The Guilty One by Sophie Littlefield

the guilty oneRating:  **** (4/5)

Published: Gallery Books, August 2015

Format: ARC

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Source: Amazon Vine

Stay tuned for an exclusive interview with the author!

Ron’s son Karl is in prison for murdering Maris’s daughter Calla. When Maris receives a call from Ron, he’s standing on the Golden Gate Bridge, offering Maris a chance to dictate whether he should take his own life. Ron’s motives are initially unclear and there’s a muddled sense of guilt mixed with something deeper.

I originally thought this book was going to be a tense psychological commentary on the repercussions of violence, or even a battle of wits between Maris and Ron. I pictured Ron gripping the rails of the bridge having a desperate dialogue with Maris as he contemplated jumping, but it turned out to be a minor catalyst for the rest of the novel. It was really about both families, deeply affected by tragedy, learning to move on and find happiness in a world that has disappointed them in so many ways. Maris attempts to build a new life for herself and Ron reconciles his mental anguish by connecting with his wife and son in ways he never could before. It’s a somewhat quirky but engaging story about redemption and forgiveness.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program.

Two other phenomenal books by Sophie Littlefield: Garden of Stones and House of Glass

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Staging Queen!

It’s been very productive around here, and most of my life has been centered around staging the house.  My biggest accomplishment was packing a ton of our stuff and hauling carloads of boxes (5!) over to my MiL’s to store.  No more boxes in my bedroom!  Once those were out of the way, I took a straightedge to the selves and lined up all my books and dusted.

Wednesday when I was home I spent the day focused on the den.  Everything personal came down and got packed.  Now I think it looks like a cute little writer’s retreat.

stage1

This week I’m getting the living/dining rooms painted, so not too much heavy lifting on my part, just packing up the few things left that aren’t furniture.  More photos to come!

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The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon

night sisterRating: ***** (5/5)

Published: Doubleday, August 2015

Format: ARC

Genre: Mystery/Suspense

Source: Amazon Vine

This book is my first encounter with McMahon, and based on this one experience, I am definitely going to devour her backlist. The Night Sister delivered! Besides the ultimate creepy factor, it had great suspense, excellent character development, and a well-constructed story that went back decades and generations.

The setting is a once-thriving motel in Vermont. In the late 1950’s and early 60’s, it was a successful destination for travelers prior to the interstate system, where sisters Rose and Sylvie lived with their parents. Fast forward to the 80’s and Rose’s daughter Amy is growing up on the grounds of the now closed motel with her grandma. She and her friends Piper and Margot stumble upon clues that insinuate something sinister may have happened to Sylvie. 15 years later, adult Amy is still living in the house near the dilapidated motel with her own family until a very fateful night. What appears to be a murder-suicide, leaving Amy, her husband, and her son dead is much too convenient considering the brutality of the scene. Amy’s daughter is the only survivor/witness, but what the little girl knows is almost too sinister to believe.

Though there was a somewhat supernatural/folklore element to the plot, it totally worked here. I really enjoyed how the three stories alternated, each one slowly revealing clues to Sylvie’s disappearance in the 60’s to Amy’s death in 2013. The run-down motel with its crumbling keep was the perfect Hitchcock-esque backdrop for this super creepy story. I am so excited to read more of McMahon’s books!

I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program.

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Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona Carnarvon

lady alminaSubtitle:  The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle

Rating:  (5/5) *****

Published: Broadway Books, 2011

Format: Trade Paperback

Genre: Nonfiction

Source: Personal Collection

Needless to say, any Downton Abbey fan will love the insiders look at life inside Highclere Castle and the woman who resided there during the time the show takes place. Despite being illegitimate, Lady Almina brought the de Rothschild funds to the estate enabling her husband and family to live a highly privileged existence. From throwing huge parties to hobnobbing with royalty, life at Highclere was certainly something to be envied. Though there’s only one chapter devoted to the “downstairs” aspect of castle life, it gives great insight as to how such a household operates.

It was WWI that really changed the landscape of the country and estate life. Almina commited herself wholeheartedly to the cause and established a hospital first at Highclere, then in London. Nursing gave her purpose and her vast wealth ensured that those in her care received the absolute best treatment. A great deal of the book is devoted to this period, because so many people with ties to Highclere were affected by the war: lowly staffers who enlisted, Almina’s brother-in-law, and numerous acquaintances.

The most intriguing aspect of the book was the involvement of Almina’s husband in the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. The Earl’s fascination with Egyptology resulted in numerous excavations in the Valley of the Kings and he and his partner literally hit the jackpot when they uncovered the unmolested tomb.

Overall, this is a fascinating look at a bygone era and unimaginable wealth. Lady Almina was an inspiring figure and did so much good with her funds and her gracious spirit.

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Bone Box by Jay Amberg

bone boxRating: *** (3/5)

Published: Amika Press, March 2015

Format: Paperback

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

Source: Book Junkie Promotions

The premise of the book was certainly intriguing: an ossuary is found possibly containing the bones of Jesus Christ, a document transcribed by him, and a letter written by the Apostle Joseph. The main character is also Joseph, and he has been sent to Turkey to inspect the archeological sites funded by the organization whose board he is on. But when people start turning up dead and someone absconds with the artifacts, other vested interests are looking for someone to blame, and Joseph seems like a convenient scapegoat. The mysterious archeologist Sophia holds her secrets very close to her chest, and every time Joseph tries to uncover what she’s hiding, he gets the crap beaten out of him.

While the concept was solid, I was left a little bewildered by a few factors. I’m still confused as to who was playing who in this archeological pissing contest. What was the significance of Abrahim’s involvement? How could Joseph be so sure of the relics’ legitimacy when he has no formal background in archeology? And the conclusion seemed too unresolved without the bones and documents being authenticated. Overall, the story had some captivating elements, I’m just not entirely sure the plot as a whole came together in the end.

bone box signI received a complimentary copy of this book via Book Junkie Promotions.

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After Alice by Gregory Maguire

after aliceRating: ** (2/5)

Published: William Morrow, October 2015

Format: ARC

Genre: Literary Fiction

Source: Amazon Vine

As much as I geek out after all things Alice in Wonderland, I must say this book was a hot mess. It didn’t seem to me that Maguire could decide whether it was a retelling of the original or a commentary on Victorian life in the 1860’s. Ada inadvertently follows Alice down the rabbit hole and spends the rest of the story in pursuit of her friend in Wonderland, encountering many of the characters that Alice has already come across. One redeeming quality was seeing a few familiar characters.  The adventure narrative alternates with what’s going on in the real world: Alice’s sister and Ada’s governess searching for the girls. The parallel narratives are so disconnected, it’s tedious, not to mention the two aforementioned characters are hardly likeable.

We’re not dealing with the real-life inspiration Alice Liddell here, but the fictional Alice in a nonfictional Oxford with real characters like Charles Darwin. I got the impression that Maguire was trying to be cleverer than what he achieved.  It’s as if he couldn’t just settle on channeling Carroll to recreate Wonderland in his own way, so he also used this as a platform to wax philosophically about slavery, Victorianism, and evolution. Piggybacking on a classic and giving it a dark, Dante-esque spin just was not successful.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program.

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Busy Bee, That’s Me!

What a whirlwind weekend!  It was super busy and very productive.  Friday night we had dinner with friends at Grillhouse and the chef David Burke competed on Iron Chef.  We shared BBQ maple bacon, I had duck for dinner, The Hubs had steak aged in a room made out of Himalayan salt, for dessert we shared the creme brulee, and I tried a variety of phenomenal cocktails.  Saturday I met my favorite professor from North Park for lunch.

The rest of the weekend was spent PACKING. I got the shelf in the living room cleared out and relocated to our bedroom then staged it with my signed books, plus I packed a ton of odds and ends. I consolidated a few boxes worth in the guest bedroom, so aside from that closet, I would say that room is done.  I packed my entire TBR “shelf,” three hundred or so books.  So I am definitely making progress!

Next weekend we will haul the boxes over to my MiL’s, then I need to work on clearing out the depths that are under the bed, pack most of my craft crap in the den closet, and start staging the den itself.  I think once we get a date from our painter, we can prep the living room more, but basically everything is off the walls.  Phew!

Props to The Hubs for helping me when I needed it, and for getting all the empty boxes out of the attic.  Here’s a few other stage-y things I did:

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