Fiction

The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee

by Casee Marie on July 16, 2014 · 0 comments

in Fiction, Reviews

In The Glass Kitchen, Linda Francis Lee introduces her readers to the resourceful and quirky Portia Cuthcart, a Texas sweetheart with an uncanny knack for food. By an unexplainable trait handed down from her grandmother, Portia sees flashes of elaborate meals and knows she must make them – before ever knowing why. Her future seems securely attached to running her grandmother’s small town restaurant, The Glass Kitchen, but when her culinary predictions lead her first to tragedy and then to betrayal, Portia leaves a tattered life – and her will to cook – behind in Texas to join her sisters in Manhattan. Once there, Portia finds that she won’t be able to hide herself away so easily when she becomes involved in the lives of her new neighbors: precocious twelve year-old Ariel, moody teen Miranda and their widowed father Gabriel. Despite her determination, Portia realizes she can’t outrun her destiny. As she whisks up the magical comforts of her kitchen, she juggles the pursuit of her dreams with her desire to bring a broken family back together – and she may just fall in love in the process.

The Glass Kitchen is an enchanting novel about finding the courage to start over and discovering that support, friendship, and love can blossom on the path to following your dreams. Linda Francis Lee writes with humor and a great deal of her authentic Texas charm as she spins a story filled with sensual romance and the heartwarming intricacies of family drama. She divides much of the story between two central characters: jaded but determined Portia and wise-beyond-her-years Ariel. One of my favorite things about the nature of the story is the way that Portia exudes youthful whimsy while Ariel, just shy of becoming a teenager, carries all the careful intuition of a discerning adult. As the two heroines struggle – Portia against her culinary calling and Ariel under the weight of family secrets being revealed – watching their unique insights buoy each other along their respective journeys is a unique treat.

While family plays an important role in the novel, Lee approaches the dynamics from several different and engaging levels. Portia’s relationship with her sisters is illustrated with all the sass and sentiment of a true life sisterhood, and the reader feels their collective growing pains as they embark on their new journey together. Likewise, Gabriel’s struggle to raise his two daughters on his own is rendered with honesty and heart, delving into the disjointed territory of communication and the ultimate power of a father’s determined love. The message of family is strengthened further through Portia’s ethereal connection to her grandmother, as well as the innate mother-daughter link that develops between Portia and Ariel. With an essence of enchantment and bravery, The Glass Kitchen sweeps the reader up into a world where food can work magic and the measure of family is about more than blood relation. There’s a lot of fun, heart, and creativity wrapped up in the story, drawing the reader in and creating the sort of lovely escapist experience that reminds us of the magic books can create.



Title: The Glass Kitchen
Author: Linda Francis Lee
Genre: contemporary fiction, romance
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release date: June 17, 2014
Source: Get Red PR (C/O)
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The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett

by Casee Marie on July 10, 2014 · 0 comments

in Fiction, Reviews

Set against the devastating coal mine fires of 1960s Pennsylvania, Natalie S. Harnett’s The Hollow Ground tells the story of eleven year-old Brigid Howley and her family, a long generation of coal miners, as they wrestle with secrets of the past and fight against nature to salvage the lives they’ve always known. It’s an astonishingly vivid portrait of desperation and the lingering threads of hope when even the ground beneath one’s feet can’t be trusted. Through Brigid’s clever and openly honest narrative we follow the Howleys from their home as they rejoin her father’s parents – known simply and effectively as Gram and Gramp – in the town where her father was raised; a town in which gritty secrets and ominous shadows tie together with a curse placed upon the Howley family’s Molly Maguire ancestor a century before. With precision and power, Brigid gently weaves the story of her struggle to keep her family together as passions rise, grudges give way to liberated feuds, and devastating secrets are revealed.

Harnett writes with eloquence and grit, devotedly tending to the nuances of the story in a way that makes for a remarkably strong debut. Voice becomes a very central focus of the novel’s delivery, whether it’s the narrative voice of the young and preternaturally wise Brigid, who in her pre-teen years thrills at reading the Brontës and Betty Smith, or the distinctively illustrated voices of any number of the novel’s supporting characters: her fierce-tempered and unstable Ma, well-meaning but enigmatic Daddy, and especially her cantankerous and gruffly compassionate Gram. With each character’s unique voice Harnett creates a new layer of intrigue and emotional complexity in her bold story. In a way the characters lend a special sort of detail to the novel’s deeply atmospheric quality, wrapping the reader further in the many folds of uncertainty and devastation that the people of these coal mines experienced.

The coal mine fire itself becomes its own entity in The Hollow Ground as the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning threatens the air and the fire burning in the mines below combines with the earth’s elements, creating deadly sinkholes that can swallow homes and lives in a moment. Based on the true fires of Centralia, Pennsylvania which began burning over fifty years ago and still burn today, the story touches on a tragic piece of recent US history as it explores the impact these fires had on entire towns and the people who inhabited them, people whose determination thrives as they attempt to fight a fire burning below their feet: an unseen and quite deadly adversary. Against this harrowing backdrop, the dramas of Brigid’s family members play out in poignant detail. Much as Brigid struggles with the faults of the grown-ups in her family, the reader too is torn between compassion and frustration, feeling very much what Brigid feels and being drawn even closer to her in that way.

Brigid is a terrific rendering of a young literary heroine in the vein of Harper Lee’s iconic Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ve noticed that young heroines seem to have begun rising through literary fiction over the last few years, and Harnett’s innocent, genuine Brigid is a great addition to that representation. Her moxie is admirable and her emotional stability is at times particularly jarring in the wake of her parents’ poor choices, a fact that boldly illustrates her wisdom and even her superiority over the elders she so painstakingly tries to appease. Ultimately The Hollow Ground is an unflinching portrait of familial struggle and a timeless examination of the treacherous elements that can both strengthen and relentlessly violate a family’s connection. At once contemplative and energetic, Harnett’s debut is a provocative and eerie novel of suspense, intricacy, and profound feeling.


Title: The Hollow Ground

Author: Natalie S. Harnett

Genre: literary fiction, mystery

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books

Release date: May 13, 2014

Source: Get Red PR (C/O)

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Come Dancing by Leslie Wells

by Casee Marie on July 2, 2014 · 1 comment

in Fiction, Reviews

Bookish Julia is a hard-working publisher’s assistant determined to be promoted to an editor – if her sleazy boss will ever give her a chance. At twenty-four, Julia’s had more hard knocks in her life than most people expect: at fourteen she suffered through her father’s abandonment and the devastation of her mother’s extramarital affair; years later, after heading to the bright lights of the big city, she found herself embroiled in a risky relationship of her own with a college professor that ultimately left her with a broken heart. Now Julia keeps herself busy at the office, letting off steam at the local dance clubs with her best friend Vicky. Her world of rejection letters and manuscript corrections turns upside down when one night out brings her face-to-face with Jack Kipling, sexy lead guitarist of the hottest band on the rock scene. It would be easy to fall for Jack’s British charm, but his hard-driving lifestyle and sketchy romantic history are constant reminders that a relationship with the infamous Jack Kipling could cost her another chink in her worn-down armor. As Jack sets his sights on winning Julia over – sweeping her up into his glamorous life of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll – she’ll have to put her fragile trust to the test in order to follow her heart.

In her debut novel, Come Dancing, Leslie Wells brings to life all the eclectic, edgy style of New York City at the dawn of the 1980s as she spins a story of spine-tingling romance and the complex issues that can threaten a relationship. Through her effervescent writing style she catapults the reader into a world of excess and indulgence, while delving into some honest and heartfelt struggles along the way. In Julia we find an instant comrade, a fun-loving, career-minded girl who goes after what she wants and knows her own worth. When Jack Kipling waltzes into her life, bringing along with him the flashes of the paparazzi, her self-esteem takes a hit as she wonders how she’ll heal her heart when he inevitably moves on to a new conquest. Julia is an easy character to root for, an underdog who deep down knows she’s at the front of the pack; a diamond in a city full of sequins. It’s inspiring to watch Julia’s journey as she scrabbles through the challenges of life and love, at once lost to and wary of the larger-than-life Jack Kipling.

As a hard-edged rocker, Jack has unexpected depths that reveal themselves slowly to Julia as well as to the reader. With his elusive behavior and refusal to be “tied down” Julia finds him frustrating, infuriating, and – of course – seductive, but as the showy outer layers of his high-profile image fall away she finds that he’s irresistibly human. Wells does a terrific job of exploring the complexities of their relationship, illustrating the adage that opposites attract and highlighting how sensible Julia and brazen Jack could both learn a thing or two about trust and commitment from each other. Vibrating with the energy of the ‘80s arts scene, Come Dancing is a love story with lots of heart and plenty of heat.


Title: Come Dancing

Author: Leslie Wells

Genre: new adult, romance

Publisher: Allium Press

Release date: June 8, 2014

Source: Leslie Wells (c/o)

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The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

by Casee Marie on June 26, 2014 · 2 comments

in Fiction, Reviews

Creating a provocative sensation upon its publication in 1993 with a film adaptation that became a cult classic just six years later, The Virgin Suicides remains a persistent contemporary classic; a novel at once remarkably elusive, open to perpetual interpretation, and yet with an intensely personal resonance for many readers. It was the debut novel of author Jeffrey Eugenides (winning awards even before its publication), and in many ways it lays the groundwork for the mastery and peculiarity of a seminal artist. The story, of course, is that of the Lisbon sisters – Therese, Mary, Bonnie, Lux, and Cecilia, who range in ages from 17 to 13, respectively – and the year in which they ended their young lives. In a uniquely stylized first-person-plural narrative the unidentified boys across the street, telling the story twenty years later, explore every waking moment of their obsession with the otherworldly Lisbon sisters: beginning with young Cecilia’s first suicide attempt and subsequent completion, and carrying on fixatedly through until the sisters’ tragic dénouement. In between lies an electric, compelling portrait of a doomed search for liberation in the clutch of youthful desperation; of parental extremes warring with teenage angst; and of the grimy secrets hiding in the shadows of 1970s suburbia.

The Virgin Suicides reads like few other books, with Eugenides, then a novelist-newcomer, standing on no ceremony for the ethical or moral niceties that might stand in the way of this intrepid story. He allows the collective narrative to divulge and disturb as it will, weaving into its most grotesque and honest territories without apology. Eugenides explores these territories with perverse curiosity, as do his boy-men telling the story, poking at the short lives of the Lisbon sisters with brazen and indelible devotion. Though dialogue is often scarce, the Lisbon girls come to life, hazily and irresistibly, under the narrators’ ministrations: shimmering reflections of clever, romantic visionaries on the cusp of an unreachable womanhood, girls labeled as “troubled” or “crazy”, but only troubled by the manipulations of society and only crazed by the boundaries in their paths. Throughout the narrative they stay under the surface of the murky glass that encompasses the distance between them and the rest of the world: the narrators, as well as the readers, are never allowed within the sphere of any one Lisbon sister, never granted entrance into the realm of her thoughts and dreams – and, most aggravatingly, never allowed to understand her reasons. What results is the faded picture of five tragic figures set against the more vividly realized surroundings of suburban Michigan in the 1970s; in a way, the haziness of the Lisbon sisters, combined with the anonymity of the unnamed and unnumbered boys across the street, draws an inverted focus. There’s a kind of strangeness to this style that wonderfully echoes the bizarre, thought-provoking, and at times profane story at the heart of the book.

Distracting only slightly from the compelling singularity of the novel and the enchantress-like mystique of the otherwise ordinary Lisbon sisters is Eugenides’s magnetic prose, which soars throughout the narrative with delightful flair and a dry, darkly humorous edge. His ability to weave through the intricacies of language and emerge with art is just beautiful; his writing is rough-hewn and elegant all at once. With inimitable style and boldness, The Virgin Suicides is fascinating and disturbing, drawing an arresting line between the constraints of sexual repression and the inevitability of mortality.


The Virgin Suicides was my June pick for the TBR Pile Challenge; I’ve been meaning to read it since before I can remember, and it was certainly worth the wait. There’s something so incredible about this novel to me; I can’t really put my finger on it, but hopefully I gave voice to it in some degree above. This is one of the rare occasions when I saw the film adaptation before seeing the book, but it didn’t hinder my experience at all. (Actually, everything just seems to look a little more ethereal overlaid with Sofia Coppola’s wonderful imagery, doesn’t it?)


Title: The Virgin Suicides

Author: Jeffrey Eugenides

Genre: literary fiction

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Release date: April 1993

Source: personal collection

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