For Major Ernest Pettigrew, life in the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary is a daily testament to the splendidly traditional English nature. In his long-time home, Rose Lodge, the Major spends his years of retirement partaking in the intricate social functions of his circle: rounds of golf, shooting parties, and proper afternoon teas. A widower, he has learned to find a sense of familiarity in being alone, and the superficial airs of his society friends feel quite natural. For the Major, though, life changes in an instant after the death of his brother, when he develops a surprising friendship with Jasmina Ali, the village’s widowed shopkeeper. As the Major and Mrs. Ali begin to fall in love, their newfound connection will face all manner of threats: whether from the Major’s friends, who see Mrs. Ali’s Pakastani heritage as an affront to convention, or from Mrs. Ali’s family, who see her widowhood as a sentence to withdraw from living, or even from the Major’s family, who will quickly put their greed over the Major’s wishes. Throughout love and struggle, the eccentricities and unrealistic standards of two very different worlds are slyly turned on their heads as Helen Simonson weaves her witty, delightful debut novel.

Perhaps the greatest strength found in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, and the quality that carries the novel’s many other merits, is Simonson’s rare ability to work a particularly unforgettable sort of wit. The nature of her humor is consistent and heartwarming, dry without being condescending, which allows her to reach a familiar and welcome place in her readers’ hearts. Combined with her creativity of prose, the narrative world of her novel touches on a memorable whimsy that contributes greatly to the story of Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali. Simonson’s ideas are refreshing and the way she brings them across through the interactions of her characters, under the confident guidance of her appreciation for words, takes the novel to a heightened level of polish.

The full cast of characters in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand spark to life with grace and humor, particularly the two at the center of the novel’s love story. The romance between Major Pettigrew (at sixty-eight) and Mrs. Ali (a decade younger) proves that youth is futile where chemistry is concerned. Their relationship jumps off the page and envelopes the reader from their first scene together. The attachment between them only continues to grow as the characters meet different social and cultural challenges. Particularly admirable is the way Simonson leads the Major to grow through his relationship with Mrs. Ali, and how the evolution of his character is made evident through the changes in his display of wit. Alternatively, the Major’s son Roger often draws an array of compelling reactions from the reader; the combination of both his childish naïveté and boorish modernity make for a wonderful contrast within himself. Even the way Sandy, Roger’s American girlfriend, is portrayed creates yet another layer of terrific observations from the author. The way Sandy initially appears as a bit of a stereotype in the narrative before the Major warms to her becomes a great dialogue on how people can surprise us: Simonson expertly shows that the Major warms to Sandy and finds her best qualities not by changes made to her American sensibilities, but by his own staunch prejudices becoming relaxed.

Within the community of Edgecombe St. Mary are perhaps some of the most colorful characters, and the way Simonson uses their flamboyance to poke fun at the upper class is at times reminiscent of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford stories. Gaskell’s imaginings set a standard for the idea of a traditionally-rooted English countryside dominated by the pretentious expectations of a generation firm in its ideas, though perhaps entirely at the mercy of a great writer’s determined wit. With Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand Simonson’s combination of warm-hearted love story, sharp wit, and cross-cultural – as well as cross-generational – observations make for a lovely, engaging novel on every level.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand was my April pick for the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge; I’ve been meaning to read it since it was published four years ago, and it certainly met my expectations. It’s easy to see some of Simonson’s influences in her writing – particularly Jane Austen and Edith Wharton – and I think she does them great justice.

Title: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Author: Helen Simonson
Genre: contemporary, romance
Publisher: Random House
Release date: November 30, 2011 (paperback)
Source: Personal collection
Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | BetterWorldBooks
Connect with the author: Website | Facebook | Goodreads

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Christine Nolfi made me an instant fan of her writing with her 2011 debut, Treasure Me, and I continue to look forward to her books with anticipation. Her fourth release, The Dream You Make, is the story of Annie McDaniel, a determined woman trying to stay positive in the face of troubling situations. Annie’s family life has been no walk in the park: her mother gone too soon, her father recently deceased, and her sister Toria a victim of a tragic crime. In the midst of her loss, Annie has been made the beneficiary of two most unexpected treasures: Green Interiors, the greenhouse that was her father’s life work – and Dillon, Toria’s five year-old son. Annie falls head-over-heels for Dillon as she gets to know him for the first time, but she’ll have to fight a draining custody battle against a well-off couple from Dillon’s past before she can truly call him her own. In her efforts to keep Dillon, Annie takes on a second job at Rowe Marketing where she finds an entirely new complication in the attractive and stubborn Michael Rowe. If she pursues her attraction to her new boss it could hinder her chances of adopting Dillon, but Michael could also prove to be a sound and stable port in the storm of her life.

The Dream You Make is a honeyed combination of love, humor and real-world poignancy that fills the reader with the butterfly-inducing beauty of life. Those of us who’ve been reading Nolfi’s books from the beginning feel an unspoken guarantee that we’ll find a world of charm, humor and joy between the pages and this novel follows through on that promise solidly. Books don’t often grab me from the literal beginning, the very first scene, but The Dream You Make felt familiar and comfortable as soon as I fell into its world. The story deals with adoption, a topic Nolfi exposed deep passion for and talent with in her second book, The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge, and she handles it here with the same very real finesse, but with less heaviness. It keeps the novel feeling light and makes it a great counterpart to Tree, showing the same expanse of Nolfi’s talent for writing about the heart of family in an entirely different way.

Another of the novel’s great accomplishments is the lively cast of characters; Nolfi is a definite master at crafting a host of memorable characters to color the reader’s world, and she exercises that ability very well in The Dream You Make. Some, like the adorable Dillon, are studies in sensitivity and hope. An altogether shattered boy, seeing him come to life under Annie’s guardianship – and in his interactions with best friend Chip and kindly neighbor Mariam – is perfectly heartwarming. Other characters, such as Rowe Marketing’s flamboyant and temperamental artist Terence, are a canvas for hilarity and theatrics. Annie and Michael, the grown-up portion of the novel’s primary focus, have an instant chemistry that captured my interest from the beginning. Their faults – one’s inability to open up, another’s hot impatience – set them on a long journey toward ironing out their budding romance, but their utterly human imperfections kept me rooting for them.

This novel felt more simplistic in story than Nolfi’s previous works, which have included books that interweave dark tragedy, cozy mystery, and treasure hunts woven through American history. All the same, there was nothing lacking in this story. Nolfi’s books have a way of evading definition; she writes so broadly across the genres that her books have created a niche all their own, and The Dream You Make fits in perfectly. It’s a life-affirming story that bursts with hope and dares the reader to relentlessly pursue their own dreams.

Title: The Dream You Make
Author: Christine Nolfi
Genre: romance, drama
Publisher: Christine Nolfi
Available Formats: e-book, paperback
Release date: June 13, 2013
Provided by: Christine Nolfi (c/o)
Buy the book: Kindle | Nook (paperback coming soon)
Connect with the author: Website/Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Goodreads

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Review: Triceratops by Marcus Gorman

by Casee Marie on May 7, 2013 · 2 comments

in Fiction, Reviews

Marcus Gorman’s Triceratops tells the story of two remarkable twentysomethings from the West Coast set adrift in the madness of New York City: Charlotte, roaming the streets armed only with a liquor addiction, a mouth like a sailor, and her artist ex-lover’s disturbing final work; and Henry, a guy whose primary life concerns involve Beat generation poets and a dedicated knowledge of jazz music. After spending a hazardous night together back in Seattle Henry and Charlotte never expected to see one another again – and definitely not on the other side of the country, in the middle of the night, in the middle of an empty New York street. But as their lives work their perverse magic the two are thrown together for three weeks filled with the sort of insanity that only New York City is capable of. Swallowed up in a scene filled with art, music, sexuality, liquor, drugs, and madness, the two find friends, lovers, and enemies amid New York’s wildest array of characters: its musicians and artists.

Combining dark comedy with astonishing real-life insight, Triceratops works itself into a spectacle of the bizarre, and the result is rather brilliant. Gorman’s ability to handle scenes that alter between being utterly brazen and entirely relatable is a remarkable talent, and he executes it wonderfully. Woven within the fascinating mayhem of their setting, his characters offer transformative reflections on life and human nature that not only build their own perceptions, but reach out and cause the reader to reflect on them as well. It makes for a mesmerizing experience, while other elements of the book entertain on a lighter level. The combination was enough to leave me speechless after the novel’s final pages, and exhausted in that way that great books often leave us.

I loved that the story was told from the alternating perspectives of Charlotte and Henry, the transition between which was, for the most part, indicated only by the narrative’s change of tone. While I found the book comfortable to navigate, giving the narration decidedly more attention also allowed me to best appreciate the artistry of Gorman’s prose. This style of writing will keep the reader on their toes, much as the story itself does. It contributed, I thought, to the artfully woven sense of disarray that the story often provoked; a metaphor, perhaps, for the haphazard situations the characters find themselves in, but underneath the surface it always manages, fantastically, to make sense. While perhaps the subject matter may not be for every audience, beneath the bold exterior of many scenes is a profound intelligence that will be deeply felt by its audience. Gorman’s selection of characters through which these insights are carried connect the reader especially with the uniqueness of humanity and the natural differences we all possess. Never without substance, Triceratops is at once powerful and amusing, offering readers an experience unlike any other.

Title: Triceratops
Author: Marcus Gorman
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Marcus Gorman
Available Formats: paperback, e-book
Release date: October 25, 2012
Provided by: Marcus Gorman (c/o)
Buy the book: Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble
Connect with the author: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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Christine Bacon lives a normal life; a high school English teacher, she’s married to her high school sweetheart with two children and a duo of pets. The abnormality of her life comes from her penchant for death: Christine is a hypochondriac, and a committed one. In the age of technology Christine’s fearful conclusion-jumping is given a satisfyingly in-depth boost, allowing her to uncover the worst case scenarios behind every bump and tingle she experiences in her day-to-day with just the click of a mouse. But Christine’s life gets a little more complicated when her husband proposes a threesome with his British masseuse. Christine’s desire to please her husband dissolves as she’s met with humiliating circumstances, and before long she finds herself on the receiving end of a divorce. Now she must survive the heartbreak of her broken marriage as well as the numerous maladies she concocts for herself – while maintaining her job, raising her children, and finally getting back into the dating pool. But Christine soon realizes that what started as a hellish reality may be just what the doctor ordered.

I Kill Me: Tales of a Jilted Hypochondriac is a charming, life-affirming story wrapped in a delightfully acerbic comedy. Author Tracy H. Tucker displays an impressive variety of abilities as she weaves Christine’s story through moments of caustic wit and heart-rending sadness as the heroine faces life’s biggest fears, from death to divorce. What results is a boldly funny and deeply poignant novel that illuminates the power of good friends and the necessity of self-realization in overcoming any of life’s obstacles. Christine’s fears, while exaggerated beyond what’s considered normal, are still entirely relatable in some way to the reader, endearing her to them with every turn of the page. Her journey to ultimately help herself out of her own self-doubt is peppered with emotional difficulties and cruel realities, but Christine’s pluck resonates with her audience throughout. Tucker’s wit spans the extremeness of Christine’s hypochondria to poke hilarious fun at the dating scene, add light to challenging realities, and sparkle with warmth on the subject of raising children as a single parent.

I felt instantly at home with I Kill Me and I connected to Christine in her many plights; it was easy to be drawn into her story. The way Tucker sparked Christine’s neurotic narrative with intellect and speed grabbed my attention from the first page and contributed to my overall enjoyment of the novel. As a writer she’s well aware of her territory, allowing Christine to be absorbed in her disease-seeking disorder without inflicting a moment’s frustration on the reader. She measures the themes of the book wonderfully, crafting a novel that steadily entertains and engages its reader. Comedy as a genre isn’t something I’m particularly practiced in – there have been so many times in the past when I’ve felt like an unsuited audience for humor – but something in I Kill Me manages to transcend its classification and invites even stoic readers to loosen up and enjoy. Perhaps it was due to the likability of the characters, the many layers of the novel, or the author’s talent for handling comedy, but I was able to ease myself comfortably into what is usually somewhat foreign territory. I delighted in Tucker’s wit, in her larger-than-life characters, and I cheered for Christine through thick and thin. In short, I Kill Me struck a friendly cord on my heartstrings.

I Kill Me is intended for an adult audience.

Title: I Kill Me: Tales of a Jilted Hypochondriac
Author: Tracy H. Tucker
Genre: comedy, contemporary romance
Publisher: Tracy H. Tucker
Release date: July 26, 2012
Source: Tracy H. Tucker (C/O)
Buy the book: Paperback | Kindle
Connect with the author: Website/Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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Review: Second Chance Grill by Christine Nolfi

October 30, 2012
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Review: Spy in a Little Black Dress by Maxine Kenneth

October 16, 2012

It’s the early 1950s and young Jacqueline Bouvier is on her second assignment with the CIA: visiting the tumultuous political scene of Havana and investigating a young rebel at the fore of a potential uprising – his name is Fidel Castro. When she stumbles upon the diary of a nineteenth century soldier which hints at […]

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Review: A Night Like This by Julia Quinn

June 14, 2012

Last year Julia Quinn gave us Just Like Heaven, the first in a new series starring her Smythe-Smith family and their notoriously terrible musicale. In A Night Like This, governess Anne Wynter has been tasked with the prospect of filling in for her employer’s all-too-conveniently ill daughter at the yearly musicale, an event which catapults […]

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Review: Dog Trots Globe by Sheron Long

January 6, 2012

As a reader of The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower you’re probably aware of these two basic truths about little old me: I deeply appreciate all things French and I’m an ardent dog lover. My Shetland Sheepdog, Dusty, is nearly as much a mascot of this blog as the iconic Girl and Eiffel Tower. […]

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