Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Girls Like Us: Fighting For A World Where Girls Are Not For Sale by Rachel Lloyd

Girls Like Us: Fighting For A World Where Girls Are Not For Sale by Rachel Lloyd
Date Published: February 28, 2012 I
SBN: 978-0061582066
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Pages: 288
Genre: Non-Fiction; Memoir
Rating: 5 out of 5

Book Summary: During her teens, Rachel Lloyd ended up a victim of commercial sexual exploitation. With time, through incredible resilience, and with the help of a local church community, she finally broke free of her pimp and her past and devoted herself to helping other young girls escape “the life.”

In Girls Like Us, Lloyd reveals the dark world of commercial sex trafficking in cinematic detail and tells the story of her groundbreaking nonprofit organization: GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services. With great humanity, she shares the stories of the girls whose lives GEMS has helped—small victories that have healed her wounds and made her whole. Revelatory, authentic, and brave, Girls Like Us is an unforgettable memoir.

My Thoughts:  Girls Like Us is an eye-opening, heart-breaking, and shocking book about the exploitation of girls in the commercial sexual industry. It’s author, Rachel Lloyd, is a modern-day heroine, not only for starting the non-profit organization GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, which assists girls and young women to leave 'the life', but also for sharing her hair-raising and disturbing story about the years she spent, in England and Germany, being used and abused by men and exploited by a pimp. This is a gripping and difficult book to read but a vitally important one every adult should read. It took me a long time to read Girls Like Us. I needed to put the book down frequently to think about what I read and to recover from the horror and pain of the stories Lloyd shares, including her own. I’ve marked several passages to return to and read again because I was horrified by what I read and want to make sure I understood it correctly or because I was very touched by the words on the page.

Lloyd is exceedingly candid and upfront about her life from an early age. She shares what she’s been through, the things she‘s done and how she feels with such brutal honesty, I can only guess at how painful it was for her to write about this. Tears pooled in my eyes when she talks about how hard she was on herself and the terrible things she believed about herself for many years. Fortunately maturity, recovery and compassion have enabled Lloyd to understand why she behaved as she did, to forgive herself and to be kind to herself. Lloyd credits her connection and success with the girls she helps through GEMS, the nonprofit she started, to her awareness and understanding of their childhood and family life and what they’ve been through more recently and the fact that she doesn’t judge them as so many others do.

Some of the most difficult chapters for me were the ones where Lloyd explains how these girls are recruited into the commercial sexual industry. The girls are often duped into believing they are going to have a fairy-tale life with some charming, kind, often handsome man who rescues them from the street, gives them a place to live, often with him, leads them to believe he loves them, frequently buys them the first new clothes they’ve had and wines and dines them. After a short time he begins ‘pimping them out‘. The recruitment scenarios differ in detail but the framework is basically the same, almost as if there’s a manual on how to be a pimp. And once the pimp relationship is established, the various and violent ways a pimp keeps control of the girls and the things he makes them do for money turned my stomach and really angered me. I cannot imagine how Lloyd must feel listening to the girls stories day in and day out.

I was shocked to read that much of society believes these girls, as young as 11 and 12, are prostitutes and chose to be in 'the life'. Lloyd, very effectively, dispels this and many of the other misconceptions of society. She makes it crystal clear that these girls are victims. Lloyd uses several studies, such as a 2001 University of Pennsylvania study detailing the large number of girls at risk for commercial sexual exploitation in the U.S. each year, and facts and figures to support what she knows to be fact: girls do not make a viable choice to be commercially sexually exploited and trafficked. Lloyd explains to readers how “age and age-appropriate responsibility, the type of choice and the context of choice” must be considered in successfully arguing that a choice doesn’t exist for these girls.

The vulnerability of these girls to the smooth-talking manipulations of charming and evil men who see them as easy and lucrative money makers begins, sadly in childhood with their family at whose hands many girls come to believe they are worthless. After reading Lloyd’s wrenching story about her own childhood and the desperate things she had to do to survive followed by some even worse stories detailing the lives of a few of the girls before they met their pimp, it’s understandable why they hoped and believed these men would love them and give them a good life.

I could write pages and pages about Girls Like Us but my words wouldn’t have the same power and impact of Lloyd’s words. This is a book you need to read to truly understand this horror that is happening on our own doorstep. The commercial sexual industry doesn’t operate only in Europe and isn’t only about women being bought in Europe and transported to the United States. It’s also about hundreds of thousands of girls between the ages of 11 and 18 being lured into a life of depravity, abuse and violence who are also victimized as well as ignored by society. Lloyd deserves enormous gratitude for her courage and hard work which is slowly changing how people think and educating the unaware while also helping girls who want out of the life but don’t know where to turn. Because of much of the work of Lloyd and GEMS, the police, social workers and others who are supposed to help and protect these girls are starting to see them as victims more than prostitutes on a more frequent basis. But there is still a lot of work to be done to help and to save girls in our country from predators as the later chapters in Girls Like Us makes clear. We can all support Rachel Lloyd, GEMS and girls around the world by reading Rachel Lloyd’s powerful memoir and discovering what we can do to help.

See:  GEMS Website 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Harper Perennial for a copy of Girls Like Us and the opportunity to read and review this book.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon

Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon

Date Published: July 27, 2004
ISBN: 978-0060740689
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Pages: 288
Genre: Mystery; Suspense Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5

Book Summary:  There is little violent crime in Venice, a serenely beautiful floating city of mystery and magic, history and decay. But the evil that does occasionally rear its head is the jurisdiction of Guido Brunetti, the suave, urbane vice-commissario of police and a genius at detection. Now all of his admirable abilities must come into play in the deadly affair of Maestro Helmut Wellauer, a world-renowned conductor who died painfully from cyanide poisoning during an intermission at La Fenice.

But as the investigation unfolds, a chilling picture slowly begins to take shape--a detailed portrait of revenge painted with vivid strokes of hatred and shocking depravity. And the dilemma for Guido Brunetti will not be finding a murder suspect, but rather narrowing the choices down to one.

My Thoughts:  This is the first book in Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti Mystery Series. Guido Brunetti is assigned to investigate the case of the murdered Conductor Helmut Wellauer, considered one of the best conductors the world over. Music is extremely important to Venetians, one of the many characteristics we learn about the people of Venice in this story so the conductor’s death is front-page news. As he begins investigating this high-profile case, Brunetti discovers that Wellauer, although admired for his musical ability, was not a popular man. This makes the list of possible suspects much longer. Brunetti begins his investigation interviewing the people closest to Wellauer, such as his widow, but soon discovers that Wellauer’s distant past and his action during the late 1930s and early 1940s may hold the answers to his murder.

This isn’t a fast-moving, highly suspenseful book but a thorough and intriguing detective investigation. Each interview and bit of information adds to the picture of the deceased victim and tells Brunetti a little more of what he needs to know. Brunetti is an interesting and flawed man. He is intelligent and thoughtful, a little arrogant and, in his personal life, he can be close-minded. His wife, Paola’s parents are wealthy nobles. Brunetti isn’t impressed by his father-in-laws lifestyle, rarely speaks to him and refuses to attend most of his in-laws many parties. But he makes a concession and decides to attend one of their lavish parties, believing he will learn valuable information about the deceased conductor and we are treated to one of the best and most witty scenes in the book.

Commissario Guido Brunetti is a hard-working, conscientious man with a good balance to his life despite the pressures to solve this case. He’s not a fan of his boss and seems to relish the opportunity to antagonize the man, making funny comments about him under his breath. In contrast to how American detectives are often portrayed, Brunetti doesn’t work round- the-clock hours, but rather, is home most nights for dinner and gets a good nights sleep. As a result, we learn about Brunetti’s private and family life, getting a more well-rounded view of this man. I always enjoy it when a mystery includes some humor and Brunetti’s interactions with Paola are often witty. Paola is a literature professor but has an affinity for the gossip ’rags’ which puzzles and irritates Brunetti. His feelings tend to be reflected in his internal dialogue which also provides some witty comments about his children. Another terrific scene in the book, which also sheds more light on Brunetti’s personality and that of his family, occurs when Brunetti and his family play Monopoly after dinner one night.

Venice is depicted vividly in this book and, at some points in the narrative, I could picture myself in the city. Brunetti loves the Venice and describes what he sees as he travels around Venice to interview the people who knew Wellauer. Venice comes alive in Leon’s beautifully detailed descriptions of the architecture, the streets, the establishments and the flowers. The interiors and furnishings of the different residences Brunetti visits are also described in detail further adding to our vision of Venice. The people of Venice, their culture and politics are also vividly described providing a complete picture of Venice, almost as if she was a character.

There are twists and turns in the criminal investigation, some I was able to figure out while others I had to wait to be revealed. And I never managed to determine who was guilty of the murder. It was a surprise and made for a riveting ending to this intriguing case. Leon’s series debut was a captivating and entertaining book. I’m interested in learning more about Commissario Brunetti in her other books in this series. I highly recommend Death at La Fenice to anyone who enjoys a great mystery!

I read this as part of the Venice in February Reading Challenge

Monday, February 27, 2012

~ ~ Mailbox Monday ~ ~

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme originally created and hosted by Marcia of A girl and her books and hosted this month by Kim of Metroreader. Below are the titles I received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the course of the past week. I received 3 very different books, all which I am so excited to read!
Oxford Messed Up by Andrea Kayne Kaufman (for review from

Oxford Messed Up is a unique literary love story that transports readers on a meaningful and emotional journey where the academic world of Oxford, the music of Van Morrison, and an old claw-foot bathtub serve as a backdrop for learning, self-discovery, and transcendent love.
Rhodes Scholar Gloria Zimmerman is an academic superstar who has come to Oxford University to study feminist poetry. Yet the rigors of the academy pale in comparison to her untreated Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, fueled by her overachieving parents and manifested in a deathly aversion to germs and human contact. Her next-door neighbor (who is also, to her mortification, her loo-mate) is Henry Young, the appealing but underachieving musician son of an overbearing and disapproving Oxford don.
Still mourning the death of his supportive mother while enduring the mockery of his disapproving and merciless father, Henry is haunted by the unexpectedly serious ramifications of a reckless and tragic youth. Gloria and Henry's relationship evolves from a shared obsession with Van Morrison's music into a desire on the part of each to fill in the gaps in the life of the other. Yet the constraints of a debilitating illness and the looming revelation of a catastrophic secret conspire to throw their worlds into upheaval and threaten the possibilities of their unlikely yet redemptive love.
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (win from Jill at The Magic Lasso for Orange January Reading Event. Thank you!)

Lee Fiora is an intelligent, observant fourteen-year-old when her father drops her off in front of her dorm at the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts. She leaves her animated, affectionate family in South Bend, Indiana, at least in part because of the boarding school’s glossy brochure, in which boys in sweaters chat in front of old brick buildings, girls in kilts hold lacrosse sticks on pristinely mown athletic fields, and everyone sings hymns in chapel.
As Lee soon learns, Ault is a cloistered world of jaded, attractive teenagers who spend summers on Nantucket and speak in their own clever shorthand. Both intimidated and fascinated by her classmates, Lee becomes a shrewd observer of–and, ultimately, a participant in–their rituals and mores. As a scholarship student, she constantly feels like an outsider and is both drawn to and repelled by other loners. By the time she’s a senior, Lee has created a hard-won place for herself at Ault. But when her behavior takes a self-destructive and highly public turn, her carefully crafted identity within the community is shattered.
Ultimately, Lee’s experiences–complicated relationships with teachers; intense friendships with other girls; an all-consuming preoccupation with a classmate who is less than a boyfriend and more than a crush; conflicts with her parents, from whom Lee feels increasingly distant, coalesce into a singular portrait of the painful and thrilling adolescence universal to us all.
Rape New York by Jana Leo (win from Amy at Amy Reads Thank you!)

 In the gripping first pages of this true story, Jana Leo relives the moment-by-moment experience of a home invasion and rape in her own apartment in Harlem. After she reports the crime, she waits. Between police disinterest and squabbles from the health insurance company over who’s going to pay for the rape kit, she realizes that the violence of such an experience does not stop with the crime. Increasingly concerned that the rapist will return, she seeks help from her landlord, who refuses to address security issues on the property. She comes to understand that it is precisely these conditions of newly gentrified lower-income areas which lead to vulnerable living spaces, high turnover rates, and ultimately higher profits for slumlords. In this most singular memoir, Leo weaves a psychological journey into an analysis that becomes equally personal: the fault lines of property mismanagement, class vulnerabilities, and a deeply flawed criminal justice system. In a stunning conclusion, Leo has her day in court.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Night Swim by Jessica Keener

Night Swim by Jessica Keener

ISBN: 978-1936558261
Pages: 284
Release Date: January 10, 2012
Publisher: Fiction Studio Books
Genre: Contemporary Fiction; Literature 
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book Summary:  Sixteen-year-old Sarah Kunitz lives in a posh, suburban world of 1970 Boston. From the outside, her parents’ lifestyle appears enviable – a world defined by cocktail parties, expensive cars, and live-in maids to care for their children – but inside their five-bedroom house, all is not well for the Kunitz family. Coming home from school, Sarah finds her well-dressed, pill-popping mother lying disheveled on their living room couch. At night, to escape their parents’ arguments, Sarah and her oldest brother, Peter, find solace in music, while her two younger brothers retreat to their rooms and imaginary lives. Any vestige of decorum and stability drains away when their mother dies in a car crash one terrible winter day. Soon after, their father, a self-absorbed, bombastic professor begins an affair with a younger colleague. Sarah, aggrieved, dives into two summer romances that lead to unforeseen consequences. In a story that will make you laugh and cry, Night Swim shows how a family, bound by heartache, learns to love again.

My Thoughts:  Sarah is struggling to figure out who she is and what her hopes and dreams are for her future life. She desires the love and support of her mother, Irene, as she searches for who she is but the more she reaches for her mother, the more she seems to slip away. Sarah finds solace in the music she and her brother, Peter, share nightly to cope with the dysfunction that marks most family dinners. Her father, Leonard, an English professor, is a controlling madman with “...dark, quick eyes scooping up the slightest imperfections in everyone around him.” Irene once played the violin, practicing for hours, performing in recitals and concerts. She's replaced this with weekly luncheons and bridge games with her country club friends and the responsibilities of a housewife. Irene also pops pain pills daily and enjoyed evening cocktail hours. Sarah often finds her mother “...lying on the living room couch sipping a drink, one arm draped to the floor.”

Sarah desperately wants her mother’s love and yearns for a way to connect with her before she slips away completely. Jessica Keener adeptly conveys the two sides of Sarah: the mature one understands that something is missing in her mother, distancing her from her family and is trying to find out what that is while the younger Sarah is afraid to discover what it is that keeps her mother at a distance. Sarah often thinks about what could be impacting her mother, hoping that whatever it is will simply vanish enabling her to bond with mother. As the novel progresses, Sarah realizes with trepidation that her mother is slipping away more and more.

A frightening incident occurs one night after her parents throw a party. Irene, having had several drinks takes her car out for a drive and ends up ina nearby lake. Bruised and battered she spends a week in the hospital following this accident. Sarah is furious when everyone around her insists on calling this incident an “accident”. She is aware there’s more going on here but frutrated because she doesn’t know what to do about it. She's concerned her mother's gone crazy. Her father wallows in self-pity and drinks, doing nothing to address Irene’s issues infuriating Sarah. At times, it seems her family’s dysfunction may send Sarah over the precipice of sanity herself. Then, when the unthinkable happens and her mother dies in another accident, all of Sarah’s anger drains away, replaced by a deep pain. Keener’s prose conveys the rawness of Sarah’s grief and her disbelief at what’s happened. Almost more painful is Sarah’s realization that life goes on despite the death of her mother.

Keener’s portrayal of Sarah’s life following Irene’s death resonates with truth and is relatable for many readers. Her father doesn’t step up and become a supportive, loving parent. He behaves as if he’s the only one who has suffered a loss. He takes care of only himself, quickly finding another woman, one extremely different from Irene. Other aspects of Sarah‘s life on which she depended also change, making this time that much more painfully difficult for her. At this same time, Sarah realizes and acknowledges to herself that she lost her mother, physically, prior to her death. She’s now grieving not having her mother to talk to and touch but also losing the chance to connect and bond with her mother. This is an awful burden for any person to take on, particularly a young girl on the verge of adulthood. It’s no wonder that Sarah rebels, behaving in ways typical to a girl without a mother. Sarah’s behavior seems almost deliberate at times, as if she’s flinging in her mother’s face what she's caused by leaving Sarah. But her actions, a manifestation of her need to get away from the pain, anger and confusion coursing through her body, only result in hurting her.

It’s hard to believe this gripping, amazing novel is Keener’s debut. Her beautiful prose is exquisite and mesmerizing, absorbing you into the story immediately and keeping you hooked even when Sarah’s emotion and confusion becomes too painful or Leonard’s behavior too selfish. Keener has created an exceptional, very real character in Sarah, one whom many of us can identify with and relate to as she fights to become a woman she can be proud of. I rooted for Sarah to find her way through her grief and come out of her journey stronger, happier and with an understanding of what in her life has always connected her to her mother. I highly recommend Night Swim especially to readers who understand the pain of losing a loved one and the struggle to find a connection to them after they are physically gone from your life.

Jessica Keener has a fantastic Website which I urge you to check out. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Jessica Keener for a copy of Night Swim and for the opportunity to read and review this book.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Date Published: 1955  (Reprint 2008)
ISBN:  978-0393332148
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Pages: 288
Genre: Mystery; Suspense Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5

Book Summary:  Since his debut in 1955, Tom Ripley has evolved into the ultimate bad boy sociopath, influencing countless novelists and filmmakers. In this first novel, we are introduced to suave, handsome Tom Ripley: a young striver, newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan in the 1950s. A product of a broken home, branded a "sissy" by his dismissive Aunt Dottie, Ripley becomes enamored of the moneyed world of his new friend, Dickie Greenleaf. This fondness turns obsessive when Ripley is sent to Italy to bring back his libertine pal but grows enraged by Dickie's ambivalent feelings for Marge, a charming American dilettante.
A dark reworking of Henry James's The Ambassadors, The Talented Mr. Ripley—immortalized in the 1998 film starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gywneth Paltrow—is an unforgettable introduction to this debonair confidence man, whose talent for self-invention and calculated murder is chronicled in four subsequent novels.

My Thoughts:  Patricia Highsmith has created a fascinating character in Tom Ripley. He’s kind, thoughtful, very intelligent, and often timid, pensive and quiet. He can be extremely charming. But below the surface of this non-threatening man is a very calculating, devious individual. Tom believes the world owes him quite a bit since his childhood was not ideal. He doesn't care if the things he covets belong to other people or are a part of their life. Tom is all the more intriguing because, unlike the people he meets in his daily life, we are privy to his thoughts, opinions and emotions, therefore, we have a much more complete view of the man, for better or worse.

Tom Ripley doesn’t do anything without calculating whether or not his words and behavior will assist him in achieving the kind of lifestyle he believes he deserves. Almost everything Tom says or does is with an eye towards obtaining whatever it is he wants. It's not far into The Talented Mr. Ripley, focusing on Tom’s words, actions and the workings of his mind, before it's clear Tom’s a sociopath. It's unnerving because Tom is sometimes creepy and frightening but more often, because he’s so cunning, we actually feel sorry for him and find ourselves taken in by his charm. Tom Ripley is one of the most riveting characters I’ve met in literature.

Highsmith’s novel is imbued with an atmosphere of suspense. I often found myself on the edge of my seat anticipating Tom’s next move. While he’s quite a smooth talker and disarming, there’s a definite air of danger surrounding him. Words glide off his tongue frequently delivering lies both small and large as he concocts whatever story he expects his listener will fall for. And, when things don’t go according to his plans, Tom often becomes frighteningly unhinged and reacts in ways that surprise even himself. As a result, Highsmith's narrative is rife with tension and the excitement that comes from danger lurking just around the corner.

The suspense and tension throughout the book is also attributable to the very real possibility that we, the reader cannot trust Tom. The more I read, the clearer it became just how devious he is. it seems there's no end to what he'll do to accomplish his goals. Tom imagines what his life could be and then does whatever he must to bring these fantasies to life without regard to other people. Highsmith has created a man so shrewd and crafty that it’s difficult to determine who’s the real Tom Ripley and whether there’s truth in anything he says. I wondered if Tom even knows his true self.

Tom enjoys playing on the readers sympathies by sharing his fears and concerns about possibly getting caught for his criminal behavior. He suggests that he didn’t mean to do anything wrong or hurt anyone, it just sort of happened. But it’s clear Tom doesn’t feel sorry for what he’s done and places blame elsewhere. It seemed he enjoyed pretending he cared just as he seems to enjoy pretending he’s afraid of being caught. Tom also enjoys eluding capture and watching the authorities twist in the wind, unable to figure out what really occurred. As I got closer to the end of the book, Tom became less charming for me and more frightening but still fascinating.

Highsmith’s writing is concise and she had a formidable talent for precisely using words to describe a look or an emotion. She also had a remarkable ability to vividly describe a scene, whether at a cafe table in Paris, a gondola on the canal in Venice or the home in Venice Tom acquired for himself as part of the lifestyle he felt he deserved, that I was able to imagine myself present and viewing the scene first hand. But what I found most profoundly amazing about The Talented Mr. Ripley was Highsmith’s depiction of Tom as a quintessential sociopath, viewing the world through amoral eyes yet charming many of the people he encounters daily. It's a chilling portrayal.  In contrast, the other characters in the book are not fully three-dimensional and easily forgettable.  It bears noting, although, that they are described through Tom’s eyes which makes me wonder how truthful a picture we get of them. Tom, for instance, didn’t like Marge at all and considers her boring and irritating but I suspect she wasn't at all.

I saw the movie of The Talented Mr. Ripley several years ago and wondered if I‘d be able to separate images of Jude Law and Matt Damon from the characters of Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf. At first it was difficult for me not to think about the movie as I read. Then I discovered that the movie branches off from the book and tells a different story, one more suited to the cinema and the interests of moviegoers than the story in the book. This difference and Highsmith‘s absorbing and mesmerizing narrative soon had me forgetting the movie and completely focused only on the book.

I highly recommend this very well written book. It’s difficult to put down once you start reading it. I read this novel for the February in Venice Reading Challenge and I'm looking forward to Highsmith's other Ripley books.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

~ First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea every Tuesday. To participate share the opening paragraph or two (I shared a couple extra here) of a book you've decided to read based on that paragraph. This book has been very positively reviewed on many blogs. I’ve wanted to read it for quite a while and was very fortunate to win a copy from Zibilee at Raging Bibliomania. This book has been enticing me from the shelf for a few months now and I couldn’t ignore it any longer! I’m looking for to a many hours of enjoyable and entertaining reading
Don't forget to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea and read Diane's selection this week and be sure to visit and read the contributions of other participants in this terrific meme who can be found in the comments!

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gregg Gilmore
Apparently among those who consider their social standing some measure of importance, I am to be admired, for I am one of few Nashvillians who can claim with infallible certainty that a blood relation has lived in this town since its inception. My mother, although a Grove by marriage, never tired of sharing this piece of family trivia at cocktail parties or morning coffees, convinced that it elevated her position far beyond what her birth parents could have guaranteed.
And whether she did exaggerate the details in the hopes of impressing her peers, the truth remains that a poor Carolina farmer did pack his bags some two hundred and fifty years ago and set out to cross the Appalachian Mountains, heading west with his young bride determined to claim a few acres of his own and a better life for his family. He probably didn’t have a penny to his name by the time he got to Fort Nashborough begging for a hot meal and a place to sleep, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the Grove family anymore.
Legend has it that when the Chickamauga Indians attacked the Nashville settlement, they killed my ancestral father as he fought to protect his beloved wife. She grabbed the musket from her dead husband’s hands and continued the fight, killing three Indian warriors herself. Then she fell on top of her husband’s cold, bloody body and held him in her arms throughout the night.
Her name was Bezellia Louise, and for generations since, the first girl born to a Grove has been named in her memory. Although most official historians dispute any claims of her heroics, my father donated thousands of dollars to the Nashville Historical Society with the belief that eventually some fresh, young academic would see the past more according to my family’s advantage. But fact or fiction, I believed in her courage and passion and have always been proud to share her name.
What are your thoughts about these paragraphs? Would you read this book based on these paragraphs?

Monday, February 20, 2012

~ Mailbox Monday ~

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme originally created and hosted by Marcia of A girl and her books and hosted this month by Kim of Metroreader. Below are the titles I received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the course of the past week.

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson (for review from Harper Collins & TLC Books)
Set in the lush countryside of Provence, Deborah Lawrenson’s The Lantern is an atmospheric modern gothic tale of love, suspicion, and murder, in the tradition of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. Drawn to a wealthy older man, Eve embarks on a whirlwind romance that soon offers a new life and a new home—Les Genévriers, a charming hamlet amid the fragrant lavender fields of Provence. But Eve finds it impossible to ignore the mysteries that haunt both her lover and the run-down old house. The more reluctant Dom is to tell her about his past, the more she is drawn to it—and to the mysterious disappearance of his beautiful ex-wife. An evocative tale of romantic and psychological suspense, The Lantern masterfully melds past and present, secrets and lies, appearances and disappearances—along with our age-old fear of the dark.

Hystera by Leora Skolkin-Smith (for review from Fiction Studio & TLC Books) Set in the turbulent 1970s when Patty Hearst became Tanya the Revolutionary, Hystera is a timeless story of madness, yearning, and identity. After a fatal accident takes her father away, Lillian Weill blames herself for the family tragedy. Tripping through failed love affairs with men, and doomed friendships, all Lilly wants is to be sheltered from reality. She retreats from the outside world into a world of delusion and the private terrors of a New York City Psychiatric Hospital. Unreachable behind her thick wall of fears, the world of hospital corridors and strangers become a vessel of faith. She is a foreigner there until her fellow patients release her from her isolation with the power of human intimacy. How do we know who we really are? How do we find our true selves under the heavy burden of family and our pasts? In an unpredictable portrait of mental illness, Hystera penetrates to the pulsing heart of the questions.

Running the Rift by Naomi Berenson (from Algonquin Books)
Imagine that a man who was once friendly suddenly spewed hatred. That a girl who flirted with you in the lunchroom refused to look at you. That neighbors who shared meals with your family could turn on them and hunt them down. Jean Patrick Nkuba is a gifted Tutsi boy who dreams of becoming Rwanda's first Olympic medal contender in track. When the killing begins, he is forced to flee, leaving behind the woman, the family, and the country he loves. Finding them again is the race of his life. Spanning ten years during which a small nation was undone by ethnic tension and Africa's worst genocide in modern times, this novel explores the causes and effects of Rwanda's great tragedy from Nkuba's point of view. His struggles teach us that the power of love and the resilience of the human spirit can keep us going and ultimately lead to triumph.

Pocket Kings by Ted Heller (from Algonquin Books)
In this dead-on satire of online obsessions, a novelist with writer’s block finds a new—and very lucrative—stream of income in a virtual world that appears to give him everything he lacks in the real world.

When frank Dixon, a frustrated writer who has seen his career crash and burn, decides to dabble in online poker, he discovers he has a knack for winning. In this newfound realm, populated by alluring characters—each of them elusive, mysterious, and glamorous—he becomes a smash success: popular, rich, and loved. Going by the name Chip Zero, he sees his fortunes and romantic liaisons thrive in cyberspace while he remains blind to the fact that his real life is sinking. His online success, however, does not come without complications, as he comes to realize that his “virtual” friends and lovers are, in fact, very real, and one rival player is not at all happy that Mr. Zero has taken all his money.

Until Next Time by Kevin Fox (from Algonquin Books)
For Sean Corrigan the past is simply what happened yesterday, until his twenty-first birthday, when he is given a journal left him by his father’s brother Michael—a man he had not known existed. The journal, kept after his uncle fled from New York City to Ireland to escape prosecution for a murder he did not commit, draws Sean into a hunt for the truth about Michael’s fate. Sean too leaves New York for Ireland, where he is caught up in the lives of people who not only know all about Michael Corrigan but have a score to settle. As his connection to his uncle grows stronger, he realizes that within the tattered journal he carries lies the story of his own life—his past as well as his future—and the key to finding the one woman he is fated to love forever.

Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner (win from Random House Reader‘s Circle)
Vaclav and Lena seem destined for each other. They meet as children in an ESL class in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Vaclav is precocious and verbal. Lena, struggling with English, takes comfort in the safety of his adoration, his noisy, loving home, and the care of Rasia, his big-hearted mother. Vaclav imagines their story unfolding like a fairy tale, or the perfect illusion from his treasured Magician’s Almanac. But one day, Lena does not show up for school. She has disappeared from Vaclav and his family’s lives as if by a cruel sleight of hand. For the next seven years, Vaclav says goodnight to Lena without fail, wondering if she is doing the same somewhere. On the eve of Lena’s seventeenth birthday he finds out. In Vaclav & Lena, Haley Tanner has created two unforgettable young protagonists who evoke the joy, the confusion, and the passion of having a profound, everlasting connection.

Outside the Lines by Amy Hatvany (win from Chick Lit Central)
When Eden was ten years old she found her father, David, bleeding on the bathroom floor. The suicide attempt led to her parents’ divorce, and David all but vanished from Eden’s life. Twenty years later, Eden runs a successful catering company and dreams of opening a restaurant. Since childhood, she has heard from her father only rarely, just enough to know that he’s been living on the streets and struggling with mental illness. But lately there has been no word at all. After a series of failed romantic relationships and a health scare from her mother, Eden decides it’s time to find her father, to forgive him at last, and move forward with her own life. Her search takes her to a downtown Seattle homeless shelter, and to Jack Baker, its handsome and charming director. Jack convinces Eden to volunteer her skills as a professional chef with the shelter. In return, he helps her in her quest. As the connection between Eden and Jack grows stronger, and their investigation brings them closer to David, Eden must come to terms with her true emotions, the secrets her mother has kept from her, and the painful question of whether her father, after all these years, even wants to be found.

Friday, February 17, 2012

No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie

No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie
Date Published: February 2012
ISBN: 978-0061990618
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 384
Genre: Mystery; Detective Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5

Publisher’s Book Summary: New York Times bestselling author Deborah Crombie makes her mark with this absorbing, finely hued tale of suspense—a deeply atmospheric and twisting mystery full of deadly secrets, salacious lies, and unexpected betrayals involving the mysterious drowning of a Met detective—an accomplished rower—on the Thames.
When a K9 search-and-rescue team discovers a woman's body tangled up with debris in the river, Scotland Yard superintendent Duncan Kincaid finds himself heading an investigation fraught with complications. The victim, Rebecca Meredith, was a talented but difficult woman with many admirers—and just as many enemies. An Olympic contender on the verge of a controversial comeback, she was also a high-ranking detective with the Met—a fact that raises a host of political and ethical issues in an already sensitive case.
To further complicate the situation, a separate investigation, led by Detective Inspector Gemma James, Kincaid's wife, soon reveals a disturbing—and possibly related—series of crimes, widening the field of suspects. But when someone tries to kill the search-and-rescue team member who found Rebecca's body, the case becomes even more complex and dangerous, involving powerful interests with tentacles that reach deep into the heart of the Met itself.
Surrounded by enemies with friendly faces, pressured to find answers quickly while protecting the Yard at all costs, his career and reputation on the line, Kincaid must race to catch the killer before more innocent lives are lost—including his own.

My Thoughts: When I read the publisher’s summary I felt as if this book had been written with me in mind! The story is set in England, most of the characters are British, a K9 Search and Rescue (SAR) team is involved in the investigation and the sport of Rowing is a major part of the story. These are all elements that are of interest to me and that I like very much: I love British-themed books and British characters, the two SAR dogs are adorable, wonderful characters and one is my favorite breed, a Labrador Retriever and I was a coxswain on the women’s crew team during most of my college years and just love Rowing! So you see, I was pretty well hooked before I started reading. Then, when I started reading No Mark Upon Her, I discovered one of the best mysteries I’ve read in a long time.

Deborah Crombie’s writing is compelling, quickly captures your attention and keeps it. The fast-paced, riveting narrative flows well and the tension is palpable almost from the start of the book. Rowing is an intriguing aspect of the story. Crombie shows how it strongly reflects the theme of power and control central to the book. Rowing, which can be both a social and a solitary sport, also highlights the loneliness felt by several of the characters and the secretive nature of their lives. The criminal investigation quickly becomes complex, involving more than one crime, several surprising discoveries and some fascinating twists and turns. I gasped out loud at least twice! There’s never a dull moment in this mesmerizing crime novel.

No Mark Upon Her is part of a series involving two detectives, superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Inspector Gemma James who, newly married here with a combined family of three children, have a long history. I didn’t feel as if I was missing anything by not having read the previous books in this series. The detective’s entire history is not explained but Crombie relays enough for us to know the detectives have known each other for a long time and have worked together quite a bit in the past. I wasn’t very far into this book before I knew I wanted to read the rest of the series.

Detectives Kincaid and James are affable, smart, funny and inquisitive. They work well together and appreciate each other’s strengths and flaws but are not without their faults. I appreciated that Crombie allows us to see them at home with their newly formed family. Crombie effectively provides a break from the tension of the investigation by showing the detectives at home with their children, trying to make family-life work while investigating at difficult criminal case. In this way, Duncan and Gemma become more recognizable to us as people many readers can identify with: working parents. And when this case threatens the sanctity of the police department they work for ratcheted up the tension several degrees, the detectives still have to put dinner on the table, get the children bathed and in bed before returning to the intense investigation.

There’s a lot going on in No Mark Upon Her and Crombie displays an admirable talent for juggling several story tangents at once, keeping them all absorbing and mesmerizing as well as a variety of characters. Anyone looking for a straightforward murder mystery and criminal investigation with little character development won’t appreciate this book. They will also miss out on a thrilling story-line and two fascinating detectives as well as some captivating secondary characters including a fascinating type-A murder victim and a flawed SAR team member with Finn, a remarkable and adorable dog. I highly recommend this book for readers who enjoy intense, riveting detective investigations that keep you guessing, caring, three-dimensional characters who stay with you, a British setting, British culture and society, Rowing and compelling, engaging writing.

To read more about No Mark Upon Her and Deborah Crombie be sure to visit her website She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter

Thank you to BookBrowse for sending me an ARC copy of No Mark Upon Her

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

~ ~ Wondrous Words Wednesday ~ ~

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Bermudaonion's Weblog where we share words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun (please do!) Be sure to leave a link to your post over at Bermudaonion's Weblog.

The following words are from Gillespie and I by Jane Harris:
" However, this horrid cauchemar seems to have reawakened some of my uneasiness about Sarah.”

1. Cauchemar (French)
: nightmare

"In any case, a few days later, I went to view Merlinsfield, which turned out to be an old jointure house, close by the shores of a loch."

2. Jointure
: the property created by a provision made by a husband for his wife settling property upon her at marriage for her use after his death
: the act of joining or the condition of being joined

" Now, the artist was determined to spend every daylight hour, toiling and moiling, in his studio and - with single-minded intensity - he began to prepare for his solo show at Hamilton’s gallery .”

3. Moiling
: requiring hard work; industrious
: toil; drudgery

" ‘No doubt, they‘ll be back any minute, though,’ said Annie. ‘She can only ever thole them for half an hour.’"

4. Thole (Chiefly Scottish)
: to suffer; bear; endure

The following words are from Night Swim by Jessica Keener:

" ‘Did she smell the odor of our missing mother, the listless air, the home’s chronic desuetude?’ "

1. Desuetude
: the state of being no longer used or practiced

" It might be that he didn‘t see the sense in Robert‘s needling and insouciance - Robert‘s ability to create barriers on the smallest scale - not letting Elliott touch his fish tank, for instance."

2. Insouciance
: lack of care or concern; indifference

Monday, February 13, 2012

~ Mailbox Monday ~

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme originally created and hosted by Marcia of A girl and her books and hosted this month by Kim of Metroreader. Below are the titles I received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the course of the past week. I received just one book this week, a book I’m very interested in reading.
Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd (from Harper Perennial for review)

A deeply moving story by a survivor of the commercial sex industry who has devoted her career to activism and helping other young girls escape "the life"

At thirteen, Rachel Lloyd found herself caught up in a world of pain and abuse, struggling to survive as a child with no responsible adults to support her. Vulnerable yet tough, she eventually ended up a victim of commercial sexual exploitation. It took time and incredible resilience, but finally, with the help of a local church community, she broke free of her pimp and her past.

Three years later, Lloyd arrived in the United States to work with adult women in the sex industry and soon founded her own nonprofit—GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services—to meet the needs of other girls with her history. She also earned her GED and won full scholarships to college and a graduate program. Today Lloyd is executive director of GEMS in New York City and has turned it into one of the nation's most groundbreaking nonprofit organizations.

In Girls Like Us, Lloyd reveals the dark, secretive world of her past in stunning cinematic detail. And, with great humanity, she lovingly shares the stories of the girls whose lives she has helped—small victories that have healed her wounds and made her whole. Revelatory, authentic, and brave, Girls Like Us is an unforgettable memoir.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

~ Sunday Salon ~

I’d hoped to spend a few delightful hours at the Brooklyn Flea Market today, expecting to return laden with books! Fun! But winter decided to ‘show its face’ and it was in the low 20s when I woke up this morning...and that‘s before factoring the wind chill! Eeeek!. Well, it is mid-February! I’ll just have to wait until next weekend and, hopefully, warmer weather! There are some very tasty treats at Brooklyn Flea, too. There are a lot of people who go just for the food. Some vendors are a little pricey but the milkshakes, grilled cheese, lobster rolls and mini-cupcakes are worth it. Those are the foods I’ve tried so far but there’s plenty more. Oh boy, now I’m thinking about the lobster rolls and milkshakes, oh boy they’re good! It’s just as well I didn’t go today. I don’t think I’d have been able to taste any foods anyway because I have a terrible cold. I think I caught it in my cardiologists waiting room on Thursday...every other person there seemed sick with a cold and cough. By the time I left there Thursday late afternoon I had a sore throat, head ache and other cold symptoms...blah, blah, blah. Typical, right? Go to a doctor and return home sick! lolol Colds are unpleasant icky!

I spent most of Friday stretched out taking lots of cat-naps (Ha!) drinking lots of fluids to rid myself of this cold. I still have it, but, at least it’s no worse. Thanks to the wonderful Ti at Book Chatter I think I have a new sitcom to enjoy, The Big Bang Theory (thanks Ti!) It’s pretty funny! I thought it was about nerds but they’re intensely smart geeks in graduate school. One of them is supposedly a genius with an ego the size of a large country! The science references fly right over my head, for the most part, which makes me laugh, too. So I watched some saved episodes and read some of Night Swim by Jessica Keener, which is very good and The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. It’s the first of her novels I’ve read and I’m excited because Highsmith wrote a long list of books and I’m now planning to read many of them! I also didn’t realize there are 4 books about Tom Ripley. I’m interested to see if the movie is a combination of all of them or just the first one

I’m trying to get some new photos of the cats and the new kitten uploaded to show you but I cannot figure out how to do it...yet. I’ve done it before but I just cannot remember. I have to get myself a digital camera because this way is too annoying!

I haven’t found homes, shelters or foster care openings for the two cats that were abandoned. Every place that takes homeless cats is completely packed and hurting for space. Hopefully, one of the organizations or shelters will help me get the cats spayed/neutered this week so there are no adorable kittens contributing to the homeless kitty problem. It’s so sad. I don’t understand why people are so irresponsible about getting their animals neutered. There are several places to take them that cost next to nothing. Sorry! I won’t start ranting, I promise....this issue just gets me upset!

This week I’m going to start Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon for Venice in February 2012. I’m reading The Talented Mr. Ripley for the same reading challenge. I also hope to start A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry for War Through the Generations 2012 reading challenge. I’ve become a rather slow reader which saddens me a bit. lolol But it is what it is! So, I’ll see how it goes, especially if this cold persists.

I hope you all enjoy the rest of your Sunday!
Happy Reading!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

~ ~ Wondrous Words Wednesday ~ ~

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Bermudaonion's Weblog where we share words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun (please do!) Be sure to leave a link to your post over at Bermudaonion's Weblog.

The following words are from Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

" The pavement upon which I found myself was in the shade, but the opposite side of the street was awash with sunshine and, brightly mirrored in the glass before me, I saw a woman in a black capote bonnet, stretched out on the ground, while a girl crouched beside her.”

1. Capote
: a close-fitting, cap-like bonnet worn by women and children in the mid-Victorian period.

"A bossy looking dowager swooped in with a vial of smelling salts, but when the application of those beneath the victim‘s nose had no effect, our beldam was obliged to fall back, defeated."

2. Beldam
: an old woman, especially an ugly one; hag.

" Then her gaze fell upon the heap of papers on the table. 'Dearie me, look at this guddle.'.”

3. Guddle
: a state of disorder, confusion or untidiness, messiness

 " ‘Now, Ms. Bexter,’ cried Elspeth. ‘If you‘ll excuse me I shall hold my wheesht - as we say here in Scotland - and go and hurry along our tea.’ "

4. Wheesht (Scottish slang)
: a call for quiet or silence; used as an interjection Wheesht! to bring about or continue, the silence of others
: quiet, hushed [haud yer wheesht is to hold one's tongue].

" Indeed, I lingered in front of it - in what the Scots might call a ‘dwam‘ - primarily because that corner of the room happened, just at that moment, to be less crowded. "

5. Dwam
: a stupor or daydream

 " Hamilton (now long forgotten) was then a well-established painter of the old-fashioned ‘gluepot school‘: artists so called because of the dark, sticky nature of their preferred medium, megilp, and also, perhaps, because of their subject matter which was often gooey, mawkish and overly moralistic. "

6. Megilp
: an oil painting medium consisting of a mixture of mastic varnish and an oil medium: walnut, linseed, safflower, poppy, black oil. It makes oil paint thin, glossy, and easy to work with a extremely short drying time

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

ISBN: 978-0-06-210320-8
Pages: 528
Release Date: February 2012
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: Literary Fiction; Historical Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5

Book Summary: From the award-winning author of The Observations comes a beautifully conjured and wickedly sharp tale of art and deception in nineteenth-century Scotland.

As she sits in her Bloomsbury home with her two pet birds for company, elderly Harriet Baxter recounts the story of her friendship with Ned Gillespie—a talented artist whose life came to a tragic end before he ever achieved the fame and recognition that Harriet maintains he deserved. In 1888, young Harriet arrives in Glasgow during the International Exhibition. After a chance encounter with Ned, she befriends the Gillespie family and soon becomes a fixture in their lives. But when tragedy strikes, culminating in a notorious criminal trial, the certainty of Harriet’s new world rapidly spirals into suspicion and despair.

Infused with rich period detail, shot through with sly humor, and featuring a memorable cast of characters, Gillespie and I is an absorbing, atmospheric tale of one young woman’s friendship with a volatile artist and her place in the controversy that consumes him—a tour de force from one of the emerging names of modern fiction.

My Thoughts: Gillespie and I has a wonderful, rich and elaborate plot and offers a combination of many of the great elements in the best stories: it has a lovely, historical setting, a puzzling mystery, a riveting courtroom scene, it's psychologically tantalizing, it’s an entertaining drama, it’s frequently funny with much dark humor, and, finally, it’s shocking and creepy in parts. The book is well-written and reads quickly, the dialogue is realistic, funny and tantalizing and it’s filled with intriguing, irritating and delightful characters with some interesting quirks. Finally, the story is told by one of the most engaging, complex, and beguiling narrators who can also be quite hypocritical.

Harriet Baxter, the main character and the narrator of Gillespie and I is, now, one of my favorite characters. She is a bundle of contradictions, quirky, hilarious and delightful. The narrative spans more than 40 years providing the opportunity for us to experience Harriet as a young woman making her way in the world and then, when she’s a saucier elderly spinster, as intrusive and self-concerned as ever. She’s writing her memoirs and sharing them as she looks back on her life when she met the Gillespie family. It’s doubtful we can completely trust what she says but Harriet is, without a doubt, an arresting and gripping story-teller.

Gillespie and I is a book that must be read to truly appreciate what a captivating and entertaining story it is. Harriet becomes obsessed with the Gillespie family shortly after Elspeth, the mother of Ned Gillespie, and quite a high-strung, quirky character, invites Harriet into their midst. Harriet’s most fascinated with Ned and his burgeoning art career but tells us she enjoyed his wife, Annie, too, at least once she broke down her more formal attitude. Harriet manages to weasel her way into the family’s life, making her self indispensable to them. Whether or not Ned and Annie wanted Harriet around as much as she was, is anyone’s guess but Harriet says they did!

The narrative takes on a more somber and creepy tone when tragedy strikes Ned and Annie Gillespie. As they struggle to cope with every parent’s worst nightmare, there's not much room for Harriet in their lives or the time or interest to devote to her visits. A different side of Harriet is revealed at this time, a somewhat less attractive aspect of her character as she becomes a little distanced from the Gillespie family. But soon Harriet is permanently linked to the family in ways nobody could have predicted as the tragedy grows deeper and larger.

There are many twists and turns in this book and I was often surprised by the direction of the story. Harriet frequently hints about upcoming sections of her memoir, occasionally revealing some information out of sequence in her zeal to tell about her time with the Gillespie family. Much of the foreshadowing increased my curiosity in her story, making it all the more enthralling. The narrative has an informal, inviting style that’s easy to read and it moves at a quick pace. I was drawn into the story quickly and found it difficult to disengage myself when I had other things to do. Gillespie and I is a book I highly recommend to all readers of fiction. This book has so much to offer that I believe readers of varying interests will find much to enjoy about Gillespie and I. Jane Harris has a new staunch fan and I’m looking forward to reading her first book, The Observations.

For more on Gillespie and I and Jane Harris be sure to visit the author’s Website

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Gillespie and I and to Harper Perennial for an ARC copy of the book.