Friday, November 26, 2010

Blog Tour of Dori Ostermiller's Outside the Ordinary World

Outside the Ordinary World
Outside the Ordinary World by Dori Ostermiller

The blurb:
"Did it feel like you had a choice?  Or were you driven by forces beyond your control?"

Sylvia Sandon always swore she wouldn't become her mother.  But one August morning she finds herself walking the same path as the fervently religious yet faithless Elaine.. .into an affair she feels powerless to resist.

Against the backdrop of California brush fires in the 1970s, twelve-year-old Sylvia had agreed to hold a secret that would devour her family's dream of happiness.  Now struggling to create a better life in small-town New England, Sylvia nonetheless feels caught in the coils of history:  she confronts the embers of her dying marriage, the all-consuming needs of her two daughters and her faltering artistic career.  Then Tai Rosen -- the father of a student -- ignites an unexpected passion and a familiar betrayal that could illuminate the past, even as it jeopardizes everything dear.

Outside the Ordinary World reveals what lies beneath the surface of infidelity.  But at its heart, it is the story of the powerful, sometimes disturbing bond between mothers and daughters, and the shimmering line between self-revelation and self-destruction. . . .

Dori Ostermiller captures the complex relationship between mother and daughter so well.  The exceedingly high standard to which we hold our mothers and the deep and vocal disapproval that we show when they disappoint us.  Reading Outside the Ordinary World I sympathized with Sylvia's mother,  her attempts at fidelity and the love that sustained her during the tough moments.  It was easy to like Sylvia and worry about her as well - to sympathize with her as she struggled against the temptations to her marriage. 

Outside the Ordinary World is a carefully crafted, nuanced and deeply sympathetic novel about fulfilling promises, being loyal -- both to others and to yourself.  Ostermiller's Outside the Ordinary World is a satisfying and unusual read.

ISBN-10: 0778328899 - Paperback $14.95
Publisher: Mira; Original edition (July 27, 2010), 400 pages.
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours and the publisher.

About the Author:
Dori Ostermiller left her native California at twenty-four to complete an MFA in writing at the University of Massachusetts.  She is the recipient of a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist's Grant, and the founder of the Writers in Progress, a literary art center in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts.   She currently lives with her husband and daughters in Northampton, where she is at work on her second novel. 

Thank you to the publisher, Dori Ostermiller and TLC Book Tours for this review opportunity!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Desiree: The Bestselling Story of Napoleon's First Love by Annemarie Selinko

Désirée: The Bestselling Story of Napoleon's First Love
Désirée: The Bestselling Story of Napoleon's First Love by Annemarie Selinko

The blurb:
To be young, in France, and in love:  fourteen-year-old Desiree can't believe her good fortune.  Her fiance, the dashing and ambitious Napoleon Bonaparte, is poised for battlefield success, and no longer, will she be just a French merchant's daughter.  She could not have known the twisting path her role in history would take, nearly breaking her vibrant heart but sweeping her into a life rich in passion and desire.

A love story, but so much more, Desiree explores the landscape of a young heart torn in two, giving readers a compelling true story of an ordinary girl whose unlikely brush with history leads to a throne no one would have expected.

An epic bestseller that has earned both critical acclaim and mass adoration, Desiree is at once a novel of the rise and fall of empires, the blush and fade of love, and the heart and soul of a woman.

I expected Desiree to be another wonderful escape into historical fiction with a complicated plot, historical characters, much romance and drama and found it to be even better than I'd expected.   Selinko does introduce Desiree to Bethoven, the leaders of the French Revolution, the Jacobines, Robispeare, Talleyrand.   Desiree approaches them as ordinary people, regular citizens, albeit more powerful than most.   Reading Desiree's impressions of them, we see these characters from the point of view of an ordinary woman, one who isn't interested in power but is painfully aware of what effects that powerful people have on the lives of everyone around them. 

The relationship between Desiree and Napoleon is based on far more than their early romance.  Through Napoleon's special relationship with Desiree, we imagine how he might have been with a loyal friend that knew him when he had no money, few contacts, but great confidence and ambition.  In the early years, Desiree and her prosperous middleclass family helped the Bonapartes.  When Desiree's sister Julie married Napoleon's brother, her dowry and their business provided the Bonapartes with resources that helped Bonaparte rise in politics and the army.   I particularly enjoyed the way that Selinko captured the unique and powerful link that we share with old friends and the way that she showed this in the relationship between Desiree and Napoleon.

Though Napoleon and Desiree were secretly engaged, this was an early love.  Napoleon was subsequent married to Josephine and Desiree married Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, another general in the French army.  Bernadotte was loyal to the Republic and faced considerable trials because of his refusal to bow to Napoleon's wishes.  His independence, integrity and superb tactical skills result in unexpected recognition and responsibility for Bernadotte.  But his professional successes take a toll Desiree.  Desiree, Jean Baptiste and their son make sacrifices for the countries that they love and their very humanity makes this story even more remarkable and moving.

I thoroughly enjoyed Désirée: The Bestselling Story of Napoleon's First Love and would recommend it to anyone fond of historical fiction or the Napoleonic period or looking for an engaging and moving read.

ISBN-10: 1402244029 - Paperback $16.99
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark; Reprint edition (October 1, 2010), 608 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Annemarie Selinko was born in Vienna in 1914. She was a successful journalist and novelist.  In 1938 she moved to Copenhagen and subsequently lived in Stockholm, Paris, and London before returning to Copenhagen where she passed away in 1986.

Thank you so much to Sourcebooks for this review opportunity.

Ten books to share

I've been writing book reviews for Town & Country magazine in the Philippines.   My editor asked that I come up with a list of ten books to recommend for the holiday issue.  I compiled a list of books that I loved and tried to balance it out for a range of readers.  After all, it's fun to give books away as gifts.

I thought I'd share my list of 10 books. 

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope (P.S.)
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope (P.S.) by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times
My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times by Harold Evans

The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life
The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life by Ben Sherwood

The Rembrandt Affair (Gabriel Allon)
The Rembrandt Affair (Gabriel Allon) by Daniel Silva

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English: A Novel
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English: A Novel by Natasha Solomons

Al Capone Shines My Shoes
Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko  (and the earlier book, Al Capone Does My Shirts).

Markus Zusak'sThe Book Thief (Paperback)(2007)
Markus Zusak's The Book Thief

 Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset
Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset  by Suzanne Collins

My Name Is Memory
My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery by Alan Bradley and the second book in the series The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: A Flavia de Luce Mystery (Flavia De Luce Mysteries).

Which ten books would you recommend?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Gentleman Poet: A Novel of Love, Danger, and Shakespeare's The Tempest by Kathryn Johnson

The Gentleman Poet: A Novel of Love, Danger, and Shakespeare's The Tempest
The Gentleman Poet: A Novel of Love, Danger, and Shakespeare's The Tempest by Kathryn Johnson

The blurb:
Enroute to the Americas in 1609, Elizabeth Persons, a young servant girl, sees her blinding headache as an ominous sign. Sure enough, a hurricane during the final leg of their journey tosses the ill-fated Sea Venture and its one hundred and fifty passengers and crew onto the dreaded shores of the Bermudas, the rumored home of evil spirits and dangerous natives.  In the months that pass -- time marked by grave hardship, mutiny, adventure, danger. . . and a blossoming love between Elizabeth and the wrecked ship's young cook -- she despairs of their ever being rescued.

But she finds hope and strength in the remarkable new friendship, forming a fast bond with the Sea Venture's historian, a poet traveling under the name of William Strachey.  But Will is more than he seems. To many back home in England, he is known by a different name: Shakespeare.  And he sees in their great shared travails the makings of a magical, truly transcendent work of theater.

I always loved studying Shakespeare in school. Piecing together the story, the beautiful words, discovering that certain turns of phrase we use in everyday life came from the imagination of one man.  It's a chance to exercise your brain and imagination for rich rewards.    So, The Gentleman Poet: A Novel of Love, Danger, and Shakespeare's The Tempest was particularly interesting to me.

William Shakespeare is a fully developed character in the novel and we have glimpses of what the man could have been like.  It adds another layer of interest and intrigue to an already engaging story.   Elizabeth Parsons works as a domestic to a crotchety and wealthy older lady.   Elizabeth tries to keep her mistress satisfied even as the shipwrecked passengers and crew face danger and possible starvation.   Elizabeth's resourcefulness and industry help save the day and her growing importance in the camp is one of my favorite parts of the book.

Kathryn Johnson weaves together a fascinating story of a young girl and a gifted writer as they are drawn together by friendship and the shared experience of religious persecution.

ISBN-10: 0061965316 - Paperback $13.99
Publisher: Avon A; Original edition (September 7, 2010), 330 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
The author of more than forty published novels, Kathryn Johnson is an Agatha Award finalist and honoree of the American Library Association.  She founded Write by You (, an author's mentoring service, and teaches at the Writer's Center in Washington, D.C.