Beth's Book-Nook Blog

Reviews of What I've Been Reading….

Spent the week on vacation…

Did you miss me? While I did have one post scheduled to go in my absence, I took an “unplugged” vacation this week and traveled with my family to Hawaii. If you know us, you know we LOVE the Hawaiian Islands. This was our third visit with the kids.

I’m sure I’ll do more of these for a Saturday Snapshot, but here are a few from my phone. Yes. the water was warm, the sky was blue, and it was sunny and 77 there every day. Given that we came from Boston, we greatly appreciated it!!!

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HFVBT Book Blast — MADEMOISELLE CHANEL by C.W. Gortner — and Giveaway!!

We are blasting it up today to celebrate C.W. Gortner’s newly published book: MADEMOISELLE CHANEL — which is definitely on my TBR list!!

Here’s some info from HFVBT —

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About Mademoiselle Chanel

Publication Date: March 17, 2015
William Morrow/HarperCollins
Formats: Hardover, eBook, Audio Book

Genre: Historical Fiction

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DRAMA, PASSION, TRAGEDY, AND BEAUTY: C.W.’s new novel stunningly imagines the life of Coco Chanel—the iconic fashion designer whose staggering creativity built an empire and made her one of the 20th century’s most influential, and controversial, figures.

Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her sisters are sent to a convent orphanage after their mother’s death. Here, the nuns nurture Gabrielle’s exceptional sewing skills, a talent that will propel her into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood.

Transforming herself into Coco—a seamstress and sometime torch singer—the petite brunette burns with ambition, an incandescence that draws a wealthy gentleman who will become the love of her life. She immerses herself in his world of money and luxury, discovering a freedom that sparks her creativity. But it is only when her lover takes her to Paris that Coco discovers her destiny.

Rejecting the frilly, corseted silhouette of the past, her sleek minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As Coco’s reputation spreads, her couturier business explodes, taking her into rarefied society circles and bohemian salons. Her little black dress, her signature perfume No. 5; her dramatic friendships, affairs, and rivalries with luminaries of her era increase her wealth and fame. But as the years pass, success cannot save her from heartbreak. And when Paris falls to the Nazis during World War II, Coco finds herself at a dangerous crossroads, forced to make choices that will forever change her.

An enthralling portrayal of an extraordinary woman who created the life she desired, Mademoiselle Chanel is Coco’s intimate story.

Praise for Mademoiselle Chanel

“In this deliciously satisfying novel, C.W. Gortner tells the epic, rags-to-riches story of how this brilliant, mercurial, self-created woman became a legend.” (Christina Baker Kline, New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train)

“In a novel as brilliant and complicated as Coco Chanel herself, C. W. Gortner’s prose is so electric and luminous it could be a film, and not just any film, but one of the grandest biopics of our time. Divine!” (Erika Robuck, bestselling author of Hemingway’s Girl)

“A richly imagined, deftly researched novel, in which the ever fascinating Coco Chanel comes to life in all her woe and splendor, her story unfolding as elegantly as a Chanel gown.” (Cathy Marie Buchanan, author of The Painted Girls)

“From her heart-wrenching early years through her decades of struggle and glory, Gabrielle Chanel was fascinating—as is C.W. Gortner’s Mademoiselle Chanel. Coco lives again in this rich tale of brilliance, determination, and fierce self-creation.” (Ania Szado, author of Studio Saint-Ex)

“Gortner brings to life a woman who was as alluring and captivating as her signature scent. ” (Historical Novels Review)

“Gortner brings history to life in a fascinating study of one woman’s unstoppable ambition.” (Booklist)

“Well-written and historically accurate . . . An homage to a couture icon whose influence is still powerful today.” (Kirkus Reviews)

About the Author

C.W. GORTNER holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California, as well as an AA from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco.

After an eleven year-long career in fashion, during which he worked as a vintage retail buyer, freelance publicist, and fashion show coordinator, C.W. devoted the next twelve years to the public health sector. In 2012, he became a full-time writer following the international success of his novels.

In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard at Hampton Court, learned about organic gardening at Chenoceaux, and spent a chilly night in a ruined Spanish castle. His books have garnered widespread acclaim and been translated into twenty-one languages to date, with over 400,000 copies sold. A sought-after public speaker. C.W. has given keynote addresses at writer conferences in the US and abroad. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights, in particular companion animal rescue to reduce shelter overcrowding.

C.W. recently completed his fourth novel for Ballantine Books, about Lucrezia Borgia; the third novel in his Tudor Spymaster series for St Martin’s Press; and a new novel about the dramatic, glamorous life of Coco Chanel, scheduled for lead title publication by William Morrow, Harper Collins, in the spring of 2015.

Half-Spanish by birth and raised in southern Spain, C.W. now lives in Northern California with his partner and two very spoiled rescue cats.

For more information visit C.W. Gortner’swebsite and blog. You can also find him onFacebook, Twittter, Goodreads, Pinterest, andYouTube. Sign up for C.W. Gortner’sNewsletter for updates.

Giveaway! Starts March 17th

Three Chanel-style black and white beaded bracelets will up for grabs during this blast, follow along for chances to win!

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– Giveaway starts on March 17th at 12:01am and ends on April 3rd at 11:59pm EST.
– Must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US residents only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.

Here is the link to the Mademoiselle Chanel giveaway: https://gleam.io/n4EVt/mademoiselle-chanel-book-blast-giveaway.

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Cookbook Review: LIGHTEN UP Y’ALL by Virginia Willis

If you read me regularly, you’ll know I’ve been on a cookbook kick. I love to cook and we’ve been trying to eat healthy, tasty recipes this winter.

LIGHTEN UP, Y’ALL has classic Southern recipes which are reworked so they are healthier. Virginia Willis is a Southerner and writer for the Food Network.  She has several other cookbooks out. This was the first one of hers that I’ve gotten.

I’ll be the first to say that I am not a girl of the South. I was born in RI, grew up in CA, and now live in MA. I’m sort of a blend of Yankee pot roast and good wine (and I have a shellfish allergy). But I’ve always been fascinated by Southern food. What exactly is okra? And are grits tasty ?? because they sound horrible. Virginia makes the point that in the past, the South was mostly agricultural, and meals reflected that by having a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits.

First up for us to try will be Chunky Chicken Noodle Soup, Pulled Pork Tenderloin with Red Pepper Vinegar Sauce, and Buttermilk Biscuits with Turkey Sausage Gravy. Mmm-mmm! (Of course these won’t be all on the same night!). The recipes look easy to follow and the pictures are beautiful. But note — there is not one picture for every recipe included (I know that matters to some people. Me – not so much as I’m not very visual).

I look forward to having this book in my collection!

Thank you, Blogging for Books, for my copy!

Find it at an indie bookstore near you — I am an Indie Bound affiliate.


Find it at an Indie!

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Spotlight on PIONEER GIRL – the Autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder – annotated by Pamela Smith Hill

I seriously waited forever for this book to come out.

I heard it would be in the winter, then the spring, then the summer, then the fall. I pre-ordered it and waited months (literally). I received mine on November 30 and that was the second printing. It had already gone into a third printing.

PIONEER GIRL is the original life story of Laura Ingalls Wilder, written by her before she wrote the Little House books but from where the Little House books spring forth. Pamela Smith Hill has painstakingly created an in-depth annotated work here, giving background on the Ingalls family, other people in their lives, other items from daily life in the 1800’s, etc. It’s full of notes, pictures, and most excitedly, Laura’s own words.

You should know what you’re getting into here, though. This is not a novel or a “discovered work”. It is a large (think coffee table book) book of over 300 pages, most of which are scholarly notes and annotations stemming from Laura’s manuscript. Laura’s reminiscences are here, but most of the book is providing background, context, and historical data.

I’m slogging through it – a bit at a time. But if you are like me (a complete Laura fanatic) and often wondered “I wondered what the real Cap Garland looked like?” or “Wow – did that whole thing with Pa and the wolves really happen?” then this is the book for you.

Check out http://www.pioneergirlproject.org to see more on the book itself, including ordering it from the publisher.

And please consider ordering the book from a LIW homesite, such as Walnut Grove or DeSmet.

Here’s a beautifully organized listing of the homesites from my friends at Beyond Little House:

http://beyondlittlehouse.com/lauras-homesites/

The beautiful cover by Judy Thompson is lovely to look at!

And just a note — I’ve had at least five people (and just about every news article I’ve seen) bring up the whole Bloody Benders bit. You’d think this book was chock full of sensationalism. It isn’t. If that’s what you’re looking for – here’s a link to Wikipedia — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloody_Benders

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HFVB Tour — Review of SISTERS OF SHILOH by Kathy and Becky Hepinstall

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I’m so happy today to be taking part in the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour of SISTERS OF SHILOH — a Civil War story of two sisters who go off to war. I absolutely loved it!

Libby and Josephine aren’t very similar, but their bond as sisters is fierce. Libby marries neighbor boy Arden, while Josephine still hasn’t been kissed. When Arden is killed in battle, Libby vows to avenge his death by killing 21 Yankees, one for each year that Arden lived. Josephine can’t let Libby go on her own, and joins her in the disguise of two young men heading off to war. During their “enlistment”, Libby and Josephine learn to fight, survive the elements, and endure the amazing hardships that existed for Civil War soldiers, all while hiding their true identities. Libby’s love for Arden brings him close in spirit – close enough that he talks to her and guides her actions. Josephine however, falls in love with a fellow soldier, which brings complications of its own.

I just loved this story and read it in one day. The writing is so beautifully evocative. I’ve never read a book with two authors where you couldn’t see the seams where the two writing styles came together.

I never share quotes from books – in part because they ask you not to share from ARC’s unless you know it is in the finished work – but this first sentence is so exquisite that I had to stop and re-read it:

Libby waited for her dead husband in the woods, her breath making clouds in the cold night air.

I love that opening. I loved these characters. I loved this book!

Here’s some info from HFVBT:

About Sisters of Shiloh…
Publication Date: March 3, 2015
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Formats: Hardcover, Ebook
Pages:256
Genre: Historical FictionAdd to GR Button
A best-selling novelist enlists her own sister to bring us the story of two Southern sisters, disguised as men, who join the Confederate Army—one seeking vengeance on the battlefield, the other finding love.In a war that pitted brother against brother, two sisters choose their own battle. Joseph and Thomas are fresh recruits for the Confederate Army, daring to join the wild fray that has become the seemingly endless Civil War, sharing everything with their fellow soldiers—except the secret that would mean their undoing: they are sisters.

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About the Authors

Kathy Hepinstall grew up outside of Houston, Texas. Kathy is the best-selling author of The House of Gentle Men, The Absence of Nectar and Blue Asylum She is an award-winning creative director and advertising writer. She currently resides in Santa Barbara, California with her husband. Visit Kathy’s Blog.

Becky Hepinstall grew up outside of Houston, Texas. She holds a degree in History from the University of Texas in Austin, and currently resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia with her husband, a Navy pilot, and their four children.

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Review: AT THE WATER’S EDGE by Sara Gruen

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I had never read a book by Sara Gruen, though I’ve certainly heard of “Water for Elephants”. I thought this one sounded intriguing, and I was able to get an ARC from Net Galley.

AT THE WATER’S EDGE starts with a young WWII war widow in Scotland losing her baby and then committing suicide by drowning herself in the lake. We then switch to the social scene in Philadelphia and young marrieds, Ellis and Maddie, and their best friend, Hank, whooping it up and causing a scene for New Year’s. Hank and Ellis are both unable to serve in the war due to physical reasons. The three are young, wealthy, immature, and irreverent. When Ellis’ family is angered by their behavior, Ellis decides they will redeem themselves by travelling to Scotland to locate and film the Loch Ness Monster – a task his father tried before him. Ellis is sure this will redeem him in his family’s eyes. Hank goes along with this plan and Maddie is dragged along against her will. Once in Scotland, however, they realize their fun is not appreciated and their attitude and behavior is pretty insensitive and inappropriate. As times passes, Maddie begins to see her husband in a new light (not a favorable one!) and starts to mature and change herself. However, things start to spiral out of control towards the end of the book as Ellis becomes determined to “find the monster” and to not let anyone stand in his way.

I could not put this book down. In other places I’ve seen it reviewed as a romance. While it does have a romantic component to it, I would not classify it as a romance, but as historical fiction. I loved the character of Maddie. I really had hope in the beginning that she would not be as self-centered and callous as her husband, and she lived up to my expectations! Ellis, on the other hand, I could not stand. It’s rare I have such a violent dislike for a character, but there is whole part of this book where Ellis tries to make Maddie think she is mentally frail and anxious and that she needs hospitalization (perhaps a lobotomy!), even though Maddie is fine. I have no sympathy for big manipulators who play mind games with their wives in order to do what they want.  On another note, I have seen some reviews that say “the monster in the lake symbolizes Hitler and Ellis, and that’s so obvious, blah blah blah”. However, I had a different take on it. (Ms. Gruen – if you ever do me the honor of reading my humble blog, please let me know if I’m right). I think the monster in the lake lives within all of us — we all have a monster within, and it’s what we do with it that shapes us. Do we become like Ellis — self-centered and self-serving to the point of harming others? Or like Maddie? Remember the “monster” saved Maddie at one point, too. And the vagueness at the end — how did Ellis end up where he ended up? Maybe the monster was seeking justice…

So, I like my “Lord of the Flies” take on the monster idea better than just monster = Ellis/Hitler – which of course can be seen as true as well.

Did you read this book? If so, what did you think? I loved it!

Thank you, Net Galley and Random House, for my copy.

Find it at an indie near you! (I’m an Indie Bound affiliate). It publishes 3/31/15.


Find it at an Indie!

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Review: RODIN’S LOVER by Heather Webb

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Camille Claudel.

I knew the name sounded familiar (and French) but I didn’t know much about her. Camille Claudel was a gifted sculptor and the mistress of Auguste Rodin, living in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. Heather Webb has taken her story and made it come vibrantly alive in her new historical novel: RODIN’S LOVER.

Camille has loved creating from clay since she was a child. She loves the outdoors and her family’s estate in the French countryside. But Camille comes to realize that being a woman artist gives her little to no rights or privileges in 1800’s France, and she must work doubly hard to be recognized, let alone to be accepted, as an artist. Her creative nature is often overpowered by her intense and emotional personality (and as she matures, mental illness). However, her passionate and intense relationship with Rodin gives her an opportunity to showcase her work, as they each serve as muse for the other.

I can hardly give this novel justice in my short blurb of it. Heather Webb skillfully and beautifully portrays Camille’s life so artfully (no pun intended) that I just couldn’t stop thinking about Camille once the book was over. I could picture her perfectly, I could feel her emotion, and at the end, when I knew the rest of her life’s sad story, I was haunted by her.

Beautifully written, RODIN’S LOVER is a book that I will not soon forget. The cover is a photograph of the real Camille Claudel. Within the novel are pictures of her art that Ms. Webb had recreated by a former student who is an artist – thus I recommend a paper copy (mine did not show well on my kindle, however, I did have an ARC).

I had the opportunity of hearing Ms. Webb speak about her book at the Concord Bookshop recently (read it here: https://drbethnolan.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/author-visit-at-the-concord-bookshop-heather-webb/) and I’m so glad I had the chance to read her novel. I highly recommend it!

You can see this book on Amazon where I am an Associate:

Rodin’s Lover: A Novel

Or find it at an indie near you! I am an Indie Bound affiliate –


Find it at an Indie!

Thank you, Net Galley and Plume Books , for my review copy!

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Review: WRONGFUL DEATH by L.J. Sellers

I picked up this little mystery off Net Galley. There’s something about winter that makes me want to read crime novels!

In this story, which is part of series featuring the main character- a male detective, a police officer is found brutally murdered near a homeless camp where he had been giving out blankets. Suspicion turns to several homeless people, including twin brothers who have some special needs and mental health issues. At the same time, someone is drugging and sexually assaulting teen girls, then blackmailing their families for money or threatening to release videotape of the assaults. The two crimes can’t be related – or can they?

I enjoyed reading this novel, though I have to say that the very first scene did not work for me. I found it contrived and awkward. Once the book switched to Detective Jackson’s perspective, I got right into it. I thought the author did a good job in covering what it’s like to work for a newspaper as a crime writer, too (role of another character in the book). It seemed pretty realistic. As for the murder, I had figured most of it out by midway (using the old “pick the person least likely” approach) but the final scenes put all the pieces in place for me. The Oregon setting is solidly portrayed throughout – no surprise that that is where Ms. Sellers lives!

This was a quick read that held my attention – I’d read more about Detective Jackson.

Thanks, Net Galley and Thomas Mercer, for my copy!

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A Look Back at February…

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Here’s what was happening around here during the month of February —

Heather Webb came to speak at the Concord Bookshop. I’m reading her book RODIN’S LOVER now (it’s great!).

I reviewed a really great cookbook – A GOOD FOOD DAY by Marco Canora (highly recommended)

I reviewed THE BUTTERFLY AND THE VIOLIN by Kristy Cambron (and I will be part of her blog tour for her next book in this series in April).

I reviewed Laurie King’s DREAMING SPIES (which I loved). I posted about a large giveaway through her publicist and also did my own blog giveaway of her new book!

I reviewed the mystery thriller THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS by Sara Blaedel (Nordic crime!)

I reviewed THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins (suspense/thriller), THINGS HALF IN SHADOW by Alan Finn (historical mystery), THE HALF-BROTHER by Holly LeCraw (fiction), and EIGHT MINUTES by Lori Reisenbichler (supernatural suspense).

I posted about a giveaway for Sandra Byrd’s MIST OF MIDNIGHT, reviewed Melissa D’Arabian’s SUPERMARKET HEALTHY, and reviewed two audiobooks – RIPPER by Isabel Allende and THE NIGHT STRANGERS by Chris Bohjalian.

I took part in the HFVB Tour for THE WITCH HUNTER’S TALE by Sam Thomas (historical fiction) and did a book blast for HFVBT for LETTERS TO KEZIA by Peni Jo Renner.

Phew! It was a busier month than I realized!

Next month you can look for more historical fiction blog tours and book blasts and more book reviews, ranging from Coco Chanel to two sisters disguised as boys in the Civil War to a young woman solving mysteries Nancy Drew style. I’ll also have a few special Saturday Snapshots to share with sandy beaches and sun!

Happy Reading!

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Audiobook Review: RIPPER by Isabel Allende

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First let me begin by saying: I love Isabel Allende’s books. THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS is one of favorite books ever. EVA LUNA, OF LOVE AND SHADOWS, DAUGHTER OF FORTUNE, PORTRAIT IN SEPIA. You get the idea. So I was thrilled to see she had written a mystery novel – described as “fast-paced” – that takes place in San Francisco (near my old stomping grounds). I got it as an audiobook from my public library.

Wow — what a disappointment. Isabel Allende is an incredible writer. Her attraction for me has always been in the beauty of her language. Her characters are so real and human. Her stories are enthralling.

Not this one. This story had me puzzled right from the beginning. There was WAY TOO MUCH character description and background given. The story is about a serial killer in San Francisco and I felt like I was at about CD 6 before we got a murder (covered in what felt like a few paragraphs). Instead we had this lush, detailed history of our main character (soon to become victim-in-danger-of-being-murdered-by-serial-killer) Indiana Jackson – a woman who was so beautiful, so gifted, so extraordinary, and so not aware of her power over men that she seemed totally unbelievable as she went about her work as a homeopath. Her daughter is the shy and reclusive, but brilliant, Amanda, who spends her time playing an online game called “Ripper” with other teens where they solve murders. Amanda’s father – Indiana’s ex – is luckily a SF homicide cop so that gives everybody access to detailed police information. Amanda’s grandfather is her best friend and plays Ripper, too. When Indiana is finally abducted in about disk 10, Amanda makes it her job to figure out who the killer is and save her mother in time.

THIS PART CONTAINS SPOILERS.

Now, someone who has read this book please tell me: who WAS that killer?? He had like five different names and aliases and he was someone I didn’t even remember from earlier in the novel when we were getting the back story to birth of all those other characters. What??? And all those other people he killed were related to him and his crazy, feral, abused, neglected youth, but why did he want to kill Indiana?? Did she maybe reject him? (I have to say I do struggle with following books while driving sometimes and I can’t really rewind). Also, this was looooong. I just looked it up on Amazon and saw it has over 500 pages. I believe it.

So – in a nutshell – if you want great character descriptions and Allende’s writing, you might like this. If you want a fast-paced thriller, skip this one. My expectations were really high, so that didn’t help.

But Isabel, I still absolutely love your (other) books!

PS – forgot to mention the narrator, Edoardo Ballerini — LOVED his smooth voice!

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