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Review: The Sound of Glass by Karen White

BooksHeatherAnne Norbury3 Comments

The Sound of Glass by Karen White

Publisher: PENGUIN GROUP Berkley, NAL / Signet Romance, DAW
Publication date: May 12, 2015
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Publisher's description:

The New York Times bestselling author of A Long Time Gone now explores a Southern family’s buried history, which will change the life of the woman who unearths it, secret by shattering secret. 

It has been two years since the death of Merritt Heyward’s husband, Cal, when she receives unexpected news—Cal’s family home in Beaufort, South Carolina, bequeathed by Cal’s reclusive grandmother, now belongs to Merritt.

Charting the course of an uncertain life—and feeling guilt from her husband’s tragic death—Merritt travels from her home in Maine to Beaufort, where the secrets of Cal’s unspoken-of past reside among the pluff mud and jasmine of the ancestral Heyward home on the Bluff. This unknown legacy, now Merritt’s, will change and define her as she navigates her new life—a new life complicated by the arrival of her too young stepmother and ten-year-old half-brother.

Soon, in this house of strangers, Merritt is forced into unraveling the Heyward family past as she faces her own fears and finds the healing she needs in the salt air of the Low Country.

I received a complimentary copy of The Sound of Glass in exchange for my honest review. All opinions shared are 100% my own.

You may have noticed that I've been pretty hard on the last couple realistic fiction books I reviewed. Well, that ends here. In fact, I've had a hard time thinking of anything really critical to say about The Sound of Glass. Karen White has created a wonderful set of characters, broken and flawed, but so very worthy of compassion. 

At its core, The Sound of Glass is about an unlikely sisterhood of survivors of domestic violence. They are tied together across decades and by coincidence. Every character has tragedy in their background (or in their present). Each chapter shifts in voice between characters. In current time, there is Merritt, a recent widow of a violent man and Loralee, Merritt's step-mom who is only five years older. With a voice spanning across the decades before, from 1955 to 1993, the reader hears Edith's perspective. Edith is the owner of the grand Southern home that is the backdrop to the story. She was the grandmother of Merritt's recently deceased husband and Merritt finds herself inheriting this old house, half a country (and, practically, a whole world) away from the only home she has ever known in Maine. 

Ms. White took a rather complicated story line with a very complex set of characters and wove them beautifully together into a story of new chances and redemptions. My favorite character was Loralee. Though all the characters in the book exhibited strength and grace (even and most especially when they didn't believe themselves to possess either), Loralee was the one who helped build up and fortify everyone else. She had more strength, sass and constitution in her pinky than most of us have in our whole bodies. And she did it all in lipstick and high heels. A reader who has never lived in the South may not find her character believable, but, having lived in Alabama for 15 years (Loralee's home state), I can say she is completely believable - a steel magnolia, indeed. 

When a book covers a trigger issue - in this case domestic violence - I like to touch on it so readers who may be sensitive to the topic can make an informed decision. While domestic violence is a central theme of this book, there are no scenes graphically depicting it. There are references to what happened - a hand broken in a car door, being held under water - but all references are made in remembrance or in the words of a letter. There is one first hand account when the abusive grandson slaps Edith in one of her "flashback" chapters. This book is most about the victims finding themselves again and being strong. 

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys women's lit, realistic fiction and books set in the South. The book also has a big mystery element to it for those who like a good mystery. Both Merritt and her late husband hid secrets from each other, as such, much of the book is Merritt uncovering his secrets and revealing her own. Be sure to keep a box of tissues handy! 

 

Review: Shards of History by Rebecca Roland

BooksHeatherAnne NorburyComment

Shards of History by Rebecca Roland 
Publisher: World Weaver Press
Publication Date: May 21, 2013
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Publisher's Description:

Feared and reviled, the fierce, winged creatures known as Jeguduns live in the cliffs surrounding the Taakwa valley. When Malia discovers an injured Jegudun in the valley, she risks everything — exile from the village, loss of her status as clan mother in training, even her life — to befriend and save the surprisingly intelligent creature. But all of that pales when she learns the truth: the threat to her people is bigger and more malicious than the Jeguduns. Lurking on the edge of the valley is an Outsider army seeking to plunder and destroy her people. It’s only a matter of time before the Outsiders find a way through the magic that protects the valley — a magic that can only be created by Taakwa and Jeguduns working together. 

I purchased this book with real money. I do know the author (she is the wife of a dear friend and has become a good friend as well) but my opinions are my own and based on my generally positive view of the fantasy genre. This one hits it out of the park. 

In terms of world building, Rebecca has done it beautifully in Shards of History. She eschews the traditional Medieval Europe angle of most fantasy novels for a decidedly American Indian one. Malia is a strong heroine who must make extremely dangerous choices, that fly in the face of generations of history, in order to save her people. In Malia's world, gender roles are somewhat reversed. I say “somewhat” because the men are still the hunters and warriors, but the women are the leaders and the men must show them full respect and deference. Malia's mother is the clan mother and Malia is training to take her place. 

In order to save her people, Malia must overcome countless obstacles, the biggest being her own people’s prejudice and fear of the very creatures who are protecting them from grave danger. The Taakwa are so fearful of the Jegudun that anyone caught sympathizing with the winged creatures is exiled out of the villages. The twist on why the Taakwa fear the Jeguden is brilliant and creates an incredible nuanced layer to the story that Rebecca weaves magnificently. Malia must navigate generations of fear, a deranged husband, forest fires, potential exile and her own sometimes faltering self confidence to save her people. In the end, she trusts her instinct and her heart and neither leads her astray. 

One interesting facet to the novel is that we hear not only Malia’s perspective, but also Kushtrim’s, the leader of the Maddions (those are the bad guys), as well has Rasmus’s, an exile who aids Malia. Kushtrim almost becomes a sympathetic character. We rarely get to see both points of view in a struggle of opposing sides like this. When we do, the tactic is often used to paint the bad guy as even worse than we could learn just from the hero or heroine’s perspective, but Kushtrim’s troubles are painted with an empathetic brush. While I won’t say you’ll wind up rooting for him, you definitely will find sympathy in your heart for his plight. 

As with all fantasy, the author is free to add in magic, mystery and unusual beings to create their world. Shards of History has quite a few new and different twists that will delight and surprise many fantasy readers. However, Malia's tenacity and struggles are very real and approachable even for the non-fantasy reader. And for thrill seekers, be prepared to not put the book down by about two-thirds of the way through because once the climactic action starts, it does not let up. It will keep you reading just a little more, just a little more, just a little more - don't start it after midnight if you have an early day the next morning. There is some language and some graphic depictions of violence. There are a few minor sexual references and the “bad guys”, the Maddions, are not respectful of women at all. If you need an age reference I would let my fantasy-loving 12 year read this book. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy and to anyone who enjoys a strong heroine. 

 

 

Review: 177 Dumbest Criminal Stories - International by Leonard Birdsong

BooksHeatherAnne Norbury2 Comments
177 criminals tour banner Professor Birdsong is out with another volume of his Dumbest Criminal stories. And he has done it again! Many of his stories are so funny that they will make you laugh out loud. He has managed to use his expertise and experience in criminal law to bring you 177 more of the most outrageous and dumbest criminal law stories from around the world. This new volume features stories of dumb criminals from China and the Far East, Stories from Around the Indian Ocean basin, Russia and Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom and France, as well as stories from Canada and Mexico. There is the story of a Chinese woman accused of killing a shopkeeper by squeezing his scrotum when he asked her not park her motorbike in front of his shop; her grip was so strong that the man went into shock and died. Then there is the story about a South Korean airline passenger who was not allowed to bring a certain liquid on the plane. She drank the liquid in front of airline officials but refused to swallow. When officials made her spit the liquid into a bucket they found she was attempting to sneak dozens of tadpoles on board. In India we learn about the use of “weapons-grade” spice wherein a group of criminals hijacked a train and freed a fellow gang member by throwing locally made chili powder in the face of police chasing them. They got away with it, too. From Australia there was a 20-year-old thief who stole a tanker truck containing 5,811 gallons of milk and led police on a two hour chase. From Poland we learn of a man who sued his ex-wife for a refund on the $8,000 he had spent on her breast implants. From Germany we find that a well-endowed woman allegedly tried to kill her boyfriend by smothering him with her size 38 DD breasts. Then there is the one about the English man arrested for having sex with his girlfriend’s dog. The stories just go on and on; this book covers just about every silly, unlawful citizens from around the in the globe. The stories are all true stories. Full of his witty “Birdsong” commentary the book is sure to deliver some great laughs. Professor Birdsong presents a wide variety of just plain, dumb criminals that make this anthology worth reading and, will, as previously stated, at times, make you laugh out loud.

Buy on Amazon

 

About the author:

birdsong-color

Professor Birdsong received his J.D. from the Harvard Law School and his B.A. from Howard University. He teaches law in Orlando, Florida. After graduation from law school he worked four years at the law firm of Baker Hostetler. He then entered into a varied and distinguished career in government service. He served as a diplomat with the U.S. State Department with various postings in Nigeria, Germany and the Bahamas. Professor Birdsong later served as a federal prosecutor. After leaving government service, and before he began teaching, Professor Birdsong was in private law practice in Washington, D.C. Find Pfr Birdsong on his website and on Twitter @Prof_Birdsong  

Follow The Tour

 

Professor Birdsong's 177 Dumbest Criminal Stories: International by Leonard Birdsong
Publisher: Winghurst Publications
Publication date: February 14, 2015

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions shared are 100% my own.

If you have much faith in our future as a species, you may not have as much after reading the crazy antics of some of the people Professor Birdsong highlights in his latest installation of "dumbest criminals".  This time Professor Birdsong has searched the globe to bring his readers examples that will make us all feel much, much wiser by comparison. 

Each chapter covers a different area of the world. For example, Chapter 1 brings us stories from China, Japan and Vietnam. I liked that Prof. Birdsong provides a bit of history of each country including what the type of law is in that country. I have a legal background (I have a J.D. from UMKC School of Law), but I think a bit of an explanation of the differences between the types of law, such as common law versus civil law, might have been helpful for most readers. But the book isn’t really about law or history or cultural differences. Dumb criminals seem to be pretty similar the world over and the differences in law don’t seem to affect that. It seems unfaithful spouses, thieves, and road rage drivers know no cultural bounds. 

The examples in the book are each a short paragraph with the location of the crime and a brief description, often accompanied by Prof. Birdsong’s commentary. This book would be good for anyone who needs some light reading to fill waiting room time or needs to keep one eye on their child on the playground. Readers will surely be amused by the outrageous behavior of some of the world’s dumbest criminals. 

20 Fun-filled Cheap Dates Ideas

HeatherAnne Norbury1 Comment


I am NOT an expert on date night. My husband and I don't slip away nearly enough for me to qualify if quantity = expert status. But I am a ROCK STAR at making lists. I've been adding to and maintaining a list of potential date nights for years. Since my hubby and I don't get to use this list nearly enough, I thought I'd share some ideas with you! My criteria for this list was cheap, out-of-the-house dates so put $20 in your pocket and head out the door to reconnect with your special someone.
  1. Spend the day searching for the perfect millinery choice for each of you. You don't have to buy anything but check out every hat shop you can find, try them all on (the more outrageous, the better). Model for each other. Snap some pictures (and upload to Facebook, if you dare). 
  2. Grab a blanket, a mini picnic, some paper and pencils and head to your favorite nearby park. While you are there, make wish lists together.  On each, put down anything the other can do for you that would bring you more joy - even if it's just as simple as taking over trash duty every now and then. 
  3. Find a spot to sit in a high traffic public place like a mall, airport or hotel lobby.  Guess the passersby’s occupations, ages and types of pets they own. Make up stories about their lives. (And remember to be nice even if no one else will overhear you - we all need more love in the world.)
  4. Check out a free concert. Especially in summer, free music can be found all over most cities. Even if you wind up at a bar to hear it, you can keep your tab low by sharing an appetizer and sticking to one drink each (no top shelf, of course). 
  5. Locate the optimal sunset-viewing spot in your area. This, of course, requires research so you could turn this date into multiple evenings as you "test-drive" different spots and debate the pros and cons of each. 
  6. Play tennis. Even if neither one of you is any good. You can find tennis rackets for super cheap at the thrift store, steal a ball from Rover and find your local tennis court. You'll get some exercise and probably quite a few good laughs. 
  7. Pretend you've just won the lottery. "Shop" for your dream furnishings in the most elegant craft galleries, jewelry stores, and boutiques your city has to offer. Finish up your "spree" with martinis or a fancy coffee at some trendy bar or restaurant. 
  8. Spend the day taking pictures together at popular tourist locations around your city. Find kind-looking strangers who will take the pics for you at each spot so you are both in the picture for a change without straining your arm for a selfie. Drop off your memory card at the one hour photo then go have coffee until they are ready.
  9. Play Frisbee. Or soccer. Or fly a kite. Or just swing on the swings at a nearby park. Pack a picnic from home and enjoy the outdoors together. 
  10. Visit a new (to you) museum. I'm amazed at all the museums in my own home town I've never been in. If there aren't any new ones, then visit your favorite. 
  11. Go in search of the best coffee in your area.  Ask for samples. If there are no samples, share one cup in each location. 
  12. Go bowling. Nothing says love like community bowling shoes and cheap beer.
  13. Have dessert! Visit your favorite restaurant and just order dessert. If you really need to watch the purse strings, then order one and share it. 
  14. Browse a used bookstore for a collection of love poems, find a cozy spot to sit, then spend the evening reading to each other.
  15. Go to a mega toy store with $5 each.  Separate and meet back after 30 minutes with presents to do together - crayons & coloring books, puzzle, card games. 
  16. Relive middle school - at least the fun part - and go miniature golfing. You could even make a little wager that loser has to give the winner a foot massage. 
  17. Go to the flea market or, bright and early one Saturday morning, visit nearby garage sales and see who can come home with the best bargain for a dollar. 
  18. Dress for a formal party, and then walk down the streets singing love songs or just holding hands. If you have a "fancy" area in our town (here in KCMO, that would be the Country Club Plaza), then by all means, head there and show off. 
  19. Visit your favorite local farmer's market and challenge each other to find the most unique (or bizarre, if you prefer) item there. Make sure to stock up on some produce favorites too.
  20. Go geocaching. What is that? Learn more at Geocaching.com. Don't be scared off by expensive GPS units. Most smartphones can get you close enough with the free app you can download in the Google Play store or the iTunes store. It's a great way to get outside and learn more about your community.
I'm off to check our calendar now and schedule a little one-on-one time with my terrific husband. Let me know what your favorite cheap date is and be sure to come back and share if you try one of mine.


Review: Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín

BooksHeatherAnne Norbury2 Comments

Nora Webster

by

Colm Tóibín

Publisher: Scribner

Publication date: October 7, 2014

Publisher's description:

Set in Wexford, Ireland, Colm Tóibín’s superb seventh novel introduces the formidable, memorable and deeply moving Nora Webster. Widowed at forty, with four children and not enough money, Nora has lost the love of her life, Maurice, the man who rescued her from the stifling world to which she was born. And now she fears she may be drawn back into it. Wounded, strong-willed, clinging to secrecy in a tiny community where everyone knows your business, Nora is drowning in her own sorrow and blind to the suffering of her young sons, who have lost their father. Yet she has moments of stunning empathy and kindness, and when she begins to sing again, after decades, she finds solace, engagement, a haven—herself. 

This was a selection from my book club. No offense to my dear book club friends, but I must say this is miss number two as of late.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

was also a book club selection and also something of which I wasn't a fan. My book club usually picks two books each month. With all the other reading I do, I usually pick one of the books to read. Sometimes, I don't have a preference so I just put them both on the library hold list and read the first one that comes in. That was the case here. The second book (that still hasn't arrived from the library - I need to cancel that hold) is The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters.

Not having read a lot of Irish authors, I have to ask. Do they all write in stream of consciousness? There were many instances where James Joyce's influence on Tóibín were extremely apparent. Entire paragraphs dedicated to the typical wandering around a house people do when they are alone. The whole book is about the anonymous domestic life of an Irish widow. As a whole, it seemed like an odd jumbled together set of non sequiturs to fill space and pages.

Nora Webster is not particularly likable nor loathable. While I realize the book starts in 1969 and parenting styles have certainly changed, it still felt like she was extremely removed from her children and, only late, did she really start to show them any compassion. Her late husband was obviously well loved. You get the sense, both from what was said in the book and what was left unsaid, that he was the one, true parent as well. Even her grief seemed flat in places. There are references to a deep grief that came while the husband was dying (for example, leaving her two boys for two months with an aunt and not even visiting), but I just didn't see anything more than a numbness described during the time period of the actual book.  Nora comes across as very flat, at times uncaring and absent, and certainly socially awkward. What did she do before her husband died?

And yet, the people around her act as if they are afraid of her. Her single sister doesn't tell Nora she is dating. In fact, she is engaged to be married before she tells Nora. Of course, it's a small town, Nora already knew. There are numerous instances where things are kept from Nora because people are afraid of her reaction. The only glimpse into a possible cause for this is found in a scene where Nora has been asleep and wakes up to overhear her sisters, aunt and friend discussing her. The relatives are telling the friend about what a demon Nora had been before she met her husband and how much she changed once she met him. But then proceed to give an example of "demon"-like behavior that a) came after she had met him and b) was fairly tame all things considered.

There are references to The Troubles in Ireland at the time, but even these came across as flat and merely plot devices to move along a rather dull book. I realize I'm not the biggest fan of the domestic life fiction or historical fiction (though I'm not sure that's an accurate genre for this book) so that may be why I just didn't care for this book. My favorite books are fantasy and science fiction so I am fond of a bit more action in my novels. I would recommend this to anyone who really loves glimpses into the domestic life of another culture or enjoys watching a character grow and change and Nora does do that, albeit extremely slowly and a bit dully.