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Review: The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit by Graham Joyce

[ 5 ] December 16, 2014

ghost in the electric blue suit book coverReviewed by Nina Longfield

Graham Joyce begins his novel, The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit, in 1976 during the hottest summer in England’s living memory (according to the narrator). Joyce’s writing caters to that sultry, almost lethargic sensation of heat and stickiness. His words flow onto the page like a languid wave yet embraces and encapsulates the reader into the moment. The moment is a bleak seaside resort at Skegness on England’s east coast; this is where David Barwise has sought summer employment.

David is an unreliable narrator. There is a sense that he is holding something back from the reader. Perhaps he does not realize this, since there is an admitted mystery in his life that he is trying to uncover. David visited Skegness once long before with his biological father when he was three years old. He remembers little of the trip. It was his last time with his father. His father died on the beach from a heart attack, so he’s told, but David does not remember the event.

Now a college student, David forewent better work with his stepfather to work through the summer at the seaside resort. He is likeable and relatable. He witnesses everything around him almost with child’s eyes. He relates himself to Alice and he is suddenly in Wonderland. Everything is hyperreal, bright, larger than life, and also scary. His observations and internal commentary bring the musty seaside resort to life showing all the hidden intrigue, allure, and darkness behind the scenes that those on holiday cannot see.

With everything happening around him, David grows increasingly troubled by fleeting glances of a man in a blue suit with a little boy on the beach. They always seem to be moving away. These visions grow to haunt David as he attempts to work well, stay out of trouble, and maybe make some connections.

The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit is an enjoyable and very worthwhile read. I am enamored with Graham Joyce’s writing. His sentences flow onto the page controlling the cadence of the story. His words always seem well chosen for the scene as if not one of those words could be replaced. Joyce is capable of slowing the pace of his story to extend the narrator’s embarrassment or quickening the to pace show the intensity of a fight. The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit is a novel I could not wait to get through so I could learn the mystery of the man in the blue suit, but I was also saddened to have it end, as I had grown quite fond of David’s observations and company. Graham Joyce’s novel is one to read slowly and savor. In the end, all I can say is “wow”.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Giveaway: The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud & Susan Elderkin

[ 7 ] December 15, 2014

the novel cure book coverI have a copy of The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin to give away!

Open to US residents only

About the book

Bibliotherapy: the prescribing of fiction for life’s ailments. It does not discriminate between pains of the body and pains of the heart. And unlike most prescriptions, their recommendations require no trips to the store for refills and will not cause harm to your liver (unless of course you suffer from Addiction Issues: See alcoholism). From anxiety to pessimism, from appendicitis to stubbed toe, from loneliness to losing your marbles, the authors do not judge; they simply direct you to the novel which is most likely to speak to you in your hour of need.

In The Novel Cure, authors and bibliotherapists Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin present a  witty and irresistible A-Z of literary remedies that recommend works of classic and contemporary fiction as  cures for ailments of the mind and body.

To create this apothecary, Berthoud and Elderkin have searched through 2,000 years of literature for the most brilliant and engrossing reads. Structured like a reference book, readers simply look up their ailment and are given the recommended novels to read as the antidote. Suffering from anxiety? Pick up The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. A broken leg? Get Johanna Spyri’s Heidi. Had a falling out with your best friend? Try William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow.

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Review: Haatchi & Little B by Wendy Holden

[ 5 ] December 15, 2014

haatchi & little b book coverReviewed by Sarah McCubbin

Sometimes you meet a story that gives you a hug as you see the characters overcoming great personal odds. This true story of a dog and his boy promises to inspire and lift your day. Not being a huge animal lover myself, I didn’t expect to engage with Haatchi & Little B by Wendy Holden when I first started reading. It was after all a story about a dog…not my cup of tea.

Almost immediately, I knew I had assessed this book incorrectly. Haatchi proved to be more than a dog; he represented a will to survive, to overcome adversity and to be a powerful force for good for those around him. Found injured on a train track, abused and apparently tied there to die, he began a new life supported by a variety of people on his journey of recovery and finding a family. His life would never be the same as the damage to his leg resulted in amputation leaving him as a three-legged animal. He now required many accommodations due to his large size and the extent of his injury.

In a nearby town lived a boy named Owen. He carried his own special needs that made life exceptionally challenging. From the time he was just a little guy, his parents noticed that he seemed to be different. Just what that was became apparent when specialists diagnosed him with a rare condition called Schwartz-Jampel syndrome. Characterized by a variety of symptoms including painful muscle tension as well as breathing and vision problems, Owen’s life had been defined by this condition despite his parents’ best efforts.

When Owen’s soon-to-be step-mom discovered an ad looking for a home for Haatchi, it proved to be providential for both the boy and the dog. Each of them had extreme obstacles to overcome and setbacks along the way. Amazingly, their disabilities drew these two together. Sensing each others struggles, Owen and Haatchi became the best of friends maintaining a unique ability to comfort and encourage the other through their struggles. Their story achieved nation-wide attention and they received many awards in Britain. But for these two, the true reward is having each other.

An inspirational story, this book would be enjoyed by older children or adults. Whether someone is a pet lover or just enjoys an uplifting read, this could be well suited for a wide audience. I personally enjoyed reading about the many people along the way who went above and beyond to bless this family and support their efforts to care for this dog. Despite overwhelming circumstances, they overcame great difficulty with the help of many friends and strangers.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Macmillan. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Blog Tour: Agnes Canon’s War by Deborah Lincoln

[ 1 ] December 15, 2014

agnes canon's war book coverPlease join Deborah Lincoln, author of Agnes Canon’s War, as she tours the blogosphere with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Reviewed by Amanda Schafer

Agnes Canon and her sisters were always a source of disappointment to her father, mainly because they were girls but also because they had yet to provide him with any grandchildren. So when Agnes refuses to marry a local boy and decides to leave home, she further disappoints him and drives the wedge between them even deeper. Agnes is aware that she’s a spinster and will likely never marry, so when she moves out west with extended family and settles in the town of Lick Creek, Missouri, she is startled by her feelings toward Dr. Jabez Robinson.

Jabez is a doctor who treated men during the war with Mexico and because of that he’s determined not to take sides in the situation facing their country: slavery. Many in the northwest-Missouri town wish to continue the practice of slavery while others are siding with the Yankees and want to allow the Negroes to be free. Jabez and Agnes find themselves trying to be neutral in a situation that refuses any the ability to be so and thus they end up suffering just like the rest of the country.

Agnes has always fought for her right to be just who she is but knows that she must also be who others want her to be. She fights for her marriage at every turn. She fights for the lives of her children. Then when all seems lost she fights again with Jabez for a new life for their little family. In the end, Agnes spends her whole life fighting outside forces and yet remains a very determined and formidable woman in a time when women were often overlooked.

Deborah Lincoln is attempting to honor her family in writing this novel that is greatly based on truth. The characters are many and are often difficult to keep straight, but the story is clear and beautifully written. I struggled at times with needing to pull out a dictionary in order to fully understand some of the language used. I would like to think that this is due to the author using correct language for the time rather than my own ignorance as many of the terms were deemed “old terms”. Regardless, this is definitely not an “easy reading” novel; instead, it’s a story that has a great amount of history and a certain level of understanding of that history must be in place prior to reading.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Amanda lives in Missouri with her engineering husband, two sons, and one daughter. In between homeschooling and keeping up with church activities she loves to read Christian Fiction, Women’s Fiction, and any Chick-Lit. She never goes anywhere without a book to read!

Review copy was provided by Deborah Lincoln. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: J by Howard Jacobson

[ 6 ] December 12, 2014

j book coverReviewed by Colleen Turner

When Kevern and Ailinn meet and fall in love they aren’t entirely sure if it is fate or someone else’s machinations pushing them together. Both come from such mysterious backgrounds, neither knowing really where they come from nor being entirely sure where they are going, and the fact that they have found each other in the brutal and secretive world they live in seems quite astonishing. As certain acquaintances of theirs draw closer and begin dropping information about their families’ pasts the lovers begin to realize their relationship was not an accident and there are those who would use them to make up for a horrible wrong done in the past that the world has long been trying to erase from memory and history. But is this a wrong that can be corrected or has it all gone too far? And if it can be corrected, should it?

Does my description above seem rather vague and mysterious? Well it should! J deals almost exclusively in suggestions and innuendoes, leaving the reader to discern what actually happened in the past that no one in the present story is supposed to talk about or remember and exactly how Kevern and Ailinn fit into the plan to make up for that past wrong. This shroud of mystery makes every revelation that much more delicious and startling and the casual way the situation is discussed by the secondary characters well aware of what happened makes the actual horror of what happened that much more chilling.

This is what we, the reader, know: the world the characters live in is some future time where something horrible happened in the past that has been essentially erased from history and barely lives in the minds of most of those now living. Everyone refers to what happened in the past as “what happened, if it happened” and are discouraged from discussing it or keeping things from this past time period while never being forcibly told to not do so. There are those that would like to try and correct the injustice of this past horrible act and Kevern and Ailinn are the key to starting towards this correction. The reader will figure out what this horrible act was by the end of the story but I don’t want to give it away here…the punch to the gut wouldn’t be as strong if you know ahead of time what heinous crime was committed!

I listened to J as an audiobook and I feel this is the perfect venue for this story. The main narrator did a remarkable job of giving each character their own voice and delivered this slow burn of a story perfectly so the listener is shocked when hints as to what happened are delivered amidst casual conversation or a character’s internal dialogue. The secondary narrator, voicing the diary entries of the person tasked with watching over Kevern, served throughout to show that these main characters are being monitored and also, towards the end, to highlight that the hatred and prejudice that caused the horrible incident in the past still burned within at least some of those that remained.

A part of me wishes I could give more concrete information but another part of me wants everyone to experience this story for themselves without knowing exactly what to expect. It will remind us all how far hatred can go and just how true the statement that “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it” is. This story will appeal to a wide range of readers and I would recommend it to most everyone as I found it to be a very entertaining experience.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Audible.com. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Giveaway: Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay

[ 14 ] December 12, 2014

lizzy & jane book coverI have 3 copies of Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay to give away!

Open to US residents only

About the book

Sometimes the courage to face your greatest fears comes only when you’ve run out of ways to escape. Katherine Reay, author of the critically acclaimed novel Dear Mr. Knightley, returns with Lizzy & Jane, a novel about confronting your past, following your dreams, and moving forward.

At the end of a long night, Elizabeth leans against the industrial oven and takes in her kingdom. Once vibrant and flawless, evenings in the kitchen now feel chaotic and exhausting. She’s lost her culinary magic, and business is slowing down.

When worried investors enlist the talents of a tech-savvy celebrity chef to salvage the restaurant, Elizabeth feels the ground shift beneath her feet. Not only has she lost her touch; she’s losing her dream.

When her mother died, Elizabeth fled home and the overwhelming sense of pain and loss. But fifteen years later, with no other escapes available, she returns home. Brimming with desperation and dread, Elizabeth finds herself in the unlikeliest of places, by her sister’s side in Seattle as Jane undergoes chemotherapy.

As her new life takes the form of care, cookery, and classic literature, Elizabeth is forced to reimagine her future and reevaluate her past. But can a New York City chef with a painful history settle down with the family she once abandoned . . . and make peace with the sister who once abandoned her?

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