Prepublication Reviews and Expertly Selected Title Lists

Archive for the category “Book Reviews – Amy”

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a FistMany of us may recall watching television coverage of the 1999 WTO riots in Seattle.  Perhaps we watched with confusion about how peaceful protests could have escalated so quickly.  Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is a story that takes place in the thick of the riots, featuring protestors, police, and a boy whose story will bridge the gap between these groups at odds with one another.

Victor ran away from home at the age of 16 and has been traveling the world for the past three years before returning to Seattle.  His father, the chief of police, has been distraught over his son’s disappearance, wishing he could undo the events leading up to Victor’s decision to leave.

King and her boyfriend, John Henry, are protestors seeking change from world leaders who use their power and influence without thought of the third-world countries or people that are negatively impacted by their decisions.

Park and Ju, two beat cops with their own marked histories, are just trying to do their jobs.  Whether or not they agree with the protestors is beside the point, but making the right decisions in the heat of the moment will put them to the ultimate test.

Dr. Charles Wickramsinghe is a diplomat intent on seeing his home country of Sri Lanka join the WTO.  Everything changes when he gets caught up in the riots and sent to jail, where he encounters protestors who make him question all he’s worked for over the past five years.

These storylines converge as the events of the day build into an explosive, heart-pounding, must-read tale.  Yapa’s debut novel will be one that everyone is talking about and for good reason.  It’s not just a story; it’s who we are as a human race.

– Amy

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Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Did you Ever Have a Family by Bill CleggLong-listed for the Man Booker prize before it is even published, Bill Clegg’s debut fiction describes a portrait of a family and one that is built in the wake of loss.

On the day June Reid was to celebrate her daughter’s marriage, a terrible accident occurs, killing her daughter, son-in-law-to-be, ex-husband, and her current boyfriend, Luke. As the only survivor, how can she move on after such a devastating loss?

Told from the varied perspectives of those around the tragedy, their voices give insight into the history of this small town and helps put the pieces into place that wouldn’t have connected otherwise.

Central to the story, is Luke’s mother, Lydia, whose poor life choices have always made her an outcast in the small Connecticut town where everyone knows your business. Although, Lydia and June were friends before the tragedy, Lydia doesn’t know how to be there for June whose loss is even greater than her own.

June, numb and empty with no reason to stay, takes a road trip across the country finally stopping at a motel her daughter once visited.

June and Lydia both had rocky relationships with their children and we are shown in glimpses the roads they travelled to repair those relationships and we feel the heartbreak in their realization that those repairs can never be complete.

Can these two women move past their mistakes, find forgiveness and healing, and build something resembling a family?

A heartbreaking, yet inspiring read that will be on everyone’s reading lists this fall.

– Amy

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Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

Eight Hundred GrapesEight Hundred Grapes is Laura Dave’s fourth book and my first experience with this author.  It’s set in the beautiful Sonoma wine country with characters I hated to say good-bye to.

Georgia Ford and her fiancé Ben are days away from getting married when Georgia suddenly learns that Ben has been keeping a secret, one that will change their future.  Georgia runs to her safe haven, her family’s vineyard, only to find that her family is coming apart in unexpected ways.

Dan and Jen Ford’s marriage has been the kind of relationship that has set the standard for Georgia, but now it’s on the brink of dissolving. Georgia’s brothers, Bobby and Finn are suddenly at odds over a woman, Bobby’s wife no less.

The vineyard is also a member of the family in its own way. The work is risky; a bad harvest or two can rock your financial stability, but ultimately it’s fulfilling and meaningful work.

Through flashbacks we see Georgia and Ben’s idyllic relationship blossom and grow, but now everything is changing with the discovery of a daughter Ben never knew he had, a daughter whose mother clearly still has feelings for him. And worst of all, Ben kept it a secret from Georgia.

Can this family sort out their relationships?  Or will everything conspire against them to ruin Georgia and Ben’s big day?

I highly recommend this title to anyone who loves a good, satisfying book that slowly reveals its layers.  It’s worth getting to know these characters despite their very human flaws.  Ultimately, this story is about the choices we make in life and how our family influences those choices.

– Amy

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A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

Week in WinterReading A Week in Winter, Maeve Binchy’s final book before her passing in July of 2012, is bittersweet.  I’ve been a long-time reader and have always looked forward to her books.

Binchy is the ultimate storyteller. She spins her story so slowly and gently that you can’t help but be swept away with the characters and their lives. And for me, the best part is when you are finished, you can’t help but think of how you’ve come to know each character and how you will miss them like a true friend.

A Week in Winter is no exception. Chicky Starr returns to the small town of Stoneybridge in West Ireland after being away for many years to open a hotel, which her family and the town dismiss as a lark. From there we learn the stories of Rigger, the hotel manager, who had a rocky youth, but is making a fresh start and Orla, Chicky’s niece with a strong sense of business, both of whom assist her in getting the hotel up and running.

The story focuses on the guests who attend the opening week of Stone House. The characters are so relatable because they have flaws or have lost their way and in coming to Stone House find something to help turn their lives around.

  • Winnie, a mother who is travelling with her boyfriend.
  • John, an aging movie star who struggles to find meaning in his life as his career continues to descend.
  • Henry and Nicola, restless doctors who haven’t quite found their niche.
  • Anders, trapped by responsibility to the family business when his true passions lay in music.
  • The Walls (Ann and Charlie), a quirky couple with skill at winning competitions, including a week’s stay at Stone House.
  • Nell Howe, a recently retired schoolteacher who can’t seem to let go of the past and her own coldness toward others.
  • Freda, a young librarian who has second-sight, but doesn’t take heed when it’s about her own life.

The ending may be a little too neat for some, but it still brings all the threads of the story together nicely.

The world has truly lost a great storyteller and Ms. Binchy will be missed by many. Stock up on extra copies of A Week in Winter so her fans can have one more great read by a missed author.


Learn more about this title and order here.

The Orchard by Theresa Weir

In The Orchard, Theresa Weir shares her story from her childhood, a whirlwind courtship, and living life on an apple orchard. It’s a beautiful, haunting story that will draw you in and at times make you forget this is the story of her life.

We first meet Theresa running from a messy and disappointing life, working at her uncle’s bar as a place of last resort. After years of seeing men float in and out of her mother’s life, Theresa doesn’t trust easily. When apple farmer Adrian Curtis takes an interest in her, she doesn’t know what to expect. She is the city girl, he is the country boy, and they come from different worlds.

At first the only thing they have in common is their love of drawing, but their attraction is deep and obsessive; they spend every possible moment together. Within a few months they are married and quickly find out they are still getting to know each other. His family is unwilling to accept her, thinking she’s an outsider and unworthy of their eldest son. His mother is hostile, his father ignores her, and the relationship between Adrian and his parents is a puzzle.

The role of homemaker is thrust upon Theresa, learning to cook and clean and do the things expected of her by Adrian and his family. This was a place where the women relished in being housewives; they did not strive for something else, something different. Theresa soon discovers Adrian is a workaholic and she spends most days alone in their small house. It feels like they are playing house rather than building a real marriage and a life together.

There’s a turning point and Theresa and Adrian begin to make it work. She starts writing, they have children, and she makes this life her own. She learns about how the orchard works, the history, and the generations of Adrian’s family who had worked the land.

We’re shown in flashbacks the childhood she had with her flighty, difficult mother, how Theresa and her brothers lived for moments when their mother was happy, because only then could they be happy, too. We gain a better understanding of how Theresa became the person she is and why she wanted a different life for her family.

Throughout the book there is an underlying story about the chemicals used in farming. The orchard sprayer is the constant sound track of their lives. When important pesticides are banned, the farmers stock up while they are still available in order to prevent the coddling moth from destroying the orchard. At some point they have to ask themselves if their motives are worth it.

I first heard about this book at Library Journal’s Day of Dialogue. The publisher raved about it, so I snagged an advanced reading copy at Book Expo America. The author writes fiction under the name Anne Frasier and it’s clear from this work that she knows how to tell a story.

For me, this book lives up to its big buzz. The story and the people stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it.


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