Friday, March 17, 2017

Literary Friday: The Chilbury Ladies' Choir



Happy Literary Friday, Y'all!  This week I read one of the best books: The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan.  The book is based on the organization known as Mass Observation (a United Kingdom social research organization) that encouraged ordinary citizens to keep diaries journaling their observations and thoughts during the war years.  The story is told from multiple viewpoints in the form of letters, journal entries, and even church notices.  The structure reminds me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, but the setting isn't the Nazi-occupied channel islands.  The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is set in Kent, just miles across the English Channel from Nazi-occupied France.  Ryan clearly researched her topic extensively because there are so many wonderful historical details in the novel. 


According to Goodreads:

"Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!" 

As England enters World War II's dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar's stuffy edict to shutter the church's choir in the absence of men and instead 'carry on singing'. Resurrecting themselves as "The Chilbury Ladies' Choir", the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives. 

Told through letters and journals, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir moves seamlessly from budding romances to village intrigues to heartbreaking matters of life and death. As we come to know the struggles of the charismatic members of this unforgettable outfit -- a timid widow worried over her son at the front; the town beauty drawn to a rakish artist; her younger sister nursing an impossible crush and dabbling in politics she doesn't understand; a young Jewish refugee hiding secrets about her family, and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past -- we come to see how the strength each finds in the choir's collective voice reverberates in her individual life. 

In turns funny, charming and heart-wrenching, this lovingly executed ensemble novel will charm and inspire, illuminating the true spirit of the women on the home front, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict.



Jennifer Ryan




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Purchase Links

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble



Connect with Jennifer

Website | Facebook





My Review:

The girls and women of the Chilbury Ladies' Choir are well-drawn characters who know how to get things done.  Most of them are heroes by any standard, and the rest are shouldering their war responsibilities with steadfast determination and grace.  Although the ladies are the stars of the village, there are also several strong, well-developed male characters who are very surprising, and not always in a positive way.

The setting takes place between March 26 and September 6, 1940.  This is my only criticism of the book because I'm invested in these ladies' stories, and there are still a couple of questions left unanswered.  There is a shocking scene in the book I wasn't expecting because a couple of the main characters are killed.  That's why I'm wondering about the fates of the other characters especially since several are transferred to London.  But I understand why Ryan chose September 6 for the last day of the setting:  The Blitzkrieg began September 7, 1940.

Sophie, the young Jewish refugee, is one of my favorite members of the choir.  She's traumatized because of what's she's witnessed firsthand in Europe, and her story and character are fascinating. The growth of all the women are inspiring during these short months especially the sisters Venetia and Kitty.  If you enjoy World War II historical fiction, family drama, romance, intrigue, action, and unique characters, then you'll enjoy The Chilbury Ladies' Choir.  I couldn't put it down!

Note:  Ryan said that the diary of Nell Last helped her understand the war years.  You may read more about her incredible diary HERE.

Disclosure:  I received an ARC of The Chilbury Ladies' Choir from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.




Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill




Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Plethora of Gardening Goodness





These lovelies are via Terrain
Maybe I should bring some succulent goodness inside until it's time to plant outside!


Happy Spring Break!  For one of daughters, at least! We've been busy, and I've missed blogging the past several days.  I'm a little obsessed with all things gardening, so be forewarned that this is a long post for me!

It is so cold today here in Central Alabama....it isn't getting our of the forties, and we had a hard freeze last night and another one promised for tonight.  Boo!  Unfortunately my plans to garden on this beautiful sunshiny day have been thwarted due to the cold temperature.  Oh, well.  I can still dream for spring and digging in the dirt!

Speaking of dreaming....

I adore Carol's adorable California cottage garden.  But when she shared her cute she-shed library?  I totally fell in *love*

Carol was kind enough to take these beautiful photos.  Let's take a look:




According to Carol:  This house is only 4' deep and 6' across and 8' tall. The size was dictated by 8' tall windows that were being thrown away by a builder in Ojai. They became the side walls. The door was donated by a friend who owns a large door and window company - someone ordered it and didn't like it.






Look!  It's a little library!  I am dying!  Carol has all her home and gardening books out here, and she has magazines stored in the cute wire wall bin.




There's just enough room for a small table and comfy chair.  I love the colors!




The table contains doodling and coloring supplies, so it's also a mini art studio.  I'm dying again!  Art and books!  It's so *me*




I love this corner of Carol's garden so much!
If I had a she-shed like Carol's I'd read in it all day long and get nothing done!



Better Homes and Gardens  put together the most lovely garden inspired paint palette for spring:



So pretty!  The shades are: raspberry, violet, daffodil, mossy green, sky blue, and mushroom. 

Which of these shades is your favorite?  Can you guess mine???
It looks like these shades were inspired by Carol's she-shed.  *le sigh*







I recently read the Once Upon a Book Club January selection:  In The Light in the Garden.  I loved reading it!  I have been extremely pleased with each Once Upon a Book Club book.



Heather Burch is the author of One Lavender Ribbon.  I want to read it soon.  Have any of you read it yet?


I enjoyed the gifts this month.  If you are unfamiliar with Once Upon a Bookclub, it's a subscription box with a fantastic book and gifts that relate to the plot.  There are post-it notes instructing the reader to open the gift with the corresponding page number on it.  

Here are some of the gifts from January:






There's clay inside this pouch used for a facial mask.  The recipe is on the back of the tree card below.  I might try it soon, and if I do I'll share!





One thing I love about Once Upon a Book Club is there's always a wonderful quote from the book on a 5" X 7" print.  I've enjoyed collecting these!
The little purse-sized umbrella is already coming in handy as we approach spring.


According to Goodreads:

Inheriting her grandparents’ island estate on Florida’s Gulf coast is a special kind of homecoming for thirty-one-year-old Charity Baxter. Raised by a narcissistic single mother, Charity’s only sense of a loving home comes from childhood summers spent with Gramps and Grandma. But piercing her fondest memories is her sharpest grief—the death of her beloved grandmother, when Charity stopped believing in the magical healing power of the weeping willow that still casts a shadow on their property.

Now that Charity has returned, she’s full of longing and regret, until she befriends her neighbor Dalton Reynolds, who has come to Gaslamp Island carrying his own heartache. As other exiles arrive—a great uncle harboring secrets, a teenage runaway—Charity begins to reconsider what makes a family. When her own estranged mother shows up in crisis, Charity is challenged to search her heart for forgiveness. But forgiving herself may require a little magic from the last place she’d expect to find it.

My Review:  

The main theme in this book is forgiveness, and there are several characters who need to not only ask for forgiveness but to also forgive themselves.  There's plenty of family drama, and Charity's mother is the cause of most of it.  She's perfected selfishness to an art form, and thankfully Charity has had the love of her grandparents until her grandmother dies when Charity is only eleven years old. Unfortunately she blames herself for her grandmother's death because of her awful mother's careless words.  

Dalton has issues of his own that are beyond tragic.  His friendship with Charity begins his long process of healing, and Dalton is fiercely protective of Charity and the teenager, Daisy, who's been squatting in The Baxter House attic.  I love the romance storyline between Dalton and Charity, and I like the family dynamics between the three of them along with Uncle Harold.  

The willow tree is also a character in the novel, and there's just enough magical realism in the book to thoroughly entertain.  Not only is the willow tree magical, but the pottery Charity makes with a "special ingredient" can make wishes and dreams come true.  If you enjoy reading Sarah Addison Allen and Alice Hoffman, then you'll enjoy In the Light of the Garden.  The next time you see a flash of movement in the light of your garden take a closer look: It could be a pixie!



Thanks for reading this (long) post, and a special thanks to Carol for sharing her she-shed with us!  Please visit Carol at her blog, Art and Sand using this LINK.  


Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill





Friday, March 10, 2017

Literary Friday: The Mermaid's Daughter




Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  This has been the week for mermaid stories, hasn't it! This is the second mermaid book I've reviewed this week.

About The Mermaid's Daughter

• Paperback: 448 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (March 7, 2017)

A modern-day expansion of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, this unforgettable debut novel weaves a spellbinding tale of magic and the power of love as a descendent of the original mermaid fights the terrible price of saving herself from a curse that has affected generations of women in her family.

Kathleen has always been dramatic. She suffers from the bizarre malady of experiencing stabbing pain in her feet. On her sixteenth birthday, she woke screaming from the sensation that her tongue had been cut out. No doctor can find a medical explanation for her pain, and even the most powerful drugs have proven useless. Only the touch of seawater can ease her pain, and just temporarily at that. 

Now Kathleen is a twenty-five-year-old opera student in Boston and shows immense promise as a soprano. Her girlfriend Harry, a mezzo in the same program, worries endlessly about Kathleen's phantom pain and obsession with the sea. Kathleen's mother and grandmother both committed suicide as young women, and Harry worries they suffered from the same symptoms. When Kathleen suffers yet another dangerous breakdown, Harry convinces Kathleen to visit her hometown in Ireland to learn more about her family history.

In Ireland, they discover that the mystery—and the tragedy—of Kathleen’s family history is far older and stranger than they could have imagined. Kathleen’s fate seems sealed, and the only way out is a terrible choice between a mermaid’s two sirens—the sea, and her lover. But both choices mean death…

Haunting and lyrical, The Mermaid’s Daughter asks—how far we will go for those we love? And can the transformative power of music overcome a magic that has prevailed for generations?



 

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble



Photo by Brian Persinger

About Ann Claycomb

Ann Claycomb’s fiction has been published in American Short Fiction, Zahir, Fiction Weekly, Brevity, Hot Metal Bridge, The Evansville Review, Title Goes Here, and other publications. She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has an MFA in fiction from West Virginia University.



My Review

For those of you who've followed me a long time, you know how I love fairytales.  This retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid is a cross between the classic and Disney's animated musical.  As I read the book, I kept hearing Ariel from the movie practice her vocal scales because the characters in the book are studying opera. But unlike Ariel, they wouldn't willingly agree to give-up their voices!  This book is much darker and morbid than I anticipated. Kathleen's family history is tragic, and she suffers terribly from her afflictions.  Poor Harry is beside herself with worry for much of the novel.

The book is very creative.  Claycomb does an amazing job retelling a classic story with a modern twist. I liked Harry's analytical mind and how she thought that writing down Kathleen's story could somehow help her (think analyzing a story in English 101).  Harry and Robin (Kathleen's father) believe that writing an opera for Kathleen will help her formulate a solution for her plight. I also like how it's told from multiple points of view: Harry's in "Aria for Mezzo Soprano" chapters, Robin's in "Composer's Notes" chapters, and Kathleen's in "Aria for Soprano" chapters. There is a fourth point of view in the book: the sea witches'.  I wasn't a huge fan of their backstory told in flashback.  I might have preferred a separate book for them, maybe a prequel.

My favorite thing about the book is Ann Claycomb's voice.  I think she's a wonderful storyteller, and I hope that she updates many more fairytales in the future.  There might even be a hint at the end of The Mermaid's Daughter about what's next, and if so, there will be a sequel with Harry writing another opera based on a fairytale.  Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part!




The Little Mermaid
Copenhagen, Denmark



Disclosure:  I received and ARC of The Mermaid's Daughter from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.




Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill





Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Celebration for Shanley, Book Review of The Mermaids of Lake Michigan, *plus* a Giveaway!



Happy Thursday, My Lovelies!  I have some wonderful news to share with you.  Our oldest daughter, Shanley Belle, has been selected for Louisiana State University's COMD PhD program, focusing on fluency.  (She's a speech language pathologist, and she'll be getting her master's degree from the University of Alabama in May.)   Shanley recently flew to Baton Rouge the same day she successfully defended her thesis and was hired!  She can't wait to work in the fluency lab and teach classes.  We're thrilled for her as she enters this new phase of her life.

Of course we had to have a little celebration for her upon her return from Baton Rouge.  I decorated the breakfast room, and we had chili and cupcakes for dessert.






I'm enjoying these napkins.  They're new and from Pier 1.  Two of our local Pier 1 stores are closing because the company is building a new store next door to World Market.  The store closing sales in the stores have been wonderful!




The cupcakes are lemon coconut.




LSU's colors are yellow and purple.  I'm not a fan of purple, but I like yellow.  Her surprises include adorable paper and office products (notebooks, file folders, post it notes) from Paper Source that all match the gift bag.  I thought she could use them to help organize her move and new position.










I love the burlap confetti flowers for spring.  They're also from Pier 1 (as is the runner).







Shanley's favorite flowers are daisies, and the yellow ones are LSU yellow.













Shanley Belle bought the LSU baseball t-shirt on campus during her visit.  LSU baseball has some neat traditions, and we love baseball!





Now on to the book review and giveaway!

This week I read The Mermaids of Lake Michigan by Suzanne Kamata.





According to Goodreads:

Elise Faulkner is more at home in the waters of her beloved Lake Michigan than on land where her beauty queen mom is always on her back about her lack of a social life; her sister is dating the boy of her dreams; her favorite penpal--the one who wrote about mermaids in Ghana--has gotten married and ended their correspondence; and no one's allowed to talk about her glamorous great-grandmother, the deep-sea wreck diver. Elise is biding her time with books until she can flee. But then crazy Chiara Hanover pops into her life, as does Miguel, a mysterious carnival worker whose dark future has been predicted by a gypsy.


My Review:

I enjoyed the first part of this book quite a bit because Elise is coming of age during the eighties: She is in high school during my era.  She has an interesting family history, and she's smart.  Then the bad egg in the guise of Chiara arrives and her influence on Elise isn't good.  Elise makes one poor choice after another, and then the plot slides downhill from there.

There is a slight element of fantasy (mermaids) and magical realism (fortune-telling gypsy) in the book, and I wish  Kamata had explored it a bit more. Miguel's character is confusing.  During the first half of the book he's full of life, music, and song.  The second half: not so much.  I have many questions about him that aren't answered in the story.  Nevertheless, I was satisfied with the ending, and I enjoyed the book.  If you enjoy family dramas and books with feminist elements, you'll enjoy this book.  It's a very short read and would be perfect for a flight or a quick weekend read.



You may connect with Suzanne Kamata via her website.


Discosure:  I received a copy of The Mermaids of Lake Michigan from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.  Also, they're offering a copy of the book for one of my lucky readers!  Just complete the Rafflecopter widget below.  Good luck!






a Rafflecopter giveaway
Until next time...
Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

March Activities




I promised last week to write a post catching everyone up with what I've been up to lately, so here it is!

I've been completing several projects around the house including the family room and art studio.  I've also begun several fun art projects, and I'm committed to drawing a little bit everyday.  I'm posting my art journal entries daily on Instagram.  Please use the link in the sidebar and follow me and I'll follow you back!






Two recent botanical entries in my art journal


I've also been painting a series of architectural paintings focusing on antique doorknobs and weathered doors in my art class at Red Dot.  They're on smaller canvases (8" X 8") and I'm having a lot of fun with them.  I'll post photos as I finish these little paintings.


Since I stare at the dining rom from the art studio, I wanted to decorate it pretty for March.  Let's take a look:





















Resources:

Table runner:  Homegoods
All other table linens and baskets:  Longaberger
Plates:  Williams Sonoma
Napkin rings: Pier 1
Mosaic pieces:  Mosaicwares




Recently I read the December Once Upon a Book Club selection, Secrets of Nanreath Hall.





According to Goodreads:

Cornwall, 1940. Back in England after the harrowing evacuation at Dunkirk, WWII Red Cross nurse Anna Trenowyth is shocked to learn her adoptive parents Graham and Prue Handley have been killed in an air raid. She desperately needs their advice as she’s been assigned to the military hospital that has set up camp inside her biological mother’s childhood home—Nanreath Hall. Anna was just six years old when her mother, Lady Katherine Trenowyth, died. All she has left are vague memories that tease her with clues she can’t unravel. Anna’s assignment to Nanreath Hall could be the chance for her to finally become acquainted with the family she’s never known—and to unbury the truth and secrets surrounding her past.

Cornwall, 1913. In the luxury of pre-WWI England, Lady Katherine Trenowyth is expected to do nothing more than make a smart marriage and have a respectable life. When Simon Halliday, a bohemian painter, enters her world, Katherine begins to question the future that was so carefully laid out for her. Her choices begin to lead her away from the stability of her home and family toward a wild existence of life, art, and love. But as everything begins to fall apart, Katherine finds herself destitute and alone.


As Anna is drawn into her newfound family’s lives and their tangled loyalties, she discovers herself at the center of old heartbreaks and unbearable tragedies, leaving her to decide if the secrets of the past are too dangerous to unearth…and if the family she’s discovered is one she can keep


My Review:

Secrets of Nanreath Hall is yet another family drama set in Cornwall, England across both world wars. Lady Katherine's story is quite unbelievable: She seems too smart to have fallen for someone like Simon and live in abject poverty when he's unwilling to introduce her to his family.  I wanted to like Katherine and Simon since both are artists so I was a little disappointed that I didn't really care.  One draw for Katherine's choice in lifestyle is the promise of pursuing an art education, but that doesn't seem to come to fruition.  Simon is not worthy of Katherine, and the only reason I won't say that he is a total waste of oxygen on this earth is because of Anna.   Anna's storyline, however, is equally tragic, but she's a heroine.  I love her character, bravery, and spirit.  The family intrigue at her family estate is fantastic and makes the book worthwhile.  We get a hint that Anna might have a happy ending, but the book ends even before America becomes involved in the war.  Maybe there is a sequel in the works.  If you enjoy novels chock full of family secrets with a World War II setting, you will enjoy this book.

I enjoyed the goodies I received with the book.  The Once Upon a Book Club selections have post it notes in the book that tell the reader to open a present with the corresponding page number on it.  This one was very well done.  One thing I loved is that we were given an apron similar to the one Anna wore while nursing the injured soldiers.  Later in the book, she reaches in her apron pocket and takes out a photo she filched from her aunt's photo album, and the envelope with the photo in it was in the apron! Too cute!



The prize from page 326 was inside Anna's apron.




Art, a letter from Simon to Katherine, and a locket were among the prizes also included in December's selection.


I'm a bit behind in my book club reading, so I'm starting on January's selection later this week.






What have you been doing lately?  Is it springtime in your neck of the woods yet?

P.S.  I'll have another fun announcement soon that wouldn't fit in this post.  Stay tuned!



Until next time...

Blessings!
Ricki Jill