Spotlight/US Giveaway: If You Want To Make God Laugh

If You Want To Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais

Published July 16, 2019 – G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Description: From the author of the beloved Hum If You Don’t Know the Words comes a rich, unforgettable story of three unique women in post-Apartheid South Africa who are brought together in their darkest time and discover the ways that love can transcend the strictest of boundaries.

In a squatter camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg, seventeen-year-old Zodwa lives in desperate poverty, under the shadowy threat of a civil war and a growing AIDS epidemic. Eight months pregnant, Zodwa carefully guards secrets that jeopardize her life.

Across the country, wealthy socialite Ruth appears to have everything her heart desires, but it’s what she can’t have that leads to her breakdown. Meanwhile, in Zaire, a disgraced former nun, Delilah, grapples with a past that refuses to stay buried. When these personal crises send both middle-aged women back to their rural hometown to heal, the discovery of an abandoned newborn baby upends everything, challenging their lifelong beliefs about race, motherhood, and the power of the past.

As the mystery surrounding the infant grows, the complicated lives of Zodwa, Ruth, and Delilah become inextricably linked. What follows is a mesmerizing look at family and identity that asks: How far will the human heart go to protect itself and the ones it loves?


About the author:

Bianca Marais is the author of Hum If You Don’t Know the Words. She holds a certificate in creative writing from the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies, where she now teaches creative writing. Before turning to writing, she started a corporate training company and volunteered with Cotlands, where she assisted care workers in Soweto with providing aid for HIV/AIDS orphans. Originally from South Africa, she now lives in Toronto with her husband.

Praise for Bianca Marais:

“Set against the backdrop of the Mandela presidency, the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, and the burgeoning AIDS epidemic, the story offers a look into the staggering emotional cost of secrecy, broken family bonds, racism, and sexual violence. Marais once again showcases her talent for pulling beauty from the pain of South African history with a strong story and wonderfully imperfect characters.” Publishers Weekly

“A moving portrait of the choices women can make–and the ones we can’t. Beautifully crafted and powerfully drawn, this book had me in tears.” —Jill Santopolo, bestselling author of The Light We Lost and More Than Words

“A story of three remarkable women at crossroads in their own lives against the backdrop of South Africa at the moment of stunning transformation that will keep you reading late into the night. Marais deftly completes a writer’s hat trick, leaving you gutted, smiling through tears and soaring with hope.” —Steven Rowley, bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus and The Editor

“You will absolutely love this book. You will. Why? Because Bianca Marais’s heart is immense and full of love. With unsparing insight into the human condition, she unspools a tale that is at once heartbreaking as it is merciful, validating our frailty while eulogizing our endless capacity for generosity and love. We all need the deep refuge of Bianca Marais’s exceptional voice.” Robin Oliveira, author of My Name is Mary Sutter and I Always Loved You

“Radiant…A stirring ode to a country’s painful maturation.” O, The Oprah Magazine on HUM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE WORDS

“Richly drawn…[The characters’] journeys and eventual love poignantly demonstrate that nothing is simply black or white.” USA Today on HUM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE WORDS

 “With its vivid, emotional scene-setting, alternating narration and tense plotting, this novel is a thoughtful, compelling page-turner.” Good Housekeeping on HUM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE WORDS


US Giveaway

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The Orphan’s Song by Lauren Kate

The Orphan’s Song by Lauren Kate

Published:  June 25, 2019 – G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Book courtesy of the publisher

Description: The historical adult debut novel by # 1 New York Times bestselling author Lauren Kate, The Orphan’s Song is a sweeping love story about family and music–and the secrets each hold–that follows the intertwined fates of two Venetian orphans.

A song brought them together.
A secret will tear them apart.

Venice, 1736. When fate brings Violetta and Mino together on the roof of the Hospital of the Incurables, they form a connection that will change their lives forever. Both are orphans at the Incurables, dreaming of escape. But when the resident Maestro notices Violetta’s voice, she is selected for the Incurables’ world famous coro, and must sign an oath never to sing beyond its church doors.

After a declaration of love ends in heartbreak, Mino flees the Incurables in search of his family. Known as the “city of masks,” Venice is full of secrets, and Mino is certain one will lead to his long-lost mother. Without him, the walls close in on Violetta and she begins a dangerous and forbidden nightlife, hoping her voice can secure her freedom. But neither finds what they are looking for, until a haunting memory Violetta has suppressed since childhood leads them to a shocking confrontation.

Vibrant with the glamour and beauty of Venice at its zenith, The Orphan’s Song takes us on a breathtaking journey of passion, heartbreak, and betrayal before it crescendos to an unforgettable ending, a celebration of the enduring nature and transformative power of love. (publisher)

My take:  The Orphan’s Song is a lush tale about two orphans who meet at an orphanage in Venice. They have an immediate connection that will ebb and flow over the next few years. Violetta grows to be a gifted singer with a future that is set by the people who’ve cared for her and nurtured her talent since her arrival at the orphanage. Mino, also an orphan, hopes to gain an apprenticeship to ensure a good future. Being orphans has left them with strong feelings about marriage, family, etc. As they grow into young adults their priorities change in ways they never anticipated.

This is a novel for fans of historical fiction. I enjoyed the theme of music and its importance to all people of this time. The Hospital of the Incurables trained young girls to sing in church. They were famous and revered throughout the city. I loved reading about carnevale and how it figured in Venetian society and culture. Lauren Kate’s descriptions put me into each scene. With all the drama of Mina and Violetta’s story the novel seemed like an opera – which, in my estimation, is perfect. I enjoyed The Orphan’s Song very much and hope Lauren Kate will continue to write historical fiction.


About the author:

Lauren Kate is the #1 New York Times and internationally bestselling author of nine novels for young adults, including Fallen, which was made into a major motion picture by Sony. Her books have been translated into more than thirty languages and have sold more than ten million copies worldwide. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter Matilda, and son Venice (named after the city where The Orphan’s Song is set). 


 Behind the Book by Lauren Kate

“I found this story when I was lost. It was the winter of 2015, and I was in Venice promoting another novel. It was the first book tour where I had my two young children with me, and I remember racing home from events to nurse my son, to kiss my daughter before she went to sleep, to relieve my husband of caring for two jet-lagged toddlers under the age of three. On this cold night my event ran late, and by the time I left the bookstore, the wind was brutal, the city flooded with aqua alta – high tide. I splashed toward what I hoped was my flat, turning down one narrow alley, then another, everything almost familiar.

At last, I saw three words chiseled on a building’s stone façade’s – Ospedale degli Incurabili. Hospital of the Incurables. I looked up at this hulking structure, for which the surrounding streets had been named. What is it? Who were they? I circled the compound and, eventually, three more deserted Dorsoduro alleys led me home. But long after my children were tucked into bed, I was still thinking about the Incurables.

Research revealed the the Ospedale degli Incurabili – which now houses a fine arts college – was originally a hospital and orphanage for foundling children, dating back to the sixteenth century. For hundreds of years the Incurables took in orphans and raised them to be musicians. The orphanage attracted the most famous Baroque composers as teachers, and many of its musicians became famous, drawing audiences from around the world. The Incurables was the original music conservatory – and each one of its students had been abandoned as a child.

A novel appeared at my door, begging to be let in.

…To write it, I returned to Venice and spent ten days with Venetian historians, musicians, and caretakers of the former orphanage. I took violin lessons and became a constant patron of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I read Casanova’s memoirs and Vivaldi’s musical theory. I fell more deeply in love with Venice than I imagined possible.

None of my novels has ever come to me so fully formed. Blame it on the Serene Republic and on these characters, still falling in love.

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoy The Orphan’s Song.”

Praise for The Orphan’s Song:

“Kate’s enchanting story brings the canals and backchannels of Venice to vivid life and will appeal to fans of Elizabeth Chadwick.” —Publishers Weekly

 

“An operatic and opulently detailed tale of longing, secrets, and high-stakes quests for freedom, love, art, and home…Kate vividly conjures a city of beauty and pain, piety and criminality, helplessness and ruthlessness, while choreographing a suspenseful, soaring love story of anguish, ecstasy, risk, and stunning reversals.”

Booklist

 

“Kate mesmerizes in a tale that brilliantly recreates 1700s Venice—a city of high-stakes intrigue and earthly delights…A tangled knot of betrayal and love, lies and redemption.  Marvelous.

—Fiona Davis, author of The Masterpiece

 

“Gorgeous… Kate uncovers the intriguing, little-known origin of the era’s most famous Baroque musicians…Brimming with love, deception, and ultimately, surprising truth.

—Marie Benedict, author of The Only Woman in the Room

 

The Orphan’s Song plunges the reader into the streets and canals of eighteenth-century Venice, where the world of Carnivale roils with music, love, and intrigue. Lauren Kate is a masterful storyteller, with a stunning command of her rich historical material and the ability to draw forth the beautiful and intimate songs of the human heart.—Allison Pataki, New York Times Bestselling author of Sisi


The Good Sister by Gillian McAllister

The Good Sister by Gillian McAllister

Published:  June 11, 2019 – G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley

Description: Martha and Becky Blackwater are more than sisters–they’re each other’s lifelines. When Martha finds herself struggling to balance early motherhood and her growing business, Becky steps in to babysit her niece, Layla, without a second thought, bringing the two women closer than ever. But then the unthinkable happens, and Becky is charged with murder. 

Nine months later, Becky is on trial and maintains her innocence–and so does Martha. Unable to shake the feeling that her sister couldn’t possibly be guilty, Martha sets out to uncover exactly what happened that night, and how things could have gone so wrong. As the trial progresses, fault lines between the sisters begin to show–revealing cracks deep in their relationship and threatening the family each has worked so hard to build. With incredible empathy and resounding emotional heft, The Good Sister is a powerhouse of a novel that will lead readers to question everything they know about motherhood, family, and the price of forgiveness. (publisher)

My take:  The Good Sister is a courtroom drama that pits sister against sister after a tragic event. The expert witnesses’ facts show what really happened so this is a cut and dry case. Or is it?

Gillian McAllister’s story is told from the perspectives of sisters Martha and Becky, other family members and assorted witnesses over the course of the trial. I had this case solved – a few times. I was so sure and then I wasn’t.

I was drawn into the novel because I could sympathize with both sisters in how they dealt with caring for a baby who cried almost constantly. Their guilty feelings over that and other individual issues added emotional layers to the story. Despite that, I didn’t quite connect to the characters. They seemed a bit flat. I don’t read many courtroom dramas so I don’t know how this fits in the realm for readers who do but I can say The Good Sister was a fast read that kept me invested to the very end when all was revealed.


About the author:

Gillian McAllister graduated with a degree in English from the University of Birmingham. She lives in Birmingham, England, where she works as a lawyer. She is the author of Everything But the Truth and Anything You Do Say, both Sunday Timesbestsellers in the UK. THE GOOD SISTER is her US debut.


 

Spotlight on The Good Sister by Gillian McAllister

The Good Sister by Gillian McAllister

Published June 11, 2019 – G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Description: An electrifying novel about the unyielding bond between two sisters, which is severely tested when one of them is accused of the worst imaginable crime.

Martha and Becky Blackwater are more than sisters–they’re each other’s lifelines. When Martha finds herself struggling to balance early motherhood and her growing business, Becky steps in to babysit her niece, Layla, without a second thought, bringing the two women closer than ever. But then the unthinkable happens, and Becky is charged with murder.

Nine months later, Becky is on trial and maintains her innocence–and so does Martha. Unable to shake the feeling that her sister couldn’t possibly be guilty, Martha sets out to uncover exactly what happened that night, and how things could have gone so wrong. As the trial progresses, fault lines between the sisters begin to show–revealing cracks deep in their relationship and threatening the family each has worked so hard to build. With incredible empathy and resounding emotional heft, The Good Sister is a powerhouse of a novel that will lead readers to question everything they know about motherhood, family, and the price of forgiveness. (publisher)

About the author:

Gillian McAllister graduated with a degree in English from the University of Birmingham. She lives in Birmingham, England, where she works as a lawyer. She is the author of Everything But the Truth and Anything You Do Say, both Sunday Timesbestsellers in the UK. THE GOOD SISTER is her US debut.


THE GOOD SISTER by Gillian McAllister

On Sale June 11, 2019 | G. P. Putnam’s Sons | Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-525-53939-1| 

Price: $16.00  

Praise for Gillian McAllister

“With fast-paced prose and several unexpected twists, [Gillian McAllister] skillfully weaves a web in which any of the characters might be the guilty party… a suspenseful courtroom drama full of poignant flashbacks and unique insights.”

—Kirkus Reviews

 

“British author McAllister makes her U.S. debut with this riveting psychological thriller…Authentic courtroom scenes, intricate family dynamics, the conflicts of motherhood, and a shocking ending all add up to a winner.”

Publishers Weekly

 

“With The Good Sister, Gillian McAllister explores the exclusionary power of intimacy. She captures that feeling of being in the circle of trust, outside of it. You come away with whiplash from empathizing with each character, even the judge. This is a deeply gratifying, taut courtroom drama and so much more. I don’t know how Gillian did it, but I’m so happy she did.”

Caroline Kepnes, author of You and Providence

 

“I’ve just raced through the impressive The Good Sister. Loved this gripping and thought-provoking read!”

—B.A. Paris, author of Behind Closed Doors

 

“I read it in a breathless day and a half. Such a perfect balance of courtroom drama and family drama, so smooth and assured, it just flowed, seamlessly. I loved every page, every character, every twist and turn.”

Lisa Jewell, author of Then She Was Gone

 

“I was totally swept up—and challenged—by this dark courtroom drama and am still wrestling with the brilliantly written dilemma at its heart.”

Fiona Barton, author of The Child and The Widow

 

The Good Sister is an ingeniously constructed courtroom drama with real flesh-and-blood characters and cliff-hanging suspense.”

Louise Candlish, author of Our House

 

“An emotionally charged story about two sisters torn apart by the death of a child, it explores the joys and challenges that come with motherhood with a twist I didn’t see coming.”

Hollie Overton, author of Baby Doll and The Walls

 

Heart-rending and brilliant. Such incredible storytelling.”

Jill Mansell, author of This Could Change Everything


 

The Editor by Steven Rowley

The Editor by Steven Rowley

Published:  April 2019 – G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Free review book provided by @PutnamBooks

Description:  From the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus comes a novel about a struggling writer who gets his big break, with a little help from the most famous woman in America.

After years of trying to make it as a writer in 1990s New York City, James Smale finally sells his novel to an editor at a major publishing house: none other than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackie–or Mrs. Onassis, as she’s known in the office–has fallen in love with James’s candidly autobiographical novel, one that exposes his own dysfunctional family. But when the book’s forthcoming publication threatens to unravel already fragile relationships, both within his family and with his partner, James finds that he can’t bring himself to finish the manuscript.

Jackie and James develop an unexpected friendship, and she pushes him to write an authentic ending, encouraging him to head home to confront the truth about his relationship with his mother. Then a long-held family secret is revealed, and he realizes his editor may have had a larger plan that goes beyond the page…

From the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus comes a funny, poignant, and highly original novel about an author whose relationship with his very famous book editor will change him forever–both as a writer and a son. (publisher)

My take:  The Editor has many of the things I love to find in a novel: messy family dynamics, secrets, a holiday (which usually makes the family dynamics even messier), and a character or two that make me want to read the book without stopping. This book has Jackie and James. She was his editor and she was the one that made him look at his mother with a new perspective. I loved the mother/son relationship that was at times so sweet and other times so frustrating and sad and real. I also loved how the author portrayed Jackie. I plan to look for the books about her  recommended in the Acknowledgements. Ultimately this is the story of James’ journey of discovering answers to questions from the past and learning to live in the present. A very enjoyable read.


About the author:

Steven Rowley is the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus, which has been published in nineteen languages and is being developed as a major motion picture by Amazon Studios. He has worked as a freelance writer, newspaper columnist and screenwriter. Originally from Portland, Maine, he is a graduate of Emerson College. He currently resides in Los Angeles.


 

Monsters: A Love Story by Liz Kay

  • Monsters- A Love StoryTitle:  Monsters: A Love Story
  • Author:  Liz Kay
  • Genre:  Fiction
  • Pages:  368
  • Published:  June 2016 – G.P. Putnam’s Sons
  • Source:  Publisher

Description:  Stacey Lane feels like a monster. Tommy DeMarco might be one.

Since her husband died eight months ago, Stacey’s been a certified mess—a poet who can’t write anymore, a good mother who feels like she’s failing her kids. She’s been trying to redefine herself, to find new boundaries.

Tommy has no respect for boundaries. A surprisingly well-read A-list Hollywood star, Tommy’s fallen in love with Stacey’s novel-in-verse, a feminist reimagining of Frankenstein, no less. His passion for the book, and eventually its author, will set their lives on a collision course. They’ll make a movie, make each other crazy, and make love—but only in secret. 

As Stacey travels between her humdrum life in the suburbs of Omaha and the glamorous but fleeting escape Tommy offers in Hollywood, what begins as a distracting affair starts to pick up weight. It’s a weight that unbalances Stacey’s already unsteady life, but offers new depth to Tommy’s.

Navigating desire, love, grief, and parenthood, and brimming with award-winning poet Liz Kay’s keen emotional insight and wry humor,  Monsters: A Love Story is a witty portrait of a relationship gone off the rails, and two people who are made for each other—even if they’re not so sure they see it that way.  (publisher)

My take:  So the synopsis tells you all about the novel. I’ll just say that reading it was like watching a traffic accident in slow motion – very uncomfortable. At the same time it was a surprisingly addictive read. I didn’t want to stop reading! It’s funny, shocking, frustrating, sad – and I liked it.

Stacey is not a very likable character and yet I really felt for her. She’s vulnerable yet strong – at least that’s the image she tries to put out there. Tommy has a mercurial temperament and I never trusted him. I wanted to but couldn’t. Put them both in the Hollywood setting, add alcohol and you’ve got a hot mess. They both have kids so that adds another layer to their relationship.

Liz Kay’s novel kept me reading when I really should have been doing other things. I love when that happens. Recommended to fans of novels about dysfunctional relationships.


About the author:

Liz Kay is a founding editor of Spark Wheel Press and the journal burntdistrict.  She holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska and was the recipient of both an Academy of American Poets Prize and the Wendy Fort Foundation Prize for exemplary work in poetry.  She lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband and three sons. This is her debut novel.


Praise for MONSTERS: A LOVE STORY

“Witty and so nimbly-worded, Liz Kay’s Monsters: A Love Story had me at hello. From the near-madcap improbability of the novel’s premise, to the punchy repartee and ping pong banter between Stacey and Tommy, it’s impossible to resist the book’s charms. But don’t be fooled. This is more than a feel-good read.” – Jill Alexander Essbaum, New York Times-bestselling author of Hausfrau

“Magical.” —Lucy Sykes, author of The Knockoff

“Stacey is a feminist poet in Hollywood – you got to love her for that alone. But you also love her because  she’s sharp, tough, and honest. The novel’s wry insights into messy relationships  put me in mind of  The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. and Emma Straub’s The Vacationers.” —Timothy Schaffert, author of The Swan Gondola

“Smart, witty, hilarious, raunchy, irresistible.” —Catherine Texier, author of Victorine

“Reads like a seduction. I couldn’t stop.” —Amy Hassinger, author of The Priest’s Madonna