Review: A Long Time Gone by Karen White

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: NAL Hardcover (June 3, 2014)
  • ISBN: 978-0451240460
  • Source: Publisher

Nine years ago, Vivian Walker left her home in Mississippi, swearing never to return, following the lead of so many Walker women before. When her life takes a turn for the worse and goes spiraling out of control, Vivian finds herself returning to the safety and comfort of her grandmother, Bootsie, admired for her ability to make everything right.  Upon her return, however, she discovered that Bootsie has passed away and her mother has started to fade away, Alzheimer‘s robbing her of her recent memories.

Vivian’s return immediately follows a violent storm that quite literally reveals family secrets buried beneath their home: the remains of a woman, long-dead, are found on the family’s property. It is soon made apparent to Vivian that, in order to rediscover herself and the woman she is meant to be, she must face a past of pain and loss that has devastated her family for generations.

I am a long-time fan of Karen White’s novels, and A Long Time Gone is no exception. Her trademark is to present deeply flawed characters seeking some sort of rediscovery, desperate for atonement and guidance for the battles life has dealt them. Her characters are dynamic and richly drawn, developing gradually and blossoming into completely new and rejuvenated individuals.

A Long Time Gone follows the Walker family, alternating between past and present, to showcase the lives of three generations of women and the battles they are forced to overcome.  Themes of maternal love and family run rich in this novel, surrounded by a setting rich with Southern charm. Additionally, she confronts issues like prohibition and racism in the context of Mississippi’s dark past.

While the page count may seem daunting, any fears of a long and overbearing novel vanish within the first few pages. Readers will be instantly captivated by the beautifully detailed southern setting and a compelling family whose history is rich with mystery and loss.

This is a book meant to be savored on the beach, or curled up in your favorite chair on the patio (as I did). I read it in one sitting, so captivated by the world White created in the Walker family.  This is a novel with characters and a message that are lasting. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: NAL Trade (March 4, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0451418905
  • Source: Publisher

Laura Kelly is a young seamstress living in 1928 upstate New York. After her father’s death and her own “fall from grace” (becoming pregnant out of wedlock),   the only way Laura and her young daughter, Grace, can survive is by the kindness of others. Unfortunately, this small town has shunned Laura since Grace’s birth, finding it far more difficult to sustain a livelihood.

Just miles away, poetess Edna St. Vincent Millay lives with her husband Eugen. The couple throws outrageous parties, shocking townspeople with her bohemian ways. Edna (referred to as Vincent) becomes entranced with Laura’s talented work and begs her to create an elaborate wardrobe for her. Unfortunately, an act that took place during one of Millay’s elaborate parties has Laura torn between standing strong against Millay’s bohemian lifestyle and the realization that she has to accept whatever work comes her way if she wants to survive.

What Robuck has created in Fallen Beauty is a completely awe-inspiring juxtoposition between two characters: Laura, a fallen beauty, punished by the townspeople after one act of indiscretion; and Millay, a brilliant, carefree poet who seems to have it all…except the love of one man. These two woman, at polar ends of a moral parallel, brought together out of coincidence and convenience. At the surface, it seems as though it is Laura who needs Millay to survive, yet in time Millay discovers she needs Laura just as much, if not more.

The character readers will find most endearing is that of young Grace. I’m certain her naming was intentional, for it is this young girl that brings together so many ailing individuals. Grace’s innocence allows characters to lower the curtain of insecurity that shields them, allowing them to see the life, and love, standing right before them.  Grace is the beacon of hope that so many of the characters in this novel needed to see beyond all the darkness and despair surrounding them.

While this is a fictionalized telling of Millay’s life, Robuck obviously undertook a tremendous amour of research so that she could so expertly capture Millay’s persona. Admittedly, I do not know much about this poet yet Robuck’s vision of this saucy, surly woman has me compelled to know more about her. This is a trademark of Robuck’s talented writing: each and every time I finish reading one of her novels I scramble to learn more about the individual she based it upon.

Robuck has made a name for herself in the historical fiction genre.  While it’s not a genre I read as often any more, each time she releases a new title I make it a mission to read it. She captures everything I appreciate most about this genre and, in doing so, influences a whole wave of new readers to embrace it as well. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Return to Tradd Street by Karen White

  • Series: Tradd Street (Book 4)
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: NAL Trade (January 7, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0451240596
  • Source: Publisher

Melanie Middleton is struggling to get on with her life after refusing Jack’s proposal.  Pregnant and determined to raise the child on her own, Melanie is determined to complete the necessary renovations to her home before the baby arrives. She’s completely unprepared for the pregnancy and motherhood, not to mention the loss of her ability to sense spirits who have not passed on.

Sleeping is already a challenge given her current stress level, but one night she’s awakened to the sound of an infant crying. Certain that this has something to do with her pregnancy and is nothing she should be concerned with, Melanie goes back to sleep.  Unfortunately, she should have taken notice. While a renovation crew was working to repair the foundation to her home, they uncover the body of an infant, buried in an old christening gown.  Melanie is determined to uncover the mystery of the baby’s death, uncovering a history riddled with lies and deceit, not to mention an angry spirit determined to keep these secrets buried. What she reveals not only leads to the infant’s identity, but also potentially her claims to ownership of the very house she is trying to renovate.

This novel serves as a very bittersweet ending to a series I have truly grown to enjoy. I’ve become quite attached to Melanie and Jack and am quite invested in their future (together or not).  The author has continued, in this novel, to create a series in which readers are drawn to, not only because of the ties to the supernatural and the rich history of Charleston, but because of the incredibly genuine characters she has developed and nurtured over time.  I absolutely adored the Southern settings and customs.  What’s a story set in the South without a bit of spiritual history?

If you haven’t had the chance to embrace this series, I do highly recommend that you do so. I do recommend that you start at the beginning of the series and follow it through in order. While the author does provide a small bit of back-story, it is my opinion that you are missing out on a lot of you skip out on the earlier books in the series.  I’ve broken the series down below (including my reviews, if applicable). Bottom line: this novel, and this series as a whole, is a rich and beautiful collection of Southern fiction. Highly, highly recommended.

The Tradd Street Series:
The House on Tradd Street
The Girl on Legare Street
The Strangers on Montagu Street

 

Frightful Friday: Children of the Underground: The Children of Paranoia Series by Trevor Shane

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s featured title is Children of the Underground by Trevor Shane:

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: NAL Trade; 1 edition (April 2, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0451239296
  • Source: Publisher

In this follow up to Children of Paranoia, eighteen-year-old Maria has just witnessed the brutal killing of Joseph, her lover and the father of their infant son, Christopher. The killer, Joseph’s best friend, Jared, claimed he did it for “the cause.” After killing Joseph, Jared tears Christopher from Maria’s grasp. Maria is now on a mission to locate her son, now nearly a year old. She attempted to contact others like Joseph, those fighting in this nameless war, but they shunned her, told her to forget she had a son and to get on with her life. Unable to do so, Maria tracks down Michael, another of Joseph’s friends involved in the cause, as well as a group known as the Underground, dedicated to “cleaning” the lives of those no longer interested in participating in the war. Together, they must carefully cross the lines waged by war, risking their lives in order to track down young Christopher.

Interspersed throughout the story are journal entries, reminiscent of the entries from the previous novel, that fast forward in time to Christopher’s youth and adulthood. Readers get a glimpse of the life Christopher led, immersed in a war that continues to have unknown causes and no indication of ending. Shane has crafted a truly terrific and chilling concept: a silent war rages, millions of citizens clueless to what is going on around them. Those involved in the war don’t have clear enemies or allies. It is rare to find someone you trust.

This sophomore book has absolutely no inklings or hints of a sophomore slump. As a matter of fact, I think this novel is more intense than the previous. Perhaps, because I am a mother myself, I found it easier to connect with Maria’s character than Joseph’s in the previous novel. Although she is still a teen in age, Maria has been forced to endure a lifetime worth of loss and pain. One wants to feel sympathy for her character, but Maria’s strong will and emotion will not allow it.

The character of Michael was an incredibly unique one as well. Despite being scarred by the war he reenlists, fighting for a cause he does not believe in because he knows it is the only way Maria can get her son back. A killer by trade, on the surface he appears cold and emotionless yet his dedication to finding Christopher shows a softer side.

As mentioned, this is the second book in a series. While Shane does provide a bit of back-story and history of the characters, I do believe it is best to start this series from the beginning. It is imperative to see the progression of the characters and their motives, to truly comprehend the depth of the battle they are fighting.

Fans of a wide range of genres would appreciate this series, from action and adventure to thriller. I see great things ahead for this truly talented writer. Highly highly recommended.

Review: Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: NAL Trade (September 4, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0451237889
  • Source: Publisher

Mariella Bennet is the the daughter of an American fisherman and a Cuban woman living in Key West during the Depression. Since her father passed away, Mariella is now the sole breadwinner of the family, doing menial labor to bring in a few dollars. Desperate to feed her mother and two young sisters, Mariella bets on a risky boxing match. Her actions catch the eyes of two men: famous author Ernest Hemingway and Gavin Murray, a WWI veteran.

Mariella is soon hired as a maid by Hemingway’s wife, Pauline. She is soon witness to the Hemingway’s lavish lifestyle and Hemingway’s own…predilection for young women. Hemingway, whom she refers to as “Papa” as many others do, doesn’t hide his attraction to the young and attractive Mariella. The only thing preventing Mariella to succumbing to Hemingway’s flirtations, other than her own morals, is the attractive Gavin Murray.

Gavin gives Mariella something others, including Hemingway, have not: the faith and courage to trust and seek out her own dreams. Having suffered his own loss and pain during the war, Gavin and Mariella quickly form a unique and genuine bond, each willing to help one another heal from the pain their lives have dealt them. Their love is a true and pure one, completely opposite of the fate Mariella would have been dealt had she succumbed to Hemingway’s flirtation.

When Mariella is asked to join the Hemingway family in their summer vacation to the to the island of Bimini, Mariella is torn between leaving her family behind and the opportunity such a duty would afford her. For the first time in her life, she is able to live like the “better half” does, enjoying luxuries she’s never had the opportunity to experience. This time away from her family allows her to reflect on the life she has, and the life she want, and really gives her the inspiration to seek out her dreams.

When Florida is hit by the Labor Day hurricane, one of the strongest storms to have ever make landfall in this country, Mariella fears she has lost everything she has ever loved. It is this final push that motivates her to have the life her father would have wanted and not necessarily the life she has been dealt.

Hemingway’s Girl is an incredibly descriptive, enormously addictive read. The manner in which Robuck creates the setting is truly remarkable, reeling the reader into a setting that, while technically a paradise on earth, is shadowed by pain and tragedy. She touches on a number of issues, including the fate of veterans after the war. The characters she builds are incredibly well-developed, so realistic. I found myself rooting for Mariella and Gavin, a couple that was dealt so much pain that they deserved to be happy together.

The build up to the climax is so expertly and perfectly timed, blowing in unexpectedly much like the hurricane that caused so much devastation. I wasn’t prepared for the emotions I felt or for the tears I shed, but in sadness and in happiness.

Robuck’s respect and adoration of Hemingway is also clear in her depictions of this renowned author. She doesn’t sugar-coat or hide any aspect of this man, accurately portraying him and his own decline into depression.

If you are looking for a novel full of rich historical detail, complex relationships and a completely mesmerizing setting, pick up a copy of Hemingway’s Girl. It’s been years since I have read any of Hemingway’s work, yet this novel has compelled me to reunite myself with the man everyone referred to with adoration as “Papa.”  Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Strangers on Montagu Street by Karen White

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: NAL Trade; 1 edition (November 1, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0451235266
  • Source:  Publisher

In the third of Karen White’s Tradd Street novels, psychic realtor Melanie “Mellie” Middleton is forced to move in with her mother after she discovers her mid-19th century Tradd Street home needs additional work.   Joining her is her latest house guest, Nola, Jack’s angry and distraught teen daughter.

Feeling guilty for everything Nola is forced to deal with, Mellie agrees to take Nola under her wing in an attempt to ease her transition into a new home and family. Nola isn’t alone, however.  Her mother, Bonnie, is a constant ghostly presence.  When Jack’s mother gives Nola an antique dollhouse, the supernatural activities increase.  When Nola indicates that she recognizes the dollhouse, a model of an actual home in Charleston.

When they track down the home the dollhouse is modeled off of, Melanie and Jack are introduced to a family of prestige and wealth…and decades of buried secrets.  The dolls within the dollhouse, small representations of the family members are angry, and for good reason. To make matters worse, they are luring Nola into their dark world of despair.

Heartbreak, murder, deceit, The Strangers on Montagu Street has it all.  Fans of the Tradd Street novels will appreciate the return of Mellie and Jack, their relationship full of sexual tension. Their dysfunctional relationship adds to the storyline, unrequited love plays a key role in this novel. The ending indicates more books in this series; I cannot wait to read what White comes up with next.

As indicated, this is the third book in a series.  While White makes an attempt to provide sufficient back story to readers new to the series, I believe that, in order to understand the characters and their history, it is imperative to start at the beginning.  Highly recommended.

Review: The Beach Trees by Karen White


Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: NAL Trade; 1 edition (May 3, 2011)
ISBN-10: 9780451233073
Source: Publisher

When Julie was just twelve years old, her sister disappeared, never to be found.  Her once perfect family started to crumble.  Her mother became obsessed with searching for her daughter; when she died, Julie continued the search, keeping in regular contact with the officer on the case.

As an adult, working in a New York auction house, she meets Monica Guidry, a struggling artist from Mississippi.  Her depictions of her family draws Julie closer to her and they become close friends.

When Monica dies of a heart ailment she kept secret, she gives Julie custody of her five-year-old son, Beau, as well as a valuable payment and a piece of property in Biloxi, Mississippi.   Julie is devastated; it is like she’s lost another sister.  Biding by Monica’s wishes, she takes Beau back to Moncia’s hometown. But when Julie & Beau show up in Biloxi, they see that the property is destroyed, never rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina.

Julie is devastated; she’s given up everything she has to bring Beau back to the family that Monica always talked about, yet been estranged from for years. She is now left without a home and an adorable young boy in her custody.

Before her death, Monica instructed Julie to find Ray Von, an elderly woman who has been a friend of the family for decades.  Upon meeting Ray Von, she is given a portrait that Julie’s own great grandfather, Abe Holt, painted.  Julie reluctantly decides that he best course of action is to sell the painting in order to obtain enough money to get by.

Julie and Beau aren’t in the town long before a buyer for the painting is found: Monica’s maternal great grandmother, Aimee, and her brother Trey.  Within reason, they are a bit hesitant of Julie; they haven’t seen Monica in years and now that she has passed, they want Beau to become part of their lives.

After much trepidation, Julie agrees to stay in New Orleans, where the family now lives, while the family beach property, River Song, is rebuilt. During her stay, she discovers that the portrait she has inherited unlocks a long-hidden family secret and the likely cause of Monica’s estrangement from her family. She also learns that meeting Monica wasn’t as coincidental as she thought; her own family has ties to the Guidry family.

The Beach Trees is a heartwarming tale of family, love, loss & deceit. Julie, a Massachusetts native, can’t comprehend why the victims of Katrina’s wrath continue to rebuild. Why stay somewhere when you know it’s going to be destroyed yet again? White so eloquently portrays the hope in people of Mississippi and Louisiana, their strong-will and determination to continue to live in a town so often devastated by hurricanes.  It is then she sees the true meaning of family and of “home”, and discovers a family of her own.

The storyline is told in two parts: Julie in the present and Aimee in the 1950s.  These storylines are so intricately woven, yet also completely independent.  The parallels between the two are uncanny.  Both women lost someone so near and dear to their hearts.  The parallel disappearances in each of the families is a bit startling as well.  I’m all about mystery and family secrets in the novels I read.  I particularly enjoyed how White allowed the mystery to unfold, slowly revealing details along the way.

As with her other books, White’s characters are extremely detailed and well developed. One couldn’t help but fall for Julie and Aimee, both incredibly strong minded and independent women.  They made quite the duo; I appreciated how the past was revealed to Julie through stories Aimee told her.  The act of passing down stories among generations is quite compelling; so much history is held in memories.

The descriptions of the setting allows the reader to feel they are there: the sounds of of the ocean, the smell of the sea water, the tactile feeling of the sand between their toes.  White has the unique abilty to transport the reader into her story, despite their location.

There hasn’t been a book Karen White has written that I haven’t fallen head over heels for. I often say that, despite my “Northern” upbringing, that I must have been a Southern girl in another life.  White herself notes Karen notes that “searching for home brings me to the south again and again.”

I doubt I need to tell you this, but I can’t recommend this book enough. A perfect read for book clubs, it covers so many topics worth discussing. It would be a delightful summer read, one that leaves your heart warm and full of hope as you turn the final pages. 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Please be sure to check out the other stops on the tour.

Review: On Folly Beach by Karen White

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: NAL Trade; 1 edition (May 4, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 0451229215
  • Source: Publisher
  •  Emmy Hamilton is a recent widow; her husband, a soldier, was killed in Afghanistan.  As to be expected, she’s having a difficult time getting over his death.  Her mother, Paige, insists that he would have wanted her to do more with her life other than stay in their small town in Indiana and work at Paige’s bookstore.  She encourages Emmy go to Folly Beach, a sanctuary for many, and buy the small town’s bookstore, Folly’s Finds.

    Emmy is reluctant at first; she’s perfectly fine with staying where she is.  However, when her mother buys a box of books from Folly’s Finds, Emmy discovers that several of the books have messages written in them.  She’s always had a special “sense” about certain things, and when she touches a few of the books they send tingles up her spine.

    She arrives in Folly Beach and meets Abigail, the current owner, and Abigail’s aunt Lulu.  Lulu is quite the interesting character; she’s not exactly pleased to see Emmy there.  Emmy purchases the bookstore, with the condition that Lulu will be allowed to remain as an employee of Folly’s Finds and continue to sell her very interesting bottle trees.

    As she renovates the bookstore, Emmy continues to find old books with messages written in them.  They appear to be love notes written by a young man and woman during World War II. She eventually finds out more about the history of Folly Beach and of the couple who communicated via the old books from an initially reluctant Lulu.  She learns that it wasn’t merely a young love that was kept secret between the pages, she also discovers a possible murder & mysterious disappearance.

    Karen White’s writing never ceases to amaze me.  I’ve read all of her previous work and have enjoyed each of them tremendously.  In On Folly Beach, White intricately weaves together two stories of love and loss.  The chapters shift between the 1940s and present day and this is done in a very fluid manner. Each chapter reveals a new piece to the puzzle. I instantly became invested in the storyline and the characters. White added a bit of history and folklore to the story, really enhancing the already powerful story. 

    Lulu’s bottle trees intrigued me.  African slaves brought the tradition of the bottle tree to the United States in the 18th century.  The bottles on the trees ward off evil spirits; spirits who get caught in the bottles are unable to escape.  Here is a picture of a bottle tree:

     In the story, a young Lulu also uses the bottle trees to communicate with loved ones who have gone away. 

    In case you haven’t realized it yet, I highly recommend these books.  The Southern setting, the mystery, the characters all come together to form a phenomenal read!  Be sure to stop by tomorrow for a guest post by Karen White and a giveaway!

     

     

    Thank you to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to review this book.  Please be sure to check out the other stops on this tour!

    Monday, May 3rd: Rundpinne

    Tuesday, May 4th: Downtown Southern

    Thursday, May 6th: Life in the Thumb

    Friday, May 7th: Café of Dreams

    Monday, May 10th: Diary of an Eccentric

    Tuesday, May 11th: Peeking Between the Pages

    Wednesday, May 12th: Write Meg

    Thursday, May 13th: Savvy Verse & Wit

    Friday, May 14th: Luxury Reading

    Monday, May 17th: Lit and Life

    Wednesday, May 19th: Books Like Breathing

    Thursday, May 20th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

    Monday, May 24th: From the Land of Cotton

    Tuesday, May 25th: Natalie’s Sentiments

    Wednesday, May 26th: A Tale of This Newlywed

    Thursday, May 27th: Good Girl Gone Redneck

    Friday, May 28th: Flower Patch Farmgirl

    Monday, May 31st: Sasha and the Silverfish

    Tuesday, June 1st: Red Lady’s Reading Room

    Review and Giveaway: The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White

    girl-on-legare-street

    • Paperback: 352 pages
    • Publisher: NAL Trade (November 3, 2009)
    • ISBN-10: 0451227999
    • Source: Publisher, via TLC Book Tours

    Karen White once again returns to Charleston, South Carolina and the haunting (literally) world of Melanie Middleton.  In White’s previous novel,The House on Tradd Street, Melanie, a real estate broker, inherits a historic home on Charleston’s Tradd Street.  Now, in The Girl On Legare Street it’s just a few months later and Melanie is still working hard to restore the historic home. I would be remiss not to mention Melanie’s “gift”-to hear and see spirits.  And in Charleston, there are many!

    She learns that her grandmother’s home is once again on the market, and an interested buyer has requested her expertise specifically.  The interested buyer is her estranged mother, Ginnette, whom she hasn’t seen in over 30 years.

    After attempting to get past her initial feelings of anger toward her mother, Melanie soon learns the real reason for her mother’s return.  Ginnette, also a spiritual sensitive, had a premonition involving Melanie and the home on Legare Street.  Something evil happened in that home decades ago, and the evil has returned.

    A sunken vessel with ties to the Prioleau family is raised from the dark depths of the ocean, and with it bring spirits long buried. An inscription on Melanie’s grandmother’s headstone carries a message from the grave:

    When bricks crumble, the fireplace falls
    When children cry, the mothers call
    When lies are told, the sins are built
    Within the waves, hide all our guilt

    Melanie and her mother begin smelling the scent of decay and sea water when they roam their ancestral home, and soon realize an angry spirit is seeking revenge on the Prioleau family. This evil has haunted the women in their family for centuries, and using their “gift”, the must put an end to it for good.

    I’ve been a fan of White’s writing for some time. She is known for her detailed prose and depth in her characters. Like in The House on Tradd Street, White does an outstanding job of describing the setting of Charleston. Her vivid imagery allows the city to unfold for the reader and its easy to become enveloped in the story. Her love of the South clearly shines through in this story. Fans of gothic mysteries or fiction set in the South will truly enjoy this one. While this is the second in the series, and I highly recommend reading The House on Tradd Street to gain background on the characters, this novel could stand on its own.

    GIVEAWAY!  I have one brand new copy of The Girl on Legare Street available, thanks to the publisher.  To enter, please fill out this form. You must fill out the form completely to be entered into the contest.  The winner will be announced on Monday, December 28th. US and Canadian residents only, please.

    TLCThank you to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to participate in this tour. Be sure to check out the other stops in this tour:

    Wednesday, December 16th: Southern Hospitality

    Thursday, December 17th: Stacy’s Books

    Monday, December 21st: From the Land of Cotton

    Tuesday, December 22nd: Lit and Life

    Tuesday, December 29th: Write Meg

    Date TBD: The Tome Traveller