Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review & Giveaway: The House Girl by Tara Conklin (CLOSED)

The House Girl by Tara Conklin
William Morrow
February 2013
Format: ARC Paperback, 336 pages

First line: Mister hit Josephine with the palm of his hand across her left cheek and it was then she knew she would run.

From the back cover: Two remarkable women, separated by more than a century, whose lives unexpectedly intertwine...

2004: Lina Sparrow, the daughter of an artist, is an ambitious young lawyer working on a historic class-action lawsuit seeking reparations for the descendants of American slaves.

1852: Josephine is a seventeen-year-old house slave who tends to the mistress of a Virginia tobacco farm - an aspiring artist named Lu Anne Bell, whose paintings will become the subject of speculation and controversy among future collectors.

Lina's search to find a plaintiff for her case will introduce her to the story of Josephine. Was she the real talent behind her mistress's now-famous portraits? It is a question that will take Lina from the corridors of a modern corporate law firm to the sleek galleries of the New York City art world to the crumbling remains of an old plantation house. Along the way, Lina will unearth long-buried truths about Josephine and about herself...and just maybe achieve long-overdue justice.

My thoughts: This is Tara Conklin's debut novel and it was captivating from page one. From the stunning cover of a silhouette of a woman against a background that gives the appearance of wallpaper, to the two unique women who drive this story, I had a hard time putting down this book.

The House Girl takes place during two different time periods - 2004 where young lawyer Lina is working on a ground breaking case trying to make reparations to descendants of slaves; and 1852 where Josephine Bell, 17 year old slave in Viriginia, takes care of the mistress of the house. Seamlessly flowing back and forth between the two time periods, the story propels itself forward without the feeling that you are missing anything. The stories come together, each giving just a little bit to enhance the other story.

Lina attends an art gala showcasing the work of Lu Anne Bell. It appears there is some controversy surrounding these paintings, as it has come to light that perhaps the paintings were not done by Lu Anne, but by Josephine Bell, Lu Anne's house slave. Believing that this could help her case, Lina travels to Virginia to look into this more closely, hoping to find any information she can on Josephine and her descendants.

I really enjoyed the history that was part of this book. Having recently read Jennifer Chiaverini's newest book, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, I had come away with a newfound interest in this time period. With this book, the history concentrates solely on the slaves and their life. I loved how Tara Conklin used letters to help tell the story - it adds another dimension to the book. This story has a little bit of everything - rich history, a mystery or two, and even a little romance. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for what Tara Conklin writes next - she is one to watch!

I received a complimentary copy of The House Girl by Tara Conklin from Trish at TLC Book Tours.

About the author: Tara Conklin has worked as a litigator in the New York and London offices of a major corporate law firm but now devotes her time to writing fiction. She received a BA in history from Yale University, a JD from New York University School of Law, and a Master of Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School (Tufts University). Tara Conklin’s short fiction has appeared in the Bristol Prize Anthology and Pangea: An Anthology of Stories from Around the Globe. Born in St. Croix, she grew up in Massachusetts and now lives with her family in Seattle, Washington.

Find out more about Tara at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

To see who else is participating in Tara Conklin's The House Girl tour, click here.

Want to know what inspired Tara Conklin to write The House Girl? Listen to this short podcast to find out: 

Giveaway Information (CLOSED):
Thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours, I have one copy of The House Girl to give away to my readers.

  • Open to US/Canada only
  • Must include email address to enter   

* Mandatory entry - leave a comment telling me why you want to win this book.

* Extra entry #1 - become a follower of Always With a Book. If you are already a follower you will automatically receive the bonus entries (just leave the name you follow under).  
* Extra entry #2 - please help spread the word by blogging, posting on sidebar, tweeting, pinning onto Pinterest or posting this giveaway on Facebook (each way you share gets you 1 more entry).  

All entries can be in one email, but you MUST include your email address in order to be counted.  


Good Luck!!!

Monday, February 25, 2013

It's Monday...What Are You Reading? (2.25.13)

It’s Monday What Are you Reading , hosted by Sheila, is the perfect way for me to begin my week and allows me to focus on what needs to be read and to see what I have or have not accomplished the previous week. I also enjoy discovering new books by visiting other participants blogs.
Well, it's finally here...this coming weekend I will be participating in my first MS Challenge Walk, walking 50 miles in support of those with MS. I'm doing the walk with my mom and am looking forward to it!!! I probably won't get much reading or blogging in this week as I get ready to head to North Carolina to pick up mom and then head to Charleston, South Carolina where the walk is being held. I do have some audios for the drive to NC and then the drive home again from NC to NY next Monday.

Books Completed last week:
  • Summer in a Small Town by Sheila Roberts/Emilie Richards (e-book, mine)
  • The Good Daughter by Jane Porter (mine)
Reading Now: 
  • The House Girl by Tara Conklin (review book)
  • The Gilly Salt Sisters by Tiffany Baker (library audio book) - car/house
  • The Search by Nora Roberts (library audio book) - ipod
  • Lady of Ashes by Christine Trent (review book)
  • Sweet Tea Revenge by Laura Childs (review book)
  • Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen (library audio book)
 Reviews Completed last week:
 Other posts related to books:
  • Book Spotlight: Beautiful Bastard (& giveaway)
  • Stacking the Shelves (35): 2.24.13
Books for which I need to finish reviews:
  • Ten Big Ones by Janet Evanovich
  • The Sinner by Tess Gerritsen 
  • Summer in a Small Town by Sheila Roberts/Emilie Richards
  • The Good Daughter by Jane Porter

What about you?  What does your reading week look like this week?  Whatever it is, happy reading and have a good week!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (35) 2.24.13

Tynga of Tynga's Reviews is starting a new meme to spotlight the books we receive each week.  Here's what I got: 

For Review:

The Chalice
by Nancy Bilyeau 
I'm participating in a book tour for this and am looking forward to reading it.

Alex Cross, Run
by James Patterson
Another new Alex Cross book - so excited to not have to wait a year from the last one, which came out in November. Hoping to get to this one soon!

What did you get this week?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Review: Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini
Dutton Adult
January 2013
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages

First line: On Election Day, Elizabeth Keckley hurried home from a midafternoon dress fitting to the redbrick boardinghouse on Twelfth Street where she rented two small rooms in the back.

From the inside cover: In a life that spanned nearly a century and witnessed some of the most momentous events in American history, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. She earned her freedom by the skill of her needle and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln with her devotion. In her sweeping  historical novel, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini illuminates the extraordinary relationship the two women shared, beginning in the hallowed halls of the White House during the trials of the Civil War and enduring almost, but not quite, to the end of Mrs. Lincoln's days.

Elizabeth Keckley made her professional reputation in Washington, DC, making expertly fashioned dresses for the city's elite, among them Mrs. Jefferson Davis and Mrs. Robert E. Lee. In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose her from among numerous applicants to be her personal "modiste," responsible for creating the First Lady's beautiful gowns and dressing her for important occasions. In this role, Elizabeth Keckley was quickly drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, a clear-eyed but compassionate witness to events within the private quarters of the White House.

Ever loyal to the Union, Elizabeth Keckley hid her fears when her only son, George, enlisted with the First Missouri Volunteers, and his courage in battle inspired her to bold new endeavors. When tens of thousands of former slaves sought refuge in Washington, she cared for them in their squalid camps, taught them sewing and other necessary skills, founded the Contraband Relief Association - to which Mary Todd Lincoln was a generous contributor - and worked tirelessly to raise money so that the struggling freedmen could embrace their newfound liberty. All the while, Elizabeth Keckley supported the First Lady through years of war, political strife, and devastating personal losses, even as she enduring heartbreaking tragedies of her own.

Even more daring, Keckley not only made history but also wrote it, in her own words. The publication of her memoir, Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, placed her at the center of a scandal she never intended. The sensational fallout distanced her longtime confidantes, and for the rest of her days, Elizabeth Keckley sought redemption through living an exemplary life.

Impeccably researched and thoroughly engrossing, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker renders this singular story of intertwining lives in rich, moving style.

My thoughts: Oh my goodness - I loved this book. From the first page, I was completely engrossed in the story. I have recently developed a fascination with Mary Todd Lincoln after reading Timothy O'Brien's The Lincoln Conspiracy, and knew that I had to read this book. I had also recently started reading Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilts series and already knew I liked her writing. Well, I was definitely not disappointed with this book, loving both the subject and the writing.

While this is primarily a story about Elizabeth Keckley, a slave who used her sewing skills to buy her and her son's freedom, we also get an inside look into the Lincoln's lives during their White House stay and after. Hired to be Mrs. Lincoln's personal seamstress, she also gives Mrs. Lincoln her friendship, a friendship that at times Mrs. Lincoln seems to manipulate, especially after Mr. Lincoln's death. 

Elizabeth became a regular visitor at the White House, often at the beck and call of Mrs. Lincoln. She would go to help her dress for events, take care of the Lincoln boys when they were sick, take care of everything after the death of one of the boys, and she would even comb and style Mr. Lincoln's hair, all in edition to creating dresses for Mrs. Lincoln. She knew just about everything that was going on at the White House at the time. Then, after Mr. Lincoln's death, she traveled with Mrs. Lincoln after she left the White House. It wasn't until writing her book that a unrepairable rift occurred between the two women, a rift that Elizabeth spent the rest of Mrs. Lincoln's life trying to straighten out.

I admit that I don't remember much about the events leading up to the Civil War or about Lincoln's presidency, and after getting glimpses into these events, I am left with wanting to read more. I am also curious to read more not only about Mrs. Lincoln, but about Elizabeth Keckley herself. In this book, Elizabeth comes across as a fascinating, smart woman - characteristics that were not that common among black women of this time. I loved the few descriptions we got of the actual dressmaking, but do wish we got more about this, or even that a few photos or drawings could have been included.

So now, I'm on a quest to find more books about Mrs. Lincoln and even about Elizabeth Keckley. Have you read anything about either of these two women?

(I borrowed this book from the library.)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Review: The Truth About Love & Lightning by Susan McBride

The Truth About Love & Lightning by Susan McBride
William Morrow Paperbacks
February 2012
Format: Paperback, 320 pages

First line: Annika Brink could not tell a lie.

From the back cover: Susan McBride, author of Little Black Dress and The Cougar Club, gives us her most unforgettable novel to date with this deliciously emotional story of family, forgiveness, love, and magic.

As far as Gretchen Brink is concerned, the tornado that just ripped through her land has nothing on the storms of a different sort happening all around her. Her grown daughter, Abby, has returned home with news that she's pregnant, and no, she's not sure whether she's going to marry the father. A man with no memory has been dropped practically on her doorstep. And the not-so-little white lie she's been telling for years is about to catch up with her.

Abby is sure that the mysterious man is her long-lost father, Sam, who has finally returned just when she needs him most. As Abby, Gretchen, and the Man Who Might Be Sam get closer, the lie Gretchen told all those years ago begins to haunt her. When her secrets come out, and Sam's past is finally revealed, will it tear down this fragile life they've built--or will the truth bring them all closer together?

My thoughts: This is the first book I've read by Susan McBride and it definitely won't be the last one. I've had Little Black Dress on my tbr list for a while now and was thrilled when I was given the opportunity to review Susan McBride's latest book. This book grabbed me from the first page and I ended up reading it in one afternoon - and was totally bummed when I finished it because I didn't want it to end.

The Truth About Love & Lightning has fascinating characters that you just fall in love with. I happen to be partial to books about family dynamics, and this one is ripe with it. I loved the interaction between Gretchen and her twin sisters, who are legally blind and living with her. Despite their handicap, they still manage to live life to the fullest. Then there's Gretchen's daughter Abby, who finding herself in a bit of a predicament, heads home, arriving just after a terrible storm has dropped a mysterious man on the family's property. The man has no recollection of what happened to him or even who he is. As time moves on, Gretchen, Abby and her sisters get to know him a bit, wondering if he is the man that disappeared almost 40 years ago.

Throughout the book, the story moves seamlessly from the present to the past, giving us back stories when needed to help us understand current situations. We find out why Gretchen told the lie that has been held for 40 years and now is threatening to come out. We also find out who the mysterious man might be and why this could drastically change everyone's lives.

There is mystery and a bit of magic in this tale and I found it to be quite enjoyable. At times, as I was reading the book, I was reminded of Sarah Addison Allen's books, as she, too, uses a bit of a magical element in her writing. I'm looking forward to going back and reading Susan McBride's other books, starting with Little Black Dress. I wonder if they all include that little bit of magic...

Have you read any books by authors other than Susan McBride and Sarah Addison Allen that use a magical element in their story-telling? I'd love to know!

I received a complimentary copy of The Truth About Love & Lightning by Susan McBride from Trish at TLC Book Tours.

About the author: Susan McBride is the author of women’s fiction, including The Truth About Love & Lightning, Little Black Dress, and The Cougar Club, as well as the award-winning Debutante Dropout Mysteries. She calls herself an “accidental cougar” after meeting a man nine years younger in 2005 when she was a St. Louis Magazine “top single.” They were married in February 2008 and live happily ever after in a suburb of St. Louis. She is a six-year breast cancer survivor and often speaks to women’s groups about her experience. In January 2012, she was named one of St. Louis’ “Most Dynamic People of the Year” by the Ladue News. In April 2012, she was given the “Survivor of the Year” Award by the St. Louis affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. In late June of 2012, Susan and her husband, Ed, had their first child, Emily. As Susan likes to say, “Life is never boring!”

Visit Susan at her website,

To see who else is participating in Susan McBride's The Truth About Love & Lightning tour, click here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

It's Monday...What Are You Reading? (2.18.13)

It’s Monday What Are you Reading , hosted by Sheila, is the perfect way for me to begin my week and allows me to focus on what needs to be read and to see what I have or have not accomplished the previous week. I also enjoy discovering new books by visiting other participants blogs.
With all the snow and cold weather we've had lately, it was such a good feeling to book our trip to Aruba for the end of April. I can't wait to go sit on the warm, sandy beach and just enjoy the sun and read. I'm already starting to thing about what books I want to read while there!

I'll be driving to North Carolina (from NY) next week for the Challenge Walk MS that I am doing with my mom in Charleston, SC the first weekend of March - I can't believe that's already next weekend! I'm on the hunt for some good audio books for the long's about 10 hours. Any suggestions would be most welcome!!! 

Books Completed last week:
  • Bella Summer Takes a Chance by Michele Gorman (review book)
  • Ten Big Ones by Janet Evanovich (library audio book)
  • The Sinner by Tess Gerritsen (mine) 
  • The Truth About Love and Lightning by Susan McBride (review book)
Reading Now: 
  • The Good Daughter by Jane Porter (mine)
  • The Gilly Salt Sisters by Tiffany Baker (library audio book) - car/house
  • The Search by Nora Roberts (library audio book) - ipod
  • The House Girl by Tara Conklin (review book)
  • Private Berlin by James Patterson (mine)
  • Sweet Tea Revenge by Laura Childs (review book)
 Reviews Completed last week:
 Other posts related to books:
Books for which I need to finish reviews:
  • Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini 
  • To the Nines by Janet Evanovich
  • The Sinner by Tess Gerritsen 
  • The Truth About Love and Lightning by Susan McBride

What about you?  What does your reading week look like this week?  Whatever it is, happy reading and have a good week!


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (34) 2.17.13

Tynga of Tynga's Reviews is starting a new meme to spotlight the books we receive each week.  Here's what I got: 


From Nothing Hill with Love...Actually (e-b00k)
byAli McNamara

I saw this on someone else's blog and thought it looked cute!
Whole Latte Life (e-book)
by Joanne DeMaio
This has been on my tbr list for a while and it was on sale on amazon this week so I had to get it!
The Sisters Montclair (free e-book)
by Cathy Holton
I saw this as a free selection this week and couldn't pass it up. I read another book by Cathy Holton and really enjoyed it, so I am hoping this one will be just as good!

From the library:
The Gilly Salt Sisters (audio)
by Tiffany Baker
This is Tiffany Baker's newest book. I listened to her other book, The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, and really enjoyed it. So far, this one is pretty good, too!

Garden Spells (audio)
by Sarah Addison Allen

I really enjoy Sarah Addison Allen's books and am looking forward to listening to this one.

Eleven on Top (audio)
by Janet Evanovich

The next Stephanie Plum on my list...oh how I love this series!

What did you get this week?


Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: To the Nines by Janet Evanovich (audio)

To the Nines by Janet Evanovich
Read by CJ Critt
Recorded Books, LLC
Length: 10 hours

From the back of the audio case: Stephanie Plum's got rent to pay, people shooting at her, and psychos wanting her dead every day of the week (much to the dismay of her mother, her family, the men in her life, the guy who slices meat at the deli...oh, the list goes on). An ordinary person would cave under the pressure.

But hey, she's from Jersey.

Stephanie Plum may not be the best bounty hunter in beautiful downtown Trenton, but she's pretty darn good at turning bad situations her way...and she always gets her man. In To the Nines, her cousin Vinnie (who's also her boss) has posted bail on Samuel Singh, an illegal immigrant. When the elusive Mr. Singh goes missing, Stephanie is on the case. But what she uncovers is far more sinister than anyone imagines and leads to a group of killers who give new meaning to the word hunter.

In a race against time that takes her from the Jersey Turnpike to the Vegas Strip, Stephanie Plum is on the chase of her life.

My thoughts: Ah...another Stephanie Plum book, which means more laughter, more missing FTA's, and more antics with the whole cast of characters, including Lula, Grandma Mazur, Ranger and Joe Morelli.

In To the Nines, Stephanie doesn't get any cars blown up, but she does manage to go through a bunch of body guards - men that Ranger put on her when her life was put in danger because of a crazy game that somehow involves the missing FTA that Stephanie is trying to locate. The heat has been ratcheted back up between Ranger and Stephanie and Joe is none too pleased.

Despite the danger, there are still many laughs. Lula is dating a new man and decides she wants to look like a supermodel, so she starts dieting. The first diet involves counting points, but she ends up making up her own counting system and that diet doesn't last long. Her second diet involves eating meat only and lots of it. Then there's the trip to Vegas when Stephanie gets a tip that her FTA is there. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, both Lula and Connie, the office secretary, decide to accompany her. This just makes for one laugh after another - starting with the number of bags everyone brings for an overnight trip, a possible Vegas-style wedding, and dog that destroys the hotel room. 

We see a soft-side to Stephanie upon the birth of her sister's Valerie's daughter. Perhaps this might be a changing point for Stephanie. Might she finally be ready to settle down and start a family of her own?  I guess only time will tell!

(I borrowed this audiobook from the library.)

*** Devourer of Books hosts Sound Bytes every Friday - a meme to share the audio books that everyone is listening to. Stop by and you just might find your next audio book!

Books in this series:
     1.  One for the Money                         12.  Twelve Sharp
     2.  Two for the Dough                         12.5  Plum Lovin'
     3.  Three to Get Deadly                      13.  Lean Mean Thirteen
     4.  Four to Score                                   13.5  Plum Lucky
     5.  High Five                                           14.  Fearless Fourteen
     6.  Hot Six                                                14.5  Plum Spooky
     7.  Seven Up                                           15.  Finger Lickin' Fifteen
     8.  Hard Eight                                         16.  Sizzling Sixteen
     8.5  Visions of Sugar Plums              17.  Smokin' Seventeen
     9.  To the Nines                                      18.  Explosive Eighteen
    10.  Ten Big Ones                                    19.  Notorious Nineteen
    11.  Eleven on Top

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