Wednesday, September 30, 2015

#30 Authors Day 30: Liza Klaussmann recommends A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin

I'm so excited to be participating in a second day of this year's #30Authors event and on the final day...what a great event this has been and I'm so honored to have been a part of it! Today I have Liza Klaussman here to discuss Lucia Berlin's A Manual for Cleaning Women.  And don't forget to check out the amazing giveaway below as well. But first, here's a little bit about the #30Authors event itself:

#30Authors is an annual event connecting readers, authors, and bloggers. Throughout the month of September, 30 authors review their favorite books on 30 blogs in 30 days. The event has been met with incredible support from and success within the literary community. In the six months following the event’s inaugural launch, the concept was published as an anthology by Velvet Morning Press (Legacy: An Anthology). Started by The Book Wheel, #30Authors remains active throughout the year and you can join in the fun by following along on Twitter at @30Authors, using the hashtag, #30Authors, or purchasing the anthology. To learn more about the event and to see the full schedule, please click here.

Liza Klaussmann's review of A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin

Lucia Berlin's magnificent, stylish stories have the texture of those washed-out old photographs that you find in the bottom of a shoebox or at a yard sale: a woman standing on a porch, a screen door behind her, shading her eyes, a flash of a girl's ponytail in the right corner; or a man leaning against a broken down vintage car, legs crossed, on an almost deserted L.A. boulevard; or a grainy shot of one patent leather Mary-Jane near a dusty curb. You see those photograph and you wonder: who were those people? You wonder who the pony-tail or the shoe belonged to: why was this fellow so proud of his car? 

In Berlin's posthumously published collection, A Manual for Cleaning Women, we get answers to those questions. Or that's what it feels like to read them. Her world is rooted in the American Southwest, in California, in Mexico and Chile.  It's a landscape of laundromats, and Catholic schools, and drunks and dry-out tanks, and marriages and children, and doctor's offices, and wild, cruel families. It is a ballad of rootlessness, of a nomadic and often contradictory existence: there are detox clinics that seem positively Orwellian alongside diplomatic balls at South American lakeside resorts where the worst thing that can happen is an illicit kiss. Yet, despite the sometimes contrary topography, hers is such a pure and consistent voice that once you've become indoctrinated you'd recognize it anywhere: "Raspy, easygoing voice with a smile and sex in it," as Berlin wrote of a fictional plumber in her story "B.F. and Me." But also sad--and always, always cool.

Berlin, who died in 2004, used much of her own life as blueprint for her fiction, written throughout the '60s, '70s, and '80s, and the effect as one reads through the collection is that of family stories be told and retold, with new details -- sometimes funny, often heartbreaking -- emerging, giving the impression of continual revelation, or layering, or unpeeling. Not all short story collections can give the sense of a sustained narrative, but a Manual for Cleaning Women does exactly that, which makes it enormously satisfying to read front to back, rather than dipping in and out. 

One strand of her childhood that is retold several times, for example, takes place while her father was serving in World War II, and she and her sister and difficult, alcoholic mother are living with their grandparents in El Paso. In our first introduction, to this world, this cast of characters is dark, patently disturbed, but Berlin's surprising humor (which always seems to come like small slaps) keeps us from seeing clearly the true nighttime of the soul that is going on in that house, and which only becomes apparent in the final retelling, beginning with this chilling sentence: "I tried to hide when Grandpa was drunk because he would catch me and rock me."

It's the humor, though, that marks Berlin's work that keeps the stories from tipping over into the bleak, or depressing. From "Angel's Laundromat": "The Campus laundry has a sign, like most laundries do, POSITIVELY NO DYEING. I drove all over town until I came to Angel's with his yellow sign, YOU CAN DIE HERE ANYTIME." Or from "Emergency Room Notebook, 1977": "There are 'good' suicides. 'Good reasons' many times like terminal illness,pain. But I'm more impressed with good technique."

While adulthood is a struggle in Berlin's world -- it is a struggle with the past, to stay sane and get to work and make dinner for the kids and kills the DTs with a bottle of Jim Bean or a sip of sweet wine from a wino buddy -- older adolescence and young adulthood carries a kind of magic in her stories. Not an innocence (the rocking chair put paid to that). But a feeling of being on the cusp, a sense that the possibilities haven't played themselves out; it permeates those particular stories in the collection, and gives them a timelessness. In "Tiger Bites," the narrator's beauty queen cousin and confident, Bella, asks her father:

"But Daddy, what will we do about Mama? And Aunt Mary? What about Lou and me here? Tigers went and knocked her up, ran off with my husband."

And her father replies: "Hope you two have knockout outfits for tomorrow's party."

Berlin had been dead eight years when her work finally gained broad recognition. That feels infuriating, but somehow, in the context of her world, not surprising. Because in Berlin's world, even if a tiger knocks you up, runs off with your husband all is not yet lost.


About Liza Klaussmann
Liza Klaussmann worked as a journalist for the New York Times for over a decade. She received a BA in Creative Writing from Barnard College, where she was awarded the Howard M. Teichman Prize for Prose. She lived in Paris for ten years and she recently completed with distinction an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, in London, where she lives. She is the great-great-great granddaughter of Herman Melville.

Author Links:
Website |  Twitter |  Goodreads  

Liza's Books:

Purchase links:


Barnes & Noble

Purchase links:


Barnes & Noble


About Lucia Berlin
Berlin began publishing relatively late in life, under the encouragement and sometimes tutelage of poet Ed Dorn. Her first small collection, Angels Laundromat was published in 1981, but her published stories were written as early as 1960. Several of her stories appeared in magazines such as The Atlantic and Saul Bellow’s little magazine The Noble Savage.

Author Links:

Barnes & Noble

Thank you Liza for sharing your review of Lucia's book with us. And a huge shout out to Allison over at The Book Wheel for putting this event together - I've already added quite a few books to my ever-growing TBR list!




Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Review: Christmas in Mustang Creek by Linda Lael Miller

Title: Christmas in Mustang Creek 
Author: Linda Lael Miller    
Series: The Brides of Bliss County, #4     
Published: September 2015, HQN Books  
Format: ARC E-copy, 272 pages   
Source: Netgalley via Little Bird Publicity   

No one does the holidays like Linda Lael Miller, whose Christmas novels have warmed the hearts of millions of readers the world over!

Charlotte Morgan grew up in Mustang Creek, Wyoming, and couldn't wait to escape to the big city. But life in New York isn't as fabulous as she'd like to admit—she's lonely, doing a job she doesn't love and dating too many frogs she meets online.

There was one potential prince, though—Jaxon Locke, a veterinarian with definite possibilities—but his move to Idaho to fill in at his dad's vet practice ended things just as they were getting interesting. What Charlotte doesn't know is that he misses her, more than he expected…

Meanwhile, Charlotte's great-aunt Geneva—the woman who raised her—needs to enter an assisted-living facility. So, just before Christmas, Charlotte moves back home. When Jax catches wind of her move back West, he's determined to get to Wyoming and do whatever it takes to win her back.

Christmas in Mustang Creek is a magical time in a magical place, not least because of a mysterious visitor named Mrs. Klozz. She knows that love is the greatest gift of all, and she's ready to help out Santa by giving these two a push in the right direction!

My thoughts: I've really enjoyed Linda Lael Miller's Brides of Bliss County series and this was a great installment. As a holiday book, it had that special holiday magic that wouldn't really work any other time.

What I love about these books is that you know going into them that the girl is going to end up with the guy. It's written in the synopsis, afterall. But what you don't know is how - what the journey is going to look like. In Charlotte and Jax's case, they have a history - they dated for a while when they lived back East, but things didn't work out and when Jax found out that Charlotte was heading back to Wyoming to her hometown, he does whatever he can to be there so he can get back his girl. Of course, he has a little help from Mrs. Klozz.

Now here's where this story wouldn't work any other time of year. Mrs. Klozz is almost too good to be true, more of a magical mind-reader if you will. She seems to know just what these two need before they do, knows just how to get them together. I really enjoyed her magic and wish I had someone like her in my life - I could use her help every once in a while to get things done!

This was a sweet holiday novel that provides a fun, light-hearted romance, some tender-hearted scenes between Charlotte and her great-aunt, and some adorable pets that know just how to wrangle their way into your heart. Plus, we see from familiar faces that provide the voice of reason just when Charlotte needs it. It's a story of love, friendship and family, just in time to get you in the holiday mood!

Books in this series:
  1. The Marriage Pact
  2. The Marriage Charm
  3. The Marriage Season
  4. Christmas in Mustang Creek

Monday, September 28, 2015

Review & Giveaway: A Perfect Heritage by Penny Vincenzi (Giveaway Closed!)

Title: A Perfect Heritage    
Author: Penny Vincenzi      
Published: October 2015, The Overlook Press  
Format: Hardcover, 768 pages   
Source: Publisher  

The House of Farrell - home of The Cream, an iconic face product that has seen women flocking to its bijoux flagship store in the Berkeley Arcade since 1953.

At Farrell, you can rely on the personal touch. The legendary Athina Farrell remains the company's figurehead and in her kingdom at the Berkeley Arcade, Florence Hamilton plies their cosmetics with the utmost discretion. She is sales advisor - and holder of secrets - extraordinaire.

But of course the world of cosmetics is changing and the once glorious House of Farrell is now in decline, its customers tempted away by more fashionable brands.

Enter Bianca Bailey, formidable business woman, mother of three, and someone who always gets her way. Athina and Bianca lock horns over the future of the House of Farrell but it is the past that tells its devastating tale of ambition and ego, passion and wonder.

Here is a tale of survival ... and a perfect heritage.

My thoughts: I've been wanting to read Penny Vincenzi for a while now - I even have a few of her older books on my shelf just waiting to be read. So of course, I jumped at the opportunity to read and review her newest book. The synopsis had me intrigued and as soon as I started reading, I knew I would love it.

While it's a fairly sizable book at over 750 pages, it moves rather quickly, sweeping you up in the world of cosmetics and The House of Farrell. It was almost like reading a soap opera in a sense, where it kept moving around so often amongst all the different story lines that were going on. While there were chapters, each is further broken down into shorter segments, little blitzes almost, on what is going on with each of the many characters and so you might not come back to one character for a while. But then there are times when it stays with the same story line for quite a bit. I really enjoyed this way of telling the story - it kept me hooked and glued to the pages, wanting to keep reading a bit more to get back to either a certain character or story line.

There were so many fun, almost delicious characters - you either really liked them or really disliked them - and then there some that were just so-so, rather bland characters, there to serve a purpose, but didn't really add much else. Of the more likeable/dislikeable characters, these were the ones I couldn't get enough of. Some were so strong and power-hungry, they didn't care who was in their way as they bulldozed their way to the top and then there those that were so weak that they were pushed around with the least amount of effort. You just wanted to scream and shake some sense into them! I'm always a sucker for the underdog and there were quite a few here, some that do get their due eventually, and some that remain where they are.

When I first started reading this, I was reminded of one of my favorite books, Barbara Taylor Bradford's A Woman of Substance. That was what called to me when I read the synopsis and stayed with me as I read the whole book. I loved that book, and the subsequent books what made up that series, and would so love to see this book turn into a series. I don't know if that's what Penny Vincenzi has planned, but boy would I love it if she did!!! In the meantime, I am now more eager than ever to pick up those books I have of Penny's and start reading them...I really do enjoy her style of reading!

Thanks to
the publisher
one reader can win a copy of  A Perfect Heritage by Penny Vincenzi.   To enter the giveaway, please fill out the form by October 5th.

Form closed
This giveaway is open to US residents only and ends October 5th

Good Luck!!!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Sunday Post #86

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news. A post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. I'm also going to link this up with Sheila's It's Monday post over at Book Journey.  
Busy, busy, busy!!! That's what it's been like around here and I am so longing for things to slow down a bit. At least fall is here, which is my favorite season!!! I got out my fall decorations and bought some new fall candles so even though I'm working like crazy, I can enjoy that - a nice perk of working from home some of the time! And the fall tv shows are starting to premiere...YAY!!! I'm a big TGIT fan - love, love, love Grey's Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder. Now I'm just waiting for The Blacklist and Madame Secretary to start and then of course, Downton Abbey in January.

Have a great week everyone!!!


Last week on the Blog:                              
* Book Spotlight & Giveaway: After You by Jojo Moyes
* Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng  
* Book Spotlight & Giveaway: Laguna Night by Kaira Rouda   
* Book Spotlight & Giveaway: The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks   
#FitReaders: Weekly Check-in September 25 
Books Read:                      
* The Girl Without A Name by Sandra Block (audio book) 
* A Perfect Heritage by Penny Vincenzi (review book)           
Currently Reading:                    

* Pop Goes the Weasel by M.J. Arlidge  (review e-book)
* Spider Bones by Kathy Reichs (library audio book)  
Books Up Next:                               
* Parchment & Old Lace by Laura Childs (review book)   
* Dogwood Hill by Sherryl Woods  (library audio book)
Recent Giveaway Winners:
* Dark Waters by Chris Goff...Letty Blanchard

* The Middle of Somewhere by Sonja Yoerg...Margie

Current Giveaway:
* After You by Jojo Moyes...Ends 9/28/15
* Laguna Nights by Kaira Rouda...Ends 9/30/15
* The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks...Ends 10.2.15
Coming Up on the Blog:
* Review: A Perfect Heritage by Penny Vincenzi (with Giveaway!!!)
* Review: Christmas in Mustang Creek by Linda Lael Miller    
* #30 Authors Post: Day 30
* Month in Review: September 2015
* Book Spotlight: Night Blindness by Susan Strecker (with Giveaway!!!)  
* Review: The Admissions by Meg Mitchell Moore 

Book Haul:    
For Review:
* The Time Garden: A Magical Journey & Coloring Book by Daria Song (Courtesy of Publicist)         
* Chance Harbor by Holly Robinson (Courtesy of Publicist)
* Another Woman's Daughter by Fiona Sussman (Courtesy of Publicist)     
* Shadow Play by Iris Johansen (audio book via Publisher)

* Marry Me at Christmas by Susan Mallery (audio book via Publisher)

* Willow Brook Road by Sherryl Woods (audio book via Publisher)
* Where the Memories Lie by Sibel Hodge (audio book) 

#FitReaders: Weekly Check-in September 25

This was a tough was hard getting in my 10k steps, but luckily my dogs help with that. They need their walks and so by default, I do, too! I didn't make it to the gym this week, but did try to get up at least once an hour to move around for a little bit - that really seems to add up over the course of the day. I did pull out my Leslie Sansone Walking DVD's and am going to try to fit those in next week as I think it's going to be another rough week.
Here's how my week went:  

Sep 19:  7,252 steps
Sep 20:  6,674 steps
Sep 21:  2-15 minute fitness walks with dogs,
10,621 steps 
Sep 22:  2-15 minute fitness walks with dogs, 11,768 steps
Sep 23:  2-15 minute fitness walks with dogs, 9,020 steps

Sep 24:  2-15 minute fitness walks with dogs, 10,412 steps
Sep 25:  2-15 minute fitness walks with dogs, 10,891 steps
Audiobooks listened to this week :

  • Started & Finished: The Girls Without a Name by Sandra Block, narrated by Jennifer Nittoso
How did your week go? You can find this week's link-up here.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Book Spotlight & Giveaway: The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (Giveaway Closed!)

Title: The Secret Chord    
Author: Geraldine Brooks       
Published: October 2015, Viking  
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages    

A rich and utterly absorbing novel about the life of King David, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of People of the Book and March.

With more than two million copies of her novels sold, New York Times bestselling author Geraldine Brooks has achieved both popular and critical acclaim. Now, Brooks takes on one of literature’s richest and most enigmatic figures: a man who shimmers between history and legend. Peeling away the myth to bring David to life in Second Iron Age Israel, Brooks traces the arc of his journey from obscurity to fame, from shepherd to soldier, from hero to traitor, from beloved king to murderous despot and into his remorseful and diminished dotage.

The Secret Chord provides new context for some of the best-known episodes of David’s life while also focusing on others, even more remarkable and emotionally intense, that have been neglected.  We see David through the eyes of those who love him or fear him—from the prophet Natan, voice of his conscience, to his wives Mikhal, Avigail, and Batsheva, and finally to Solomon, the late-born son who redeems his Lear-like old age. Brooks has an uncanny ability to hear and transform characters from history, and this beautifully written, unvarnished saga of faith, desire, family, ambition, betrayal, and power will enthrall her many fans.

Early Praise for The Secret Chord:

“[A] gorgeously written novel of ambitions, courage, retribution and triumph…The language, clear and precise throughout, turns soaringly poetic when describing music or the glory of David’s city…the novel feels simultaneously ancient, accessible, and timeless.”  —Booklist, Starred Review

"David emerges from Brooks's pages as a complex, somewhat wounded man...a skillful reimagining...gracefully and intelligently told."—Kirkus 

“Brooks’s interest in religious commitment accrues rich rewards in this ambitious and psychologically astute novel…Brooks evokes time and place with keenly drawn detail.” —Publishers Weekly 

“[Brooks’] writing is insightful and impeccably researched.” —Library Journal 

“Known for her abilities to bring history to life…Brooks fills in the gaps and humanizes the legend in a saga of family, faith, and power.” —The Millions


Thanks to the publisher, one reader can win a copy of  The Secret Chord  by Geraldine Brooks. To enter the giveaway, please fill out the form by October 2nd.

Form closed

This giveaway is open to US residents only and ends October 2nd.  
Good Luck!!!

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