Saturday, August 27, 2011

REVIEW: The Bells by Richard Harvell


I grew up as the son of a man who could not possibly have been my father. Though there was never any doubt that my seed had come from another man, Moses Froben, Lo Svizzero, called me “son.” And I called him “father.” On the rare occasions when someone dared to ask for clarification, he simply laughed as though the questioner were obtuse. “Of course he’s not my son!” he would say. “Don’t be ridiculous.” 

But whenever I myself gained the courage to ask him further of our past, he just looked sadly at me. “Please, Nicolai,” he would say after a moment, as though we had made a pact I had forgotten. With time, I came to understand I would never know the secrets of my birth, for my father was the only one who knew these secrets, and he would take them to his grave.

The celebrated opera singer Lo Svizzero was born in a belfry high in the Swiss Alps where his mother served as the keeper of the loudest and most beautiful bells in the land. Shaped by the bells’ glorious music, as a boy he possessed an extraordinary gift for sound. But when his preternatural hearing was discovered—along with its power to expose the sins of the church—young Moses Froben was cast out of his village with only his ears to guide him in a world fraught with danger.

Rescued from certain death by two traveling monks, he finds refuge at the vast and powerful Abbey of St. Gall. There, his ears lead him through the ancient stone hallways and past the monks’ cells into the choir, where he aches to join the singers in their strange and enchanting song. Suddenly Moses knows his true gift, his purpose. Like his mother’s bells, he rings with sound and soon, he becomes the protégé of the Abbey’s brilliant yet repulsive choirmaster, Ulrich.

But it is this gift that will cause Moses’ greatest misfortune: determined to preserve his brilliant pupil’s voice, Ulrich has Moses castrated. Now a young man, he will forever sing with the exquisite voice of an angel—a musico—yet castration is an abomination in the Swiss Confederation, and so he must hide his shameful condition from his friends and even from the girl he has come to love. When his saviors are exiled and his beloved leaves St. Gall for an arranged marriage in Vienna, he decides he can deny the truth no longer and he follows her—to sumptuous Vienna, to the former monks who saved his life, to an apprenticeship at one of Europe’s greatest theaters, and to the premiere of one of history’s most beloved operas.

In this confessional letter to his son, Moses recounts how his gift for sound led him on an astonishing journey to Europe’s celebrated opera houses and reveals the secret that has long shadowed his fame: How did Moses Froben, world renowned musico, come to raise a son who by all rights he never could have sired?

Like the voice of Lo Svizzero, The Bells is a sublime debut novel that rings with passion, courage, and beauty.

  • Pub. Date: September 2010
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Format: Hardcover , 384pp
  • ISBN-13: 9780307590527
  • ISBN: 0307590526

About the Author

RICHARD HARVELL was born in New Hampshire, USA, and studied English literature at Dartmouth College. He now lives in Basel, Switzerland, with his wife and children. The Bells is his first novel. 

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Opening Line(s)
First there were the bells. Three of them, cast from warped shovels, rakes, and hoes, cracked cauldrons, dulled ploughshares, one rusted stove, and, melted into each, a single golden coin.
Vienna Court Opera, Vienna, Austria, 1902. © BHHC; all rights reserved.
This story begins in a church belfry above the Uri Valley in the Swiss Alps, but later on much of it occurs in Vienna, and is centered around the local opera house.

(Picture borrowed from Burton Holmes)

My Thoughts

Moses' mother grew up on the outskirts of the village, an outcast. Deaf from birth, she was presumed to be an idiot and insane. Filthy and unwashed, no one wanted her around, and they would beat her and chase her away. She had a baby, unnamed since she was unable to speak a name, but she was a good mother and did her best by him as they scavenged for their survival, and she raised Moses in the belfry with the church bells. She loved the bells, the vibrational tones of which caressed her body in a hug when no one else would.

Moses, born unnamed, does not acquire his name until later in life. He spends much of his childhood in a church belfry where his mother plays the bells. Due to her deafness, his mother can tolerate the sound of the bells, which is so loud that it will burst the ear drums of the rest of the villagers if they get too close. However, having been raised in the belfry, Moses is immune to the effects of the bells. Where his mother lived in a world of silence, Moses lives immersed in a world of sound.

There is an innocence to Moses-- a purity. Moses loses his mother and is taken in at a monastery as a young boy. The monastery is run by an abbot by the name of Staudach. A stern disciplinarian, his heart is usually in the right place, but often he goes about it the wrong way.

Moses' best friends are two monks. Nicolai is a large light-hearted, generally jovial monk who has a liking for wine (think “Friar Tuck” from Robin Hood),  but he can be fierce and forthright when he feels pushed to it. Nicolai becomes something of a father to Moses, and even gives him his name.

Nicolai's best friend is Remus- a bookish monk who is a quiet loner. A peaceful man, he boasts a hidden strength.
“I think I could find peace there,” Nicolai whispered, almost to himself. When I looked up, I almost believed the giant was about to cry. He looked down at me, and we smiled at each other. In my face I hoped he saw, But Nicolai, I will go! It seemed I gave the big man courage, for he kicked our horse and we drew even with Remus again.

“In Venice it will all be different.”

“Don’t be such a fool.” With a snap, Remus turned a page. “Forty years a monk and still such idolatry. Just another excuse.”

“Then take me there; then I won’t have any more excuses left. I will stop bothering you.”

“You will find another reason for your discontent. Everyone always does.” (p. 38)
Moses is given into the care of choir leader Uhlrich, the creepy old man of the story. Even though his “lust” for Moses seems to be musical rather than sexual (as he instead lusts after the voice of Moses), he is a creepy, lascivious old man.

While at the monastery, Moses meets and befriends Amalia, daughter of the town's wealthiest family. Spirited and spunky, passionate and idealistic, early on in their relationship, Amalia keeps Moses guessing, never quite sure where he stands with her.
“We soon found in the warmth of each other’s hands, in the rub of shoulders, and even in the occasional hug some small satisfaction of the child’s need for touch, which we both missed-- me as an orphan, she with an infirm mother and a father who could not embrace without analyzing his love in weights and measures.” (p. 92)
This was a very moving story. I often found myself moved to tears, distraught and frustrated. Unfortunately there weren’t many happy moments to make me smile and fill me with joy, as much of the book was quite tragic, but it was moving nonetheless.


“Sadness can sound like giving birth to an unwanted child.” (p. 162)

“Insult and reproach are as common to a bedroom as the bed.” (p. 162)

"I often ask myself," he said, "as I take my bows, how many boys have I castrated with my voice tonight?" (p. 266)

Content Rating: some sexuality, moments of brutality, castration, an "adult" story

My final word: Lovely prose and lyrical descriptions, yet totally "approachable" writing style. A captivating story, fully-fleshed out characters, and unusual subject matter carried me through to the end. Strongly recommended!

My Rating: 9 out of 10


I received a copy of this book to review through Read It Forward, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, but I confirmed that the quotes mentioned were included in the actual published version.

Book Giveaways in Blogworld (08-27-11 edition)

NOTE: A reminder that you are free to email me about any giveaways that you are having, if you want me to blog them, and I'll be happy to try to post them even if I am not entering them. Just include a link to the giveaway, what you are giving away, how many copies are being given away, and the deadline in order to assure being included. Email me at nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com.

Here is a list of some giveaways going on in Blogworld*. Please note that new giveaways that were added this week are indented in Blockquotes:

Peeking Between the Pages is giving away How to Be an American Housewife. Deadline is August 27. US only.

Peeking Between the Pages is giving away Reign of Madness. Deadline is August 27. US/Canada only.

Peeking Between the Pages is giving away Let's Take the Long Way Home. Deadline is August 27. US/Canada only.
A Library of My Own is giving away Reign of Madness. Deadline is August 31. US/Canada only.

Laura's Reviews is giving away Becoming Marie Antoinette. Deadline is September 2. US/Canada only.

Peeking Between the Pages is giving away a copy of Becoming Marie Antoinette. Deadline is September 11. US/Canada only.

*Courtesy Note: Please keep in mind the many, many hours of work that goes into me compiling this list each week. Please be courteous and thoughtful, and do not steal my text. Either recreate your own list, or link to this list and direct your readers here for giveaway information. Thank you so much for your consideration.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hot Summer Reads

So, I'm still making it through my June 3/10, 2011 Entertainment Weekly, and today have some "Best New Reads". Some I've heard of, and some I haven't. Quite a few sound pretty darn interesting!

Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

On May 13, 1945, twenty-four American servicemen and WACs boarded a transport plane for a sightseeing trip over Shangri-La, a beautiful and mysterious valley deep within the jungle-covered mountains of Dutch New Guinea. Unlike the peaceful Tibetan monks of James Hilton's bestselling novel Lost Horizon, this Shangri-La was home to spear-carrying tribesmen, warriors rumored to be cannibals. But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed. 

Miraculously, three passengers pulled through. Margaret Hastings, barefoot and burned, had no choice but to wear her dead best friend's shoes. John McCollom, grieving the death of his twin brother also aboard the plane, masked his grief with stoicism. Kenneth Decker, too, was severely burned and suffered a gaping head wound. 

Emotionally devastated, badly injured, and vulnerable to the hidden dangers of the jungle, the trio faced certain death unless they left the crash site. Caught between man-eating headhunters and enemy Japanese, the wounded passengers endured a harrowing hike down the mountainside--a journey into the unknown that would lead them straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man or woman.

Drawn from interviews, declassified U.S. Army documents, personal photos and mementos, a survivor's diary, a rescuer's journal, and original film footage, Lost in Shangri-La recounts this incredible true-life adventure for the first time. Mitchell Zuckoff reveals how the determined trio--dehydrated, sick, and in pain--traversed the dense jungle to find help; how a brave band of paratroopers risked their own lives to save the survivors; and how a cowboy colonel attempted a previously untested rescue mission to get them out.

By trekking into the New Guinea jungle, visiting remote villages, and rediscovering the crash site, Zuckoff also captures the contemporary natives' remembrances of the long-ago day when strange creatures fell from the sky. A riveting work of narrative nonfiction that vividly brings to life an odyssey at times terrifying, enlightening, and comic, Lost in Shangri-La is a thrill ride from beginning to end.

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington  
When Alice Bliss learns that her father, Matt, is being deployed to Iraq, she's heartbroken. Alice idolizes her father, loves working beside him in their garden, accompanying him on the occasional roofing job, playing baseball. When he ships out, Alice is faced with finding a way to fill the emptiness he has left behind.

Matt will miss seeing his daughter blossom from a tomboy into a full- blown teenager. Alice will learn to drive, join the track team, go to her first dance, and fall in love, all while trying to be strong for her mother, Angie, and take care of her precocious little sister, Ellie. But the smell of Matt is starting to fade from his blue shirt that Alice wears everyday, and the phone calls are never long enough.

Alice Bliss is a profoundly moving coming-of-age novel about love and its many variations--the support of a small town looking after its own; love between an absent father and his daughter; the complicated love between an adolescent girl and her mother; and an exploration of new love with the boy-next- door. These characters' struggles amidst uncertain times echo our own, lending the novel an immediacy and poignancy that is both relevant and real. At once universal and very personal, Alice Bliss is a transforming story about those who are left at home during wartime, and a teenage girl bravely facing the future.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Beth and Jennifer know their company monitors their office e-mail. But the women still spend all day sending each other messages, gossiping about their coworkers at the newspaper and baring their personal lives like an open book. Jennifer tells Beth everything she can't seem to tell her husband about her anxieties over starting a family. And Beth tells Jennifer everything, period.

When Lincoln applied to be an Internet security officer, he hardly imagined he'd be sifting through other people's inboxes like some sort of electronic Peeping Tom. Lincoln is supposed to turn people in for misusing company e-mail, but he can't quite bring himself to crack down on Beth and Jennifer. He can't help but be entertained-and captivated- by their stories.

But by the time Lincoln realizes he's falling for Beth, it's way too late for him to ever introduce himself. What would he say to her? "Hi, I'm the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you." After a series of close encounters and missed connections, Lincoln decides it's time to muster the courage to follow his heart . . . even if he can't see exactly where it's leading him.

Written with whip-smart precision and charm, Attachments is a strikingly clever and deeply romantic debut about falling in love with the person who makes you feel like the best version of yourself. Even if it's someone you've never met.

Embassytown by China Mieville
Embassytown: a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe. Avice is an immerser, a traveller on the immer, the sea of space and time below the everyday, now returned to her birth planet. Here on Arieka, humans are not the only intelligent life, and Avice has a rare bond with the natives, the enigmatic Hosts - who cannot lie. Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes. Catastrophe looms. Avice knows the only hope is for her to speak directly to the alien Hosts. And that is impossible. 

Fire and Rain by David Browne

January 1970: the Beatles assemble one more time to put the finishing touches on Let It Be; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are wrapping up Déjà Vu; Simon and Garfunkel are unveiling Bridge Over Troubled Water; James Taylor is an upstart singer-songwriter who’s just completed Sweet Baby James. Over the course of the next twelve months, their lives--and the world around them--will change irrevocably. Fire and Rain tells the story of four iconic albums of 1970 and the lives, times, and constantly intertwining personal ties of the remarkable artists who made them. Acclaimed journalist David Browne sets these stories against an increasingly chaotic backdrop of events that sent the world spinning throughout that tumultuous year: Kent State, the Apollo 13 debacle, ongoing bombings by radical left-wing groups, the diffusion of the antiwar movement, and much more.

Featuring candid interviews with more than 100 luminaries, including some of the artists themselves, Browne's vivid narrative tells the incredible story of how--over the course of twelve turbulent months--the '60s effectively ended and the '70s began.

Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee

Anjali Bose is “Miss New India.” Born into a traditional lower-middle-class family and living in a backwater town with an arranged marriage on the horizon, Anjali’s prospects don’t look great. But her ambition and fluency in language do not go unnoticed by her expat teacher, Peter Champion. And champion her he does, both to other powerful people who can help her along the way and to Anjali herself, stirring in her a desire to take charge of her own destiny.

So she sets off to Bangalore, India’s fastest-growing major metropolis, and quickly falls in with an audacious and ambitious crowd of young people, who have learned how to sound American by watching shows like Seinfeld in order to get jobs as call-center service agents, where they are quickly able to out-earn their parents. And it is in this high-tech city where Anjali—suddenly free from the traditional confines of class, caste, gender, and more—is able to confront her past and reinvent herself. Of course, the seductive pull of modernity does not come without a dark side . . .

The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg

In the fishing community of Fjällbacka, life is remote, peaceful—and for some, tragically short. Foul play was always suspected in the disappearance twenty years ago of two young holidaymakers in the area. Now a young boy out playing has confirmed this grim truth. Their remains, discovered with those of a fresh victim, send the town into shock. Local detective Patrik Hedstrom, expecting a baby with his girlfriend Erica, can only imagine what it is like to lose a child. When a second young girl goes missing, Hedstrom’s attention focuses on the Hults, a feuding clan of misfits, religious fanatics and criminals. The suspect list is long but time is short—which of this family’s dark secrets will provide the vital clue?

Summer and the City by Candace Bushnell

Summer is a magical time in New York City and Carrie is in love with all of it—the crazy characters in her neighborhood, the vintage-clothing boutiques, the wild parties, and the glamorous man who has swept her off her feet. Best of all, she's finally in a real writing class, taking her first steps toward fulfilling her dream.

This sequel to The Carrie Diaries brings surprising revelations as Carrie learns to navigate her way around the Big Apple, going from being a country "sparrow"—as Samantha Jones dubs her— to the person she always wanted to be. But as it becomes increasingly difficult to reconcile her past with her future, Carrie realizes that making it in New York is much more complicated than she ever imagined.

With her signature wit and sparkling humor, Candace Bushnell reveals the irresistible story of how Carrie met Samantha and Miranda, and what turned a small-town girl into one of New York City's most unforgettable icons, Carrie Bradshaw.

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure

For anyone who has ever wanted to step into the world of a favorite book, here is a pioneer pilgrimage, a tribute to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and a hilarious account of butter-churning obsession. 
Wendy McClure is on a quest to find the world of beloved Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder-a fantastic realm of fiction, history, and places she's never been to, yet somehow knows by heart. She retraces the pioneer journey of the Ingalls family- looking for the Big Woods among the medium trees in Wisconsin, wading in Plum Creek, and enduring a prairie hailstorm in South Dakota. She immerses herself in all things Little House, and explores the story from fact to fiction, and from the TV shows to the annual summer pageants in Laura's hometowns. Whether she's churning butter in her apartment or sitting in a replica log cabin, McClure is always in pursuit of "the Laura experience." Along the way she comes to understand how Wilder's life and work have shaped our ideas about girlhood and the American West.

The Wilder Life is a loving, irreverent, spirited tribute to a series of books that have inspired generations of American women. It is also an incredibly funny first-person account of obsessive reading, and a story about what happens when we reconnect with our childhood touchstones-and find that our old love has only deepened.

The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson

Named a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a People magazine “Pick of the Week,” and an Indie Next and Midwest Connections selection, The Year We Left Home is the career-defining novel that Jean Thompson’s admirers have been waiting for: a sweeping and emotionally powerful story of a single American family during the tumultuous final decades of the twentieth century.

Stretching from the early 1970s in the Iowa farmlands to suburban Chicago and across the map of contemporary America, The Year We Left Home follows the Erickson siblings as they confront prosperity and heartbreak, setbacks and triumphs, and seek their place in a country whose only constant seems to be breathtaking change. Ambitious and richly told, this is a vivid and moving meditation on our continual pursuit of happiness and an incisive exploration of the national character.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett has dazzled readers with her award-winning books, including The Magician's Assistant and the New York Times bestselling Bel Canto. Now she raises the bar with State of Wonder, a provocative and ambitious novel set deep in the Amazon jungle.

Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist with a Minnesota pharmaceutical company, is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have all but disappeared in the Amazon while working on what is destined to be an extremely valuable new drug, the development of which has already cost the company a fortune. Nothing about Marina's assignment is easy: not only does no one know where Dr. Swenson is, but the last person who was sent to find her, Marina's research partner Anders Eckman, died before he could complete his mission. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding her former mentor as well as answers to several troubling questions about her friend's death, the state of her company's future, and her own past.

Once found, Dr. Swenson, now in her seventies, is as ruthless and uncompromising as she ever was back in the days of Grand Rounds at Johns Hopkins. With a combination of science and subterfuge, she dominates her research team and the natives she is studying with the force of an imperial ruler. But while she is as threatening as anything the jungle has to offer, the greatest sacrifices to be made are the ones Dr. Swenson asks of herself, and will ultimately ask of Marina, who finds she may still be unable to live up to her teacher's expectations.

In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, and a neighboring tribe of cannibals, State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss. It is a tale that leads the reader into the very heart of darkness, and then shows us what lies on the other side.

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

In her best-selling debut, Commencement, J. Courtney Sullivan explored the complicated and contradictory landscape of female friendship. Now, in her highly anticipated second novel, Sullivan takes us into even richer territory, introducing four unforgettable women who have nothing in common but the fact that, like it or not, they’re family.

For the Kellehers, Maine is a place where children run in packs, showers are taken outdoors, and old Irish songs are sung around a piano. Their beachfront property, won on a barroom bet after the war, sits on three acres of sand and pine nestled between stretches of rocky coast, with one tree bearing the initials “A.H.” At the cottage, built by Kelleher hands, cocktail hour follows morning mass, nosy grandchildren snoop in drawers, and decades-old grudges simmer beneath the surface.

As three generations of Kelleher women descend on the property one summer, each brings her own hopes and fears. Maggie is thirty-two and pregnant, waiting for the perfect moment to tell her imperfect boyfriend the news; Ann Marie, a Kelleher by marriage, is channeling her domestic frustration into a dollhouse obsession and an ill-advised crush; Kathleen, the black sheep, never wanted to set foot in the cottage again; and Alice, the matriarch at the center of it all, would trade every floorboard for a chance to undo the events of one night, long ago.

By turns wickedly funny and achingly sad, Maine unveils the sibling rivalry, alcoholism, social climbing, and Catholic guilt at the center of one family, along with the abiding, often irrational love that keeps them coming back, every summer, to Maine and to each other.

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

My name is Dr. Jennifer White. I am sixty-four years old. I have dementia. My son, Mark, is twenty-nine. My daughter, Fiona, twenty-four. A caregiver, Magdalena, lives with me.

Alice LaPlante’s Turn of Mind is a spellbinding novel about the disintegration of a strong woman’s mind and the unhinging of her family. Dr. Jennifer White, recently widowed and a newly retired orthopedic surgeon, is entering the beginning stages of dementia — where the impossibility of recognizing reality can be both a blessing and a curse.

As the story opens, Jennifer’s life-long friend and neighbor, Amanda, has been killed, and four fingers surgically removed. Dr. White is the prime suspect in the murder and she herself doesn’t know if she did it or not. Narrated in her voice, fractured and eloquent, a picture emerges of the surprisingly intimate, complex alliance between this pair — two proud, forceful women who were at times each other’s most formidable adversaries.

The women’s thirty-year friendship deeply entangled their families, and as the narrative unfolds we see that things were not always as they seemed. Jennifer’s deceased husband, James, is clearly not the scion he was thought to be. Her two grown children — Mark, a lawyer, and Fiona, a professor, who now have power over their mother’s medical and financial decisions respectively — have agendas of their own. And Magdalena, her brusque live-in caretaker, has a past she hides. As the investigation intensifies, a chilling question persists: is Dr. Jennifer White’s shattered memory preventing her from revealing the truth or helping her to hide it?

Told through the voice of a woman with a powerful intellect that is maddeningly slipping away, Turn of Mind is not only a suspenseful psychological thriller that pulses with intensity but also a brilliant portrayal of the fragility of consciousness and memory, and of a mind finally turning on itself.

Once Upon a River by Jo Campbell

Bonnie Jo Campbell has created an unforgettable heroine in sixteen-year-old Margo Crane, a beauty whose unflinching gaze and uncanny ability with a rifle have not made her life any easier. After the violent death of her father, in which she is complicit, Margo takes to the Stark River in her boat, with only a few supplies and a biography of Annie Oakley, in search of her vanished mother. But the river, Margo's childhood paradise, is a dangerous place for a young woman traveling alone, and she must be strong to survive, using her knowledge of the natural world and her ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of those around her. Her river odyssey through rural Michigan becomes a defining journey, one that leads her beyond self-preservation and to the decision of what price she is willing to pay for her choices.

Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman

Scientology, created in 1954 by a prolific sci-fi writer named L. Ron Hubbard, claims to be the world’s fastest growing religion, with millions of members around the world and huge financial holdings. Its celebrity believers keep its profile high, and its teams of “volunteer ministers” offer aid at disaster sites such as Haiti and the World Trade Center. But Scientology is also a notably closed faith, harassing journalists and others through litigation and intimidation, even infiltrating the highest levels of the government to further its goals. Its attacks on psychiatry and its requirement that believers pay as much as tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars for salvation have drawn scrutiny and skepticism. And ex-members use the Internet to share stories of harassment and abuse.

Now Janet Reitman offers the first full journalistic history of the Church of Scientology, in an evenhanded account that at last establishes the astonishing truth about the controversial religion. She traces Scientology’s development from the birth of Dianetics to today, following its metamorphosis from a pseudoscientific self-help group to a worldwide spiritual corporation with profound control over its followers and even ex-followers.

Based on five years of research, unprecedented access to Church officials, confidential documents, and extensive interviews with current and former Scientologists, this is the defining book about a little-known world.

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

Thirteen-year old Lizzie Hood and her next door neighbor Evie Verver are inseparable. They are best friends who swap bathing suits and field-hockey sticks, and share everything that's happened to them. Together they live in the shadow of Evie's glamorous older sister Dusty, who provides a window on the exotic, intoxicating possibilities of their own teenage horizons. To Lizzie, the Verver household, presided over by Evie's big-hearted father, is the world's most perfect place.

And then, one afternoon, Evie disappears. The only clue: a maroon sedan Lizzie spotted driving past the two girls earlier in the day. As a rabid, giddy panic spreads through the Midwestern suburban community, everyone looks to Lizzie for answers. Was Evie unhappy, troubled, upset? Had she mentioned being followed? Would she have gotten into the car of a stranger?

Lizzie takes up her own furtive pursuit of the truth, prowling nights through backyards, peering through windows, pushing herself to the dark center of Evie's world. Haunted by dreams of her lost friend and titillated by her own new power at the center of the disappearance, Lizzie uncovers secrets and lies that make her wonder if she knew her best friend at all.

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance—beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has thousands of enemies, and many have set out to find her. As they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.

Fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head, Tyrion Lannister, too, is making his way to Daenerys. But his newest allies in this quest are not the rag-tag band they seem, and at their heart lies one who could undo Daenerys’s claim to Westeros forever.

Meanwhile, to the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone—a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, will face his greatest challenge. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.

From all corners, bitter conflicts reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
(To be released August 23rd)

A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

Yossarian Slept Here by Erica Heller
(To be released August 23rd)

THROUGHOUT ERICA HELLER’S LIFE, when people learned that Joseph Heller was her father, they often remarked, “How terrific!” But was there a catch? Like his most famous work, her father was a study in contradictions: eccentric, brilliant, and voracious, but also mercurial, competitive, and stubborn, with a love of mischief that sometimes cut too close to the bone. Being raised by such a larger than- life personality could be claustrophobic, even at the sprawling Upper West Side apartments of the Apthorp, which the Hellers called home—in one way or another—for forty-five years.

Yossarian Slept Here is Erica Heller’s wickedly funny but also poignant and incisive memoir about growing up in a family—her iconic father; her wry, beautiful mother, Shirley; her younger brother, Ted; her relentlessly inventive grandmother Dottie—that could be by turns caring, infuriating, and exasperating, though anything but dull. From the forbidden pleasures of ordering shrimp cocktail when it was beyond the family’s budget to spending a summer, as her father’s fame grew, at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Erica details the Hellers’ charmed—and charmingly turbulent— trajectory. She offers a rare glimpse of meetings with the Gourmet Club, where her father would dine weekly with Mel Brooks, Zero Mostel, and Mario Puzo, among others (and from which all wives and children were strictly verboten). She introduces us to many extraordinary residents of the Apthorp, some famous—George Balanchine, Sidney Poitier, and Lena Horne, to name a few—and some not famous, but all quite memorable. Yet she also manages to limn the complex bonds of loyalty and guilt, hurt and healing, that define every family. Erica was among those present at her father’s bedside as he struggled to recover from Guillain-Barré syndrome and then cared for her mother when Shirley was diagnosed with terminal cancer after the thirty-eight-year marriage and intensely passionate partnership with Joe had ended.

Witty and perceptive, and displaying the descriptive gifts of a born storyteller, this authentic and colorful portrait of life in the Heller household unfolds alongside the saga of the family’s moves into four distinctive apartments within the Apthorp, each representing a different phase of their lives together—and apart. It is a story about achieving a dream; about fame and its aftermath; about lasting love, squandered opportunities, and how to have the best meal in Chinatown.

The Ridge by Michael Koryta

In an isolated stretch of eastern Kentucky, on a hilltop known as Blade Ridge, stands a lighthouse that illuminates nothing but the surrounding woods. For years the lighthouse has been considered no more than an eccentric local landmark-until its builder is found dead at the top of the light, and his belongings reveal a troubling local history.

For deputy sheriff Kevin Kimble, the lighthouse-keeper's death is disturbing and personal. Years ago, Kimble was shot while on duty. Somehow the death suggests a connection between the lighthouse and the most terrifying moment of his life.

Audrey Clark is in the midst of moving her large-cat sanctuary onto land adjacent to the lighthouse. Sixty-seven tigers, lions, leopards, and one legendary black panther are about to have a new home there. Her husband, the sanctuary's founder, died scouting the new property, and Audrey is determined to see his vision through.

As strange occurrences multiply at the Ridge, the animals grow ever more restless, and Kimble and Audrey try to understand what evil forces are moving through this ancient landscape, just past the divide between dark and light.

The Ridge is the new thriller from international bestseller Michael Koryta, further evidence of why Dean Koontz has said "Michael Koryta's work resonates into deeper strata than does most of what I read" and why Michael Connelly has named him "one of the best of the best."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

REVIEW: The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin


From the author of Where the River Ends, comes this page-turning story of love and survival.

On a stormy winter night, two strangers wait for a flight at the Salt Lake City airport.  Ashley Knox is an attractive, successful writer, who is flying East for her much anticipated wedding.  Dr. Ben Payne has just wrapped up a medical conference and is also eager to get back East for a slate of surgeries he has scheduled for the following day.   When the last outgoing flight is cancelled due to a broken de-icer and a forthcoming storm, Ben finds a charter plane that can take him around the storm and drop him in Denver to catch a connection.   And when the pilot says the single engine prop plane can fit one more, if barely, Ben offers the seat to Ashley knowing that she needs to get back just as urgently.   And then the unthinkable happens.  The pilot has a heart attack mid-flight and the plane crashes into the High Uintas Wilderness— one of the largest stretches of harsh and remote land in the United States. 

Ben, who has broken ribs and Ashley, who suffers a terrible leg fracture, along with the pilot's dog, are faced with an incredibly harrowing battle to survive.   Fortunately, Ben is a medical professional and avid climber (and in a lucky break, has his gear from a climb earlier in the week).  With little hope for rescue, he must nurse Ashley back to health and figure out how they are going to get off the mountain, where the temperature hovers in the teens.   Meanwhile, Ashley soon realizes that the very private Ben has some serious emotional wounds to heal as well.  He explains to Ashley that he is separated from his beloved wife, but in a long standing tradition, he faithfully records messages for her on his voice recorder reflecting on their love affair.  As Ashley eavesdrops on Ben's tender words to his estranged wife she comes to fear that when it comes to her own love story, she's just settling.  And what's more: she begins to realize that the man she is really attracted to, the man she may love, is Ben.

As the days on the mountains become weeks, their survival become increasingly perilous.  How will they make it out of the wilderness and if they do, how will this experience change them forever?

Both a tender and page-turning read, The Mountain Between Us will reaffirm your belief in the power of love to sustain us.
  • Pub. Date: June 2010
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Format: Hardcover , 336pp
  • ISBN-13: 9780767927000
  • ISBN: 0767927001

About the Author
About Charles, from his website

I used to put a long list of all my great and varied accomplishments right here in this space (In truth, it was rather short.) hoping it made me look important. Now that I’m forty, I’m not sure I see the value. Yes, I have a few degrees and I worked hard to get here, but saying all that reminds me of the story of the guy who walked barefoot, backwards, through the snow, uphill both ways, carrying his horse…to school. (I’m scratching my head.)

Here’s some of the stuff that matters.

Christy and I married in 1993. If you include dating, I’ve known and loved her for more than half my life. She is and always will be the home for my heart. We have three boys. Charlie, John T. and Rives. They range from 12 to 7. Folks often ask me, which of my books do I like the best. You might as well line up my sons and ask me who I love the most.

My hobbies are bow hunting, working out (a blend of old school stuff and martial arts, called Fight Fit) and Tae Kwon Do. Currently, I’m a blue belt and I’m the least flexible person you’ve ever met. The guy that trains me, laughs everytime I start warming up. My boys are far better at Tae Kwon Do than I but I doubt they have as much fun – I get to do and watch. They just do.

I also like to write, but that’s another story.

My Thoughts

I'm not sure what time it is. This thing should record that. I woke a few minutes ago. It's still dark. I don't know how long I was out.
Different parts of the story take place in different areas, but the majority takes place in the Uinta Mountains in Utah and Colorado. High mountains, deep snow, frozen creeks and lakes, tall trees. Mountain lions, moose, wolves. Rugged and pristine, it's flanked by parks numbering in the millions of acres.

I'm gonna keep this one short and sweet. Dr. Ben Payne is trying to get home after a conference and meets Ashley. They chat, and get to know one another a little. Ashley is trying to get home for her wedding, when they both find their flights are canceled. Ben gets the both of them a spot on a charter flight, which then crashes in the Uintas, killing the pilot and injuring the both of them. What ensues is a struggle for survival and a love story involving Ben and his wife, and Ashley and her fiance.

This book wound up not being what I had expected. I was expecting more of a survival story and more romance, and instead wound up having more reflection, angst and turmoil.

Both of the primary characters, Ben and Ashley, are likable. There is something pure about Ben, like he's better than most people. Special. Ashley is strong-minded and her humor carries them through some tough times.

The ending of the book was a surprise, and I found myself boo-hooing through the last 30 pages or so.

This was a good attempt. It wasn't a brilliant piece of literature and didn't bring me to my knees with emotion or thrilling moments, but it was solid and well worth the read.

My Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tom Hanks' Summer Reading List

I recently posted Stephen King's Summer Reading List, which was posted in Entertainment magazine. Now I have for you the summer reading list of Tom Hanks. I know. Summer is half over, but I'm just getting around to reading my magazine from a few months ago. I initially bought it for the summer movie list!

So here are the books that Tom Hanks lists as being on his summer radar...

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Before Liz Lemon, before "Weekend Update," before "Sarah Palin," Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.

She has seen both these dreams come true.

At last, Tina Fey's story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon — from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.

Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we've all suspected: you're no one until someone calls you bossy.

The Gunslinger (Dark Tower #1) by Stephen King

In The Gunslinger (originally published in 1982), King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake.

Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character by Jonathan Shay

In this strikingly original and groundbreaking book, Dr. Shay examines the psychological devastation of war by comparing the soldiers of Homer's Iliad with Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Although the Iliad was written twenty-seven centuries ago it has much to teach about combat trauma, as do the more recent, compelling voices and experiences of Vietnam vets.

The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz

Naguib Mahfouz's magnificent epic trilogy of colonial Egypt appears here in one volume for the first time. The Nobel Prize-winning writer's masterwork is the engrossing story of a Muslim family in Cairo during Britain's occupation of Egypt in the early decades of the twentieth century.

The novels of The Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence. Palace Walk introduces us to his gentle, oppressed wife, Amina, his cloistered daughters, Aisha and Khadija, and his three sons–the tragic and idealistic Fahmy, the dissolute hedonist Yasin, and the soul-searching intellectual Kamal. Al-Sayyid Ahmad's rebellious children struggle to move beyond his domination in Palace of Desire, as the world around them opens to the currents of modernity and political and domestic turmoil brought by the 1920s. Sugar Street brings Mahfouz's vivid tapestry of an evolving Egypt to a dramatic climax as the aging patriarch sees one grandson become a Communist, one a Muslim fundamentalist, and one the lover of a powerful politician.

Throughout the trilogy, the family's trials mirror those of their turbulent country during the years spanning the two World Wars, as change comes to a society that has resisted it for centuries. Filled with compelling drama, earthy humor, and remarkable insight, The Cairo Trilogy is the achievement of a master storyteller.

Five Flights Up by Toni Schlesinger

We know where we live, but do we know how we live? For eight years, Village Voice columnist Ton Schlesinger poked through New York's urban wilderness, ferreting out behind-closed-door stories of city people who have carved out niches in the vertical jungle. Sociology, ethnography, history, and architecture -- all rolled in one.

Bossypants sounds funny! I have the Dark Tower series on my TBR list. The others sound interesting as well. What about you? Have you read any of them? Anything catch your eye?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Book Giveaways in Blogworld (08-15-11 edition)

NOTE: A reminder that you are free to email me about any giveaways that you are having, if you want me to blog them, and I'll be happy to try to post them even if I am not entering them. Just include a link to the giveaway, what you are giving away, how many copies are being given away, and the deadline in order to assure being included. Email me at nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com.

Here is a list of some giveaways going on in Blogworld*. Please note that new giveaways that were added this week are indented in Blockquotes:

Read Me Bookmark Me Love Me is giving having two giveaways. Both giveaways are for your choice of book from eight. The first giveaway offers your choice out of eight May-July releases, and the other is for your choice out of August-October releases.  Deadline is August 15. International!

In the Hammock is giving away 3 copies of  Confessions of an Improper Bride. Deadline is August 18. US/Canada only.
Laura's Reviews is giving away a copy of Remember Me. Deadline is August 19. US/Canada only.
Babbling Flow is giving away your choice out of four ARCs. Deadline is August 19. International!
Peeking Between the Pages is giving away Yankee Doodle Dixie. Deadline is August 20. US/Canada only.

In the Hammock is giving away The Twelfth Enchantment. Deadline is August 22. US/Canada only.

Amused by Books is giving away Before Ever After. Deadline is August 23. US/Canada only.
Savvy Verse & Wit is giving away Becoming Marie Antoinette. Deadline is August 24. US only.
Peeking Between the Pages is giving away How to Be an American Housewife. Deadline is August 27. US only.

Peeking Between the Pages is giving away Reign of Madness. Deadline is August 27. US/Canada only.

Peeking Between the Pages is giving away Let's Take the Long Way Home. Deadline is August 27. US/Canada only.
Laura's Reviews is giving away Becoming Marie Antoinette. Deadline is September 2. US/Canada only.
Peeking Between the Pages is giving away a copy of Becoming Marie Antoinette. Deadline is September 11. US/Canada only.
*Courtesy Note: Please keep in mind the many, many hours of work that goes into me compiling this list each week. Please be courteous and thoughtful, and do not steal my text. Either recreate your own list, or link to this list and direct your readers here for giveaway information. Thank you so much for your consideration.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mailbox Monday (08-14-11 edition)

 Image licensed from
Copyright stands

Mailbox Monday is now hosted monthly by a different blog. Here is the official blog of Mailbox Monday.  Here is what I received over the last number of weeks:

Down from Cascom Mountain by Ann Joslin Williams
Won from Caribousmom

Ann Joslin Williams grew up observing the craft of writing: her father, Thomas Williams, was a National Book Award-winning novelist. Many of his stories were set in the fictional town of Leah, New Hampshire, and on nearby Cascom Mountain, locations that closely mirrored the landscape of the Williamses' real hometown. With Down from Cascom Mountain, Ann Joslin Williams proves herself a formidably talented novelist in her own right, while paying tribute to her father by setting her debut novel in the same fictional world-the New Hampshire he imagined and that she has always known.

In Down from Cascom Mountain, newlywed Mary Hall brings her husband to settle in the rural New Hampshire of her youth to fix up the house she grew up in and to reconnect to the land that defined her, with all its beauty and danger. But on a mountain day hike, she watches helplessly as her husband falls to his death. As she struggles with her sudden grief, in the days and months that follow, Mary finds new friendships-with Callie and Tobin, teenagers on the mountain club's crew, and with Ben, the gentle fire watchman. All are haunted by their own losses, but they find ways to restore hope in one another, holding firmly as they navigate the rugged terrain of the unknown and unknowable, and loves lost and found.

Flashback by Dan Simmons
Won from Cuzinlogic

The United States is near total collapse. But 87% of the population doesn't care: they're addicted to flashback, a drug that allows its users to re-experience the best moments of their lives. After ex-detective Nick Bottom's wife died in a car accident, he went under the flash to be with her; he's lost his job, his teenage son, and his livelihood as a result.

Nick may be a lost soul but he's still a good cop, so he is hired to investigate the murder of a top governmental advisor's son. This flashback-addict becomes the one man who may be able to change the course of an entire nation turning away from the future to live in the past.

A provocative novel set in a future that seems scarily possible, FLASHBACK proves why Dan Simmons is one of our most exciting and versatile writers.

Thanks so much!

REVIEW: Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran


The world knows Madame Tussaud as a wax artist extraordinaire . . . but who was this woman who became one of the most famous sculptresses of all time? In these pages, her tumultuous and amazing story comes to life as only Michelle Moran can tell it. The year is 1788, and a revolution is about to begin.

Smart and ambitious, Marie Tussaud has learned the secrets of wax sculpting by working alongside her uncle in their celebrated wax museum, the Salon de Cire. From her popular model of the American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson, to her tableau of the royal family at dinner, Marie’s museum provides Parisians with the very latest news on fashion, gossip, and even politics. Her customers hail from every walk of life, yet her greatest dream is to attract the attention of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI; their stamp of approval on her work could catapult her and her museum to the fame and riches she desires. After months of anticipation, Marie learns that the royal family is willing to come and see their likenesses. When they finally arrive, the king’s sister is so impressed that she requests Marie’s presence at Versailles as a royal tutor in wax sculpting. It is a request Marie knows she cannot refuse—even if it means time away from her beloved Salon and her increasingly dear friend, Henri Charles.

As Marie gets to know her pupil, Princesse Élisabeth, she also becomes acquainted with the king and queen, who introduce her to the glamorous life at court. From lavish parties with more delicacies than she’s ever seen to rooms filled with candles lit only once before being discarded, Marie steps into a world entirely different from her home on the Boulevard du Temple, where people are selling their teeth in order to put food on the table.

Meanwhile, many resent the vast separation between rich and poor. In salons and cafés across Paris, people like Camille Desmoulins, Jean-Paul Marat, and Maximilien Robespierre are lashing out against the monarchy. Soon, there’s whispered talk of revolution. . . . Will Marie be able to hold on to both the love of her life and her friendship with the royal family as France approaches civil war? And more important, will she be able to fulfill the demands of powerful revolutionaries who ask that she make the death masks of beheaded aristocrats, some of whom she knows?

Spanning five years, from the budding revolution to the Reign of Terror,
Madame Tussaud brings us into the world of an incredible heroine whose talent for wax modeling saved her life and preserved the faces of a vanished kingdom. 

    * Pub. Date: February 2011
    * Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
    * Format: Hardcover , 464p
    * ISBN-13: 9780307588654
    * ISBN: 0307588653

Read an excerpt from Madame Tussaud

About the Author

Michelle Moran was born in the San Fernando Valley, CA. She took an interest in writing from an early age, purchasing Writer's Market and submitting her stories and novellas to publishers from the time she was twelve. When she was accepted into Pomona College she took as many classes as possible in British Literature, particularly Milton, Chaucer, and the Bard. Not surprisingly, she majored in English while she was there. Following a summer in Israel where she worked as a volunteer archaeologist, she earned an MA from the Claremont Graduate University.

Michelle has traveled around the world, from Zimbabwe to India, and her experiences at archaeological sites were what inspired her to write historical fiction. A public high school teacher for six years, Michelle Moran is currently a full-time writer living in California with her husband.

Friend Michelle Moran on Facebook
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Q & A with Michelle Moran
(from her website)

Q: What drew you to the story of Marie Tussaud?

A: My interest in Marie Tussaud began on my very first trip to London. Like thousands of tourists before me, I had decided that I wanted to visit the famous wax museum, Madame Tussauds. At the time, I knew almost nothing about the woman behind the name, but as I passed through the exhibition, I began to piece together what would ultimately prove to be a fascinating story. In the first wax tableau I came across, Marie Tussaud had modeled Queen Marie Antoinette with her husband and children. They looked young and happy, dressed in lavish court gowns and silk culottes. In another tableau, the mistress of King Louis XV lay sprawled on a couch, her blonde hair tumbling down her shoulders. Clearly, Marie Tussaud had been interested in modeling the celebrities of her day. Some she would have sculpted from memory, while many she would have met and modeled in person. Marie’s art had obviously gained her access to some of the highest circles in French society.
But in a third tableau, a different part of Marie Tussaud’s life emerged. Dressed in a black gown and dirtied apron, a young Marie could be seen holding up a lantern in the Madeleine Cemetery. The Revolution had begun, and she was searching through a pile of severed heads – all victims of Madame Guillotine. Immediately, I wanted to know what was she doing in that cemetery. Whose heads were they, and did she know those people? When I learned what Marie Tussaud went through during the French Revolution – who she’d met, where she’d gone, and what she’d seen – I knew I would someday tell her story.

Q: Why does history tend to remember the French Revolution as being successful?

A: Probably because it did exactly what its leaders intended, which was to deal a devastating blow to the aristocracy. But very soon after the overthrow of the monarchy, France’s new government became obsessed with idea of rooting out Royalists. A fever like that of the Salem Witch Trials gripped France, and neighbor began turning on neighbor, accusing each other of being royalists. And it didn’t take much to be sentenced to the guillotine. By 1793, all a person had to do was whistle the wrong tune or disrespect a liberty tree (saplings planted in the name of “liberty”) to be accused of endangering the nation. By the end of the French Revolution, more than five hundred thousand French citizens had been killed, most of them commoners.

Q: How did you go about researching Madame Tussaud?

A: I began with a trip to France, where nearly all of the novel takes place. Once there, I tried to visit the locations Madame Tussaud herself would have seen. Some—such as the Bastille—no longer exist, but there are others—Versailles being the sublime example—where a great deal of 18th century life has been preserved. After my trip, I did as much research as I could in libraries. Finally, anything I couldn’t find in books I tried to discover through email conversations with some very generous French historians.

Q: What is the most interesting fact you learned while researching Madame Tussaud?

A: That in 18th century France, most people went to street dentists when they had a toothache. These dentists would sit at a table laid out with various tools, and their unfortunate patients would have their teeth extracted right there, in the dirty street. After the extraction, the patient could sell his tooth (or teeth, if he was unlucky) to the dentist, who would then sell it to people like Marie Tussaud for her wax models. I know… creepy and disturbing!  

Q: In your research about Marie Antoinette, did you come away feeling sorry for Queen Marie Antoinette? 

A: Yes. I think the queen was as much a victim of circumstance as she was her own naiveté. While it’s true that she held lavish balls in Versailles and spent a fortune on gowns, this really wasn’t anything new for the monarchy. The difference was that it was Marie Antoinette, and not the king, who was doing the spending. The resentment and jealousy which built up around the queen having access to her husband’s money earned her some powerful enemies at court. Meanwhile, the commoners were growing resentful as well. Yet the entire royal family’s expenditures were actually a small fraction of the nation’s budget, and whenever Marie Antoinette tried to economize, the courtiers who counted on her favors would raise a hue and cry. Various nobles had grown accustomed to the extra money they could earn from selling the dresses she had already worn or the accessories which had been ordered for her (often far more than she actually needed or used). These privileges were jealously guarded in Versailles, and this meant that the queen was “damned if she did, and damned if she didn’t.”

Q: Why are we still interested in Madame Tussaud 250 years after her birth?

A: I think the fascination with Madame Tussaud comes from the fact that the life she created was as intricate and mystifying as her artistry itself. Here was a woman who was asked to tutor the king’s sister, yet she managed to keep her head during the Reign of Terror when women were being imprisoned for nothing more than wearing the wrong color. She navigated two very different worlds – the court of Versailles and the streets of Paris - and against all odds, lived to tell the tale. And through it all, it was her artistry that saved her. Today, with digital cameras available to capture everything around us, you would think it would be difficult to become enthusiastic about seeing a person’s likeness reproduced in wax. But there is something compelling about waxworks, particularly those done at the various Madame Tussauds around the world. Perhaps it’s the thrill of pretending to photograph yourself next to a celebrity, or getting to pose with Henry VIII “in the flesh,” that keep customers coming back. Or maybe it’s the eerie and arresting vision of a lifeless object that so closely mimics someone’s humanity that people relate to. Whatever it is, I think Madame Tussauds will be a major draw even in another two hundred and fifty years.

Q: If Madame Tussaud were alive today, would she be happy to see that her wax museums have expanded not only throughout Europe, but now the world?

A: I think Marie Tussaud would be ecstatic. Having grown up on the Boulevard du Temple surrounded by actresses and showmen, Marie was taught from a very young age that publicity was the difference between staying in business and having to sell your teeth in order to buy bread. Today, the Madame Tussauds wax museums do a wonderful job of finding new subjects to model, and the public unveilings of their new wax figures would have absolutely delighted Marie. A part of me wants to say, “If only Marie could see her museum now,” but something tells me she wouldn’t be surprised at all by how popular her exhibition has become.

My Thoughts
When she walks through the door of my exhibition, everything disappears: the sound of the rain against the windows, the wax models, the customers, even the children.

The majority of the book takes place in Paris, and much of it occurs on the Boulevard du Temple, where Madame Tussaud (then known as Marie Grosholtz) lived and worked at her first wax museum with her family. I thought that this photo, which author Michelle Moran introduced to her readers to at the end of her book, was a suitable photo to represent the times. The photo was taken by Daguerre in 1838 of the Boulevard du Temple (a few decades after Marie had moved away), and is purported to be the first photo of a human being. As described in Wikipedia:
The purportedly first picture of a living person. The image shows a busy street, but due to exposure time of more than ten minutes, the traffic was moving too much to appear. The exception is the man at the bottom left, who stood still getting his boots polished long enough to show. Look closely and you will also see another man sitting on a bench to the right reading a newspaper. Also in the upper left hand side you can also see another man standing under the awning of the 3rd building from the left. What looks to be a woman standing under the street lantern at 10 o'clock from the man getting his shoes shined and another one in the big white building, 1st row 3rd window down.
This is where it all began for Madam Tussaud's, and where much of her story takes place.

This story covers the life of Madame Tussaud through the turbulent years of the French Revolution. We find Madame Tussaud living on the Boulevard du Temple with her mother and "uncle" Curtius (he is really her mother's lover, and like a father to Marie, but as her mother is not capable of legally marrying Curtius, they live together without the benefit of marriage).

Curtius is a respected wax sculptor and has taught Marie everything she knows about the craft and business, and they have grabbed the attention of the king and queen, who visit the
"salon" (as they call the wax museum) , bringing great excitement to the area and lots of attention and business to the salon in the days following the royal's visit.

Marie's three brothers are all members of the Swiss Guard, and sworn to protect the king. Due to line of work that Marie and Curtius are in, the family has varied associations and their home is often host to gatherings of key political figures like Robespierre, Lafayette, Duc d'Orleans (cousin of King Louis XVI), and Marat.

Madame Tussaud lives next door to Henri and Jacques Charles, brothers who are scientists and use their home to perform experiments. Henri and Jacques are good friends of the family, but Henri eventually makes it clear to Marie that he is in love with her. His courtship of her and his patience with her while she delays their romance is sweet and touching.

The story takes you through the French Revolution, from the grumblings of discontent to the violent clashes and the following "inquisition" reminiscent of the Salem witch trials. Friends turn on friends, neighbors on neighbors. Robespierre releases lists of "enemies" of the revolution, most of which initially are royals. People who make it on the list are targeted for arrest and often execution by guillotine, or are attacked and executed by mobs of supporters of the revolution. Later on, those that make it on the "list" are most often commoners, and in fact during the "Reign of Terror" (as it was called), the commoners suffered worse than anyone.

I found it really bizarre, and was totally surprised to learn, that the revolutionaries even adopted new calendars, new methods for counting years, new fashions and holidays, and even banned religion altogether, and began imprisoning people for something as minor as failing to wear a cockade to identify them as a "Citizen" (people who supported the revolution). This was liberty? As Michelle states in her "Historical Note" at the end of the book:

In their fanaticism to spread liberty and equality, the revolutionaries created a tyranny.
My own family are Huguenots, so I've been raised with stories of how my ancestors endured religious persecution in France. However I had no idea what occurred during the French Revolution, and was totally taken aback.

I do not seek out the historical fiction genre. I often find it a little bland for my tastes. However, this being my second Michelle Moran historical fiction book, I have found the author does such a great job of bringing characters to life and recreating the times and events surrounding their lives. Each time I finish one of her books, I'm left hungering for another!

My final thoughts: Engaging characters, disturbing images, shocking events. Love, family, loss. This book has it all. If you love historical fiction (and, heck, even if you don't!), pick this one up right away!

My Rating: 8.5 out of 10


I received a copy of this book to review from the author, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. Thanks so much to Michelle Moran for surprising me with this book!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Book Giveaways in Blogworld (08-07-11 edition)

NOTE: A reminder that you are free to email me about any giveaways that you are having, if you want me to blog them, and I'll be happy to try to post them even if I am not entering them. Just include a link to the giveaway, what you are giving away, how many copies are being given away, and the deadline in order to assure being included. Email me at nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com.

Here is a list of some giveaways going on in Blogworld*. Please note that new giveaways that were added this week are indented in Blockquotes:

Esther's Ever After is giving away your choice of any YA Summer 2011 release to 2 winners. Deadline is August 7. International!

Debbie's Book Bag is giving away a copy of Reign of Madness. Deadline is August 11. US/Canada only.

Dark Faerie Tales is giving away 2 copies of Forever and necklaces. Deadline is August 12. US only.

Peeking Between the Pages is giving away a copy of The Girl in the Garden. Deadline is August 13. US/Canada only.

Read Me Bookmark Me Love Me is giving having two giveaways. Both giveaways are for your choice of book from eight. The first giveaway offers your choice out of eight May-July releases, and the other is for your choice out of August-October releases.  Deadline is August 15. International!
In the Hammock is giving away 3 copies of  Confessions of an Improper Bride. Deadline is August 18. US/Canada only.
Peeking Between the Pages is giving away Yankee Doodle Dixie. Deadline is August 20. US/Canada only.
In the Hammock is giving away The Twelfth Enchantment. Deadline is August 22. US/Canada only.
Amused by Books is giving away Before Ever After. Deadline is August 23. US/Canada only.
Peeking Between the Pages is giving away How to Be an American Housewife. Deadline is August 27. US only.
Peeking Between the Pages is giving away Reign of Madness. Deadline is August 27. US/Canada only.
Peeking Between the Pages is giving away Let's Take the Long Way Home. Deadline is August 27. US/Canada only.
*Courtesy Note: Please keep in mind the many, many hours of work that goes into me compiling this list each week. Please be courteous and thoughtful, and do not steal my text. Either recreate your own list, or link to this list and direct your readers here for giveaway information. Thank you so much for your consideration.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Stephen King's Summer Reading List

I was reading my Entertainment Weekly that I picked up a couple of months ago, and found an article written by Stephen King listing "My Summer Reading List". I saw some pretty good books on it, and I decided to share a few of my top pics from it here...

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

They are in your house. They are in your car. They are in the skies…Now they’re coming for you.

In the near future, at a moment no one will notice, all the dazzling technology that runs our world will unite and turn against us. Taking on the persona of a shy human boy, a childlike but massively powerful artificial intelligence known as Archos comes online and assumes control over the global network of machines that regulate everything from transportation to utilities, defense and communication. In the months leading up to this, sporadic glitches are noticed by a handful of unconnected humans – a single mother disconcerted by her daughter’s menacing “smart” toys, a lonely Japanese bachelor who is victimized by his domestic robot companion, an isolated U.S. soldier who witnesses a ‘pacification unit’ go haywire – but most are unaware of the growing rebellion until it is too late.

When the Robot War ignites -- at a moment known later as Zero Hour -- humankind will be both decimated and, possibly, for the first time in history, united. Robopocalypse is a brilliantly conceived action-filled epic, a terrifying story with heart-stopping implications for the real technology all around us…and an entertaining and engaging thriller unlike anything else written in years.

The Five by Robert McCammon

Subterranean Press is proud to present Robert McCammon's first contemporary novel in nearly two decades, a tale of the hunt and unlikely survival, of the life and soul, set against a supernatural backbeat. Robert McCammon, author of the popular Matthew Corbett historical thrillers (Speaks the Nightbird, Mister Slaughter), now gives us something new and completely unexpected: The Five, a contemporary novel as vivid, timely, and compelling as anything he has written to date.

The Five tells the story of an eponymous rock band struggling to survive on the margins of the music business. As they move through the American Southwest on what might be their final tour together, the band members come to the attention of a damaged Iraq war veteran, and their lives are changed forever.

The narrative that follows is a riveting account of violence, terror, and pursuit set against a credible, immensely detailed rock and roll backdrop. It is also a moving meditation on loyalty and friendship, on the nature and importance of families those we are born into and those we create for ourselves and on the redemptive power of the creative spirit. Written with wit, elegance, and passionate conviction, The Five lays claim to new imaginative territory, and reaffirms McCammon's position as one of the finest, most unpredictable storytellers of our time.

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce

Award-winning novelist and cult favorite Graham Joyce transports readers to a mysterious world of isolation and fear with a hypnotically dark story about a young couple trapped by an avalanche in the remote French Pyrenees. . . a daring and powerful novel about love, loss, and rebirth.

In the French Pyrenees, a young married couple is buried under a flash avalanche while skiing. Miraculously, Jake and Zoe dig their way out from under the snow—only to discover the world they knew has been overtaken by an eerie and absolute silence. Their hotel is devoid of another living soul. Cell phones and land lines are cut off. An evacuation as sudden and thorough as this leaves Jake and Zoe to face a terrifying situation alone. They are trapped by the storm, completely isolated, with another catastrophic avalanche threatening to bury them alive . . . again. And as the couple begin to witness unset­tling events neither one can ignore, they are forced to con­front a frightening truth about the silent land they now inhabit.

Award-winning author Graham Joyce has written a mysteri­ous masterpiece, a tour de force that will thrill fans of Peter Straub and the hit television show Lost.

The Cypress House by Michael Koryta

Arlen Wagner has an awful gift: he can see death in the eyes of men before it strikes. He's never wrong.

So when Arlen awakens on a train one hot Florida night and sees death's telltale sign in the eyes of his fellow passengers, he tries to warn them. Only 19-year-old Paul Brickhill believes him, and the two abandon the train, hoping to escape certain death. They continue south, but soon are stranded at The Cypress House—an isolated Gulf Coast boarding house run by the beautiful Rebecca Cady—directly in the path of an approaching hurricane.

It doesn't take Arlen and Paul long to realize that the storm isn't the only approaching danger—a much deadlier force controls the county and everyone living in it. But Paul refuses to abandon Rebecca to face the threat alone, and Arlen's eerie gift warns him that they'll never leave. From its chilling beginning to terrifying end, The Cypress House is a story of relentless suspense from "one of the best of the best" (Michael Connelly).

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

A triumphant new novel from award-winner Kate Atkinson: a breathtaking story of families divided, love lost and found, and the mysteries of fate.

Case One: Olivia Land, youngest and most beloved of the Land girls, goes missing in the night and is never seen again. Thirty years later, two of her surviving sisters unearth a shocking clue to Olivia's disappearance among the clutter of their childhood home. . .

Case Two: Theo delights in his daughter Laura's wit, effortless beauty, and selfless love. But her first day as an associate in his law firm is also the day when Theo's world turns upside down. . .

Case Three: Michelle looks around one day and finds herself trapped in a hell of her own making. A very needy baby and a very demanding husband make her every waking moment a reminder that somewhere, somehow, she'd made a grave mistake and would spend the rest of her life paying for it--until a fit of rage creates a grisly, bloody escape.

As Private Detective Jackson Brodie investigates all three cases, startling connections and discoveries emerge. Inextricably caught up in his clients grief, joy, and desire, Jackson finds their unshakable need for resolution very much like his own.

Kate Atkinson's celebrated talent makes for a novel that positively sparkles with surprise, comedy, tragedy, and constant, page-turning delight.

The Terror of Living by Urban Waite

Phil Hunt is in deep trouble.

Hunt is on the run from two men: Drake, the deputy sheriff who intends to catch him, and Grady, the vicious hitman who means to kill him.

For twenty years Hunt has lived in Washington State, raising horses with his wife on his small farm. He's tried to stay out of trouble, wanting only to make a living and taking the occasional illicit job in order to do so.

Then his last delivery goes horribly wrong, and the chase is on from the mountains down into the Puget lowlands. To have any chance of rescuing his quiet life, Hunt will have to deal with deputy sheriff Bobby Drake, a good man determined to make up for his father's tainted legacy and Grady Fisher, a very bad man intent on making a name for himself in the most violent ways. With a fondness for blood, Grady takes pleasure in the use of knives, taking Hunt's life apart piece by piece, all the while leaving a trail of victims across the state.

Relentless and gorgeously written, with original characters and a vividly powerful sense of place, The Terror of Living heralds the arrival of a writer who will be compared with the great suspense novelists.

Check out the article in its entirety for the full list, and for King's comments on each book.