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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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 first in her new Brides of Bliss County series, Linda Lael Miller’s The Marriage Pact introduces readers to Hadleigh Stevens, Melody Nolan, and Bex Stuart. The trio of lifelong friends has decided that they won’t simply sit around and wait for Cupid to work his magic: they want to find some nice cowboys and set down roots, and together they vow to do just that by making a pact – a marriage pact. Quilt shop owner Hadleigh has suffered a lot of loss in her life: her parents in a car accident, her brother in the service, and her grandmother to the sad passage of time. And then there was her chance at marriage when she was eighteen years old, when she stood at the alter with a man she barely knew and found herself being embarrassingly hauled away like a child by her late brother’s best friend, cowboy-turned-pilot Tripp Galloway. Hadleigh may have harbored a childhood crush on Tripp once upon a time, but she hasn’t quite forgiven him for the grand humiliation he caused her – and she’s not ready to admit that she’s glad for what he did. Nor is she ready to admit, when Tripp suddenly moves back from the big city for the long haul, that her feelings for him have never really left her.

Linda Lael Miller has over one hundred books to her name, and yet her latest novel has a way of making the western romance genre feel brand new. An intriguing aspect of The Marriage Pact is that the plot doesn’t rely on creating and fostering conflict. While Hadleigh and Tripp are apt to butt heads plenty of times (with wonderfully entertaining results), neither of them deny their chemistry with too much obstinacy; in this way Miller proves that a sweet, romantic story can be just as entertaining without a lot of dramatic entanglements. The story of Hadleigh and Tripp is charming in its simplicity, but where Miller really brings the story to its most touching heights is in the nuances of the main characters’ relationships with family and friends. Hadleigh’s camaraderie (and even her disagreements) with her two best friends feels like a true-to-life sisterhood while Tripp’s close relationship with the stepfather who raised him will easily capture the reader’s heart. Miller devotes much of the book to scenes of recollections and emotional discoveries, allowing us to witness the main characters being introspective. Her attention to detail makes her already likeable characters even more delightful.

Also playing a big role in The Marriage Pact is the little town of Mustang Creek – nestled in Wyoming’s Bliss County – and its inquisitive inhabitants. Miller writes her western setting with lovely imagery, capturing the little pleasures of life in a small town and bringing to life the feeling, the pace, and of course the charm of life on a ranch. With a heartwarming beginning to the new series, full of enjoyable characters, a cozy atmosphere, and smile-inducing romance, The Marriage Pact will certainly leave readers excited to discover who the next bride of Bliss County will be.

Title: The Marriage Pact (The Brides of Bliss County #1)

Author: Linda Lael Miller

Genre: contemporary romance, western

Publisher: HQN

Release date: May 27, 2014

Source: Little Bird Publicity via Netgalley (C/O)

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Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

by Casee Marie on May 30, 2014 · 1 comment

in Fiction, Reviews

Considered one of the definitive novels of Japanese literary history, Haruki Murkami’s Norwegian Wood catapulted him to celebrity status in his home country and drove him to leave Japan in an attempt to evade the glare of widespread fame. Interestingly, though Murakami is revered as a writer of magical realism, Norwegian Wood presents a slightly more basic story to the naked eye. The novel follows Toru, a young man entering his first year of college in 1960s Tokyo, and his relationship with the beautiful Naoko, whose spirit has been broken by the death of their mutual best friend, her boyfriend Kizuki. As Toru finds himself drawn closer to Naoko, Naoko withdraws further into herself, and soon Toru connects with another student – the independent, freethinking Midori – whose liberated attitude introduces him to a new kind of feeling.

Although on the surface it seems to be a relatively simpler novel with its more commonplace story, Norwegian Wood has a way of transcending the very imagery it presents to the reader. Murakami’s inquisitive look at how we react to loss is staggering in its depth as he pursues the two paths one might take: the choice to live in love and the choice to retreat from life. He explores the emotional and psychological scope of these choices through his host of characters: in Toru he shows the reader the hopeful perseverance of youth turned to maturity; in Naoko we recognize the abyss of loss and sadness; and in Midori we find freedom in the fight against discontent. Together the characters and their stories weave a collection of threads that seem relatively straightforward, but the most intriguing thing about the nature of Norwegian Wood is how, by the final page, it will almost certainly have its readers questioning everything they thought they knew. In this way Murakami took a rather traditional device, a love triangle, and worked his unique magic on it in a way that manages to completely alter the reader’s experience. Here, the tragedies of life give way to an endless stream of potential realities, and the result is a beautiful, heartbreaking homage to youth and love, touched by the nuances of the 1960s.

Murakami’s language is fluid and evocative throughout the novel. Perhaps some of the most spellbinding scenes take place when Toru visits the sanatorium to which Naoko retreats when the struggle of living with Kizuki’s death is too much for her. Here, with Reiko, her troubled older roommate, strumming her guitar to a selection of Beatles tunes, Murakami’s prose finds some of its most beautiful and introspective moments. As an intriguing contrast, the scenes which find Toru with Midori offer a more anxious energy while still maintaining a sense of deep contemplation. Midori’s fearless pursuit of sexual liberation and her eager determination to lose herself in the bizarre, even the grotesque, showcase the loudness of rebellion and freedom against Naoko’s quiet, simple life away from society. The combination of the two women in Toru’s life brings the vividness of the story to its utmost clarity and allows Murakami, in his remarkable way, to bend, break, and otherwise manipulate the most honest – and yet the most otherworldly – human emotions. Set to a soundtrack of an unforgettable era, Norwegian Wood is a touching exploration of the impact love has in our lives, the many shapes it takes, and ultimately the choices it drives us to make.

Norwegian Wood was my May pick for the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge. I’ve only read Murakami’s work briefly in the past, but I continue to find that his stories resonate with me. Norwegian Wood was a particularly dark novel compared to what I’ve read of his work before, but I think that was due in a large part to the reality of much of his subject matter here. His work, I think, manages an emotional impact whether it’s rooted in elements of contemporary fiction or magical realism (and sometimes, maybe, so deeply entwined in both that we as readers can’t tell one from the other).

Title: Norwegian Wood

Author: Haruki Murakami

Genre: literary fiction, romance

Publisher: Vintage Books (Kodanasha, original)

Release date: September 12, 2000 (1987, original)

Source: Personal collection

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