Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert

If the publicist for Mary Rickert's blog tour for her debut novel, The Memory Garden, hadn't
already enticed me into reviewing the book, one line of the author's biography in the book might have drawn me in. It reads, "There are, of course, mysterious gaps in this account of her life, and that is where the truly interesting stuff happened." How can you resist that line?

Or what about this line from the book? "How do the girls with dreams as big as the world end up old women with regrets?" The Memory Garden is a story of regrets, and forgiveness, friendship lost, ghosts, witches, and memories. It's a story of the secrets women once knew, secrets that made them appear to be witches to some. Those were secrets of flowers and herbs, what to do to save a life or change a life.

Each chapter of The Memory Garden includes information about the uses of flowers. And, women who knew those uses, women who lived in strange houses, and had cats, were often considered women with strange powers, witches to some. The actual opening of the story reads, "Over the years, shoes were often thrown at the old house brooding atop its slope on Muir Glenn Road." Over the years, Nan added those shoes to her garden, and grew plants in them, just one more reason townspeople considered her odd. But, at 78, Nan is worried about the daughter she adopted. Bay is only fifteen, a typical moody teen, but one who lacks friends and is called names by kids at school because of where she lives and the woman she calls mother. It's time for Nan to tell her the truth about "everything", what happened in the past, and what powers Bay may have. It's time for Nan to call on friends she hasn't seen in over fifty years.

Nan and Mavis and Ruthie had once shared a secret, but their friendship had not survived the loss of a fourth friend, Eve. So, Nan calls them home, inviting them so she can reveal her secrets to Bay. But, Mavis and Ruthie have secrets they haven't told Nan. Their arrival seems to stir up unusual events and fears. Bay, a teen confused about her life and her future, is equally confused as to why these women show up. And, why does Eve's great-niece show up, saying she's writing a book? And, who are the ghosts who appear to Bay?

Rickert's debut novel is an unusual story of aging and fear and loss. At the same time, it has powerful messages of hope. Just as flowers can have good and bad usages and messages, people can take different paths. And, sometimes it takes an entire lifetime to understand the direction taken.

The publicist enticed me saying some have compared Rickert's book to Sarah Addison Allen. I don't think so. This is a book with a darker, more haunting side. I'm much more inclined to agree with author Joshilyn Jackson who said of The Memory Garden, "An atmospheric, eerie, and utterly beautiful debut."

Each blogger who participated in the blog tour was sent a flower card. Mine, Honeysuckle, reads,
"Sometimes referred to as 'Love Bind,' the honeysuckle's flowers look like intertwined lovers. Its heady fragrance induces dreams of love and passion. Honeysuckle protects the garden from evil and is considered one of the most important herbs for releasing poisons from the body."

Here are the other bloggers on the blog tour:

Blog Name
Blog Link
Linus' Blanket
Royal Reviews
Book Bag Lady
Lesa's Book Critiques
The Bibliotaphe Closet

Bookalicious Babe
Mirabile Dictu
Story Matters

Mary Rickert's website is

The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert. Sourcebooks Landmark. 2014. ISBN 9781402297120 (paperback), 295p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I was sent the book in order to participate in the blog tour.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Before I Die by Candy Chang

How do you review wishes and dreams? It's impossible to do that, so I can only share Candy Chang's  Before I Die. The author gave a gift to the world, and her idea continues to spread.

Following the death of a woman who had been a mother to her, Chang stenciled a wall in New Orleans. It said, "Before I Die I want to...", and that wall took on a life of its own. Anyone walking by could write on it. The neighbors wrote their dreams and wishes in chalk, and when the wall filled up, it was erased, and people continued. In that neighborhood, someone even stole the chalk, but the theft brought the neighborhood together as people bought more chalk, and watched over the wall. In every neighborhood where walls were erected, they brought people together.

Over four hundred walls have been built around the world, in Argentina, Jerusalem, Washington, D.C., Madrid, Australia, Berlin, China. Deserted buildings, walls, art centers have all become centers for expression.

Before I Die I want to..."not be forgotten", "see my parents again", "have a student come back and tell me it mattered", "drive Route 66", "let my walls come down". People said well-being, love, family, and travel were important to them. For some, the answer came quickly. Others had to think about what to write.

Chang's book is fascinating, and thought-provoking. I was lucky enough to see one of the walls in Indianaspolis at PLA. The walls are often temporary structures such as the one there. They will always make you think. What would I write? Or, most of all, what is important to me before I die?

Candy Chang's website is

Before I Die by Candy Chang. St. Martin's Griffin. 2013. ISBN 9781250020840 (hardcover), 304p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Last Time I Saw You by Eleanor Moran

Eleanor Moran's novel, The Last Time I Saw You, is a compelling story of obsession, poisonous
friendship, and betrayal. There's even some suspense in the story. Did anyone really know who Sally was?

Olivia Berrington and Sally Atkins had been best friends in university. Olivia, and others, were drawn to Sally's mercurial personality. When Livvy was in her good graces, she glowed. When Sally turned on someone, the person felt destroyed, determined to get back in her favor. After three years of up-and-down emotions, watching Sally cut one person and then allow them back in, after one final betrayal and a bitter fight, Olivia couldn't take it anyone. She found herself permanently cut from Sally's circle.

So, when Olivia was thirty-five and heard of Sally's death in a tragic car crash, she was shocked to realize her friend still had the power to hurt her. And, Livvy was stunned to learn that Sally had named her daughter after her. Drawn to William, Sally's widower, Olivia finds herself searching for answers. Despite his love for his wife, William also seemed to be a victim. And, Olivia finds secrets that she never knew, buried truths that influenced everyone that was drawn into Sally's seductive world.

Olivia's story is revealed in flashbacks to the college years, as she remembers that destructive relationship. The Last Time I Saw You draws readers into Olivia's world and her memories. We observe her change from a woman who is still dominated by powerful women, but finds the strength and power within herself to change. As much as this is Sally's story, it's also a story of a woman who find hidden resources within herself. It's a compulsively readable novel of one woman whose train-wreck of a life drags others into her world, and another woman caught up in that world for years.

Eleanor Moran's website is

The Last Time I Saw You by Eleanor Moran. Quercus. 2014. ISBN 9781623651336 (paperback), 496p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I was sent this book to review for a journal.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Gamache Series - Still Life

St. Martin's launched the site, today, where readers can discuss Louise Penny's books, leading up to the launch of her new book in August, The Long Way Home. Every two weeks, readers will analyze and discuss each of the books. I was honored to be asked to kick off the series by talking about Still Life.

I hope you join us at the site,

May Mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian

It's time for this month's book chat, featuring the May mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime and Obsidian. And, perfect for the day after Easter, a ham. Some of the word fumbling is due to trying to cope with a cat in the way while I'm trying to work. Oh, Jinx!

Here are this month's books.

The Goodbye Witch by Heather Blake (4th Wishcraft Mystery)
A Cookbook Conspiracy by Kate Carlisle (7th Bibliophile Mystery)
Mr. Monk Gets on Board by Hy Conrad (17th Monk Mystery)
Last Licks by Claire Donally (3rd Sunny & Shadow Mystery)
Dead, White, and Blue by Carolyn Hart (23rd Death on Demand Mystery)
The Pickled Piper by Mary Ellen Hughes (1st Pickled and Preserved Mystery)
Death of  Mad Hatter by Jenn McKinlay (2nd Hat Shop Mystery)
A Tiger's Tale by Laura Morrigan (2nd Call of the Wilde Mystery)
Murder Gone A-Rye by Nancy J. Parra (2nd Baker's Treat Mystery)
A Dollhouse to Die For by Cate Price (2nd Deadly Notions Mystery)
Board Stiff by Elaine Viets (12th Dead-End Job Mystery)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

Natalie Lloyd's debut juvenile novel makes my heart sing. In fact, A Snicker of Magic is just "splendiferous". So, thank you to friend and author Kaye Wilkinson Barley for recommending this magical novel. For those of us who love Sarah Addison Allen, Ellery Adams, and, yes, Kaye Wilson Barley as authors, this is an exciting, enchanting debut.

Once upon a time, Midnight Gulch, Tennessee was a place where magic lived. "The people who lived there had magic in their veins." There used to be magic in the secret place, sheltered and hidden by the mountains. But, a duel between brothers was just the start of the drain of magic.

When Felicity Pickle arrived in Midnight Gulch with her mother and younger sister, Frannie Jo, most of the magic was gone. Her mother grew up there, but her wandering heart led her elsewhere. But, Felicity, now in sixth grade, and Frannie Jo, longed to have a place to call home instead of too many "first days" of school, first days in six different states. Those are days that make Felicity nervous, but when Jonah Pickett saw her, he wanted to be a friend. No one had ever reached out to her like that, but Jonah has a gift of know-how. He knows how to fix what's ailing people.

Felicity's gift is words. She's a word collector. Words hang in the air for her, drip and dance with meaning. She writes poems for her sister, but freezes up when she has to talk. Something, though, in Midnight Gulch calls to Felicity. She hangs on every word of the town's magical past. Two brothers had a gift of music that made people dance in the streets. There were people who could call up thunderstorms, and people who could disappear. But, the duel, and loss, ended most of the magic in town. However, Felicity suspects there is still a trace, "a snicker of magic", and she hopes that there's enough to help her conquer her own fears, and enough to settle her mother's restless spirit. Felicity wants Midnight Gulch to have enough magic to become home.

A Snicker of Magic may be a juvenile novel, but the author is wise in the way of human needs and longings. Debut novelist Natalie Lloyd brings Felicity Pickle to life, a wonderful twelve-year-old with a gift that anyone who loves books and words will appreciate. But, Lloyd has her own gift, an ability to bring life to other characters. Felicity's friend, Jonah, is a wonderful character. In fact, all the unusual residents of Midnight Gulch spring to life on the page.

Looking for the next Sarah Addison Allen? Don't overlook A Snicker of Magic because it's a juvenile novel. It's a story in the best tradition of our magical storytellers. It's filled with magic and music, love and loss, loneliness and friendship, and stories. It's just perfect.

Natalie Lloyd's website is

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. Scholastic Press. 2014. ISBN 9780545552707 (hardcover), 314p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard

American Elizabeth Bard had lunch with a Frenchman in a Paris cafe, and never went home.Whether it was Gwendal's charm, or the steak, Elizabeth was in love. Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes is her story of romance, food, and trying to find a place for herself in an unexpected life. The book has recipes throughout, but it also has the thoughtful yearning of an American with feet in two worlds.

Bard first met Gwendal at a conference in London. He was finishing a PhD in Computer Science, and she was starting a Master's in Art History. And, after she met him for lunch in Paris, went to his apartment for tea, and then dinner, she ended up staying. "I had no way of knowing, that first damp evening in Paris, how much this man, and his non-recipes, would change my life." Something about Gwendal and the romance of Paris and food drew in this woman who longed for beauty and romance in her life. And, having escaped from a port city, Gwendal himself was still discovering Paris. "He was still open to the magic of this place. I didn't know a lot of people that were open to magic at all."

Bard's description of her life, the markets, the food, and the recipes, will leave foodies drooling, and armchair travelers ready to set off for Paris. At the same time, life wasn't always easy for her. She was twenty-five when she first went there, with ambitious plans herself. Once she stayed, she couldn't work, didn't know what to do, and, at times she was lonely.

Bard's memoir is the story of a woman who finally realized she could put together her love of French food, her love of the man who became her husband, and her knowledge. Once she combined all those elements, she had the book that became Lunch in Paris. It went on to become a New York Times and international bestseller, a Barnes & Noble "Discover Great New Writers" pick, and the recipient of the 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best First Cookbook (USA).

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes is fun, just the book to take you away for a day. You might want to spend your own April day in Paris with Elizabeth Bard.

Although Elizabeth Bard's website is, you're better off following her on Facebook at

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard. Little, Brown & Company. 2010. ISBN 9780316042796 (hardcover), 324p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, April 18, 2014

Winners and a Sherlock Holmes Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Teacup Turbulence will go to Glen D. in Yuba City, CA, and Gloria D. of Oswego, IL will receive How to Paint a Cat. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I have two books with traces of Sherlock Holmes in them. Michael Robertson's Moriarty Returns a Letter is a Baker Street mystery. Brothers Reggie and Nigel Heath have a hard time dealing with all the mail they receive at their London law firm. It's not their business that's booming, but that of a previous occupant. Their address is 221B Baker Street, and mail comes addressed to Sherlock Holmes. Now, someone from their past, someone they thought had disappeared, reappears causing all kinds of problems for the brothers.

Or, you could win an Advanced Reading Copy of The Spook Lights Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini. While Carpenter and Quincannon are investigating cases in 1865 San Francisco, one unwelcome figure continues to show up. It's a man who claims he is Sherlock Holmes. To Quincannon's disgust, he always seems to have ingenious ideas about their cases.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Send your entry to me at The subject line should read either "Win Moriarty Returns a Letter" or "Win The Spook Lights Affair." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end Thursday, April 24 at 6 PM CT.