Monday, August 22, 2011

Two Tales of Two Husbands: Dancing on Glass and Picture Perfect

I don't know how I ended up reading two books in a row that deal with domestic abuse--I certainly didn't plan it that way!

Jodi Picoult's Picture Perfect I picked up at a half-price bookstore in Texas, needing a page-turner that would help eat up the miles of the long car trip back to Illinois.

And a page-turner it certainly was. I had it finished well before we got home, where, surprise! A book titled Dancing on Glass, by an author I had never heard of--Pamela Binnings Ewen--was waiting for me in the mail our neighbor had collected for us, sent unsolicited by a wonderful book publicist.

Both books were very good and had some things in common. However, one of them stood out, gripping me in a way I haven't felt while reading a book in quite some time--and I've read some really good books lately. I'll tell you which one in a moment. First, some re-capping:

Picture Perfect, by Jodi Picoult

This is the story of Cassie Barrett, who wakes up in a cemetery one day with no memory of who she is or how she got there. Cassie is found by a man who has just arrived in Los Angeles to join the LAPD--William Flying Horse, a half-Sioux Indian man from South Dakota.

Will takes Cassie under his wing, but her memory begins to return, and she is soon claimed by her husband, Alex Rivers--who just happens to be the biggest movie star in Hollywood.

When she joins Alex, Cassie begins to remember why she left him, and why everything is definitely not as "picture perfect" as it seems.

Dancing on Glass, by Pamela Binnings Ewen

Amalise Catoir is an innocent...a young girl raised by loving parents in rural Louisiana now working her way through Tulane law school in 1974 by waitressing in New Orleans' French Quarter.

Amalise is optimistic, joyful, and has a strong personal relationship with God, with whom she talks frequently.

She's also intelligent, hardworking and ambitious, determined to realize her dream of being a lawyer in a time when female attorneys are just beginning to make their way into law firms.

Enter Phillip Sharp--a moody, brooding, mysterious artist who sweeps Amalise off her feet with his irresistable passion for her.

Just as Cassie has Will to depend on in Picture Perfect, Amalise has Jude...a young man a few years older than herself who she describes as her "oldest, dearest friend," a strong rock who has always been there for her.

Along with Amalise's parents, Jude finds himself increasingly appalled at her relationship with a man who is not what he claims to be.

Phillip Sharp of Dancing on Glass and Alex Rivers of Picture Perfect share many of the qualities of an abusive spouse. Both are handsome, charismatic, and have convinced their spouses that they love them above anything.

Both have had childhoods filled with neglect and/or abuse, which lead Cassie and Amalise to feel that only they can save and heal them.

Both Phillip and Alex, also, are fanatically possessive of their spouses, unreasonably demanding and ultimately cruel.

I have to say I liked Dancing on Glass better...

Although both books are superbly written and strongly compelling, I have to say I liked Dancing on Glass the best.

While Picture Perfect definitely kept me turning the pages, Dancing on Glass was absolutely riveting. Ewen did such a masterful job of drawing me into the story that I simply couldn't wait to see how it unfolded. Her writing is beautiful and evocative--I could almost feel the humidity in New Orleans, taste the beignets on Jackson Square, and feel the shattering blows Phillip delivered in his alcohol-laced rages.

And the last several chapters? Honestly, I can't remember when I physically felt the suspense the way I did in the last few chapters of Dancing on Glass! Rather than just empathetically observing Amalise's terror, I felt it. People, that's good writing.

And I won't lie that as a person of faith, I appreciated the strong faith element in the story. I've often wondered how people make it through such horrific ordeals without God. Amalise didn't have to.

I would recommend both books to anyone who loves suspense, but Picture Perfect does contain some language and sexual situations that may be offensive to some.

I can wholeheartedly recommend Dancing on Glass, and I absolutely can't wait to read more from Pamela Binnings Ewen.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Linking up with Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books today!


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Booking Through Thursday: Grab the nearest book...

Participating in Booking Through Thursday today, and here's the question:

It’s National Book Week. The rules: Grab the closest book to you. Go to page 56. Copy the 5th sentence as your status
(We’ve done something similar to this before, but it’s always fun, so … why not?)

This was much more challenging for me today than it would normally be! I'm on vacation in Texas, and I'm sitting in my mother's livingroom. The only books nearby are of the coffee table and gift book variety. Many of them don't even have five sentences on a page!

The book I'm quoting from is a lovely pictorial titled The Majesty of Natchez, by Steven Brooke.

It's filled with photographs of some of the most gorgeous, stately, architecturally beautiful homes in a city that's called " one of the largest and best-preserved collections of antebellum architecture in the country."

So, page 56 includes a photo of a lovely winding staircase in a house called "Auburn." The fifth (and last) sentence on page 56 is this one:

"The interiors of Auburn feature original furnishings and an extraordinary freestanding geometric stairway that is an architectural masterpiece."

It really is a beautiful book--and having just seen "Gone With The Wind" again on my way down to Texas, it's especially of interest to me!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bookish Images Monday: Sawyer Reading

Welcome to Bookish Images Monday! I'd love for you to participate--if you'd like to, more info after the pictures.

No drama in television history has been as literary as “Lost,” with heroic conman Sawyer proving that a man can look sexy reading a book.--Chauncey Mabe

Everyone who knows me knows that my favorite TV shows of all time is "Lost." (If you haven't watched this show, and you love a good story with wonderful characters, I highly recommend it!)

It so happens that one of my favorite characters, Sawyer (played by Josh Holloway) loves to read. And what better thing to pass the time on a deserted island than to read?

Apparently, quite a few books survived the crash, and it was especially nice for Sawyer when he found a pair of reading glasses among the wreckage.

Among the books we saw Sawyer reading: Watership Down by Richard Adams, A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle, and Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. (Go here for more of Sawyer's books.)

I'd love for you to participate in Bookish Images Monday.

Remember, you do NOT have to post a ton of images--one will be fine if that's all you want to do! (I just tend to go a little crazy.)

They can just be interesting or pretty book covers if you want. Or just pictures of books, bookcases, libraries or bookstores. Or they can be humorous, or vintage, or related to movies based on books. They just need to be book-related in some way.

Feel free to grab this button:

Book Images Monday

Be sure to post your link in the Mr. Linky below, leave a comment, and visit others who may participate!

*Photos from Google Images

Thursday, August 4, 2011

From the Archives: Angela Hunt's The Awakening

(This review was originally written several years ago and posted on a website that is now defunct. It was one of the first books I read by Angela Hunt, and she quickly became one of my favorite authors!)

The Awakening is billed as "A Novel of Discovery," and Hunt herself calls it "a modern-day parable." But although the symbolism is apparent, and becomes even clearer on reflection after reading the book, it's never heavy-handed.

What carries the reader along is the essential quality of any good fiction book--it's all about the story. And it so captivated me that I read the book in one afternoon, simply unable to put it down.

It's the story of Aurora Rose Norquest, whose mother has just died after ten years of Aurora nursing her through the ravages of Alzheimer's.

Although we never meet Mary Elizabeth Norquest in the present, she's a formidable figure in Aurora's past. Patrician, elegant, loving but ultimately cruel, she is the driving force behind Aurora's hermit-like existence, and the constant spectre in the dreams that terrify and paralyze Aurora.

Hovering in the background of her memory is Aurora's father--a famous novelist who is vilified by her mother as unfaithful and unloving, having apparently abandoned Mary Elizabeth and Aurora many years ago for a mistress in England.

But Aurora can't stop thinking about her father and hungering for a connection with him--a possibility that becomes even more tempting when she learns that he may be seeking her out as well.

A new neighbor--a kind and eligible male neighbor at that---shows up to nudge Aurora out of her agoraphobic existence. But at the same time, Aurora's mother's longtime best friend, Aunt Clara, seems to be pushing to keep Aurora cloistered and alone.

Aurora's gradual blossoming under the nurturing friendship of Phil Cannon, as well as her persistent longing for her absent father even as she battles the demons that fill her dreams, makes for fascinating reading.

Angela Hunt draws us into the haven of Aurora's Manhattan apartment to the point that we feel we are with her there, shivering after a nightmare or making tentative steps toward a new and abundant life.

As I said, it's only on deeper reflection--and with the help of an interview with the author at the end of the book--that we truly appreciate the symbolism and the parable qualities of the story.

And that's when we can truly rejoice in our own abundant life and incredible relationship we as Christians can enjoy with our own Father.

Booking Through Thursday: What Book Were You Excited to Read?

I'm participating today in Booking Through Thursday. Here are the questions:

What’s the last book you were really EXCITED to read?
And, were you excited about it in advance? Or did the excitement bloom while you were reading it?
Are there any books you’re excited about right NOW?

OK, I know this sounds very convenient, but I was actually really excited to read the book I'm reading now--Liz Curtis Higgs' Mine is the Night.

I had read the first book in the series, which is a re-telling of the biblical Naomi and Ruth story, but set in 18th-century Scotland. (This is a device Higgs used masterfully in her Lowlands of Scotland series, which was a re-imagining of the Jacob/Rachel/Leah story.)

Since I know what happens in the Naomi and Ruth story, I have a pretty good idea of how things are going to turn out, but I was excited to get my hands on this book and see how Higgs envisions it.

I ended up winning four books in a blog give-away, and when a couple of the books weren't available in the US, I was told I could have any book on "Mine is the Night" is now mine!

Better than I even expected

I have to say, my excitement has blossomed as I read the book. Truthfully, I'm having a hard time putting it down. I'm supposed to be getting ready for a long road trip right now, and I find myself continually returning to this book!

There's something about the way Liz Curtis Higgs writes. The way she turns a phrase, her descriptions, her characters, everything, is just lovely, evocative and compelling. I've truly loved everything she's written, and I have read every piece of fiction that she's written thus far.

What am I excited about reading next?

A few on my to-read list that I can't wait to get my hands on:

Minding Frankie,
by Maeve Binchy
When Sparrows Fall, by Meg Moseley
Nightmare, by Robin Parrish
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Review of To Die For, by Sandra Byrd

I've always been fascinated by Anne Boleyn. So when I found out that Sandra Byrd--author of the wonderful French Twist series--had written a book about Anne, I knew I had to read it.

Historical fiction is a departure for Byrd, but it fits her like a hand in a glove. She effortlessly adopts the voice of Meg Wyatt, Anne Boleyn's lifelong friend and lady-in-waiting.

Through Meg's eyes, we see Anne's trajectory from a charming young girl to the king's adored favorite to beloved wife, and ultimately to falsely accused and abandoned queen.

Meg is a very likable narrator--a keen observer with intelligence, dignity and common sense. Though she loves Anne dearly, she's in no way blind to her friend's foibles.

While I knew the conclusion to Anne's story, I didn't know Meg's--and I found myself rooting for a happy ending for her.

I also loved Meg's faith journey--from anger at and estrangement from God, to the wonder of coming to know Him on a personal level in a time when English people were finally being able to read Scriptures in their own language.

Sandra Byrd's writing brings the Tudor court to sparkling life, with all its magnificent fashions, sumptuous feasts, and imposing pageantry. Not to mention gossip, intrigue, and political machinations that could turn deadly in the blink of an eye.

To Die For is the story of Anne Boleyn--without a doubt one of the most fascinating women in history--but it's also a story of a deep and loyal friendship between two women. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Teaser Tuesday: Mine Is The Night

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Elizabeth pushed a stray pin into the cushion. "Had you been with me in January when I lost my husband, all the handkerchiefs in your linen closet would not have dried my tears."

I'm reading Mine is the Night, by the wonderful Liz Curtis Higgs!


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