Tag Archives: literary fiction

Book Review: The Dress Shop on King Street

7 Jan

I love it when the new year starts out with an excellent book! The Dress Shop on King Street by Ashley Clark checked all the boxes — lovely characters, interesting historical details, a plot that kept me engaged. It is a 5-star if ever I have read one!

 

Harper Dupree has pinned all her hopes on a future in fashion design. But when it comes crashing down around her, she returns home to Fairhope, Alabama, and to Millie, the woman who first taught her how to sew. As Harper rethinks her own future, long-hidden secrets about Millie’s past are brought to light.

In 1946, Millie Middleton — the daughter of an Italian man and a Black woman —  boarded a train and left Charleston to keep half of her heritage hidden. She carried with her two heirloom buttons and the dream of owning a dress store. She never expected to meet a charming train jumper who changed her life forever . . . and led her yet again to a heartbreaking choice about which heritage would define her future.

Now, together, Harper and Millie return to Charleston to find the man who may hold the answers they seek . . . and a chance at the dress shop they’ve both dreamed of. But it’s not until all appears lost that they see the unexpected ways to mend what frayed between the seams.

Ashley Clark in her own words:

I write romantic women’s fiction set in the South, and The Dress Shop on King Street is my debut novel. I have a Master’s degree in Creative Writing and enjoy teaching literature and writing courses as an adjunct. I’ve been an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers for almost decade! When I’m not writing, I’m re-watching You’ve Got Mail, dreaming of Charleston, and drinking all the English Breakfast tea I can get my hands on.

My journey to publication took ten years, so I am a huge believer that sometimes God-dreams can take a while to grow, and that’s really what The Dress Shop on King Street is all about. If you, too, are holding a dream that feels invisible or altogether gone, I hope you’ll come away encouraged that perhaps you are simply in a mending season, where God is still strengthening your dream at the seams.

 

My Impressions:

It is a rare occurrence to find a debut novel that gives the impression that the author has been published for decades, but The Dress Shop on King Street is just such a book. Complexly plotted with settings that came alive for this reader, its characterization is what won me over. I could not get enough of Millie and Franklin and Harper and Peter. Set against the backdrop of the American South in the 1940s to the present, the book grabbed me from the get-go and refused to let me go after the last page was turned. What a great way to start 2021!

The Dress Shop on King Street is a dual timeline novel. It follows Millie Middleton a biracial woman who passes for white. Clark does an admirable job of re-creating the racial tensions/violence that followed Millie from the 1940s to the present. Stuck between two heritages, Millie does her best to live up to the promises she makes to her mother when she leaves Charleston for the safety of Fairhope, Alabama. I loved Millie’s character so much. Clark made her experiences personal for this white woman of 2021. All of the main characters are wonderful, though, with each having very endearing qualities and very real flaws. Charleston and Fairhope were vividly described in their past beauty and ugliness and their present-day reality. Identity is a big theme — what makes us who we are and our response to our heritage. Dreams and aspirations are also explored, as characters grapple with going ahead and letting go. A faith message is subtly woven throughout the narrative. One passage late in the book really grabbed me. Millie has a hard time believing that God is more capable of managing her life than she is. I can really relate to that!

If you are looking for an excellent way to start out your new year reading, then consider The Dress Shop on King Street. I loved that 2021 started out with a 5-star novel!

Highly Recommended.

Audience: adults.

(I received a complimentary copy from Bethany House Publishers. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

 

 

 

Book Review: Stories That Bind Us

29 Dec

I had Stories That Bind Us by Susie Finkbeiner on my TBR shelf for too long. I finally made some time to read it and am so very glad. It made my 2020 best of the best list. Now I am glad I read it, but was sorry to leave the characters that inhabited its pages. This book is very highly recommended!

 

Betty Sweet never expected to be a widow at 40. With so much life still in front of her, she tries to figure out what’s next. She couldn’t have imagined what God had in mind. When her estranged sister is committed to a sanitarium, Betty finds herself taking on the care of a 5-year-old nephew she never knew she had.

In 1960s LaFontaine, Michigan, they make an odd pair. Betty with her pink button nose and bouffant hair. Hugo with his light brown skin and large brown eyes. But more powerful than what makes them different is what they share: the heartache of an empty space in their lives. Slowly, they will learn to trust one another as they discover common ground and healing through the magic of storytelling.

Award-winning author Susie Finkbeiner offers fans a novel that invites us to rediscover the power of story to open the doors of our hearts.

Susie Finkbeiner is a story junkie. Always has been and always will be. It seems it’s a congenital condition, one she’s quite fond of.

After decades of reading everything she could get her hands on (except for See the Eel, a book assigned to her while in first grade, a book she declared was unfit for her book-snob eyes), Susie realized that she wanted to write stories of her own. She began with epics about horses and kittens (but never, ever eels).

It takes years to grow a writer and after decades of work, Susie realized (with much gnashing of teeth and tears) that she was a novelist. In order to learn how to write novels, she read eclectically and adventurously (she may never swim with sharks, but the lady will jump into nearly any story). After reading the work of Lisa Samson, Patti Hill, and Bonnie Grove she realized that there was room for a writer like her in Christian fiction.

Her first novels Paint Chips (2013) and My Mother’s Chamomile (2014) have contemporary settings. While she loved those stories and especially the characters, Susie felt the pull toward historical fiction.

When she read Into the Free by Julie Cantrell she knew she wanted to write historical stories with a side of spunk, grit, and vulnerability. Susie is also greatly inspired by the work of Jocelyn Green, Rachel McMillan, and Tracy Groot.

A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl (2015), Finkbeiner’s bestselling historical set in 1930s Oklahoma, has been compared to the work of John Steinbeck and Harper Lee (which flatters Susie’s socks off). Pearl’s story continues with A Trail of Crumbs: A Novel of the Great Depression (2017) and A Song of Home: A Novel of the Swing Era (2018).

What does she have planned after that? More stories, of course. She’s a junkie. She couldn’t quit if she wanted to.

 

My Impressions:

I have to first say that I haven’t read a book by Susie Finkbeiner that I have not absolutely loved. Her characters are strong and the setting and time come to life with her deft storytelling. Every time I pick up one of her novels, I think that it cannot possibly be as good as the ones I have read before. And every time, the new book becomes my favorite. This is the case with Stories That Bind Us. Oh my goodness, I was caught up in Betty Sweet’s life and stories from the get-go. Probably the best book I have read this year, I highly recommend you read it right now!

Characterization is one of Finkbeiner’s strengths, and in Stories That Bind Us each character is lovingly crafted. There is not one that I didn’t fall in love with — even the difficult ones. If I have to pick a favorite it is, of course, Betty, whose first person voice gives life to her family. Betty tells her tale as it happens, along with reminiscences that flesh out their backstories and illuminate where each character is coming from. While small town LaFontaine in the 1960s is an idyllic place to live, the backdrop of the turbulent decade is a great parallel for the changes going on in Betty’s life. Another favorite character is Hugo, Betty’s nephew who blooms under Betty’s care. I loved that Betty poured herself into Hugo, but never tried to usurp her sister’s place in his life. Betty tells Hugo stories to help him make sense of his life. These stories bind the characters together as well as binding the wounds that each carries. While Betty’s narrative is often gentle and calm, the themes the book explores are jarring to the senses. Race, prejudice, and mental illness are treated realistically and with a touch of grace.

Stories That Bind Us is a thoughtful and thought-provoking novel. The author stated that it was a very personal story for her, and it sure shows. I readily admit to missing LaFontaine, Betty, Hugo, Stan, Marvel, and Nick and Dick, among others. It made me laugh and it made me cry. And it made me glad that I got to read this treasure. After reading Stories That Bind Us, you will want to talk about it, so just go ahead and get someone to go along for the ride. I promise you will love every minute.

Very Highly Recommended.

Great for Book Clubs.

Audience: adults.

(Thanks to Bethany House for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

 

 

 

Top 10 Tuesday — Best of 2020

29 Dec

Who knew that 2020 would be such a difficult year? It started out all bright and shiny with the birth of my first grandchild, then a landslide of a lump and a biopsy in February pointed to breast cancer. My surgery and the good news of no chemo or radiation was followed by 15 days to crush the curve. We all know where that went. While life became a bit more normal in June here in Georgia, this year has been filled with anxiety and grief. I am certainly ready for a brand new year!

While I am glad 2020 will soon be in the rearview mirror, I did read A LOT OF GREAT BOOKS this year. I couldn’t whittle the list down to 10, but I did confine it to an even dozen. And that was hard! As always my favorites span a variety of genres — historical, suspense, romance.  I hope you find a book you will love.

For more best of the best lists, head over to That Artsy Reader Girl.

 

 

Top Books of 2020

 

Collision of Lies by Tom Threadgill

The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck

The Key to Everything by Valerie Fraser Luesse

The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright

 

The Last Year of The War by Susan Meissner

The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan

Mountain Laurel by Lori Benton

The Mulberry Leaf Whispers by Linda Thompson

 

The Number of Love by Roseanna M. White

State of Lies by Siri Mitchell

Stay with Me by Becky Wade

The Stories That Bind Us by Susie Finkbeiner

Top 10 Tuesday — All I Want for Christmas Is . . . Books!

22 Dec

While the title of my post may be close to my wishlist reality, it will not come true on Christmas morning. Why? My family and friends are under the delusion that a) I already have all the books or b) I have too many books. Both are falsehoods that I cannot seem to debunk with my nearest and dearest. LOL! So I resort to being my own Santa Claus — which makes sure I get exactly what I want! 😉 In years past, I have had bookstore gift cards slipped into my stocking, for which I am grateful. But mostly, I am on my own.

Since I am both the gift giver and receiver, I can stagger book presents throughout the year, so this week’s list includes books that are already released and those I have to wait for. I hope you find one that interests you.

For more bookish Christmas wishlists, head over to That Artsy Reader Girl.

 

 

Top 10 Books I Will Be Giving Myself

 

Blackberry Beach by Irene Hannon

The Curator’s Daughter by Melanie Dobson

Facing The Dawn by Cynthia Ruchti

 

The Nature of Small Birds by Susie Finkbeiner

Obsession by Patricia Bradley

On The Cliffs of Foxglove Manor by Jaime Jo Wright

A Tapestry of Light by Kimberly Duffy

 

Trial And Error by Robert Whitlow

Unknown Threat by Lynn H. Blackburn

When Twilight Breaks by Sarah Sundin

 

 

 

Top 10 Tuesday — Thanksgiving Freebie

24 Nov

Happy Thanksgiving! This year Thanksgiving will look different for a lot of us. With grown children with commitments other than my family (is that really a thing? 😉 ), there will only be three for dinner on Thursday. But work from home allowed my son’s family and my daughter to be with us a whole week (one blessing of Covid), and the rest of the gang showed up for a great Sunday Thanksgiving meal. We laughed, watched our grand baby’s antics, and ate way too much.

Family — that’s the biggest thing I am thankful for. It’s been a difficult year for me, Covid notwithstanding. My family has prayed over me and stood with me during the hard cancer diagnosis. I am doing great, and I’m very thankful for having all my family around me.

Family is the theme of my Top 10 Tuesday Thanksgiving Freebie. I am featuring books that involve families, even the nutty or disfunctional ones. The books feature multi-generations, sibling relations, and not-related-but-family-anyway situations. Many involve series — lots of books to love. My list is far from exhaustive, but it does represent recent reading, those I loved years ago, and a variety of genres.. Happy reading!

 

Top Books Featuring Families

 

Almost Home by Valerie Fraser Luesse

The Fine Art of Insincerity by Angela Hunt

Five Miles South of Peculiar by Angela Hunt

 

Home to Chicory Lane (5-book series) by Deborah Raney

How Sweet The Sound by Amy K. Sorrells

On A Summer Tide (3-book series) by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Perennials by Julie Cantrell

 

The Sister Circle (5-book series) by Nancy Moser and Vonette Bright

The Sons of Blackbird Mountain (2-book series) by Joanne Bischof

Wings Like A Dove by Camille Eide

 

 

 

First Line Friday — The Key to Everything

26 Jun

Happy Friday! This weekend I am at the beach — my first foray into travel since everything that has been going on (Southern for pandemic 😉 ). While I am more of a mountains kind of gal, we try to go to the beach at least once a year for a change of scenery, and, I suspect, to cement our love of the mountains. I put The Key to Everything by Valerie Fraser Luesse in my beach bag and will be reading it while listening to crashing waves. I love the cover. It definitely has a beach-y vibe. The 15 year old main character is on a journey — riding his bike from St. Augustine to Key West. I will be staying a little bit north of his starting point, but I will be with him in spirit!

 

April 1947

Though he couldn’t have known, nor ever guessed, Peyton Cabot had just witnessed a bittersweet kiss goodbye. 

 

 

Peyton Cabot’s fifteenth year will be a painful and transformative one. His father, the heroic but reluctant head of a moneyed Savannah family, has come home from WWII a troubled vet, drowning his demons in bourbon and distancing himself from his son. A tragic accident shows Peyton the depths of his parents’ devotion to each other but interrupts his own budding romance with the girl of his dreams, Lisa Wallace.

Struggling to cope with a young life upended, Peyton makes a daring decision: He will retrace a journey his father took at fifteen, riding his bicycle all the way to Key West, Florida. Part declaration of independence, part search for self, Peyton’s journey will bring him more than he ever could have imagined — namely, the key to his unknowable father, a reunion with Lisa, and a calling that will shape the rest of his life.

Through poignant prose and characters so real you’ll be sure you know them, Valerie Fraser Luesse transports you to the storied Atlantic coast for a unique coming-of-age story you won’t soon forget.

Valerie Fraser Luesse is the bestselling author of Missing Isaac and is an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently a senior travel editor. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse has published major pieces on the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana’s Acadian Prairie, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana won the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama.

 

For more fabulous first line fun, head over to Hoarding Books!

Happy Release Day — Stories That Bind Us

2 Jun

Happy release day to Susie Finkbeiner! Her newest historical novel, Stories That Bind Us, is available today. I was first introduced to Susie in A Cup of Dust, a novel set during the Dust Bowl. I love that she sets her novels in pivotal times in American history. Her meticulous research and well-drawn characters make the past come alive for the modern reader. Her last book, All Manner of Things, was set during the Vietnam era. Stories That Bind Us is an especially timely read. Set in the 1960s, it features two very different main characters that are suddenly a family. I love that the title emphasizes unity. All the details are below — hope you are as eager to read it as I am

 

Betty Sweet never expected to be a widow at 40. With so much life still in front of her, she tries to figure out what’s next. She couldn’t have imagined what God had in mind. When her estranged sister is committed to a sanitarium, Betty finds herself taking on the care of a 5-year-old nephew she never knew she had.

In 1960s LaFontaine, Michigan, they make an odd pair. Betty with her pink button nose and bouffant hair. Hugo with his light brown skin and large brown eyes. But more powerful than what makes them different is what they share: the heartache of an empty space in their lives. Slowly, they will learn to trust one another as they discover common ground and healing through the magic of storytelling.

Award-winning author Susie Finkbeiner offers fans a novel that invites us to rediscover the power of story to open the doors of our hearts.

Susie Finkbeiner is a story junkie. Always has been and always will be. It seems it’s a congenital condition, one she’s quite fond of.

After decades of reading everything she could get her hands on (except for See the Eel, a book assigned to her while in first grade, a book she declared was unfit for her book-snob eyes), Susie realized that she wanted to write stories of her own. She began with epics about horses and kittens (but never, ever eels).

It takes years to grow a writer and after decades of work, Susie realized (with much gnashing of teeth and tears) that she was a novelist. In order to learn how to write novels, she read eclectically and adventurously (she may never swim with sharks, but the lady will jump into nearly any story). After reading the work of Lisa Samson, Patti Hill, and Bonnie Grove she realized that there was room for a writer like her in Christian fiction.

Her first novels Paint Chips (2013) and My Mother’s Chamomile (2014) have contemporary settings. While she loved those stories and especially the characters, Susie felt the pull toward historical fiction.

When she read Into the Free by Julie Cantrell she knew she wanted to write historical stories with a side of spunk, grit, and vulnerability. Susie is also greatly inspired by the work of Jocelyn Green, Rachel McMillan, and Tracy Groot.

A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl (2015), Finkbeiner’s bestselling historical set in 1930s Oklahoma, has been compared to the work of John Steinbeck and Harper Lee (which flatters Susie’s socks off). Pearl’s story continues with A Trail of Crumbs: A Novel of the Great Depression (2017) and A Song of Home: A Novel of the Swing Era (2018).

What does she have planned after that? More stories, of course. She’s a junkie. She couldn’t quit if she wanted to.

 

First Line Friday — Stories That Bind Us

29 May

Happy Friday everyone! I am very excited to introduce you to Susie Finkbeiner‘s newest novel, Stories That Bind Us. Susie’s books have captured my imagination with their descriptive settings and relatable characters, and I cannot wait to read this one! It releases next Tuesday, so head over to your favorite bookstore site and pre-order.

 

Here is the first line:

My Norman had never understood why I liked to hang laundry on the line when I had a perfectly good dryer inside. 

 

Betty Sweet never expected to be a widow at 40. With so much life still in front of her, she tries to figure out what’s next. She couldn’t have imagined what God had in mind. When her estranged sister is committed to a sanitarium, Betty finds herself taking on the care of a 5-year-old nephew she never knew she had.

In 1960s LaFontaine, Michigan, they make an odd pair. Betty with her pink button nose and bouffant hair. Hugo with his light brown skin and large brown eyes. But more powerful than what makes them different is what they share: the heartache of an empty space in their lives. Slowly, they will learn to trust one another as they discover common ground and healing through the magic of storytelling.

Award-winning author Susie Finkbeiner offers fans a novel that invites us to rediscover the power of story to open the doors of our hearts.

Susie Finkbeiner is a story junkie. Always has been and always will be. It seems it’s a congenital condition, one she’s quite fond of.

After decades of reading everything she could get her hands on (except for See the Eel, a book assigned to her while in first grade, a book she declared was unfit for her book-snob eyes), Susie realized that she wanted to write stories of her own. She began with epics about horses and kittens (but never, ever eels).

It takes years to grow a writer and after decades of work, Susie realized (with much gnashing of teeth and tears) that she was a novelist. In order to learn how to write novels, she read eclectically and adventurously (she may never swim with sharks, but the lady will jump into nearly any story). After reading the work of Lisa Samson, Patti Hill, and Bonnie Grove she realized that there was room for a writer like her in Christian fiction.

Her first novels Paint Chips (2013) and My Mother’s Chamomile (2014) have contemporary settings. While she loved those stories and especially the characters, Susie felt the pull toward historical fiction.

When she read Into the Free by Julie Cantrell she knew she wanted to write historical stories with a side of spunk, grit, and vulnerability. Susie is also greatly inspired by the work of Jocelyn Green, Rachel McMillan, and Tracy Groot.

A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl (2015), Finkbeiner’s bestselling historical set in 1930s Oklahoma, has been compared to the work of John Steinbeck and Harper Lee (which flatters Susie’s socks off). Pearl’s story continues with A Trail of Crumbs: A Novel of the Great Depression (2017) and A Song of Home: A Novel of the Swing Era (2018).

What does she have planned after that? More stories, of course. She’s a junkie. She couldn’t quit if she wanted to.

 

For more fabulous first lines, head over to Hoarding Books.

 

Top 10 Tuesday — Opening Lines

26 May

Today’s Top 10 Tuesday challenge was kind of a snap for me since I also participate in First Line Friday hosted by Hoarding Books. I just went through the archives and selected some of the most attention getting opening lines. I hope you find one that grabs you!

For more opening line fun, check out That Artsy Reader Girl.

 

 

Top 10 Opening Lines

Top 10 Tuesday — Kindle Deals

7 Apr

Today’s Top 10 Tuesday prompt is Books I Bought Because . . . . Books come into my house in a variety of ways — shopping bags from local bookstores, Amazon delivery, NetGalley, and book mail from publishers and PR groups. Yes I am at risk of a book landslide, but I still request and buy. Because of this I look for deals as well. That’s where my Kindle comes into play. Ebooks come on sale (or for FREE) for a number of reasons, and I am quick to jump on them. It may be a favorite author’s book that I have missed, or an author I have wanted to try, or it might be a book club selection that is currently on sale. That’s why my Amazon cloud is full too. 😉 Below are the last 10 books that came into my house because of deals on Kindle ebooks. Since I am an eclectic reader they represent a number of genres.

Do you search for book deals?

To find out why other bloggers beg, borrow, and steal buy books, head over to That Artsy Reader Girl.

 

The Last 10 Book Deals for My Kindle

Carry Me Home by Dorothy Adamek

A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden

The Esther Paradigm by Sarah Monzon

Irish Encounter by Hope Dougherty

Living Lies by Natalie Walters

Nobody by Creston Makes

A Scarlet Cord by Deborah Raney

A Search for Refuge by Kristi Ann Hunter

The Wind Will Howl by Sibella Giorello

The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels