Tag Archives: Literature/Fiction

Review and Giveaway: A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

I received an Advanced Review copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.  I invite you to read my review, watch the book trailer and win your own SIGNED hardcopy of the book (US/Canada).

My Review:

A Sudden LightThe first thing that struck me about A SUDDEN LIGHT is the rich and flowing prose that immediately sweeps the reader into the story.  It begins on a very philosophical note that reminds me of a common theme in Greek mythology: a curse.  When something of beauty is destroyed, the ancestors of the destroyer are cursed and pass on this curse until someone, somewhere along the family line is able to make amends.  The universe must be paid back in order for the curse to be broken.

Trevor is a 14 year old boy who had a happy and normal life with his parents growing up in Connecticut.  But any contentment he has experienced in his life is broken when his parents decide to separate.  Due to his dad’s poor financial planning, his family has also gone bankrupt and they have lost their house in Connecticut.  Trevor’s mother takes off for England to stay with her parents and Trevor travels with his father to visit his father’s family in Seattle.  It is strange and alarming that Trevor has never met his paternal grandfather or his Aunt Selena. Continue reading


Filed under Giveaways, Literature/Fiction, Mystery/Thriller

Review: The Moment of Everything by Shelly King

I received an advanced review copy of this book from Grand Central Publishing through NetGalley.

The Moment of EverythingNow that it’s starting to look like fall, especially where I live in New England, I am in the mood for a cozy read with a feel good message.  The Moment of Everything is the perfect book to read on a cool New England night, curled up by the fire, with a warm blanket and a hot cup of tea.

The main character of the book is Maggie who was an English Lit. major in college and was hoping to make a career as a Librarian.  But when her tech savvy best friend, Dizzy, heads off to Silicon Valley after graduate school she tags along with him.  Together they found a tech company called ArGoNet and for a while she is content with her life. Even though she isn’t working around books, which was her original plan, she is making a decent salary and has carved out a unique career for herself in the tech. industry.

When the very company Maggie helped to build downsizes, she is given a pink slip and finds herself at a crossroads in her life.  She is now in her thirties, with no job, very little in her bank account and, in order to avoid reality, decides to hide out and read cheap romance novels at the local used bookstore everyday.

Maggie seems most at home around the messy and scattered books that are all over the store where her good friend, Hugo, is the owner.  Hugo lets her sit in one of the two tattered chairs at the store, the Dragonfly, and read all of the free books she wants while Jason, the only other employee at the store, taunts and annoys her.  Together they make a sort of dysfunctional family and as the book progresses it is Hugo and Jason that help Maggie through tough times and difficult choices.

This cozy book would not, of course, be complete without a romance.  Maggie, because she has witnessed her father cheat on her mother for many years, is afraid of commitment and is never really sure she has ever been in love.  I don’t want to give too much away, but the romantic subplot of the book is clever and is not your typical “love at first sight”, swooning  fairytale ending.

If you are a booklover, you will adore the literary references that are scattered throughout the text.  At one point Maggie is forced by her friend Dizzy to join a snobby book club where they are reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Maggie’s copy is, of course, a tattered and falling apart edition from the shelves of the Dragonfly with interesting notes in the margins.

King nimbly intertwines the topics and themes of the books she mentions with the thoughts and struggles of the characters in the book.  Whereas A.J. Fikry was somewhat of a book snob who only read serious literature, Maggie reads books from all sorts of genres and for that reason she appears genuinely likeable to the reader.

So, my recommendation is that this fall you light a fire (or like me have your husband light one), grab a comfy blanket, a fluffy cat and settle in with THE MOMENT OF EVERYTHING.  I am excited to see what Shelly King has in store for us next.


Filed under Literature/Fiction

Review: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

Dear Committee MembersHave you ever been called upon to write a letter of recommendation for a person whose qualifications you are unsure of?  This book, which is the epistolary style, is a collection of recommendations letters from a college English professor who does not hesitate to say what he really thinks about the true qualities of the persons for which he is writing the recommendations.

Jay Fitger is a tenured English professor at a small university in the Midwest.  His department has been suffering from severe budget cuts, the building in which the department is located is a bio hazard and his love life and personal life are a mess.   We find out all of this information about Jay through a series of absolutely hilarious letters of recommendations he is asked to write for students, colleagues and friends.

I have to admit that the epistolary style did take some getting used to.  But by the time I was reading the third letter I was laughing out loud and kept finding my husband so I could read the letters to him as well.  Jay’s letters contain the brutal truth that we want to write when we are composing a letter, but which most of us have the tact and diplomacy not to include.

Jay also underscores the sad state of humanities in academia today.  He believes that his favorite graduate student has some real potential as a writer and several of the letters are on his student’s behalf.  His student is reduced to living in poverty and his graduation is threatened by a lack of funding to finish his degree.

Each letter is a masterpiece and Julie Schumacher’s writing is simply brilliant.  My only criticism of the book is that I wanted to know more background about the characters.  How and why did Jay’s marriage fall apart?  Why is there such a rift among the members of Jay’s English Department?  DEAR COMMITTEE MEMBERS is a must read for anyone who has been called upon to write a letter of recommendation.




Filed under Humor, Literature/Fiction

Review and Author Q&A: Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof

I am very excited about the book I am reviewing today, Small Blessings.  It really is a fantastic novel and I highly recommend you pick up a copy when it comes out on 8/12.  Read my full review and scroll down for a Q&A with the talented and gracious author, Martha Woodroof.

My Review:

Small BlessingsIf I were to make a list of my favorite books this year SMALL BLESSINGS by Martha Woodroof would be at the top.  This is saying a lot for me because, according to Goodreads, I have read more than 90 books so far this year.

Tom has been muddling his way through life, without thinking and without feeling, just trying to get through one day at a time.  He, along with his mother-in-law Agnes, is trying to take care of his mentally unstable wife.  Marjory, who is paranoid and incapable of going outside of the house on her own, has been Tom’s responsibility for the past twenty years.

One day an encounter with a cheerful and optimistic new employee at the local college bookstore changes all of their lives.  During the same week, Tom receives a letter from a past lover saying that he is the father of a 10 year-old boy named Henry who is being sent to live with him.  How can this much change possibly happen to a person who was leading such a quiet and unassuming life?

This book is rich with well-rounded characters with whom you cannot help but admire.  Although Tom is clearly caught in a loveless marriage, he has made the ultimate sacrifice by never abandoning his wife.  Marjory’s mother Ages, who became a widow and a single mother at a very young age, has a resilience that many of us would envy.  Henry is a 10 year-old boy that is sweet and kind and flourishes in a home where he is loved and wanted.  Even the lesser characters, such as Russell and Iris who are also on the university faculty, have their own problems and struggles that enrich the storyline.

Sometimes a book begins slowly but has a strong ending.  Sometimes a book beings strongly but the ending is weak.  Sometimes a book has both a strong beginning and ending but the middle lags.  That is absolutely not the case with SMALL BLESSINGS.  There are twists and turns and unexpected surprises that one encounters throughout all of the wonderfully written prose.   I loved every single page of this book, which is a very rare thing to say.  Martha Woodroof has written a book that everyone needs to include SMALL BLESSINGS on their must read list.

*Thanks so much to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me an advanced copy of this book.



Author Q&A:

1. I really enjoy books with university/academic settings.  Did you have a particular experience at a university that made you use this setting?

My mother taught English at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and used to regale me  with stories of departmental meetings. As an adult, I’ve managed to live mostly in college towns, and I enjoy hanging out on campus  and people-watching. To me, the campus of a small college functions as a societal bell jar in that it’s a closed community where people can’t escape each other’s company. Setting a novel on such a campus was the ideal way for me to examine all sorts of human relationships, from the petty and adversarial, to the loyal and loving.

About the bookstore in Small Blessings: My own  life is pretty much divided into the years before and after I got sober. My first real job in sobriety was at the Sweet Briar College Book Shop, working for the wondrous Roscoe (Skipper) Fitts, who was, to quote a late member of the English Department, “a real book man.” My job was Rose’s job; I ran the Espresso machine and did event programming.  It was while working there that I developed a  wish to write about a college whose heart beat in its bookstore.

2. Tom’s wife seems to have symptoms that would suggest she is on the autism spectrum.  Did you have a particular diagnosis in mind for her?

I did not, other than that she is irreparably damaged.  And I wanted explore what happens in a relationship between two loyal, well-meaning people that can  never, ever be a happy one.

3. Your first attempt, in my opinion, at novel writing is nothing short of amazing. What was the most exciting part in the entire process of having your first novel published?

Why thank-you so much, Melissa. Really, really, really!

The most exciting part is really that it’s happening.  Period. I’m old enough and have done enough National Public Radio stories on publishing to be terribly, terribly grateful to my agent Kate Garrick and my editor at St. Martins, Hilary Teeman, for taking me on. And I’m completely  tickled that they did. My only plan right now is to enjoy the adventure. I feel as though I’m up on a surfboard, riding a gigantic and exhilarating wave.

4. What is the best book, fiction or non-fiction that you have read so far this year?

I think in terms of can’t-put-it-down, cracking good story, probably The Son by Philipp Meyer. The characters in it are still with me, and I finished it a month ago.
5. Since Small Blessings has been such a success, do you have any plans for writing another novel? 

First draft is done. Second draft is being cranky, but I’ll get there.


About The Author:

Martha WoodroofMARTHA WOODROOF was born in the South, went to boarding school and college in New England, ran away to Texas for a while, then fetched up in Virginia. She has written for NPR, npr.org, Marketplace and Weekend America, and for the Virginia Foundation for Humanities Radio Feature Bureau. Her print essays have appeared in such newspapers as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Small Blessings is her debut novel. She lives with her husband in the Shenandoah Valley. Their closest neighbors are cows.


Special thanks to Martha for being so kind and answering my questions.


Filed under Author Interviews, Literature/Fiction, Summer Reading

Review: The Hundred Year House by Rebecca Makkai

I received an advanced copy of this book from the Viking through NetGalley

The acclaimed author of The Borrower returns with a dazzlingly original, mordantly witty novel about the secrets of an old-money family and their turn-of-the-century estate, Laurelfield.


100 year houseThe Devohr family mansion in the Midwest, which in 2000 is celebrating its 100th birthday, has a rich and haunted history.  The unique setup of this novel traces the history of Laurelfield Estate beginning in 1999 and working back to 1900.  The first part of the book centers around Doug and his wife Zee who are living in the coach house of the Devohr mansion.  I found this to be the most humorous part of the book as it approaches being an academic satire.  Zee works as a professor at the local university and Doug is trying to write a manuscript about an obscure poet, Edward Parfitt, so that he too can get a job in academia.  While Doug is trying to get a handle on his writing he develops a connection with Miriam, a quirky artist who is also sharing the coach house.

The second part of the book deals with Grace Devohr and her abusive, playboy husband George who come to live in the house after their marriage in 1954.  At this point the tone of the story changes to one that is sad and tragic.  Some of the mysteries of the house and its inhabitants that are brought up in part one are solved in this second part.  It is very unique that an author can seamlessly combine such different tones as satire and tragedy such as Rebecca Makkai does in this novel.

The third part of the book describes the artist colony which the house is turned into during a 25 year period beginning in 1929.  The artists are a mixture of interesting personalities who can be somewhat mischievous.  When Gamby Devohr threatens to shut down the colony, the artists ban together and cleverly “convince” Gamby to keep the colony open for at least another 25 years.  The author really displays her writing talent in this chapter as well when some of the narrative takes the form of letters and notes.

The final part of the book is the briefest and describes Augustus Devohr and his reasons for building the house for his wife Violet in the first place. It is Violet’s soul that is said to haunt the house.  Although the initial construction of the house is not fortuitous, we know from the unique structure of the book that later generations will have a happy ending in the house.

The Hundred Year House in a unique combination of both literary fiction and historical fiction. This is one of those rare books that has something for everyone.  If you like a little mystery, some romance or a touch of tragedy then I highly recommend The Hundred Year House.





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Filed under Historical Fiction, Literature/Fiction, Summer Reading