Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

Looking for a World War II novel to fill your historical fiction needs?  The Women in the Castle is a great book for World War II historical fiction novel fans that enjoy such books as The Nightingale, All the Light We Cannot See, etc.   

The Women in the Castle is a unique story told from the German point of view that focuses on three German women who find themselves living in an old run down family castle at the end of the war.  I’ll admit that at first I was annoyed. I thought great – a book told from the German point of view only to find out the three women were all wives of resisters who planned an attempt to assassinate Hitler.  I thought – that is not the typical German woman during WWII!  But as a good novel is want to do, the story shifted and one of the main characters was a typical German woman who went along with everything until she discovered the true depths of horror that the German people had stepped into.  The handling of that part of the story was gripping, horrifying and wonderful all at the same time.

The story is set in four different time periods with flashbacks; Burg Lingenfels (the rundown castle) at a party right before the start of the war in 1938, Burg Lingenfels right after the war in August 1945, Bug Lingenfels in 1950, and Cambridge Massachusetts in July 1991.  I really loved these times periods as they were able to give you a sense of the world before the war and the horror directly after.  The lingering effects of the horror can be seen through the characters through the years.

The characters are multilayered and fascinating.  Marianne von Lingenfels is an aristocrat married to a man who was center at the plot to assassinate Hitler.  After the war and losing her family’s estate, she travels to the old run down castle without modern plumbing and electricity that she feels she can be safe at with her three children.  She searches for the son of her good friend Connie, another conspirator, and his wife Benita who she also brings to the site.  She is on the look-out for any other widows of the heroes against Hitler and finds Ania and her two sons.  Ania is practical and is able to make a feast out of not much and keep the group together.  Benita knows the true horror of war and years to be able to move on in the future with love.  Marianne wants to do what is best for everyone, or what she thinks is best.  Will these three women and their children be able to move on from the horrors of war?

I really liked the unique prospective.  I was particularly drawn by Ania’s back story, which really made one understand how the common person could have been drawn into the horrors of War in Germany.  I also loved Benita’s yearning for moving on with love in her life, but her plot line with Franz made you realize how some people couldn’t move on from the horrors of war.  Even though time passed on, the trauma of what had passed during Germany in WWII was too much for some people to move on to a “normal” life afterwards.  I really liked Ania’s story when juxtaposed with Benita’s.  Discuss further in the comments if you’ve read the book!

My favorite quotes:

“Cats were rare these days – starved, or worse.  Rumor had it that people in the bombed-out cities ate them.”

“It wasn’t until that evening that Marianne remembered the cat and went looking again.  But like half of the living creatures on the continent, it could not be found.”

“Your husband, Marianne’s husband they died for something they knew was right – and the rest of us followed along, did as we were told, and looked away.”

“But it was so hard to say both what was true and also what was required!”

“Our love is not a part of world events and politics.  Our love has always been its own country.”

Overall, The Women in the Castle was an intriguing and unique look into three different women’s lives in Germany before and after WWII.  It was a great historical fiction novel and I highly recommend it.

What is your favorite WWII novel or movie?

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow.  Thank-you!

Shem Creek by Dorothea Benton Frank

I just visited Charleston last weekend for my cousin Chad’s wedding.  His sister, my cousin Candace, gave me a great book recommendation - Shem Creek by Dorothea Benton Frank to read during my journey for a good tale set in the low county.  To make matters even better, she had us all go out to eat at Red’s Ice House on Shem Creek while we were there – which was perfect for this book!.
I LOVED this book.  It was a great light hearted tale about a woman starting over.  Linda Breland is a single parent raising two teenage daughters.  After finding out her ex is getting remarried and having a hard time dealing with her youngest teenage daughter, Linda decides to move from New Jersey back to her hometown of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.  There she stays with her sister Mimi and gets a new job at Jackson’s Hole, a restaurant on Shem Creek.  Will Linda be able to make a new start?  Will she be able to keep her daughter under control?

Brad Jackson owns the restaurant and is looking for help running it.  He was an investment banker working lots of hours for his father in law, only to be turned out of the company on his ear when his wife Loretta left him for another man.  Starting over in Mount Pleasant, Brad is looking for a future and new start.

I loved that the point of view changed between Linda, Brad, and Linda’s hellion daughter Gracie.  I admit though that although I loved all of the great brilliant characters in this novel, there was a special place in my heart of Linda.  I loved her spunk, can do attitude and how she told it the way it is.  I loved the entire crew that worked at the restaurant and how they became a family.  That’s what good friends and community are – an extension of family.

I really liked the setting. Mount Pleasant South Carolina is like another character in this novel, vividly described in all of its beauty.

I was a little sad that a bad date in this novel was described like this, “Worse. He just moved here from North Carolina, where he got himself in trouble—almost—for being a political activist. Seems they’ve got some kind of problem with the runoff of hog waste from farms that’s trickling down to the Cape Fear River. You may not know this, but if you pile enough hog waste in the river, it can kill everything in its path.”  Apparently talking about hog waste and contamination is boring.  I laughed out loud at this.  As an environmental engineer, I have been known to carry on conversations about this!!

There were so MANY good quotes from this book.  Here are some of my favorites:

“What has happened to humanity is this. The world has become vicious, because the devil’s real name is greed. Our ability to justify our greed is staggering. If you believe what you read, see and hear around you, our children’s future will be all about heeding the call and joining the detestable clamor for money and power. It breaks your heart. “

“We had both been lonely, which next to poor health was the worst condition for the human heart.”

“Our family preferred not to speak of things that were uneasy to hear. We would hem and haw around them like a patch of green stickers in the grass and we were the barefoot children, unprepared for pain, unwilling to give pain a chance to teach us something.”

“Every adult understood that the future entered history with each passing minute and that time was relative. Teenagers felt they spent the better part of their time languishing in an unjust limbo.”

“I was coming undone. I knew it. I was close to screaming. No one understood the importance of my daughters to me. They were an extension of the very kernel of flickering light that kept me alive and wanting to live the days left to me. If anything were to happen to either one of them, my own life would have fallen into peril.”

“I still mourned the years I had wasted in a soulless existence of merely making ends meet and not celebrating the love of my daughters over something as simple as a bowl of breakfast cereal. I could not regain those years. They were gone, marked off the calendar of my days forever”

Overall, Shem’s Creek is a light hearted fun book with vivid unique characters and a wonderful setting.  I will definitely be reading more books by Dorothea Benton Frank.

Do you have any favorite books set in Charleston or South Carolina?

Book Source:  E-book Purchased from

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spotlight Tour - Meet Me at Beachcomber Bay by Jill Mansell EXCERPT and GIVEAWAY!

 I love Jill Mansell's novels and am excited to be a part of the spotlight tour for her newest book, which will be out in just over a month.  Read on for more information, a great excerpt, and giveaway!

Title: Meet Me at Beachcomber Bay
Author: Jill Mansell
Pub Date: May 2, 2017

International bestseller Jill Mansell weaves a heartwarming tale of love, family and friendship in her latest novel

1. A brief encounter that could have become so much more…if only everything were different
2. Step-sisters, bitter rivals in every area except one—by unbreakable pact neither will ever steal a man from the other
3. A love triangle that starts out as a mess of secrets and mix-ups, and only gets worse from there

Friendship, family ties, crossed wires and self-discovery, second chances and first impressions

Welcome to Jill Mansell’s blustery seaside world. Once you step inside, you’ll never want to leave!

With over 10 million copies sold, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jill Mansell writes irresistible and funny, poignant and romantic tales for women in the tradition of Marian Keyes, Sophie Kinsella and Jojo Moyes. She lives with her partner and their children in Bristol, England.

Sometimes it only takes a split second for a state of absolute calm to turn to one of horror and panic.

“Oh dear, poor thing.” Clemency turned to watch as a purple-faced businessman in a too-tight suit hurtled across the concourse at Malaga airport in the direction of the departure gates, panting and grunting as he ran and scattering small children in his wake.

The British girl who was working at the Chanel stand in duty-free said, “Honestly, it’s amazing how many people don’t bother to pay attention to the boards. Yesterday there was a party of fifteen Spanish guys in one of the bars, and they were so busy watching a football match on TV that they ended up missing their flight. Imagine!”

“That’s crazy,” Clemency marveled, trying a purple eyeshadow shot with gold sparkly bits on the back of her hand. Nice.

“Oh, we see everything here. So many people don’t even turn up at the airport until their flight’s about to close.”

“I couldn’t do that. I always like to give myself loads of time. Then I know I can really relax,” Clemency said happily, “and spend ages in duty-free trying out all the makeup.”

Which was why another forty minutes had passed before she finally arrived at the checkout to pay for the new lipstick she’d chosen, because these things took time, and choosing the perfect lipstick was important.

The bored-looking cashier said, “May I check your boarding pass, please?”

Clemency glanced down at her left hand, the one that should have been clutching her passport. The passport with the boarding pass neatly tucked inside it.

She looked down at the hand and saw that it was clutching instead a handful of perfume card samplers, each one sprayed with a different scent.

And that was the moment absolute calm turned to horror and panic.

“Just in time,” said the female attendant as Clemency hurtled toward the departures desk. “We were about to close the gate!”

Clemency couldn’t speak. She wanted to fall to her knees and gulp air into her burning lungs, but there was no time; she was already being ushered out through the sliding doors and across the tarmac toward the waiting plane. Her drag-along case was banging against her ankles, perspiration was trickling down her spine, and her mouth was dry as she struggled up the clanky metal steps, still hyperventilating. Oh God, she could only imagine the color of her face. She must be puce.

The male flight attendant greeted her with a wink. “Nice of you to decide to join us. Welcome on board.”

You know that little inner surge of triumph you get when you’re on a packed-to-the-gills plane, and everyone’s boarded, and the seat next to yours is magically still empty…until at the very last minute someone else gets on and you realize you won’t be enjoying the luxury of having an empty seat beside you after all?

This, Clemency knew, was the feeling currently being experienced by the passenger occupying seat number 45A. As she made her way toward 45B, she could almost hear the thud of disappointment and his accompanying sigh of resignation.

Oh well. His hopes might have been cruelly dashed, but on the upside, he had excellent cheekbones and a beautiful mouth. During her flight over here, the guy in the seat next to hers had weighed almost as much as the plane itself and had been eating tuna sandwiches, so this one was already a marked improvement.

Still getting her breath back, Clemency smiled broadly at him. “I know, I’m sorry. I’d be disappointed too.”

This was the man’s cue to relax, to notice that as far as seat neighbors were concerned he could do an awful lot worse, and to gallantly offer to lift her heavy case into the overhead bin.

Except this didn’t happen. Instead, he acknowledged her with the briefest of nods before returning his attention to the phone in his hand.

Then again, she had looked better. Maybe a red-faced, perspiring twenty-five-year-old gasping for breath wasn’t his cup of tea.

Case stowed and bin closed, Clemency collapsed into her seat, wiped her face and hands with a tissue, and examined her left foot where the wheels of her carry-on case had repeatedly bashed against her ankle. She exhaled noisily. “I can’t believe I almost missed my flight! I always make sure I leave loads of time so nothing can go wrong. All these years, and it’s never happened before…but I suppose the thing is, something always can go wrong. Like today. You can’t imagine how I felt when…umm…”

She trailed to a humiliated halt when she realized the man was determined to ignore her. Nothing, not a flicker; he clearly wasn’t interested at all.

He might have a beautiful mouth and excellent cheekbones, but he had no intention of engaging in conversation with the stranger at his side.

Fine. Clemency ostentatiously took out her own phone and began to check her emails. Because look at me,

I’m really busy and important too.

Half an hour later, once they were flying at thirty-six thousand feet over the Pyrenees, two of the cabin crew brought the drinks cart down the aisle, and her traveling companion removed his earbuds in order to speak to them.

“I don’t believe it.” Clemency laughed at her own stupidity. “I’m such an idiot!”

The man turned to look at her. “Sorry?”

“You! Those things!” She gestured to the earbuds in his right hand. “I was chatting away to you earlier and you completely ignored me, so I stopped talking because I thought you didn’t want to be disturbed. I couldn’t see the wires from here because of the way you were sitting, and your collar covered them up. But I can’t believe I didn’t realize the reason you were ignoring me was because you had headphones in.” Giddy with relief, she added, “Well, I suppose I was in a bit of a state, what with almost missing the flight… My brain felt as if it’d been whizzed up in a blender… Oh dear, sorry, that sounds a bit—”

“Red wine, please,” the man said to the blond flight attendant.

“Certainly, sir. And you, madam? Would you like something from the cart?”

It was free. Free wine! Why would anyone say no? Except Clemency had observed on plenty of occasions that some people, for mystifying reasons of their own, did sometimes say no.

Ha, not her, though. She said, “I’d like white wine, please. Oh…is it cold?” Because sometimes it wasn’t.

The flight attendant wrinkled her nose conspiratorially and said, “Not very, I’m afraid.”

“I’ll have red then.” Clemency smiled. “Nothing worse than lukewarm white wine.” The next moment, seeing that her traveling companion was about to put the buds back into his ears, she added, “I think I deserve a drink to celebrate not missing this plane!”

“There you go.” The attendant passed them their mini bottles and plastic glasses, along with two airline-size packets of cheese crackers.

“Lovely. Thank you.” Clemency filled her glass, raised it toward the man next to her, and said, “Cheers!”

“Cheers,” murmured the man before glancing back at his phone.

Sometimes persuading someone to make conversation when they didn’t want to became a kind of personal challenge. Before he could plug himself back into his music, Clemency said brightly, “Doesn’t it always feel brilliant, having a glass of wine on a plane?”

“It does.” He looked pointedly out the window.

“I wasn’t late getting to the airport, you know,” Clemency told him. “I had tons of time, which was why I spent ages in duty-free, and it wasn’t until I reached the checkout that I discovered I’d put my passport down somewhere, and for the life of me I couldn’t think where I’d left it. Oh God, that feeling, though.” She clenched her free hand and clutched it to her chest at the awful memory. “My heart was going like a train, I was trying to ask where it might have been handed in, and everyone in the line behind me was getting annoyed because all they wanted to do was pay for their duty-free…”

For the second time, Clemency’s voice trailed off, giving him the chance to join in and say, “So what happened next?” Instead, after an awkward silence that seemed to last longer than Wagner’s Ring cycle, he replied,

“But you found it.”

“Yes. Yes, I did.” Clemency nodded and looked at the buds he was clearly longing to plug back into his ears. Carefully raising the tray in order to get out of her seat before lowering it again and resting her glass of wine on it, she said, “Excuse me,” and escaped down the aisle.

Jill Mansell book bundle and a British summer tumbler
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