The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind

Barcelona, 1945—A great world city lies shrouded in secrets after the war, and a boy mourning the loss of his mother finds solace in his love for an extraordinary book called The Shadow of the Wind, by an author named Julian Carax. When the boy searches for Carax’s other books, it begins to dawn on him, to his horror, that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book the man has ever written. Soon the boy realizes that The Shadow of the Wind is as dangerous to own as it is impossible to forget, for the mystery of its author’s identity holds the key to an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love that someone will go to any lengths to keep secret. – Goodreads synopsis.

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Reading this novel was like peeling an onion. Every time a layer of the story was revealed another was waiting to be told. I really enjoyed the experience of reading it. Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s writing is so descriptive that I felt I was an observer within the story – eavesdropping on the street or outside a window. The book is full of humor, passion, and intrigue. The Shadow of the Wind is Zafon’s wonderful gift to book lovers and I’m so glad I read it.

I recommend a visit to the author’s website for more information including an essay on why he writes. You’ll also find music composed and performed by the author for The Shadow of the Wind.

Show Me 5 Saturday – It Happened One Night


That’s A Novel Idea hosts a MEME called Show Me Five Saturday. This meme will give each blogger an opportunity to give a brief description of a book they have read or reviewed during the week. It will work like this: Each Saturday you will post the answer to these questions. The number indicates the number of answers you will provide.

1 Book you read and/or reviewed this week

2 Words that describe the book
3 Settings where it took place or characters you met

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it
5 Stars or less for your rating

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1. It Happened One Night

2. Contemporary Romance

3. Takes place in Vermont. Characters: Lana Biel, Eli Ward

4. Liked:
the setting – Vermont and Wildflower Barn where Lana works
Charlotte – who encourages Lana to believe she can be a good mother
Eli – because he never lost faith in Lana. This could drive some readers nuts, though. *grin*
Didn’t like:
Karin – Lana’s bitter and manipulative sister.

5. 3 stars

It Happened One Night

Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews

Blue Christmas

It’s the week before Christmas, and antiques dealer Weezie Foley is in a frenzy to garnish her shop for the Savannah historical district contest. She’s ready to shoot herself with her glue gun by the time she’s done, but the results are stunning. She’s certainly one-upped the owners of the trendy boutique around the corner, but suddenly things start to go missing from her display, and there seems to be a mysterious midnight visitor to her shop.

Still, Weezie has high hopes—perhaps in the form of an engagement ring from her chef boyfriend, though Daniel, always moody at the holidays, seems more distant than usual. But throw in Weezie’s decidedly odd family, a 1950s Christmas tree pin, and even a little help from the King himself (Elvis, that is), and maybe there will be a pocketful of miracles for Weezie this Christmas Eve.

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My thoughts:

I really enjoyed this novel. I read Savannah Blues last month knowing I had Blue Christmas on my tbr shelf. Mary Kay Andrews has a way with words that just makes me smile.

It was fun to see what Weezie, Daniel and their wacky relatives and friends were up to. I loved the descriptions of Weezie’s Christmas decorating project as well as the debacle that was Christmas Eve family dinner. There’s a bit of a mild mystery woven into the story.

All in all, it’s a light, fun holiday book and I look forward to reading Savannah Breeze.

Show Me 5 Saturday – On Strike for Christmas by Sheila Roberts


That’s A Novel Idea hosts a MEME called Show Me Five Saturday. This meme will give each blogger an opportunity to give a brief description of a book they have read or reviewed during the week. It will work like this: Each Saturday you will post the answer to these questions. The number indicates the number of answers you will provide.

1 Book you read and/or reviewed this week

2 Words that describe the book
3 Settings where it took place or characters you met

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it
5 Stars or less for your rating

1. On Strike For Christmas by Sheila Roberts

2. Contemporary, ChickLit

3. Setting: the small town of Holly; several women (aka Yulezillas); and their mostly uninvolved husbands

4. I liked: The lessons learned on both sides of the strike
The light comedy that Sheila Roberts does so well
It read like one of those fun holiday tv movies
The recipes at the end

5. 4 stars

On Strike for Christmas

Bed & Breakfast by Lois Battle

Bed  &  Breakfast: A Novel

Library Journal:

In this well-crafted story by the author of Storyville (Viking, 1993), Josie Tatternall, a military widow in her seventies, is inspired by a friend’s nearly fatal illness to call together her own three daughters in particular, her estranged daughter, Cam, who has not been home since the death of her father years ago. What starts out as a family gathering for the twilight of Josie’s life actually marks the beginning of her understanding of her achievements and, quite unexpectedly, her second chance at love. The story introduces a cast of memorable characters, primarily Josie herself, who fully reminds us that life, love, and growth are not limited to any particular age. Somewhat light reading, but a good story nonetheless. (Susan C. Colegrove, Athens Regional Lib. System, Ga.)

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My thoughts:
Holidays bring families together – for better or worse. Lois Battle has family dynamics down pat – whether you’re from the North or the South. Ms. Battle writes the truth – especially about sisters, mothers and friends. I didn’t think this novel was as light as Susan C. Colegrove (see Library Journal synopsis above) but I enjoyed the drama and recommend it to fans of Women’s Fiction.

“No one got through life without regrets. The best you could hope for was that they’d be the right regrets, that no matter what you’d suffered, you had taken a chance on love or whatever else you’d most wanted.” p.369

I read Bed & Breakfast for the Holiday Reading Challenge but it would also be a good book to read for Maggie’s Southern Reading Challenge in 2010.

Show Me 5 Saturday – Savannah Blues by Mary Kay Andrews

That’s A Novel Idea has started a new MEME called Show Me Five Saturday. This meme will give each blogger an opportunity to give a brief description of a book they have read or reviewed during the week. It will work like this: Each Saturday you will post the answer to these questions. The number indicates the number of answers you will provide.

1 Book you read and/or reviewed this week

2 Words that describe the book
3 Settings where it took place or characters you met

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it

5 Stars or less for your rating?

1. Savannah Blues by Mary Kay Andrews

2. Chick-Lit, Mystery

3. Savannah;
the local antique furnishings scene (especially at Beaulieu, a “crumbling rice plantation”);
Weezie’s carriage house (behind her ex-husband’s townhouse).

4. Liked: the humorous writing of Ms. Andrews;
the main characters (Weezie and all her family and friends);
the budding romance of Weezie and Daniel;
the fact that I want to call my sisters and good friends to suggest this book.

5. 5 stars because it was such a fun read. I looked forward to picking it up again as soon as I had to set it down. There’s a sequel, yay!

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From my bookshelf

Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham

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Forced to marry Hugh le Despenser, the son and grandson of disgraced traitors, Bess de Montacute, just 13 years old, is appalled at his less-than-desirable past. Meanwhile, Hugh must give up the woman he really loves in order to marry the reluctant Bess. Far apart in age and haunted by the past, can Hugh and Bess somehow make their marriage work?

Just as walls break down and love begins to grow, the merciless plague endangers all whom the couple holds dear, threatening the life and love they have built.

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I saw this book reviewed on many blogs a few months ago but didn’t know if it would be a book I’d want to read – until I read Alaine’s review. Then I won her monthly giveaway which was Hugh and Bess. It’s a wonderful story of two people ‘thrown together’ who end up truly loving each other. Hugh has endured horrible events in his life and is starting to live a normal life again. Bess is a young teen and not looking to be married at all much less to a stranger who is twenty years her senior. She’s an obedient daughter and agrees to the match.

Susan Higginbotham’s wonderful novel covers the early days of the arranged marriage; the battles that take Hugh away from Bess; and the day to day life of a knight and lady – which could entail visiting their tenants or visiting the king. Nothing prepares them, though, for the ravages of ‘the pestilence’ heading their way. No family is left untouched by this Black Death. They are powerless as they await their possible demise:

“It’s almost as if I think a soldier must feel, waiting for the enemy to attack.” (Bess)

“No. It’s worse, far worse. War’s never seemed so simple as it does now. There are rules, strategies, preparations that can be made. This is different. There is nothing we can do but wait and hope we are spared.” (Hugh)

How frightening that must have been! This really is an emotional story and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. I appreciate the research that must precede writing a book such as this. Following the end of the novel is an Author’s Note that tells what happened to the relatives and close friends of Hugh and Bess. There is also a Reading Group Guide as well as an excerpt from The Traitor’s Wife (Ms. Higginbotham’s first book).

Personal copy

Vision in White by Nora Roberts

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#1 New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts invites readers to the wedding event of the year!

#1 New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts presents her first trade original—a novel of love, friendship, and family—Book One in the Bride Quartet.

Wedding photographer Mackensie “Mac” Elliot is most at home behind the camera, but her focus is shattered moments before an important wedding rehearsal when she bumps into the bride-to-be’s brother…an encounter that has them both seeing stars.

A stable, safe English teacher, Carter Maguire is definitely not Mac’s type. But a casual fling might be just what she needs to take her mind off bridezillas. Of course, casual flings can turn into something more when you least expect it. And Mac will have to turn to her three best friends—and business partners—to see her way to her own happy ending.

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Vision in White is only the second book by Nora Roberts that I’ve read. It is the first of four books in the series. Initially, the cover is what caught my eye. The partial photograph of a bride is beautiful – which is fitting since the main character is a wedding photographer.

It was fun to watch the relationship blossom between Mackensie and Carter. Of course there are stumbling blocks placed in the way to their happily-ever-after but the ‘getting there’ made for an enjoyable way to spend a few hours reading.

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And now for a quick giveaway. I’m offering my gently-read copy of Vision in White. All you need to do is leave your email in the comment. Giveaway ends tomorrow (Wednesday, Sept. 30) at 9pm EDT. Open to US or Canada residents only. Good luck!
Contest has ended.

Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg

Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg: Book Cover
Random House synopsis: In this new novel, beloved bestselling author Elizabeth Berg weaves a beautifully written and richly resonant story of a mother and daughter in emotional transit. Helen Ames–recently widowed, coping with loss and grief, unable to do the work that has always sustained her–is beginning to depend far too much on her twenty-seven-year-old daughter, Tessa, and is meddling in her life, offering unsolicited and unwelcome advice. Helen’s problems are compounded by her shocking discovery that her mild-mannered and loyal husband was apparently leading a double life. The Ameses had painstakingly saved for a happy retirement, but that money disappeared in several large withdrawals made by Helen’s husband before he died. In order to support herself and garner a measure of much needed independence, Helen takes an unusual job that ends up offering far more than she had anticipated. And then a phone call from a stranger sets Helen on a surprising path of discovery that causes both mother and daughter to reassess what they thought they knew about each other, themselves, and what really makes a home and a family.

Helen isn’t handling life very well after her husband’s death. It’s a good thing she has her best friend, Midge as well as her mother to set her straight from time to time. While Helen is learning to be the person who pays bills, hires repairmen, and generally take care of everything, she’s also managing to interfere in her adult daughter’s life. At one point Helen’s mom says “I think you need to let Tessa grow up. You need to let up on her. I’ve been meaning to say that for a long time. And as long as I’m being honest, I think you need to stand on your own feet a little better than you do. You’re capable of more than you know. Ever since you were a little girl, you’ve had a habit of hanging back and letting others do for you what you should do for yourself.” Helen decides to accept a job teaching a writing class to a group of people at the library. Each person has a story to tell and Helen guides them in writing. I think Berg could write a book just about this group. It was a wonderful part of Home Safe.

Helen has decisions to make, both large and small. She learns to stand on her feet and gathers confidence along the way. I enjoyed seeing the small changes that start to add up in Helen’s life. This is a book about hope and having the courage to move forward when one’s definition of normal changes.

Home Safe would be a good book club selection.

Just Breathe by Susan Wiggs

Just Breathe by Susan Wiggs: Book Cover

Back of the book: Sarah Moon tackles life’s issues with a sharp wit in her syndicated comic strip, Just Breathe. With both Sarah and her cartoon heroine undergoing fertility treatments, her fiction often reflects her reality. However, she hadn’t scripted her husband’s infidelity.

In the wake of her shattered marriage, Sarah flees to the coastal town in California where she grew up. There, she revisits her troubling past: an emotionally distant father, the loss of her mother and an unexpected connection with Will Bonner, the high school heartthrob skewered mercilessly in her comics. But he’s been through some changes himself. And just as her heart is about to reawaken, Sarah makes a most startling discovery. She’s pregnant. With her ex’s twins.

The winds of change have led Sarah to this surprising new beginning. All she can do is just close her eyes…and breathe.

I’m a fan of Susan Wiggs’ Lakeshore Chronicles so when I saw that her stand alone novel Just Breathe was released recently in paperback I knew I had to read it. I enjoyed reading about Sarah – how she was able to leave a bad situation and move forward. Sometimes moving forward means going back to the beginning. Sarah moves back to the area where she was raised and the story takes off from there. I really liked Will and his daughter as well as several other characters. I’d love to read a sequel … or the second book in a new series? Just a thought.

Eating Heaven by Jennie Shortridge

Eating Heaven by Jennie Shortridge: Book Cover

Back of the book: Nothing gets Eleanor Samuels’s heart racing like a double scoop of mocha fudge chunk. Sure, the magazine writer may have some issues aside from food, but she isn’t quite ready to face them. Then her beloved Uncle Benny falls ill, and what at first seems scary and daunting becomes a blessing in disguise. Because while she cooks and cares for him-and enjoys a delicious flirtation with a new chef in town-Eleanor begins to uncover some long-buried secrets about her emotionally frayed family and may finally get the chance to become the woman she’s always wanted to be.

Eating Heaven is one of the best books I’ve read in a couple of years. It is smart, funny, sad, hopeful… and so much more. I recommend it to any reader looking for good fiction. It would be a great choice for a book club. So glad I read it and many thanks to my friend Jan who first brought it to my attention.

Too Good To Be True by Kristan Higgins

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Back of the book: When Grace Emerson’s ex-fiance starts dating her younger sister, extreme measures are called for. To keep everyone from obsessing about her love life, Grace announces that she’s seeing someone. Someone wonderful. Someone handsome. Someone completely made up. Who is this Mr. Right? Someone…exactly unlike her renegade neighbor Callahan O’Shea. Well, someone with his looks, maybe. His hot body. His knife-sharp sense of humor. His smarts and big heart. Whoa. No. Callahan O’Shea is not her perfect man! Not with his unsavory past. So why does Mr. Wrong feel so…right?

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Ok, when I read the blurb from the back of the book I had my doubts that this would be a book for me. But then some marketing genius has decided that more books will sell if you put a darling dog on the cover. Like I said, genius. So I bought the book. And I read the first few pages. I smiled. I continued to read and started to laugh. I can’t remember laughing this much while reading a book. Really. Kristan Higgins is a very funny writer. She has a new fan in me. I don’t want to tell you any more about the plot because it was so much fun not knowing what to expect. I recommend this to anyone who likes a funny, romantic tale. It was time well spent. I’m going to miss this book. Now I need to send an email to all of my sisters (I have six) and tell them to read Too Good To Be True.

Paradise Valley by Robyn Carr

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From the back of the book: For a favorite son returned from war and an outsider looking for a home, Virgin River offers them a chance to make peace with the men they once were . . . and to find the dreams they thought they’d lost.
Robyn Carr picks up the Virgin River series with book #7 – Paradise Valley. We find out that Rick has been injured while serving with the Marines in Iraq. After rehab he returns to Virgin River where he needs to figure out things in his life. He’s angry and scared. He presumes how people will react to his injuries so he acts first. Unfortunately, he decides to cut loose everyone closest to him. Carr takes us on Rick’s journey of self-acceptance. We also catch up on a couple of other story-lines (Cameron and Abby; Dan Brady; Cheryl Creighton). But this is really Rick’s book. It may just be the best in the series so far.

Catholics by Brian Moore

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Back of the book: In the not-too-distant future, the Fourth Vatican Council has abolished private confession, clerical dress, and the Latin Mass, and opened discussions about a merger with Buddhism. Authorities in Rome are embarrassed by publicity surrounding a group of monks who stubbornly celebrate the old Mass in their island abbey off the coast of Ireland. The clever, assured Father Kinsella is dispatched to set things right. At Muck Abbey he meets Abbot Tomas, a man plagued by doubt who nevertheless leads his monks in the old ways.
I pulled this book off the TBR shelf over the weekend. I’m trying to clear the shelf this year so I joined the Read Your Own Books challenge. For the life of me, I can’t remember how I came to buy this book! At 140 pages it didn’t take long to read – more of a novella, to be sure. As I read I kept thinking what a great selection this would make for a parish book club. So much to discuss. The author was raised Catholic but pretty much tossed it all after leaving home. I Googled his name and read several articles, reviews and his London Times obituary. At one time, Graham Greene referred to Moore as his favorite living author. There are discussion questions at the end which I found helpful in digesting the book. I’ll finish with a quote from Catholics: How can a thing be a miracle one day and not a miracle the next day?

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

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From the book flap: In the summer of 1974, Kate Mularkey has accepted her place at the bottom of the eighth-grade social food chain. Then, to her amazement, the “coolest girl in the world” moves in across the street and wants to be her friend. Tully Hart seems to have it all – beauty, brains, ambition. On the surface they are as opposite as two people can be: Kate, doomed to be forever uncool, with a loving family who mortifies her at every turn; Tully, steeped in glamour and mystery, but with a secret that is destroying her. They make a pact to be best friends forever; by summer’s end they’ve become TullyandKate. Inseparable.
Firefly Lane is a story that spans more than thirty years and tells the ups and downs of Tully and Kate’s friendship. Tully needs the stability of Kate and her family while Kate needs a friend who will always be there for her. We see them through the happiest of times as well as bitter disappointments. It was a page-turner, to be sure. And if you were in high school in the ’80s you’ll love all the pop culture references.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

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Bookflap: From the internationally best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a superbly crafted new work of fiction: eight stories – longer and more emotionally complex than any she has yet written – that take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand as they enter the lives of sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, friends and lovers.

Up until now I’d never met a book of short stories that I liked. Up until now. I read Unaccustomed Earth over two days. The final three (they are linked) took my breath away. I think this collection deserves all the acclaim it has received.

Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! by Fannie Flagg

Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! by Fannie Flagg: Book Cover

B&N synopsis: …the story of Dena Nordstrom, a rising network TV anchorwoman in ’70s Manhattan, whose future is full of promise, whose present is rich with complications, and whose past is clouded by mystery.
Add a supporting cast of friends and family to Dena’s life and you’ve got an entertaining and satisfying novel. In Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! Fannie Flagg created characters who made me laugh, cry, and want to stand up and cheer. I’m a fan. Here’s one reason why:

Macky winked at Aunt Elner, “I tell you what . . . tomorrow I’ll go down and get your name tattooed right across my chest, OK?”

Norma was squirting Reddi Wip on the pudding and called out, “Don’t you dare. That’s all I need is for you to get yourself tattooed all up. Next thing you’d run off and join some motorcycle gang and be robbing banks. That’s all I need is to be married to some criminal.”

Macky looked at Aunt Elner, who already had her spoon in her hand waiting for dessert. “The woman is insane.”

“Yes, but she sure makes a good rice pudding.”

The Rock Orchard by Paula Wall

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Back of the book: When it came to men, Charlotte Belle strictly ascribed to the law of catch and release. As soon as she could get a man out of her bed, she threw him back in the stream. No, Charlotte did not need a man. She had money. She had her driver, Mr. Nalls, for heavy lifting. Sex? Her pond was well stocked. What else does a woman need a man for? And so it comes as quite a surprise to Charlotte that she can not stop thinking about the Reverend Thomas Jones.
To read the back of the book one might think that this book is all about sex. While it does figure into the plot (more than once) it’s really not what The Rock Orchard is about. Paula Wall’s writing is wonderful. I had a definite sense of atmosphere while reading. The sounds, smells, and sights are apparent. The characters are unique, real, sad, hilarious. I laughed a lot while reading. The one thing wrong with the book is the length – I wasn’t ready for it to end.
This would be a good selection for the 2009 Southern Reading Challenge hosted by Maggie (I think it begins in a few months).

Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie

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Back of the book: Virginia Miner, a fiftysomething unmarried tenured professor, is in London to work on her new book about children’s folk rhymes. Despite carrying a U.S. passport, Vinnie feels essentially English and rather looks down on her fellow Americans. But in spite of that, she is drawn into a mortifying and oddly satisfying affair with an Oklahoman tourist who dresses more Bronco Billy than Beau Brummel.
Also in London is Vinnie’s colleague Fred Turner, a handsome, flat broke, newly separated, and thoroughly miserable young man trying to focus on his own research. Instead, he is distracted by a beautiful and unpredictable English actress and the world she belongs to.
Both American, both abroad, and both achingly lonely, Vinnie and Fred play out their confused alienation and dizzying romantic liaisons . . .

This has been on my shelf for a while. I can’t remember how I heard of it or where I bought it. It started slow and kind of grew on me as I read. The characters weren’t all that likable at first but I ended up really enjoying the relationship of Vinnie and Chuck (the Oklahoman). There could be a great discussion about the two of them. In fact, this book made me wish I belonged to a book club! There is a Q & A with the author as well as discussion questions at the end.

The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein

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Back of the book: On the eve of World War I, in a small English mill town, Harry Bernstein’s family struggles to make ends meet. Harry’s father earns little money at the Jewish tailoring shop and brings home even less, preferring to spend his wages drinking and gambling. Harry’s mother, devoted to her children and fiercely resilient, survives on her dreams: new shoes for young Harry, her daughter’s marriage to the local rabbi. Then Harry’s older sister does the unthinkable: She falls in love with a Christian boy. But they are separated by an “invisible wall” that divides Jewish families on one side of the street from Christian families on the other. When Harry unwittingly discovers the secret affair, he must choose between the morals he’s been taught all his life, his loyalty to his selfless mother, and what he knows to be true in his own heart.
Harry Bernstein writes about his early years in such an engaging way that he makes reading about incredibly difficult times almost easy. The Invisible Wall is Harry’s memoir of his early years (pre-WW I) in England. Reading it, I had thoughts of Angela’s Ashes – there are a few similarities. I appreciated that he included photos of his family. Harry was ninety-six when he wrote the book. I read the paper back edition and he added an afterward in which he tells how he came to write his memoir. He also wrote The Dream which is about his life in the United States. I look forward to reading it soon.