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April 8, 2017

Group of Graphic Novel Collections



When I first saw the section for 'graphic novels' in the bookstore I thought they were explicit novels instead of what it truly meant - illustrated novels. I didn't grow up reading comic books. Sure I read comic strips in the Sunday funny pages and was really excited to get a book of Garfield comics, but I didn't read Superman or Spiderman or any of those Marvel guys or are they DC?

Now many regular novels are being turned into graphic novels. I giggled at the Twilight graphic novel, but I really want to the Harry Potter ones, though they are referred to as the illustrated editions. But it still isn't my preferred medium so I was happy to welcome MK French as a reviewer because she does enjoy graphic novels. Today she is sharing a few she recently read. ~ Donna


The Complete Marvel Cosmos
October 2016; Insight Editions
978-1608878543; paperback (160 pages)
a free ARC was provided for this review
Hidden Universe Travel Guides: The Complete Marvel Cosmos by Mark Sumerak

This is a guide to different planets mentioned within the Marvel comics universe. It has annotations based on information revealed in various comic runs, as well as color commentary by the Guardians of the Galaxy. This is a fun concept, as various planets are discussed as if it was a Fodor's guide to cities, complete with things to do and things to NOT do while there. It mentions aspects of the planetary cultures, food, and politics, especially in the commentary. It makes more sense if you know the comics that the locations are based on, of course, but it's still easy enough to follow along if you are familiar with the names. Since some of those locations show up in the Marvel movies, fans of the cinematic universe will still enjoy this book.

Buy The Complete Marvel Cosmos at Amazon


Bizenghast Special Collectors Editions
January 2017; Tokyopop; 978-1427856906
ebook & print (544 pages); YA manga
a free book was provided for this review
Bizenghast Special Collectors Editions by M. Alice LeGrow

A manga series now recollected in five volumes


Dinah, orphaned in a car accident as a child, lives with her aunt in a large, Gothic styled home. She is tormented by "fits" and sees ghosts. While wandering with her friend Vincent, they stumble across the forgotten graveyard that no one could prove ever existed. While there, they discover that the restless souls of Bizenghast want to come home, and need Dinah to help them. If she can't solve the riddles to free the souls, her life is forfeit.

The art is gorgeous in this manga series, inspired by the Gothic Lolita look. This volume is remastered and edited from the original publication date. It's a fairly straightforward story, and Dinah starts off as a very fragile girl, prone to crying and hiding behind Vincent to do the tasks for her. But she admits herself that she's tired of being scared all the time, and facing the horrors of the souls' riddles to free them also helps her grow. She is less frightened and less reliant on Vincent; he has to learn that some shortcuts can't be taken, and the important things in life aren't actually things.

Buy Bizenghast Special Collectors Editions at Amazon


Wraithborn
November 2016; Benitez Productions
978-0996603027; print (160 pages)
YA manga
a free book was provided for this review
Wraithborn by Marcia Chen (writer) and Joe Benitez (artist)

Melanie is a shy high schooler that was given the power of the Wraithborn when its current owner was too badly damaged. He was part of the Brotherhood, and Valin is another member of the Brotherhood that had been trained nearly since birth to deal with its power. Unfortunately, Melanie got the power because other forces are at play, trying to get the power of the Wraithborn.

This trade paperback collects the first six issues of the Wraithborn comic. It's is told in a flashback frame. The art is gorgeous, and it's an interesting take on the trope. Instead of a Judeo-Christian demon that's the bad guy, it's a Voodoo loa. I haven't seen too many comics use the voodoo religion as its basis. Action scenes, of which there are many, are dynamically drawn and vividly colored. There are great shots that are framed shots which are beautifully done and would make great backgrounds for electronics. A lot of the characters have really impractical outfits, particularly for a high school, but they're very pretty to look at. Melanie has probably the most subdued and practical wardrobe, another means to show that she's shy and has no knowledge of the supernatural. Unfortunately, she has little to no personality in this volume, and her friend Zoe has more of a presence. I hadn't heard of this comic before, but this is definitely a very interesting start into the series, and the character designs are great.

Buy Wraithborn at Amazon


Lad Mechanika
December 2015; Benitez Productions
978-0996603003; print (160 pages)
YA manga
a free copy of vol. 1 & 2 was provided
for this review
Lady Mechanika volume 1 & 2 by Joe Benitez (author and artist) and Peter Steigerwald (artist)

Lady Mechanika lives in Mechanika City, and is known for being partially mechanical and mostly human. It's a Victorian styled world with dirigibles and steampunk mechanics, but having bodies fused with functioning mechanical limbs is not commonplace. Lady Mechanika has no memory of how she got her mechanical limbs, so she searches for who created her and why.

Volume One collects the first comic arc, issue 0 as well as 1 through 6. A young girl is found in Mechanika City, and dies at the train station after escaping being hunted. This is the titular mechanical corpse for the volume, and Lady Mechanika is determined to uncover her origins, as it might lead her to the people that created her. The art is gorgeously detailed and the lettering fits the time period depicted. The cover art gallery at the end of the book is especially gorgeous to look at. Some speech bubbles are rather cluttered, such as when Mechanika and Katherine meet and find that the corpse is gone, or during Mechani-Con. Lady Mechanika doesn't seem to have much of a personality here, though it could be because she's suspicious of everyone and seems to have only one friend. Her suspicions are rather justified, as Katherine (aka Commander Winter) and Lord Blackpool have teamed up and are interested in killing her. We discover what happened to the mechanical girl, but we never really learn why. There are far more questions left unanswered by the end of it, and a sense of foreboding about what will happen to Lady Mechanika. It's a great way to hook in readers for future issues, as there isn't quite enough in Mechanika's interactions on her own to draw interest.

Volume Two collects the six issues of the second comic arc, the Tablet of Destinies. According to Sumerian legend, anyone who possesses the tablet can rule the world. The action starts right away, as Winifred, Professor Thomsen's granddaughter is kidnapped and Lady Mechanika can't quite catch up to the men that did it. As a result, Mechanika goes hunting for Winifred and in the process has to save the world instead of finding out more about her origins. There are wonderful clockwork creations in this volume, just as there was in the first. There are also clockwork touches around the panels of some pages, a fun touch in keeping with the steampunk Victoriana. It's a very fun and action packed story in this arc, chasing down the team that kidnapped Winifred and trying to find Professor Thomsen. It's a new antagonist from the first volume, and the group is concerned with ultimate power. The story plays out very much like Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones. If you enjoy that kind of plot line, this is a much easier way to get into this world and story than the first. We see a little more warmth in Mechanika in this volume, especially with how kind she is to Winifred and the stories she tells about meeting Professor Thomsen.

Buy Lady Mechanika volume 1 and volume 2 at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: http://eepurl.com/mHTVL. Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

April 7, 2017

Far from Fresh - The Value of Derivative Fiction

by Chris


Probably the greatest fear of any writer is that their work will be seen as unoriginal, boring, or derivative. After all, no one really wants to read Fifty-One Shades of Grey … do they?

It’s incredibly difficult to craft a story that stands out from the—literally—millions of similar stories that have already been written, published, and sold. Sometimes, it feels like you need to get your idea to market as quickly as possible before someone else essentially publishes your story. In science this is called a scoop—publishing a breakthrough before another research group more or less steals any chance of recognition. In fiction writing, it’s just downright depressing.

But in a world of what seems to be endless stories, novellas, and screenplays, is it even possible to write something entirely original? Unless we’re talking about Shakespeare, or perhaps Homer, the proliferation of fictional material in the past centuries means that no matter how novel you think your idea is, someone somewhere has probably already written something very similar. Trying to write a love story where events always get in the way? Been there, done that. An epic fantasy where the hero must navigate through a world fraught with danger, to find a mystical weapon? Yeah, seen that a couple times already. Main character is a fish? Swimming the seven seas in search of a lost relative? Humans are the enemy? Yeah … seen that one too. Twice.

The point is, it starts to beg the question, what is original, and what is originality, after all?

Originality

As children, we often love to re-read or re-watch the same book or movie over and over again. Repetition breeds familiarity, and in a big, wide scary world, the familiar is comforting. However, as adults familiarity more often breeds contempt, and—in our entertainment, at least—we are always seeking for the new, the fresh, the inspirational—something we haven’t experienced before. It’s an interesting human condition, actually, because in our real lives we often fear the unknown—but in our entertainment, we hunger for it.

Originality becomes the gold standard to aim for, the measure by which all else is compared. Of two movies that were recently released, Logan is praised as being unlike its predecessors, and unlike a traditional superhero movie entirely, while Beauty and the Beast is in some places being criticized for not only being derivative of the animated version but nearly a clone of it. (Critics’ receptions of films, of course, don’t always match popular opinion.)

But what is original? Is Logan, the ninth movie to feature Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, really all that original? Is Beauty and the Beast, based off the cartoon that was based off the French fairy-tale, really anything special? If not, then what can be described as original? What qualifies as derivative?

The word ‘original’ defines itself as not being dependent on previous ideas or material, that the ‘origin’ of the work starts and ends with the first creator(s). An original screenplay is typically perceived as one that is not an adaptation of previous material and is something that is lauded in today’s film industry (consider that less than half of this year’s Oscar Best Picture nominees were ‘original’).

In this sense, of course, it’s easy to identify original stories as ones that have no precedent—ones that are the sole creation of one or a set of authors and are not rewrites or adaptations of someone else’s work. (Interesting that in film this is called adaptation; in literature, it’s called plagiarism.) Most books are original, inasmuch as the fear of being labeled a plagiarist keeps most authors from directly copying and stealing each others’ ideas. Yet original books need not be good books, and many good stories are not original in the traditional sense of the word—Logan, for instance, is based entirely off a character and storyline that has already been told.

So the definition of original becomes slightly less clear when we start to take into account the fact that, in today’s storytelling market, ‘original’ is usually used synonymously with ‘good’.

The Role of Inspiration

In truth, other than caveman of the earliest days, there is very little literature that is wholly original. In his book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, Christopher Booker breaks plot down into seven foundational story ‘types’, into which many—if not all—modern stories fall. These story types, including quests, comedies, tragedies, and rebirths, form a pattern that can be used to describe almost any story at all, and it becomes clear that, on the most essential of levels, all stories are the same. For example, one might not immediately see a connection between The Silence of the Lambs and Dracula, but both contain a sinister villain of unimaginable evil, weakened throughout the majority of the story until the very end, when we witness their true power. This would be the ‘Overcoming the Monster’ plot. Similarly, Romeo and Juliet and (forgive the comparison) Fifty Shades of Grey both share a theme of a heroine destined to misery and despair, ending in what Booker would describe as ‘Tragedy’.

Whilst some would argue that comparing stories in such a manner demeans their inherent value, it’s nonetheless a useful tool in understanding how humans tell stories, how we structure them, and what we want from them. The first stories we tell are usually as small children, reenacting scenes from our favorite movies and TV shows. As we mature, these stories grow and become more inventive, introducing elements from outside the original source material. Yet even at such a young age, we are basing our stories off of someone else’s: we are using existing material as inspiration.

Art rarely exists in a vacuum. Everything we do, everything we create, is touched and inspired by what we’ve experienced before. In the case of, say, La La Land, the film, whilst original in most senses of the word, is not without its clear influences: classic musicals such as Singin’ in the Rain are evidently paid homage to, whilst director Damien Chazelle himself notes films such as Boogie Nights and Pulp Fiction influenced his portrayal of the city of Los Angeles.

The further back in time we go, the less clear the influences become, as history’s gray veil draws itself over our collective memories. It’s harder to say what might have influenced great writers such as Charles Dickens than it is to see the more immediate parallels between modern authors such as Dan Brown and Tom Clancy. But every storyteller has their precedents, and their own literary loves and influences.

Inspiration, then, could be considered the antidote to unoriginality; for every story that treads the same waters, another tale takes inspiration from it.

Derivative Storytelling

Of course, inspiration is different than derivation, and there’s a fine and somewhat blurry line between the two. In my fantasy series The Redemption of Erâth, I pay homage to Tolkien in a number of ways, including through character names. The plot itself is heavily inspired by such epic fantasies as The Lord of the Rings and even Michael Moorcock’s Elric series. In fact, the plot of a farm boy driven from his home and forced into a quest for redemption is so well-worn that it could well be considered derivative, though I’d like to hope that I’ve injected enough of myself into the stories that they don’t feel clone-ish.

And there are endless variations of this theme. The Belgaraid, by David Eddings; The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan; Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams; all of these have orphans or farm boys or kitchen servants as their protagonists. In fact, there are so many quest-style fantasy stories in the world that any new generation of fantasy writers can but be derivative—it’s pretty much all been done.

In my other, more contemporary work, a teenage girl struggles with depression, suicide, and self-harm in a loveless, dysfunctional family setting. There are plenty of miserable teen books out there too—Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher; Cut, by Patricia McCormick; even The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. Yet this story is one that is based not on other stories, but primarily on my own personal, human experiences. In this, I hope it to be something more than just derivative—even though it’s hardly the only story of its kind.

Yet even derivative fiction can have its merit. Harkening back to our childhood love of repetition, there is a pleasure in reading a story that is at once familiar and fresh. There are stories that take us by surprise, stories that make us laugh and cry—and then there are stories that are fun yet predictable. When’s the last time you read a mystery where the sleuth didn’t solve the case? We know it’s coming, yet we read it anyway, because it’s light entertainment.

In a world of ebooks and online self-publishing, the number of books being released is exponentially rising. With such large numbers of stories to read, there can only be so many that are wholly original—that don’t immediately remind us of that other story we just read.

And sometimes it isn’t the original material that makes it big; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is as derivative as it gets (even for the same author), and it was the best-selling book of 2016. The highest-grossing blockbusters of recent years have been Marvel’s Avengers films, which are of course based on characters and plots originally published decades ago.

The Value of Stories

In the end, original, inspired or derivative are simply ways of categorizing the inventiveness of authors—like Booker’s seven types of story, they are only useful to a certain extent. If you took the cast of The Lord of the Rings, dropped them off in Westeros and sent Death Eaters after them, you’d certainly be derivative—but probably pretty original too. Call Harry Frodo and send him off to destroy a ring instead of a Horcrux—did you really think we wouldn’t notice? Yet for all the perspiration and inspiration, the homages and thematic thefts, every story is ultimately original to some extent, if only because only that author could put those words together in exactly that way.

Even in the rather special realm of fan fiction, where characters, settings, and events are not just derived but copied wholesale, the author’s intent is nonetheless to tell a story that hasn’t been told before, or to see an existing story from a different point of view. When I set out to create the world of Erâth, I knew it would bear more than just a passing resemblance to other, similar fantasy lands. Yet even Middle-Earth was intended as an alternate medieval Europe, so who’s the copycat now?

So the question becomes, is the value of a story in its originality, or in its telling? As stories were first handed down from generation to generation, each teller added their own embellishments, their own flair, and their own imagination to what had come before. Undoubtedly some people preferred one teller’s version over another. Interestingly, this is something Hollywood long ago realized: given enough time, younger audiences will yearn for a contemporaneous version of an old classic, to the point where apparently they’re even considering redoing The Matrix now. My son far prefers the 2014 version of Godzilla to that from 1954, and in fairness, for all its charm old rubber-suit just doesn’t terrify anymore.

Yet in literature this remains taboo. Perhaps because of the longer extent of copyright, or perhaps because plagiarism is so vehemently frowned upon, but it becomes paramount for authors and novelists to invent freshness, to seek out the holy grail of originality and write something that’s unlike anything that came before it. And while I’m not defending the outright copying of another’s work, I would argue that ‘true’ originality is a pipe dream: every story there ever was and ever will be has already been told a thousand times in a thousand different ways, and the inventiveness of the author is less in the plot and more in the voice. The masters of modern literature didn’t make their mark with stories that had never been told, but by telling them in a way that had never been heard.

What do you think makes a story ‘original’? Does it have to be something you’ve never come across before, or is it the way in which the author tells it that is more important?

Raised between the soaring peaks of the Swiss Alps and the dark industrialism of northern England, beauty and darkness have been twin influences on Chris's creativity since his youth. Throughout his life he has expressed this through music, art, and literature, delving deep into the darkest parts of human nature, and finding the elegance therein. These themes are central to his current literary project, The Redemption of Erâth. A dark epic fantasy, it is a tale of the bitter struggle against darkness and despair, and an acknowledgment that there are some things the mind cannot overcome. Written from a depth of personal experience, Chris' words are touching and powerful, the hallmark of someone who has walked alone through the night, and welcomes the final darkness of the soul. However, for now, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and eleven-year-old son. You can also find him at http://satiswrites.com.

Photo from kaboompics.com. Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: http://eepurl.com/mHTVL. Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

April 6, 2017

English & Español: Elefantitos by Susie Jaramillo

by MK French


November 2016; Encantos; 978-0996995917;
board book (10 pages); preschool
a free ARC was provided for this review
Susie Jaramillo's Elefantitos is a bilingual counting board book based on the folk song "Elefantitos".

It is in English and then in Spanish, with brightly colored numbers and elephants balancing on a spider's thread. The board book has little tabs to make the elephants move; unfortunately, I had the digital version to look at with my children and couldn't make the display change.

There isn't any indication of how the song should be sung, which would be more problematic for those of us that didn't grow up learning it. It's still a cute little poem for young children, especially if they like elephants.

Buy Elefantitos at Amazon


Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: http://eepurl.com/mHTVL. Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

April 5, 2017

Debbie Macomber's If Not for You (New Beginnings #3)

by Elisabeth Scherer

Review If not for you (New Beginnings #3) Debbie Macomber
 March 2017 ;  Ballantine Books; 9780553391961
print, e-book, and audio (368 pages)
Romance, Fiction,  Contemporary
There are many Debbie Macomber books to choose from for this letter in the A to Z challenge. It can be hard to decide which books to talk about with an author who has published so many equally great books.  Conveniently her latest book If Not for You (New Beginnings #3) has just been released. This newer series usually explores characters that have had struggles in their lives or are overcoming some obstacle. It's probably this aspect that has me liking the series in a different way then Macomber's other series Cedar Cove.

I reviewed the second book in this series last year, A Girl's Guide to Moving On. Macomber has a great way to weave characters together from one book in a series to another with cameos. That said, this book can be read as a stand alone book without being confusing if you haven't read either of the previous books.

Beth Prudhomme has struck out on her own away from her controlling parents. She moves to Oregon to be closer to her Aunt Sunshine but also so she can have some freedom in her life. Beth is friends with Nichole (from A Girl's Guide to Moving On). She meets Sam Carney through Nichole and Rocco and they do not hit it off.  Beth and Sam both know a doomed relationship from the start of the setup dinner date. When the awkward meal is over Beth and Sam both leave to go home separately and Beth winds up in a car accident and Sam witnesses the crash. He stays with her while help is on the way.

As Beth recovers Sam is compelled to keep visiting her at the hospital and this is when their friendship grows. They bond over a love of music and their friendship blossoms into a budding romance.  Then Beth's overbearing mother arrives sending things into chaos. She wants Beth to come back home and does not approve of Sam one bit. Beth struggles to keep her newly found freedom and Sam struggles with issues from his past. Will they make it over the hurdles? You'll have to read to find out the answer.

This book has many of the wonderful qualities that Debbie Macomber is great at using in her books. The characters are normal everyday families of all kinds. The romance part of the book isn't overly cheesy. Most of her main characters have some issues to work through. It has the Hallmark movie quality story line.  It's nice to read about a girl finding her own way in life and touches on a second story slightly with Beth's aunt Sunshine.

It is a refreshing story that is easy to read. This book has a theme of forgiveness, repairing relationships, and moving forward. If I had to compare it to a movie I would probably go with While You Were Sleeping mixed with Mystic Pizza.

The only complaint I had was in the previous book the chapters of the book shifted between the two main female characters but in this book focuses mainly on Beth and Sam and then near the end of the book Sunshine. I feel like it would have been nice to balance out the stories much like A Girl's Guide did.  However as I step back and think about the book again I guess you could say the other main relationship in this book is between Beth's mom, Ellie, and her sister Sunshine.


Buy If Not for You on Amazon


Elisabeth Scherer, reviewer. Elisabeth grew up in a very small town in Minnesota but now lives in the lovely Pacific Northwest where she spends most of her time raising her two young children. She and her husband have a large collection of books that takes a good space of their small condo. When she's not reading she has a variety of hobbies that include crocheting, drawing, baking, cooking, and movie watching. She is currently obsessed with making French Macarons and other baked deliciousness! You can also find her blogging at http://kitchenstoriesetc.blogspot.com

Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: http://eepurl.com/mHTVL. Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

April 4, 2017

4 Contemporary Chick Lit Novels

by Susan Roberts



Goodreads describes Chick Lit this way: "Chick lit is genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly. Although it sometimes includes romantic elements, chick lit is generally not considered a direct subcategory of the romance novel genre, because the heroine's relationship with her family or friends is often just as important as her romantic relationships."

Some women feel that the term is demeaning to them and puts them into a category that is often overlooked by the publishing giants. How do you feel about the term chick lit? Is there another term that you prefer? Maybe women's fiction? I'd love to hear your opinions in the comments below. Whatever it's called, it's a genre of fiction that I love and I am happy to share a few books from that category with you today.

The Hope Chest
The Hope Chest by Viola Shipman

This is a fantastic book that will bring you to tears but will leave you with a feeling of hope and love. The characters are well done, the plot is terrific and the setting is fantastic. Before I tell you a little about the book, I want to say that the book had me hooked with the setting in Michigan on the Lake. I spent all of my summers at Lake Michigan about 100 miles north of the setting of this book and I think Lake Michigan is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The author described the area and Lake Michigan so well, that it brought back great memories of the time that I spent there (and still do).

Mattie and Don have been married almost 50 years when the book begins. Mattie is very independent and has been fighting her diagnosis of ALS but the disease is getting worse. Her husband is totally devoted to her and takes care of her by himself until her disease progresses and he needs help. They hire Rose, a young down-on-her-luck mother with a 6-year-old daughter, Jeri, to take care of Mattie. Rose (and Jeri) bring some joy into Mattie and Don's lives as Mattie begins to share her memories of items that are stored in the hope chest that her parents gave her as a child. Each chapter is devoted to a different memory - a vase, an apron, a snow globe and others - and we learn not only the history of the item but also how it affects them present day.

I will warn you that this is a sad book, Mattie's impending death hangs over every page and as you come to know her better throughout the book, it gets sadder. The important thing is that you are not left with a feeling of sadness but a feeling of love and family and the fact that family is not made up of who you are related to but it's made up of the people who love you.

Buy The Hope Chest from Amazon


The Forbidden Garden
The Forbidden Garden by Ellen Herrick

"Every garden is a story, waiting to be told..."

This is the belief of the main character, Sorrel Sparrow, who runs a nursery with her sisters. Sorrel has a remarkable reputation in Granite Point for being able to nurture and grow beautiful plants and flowers. She is still trying to find her way after a family tragedy (unknown to me because it's part of the story of The Sparrow Sisters) and when she is offered a chance to go to England to help restore a garden that appears to have a curse and hasn't bloomed in 200 years, she decides that she needs to go despite the closeness that she has with her sisters. The people at Kirkwood Hall in England are all pretty quirky but they are accepting of Sorrel and try to help her with the garden in their own ways despite their fear of the curse.

This is an interesting and compelling book to read. There is a little history, a little romance, a little magic and a lot of family history. If you are a gardener, you're going to love this book because the author goes into lots of details about flowers and plants. I enjoyed this book but think I will enjoy it even more after I read The Sparrow Sisters.

Buy The Forbidden Garden at Amazon


A Thousand Butterfly Wishes
 A Thousand Butterfly Wishes by Susan Haught

This book has a little bit of everything - love, friendship, family relationship but most important to me was the caring for the people who cannot care for themselves. Rachel is a nurse at a senior living center. Even though she is a bit of a rebel and a rule bender, she truly cares about her patients and not only their physical well-being but also their happiness. When she breaks the rules, it's to bring happiness to their lives that are often near the end. She was a fantastic character and you can't help but laugh and cry with her throughout the book. Even though she isn't looking for love and has secrets about her past that she is hiding, she develops a relationship with Nico, a CNA at the nursing home. He is also passionate about the patients' happiness and is equally passionate about making Rachel happy. This is a fantastic book with some wonderful characters who will make you laugh and make you cry.

Buy A Thousand Butterfly Wishes at  Amazon


The Secret to Hummingbird Cake
The Secret to Hummingbird Cake by Celeste Fletcher McHale

This novel is about friendship - the kind of friendship between women that anyone is lucky to find. Carri, Laine and Ella Rae have been friends since elementary school and now in their 30s they are faced with all kinds of adult problems. They live in a small town in the South where every knows all about what is going on in everyone else's life and there are all sorts of eccentric characters. The novel centers around their friendship - first whether or not Carri's husband is having an affair and then over the health of one of the members of the group. I loved all three of the main characters - I live in the South and I know people just like them. I laughed with them and I cried with them and I hated to see the book end. This is a fantastic book and I will definitely be on the lookout for future books from this author.

Buy The Secret to Hummingbird Cake at Amazon



Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling. She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their grandson. Susan reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on Facebook.


Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: http://eepurl.com/mHTVL. Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

April 3, 2017

Biltmore Estate and Vanderbilt's Books

by Donna Huber




Last month I visited Biltmore Estates in Ashville, North Carolina for the first time. I had heard of the magnificent gardens and thanks to the mild winter I knew there would be at least a few things in bloom. I knew the house would be great. My friend and I were going because of the fashion exhibit, Designed for Drama: Costumes from the Classics and we were pretty excited to see that since we are both Downton Abbey fans. But what I wasn't prepared for was the library.


Prior to my trip, I did a bit of research on George Vanderbilt and the Biltmore House, which led me to discover Vanderbilt's love of literature. At 12 years of age, he began recording the books he read. He had to keep his reading record in notebooks (there was no Goodreads!). He was an avid reading and I think he read around 80 books a year. There are something like 22,000 books in his library.

But his love of literature wasn't just a private matter. He wanted others to be able to enjoy books too. Remember this was at a time when books were expensive and not everyone had ready access to books. While the estate is in North Carolina, it was George's country estate. Vanderbilts were New York residents and had a house in the city. In 1888, George established the Jackson Square Branch of the New York Free Circulating Library (which is now part of the New York Public Library).

For all the tours the Estate offers, I was disappointed that there wasn't a book tour. Sure we saw the library. But it was only a sliver of a view. I wanted to look up close at the books, to read the titles on the spines. They really should offer something like that.

The did have a number of displays around the house about his collection. I learned that Edith Wharton, author of Ethan Frome and other works, was often a visitor at Biltmore Estate. She evening spent a Christmas with the family. There were other literary greats that were personal friends of George Vanderbilt. You can learn more about the library on the Biltmore blog.

Books to Read

The Designed for Drama display increased my reading list as there were a few I had not yet read. If you are planning a trip to Biltmore this spring or summer here is a reading list you might want to start on. (The Designed for Drama runs through July 4).

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Golden Bowl by Henry James
Sleepy Hallow by Washington Irving
The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee (the play upon which the movie Finding Neverland is based.)
House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

If you aren't able to visit the Biltmore Estate, here are some of my pictures from my trip. It was absolutely beautiful and if I lived in the area I would have a season pass just to visit the park surrounding the house.




Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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April 2, 2017

New Releases for April 2017



If the saying 'April showers bring May flowers' is true, then there should be plenty of rainy days ahead to curl up with a new book. Get your wishlist ready, here are just a few that hit shelves this month.


The Lost Order
The Knights of the Golden Circle, founded on July 4, 1854, was the largest, most dangerous clandestine organization in American history. It formulated grand plans—to expand the United States, change the constitutional landscape, and forge a Southern empire, enslaving a ‘golden circle’ spanning two continents. To finance its goals, the Order amassed an amazing trove of stolen gold and silver, which they buried in hidden caches across the United States. Treasure hunters have searched for decades, but have never found any of the Order’s major hoards.

Now, 160 years later, the knights still exist. Two factions within the Order want the treasure—one to spend it, the other to preserve it. Thrust into that civil war is former Justice Department agent Cotton Malone.

Starting with a hunt for clues inside the Smithsonian Institution, Malone discovers that an ancestor within his own family may hold the key to everything: a Confederate spy named Owen “Cotton” Payne. Complicating matters further are the political ambitions of a ruthless Speaker of the House and the widow of a United States Senator, who have plans of their own—plans that conflict in every way with the Order.

From the quiet back rooms of the Smithsonian, to the dangers of rural Arkansas, and finally into the rugged mountains of northern New Mexico, The Lost Order is a perilous adventure into our country’s dark past, and a potentially darker future.

Available April 4
Buy at The Lost Order at Amazon


Show No Weakness
She’s a tenderhearted social worker, looking for her Happy-Ever-After. He’s a distrustful RCMP Corporal who’s sworn off relationships. Factor in a surly teen heading for delinquency, and you have a case of passion and turmoil too explosive to handle.

As a defense mechanism to deal with his guilt and grief over his daughter's death, Cole Dennison has become an expert at compartmentalizing his feelings. He keeps his personal life private, while making it his professional mission to rescue children in peril.

Joely Sinclair is fiercely protective and openly compassionate. When she meets Cole Dennison, she falls hard. He's everything she admires in a man, and because she wears her heart on her sleeve, she can't understand how or why Cole keeps all his emotions to himself.

As much as Cole resents his interest in Joely, with her inquisitive and caring nature, he can't deny her appeal. Against his better judgment, he becomes involved in both her and her son's lives. Taylor is in desperate need of a positive male role model, and Cole can't turn his back on the boy. But when Joely starts talking love, Cole's inability to commit puts an end to their relationship—until a dangerous situation throws them back together.

When given a second chance at love, will Cole risk letting Joely into his battered heart?

Available April 10


One Perfect Lie
On paper, Chris Brennan looks perfect. He's applying for a job as a high school government teacher, he's ready to step in as an assistant baseball coach, and his references are impeccable.

But everything about Chris Brennan is a lie.

Susan Sematov is proud of her son Raz, a high school pitcher so athletically talented that he's being recruited for a full-ride scholarship to a Division I college, with a future in major-league baseball. But Raz’s father died only a few months ago, leaving her son in a vulnerable place where any new father figure might influence him for good, or evil.

Heather Larkin is a struggling single mother who lives for her son Justin's baseball games. But Justin is shy, and Heather fears he is being lured down a dark path by one of his teammates, a young man from an affluent family whose fun-loving manner might possibly conceal his violent plans.

Mindy Kostis succumbs to the pressure of being a surgeon's wife by filling her days with social events and too many gin and tonics. But she doesn’t know that her husband and her son, Evan, are keeping secrets from her – secrets that might destroy all of them.

At the center of all of them is Chris Brennan. Why is he there? What does he want? And what is he willing to do to get it?

Enthralling and suspenseful, One Perfect Lie is an emotional thriller and a suburban crime story that will have readers riveted up to the shocking end, with killer twists and characters you won’t soon forget.

Available April 11
Buy One Perfect Lie at Amazon


The Perfect Stranger
In the masterful follow-up to the runaway hit All the Missing Girls, a journalist sets out to find a missing friend, a friend who may never have existed at all.

Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.

Determined to find Emmy, Leah cooperates with Kyle Donovan, a handsome young police officer on the case. As they investigate her friend’s life for clues, Leah begins to wonder: did she ever really know Emmy at all? With no friends, family, or a digital footprint, the police begin to suspect that there is no Emmy Grey. Soon Leah’s credibility is at stake, and she is forced to revisit her past: the article that ruined her career. To save herself, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.

Everyone in this rural Pennsylvanian town has something to hide—including Leah herself. How do you uncover the truth when you are busy hiding your own?

Available April 11
Buy The Perfect Stranger at Amazon


The Fix
Amos Decker witnesses a murder just outside FBI headquarters. A man shoots a woman execution style on a crowded sidewalk, then turns the gun on himself.

Even with Decker's extraordinary powers of observation and deduction, the killing is baffling. Decker and his team can find absolutely no connection between the shooter - a family man with a successful consulting business - and his victim, a schoolteacher. Nor is there a hint of any possible motive for the attack.

Enter Harper Brown. An agent of the Defense Intelligence Agency, she orders Decker to back off the case. The murder is part of an open DIA investigation, one so classified that Decker and his team aren't cleared for it.

But they learn that the DIA believes solving the murder is now a matter of urgent national security. Critical information may have been leaked to a hostile government - or, worse, an international terrorist group - and an attack may be imminent.

Decker's never been one to follow the rules, especially with the stakes so high. Forced into an uneasy alliance with Agent Brown, Decker remains laser focused on only one goal: solving the case before it's too late.

Available April 18
Buy The Fix at Amazon


Boys SOuth of the Mason
The only thing hotter than the weather South of the Mason Dixon line are the boys. Worn, faded blue jeans, slow Southern drawls, and those naughty moments in the back of pickup trucks a girl never forgets.

Welcome to the world of the Sutton boys.

Five brothers who fight, party, drink a little too much, but more importantly, they love their momma. Nothing can tear them apart… until the girl next door wins more than one of their hearts.

Available April 24
Buy Boys South of the Mason Dixon at Amazon



Meet Bob. Bob is the guy between the lines of every love story you ever met. The lucky chance, the twist of fate, the astounding coincidence that sets sparks flying. Never seen, but always there.

Today Bob is assigned to help Jenny find love. But there is something more than bad luck working against the quirky librarian. Bob might have to save her life, before he can help her find love.

And he can't do that from the shadows....

Available April 24







The Whole Thing Together
Summer for Sasha and Ray means the sprawling old house on Long Island. Since they were children, they’ve shared almost everything—reading the same books, running down the same sandy footpaths to the beach, eating peaches from the same market, laughing around the same sun-soaked dining table. Even sleeping in the same bed, on the very same worn cotton sheets. But they’ve never met.

Sasha’s dad was once married to Ray’s mom, and together they had three daughters: Emma, the perfectionist; Mattie, the beauty; and Quinn, the favorite. But the marriage crumbled and the bitterness lingered. Now there are two new families—and neither one will give up the beach house that holds the memories, happy and sad, of summers past.

The choices we make come back to haunt us; the effect on our destinies ripples out of our control…or does it? This summer, the lives of Sasha, Ray, and their siblings intersect in ways none of them ever dreamed, in a novel about family relationships, keeping secrets, and most of all, love.

Available April 25
Buy The Whole Thing Together at Amazon


Shopping for a CEO's Wife
Snowbound. Sounds so romantic, with visions of cuddling before a roaring fire, hot chocolate spiked with brandy, and a secret elopement.
Wait. What?
My fiancé’s father won’t stop trying to turn our pending wedding into a three-ring media circus so he can get free publicity for his family’s Fortune 500 company. My mother has decided she’s done with All Things Wedding and asks her teacup Chihuahua for mother-of-the-bride advice.
They’ve all gone certifiably mad.
Then the stress from the wedding puts my mother in the hospital, I scream at my future father-in-law in front of a camera crew and the video goes viral, and the romantic wedding that started with Andrew’s grand Pride and Prejudice proposal looks less like Jane Austen and more like Dostoyevsky.
So what do you do when you’re a fixer and you can’t fix something?
You give up on it.
Not on Andrew, silly.
The wedding.

Shopping for a CEO’s Wife is the 12th book in Julia Kent’s New York Times bestselling Shopping series. As Shannon and Declan enjoy their newlywed bliss, Andrew’s father wants to exploit Amanda and Andrew’s nuptials, much to Amanda’s chagrin. Can she learn to stand up to her future father-in-law and fight for what’s right? But the real question is: will Spritzy the teacup Chihuahua end up being a flower girl?

Available April 25
Buy Shopping for a CEO's Billionaire at Amazon


Rhodes' Reward
Welcome to Rhodes' Reward, book 4 in Heroes for Hire, reconnecting readers with the unforgettable men from SEALs of Honor in a new series of action packed, page turning romantic suspense that fans have come to expect from USA TODAY Bestselling author Dale Mayer.

Second chances do happen… Even amid evil...

Rhodes knew Sienna years ago. When she’d been young and gawky, more elbow and carrot hair than style, but she’d had something special even then. Now she’s all grown. But she’s a trouble magnet, and even at the compound it finds her…

Sienna had a super-sized crush on her brother’s best friend years ago. Now he’s hunky and even hotter than she could have imagined. Only she’s new and doesn’t want to jeopardize her position. When asked to help out on a job, she agrees…and triggers a sequence of disastrous events no one could foresee.

But someone will stop at nothing to silence everyone involved, especially the two of them…

Available April 25
Buy Rhodes' Reward at Amazon


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