Review: The Orchid House



The Orchid House: A Novel by Lucinda Riley                                           Atria Books, February 2012                                           *Bought with my own money*

Julia Forrester, acclaimed concert pianist, seemed to have it all until a tragedy took everything she loved in life.  She decides to return to a small cottage she owns in her hometown, giving her time to recover.  While at home she is reunited with Wharton Park, the estate that her grandparents worked on as she was growing up.  An estate that has always given her wonderful memories.

At Wharton Park she discovers a journal that will change the fate of not just Julia, but all of Wharton Park.  It is a discovery that will bring up old wounds, force people to take a second look at Wharton Park’s history and cause Julia to question all that she has every know.  The journal takes the reader on a journey that travels all the way back to the 1930s, when Wharton Park was in it’s heyday.  Then it drastically changes direction and brings the reader to Thailand at the height of World War 2.  All of this leaves Julia contemplating love, loyalty and family.

I really enjoyed The Orchid House.  I always love a good atmospheric mystery, and this did not disappoint.  If I say too much I will give away key information, so I will just say read it!  If you like love stories, read it.  If you like mysteries, read it.  If you like war time stories, read it.  It is a great summer read that you will have a hard time putting down.  Pick it up and discover Wharton Park yourself, you will be glad you did!

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Review: The Sandalwood Tree

Hello all!  When I say long time no blog, I mean a really long time.  Sorry about the delay.  Life really got in the way this time.  What have I been up to since the last time I was on this site?  Well, I took a full-time job.  Took care of my daughter.  Had a son. You know, the usual.  It all left little time for reading or sleeping.  Now that he is growing a bit I am trying to catch up on reading . No promises for how often I will be on here, but I do have two great books to blog about.


Sandalwood-TreeThe Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark                                                                                 Atria Books, April 2011

*I bought this book with my own money.*

Love family secrets?  Hidden letters?  Mysteries set against exotic landscapes?  Well my friends, this is the book for you.  The Sandalwood Tree takes place against the stunning backdrop of India.  Evie Mitchell and her young son have followed her husband to Simla, India so that he may document the end of British rule.  Evie is hoping that this move will bring her closer with her husband, who has been distant every since World War II.

While in India, Evie finds hidden letters in the bungalow that they are renting.  Letters that date back 100 years in time between two woman, Felicity and Adela.  As unrest and violence sweep the countryside and Evie’s marriage seems to crumble under the weight of her husband’s war secrets, Evie draws herself farther into the past.  She takes comfort in the letters that have been uncovered and the mystery surrounding these two women.

I loved this book!  The beginning was a bit slow, but it was so worth the slow buildin the end.  India came to life in this book.  I could almost feel the heat and smell the spices.  I wanted to know much more about the rich history of the Indian people that Elle Newmark so eloquently puts, “bend but do not break”.  I felt for Evie who desperately wanted to reconnect with a husband who was still nursing internal wounds from the war.  I longed to sit in Simla and speak to Felicity and Adela, two woman that marched to beat of their own drums in a time where it was unheard of to be different.

I am so glad I took a chance on The Sandalwood Tree.  I think you should do the same.  After you read it, come back here and let me know what you think of India and it’s characters.

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Review: The Dovekeepers

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman                                                         Scribner, October 4, 2011

*I bought this book with my own money.*

Set in 70 CE, The Dovekeepers follows the story of 4 women who flee to the fortress of Masada on the edge of the Judea desert, overlooking the Dead Sea.  All of these women come with secrets to hide as well as the looming threat of the Romans.  They are drawn together by fate working the dove cote.

Yael, who’s mother died while giving birth to her, has learned to become invisible when it matters.  Revka, a woman who has seen the unthinkable and lived to tell about it for a price.  Aziza, a young woman with the heart of a warrior.  And Shirah, a woman who will sacrifice it all for love even though she has already seen her fate.  This interesting, mystical, strong characters drive the story.  It is a tale of survival, friendship, war, love and the strength of woman.  Each character is so fully realized that you cannot help but feel they become a part of you.  After all, you know the secrets that they do not always share.

This wonderful fictional story is set upon the backdrop of the very real Masada.  A time in history when the Roman empire’s grasp was far reaching and its sites were set on Judea.  During this time Romans systematically came and destroyed entire cities, torturing any Jews that they found.  As the Jews were forced to abandon their homes and lives, some of them fled to the fortress of Masada.  Masada had been built by King Herod and was said to be indestructible.  It was set in the desert, high in the cliffs and was a solid fortress meant to stand the test of time.  It seemed like an ideal place to flee.  However, it ended up being the final stand in the First Jewish-Roman War.

I found the historical aspect of this book intriguing, as I did not know anything about Masada.  But the women were the glue that held this story together.  The strength and humanity, the love and hate, the joy and pain that all of these women endured during their lives made them come to life off of the page.  I cannot recommend this book enough.  I picked it because Amazon listed it as one of their “Top Books of 2011”.  I am taking it a step further, The Dovekeepers is Bookmomma’s top book of the year.  If you read nothing else I have recommended this year do yourself and favor and read this one.  It will transport you to another time and tell you a story that is so unique you will  not want to put it down.


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Review: Before I Go To Sleep


Before I Go to Sleep: A Novel                                                       by S.J. Watson                                                                               Harper Collins, June 14, 2011


Can you imagine if your memory was erased when you fell asleep every night?  Every single thing that you did no matter how important or mundane is just gone?  This is the life of Christine.  When she awakens every morning she finds that she does not know where she is.  She relies on this “stranger” who is her husband, Ben, to recount the details for her and old photographs to guide the way.  Christine is an amnesiac due to a horrible accident.

However, one morning when Christine wakes up she finds that she has been keeping a journal to record events of the day.  According to her doctor this is to help her remember important events that she would otherwise forget.  Her doctor is hoping that someday she will be able to unlock her memories.  The most startling part of the journal is the day that she opens it to find the words “Don’t trust Ben”.  If she cannot trust her husband or her own memory, who can she trust?

This is a taunt, psychological thriller.  It builds slowly to a boil reminiscent of an old Hitchcock film.  It might not have the blood and guts and big actions scenes of some books these days, but it has something scarier…losing your mind.  Who would not be terrified to have their memories erased each night?  To have to relearn basic things every single day?  And then add to that a journal entry where you clearly wrote to not trust your own husband?  What I loved about this book was the build-up.  I couldn’t wait to get to the end to find out what happened, but enjoyed the ride so much.  It is well-written, unusual and downright scary at times.  Just when I thought I had the whole novel figured out it took a turn that I never expected.  Well worth the read if you enjoy a thriller!

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Review: The Winter Sea

                                                     The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley                                                  Sourcebooks, Inc., December 1, 2010

*I bought this book myself and reviewed it independently.*

Carrie McClelland is a successful historical fiction author.  She has set her new book around the attempt of a group of Jacobites to bring the exiled King James Stewart back to Scotland.  While researching the story she feels a strong pull to stay near Slains Castle, a place that had a minor role in the invasion.  But as she settles down to write she finds that maybe her novel has more fact than fiction.  How can this be?  Is she suffering from ancestral memory?  Is it possible that she is the only living person that knows the exact reason that the Jacobites were betrayed and King James was not returned to the throne?  

I picked up this novel on my Kindle because it was at a discounted price (right now it’s $2.99 for Kindle) and it kept coming up under my Amazon suggestions,  so I was expecting a light beach read on my family vacation.  While it was a read that I definitely enjoyed at the beach it was not fluffy.  This book had real substance and Susanna Kearsley is a serious author (in a great way).

I have never been to Scotland, but the imagery in this book made me feel like I knew the landscape.  I could almost feel the cold wind whipping through Slains Castle and the waves crashing on the hillside.  The descriptions were done in such an effortless way that I did not feel like I was bogged down in mundane details.  The Winter Sea almost seamlessly moved from 1708 to present day.  It was not a confusing jump.  I never felt that I had to remember where I was in either time period.  It just worked, so don’t be concerned if you are one of those people who cannot follow a story line that moves rapidly.  In this story it will not be a problem.  Just trust me.

I did not have prior knowledge of the Jacobite failed invasion, so this novel gave me that history. Sure, this book was fictional but the actual history of the almost return of the king is accurate.  I found the failed smuggling of a king and the power struggle in Scotland fascinating.  Then you add in a dash of romance and mysterious dreams…..I’m sold!

What I loved the most was the characters.  They leapt off the pages!  Each character contained such depth, even the minor ones, that you couldn’t help but fall in love (or hate) with them.  You were rooting the entire time for King James to return, even though you clearly know from the beginning it’s a failed attempt.  You want to change history for these characters because you love them so.

So in my humble opinion, go get the book.  It was a great read that I could not put down.  You will fall in love with the setting, the history and the characters.  I actually missed them when I finished.  Susanna Kearsley did such a fantastic job of bringing this story to a crescendo that I did not expect, but that satisfied me completely.  I am sure it will do the same for you.  So read away to Scotland!  But bring a coat, it’s pretty chilly around Slains Castle.

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Toddler Thursday: Blue Chameleon

Toddler Thursday                                                                                                                                Blue Chameleon by Emily Gravett                                                                                                    Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, March 2011

Poor Chameleon just doesn’t feel like he fits in anywhere.  He tries so hard to make friends, but he can’t seem to find acceptance no matter how hard he tries to change himself.  But then he finds someone just as crazy, colorful, and out there as Chameleon himself.  What a difference it makes when he stops trying to be someone else!

I loved this book.  The text was very simplistic, which works great for my little one when trying to get her in bed at a decent hour.  I found Emily Gravett’s illustrations captivating.  This Chameleon was so much fun to find and discuss on each page.  Overall the book was extremely engaging for myself and Maddie.  Even at 4 it opened the door for a discussion about how special and unique we all are.  It didn’t hurt to be reminded as an adult to be myself as well.  Timeless message in a beautiful package.

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Review: The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett                                                                                                          

Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, February 2009

*I bought this book myself and loved it so much I downloaded it on my Kindle as well.*

I originally read this book last summer and loved it.  However, I did not have a book blog at the time so it was never posted here.  Then I found out that The Help was being made into a major motion picture that is being released in a few weeks and I knew I needed to go back and re-read the story.  It did not fail me, loved it just as much the second time.  If you have been living under a rock you might wonder what is The Help?

The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962.  Skeeter Phelan has just returned from college to her hometown only to find herself an outcast.  All of her friends left college early to get married and settle down, while Skeeter is single with a college degree and dreams of being a writer.  While trying to make it as a writer she is challenged by an editor to write about something that disturbs her.  It turns out that what disturbs her comes in the form of the hired help in Jackson and how they are treated by their affluent white bosses.  Skeeter decides to write a book with the stories of “the help” and the households that they work in, opening the door to the hidden world of racial relationships in the South.  This book combines so many emotions: heart break, anger, fear, hope and love.

Let me tell you how much heart this book has.  I fell in love with Skeeter and her spunk.  I think everyone can relate to her trying to fit in when everything around you changes.  Aibileen, one of the maids, will make you want to stand up and cheer with her strength and dignity.  Really, I loved almost all of the characters in this book….except Hilly, I loved hating her.  But bottom line is this book takes an honest look at racial divides in the South, about people’s true character and how life is full of shades of gray.  Run and read it before the movie comes out.  You will fall in love.

So go….I give this book 5 stars (and you know I don’t like to give stars).


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Waiting on Wednesday: Before I Go to Sleep

Waiting on Wednesday is back.  For those of you not in the know, WoW is hosted over at Breaking the Spine and it really quite simple.  All that you do is tell what book you are waiting on pins and needles to read.

Before I Go to Sleep: A Novel                                                       by S.J. Watson                                                                               Harper Collins, June 14, 2011

Here is the Review:

“Every day Christine wakes up not knowing where she is. Her memories disappear every time she falls asleep. Her husband, Ben, is a stranger to her, and he’s obligated to explain their life together on a daily basis–all the result of a mysterious accident that made Christine an amnesiac. With the encouragement of her doctor, Christine starts a journal to help jog her memory every day. One morning, she opens it and sees that she’s written three unexpected and terrifying words: “Don’t trust Ben.” Suddenly everything her husband has told her falls under suspicion. What kind of accident caused her condition? Who can she trust? Why is Ben lying to her? And, for the reader: Can Christine’s story be trusted? At the heart of S. J. Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep is the petrifying question: How can anyone function when they can’t even trust themselves? Suspenseful from start to finish, the strength of Watson’s writing allows Before I Go to Sleep to transcend the basic premise and present profound questions about memory and identity. One of the best debut literary thrillers in recent years, Before I Go to Sleep deserves to be one of the major blockbusters of the summer.” —Miriam Landis

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Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood                                 Anchor, 1st Edition Anchor Books, 1998

The Handmaid’s Tale is narrated by Offred, a woman living in the Republic of Gilead (once part of the United States of America).  Due to toxic waste and other issues most people have become infertile.  Offred is one of a group of handmaid’s literally used to boost the population.  Her job is to live in the house of one of the upper-class families of Gilead that are infertile and produce children.  As she narrates the story of how her life came to this extreme, you find that she once lived in the United States with her husband and child.  You will be shocked by how she became a handmaid, how the Republic of Gilead came to fruition, and how horrifyingly easy it would be to see something like this happen in the future.

This is a must-read.  I had been in a bit of a reading slump lately.  Every book that I picked up did nothing for me until I read this one.  This book took me on such a fast-paced adventure that I could not put down.  What I loved about this book was the “blinders”.  Since it was told from Offred’s point of view, you only knew the exact amount of information that she knew (which wasn’t much).  So I was constantly on my toes, wanting more.  I thought that the main protagonist was such a likable person.  She might not have been as heroic as some would like, but I thought there was something so honest about her.  My only real negative was that the book ended too soon.  I wanted a sequel.  I need more.  Go pick this book up!  It is quick, fascinating and will remind all women of how good we have it in this world of ours.

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Toddler Thursday: 6/2

People, we are back in business!  Summer is here, I survived the first 2 months of my new job and am ready to read and report.  Hope that you missed me.  Hope you are still around.  Testing….testing… this mic on?  So here is what we have been reading at bedtime lately.

I Need My Monster                                         by Amanda Noll, illustrated by Howard McWilliam                                           Flashlight Press, April 2009

*I bought it, I read it.*

Have you ever been afraid of the monster under your bed?  Has your favorite little person been?  Well this story has the monster with a twist.  Poor Ethan cannot fall asleep because his monster has gone on vacation.  How is he expected to snore without the comfort of his very own monster?  Read on as hilarity ensues when a slew of substitute monsters fill in.  You will never look at the monster under the bed in the same way.



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