Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Book Review: The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith

Happy Monday, My Lovelies!  Today I want to share with you the first in a new series by Luanne G. SmithThe Vine Witch.  It is very similar to other magical realism books, like Midnight at the Blackbird Café and Practical Magic, only it's a historical set in France around 1910 or so, and it's a wee bit darker, and a little more fantasy as well.

According to Goodreads:

A young witch emerges from a curse to find her world upended in this gripping fantasy of betrayal, vengeance, and self-discovery set in turn-of-the-century France.

For centuries, the vineyards at Château Renard have depended on the talent of their vine witches, whose spells help create the world-renowned wine of the Chanceaux Valley. Then the skill of divining harvests fell into ruin when sorcière Elena Boureanu was blindsided by a curse. Now, after breaking the spell that confined her to the shallows of a marshland and weakened her magic, Elena is struggling to return to her former life. And the vineyard she was destined to inherit is now in the possession of a handsome stranger.

Vigneron Jean-Paul Martel naively favors science over superstition, and he certainly doesn’t endorse the locals’ belief in witches. But Elena knows a hex when she sees one, and the vineyard is covered in them. To stay on and help the vines recover, she’ll have to hide her true identity, along with her plans for revenge against whoever stole seven winters of her life. And she won’t rest until she can defy the evil powers that are still a threat to herself, Jean-Paul, and the ancient vine-witch legacy in the rolling hills of the Chanceaux Valley.

My Review:

The opening scene in this book (Chapter One) is one of the best-written I've ever read in fiction.  I don't want to give it away, but it's about a young vine witch being aware of a curse and overcoming it.  Smith's description of the process as well as the unique point of view is mesmerizing.  I was hooked from the first sentence:

"Her eyes rested above the waterline as a moth struggled inside her mouth."

Once Elena is free from her curse, she returns to her childhood home, a vineyard where she studied the vine witch craft.  Vine witches can see and sense more about the natural world than mere mortals.  They can also sense the unseen, the curses and harmful magic that can ruin a vineyard.  Then it's up to them to unweave the catastrophic spells and curses to make the vines strong and productive again.  Elena is devastated to learn that the vineyard is no longer in her family, but has been sold to a young lawyer from Paris named Jean-Paul Martel.  Jean-Paul is not superstitious: He's a man of science who ignores the Chanceaux Valley's rumors of vine witches.  Both Elena and Jean-Paul hold differing worldviews, yet they are very much attracted to each other.

Luanne Smith has created an interesting world of witches in her book: The village is full of them!  I'm particularly intrigued with the baker who creates your personal favorite pastry only when you're in love.  Once tasted, the customer craves that particular delicacy.  However, there is a very dark side to the magic in this world.  Magic can originate from very bad places, and this book is not for the squeamish.

I love the setting (my readers know how much I enjoy historical fiction).  The internal combustion engine has made cars a normal sight, there have been many scientific advances, yet the ancient ways still hold firm in the wine making craft and industry.  Other than the early twentieth century French countryside setting, there are well-drawn characters, suspense, romance, and a fast-paced plot with unexpected plot twists.  The novel is rather short, so it would make the perfect book to take with you on your Thanksgiving flights.

Have you read anything you'd like to share with us?  Please leave a comment below or email me.

Disclosure:  I received a paperback copy of The Vine Witch from the publisher via Wunderkind PR in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Monday, November 11, 2019

Book Review: Body Leaping Backward: Memoir of a Delinquent Girlhood

Happy Veterans Day, My Lovelies!  I hope your week has begun well.  I've been watching Veterans Day festivities on TV this morning, and I almost forgot to post this review.  Does your city host a Veterans Day Parade?  Birmingham hosts the oldest Veterans Day Parade in the nation.  I'm not going this year as I'm feeling a bit under the weather.

Recently I was asked to take part in a book tour for Maureen Stanton's memoir entitled Body Leaping Backward: Memoir of a Delinquent Girlhood.  This book depicts Stanton's coming of age in the early to mid 1970s, and it is also a bit of a social commentary on the time.  Stanton is slightly older than I am; she's Catholic and I'm Protestant; she grew-up in New England, and I grew-up in the deep South.  The only thing I really have in common with her is that we both come from broken homes.  Overall, it was hard to relate to her story, but I still found it very interesting to read about.

According to Goodreads:

For Maureen Stanton’s proper Catholic mother, the town’s maximum security prison was a way to keep her seven children in line (“If you don’t behave, I’ll put you in Walpole Prison!").  But as the 1970s brought upheaval to America, and the lines between good and bad blurred, Stanton’s once-solid family lost its way. A promising young girl with a smart mouth, Stanton turns watchful as her parents separate and her now-single mother descends into shoplifting, then grand larceny, anything to keep a toehold in the middle class for her children. No longer scared by threats of Walpole Prison, Stanton too slips into delinquency—vandalism, breaking and entering—all while nearly erasing herself through addiction to angel dust, a homemade form of PCP that swept through her hometown in the wake of Nixon’s “total war” on drugs.

Body Leaping Backward is the haunting and beautifully drawn story of a self-destructive girlhood, of a town and a nation overwhelmed in a time of change, and of how life-altering a glimpse of a world bigger than the one we come from can be.     

My Review:

The difficult thing for me in reading this book is trying not to be so judgmental about Maureen and her dysfunctional family.  However, I think that we as readers and humans should judge bad behavior, because how else can we possibly set standards for ourselves and our own children?

One commonality Maureen's family shares with almost 50% of other American families at the time is divorce.  There was a huge spike in divorce in the late sixties and early seventies, and Stanton does a great job explaining what was going on in society at the time that probably contributed to this phenomenon.  I actually enjoyed reading about her family and their life in small-town Massachusetts in the shadow of a famous prison (Stanton does share stories about famous prisoners throughout the book).  The antics on their cul-de-sac are very well-written, and I love Stanton's voice throughout the narrative.  However, after about the first third of the book, after her parents' separation when things truly spiral out of control for Maureen's mother and her children, her story becomes a little too repetitive.  Stanton describes doing drugs with her friends (mostly angel dust), doing really stupid things including breaking the law (larceny among others), saying disrespectful and stupid things, and never really getting caught or having consequences for said behavior.  Then the same scenario is repeated.  And repeated. And repeated.....it's almost as if Stanton is trying to comment on white privilege or something.

I would have liked to have read more about how Stanton gave up drugs, went to college, and turned her life around.  She just decided one day at school during her senior year that she wouldn't partake in the Angel Dust again because something scared her.  But when her father gives her $100 for voice lessons, she uses it to purchase cocaine.  There are many poor decisions in this book, book there were also many good choices in Stanton's life obviously as she has achieved many accolades in her field.  I would've enjoyed reading more about her strength, resilience, hard work, and achievements.

After all....her delinquency is only part of the story.

If you enjoy memoirs, reading about the culture of the 1970s, large families and family drama, and narratives written with a likable voice, then you should enjoy Body Leaping Backward.  I give this book 4 stars only because I want more about how Maureen Stanton overcomes her delinquency, but obviously that isn't this book's focus.

Disclosure:  I received a copy of Body Leaping Backward from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Book Review *PLUS* a Giveaway: Gold Digger: The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor by Rebecca Rosenberg

Happy Tuesday, My Lovelies!  This week I put away all of our Halloween decor and decorated for Thanksgiving.  There's still lots of pumpkins around here, and while I've been enjoying the cooler weather here in Central Alabama and plenty of PSLs, I've also read a few fantastic books.  One of them is Gold Digger: The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor by Rebecca Rosenberg.

According to Goodreads:

GOLD DIGGER, The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor!

One look at Baby Doe and you know she was meant to be a legend! She was just twenty years old when she came to Colorado to work a gold mine with her new husband. Little did she expect that she’d be abandoned and pregnant and left to manage the gold mine alone. But that didn’t stop her!

She moved to Leadville and fell in love with a married prospector, twice her age. Horace Tabor struck the biggest silver vein in history, divorced his wife and married Baby Doe. Though his new wife was known for her beauty, her fashion, and even her philanthropy, she was never welcomed in polite society.

Discover how the Tabors navigated the worlds of wealth, power, politics, and scandal in the wild days of western mining.

“Rosenberg’s rollicking Western adventure strikes gold with a gutsy, good-hearted spitfire of a heroine and action aplenty.”
—THELMA ADAMS, bestselling author of The Last Woman Standing

Gold Digger tells the true story of Lizzie “Baby Doe” Tabor, a beautiful young woman who in 1878 marries the son of a wealthy miner in order to save her family from penury. Shrewd and stubborn, Lizzie fights back-biting Victorian society, wins and loses vast fortunes, and bests conniving politicians in her larger-than-life story. A twisting tale worthy of Mark Twain, with a big-hearted heroine at the center.

—MARTHA CONWAY, author of The Underground River

My Review:

My mother taught me about Baby Doe when I was a little girl.  I've also vacationed many times in Colorado, so I've always been interested in Colorado history.  When I was asked to read and review Gold Digger: The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor, I was more than happy to do it.  Rebecca Rosenberg researched her subject very well, and her use of foreshadowing makes the narrative more interesting for the reader.

Lizzie McCourt marries Harvey Doe at twenty after a tragic loss ruins her family financially.  Harvey's mother does not approve of the match, so Mr. Harvey sends his son and new bride to Colorado where Harvey will oversee one of his goldmines.  Harvey's character is so weak, yet Baby's is not.  She wants to work and help out in the mines rather than sitting at home.  She is also misunderstood by the ladies in the Methodist Church's sewing circle (Lizzie is Catholic).  I was shocked by how Lizzie (Baby) and Harvey's marriage ended, as well as her first pregnancy.  There is quite a bit of drama in Baby's life, and I can't blame her for wanting to divorce Harvey.  When Harvey's father pushes Baby to come back to Harvey, she responds:  "Your son was dismal at mining but worse at marriage."

Her affair with "The Silver King" Horace Tabor is scandalous, however this isn't Baby's first rodeo.  As a divorced woman, she is "a non-entity...an unspeakable."  Cruel to him when they first meet, she later tries to sell him a mine her father-in-law had given her as alimony.  Tabor tells her that he will provide miners and they can split any earnings.  Eventually, she moves to the penthouse of Tabor's Denver hotel (where Tabor's erstwhile wife Augusta lurks behind columns in the lobby).

There are many things to like about this book other than Baby Doe's delightful spirit.  One thing I enjoyed are the colorful secondary characters, especially her brother Peter.  He brings quite a bit of drama to Baby Doe's life, and she's not putting up with his shenanigans!  The book does not end with Baby Doe's death.  There is a sequel in the works, Silver Dollar, which also happens to be Baby Doe's youngest daughter's nickname.  I'm looking forward to reading it!

Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the author via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.

For a chance to win a copy of this book and other related prizes, please use THIS LINK to fill-out the Rafflecopter widget.

Until next time...

Happy Reading!
Ricki Jill