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Review: The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Cover of The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith
2 Stars

The Story of Land and Sea opens with young Tabitha contracting yellow fever on her tenth birthday. Her father and grandfather, having already lost her mother in childbirth, are desperate to save her despite the limitations of 18th century medicine. Her father takes to the sea with her in tow, thinking that the sea air will cure her. After all, he took her mother to the sea when they first married and she blossomed into the woman he loved with all his heart.

Flashing back 20 years, Tabitha's mother Helen is a young girl receiving her first slave on her tenth birthday. Helen is a serious, bossy soul, teaching the neighborhood slaves on Sunday and becoming perfectly poised to take the reins of her father's turpentine business. And then she meets a soldier.

Hmm. That story I just described is exciting and I'd like to read it. This book is not that book. This book is much more Literary-with-a-capital-L. Instead of the action-y love story I was hoping for, I found a book that explores the holes that grief leaves in the lives of those left behind. It is well-written but I somehow felt removed from the story. I didn't feel like I really knew any of the characters; I only knew their grief.

The book does have a strong sense of place, which is what I was hoping for. I'm a North Carolina girl and we always spent our summer vacations on the coast when I was growing up. I was really excited when I realized that the book is set in Beaufort. We always spent a day exploring the town, eating ice cream at the marina, checking out the maritime museum, and choosing which yacht would be ours if we ever won the lottery. This post-Revolutionary War Beaufort is strangely colorless. It's hot and muggy, as it should be, but it's so hot that all the color has been bleached from the town. I can't describe it better than that.

There are definitely readers who will enjoy this, and they'll be readers who like their books to be more Literary and thoughtful than I generally do. Despite the beautiful writing, this really wasn't the book for me.

Thanks to the publisher for giving me a copy of the book for review.

Read an excerpt.

Find author Katy Simpson Smith on her website.

Buy The Story of Land and Sea at

Southern Literature Reading Challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader


I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop's, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

Sunday Post/What Are You Reading?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? hosted at Book Journey
The Sunday Post











It's Monday!  What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. She's taking a bit of personal leave so I'm also linking to Kimberly at Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

Yesterday was my husband's birthday. We didn't go out of town this time but we did have a long weekend at home. We started Friday morning with doughnuts at a local place we haven't tried before; watched the local minor league baseball team on Friday night and enjoyed fireworks afterward; started Saturday morning with a big group of friends at The Color Run followed up with cupcakes and pizza, in that order, with the same group of friends; took a nap because The Color Run starts awfully early; went to the Biltmore Estate to enjoy some music; and finished up with his celebratory birthday steak. Whew! We took it easy today.

Posted:
Review: Habibi by Craig Thompson--4 Stars

Review: When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi--4 Stars

Read:
Cover of Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige


Cover of Fairest by Marissa Meyer
Fairest by Marissa Meyer, read by Rebecca Soler


Cover of Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose

Currently Reading:
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore, read by Adenrele Ojo and Pamela D'Pella

Up Next:
That should last me for a while. Shantaram is a 936-page brick! I was in the mood for some graphic novels though, so I have requested Locke & Key: Head Games by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez and Fables: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham from the library. They should be available soon.

What are you reading this week?

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop's, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

Review: Habibi by Craig Thompson

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Cover of Habibi by Craig Thompson
4 Stars

I don't even really know what I read here, but I do know that liked it.

Part love story, part coming-of-age novel, part environmental warning, Habibi covers a lot of ground.

Dodola and Zam meet as children when they're up for sale in a slave market in what appears to be the Middle East. Events unfold and they find themselves living alone in the desert with only each other for company. Thompson explores the changing nature of relationships as they grow older. Dodola has always cared for the younger Zam as a mother would, doing whatever it takes to keep them both alive. As Zam ages, he outgrows the self-absorption of youth and starts trying to care for Dodola in turn. Their lives keep twisting and turning but their love is always selfless.

The way the story seemed to span through time bothered me at first. I first thought the story was taking place in ancient times but then little things crept in and I kept adjusting the time frame forward until I decided that they were living in the modern world. I interpreted that to be a reflection of the timeless nature of love. The world changes but human nature doesn't really change, for better or for worse. Bits of stories from the Koran were sprinkled throughout the larger story, reinforcing that timeless feel.

Speaking of the Koran, I have to speculate on why this story is set in that particular part of the world. The audience is going to be Western. Maybe the author is reinforcing what we should already know--cultural differences aside, people are still just people, wherever you go. If this book were set somewhere else, a lot of superficial details would change, for sure, but the heart of the story would still be the same.

The artwork is beautiful. I enjoyed Craig Thompson's memoir, Blankets, but Habibi is even more amazingly drawn. The love, the violence, the fear--I could see it all in these pages. The Arabic calligraphy is spectacular to my Western eyes as well.

My apologies for this rambling review. There's a lot here to discuss and I wish I had someone to discuss it with. My thoughts are all disjointed. I recommend that anyone pick it up with an open mind and see where it leads you.

Read an excerpt.

Find author Craig Thompson on his blog and Facebook.

My review of Blankets, also by this author.

Buy Habibi at

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop's, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

Review: When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Cover of When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi
4 Stars

Fereiba lived a lonely childhood in Afghanistan. Her mother died in childbirth and her stepmother never treated her like a real member of the family. Her stepmother does eventually arrange a marriage for her and it becomes a love match. Three children later, the Taliban are in power, Fereiba has had to give up the teaching job she loves, and their lives are shattered when the authorities knock on the door late one night, taking her husband Mahmood with them. Suddenly Fereiba finds herself alone with her children, fleeing Afghanistan and trying to reach family in England.

I like books like this. They always make me more thankful for the things I take for granted every day. It's easy to forget that not everyone is as fortunate as I am. I'm free to wear what I want, worship as please, marry whomever I want, work at any job I'm qualified for, and get an education. I have access to healthcare, a nice home, clean water, electricity, indoor plumbing...the list goes on. Not everyone has even the most basic of these.

I particularly enjoyed that the book starts before the Taliban were in power. Fereiba is a teacher, wearing stylish clothes and meeting her friends in public. The change to the Taliban regime is pretty abrupt in the book, I guess in the interest of time, but suddenly she can't teach and she can barely leave the house. When she does she has to wear a burqa and be accompanied by her husband. I've read widely enough to know that these changes have happened within my lifetime but it's good to remind those of us who are aware of it and to open the eyes of those who don't.

I felt so bad for the family as they traveled. They fought so hard to stay together and lived such a dangerous life. Caring for a sick infant made everything so much more stressful. Fereiba doesn't speak English, which is known widely enough to make a difference for them, so she has to rely on her teenage son for almost everything--a hard fact for a devoted mother trying to protect her children.

They stumbled on so many caring, helpful people though. Of course there were dangerous people who threatened them or tried to take advantage of them, but so many went out of their way to be kind. It was amazing.

I also liked that this made me more aware of the challenges surrounding refugees and immigrants. Some countries were so overwhelmed with the unending flood of people that they had become pretty heartless to the travelers' plights. But what is the answer when there are so many people coming through your borders that you can't track them all, much less find a way to help them feed and care for themselves? Some of the living situations were pretty dire.

If you enjoy reading about other cultures and being reminded how blessed your life really is, pick this one up.

Thanks to the publisher for giving me early access to the book in exchange for a review.

Read my review of Nadia Hashimi's first book, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell.

Find author Nadia Hashimi on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Buy When the Moon is Low at


I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop's, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

Sunday Post/What Are You Reading?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? hosted at Book Journey
The Sunday Post











It's Monday!  What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. She's taking a bit of personal leave so I'm also linking to Kimberly at Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

So yesterday was my birthday. Number 37. Where on earth does the time go? I swear it feels like I just graduated from college a couple of weeks ago! My husband and I drove to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina for the weekend and chilled on the beach, biked around, ate way too much, and read. In other words, it was a perfect weekend.

Posted:
Review: Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier--5 Stars

Review: All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg--4.5 Stars

Read:
Cover of How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer

How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer, read by Joshilyn Jackson

Currently Reading:
Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Fairest by Marissa Meyer, read by Rebecca Soler

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen E. Ambrose--I'm almost done!

Up Next:
I honestly don't know. I should finish both Undaunted Courage and Dorothy Must Die this week but I'm not sure what I'll be in the mood for after that. I was supposed to start listening to Summer Knight by Jim Butcher last week but it was finally my turn for Fairest, so Butcher's book got postponed. I've been waiting several months for Fairest.

What are you reading this week?

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop's, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

Review: Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Cover of Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
5 Stars

Caitrin is on the run from a bad situation at home. With only the clothes on her back, a few coins, and her box of scribing tools, she just wants to get away. Her money runs out late one evening in the middle of nowhere. She finds her way to a village called Whistling Tor. She's eventually allowed through the fortifications and the innkeeper and his wife fill her head with terrible tales of a mysterious host that was unleashed on the territory about 100 years ago. It still leads travelers and locals alike to their deaths. The next morning, Caitrin, desperate, overhears a man from the keep at the top of the hill asking the innkeeper to send him anyone who can act as a scribe to work for the summer. Caitrin jumps at the chance. The innkeeper warns her that it isn't safe, but anything would have to be better than what she's left behind. She makes her way to the keep and meets a strange group of people. Strangest of all is the chieftain, Anluan, a man who's had an illness that's left him lame on one side and with a mercurial temper. Caitrin realizes that a terrible tragedy played out in the keep's past and vows to help bring the residual effects to an end.

I forgot how much I love Juliet Marillier's books. She writes re-tellings so well! This one is based on Beauty and the Beast but set in Ireland. From the wild and rugged landscape to the damaged hero and heroine saving each other, I pretty much loved every page of this book.

Caitrin has been badly hurt. She's lost herself in her recent tragedy. As she finds that she cares for the motley group of people she's living with, she starts to heal and leave her own past behind. Her interest in others is what ultimately saves her. It would have been easy to leave her past in the past but Marillier tackles it too. It adds some length to the book but it adds so much depth to Caitrin's character that I'm glad she did it.

Anluan--what do I say about him without giving things away? Not much. He grew on me as he grew on Caitrin.

It took me longer to figure out where the book was going than it usually does. Even then, I wasn't entirely sure. I was anxious to keep reading to find out if I was right. I definitely didn't see what the answer to everyone's problem was going to be!

I do tend to love books where people who've had some bad breaks in life come together to form their own circle of family-by-choice. That is very much the case here. Everyone on the hill was broken but they brought out the best in each other. There were about six secondary characters and they were all memorable in their own ways.

I wouldn't say that Ms. Marillier spent a lot of time describing the Irish landscape, but at the same time it became so real to me that it could have been a character itself. The crumbling keep, the lonely village, the haunted forest--I can picture them all in my mind's eye even now.

Fans of fairy tale retellings will enjoy this one. Readers who like characters and settings that come to life on the page will enjoy it too.

Read an excerpt.

Find author Juliet Marillier on her website and Facebook.

Read my reviews of Wildwood Dancing and Cybele's Secret, also by Juliet Marillier.

Buy Heart's Blood at

2015 European Reading Challenge

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop's, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

Review: All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cover of All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg
4.5 Stars

Rick Bragg grew up poor in Alabama. His daddy was very rarely in the picture and his momma did the best she could at whatever job she could find to keep her three sons fed. She mostly did the back-breaking work of picking cotton for very little pay. It wasn't easy to be a single mother in 1960ish Alabama but she did her best. In this memoir, Rick Bragg writes with deep love and hard truths about the sacrifices his momma made for him and his brothers and the life he was able to build because of her. He left the cotton fields of Alabama to become a Puliter-prize winning journalist for the New York Times. This is their story.

All of that up there sounds deadly serious but mostly what I took away from this book is humor and grace. Somehow Rick Bragg's first memoir is the last one I've read and I have literally laughed 'til I cried in every one. I've read my family members bits here and there and retold stories I remember and made everyone listening to me laugh too. Maybe they're just humoring me, but I don't think so.

Reading the other books first, I expected this one to be more about momma. (It's impossible to call her anything else. I went to an author signing and the first question anyone asked him was, "How's your momma doing'?" We were supposed to be there for his biography of Jerry Lee Lewis. Who wants to know about celebrities? We wanted to know about momma.) Which is stupid. They're all about momma. She is the heart of all these stories. So I guess what I mean is that I expected it to tell more of momma's own life story. It does but I still just want to know more about her. She probably doesn't want anything like that written about herself though. I can just imagine if I told my Mama that I was going to publish a book about her life. She'd pitch a fit. I imagine Rick's momma would feel the same.

I love the tales of Rick growing up and the old family stories but I also enjoyed reading chapters about Rick's career as a reporter. Those could be pretty harsh. The parts about Haiti were just awful. I read about riots in Miami and asked my husband how he ever made it out of there alive, only half joking. As much as I love the humorous stories, Rick Bragg can make you feel like you're in the middle of any scene he wants, and sometimes that leads to some terrifying places.

I love reading Rick Bragg's writing. I hear it more than I read it, even as my eyes are moving slowly across the printed page, savoring the language. I don't know how it reads to anyone else, but his Alabama words read like home to me. He writes the way I talk and I love it. Apparently it's more about the Appalachians than it is about the state we're from because I'm a North Carolina girl but it all rings true. I listened to the audio version of his second memoir, The Prince of Frogtown, read by the author, and I loved it. I can't say which format I enjoy more.

Just go read this. It's a book with a lot of heart and sometimes those feel like they're hard to find. You'll be glad you took the time to read this one.

Read my post about meeting Rick Bragg, my review of The Prince of Frogtown, and my review of Ava's Man.

Read or listen to an excerpt.

Find author Rick Bragg on Facebook.

Buy All Over but the Shoutin' at

Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader
Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography
at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Southern Literature Reading Challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader

















I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop's, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

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