written with a series in mind or those that delve into the paranormal will have a slight edge. Manuscripts that have already been professionally edited will receive greater consideration. Our preference is to work with authors who have already been published through a royalty-paying press and who know the ins and outs of book promotion. An established social media platform is a must, and we will not consider writers who do not have a well-followed blog, Facebook page or Twitter account.

My hope is that we are able to recruit some talented writers of well-written, well-crafted stories in order to develop an eager fan base for the titles we publish. We want readers to be excited about the ebooks we produce. Young adult authors have the most devoted fan followings out there, and we'd like to introduce that audience to a whole new host of talent.

KGWhat is your promotion strategy?

NLI am a big believer in the power of social media. I even conduct monthly blog tours for outside publishers and authors in order to help them increase the online presence of a book. Book bloggers are a powerful force in the book industry. With more and more book stores closing and book review columns being cut from major newspapers, readers are depending on bloggers to help them find the books they want to read. They are turning to the internet as a reference point to fill this information gap.

In my opinion, social networking is the bread and butter of any author's promotional efforts. Without it, it's like trying to paddle upstream without a canoe. Readers want to connect with the person who wrote the book. They crave interaction with an author. Nothing beats getting a writer to comment on a blogger's book review post or getting a personalized thank you tweet from your favorite author. The days of authors being isolated from their fans is over. They're now able to build an online following and receive instant feedback for their work. They have the opportunity to take part in creating their own literary community.

We try to keep an active online presence with our web site,
Facebook, Twitter and blog. We'
re looking for those who love young adult literature to join us for the ride.

KG:  What are your submission requirements?

NL: Interested authors can submit their manuscripts via email to There will be no charge for the authors we select to work with, and they will receive 50% of the net profits of their ebook sales in quarterly royalty payments. We're looking for Microsoft Word documents with a maximum of 350 pages of text with no photos, charts, illustrations, graphs, etc. The ebooks will be available through Kindle, Nook, iPad, Smashwords and as PDF downloads through They will retail between $2.99 and $4.95.

KGWhat is your background in publishing?

NL: I've spent roughly the last 12 years in the publishing world. I have a B.A. summa cum laude in English and Communications. From 1999-2004, I went from being an intern to an editorial assistant to an associate editor of a regional magazine. In 2004, I started Tribute Books. Since that time, I've worked with dozens of authors, illustrators, photographers and editors in publishing over 30 books. Some of our books have gone on to win awards such as the Christian Small Publisher Book of the Year and the Mom's Choice Award while others were endorsed by PBS and The Thoreau Society. In 2012, we'll embark on a new transition becoming solely an e-publisher of young adult titles.

KG: Thanks for stopping by and sharing more information, Nicole. I wish you and Tribute Books much continued success!

Please note: Tribute Books intends to publish a total of twelve (12) books in 2012.

Contact information for Tribute Books:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Between Heaven and Mirth

Why is God often viewed as a joyless judge? Why does the aim of religion sometimes seem like one of gloom and seriousness? Issues like these are what Jesuit priest James Martin (author of My Life with the Saints and culture editor of America magazine) addresses in the compelling and extremely entertaining Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life.

Martin fully understands that some religious organizations seem more concerned with sin than with virtue. In Catholic culture, for instance, suffering is more often linked to spirituality than is joy. But he believes that God wants us to experience a joy-filled life, and thus his book becomes "an invitation, a challenge... to rethink the importance of humor and laughter in the life of believers" who seek to live out their spirituality in the modern world.

Martin delivers an uplifting, affirming, interfaith testament of how joy is the foundation of the spiritual life. He refreshingly veers away from dogma and scholarly arguments to present an accessible historical examination of humor via the Bible (notably the Psalms and the Gospels), the lives of the saints and biographies of other notable spiritualists. He illustrates how the parables contain bursts of the absurd and "comedic hooks," and how numerous Biblical passages portray the playfulness of Christ and those who encountered Him.

Between Heaven and Mirth is an enriching, inspiring read, leavened with humorous personal stories, jokes and anecdotes that give believers strategies to deepen their faith by cultivating a sense of delight and good humor in their own lives and church communities.

HarperOne, $25.99, Hardcover, 978-0062024268, 272 pp.
Publication Date: October 4, 2011
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Please note: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review (in a slightly different form) on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (10/11/11), click HERE.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What I Hate: From A to Z

We all have them - fears, neuroses and pet peeves. And there's no one else on earth who can better capture and articulate the absurdity of the human psyche than the prolific and brilliant, long-time cartoonist for The New Yorker, Roz Chast (Theories of Everything; The Party, After You Left).

Chast is a self-proclaimed "anxious person." In her new book, WHAT I HATE: FROM A to Z, she brings her own special brand of wry humor and artistic style to a clever, alphabetized catalog of her favorite personal anxieties and concerns. Chast utilizes all 26 letters of the alphabet, and offers runners up and understudies at the end of the book, striking a perfect balance between the literary and the visual. Each full-page cartoon entry, and brief passage of accompanying text, resonates with insight and wit about the human condition. Rendered via Chast's cerebral point-of-view, fears of elevators, getting lost, heights, nightmares, and water-bugs (to name just a few) are each cast in a chilling new light. And the more eccentric, highly specialized concerns like alien abduction, carnival ride maintenance, Jello, Ouija boards, premature burial, undertow and the color yellow are full of irony as well as dark, intellectual depth.

Chast is a meticulous illustrator, and yet a charming simplicity reigns as the hallmark of her work. The unique, sketchy quality of her art is what makes it so appealing to a wide, crossover audience. Taken at face value or more carefully considered, these never-before published cartoons evoke deeper thoughts while inspiring the viewer to laugh out loud.

Bloomsbury, $15.00, Hardcover, 978-1608196890, 64 pp.
Publication Date: October 11, 2011
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Please note: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review (in a slightly different form) on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (10/18/11), click HERE.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Girl in the Polka-Dot Dress

"When I write a novel, I'm writing about my own life; I'm writing a biography almost always. And to make it look like a novel, I either have a murder or a death at the end."  ~ Beryl Bainbridge

I had never heard of the British novelist, Beryl Bainbridge until she died on July 2, 2010. It was by perusing her obituaries, and learning her take on writing and craft, that I became interested in seeking out more of her work. She didn't have an easy life or road to publication, but that didn't stop her from trying to make sense of the world by writing stories. She was a career novelist, and at the time of her death, she left behind twenty books. Her historical fiction was critically acclaimed and launched by her interest in real life figures (Adolf Hitler in her novel, Young Adolf) or topics (the Titantic in Every Man for Himself). She could construct an entire fictional universe around small kernels of truth.

The Girl in the Polka-Dot Dress was the novel Bainbridge had been working on at the time of her death. It was "re-mastered" and published posthumously. The story is classic Bainbridge - a compressed read (under 200 pages) where every word and scene is carefully chosen and infused with great wit and absurdity, however dark the themes.

The Girl in the Polka-Dot Dress grew out of Bainbridge's interest in the mystery girl who was reportedly involved in the assassination of Robert Kennedy. The story is also said to be based on Bainbridge's own experiences while traveling through the United States in the 1960s. 

Bainbridge sets this novel in 1968. It traces the cross-country adventure of two misfits: Rose, a young dental hygienist, who arrives in the U.S. from London; and Harold, an older man, a widower from the States, stuck in a psychological state of inertia. What brings the two, very different characters together is their mutual search to find Dr. Wheeler, a man working on the campaign trail for Robert Kennedy.

The doctor holds a sense of personal significance to both Rose and Harold. For Rose, Dr. Wheeler was a force for good amid her troubled childhood (although as the story unravels, "good" becomes a rather questionable adjective). For Harold, Dr. Wheeler represents a force of evil that led to the greatest calamity of his life. Over the course of the story, Dr. Wheeler is a presence that continues to elude the duo as they travel from Baltimore to Los Angeles. Thus, the doctor's absence drives the plot. However, the true resonance of the story lies in the numerous encounters Rose and Harold have along the way. The eccentricities of each person they meet reveal something more about Rose and Harold, while also making larger statements about the menacing nature of the world, especially in the 60s.

What I found most intriguing about The Girl in the Polka-Dot Dress was how the reader knows exactly where the story is headed and yet, via Bainbridge's presentation--the nuances of her characters and themes of sin, sudden death and violence--she adds surprising twists and levity to what becomes an immensely gripping story. In the end, the book becomes less about the destination and more about the journey, which is especially apropos in terms of the "unfinished" nature of the book and Bainbridge's immortality on the page.

The Girl in the Polka-Dot Dress by Beryl Bainbridge
Europa Editions, Trade Paper, 978-1609450564, 162 pp.
Publication Date: August 30, 2011
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Peace at the Edge of Uncertainty

When his father suffers a reaction to medication, an adult son is called home to Kansas City.  The son arrives and discovers that his father is in a coma and life support intervention is keeping him alive. 

In Peace at the Edge of Uncertainty, Neil Hanson has written a stream-of-consciousness, non-fiction meditation on what it means to sit vigil in a hospital ICU and ruminate about the relationship he shared with a troubled, emotionally distant father.

Hanson structures the narrative in the form of a heartfelt letter to his father, written 15 years after his death, where he gives witness to his father's last days. The letter concept eventually strays far from the original intent and evolves into something of a philosophical epistle on the nature and meaning of life and death, as well as the tug toward tying up loose ends via forgiveness and reconciliation. Hanson is a bright, learned man, a do-it-yourself spiritualist, who is not an advocate of "organized" religion - although he ties in different religious traditions including Judaic, Christian and New Age. Throughout, Hanson grapples with his faith, which is steeped in a mystical, out-of-body experience from his teenage years.

The book is slight on specific scenes that anchor the relationship of this father and son, but Hanson writes poetic passages that ambitiously try to give voice to the depth of his feelings. It is touching, yet bittersweet, that Hanson felt closest to his father during his dad's final exit from the world.

In the epilogue of this brief book, Hanson writes, "My life is no different from the life of anyone else . . . " Nothing could be further from the truth. The transformation that Hanson undergoes in his father's final days is extraordinary. He is touched by ethereal graces that enable him to experience, with great euphoria, divine presence(s) in the form of lights, angels and singing choirs. How many--believers or not--can make such claims? And while the gift of divine presence is what abides and sustains Hanson as he continues on his spiritual journey, the reader is left with many questions . . . but perhaps that is the point.

High Prairie Press, $17.95, First Paperback Edition, 978-0982639108, 132 pp.
Publication Date: May 3, 2010
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

NOTE: In order to write this review, I received a copy of this book from Tribute Books (a book blog tour company)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography

 Academy Award-winning documentarian filmmaker, Errol Morris (Tabloid, The Thin Blue Line), brings a unique perspective to Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography--his first book, a collection of essays--which investigates the relationship between photographs and reality.

Significant to the text are two childhood experiences that deeply affected Morris. His father died when he was very young, and Morris would only come to know him (later) through studying photographic images of him. Morris also suffered an eye ailment, which ultimately altered his visual perceptions. Thus, an inquisitive, skeptical visual philosopher emerged. Therefore, it is no wonder that Morris has undertaken a forensic examination that explores how photographs have the power to reveal and conceal and thereby, convey certain truths and frauds.

Morris dissects notable documentary photographs - a photograph of three children discovered in the hand of a unknown soldier in Gettysburg; cannonballs on a landscape during the Crimean War; children's toys photographed amid the rubble of the Israeli-Lebanese War; and the iconic image of the hooded man that emerged from Abu Ghraib, among others.

This book offers an observant, in-depth exploration that probes the visual sincerity and veracity of notable photographs. It delves into the intentions of a photographer in relation to images themselves; how photography can be manipulated and used as propaganda; how words that accompany a photograph can change visual context; and even how photographs can serve as a source of memory. It is with fascinating insight that Morris thoroughly investigates and interviews experts in the visual arts, as if putting each notable photographic specimen on trial and encouraging readers to ultimately render their own verdicts. 
Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography by Errol Morris
The Penguin Press, $40.00, Hardcover, 978-1594203015, 336 pp.
Publication Date: September 1, 2011
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Please note: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (9/2/11), click HERE.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fire Men: Stories from Three Generations of a Firefighting Family

Hugs and thank yous don't happen often. This is a thankless job. So why do it? Why be a firefighter? The reasons obviously differ for each person. For me, it's the satisfaction of doing something only a small percentage of people can do - entering buildings being consumed by fire and having the skill to save lives. (Excerpt from Fire Men by Gary R. Ryman)

You've heard the sirens. You've seen the bright red engines that barrel through town when the alarm sounds. You tune in each week to TV programs like Rescue Me. But in FIRE MEN: Stories from Three Generations of a Firefighting Family, Gary H. Ryman has given readers an authentic, firsthand account of what it really means to answer the call (literally and figuratively) to fight flaming battles, day-in and day-out.

FIRE MEN is a well-written, emotion-packed memoir that is rich with description. In twenty concise chapters, Ryman details, with unabashed grit, a personal account of what it's like to serve on the front lines of danger. The book has a linear structure and is told via episodic installments of how and why Ryman became a firefighter; how and where he trained; and his personal firefighting experiences that now make him an expert, veteran consultant on firefighting practices. The stories reflect how firefighting has evolved over the years, now requiring more specific training and certifications, as the role of firefighting becomes more diversified and emergency service oriented (EMS), especially post 9-11 and amid the implications of terrorism.

Long-time fireman Ryman offers a unique perspective of what it's like to be the son, as well as the father, of a firefighter. He writes engaging, dramatically rendered scenes which shed light into what a firefighter may face with his buddies while on-call; at the firehouse during down-time; and also in serving the public.
Taken as a whole, FIRE MEN is filled with joy and heartbreak and offers harrowing insight into the emotional landscape of those who see the best and worst of what life has to offer.
Fire Men: Stories from Three Generations of a Firefighting Family by Gary R. Ryman
Tribute Books, $10.95, Trade Paperback, 978-0982256596, 280 pp.
Publication Date: April 20, 2011
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link

NOTE: In order to write this review, I received a copy of this book from Tribute Books.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fall from Pride

Karen Harper (Dark Angel) launches a new romantic suspense series set in Ohio Amish Country. Each installment in the proposed trilogy will feature a different pair of heroes and heroines. In book one, Fall from Pride, Harper introduces Sarah Kauffman, a young, single Amish woman who has been granted permission from church elders to paint murals that resemble typical Amish quilt squares on some of the barns in the area. The hope is that her work, publicly showcased in the Home Valley Region, will increase tourism, as even the Amish aren't immune to the faltering economy. But what begins as a means for Sarah to pursue her art turns destructive when the barns featuring her work suddenly start to be burned down.

Two very different worlds collide when State Arson Inspector Nate MacKenzie, a rugged Englischer or auslander (outsider), drives into town in his high-tech SUV past horse-drawn buggies to investigate the situation. Sarah serves as MacKenzie's guide among the Amish community and together, the two set out to reel in the suspected serial arsonist. The fast-paced mystery is filled with a host of red herrings and dead ends. Everyone becomes a suspect. And as the fires continue to wreak further devastation, the danger and tension deepen and the mutual attraction between Sarah and MacKenzie heats up as well. Harper gradually reveals shared experiences of her hero and heroine, making the pull and tug of their seemingly star-crossed romance as enticing as the elements of suspense.

Fall From Pride by Karen Harper
Mira, $14.95, Trade Paperback, 978-0778312499, 352 pp.
Publication Date: July 26, 2011
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Please note: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (7/29/11), click HERE.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Last Letter from your Lover

London 1960: Jennifer Stirling wakes in a hospital to learn that she has survived a terrible car accident. She is the wife of a wealthy business magnate who provides Jennifer with a life some women only dream of. The problem is, Jennifer can't recall who she is or who she was - until she discovers a heartfelt love letter signed with the letter "B," asking her for forgiveness and to leave her husband. It proves to be just the jolt Jennifer's memory needs in reconstructing the past and a love-affair she only half-remembers.

Jojo Moyes (Sheltering Rain, The Peacock Emporium) structures this captivating romance in chapters named for the months surrounding the fateful accident in 1960 and weaves a tale that ultimately unravels in 2003. A modern day journalist, Ellie, caught in the throes of a complicated love affair of her own, discovers love letters misfiled in a newspaper archive. Searching for meaning in her own life and a story that might save her career, she sets out to find and reunite the lovers immortalized on the page. But is it too late?

At times, the shifts of chronology might make the reader feel as off-balance as Jennifer in piecing together the facts that resulted in the accident and its tragic aftermath. But Moyes is an intelligent, engaging storyteller who lures the reader through the complexities of the narrative via dramatic twists and turns of missed opportunities, glitches that keep lovers apart and cliff-hangers that build up reader expectation only to deliver the unexpected.

The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes
Pamela Dorman Books, Hardcover, 978-0670022809, 400 pp.
Publication Date: July 19, 2011

To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Please note: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (7/19/11), click HERE

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

“When a chapter of your Life Book is complete, your spirit knows it’s time to turn the page so a new chapter can begin. Even when you’re scared or think you’re not ready, your spirit knows you are.”  (Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman)

It's 1967 in Willoughby, Ohio, and Cecelia Rose (CeeCee) Honeycutt is no ordinary 12 year-old. Largely abandoned by her father, CeeCee emerges as her mother's self-imposed caretaker - a woman with mental illness who clings to a shining moment in 1951 when she was crowned Miss Vidalia Onion Queen. When CeeCee's mother is killed by a speeding ice cream truck, it would appear as though things have gone from bad to worse, and CeeCee's world has irrevocably been torn apart. But what underlies the tragedy is a miraculous saving grace in the form of CeeCee's elderly great-aunt, "Tootie" Caldwell, a woman whom CeeCee has never met.

Setting off in her aunt's shiny red Packard convertible, which is as colorful as her personality, CeeCee is whisked away to live with well-to-do Tootie in her historic, Greek-revival style home on Gaston Street in Savannah, Georgia. It seems a magical place, and CeeCee wonders if it is providential that she has arrived in the very city to which her mother had always aspired to return. This coming-of-age story depicts a transitional summer for a wounded, frightened young girl who is anchored back to the world via a cast of strong, Southern women - each a survivor in her own right and each with her own unique blend of eccentricities and challenges in the class-conscious, racially-charged south.

It is through the wit and wisdom of these likeable, well-drawn characters--and the climax of the story that centers around a robbery attempt--that CeeCee is rescued and buoyed by the love that ultimately surrounds her. Hoffman has a real flair for turning out lively metaphors that leap off the page, where tight, concise scenes transform this bittersweet story into one full of comfort and hope.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
Pamela Dorman Books, Hardcover, 9780670021390, 320pp.
Publication Date: January 12, 2010
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE