The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

The Homecoming of Samuel LakeThe Homecoming of Samuel Lake. Finished 9-3-15, rating 5/5, southern fiction,344 pages, pub. 2011

Unabridged audio read beautifully by Catherine Taber. 10 hours, 30 minutes

Every first Sunday in June, members of the Moses clan gather for an annual reunion at “the old home place,” a sprawling hundred-acre farm in Arkansas. And every year, Samuel Lake, a vibrant and committed young preacher, brings his beloved wife, Willadee Moses, and their three children back for the festivities. The children embrace the reunion as a welcome escape from the prying eyes of their father’s congregation; for Willadee it’s a precious opportunity to spend time with her mother and father, Calla and John.

Samuel and Willadee’s outspoken eleven-year-old daughter, Swan, is a bright light. Her high spirits and fearlessness have alternately seduced and bedeviled three generations of the family. But it is Blade Ballenger, a traumatized eight-year-old neighbor, who soon captures Swan’s undivided attention. Full of righteous anger, and innocent of the peril facing her and those she loves, Swan makes it her mission to keep the boy safe from his terrifying father.           from Goodreads

In 2012 I won this book from the gushing Lisa at Southern Girl Reads and it finally made it to the top of my reading list. Why, oh why, do I wait so long to read the books I win because the blogger loves them so much? (take heart Lloyd, The Language of Flowers will be coming to the top of my reading pile soon  :))  I started listening to this because that is how much of my reading happens these days, but there were times that I had to pick up the book and read ahead because I just couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.  This is Southern fiction at its best and it’s a debut novel too.

I know that the synopsis from Goodreads focuses on Swan, but I fell in love with this entire family.  Set in 1950’s Arkansas it brings to life a simpler, yet harsher time.  A time when playing in the woods with your siblings filled the days and men being able to put food on the table made them worry at night.  It was a coming of age summer for Swan, her brothers, and neighbor Blade, but even the adults went through a metamorphoses. Swan will win your heart with her spirit, but so will Toy, probably my favorite character.  He was the solid and intimidating uncle who was known for killing a man and getting away with it and the kids loved him.  Samuel, the preacher without a church, spent much of the book as peripheral character for me, one I didn’t understand much until he too became as sympathetic as Toy.

There was not a false word in this book. It was honesty infused in warmth and it made me smile and it broke my heart.  If you like Southern fiction you cannot go wrong with this book.  This is not the type of story I usually pass on to my husband, but I did because it is sure to be a favorite at the end of the year and he loved it too.  One night he even quoted from it while making a joke.  That alone should be recommendation enough 🙂


The Cougar Club, by Susan McBride with Giveaway

The Cougar Club by Susan McBride: Book CoverFinished 2-14-10, rating 4/5, fiction, pub. 2010

Kat Maguire’s Facts of Life for Women over Forty: The older you get, the harder it is to find a single man your age who isn’t either: (a) married or gay; (b) divorced with insurmountable baggage; or (c) looking for a girl half his age.

preface to Chapter 7

Three best friends since high school are all in the same town again and in need of some tender loving care from each other and, quite possibly, the younger men surrounding  them.  Kit, Carla, and Elise are 45 year olds living in St. Louis.  Kit has just returned home after being fired from her Manhattan job in favor of younger employees.  When she goes back to her highrise to lick her wounds she finds her 20 something boyfriend engaging in a little online sex and she hightails it back to Missouri.  Cat, wears her cougar title like a badge of honor and as a beloved local newscaster she has many opportunities to take her pick of younger men.  She is currently in a relationship with the hot, young sportscaster at her station.  Elise, the most settled of the three is an empty nester who fears that her husband is cheating on her. 

This books is a fast and fun read.  The women are all successful and they make 45 look pretty glamorous.  They don’t need men, but they do enjoy them.  I don’t know how realistic the stories of these three women are, but it was fun to be a part of their lives for a few hours.

I loved the sharp writing and I was especially drawn to the idea that you can always go home. I loved Kat’s journey back home to her family and friends after 20+ years.  It’s a heartwarming thought.  Also, this should be where I confess that I’m a baby cougar.  My husband is 4 1/2 years younger than me.  He was 19 and I was 24 when we went on our first date and here we are, 14 years later, still in love 🙂  What about you?  Any cougars out there?

Susan McBride gave away a copy and now it’s my turn.  I have one more to share.

Leave a comment with your email address to be entered to win.  And tell me, how much older does the woman have to be than the man to be considered a cougar?  Open internationally and I’ll draw for a winner on March 6.  Good luck!

Other TLC Tour Stops – Cindy’s Love of Books, The Winey Mommy, The Book Zombie, This That & the Other

I received  the book from the publisher to review for this tour.

The Sister, by Poppy Adams

Cover ImageFinished 2-08-10, rating 3.5/5, fiction, pub. 2008

“No pictures, no clothes, no photos.  I mean, you’ve wiped out every reference to our past.  Our family might not have happened.  There was no point in its existing for the last two hundred years if it’s got nothing to show for itself.”

It is an interesting view but not one I share.  Is it really necessary to record your life in order to make it worthwhile or commendable?  Is it worthless to die without reference?  Surely those testimonials last another generation or two at most, and even then they don’t offer much meaning.  We all know we’re a mere fleck in the tremendous universal cycle of energy, but no one can abide the thought of their life, lived so intensely and exhaustively, being lost when they die, as swiftly and as meaningless as an unspoken idea.

Chapter 3

Ginny is an odd duck and a questionable narrator.  Her vivacious sister Vivian is returning to their Dorset, England home after 50 years away and Ginny is nervous, not sure why her younger sister is coming back.  Vivian left the house when she was just 15 years old for London where she lived, worked and fell in love.  Ginny stayed home to study moths with her father, a famous lepidopterist.  When Vivian asks her sister to help her have a child, Ginny said yes, unable to ever tell her sister no.

Vivian’s return home brought into focus that there is more than one way of looking at a childhood spent in the same house, two ways of looking at your parents and their motivations and sometimes even your own.  This was a dark look into the thoughts of a woman who seemed to have some struggle with reality.  Ginny had become a recluse and I thought at first the years alone may be why she was so strange, but that was not the case.  She billed herself as the sensible sister, a genius when it came to moths and keeping the family together, but by the end that is up for debate.

I did not like Ginny and never did connect with her.  As Ginny doled out facts, there was always something moving the story forward, so I was always interested, but the pages and pages about moths throughout the book really did slow the story down.  The story is strange and an interesting psychological study and the end totally threw me.  Actually, I’m still trying to piece together a few things that were purposefully left out and I’m not sure I’ll ever really figure it out.  If you can live with that then give this book a try.

This is from my personal library and was chosen for me by Jennifer and Sandee.  Here’s what Jennifer had to say…”I listened to this on audio and thought it was marvelous – not as good as The Thirteenth Story, but very, very good.”

The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy, by Sara Angelini

Cover ImageFinished 2-2-10, rating 3.5/5 fiction, pub. 2009

On Thursday morning, Darcy woke up bleary-eyed from a night of sex, alternating between lusty and tender.  He had been out of control in the billiards room the night before.  What was supposed to be a fun romp had turned into an electrifying seduction.  He felt that Elizabeth would never have made such a display unless she felt something more than attraction for him.  The realization sparked more than physical desire in him; it lit a sort of feral, possessive need to take her, to mark her as his.  He was not embarrassed, except that she had no opportunity to take her own pleasure in that episode.  He made up for it twice more during the night, once with tenderness and once with mutual hunger.  He had never been so sexed up in his life.

Chapter 9

Judge Darcy of San Francisco is well-respected in the courtroom, but longs for his life of a gentleman back in England, Pemberley to be exact.  Elizabeth is also well-respected, only she’s still a relatively new lawyer in Darcy’s courtroom.  Darcy’s haughty demeanor turns off Elizabeth, but Darcy feels a growing attraction for the saucy Elizabeth.  What begins as a short-term fling turns complicated as the professional legality of their personal relationship is questioned.

This was a fun take on Pride & Prejudice.  Many things were taken straight out of the classic Austen novel and others gave the story a modern makeover.  There’s lots of sex, which is why I chose the excerpt I did above.  If you don’t want to read many more pages like that then this might not be the book for you.   There was real chemistry between Darcy and Elizabeth and I really liked both of the characters.  And I enjoyed the expanded role of Caroline Bingley, even if she was hot after Darcy.  My only small complaint was that what was keeping Darcy and Elizabeth apart was not serious enough for it to last as long as it did.  The book could have been shorter and been better, in my opinion.  But it was light and funny and I enjoyed going back to Pemberley.

This is from my personal library and was chosen by Heather and Linda.  Here’s what they had to say…

“It’s hilarious, fun, and very entertaining!”  Heather

“This one just looks really fun. I don’t have a copy and would love to read it. Feel free to host a giveaway of this one when you’re done!”  Linda

The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver

Cover ImageFinished 1-20-10, rating 4.5/5. fiction, pub. 1988

The first was that I would get myself a new name.  I wasn’t crazy about anything I had been called up to that point in life, and this seemed like the time to make a clean break.  I didn’t have any special name in mind, but just wanted a change.  The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that a name is not something a person really had the right to pick out, but is something you’re provided with more or less by chance.  I decided to let the gas tank decide.  Wherever it ran out, I’d look for a sign.

I can pretty close to being named after Homer, Illinois, but kept pushing it.

Chapter 1

 Missy was anxious to escape her dead-end life in her small Kentucky town without a baby or a man.  Soon after graduation she headed west and made it as far as Tuscan, but somewhere along the way she changed her name to Taylor and was given a toddler in a diner parking lot.  In Tuscan she makes a life for herself and baby Turtle with a few close friends, a job at Jesus is Lord Used Tires, and a respect for the desert. 

This was told mostly from the eyes of Taylor and while I appreciated her spunk it took awhile for her to grown on me.  I did not understand her accepting the baby in the parking lot and then keeping her when she had no home, no job, and no money.  One her main points of pride was getting out of Kentucky without getting pregnant so the decision made no sense to me.

I was much more drawn to the insecure Lu Ann whose motivations I could at least understand.  Hers is the story that kept me interested until about halfway through.  And then a great thing happened.  I couldn’t read fast enough.  As much as Taylor had a few too many sharp edges for me at the beginning it was exciting to watch her grow as a character and I was surprised to find that she had grown on me.  The friends that surrounded her were just as important to the story as she was. 

This was beautifully written and a story that will stay with me.  I was totally captivated by its honesty and sense of friendship and family.  What makes a family?  This delightful novel will help you decide.

This is from my personal library and was chosen by Golda and Amanda.  Here’s what Golda had to say…”I loved that book.”

Digital Fortress, by Dan Brown

Cover ImageFinished 1-20-10, rating 4/5, thriller, pub. 1998

It is said that in death, all things become clear; Ensei Tankado now knew it was true.  As he clutched his chest and fell to the ground in pain, he realized the horror of his mistake.

first sentences of book

Susan is head of the Cryptology department at the NSA and very good at her job.  David, her fiancé, is a well-respected professor and foreign-language specialist.  The search is on for a hidden code that, if not found, will reveal all the secrets of the United States government to everyone that has internet access.  Susan is working at NSA headquarters in Maryland, trying to track down the programmer holding NSA hostage and David is sent to Spain to recover the code from a dead man.  Of course, it could not be that easy and both are faced with danger and deception.

This book is fast read.  It’s over 400 pages, but it will keep you reading, much like the other Dan Brown books I’ve read.  Alternating between the cerebral NSA code breakers and the action packed race to find a ring in Spain before the killer just behind you, worked and the tension was palpable.  It did get a bit melodramatic for me at the end, but that didn’t stop me from flipping the pages as fast as I could.

I recommend this for Dan Brown fans, thriller fans, and those who love technology and code breaking. 

This book is from my personal library and was recommended by Melody, Molly, Virginie, and Jason.  Here’s Molly had to say…”Very different from Dan Brown’s usual religious symbolism. I liked this one very much because it was not what I had become accustomed to from him. Guilty pleasure.”

The Book of Unholy Mischief, by Elle Newmark

The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark: Book CoverFinished audio 1-12-10, rating 3.5/5, fiction. pub. 2008

Luciano is a penniless orphan living on the streets of 1498 Venice, Italy.  He has a pet cat, a friend Marco, and an unrequited love named Francesca.  One day he is plucked off the street by the head chef at Doges Palace and given a place to sleep, food to eat and a job in the kitchen.  He is grateful to the chef, Maestro Ferrero, and resists pleas from Marco to steal and search for clues to a sought after book of alchemy.  Everyone n Venice is looking for this book that contains the secrets of wealth, health and long life and there are some who think maestro might know about it.

Maestro Ferrero can alter the emotions and moods of the people who eat his beautiful and exotic dishes.    By watching the head chef, Luciano yearns to become a master chef and learn to use food as his maestro does.  Maestro takes Luciano under his wing and trust is built, only Marco wants to destroy that loyalty to find the book and tempts Luciano at every turn.

I love Venice and this book took me back to the palace, canals, gondolas, and food.  I really felt transported, even if this takes place in 1498 and we were there in 2008 (a few photos here).  I think Newmark captures the atmosphere perfectly and her descriptions of the fine food made me want to study cooking myself.  The story itself was good.  There were many twists and turns and I never knew what was going to happen next, so it was a success.  I thought the ending was okay, but not great.  I will read anything that takes me back to Venice and this didn’t disappoint.  A very fine debut novel.

I borrowed this audio book from the library.

The Husband, by Dean Koontz

Husband by Dean Koontz: Book CoverFinished 1-9-09, rating 3.5/5, fiction, pub. 2006

The kidnapper said, “Just so you’ll know we’re serious…”

After a silence, Mitch asked. “What?”

“See that guy across  the street?”

Mitch turned and saw a single pedestrian, the man walking the slow dog.  They had progressed half a block.

The sunny day had a porcelain glaze.  Rifle fire shattered the stillness, and the dogwalker went down, shot in the head.

Chapter 1

Mitch is a landscaper with his own small business and a wife he loves.  He is a content man until he receives a phone call that his wife has been kidnapped and he must come up with a $2 million ransom in three days or she’s dead.  Mitch is at a loss and as the hours tick by it becomes clear that the kidnappers have set him up in case anything goes wrong.  When Mitch approaches his older brother, Anson, things begin to get complicated and Mitch is scared for more than Holly’s life, he’s terrified for his own.  Mitch’s life becomes clear as the nightmare continues and he finds himself turning into a person he scarcely knows.  How far will he go to rescue the love of his life and will it be enough? 

Mitch has some of the strangest parents I’ve read about and they were fascinating.  As was his brother Anson.  They may have been my favorite parts of the book.  The story moved along at breakneck speed and I was interested, but not involved.  Mitch as the modest every man was compelling, but I guess the story felt like it’s been told before and I was expecting more from Koontz.  It was good, but not great.  Thriller lovers will be happy.

This was from my personal library and I want to thank Debbie, Marce, and Jason for choosing it for me.  Here’s what Debbie had to say… “I’ve heard really good things about it and love his books.”

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, by Beth Hoffman

Saving Ceecee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman: Book CoverFinished 1-2-10, rating 5/5, fiction, pub. 2010

I stared at my hands, not knowing how to respond.  I’d never heard of a holy man named after a llama, I’d never heard of a great gaping vagina, and I didn’t know a thing about the black boomerang of karma.  All I knew for sure was this: I had been plunked into a strange, perfumed world that, as far as I could tell, seemed to be run entirely by women.

Chapter 8

Cecelia Honeycutt is a twelve-year-old Ohio girl who has grown up with a mentally ill mother and a mostly absent father.  When her mother is killed in an accident CeeCee is shipped off to her great-aunt Tootie in Savannah, Georgia.  Here, CeeCee is surrounded by wealth, beauty, and the constant love and support of Aunt Tootie and Oletta, the cook who is really a part of the family.  CeeCee is still dealing with guilt and abandonment and grief, but she is also falling in love with where she is, the south. 

Okay, first book of the year and the one I’ll be judging others by since I’m giving it 5 stars.  This book made me cry and laugh and left me with a smile on my face, not something that happens very often.  CeeCee was a charming girl who had led a hard life to date and my heart broke for her.  I loved her and her mistakes were both funny and important, reminding me that she was still just a girl no matter how grown up she sometimes seemed. 

The other main player in this story was Oletta.  She was an important woman to CeeCee and CeeCee was just as important her.  The friendship between the two was the glue that held this story together.  I also loved all of the other kooky women CeeCee met and they each left an imprint on her heart and sense of well being.  This book is a love affair with the south, especially southern women.  I love that, although I’d like to note that us northerners are not all that bad and have our virtues too 😉

I highly  recommend this one!  Hoffman’s debut novel was simply wonderful.  I received this for free from Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.

The Girl on Legare Street, by Karen White

The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White: Book CoverFinished 12-16-09, rating 4/5, fiction, pub. 2009

Book 2 in the Tradd Street series

“And?” I prompted.

“They found human remains inside.”

I didn’t respond.  I was on my knees following the trail of salt, realizing too late that the grainy spills resembled footprints.  I held my breath as if preparing to dive into water, and stopped when I saw that the trail of salt led to the back stairway.

“Jack?” I whispered. ” I think we have a problem.”  And then I dropped my phone and started to scream.

Chapter 5

Melanie is a successful and attractive Charleston realtor who also has the uncanny gift of being able to interact with ghosts.  She has recently reconciled with her recovering alcoholic father and when her mother, who has been absent from her life for 30 years, waltzes back into town she has enough.  Her mother pulls strings with Melanie’s boss and she s forced to help her mother buy her childhood home, just a short walk to her own home.  Melanie is uptight and plans every detail of her life and her mother and friend with sparks, Jack, do not fit into her plans. 

The historical home that her mother bought has been haunted since her mother was a child and the spirit is gaining strength and hatred.  The two must come to terms with each other.  And Jack has started dating a woman who rankles Melanie and much of the book is spent with the silent treatment being used by both of them.  But the puzzle of the past and the details of who this evil spirit may be brings them together, if only to solve the riddle of Melanie’s heritage.

As with the first book, I really enjoyed the ghostly elements of the story.  These evil ones can do real damage!  I enjoyed Melanie more in this one, but Jack less.  I really thought he behaving stupidly, but maybe that’s not too far from reality.  Melanie and Jack keep dancing around each other and a little of that can go a long way.  And I confess that I really didn’t like the very end.  The plot all comes together in a satisfactory way, but the addition of the last page or two was unnecessary.

I would recommend this book and the first one, even if you are not into ghosts, I’m certainly not and I think these are fun mysteries.

tlc tour hostStop by the TLC website and see who else has reviewed this book.  I received this book from the tour for review.

You will choose 50 of the books I will read next year.  If you help me you could win a $20 gift card to Barnes & Noble.  Go here to vote. (Right now the top vote getter is A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving)