The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen [Review]

The Peach KeeperThe Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second book by Sarah Addison Allen and I really enjoyed it. I’m a reader of pretty heavy material, so every once in awhile, I like to clear my palate with some lighter fare and Ms Allen always delivers a fun, indulgent read laced with sweetness and a little bit of magic.

Willa Jackson, Colin and Paxton Osgood, and Sebastian Rogers all went to high school together and all but Paxton (who never left) returned years later, completely changed people. The story centers around a Gala, a formal party to celebrate the re-opening of the Blue Ridge Madam, led by Paxton and the Women’s Society. Just as the Madam is about to open,a skeleton is found, tying Willa, Colin and Paxton together via their ancestors and a well kept secret.

The Peach Keeper is more than a story about a magical man who smelled of peaches and once held an entire town under his spell, and who suddenly and mysteriously disappeared… and then reappeared as a skeleton just as Walls of Water’s premiere luxury hotel was to reopen. It is a story of regrets, of self reinvention, of resistance to change and letting go of fears, and most of all of being true to oneself.

There was a lot less magic in this book than in The Girl Who Chased the Moon– I really expected more and perhaps the story could have benefited from it, but I also felt the story was full– each character had a purpose for being in the book and each character lived up to his or her potential. I especially enjoyed the scandal between Tucker, Agatha (Paxton and Colin Osgood’s grandmother), and Georgie (Willa Jackson’s grandmother. I wanted there to be a bit more detail about covering up the secret and what it had taken to keep it quiet.

And I’ll say this, because romances in books, by definition are unrealistic, but the romantic connections, to me, seem to be a stretch. Too pat and perfect and… unrealistic. I guess I am hard to please, and these relationships needed to form in order to push the story along. I was happy to see some old friendships rekindle, and some begin for the first time. I’m still sort of appalled that people still live in the town where they went to high school.

I gave this book 4 of 5 stars, purely because I enjoyed it so much!

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Can’t Say No by Jennifer Greene [Review]

Can't Say NoCan’t Say No by Jennifer Greene

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After tragedy strikes, Bree Penoyer’s feelings of guilt leave her speechless-literally. Tired of always being the good girl and just letting things happen to her, Bree decides it’s time to take life into her own hands. She dumps her lucrative but uninspiring career and her sweet but boring fiancé, and escapes to her late grandmother’s rustic cabin in South Carolina to find herself again.

Her solitude is immediately disrupted by her new neighbor, Hart Manning, a sexy but arrogant rogue who doesn’t seem capable of taking no for an answer. The last thing Bree wants is an affair, especially with a self-proclaimed womanizer like Hart. But she can’t deny he arouses her as no man ever has, and when at last she finds her voice, she’s very ready to say yes!

I received “Can’t Say No” from and read it in practically one sitting. I was intrigued by the storyline of a perfect Bree, whose life was so disturbed by her Grandmother’s death that she could no longer speak… except in her dreams. I identified with Bree right away.

Have to say, I never came to like Hart Manning. I realize the author’s goal was to create a character so enigmatic and aggressive that you first hate, then love him. It reminds me a bit of the Mr. Darcy effect. No matter how much I love Mark Darcy, I found Hart to be quite over the top, though I was happy he got her to speak again.

This was a quick, enjoyable read. I think probably the only iffy point was how many people flew, then drove for 3 hours to come see Bree and then immediately left. Quite unrealistic and bothersome… but I guess if she didn’t have a phone…

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Chocolate & Vicodin by Jennette Fulda [Review]

Chocolate and Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go AwayChocolate and Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn’t Go Away by Jennette Fulda

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finished this book in about a day… very compelling read. I’ve been an avid reader of PastaQueen for nearly three years. Back when I was trying to lose some weight (never did manage to outrun those lbs, the suckers) I was looking for inspiration and someone linked her blog and I was hooked, right away. I love a success story, and when Jennette Fulda, the Queen of Pasta herself, announced that she was writing a book, I was ultra excited.

Chocolate and Vicodin is her second book, about the headache that is like the Little Engine That Could. Since February 2008, Jennette has had a constant headache. At a time in her life when she should be deliriously happy and celebrating, she is knocked to her knees by debilitating head pain. My father suffers from chronic migraines and back pain on a constant basis, has for as long as I can remember. I have friends who are migraine sufferers. If nothing, Chocolate and Vicodin brings the experience home and puts it into words which are down to earth and even humorous. I don’t know how Jennette does it… if I’d had a headache for 3 years, I would be pretty unbearable right now.

I cried on page 96 and laughed on page 113. In fact, I laughed on every other page. Jennette’s natural dry humor and wit give this book a great personality. I really enjoyed it. Well done.

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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen [Review]

Water for Elephants Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

I started this book on the audio version, at first a bit turned off by the obvious attempt to make the narrator sound aged. On reflection, I simply wasn’t a fan of the narrator, and that, plus an intriguing story line is what makes an audio book interesting for me. I can only listen to a book in the car, so if it can’t block out traffic irritation for me, it isn’t an audio book that’s going to work for me. Not only did the narrator irritate me, but so did traffic. It wasn’t engrossing or distracting at all.

By the time I switched to the eBook, interest in this novel was on life support. I’ve found that while I read, I skip a lot. Too much detail? Skim. Boring dialog I don’t care about? Skip. When I’m unable to skip past parts I don’t feel like reading, I feel trapped by the author in the minutiae and I resent that. Once I picked up the eBook, I was able to read more quickly, pick up the story and get to the climax.

Water for Elephants is set in a Depression Era circus called the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. The RingMaster, Uncle Al and his right hand man, the Equestrian Director August, quite clearly want to be Ringling Brothers. They’ll never measure up, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. The main character, Jacob, ends up with the Benzini Brothers after he loses his parents, his future, and his home, all in one fell swoop. One moment a promising veterinarian with a promising practice waiting for him. The next, “roustabout” shoveling animal dung out of stalls.

When Big Al finds him stowing away, his Veterinary knowledge is his only saving grace. He’s hired as the Circus Vet, to work with the animals, namely to check out the show’s stars: Silver Star and her trainer, Marlena. It’s obvious, right away, that Jacob has a “thing” for Marlena. Who is married to August.

Drama ensues, and becomes the crux of the entire story.

In between tales of life on the rails with the Circus are interspersed stories of Jacob in the future, in his 90’s, reminiscing, remembering, regretting. He is long forgotten in a nursing home, resentful of the fact that he’s living amongst those who aren’t in their right minds. The highlight of Jacob’s week is a visit to the local circus that’s in town. He’s been looking forward to it for days.

I checked a few other reviews, just to make sure that my analysis of the characters wasn’t totally off. I liked Jacob, some. Not a whole lot, but I think that was more an issue with the narrator than anything. His naivete kept me biting my nails and his bravery came so late in the story that it was maddening. August was confusing… the revealing of his mental condition came too late, for me. I think it would have added to the plot if it had been revealed earlier in the story. I wasn’t a fan of Marlena. Her characterization fell flat, to me. The convenience of her feelings seemed sudden and unexplained and her damsel-in-distress act didn’t bring any feelings of sorrow or worry.

I did feel for the elephant, Rosie. She made me laugh and cry and cheer. Smart animal. Very smart animal.

In my rating, 5 stars is impeccable, 4 is very good, 3 is okay, average. This book scored a firm 2 for me. It wasn’t awful. It wasn’t really good, either.

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The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom [Review]

The Kitchen HouseThe Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to start by saying I LOVED THIS BOOK. I got this as an audio book, a something to listen to that would ease my traffic woes and it WORKED. I can only concentrate on audio books in the car, so it got to where I was making up reasons to leave the house. A trip across the street became a reason to get 10 more minutes in. I savored every bite and morsel I could get, and though it only took me a few days to listen to it all, it felt like this book would never end, and yet I could not stop “reading”.

Lavinia, orphaned at 7 years old, has been brought to Tall Oaks Tobacco plantation as an indentured servant. She’s put under the guidance of Belle, Captain Pike’s illegitimate daughter, and Mama Mae, the matriarch of the “family”. Over the years, Belle begins to feel as if Tall Oaks is her home and the servants are her family, even though she is white and they are black. She also doesn’t seem to know the difference between herself and the others and no one feels the need to point it out. Lavinia only learns that she is quite different when she is allowed to go to church and doesn’t understand why her friends the twins must stand at the back of the church while she is allowed to sit up front.

Eventually, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, where she finds that all that glitters is not gold. The Captain, though kind to his servants is absent and the mistress falls prey to an addiction. The Captain’s family believe that Belle is the Master’s mistress, not his daughter, so there is tension in the household among Belle and Mrs. Pike.

This situation, though not altogether pleasant, is not the nightmare it could be, and of course is too good to be true. When the Master falls ill and eventually dies, here comes trouble and the start fury and upheaval at Tall Oaks, so much that I could not mentally turn the pages fast enough. Captain Pike’s son Marshall becomes the new Master and he is nowhere near the kind soul his father was. Tall Oaks descends into a nightmare.

The Kitchen House is full of suspense, and moments where I said loud, “No, don’t!’ and “Oh you dumbass!” and ‘I want someone to shoot Marshall!”

I felt the main characters were well defined, and when even they weren’t, it was frustrating, but fitting. The story bounces between Lavinia and Belle, and since we see the story through their eyes, feel their confusion and pain, it’s only right that we don’t know the entire story from everyone’s point of view.

I found myself alternately rooting for and upset with Lavinia. Her naivete and ignorance was annoying, and the “family’s” insistence on keeping her within that cloud made for a lot of drama. So many times, issues could have been resolved without punishment if someone would have just said something… but they decided not to and the drama continued.

I was completely enthralled with this story– it is well written with an incredible climax and a satisfying ending. I would be very excited to read more from Kathleen Grissom. I very very rarely give five stars to a book, but this novel is simply perfection. As an added note, the narrators for the audio book are so well suited that when I re-read the print copy of this book, I will hear their voices in the back of my mind.

A wonderfully well written, compelling first novel.

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