Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. The book is being released by Scribner on July 12, 2016.

Amazon says this about the book: Part coming-of-age story, part mystery, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a quirky and utterly charming debut about a community in need of absolution and two girls learning what it means to belong.

England, 1976. Mrs. Creasy is missing and the Avenue is alive with whispers. The neighbors blame her sudden disappearance on the heat wave, but ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly aren’t convinced. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, the girls decide to take matters into their own hands. Inspired by the local vicar, they go looking for God—they believe that if they find Him they might also find Mrs. Creasy and bring her home.

Spunky, spirited Grace and quiet, thoughtful Tilly go door to door in search of clues. The cul-de-sac starts to give up its secrets, and the amateur detectives uncover much more than ever imagined. As they try to make sense of what they’ve seen and heard, a complicated history of deception begins to emerge. Everyone on the Avenue has something to hide, a reason for not fitting in.

In the suffocating heat of the summer, the ability to guard these differences becomes impossible. Along with the parched lawns and the melting pavement, the lives of all the neighbors begin to unravel. What the girls don’t realize is that the lies told to conceal what happened one fateful day about a decade ago are the same ones Mrs. Creasy was beginning to peel back just before she disappeared.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Review: The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan

You might not think that hospice and war have much in common. But they do. Both concern death in one way or another. Even so, they are opposites on the spectrum. One's goal is to accept and die with dignity. The other's goal is the subjugate and force violent death. There is no winning a battle in hospice; the only release comes with death. In war, a soldier can survive, but the cost is high indeed. Stephen P. Kiernan's newest novel, The Hummingbird, showcases both hospice and war and the lessons to be learned from both.

Deb Birch is a hospice nurse who has just been assigned to a new patient. Barclay Reed is an academic whose work was discredited due to accusations of plagiarism. His area of expertise is the Pacific theater in WWII and he's dying of kidney cancer. He's difficult and proud, a curmudgeon with everyone but he develops a grudgingly respectful relationship with Deb. Deb is very good at what she does, defusing difficult situations and finding ways for her patients to accept death with dignity. But she can't seem make this same connection with her husband. Michael is back from his third deployment in Iraq and unlike after previous tours, he doesn't appear to be healing at all from the horrors he was asked to witness and to commit. Their marriage, once so strong, is fraying under the stress. So daily Deb goes from work with a dying man to home and a husband who is dying inside. She is holding tight and trying to discover ways to walk judgment free beside her husband. Astonishingly, Barclay Reed and his unpublished manuscript about a Japanese pilot who dropped incendiaries on the Oregon forests during WWII might be giving her the tools to do just this.

There are three distinct plot threads here: Deb caring for Reed, Deb and Michael's agonizing emotional distance as a result of his combat experiences, and the story of pilot warrior Ichiro Soga during and after the war. The tale of Soga inspires Deb's attempts to help Michael, which in turn offer Barclay Reed a vital lesson even in his waning days. In a few instances the lessons from one to the other are too easy.  Even so, they do show us how we can learn from all human experiences, how to accept, how to forgive, and how to go forth to whatever awaits us with courage and peace. That the story of Ichiro Soga is based on a true WWII story, although fictionalized to serve this particular plot, is fascinating indeed. Deb is really the main character here though, caring as she does for the people in her life with secondary charactrs Reed and Michael adding dimensions to her as a caregiver.

Kiernan has written a touching novel about healing, forgiveness, and peace. His rendering of PTSD and the ways in which we routinely fail our returning soldiers, so unprepared for regular non-combatant life, is heartbreaking and scary. Deb's job as a hospice nurse is one that has to be difficult, especially as she tiptoes around Michael, trying to reach him in ways similar to the ways she is trying to help Reed reflect back on the important things in his life. Just as these characters grapple with what and who we carry with us, out of guilt or love, throughout our lives, the reader will also carry the lessons they impart. An emotional and nicely done novel about the peace we can find in death or acceptance, this has something both for historical fiction fans and those interested in the post war lives of our soldiers.

For more information about Stephen P. Kiernan, take a look at his web page or like him on Facebook. Check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: Remember My Beauties by Lynne Hugo

Caring for parents as they age is stressful for anyone. Add in a failing family farm, siblings absent either physically or because of addictions, and favoritism where the caregiver child is not the favorite and caring for those parents is exponentially harder to do. This is the case in Lynne Hugo's sharply written, dysfunctional family novel, Remember My Beauties.

Jewel checks in on her parents every day, cleaning, feeding, and administering their medicine and she cares for her father's beauties (the horses) too all while struggling with issues in her own floundering marriage to Eddie and with her drug addicted daughter, Carley, and working in a job that doesn't feed her soul. She is stretched as thin as it is possible to be and she's deeply unhappy, as is evidenced by her hacking off her beautiful hair in the opening of the novel. She feels, and in fact seems to be, unappreciated by everyone in her life. When her parents inform her that her no-good alcoholic brother, the brother she loathes, is coming back and moving in with them, Jewel erupts, unwilling to continue to see her parents and the horses she loves if Cal is anywhere around. This line in the sand sets up unlikely coalitions and drives the central conflict of the novel.

The narration of the novel jumps amongst almost all of the characters, even including the horses, but only Jewel narrates in the first person. This makes her feelings and reasons the most intimate and immediate for the reader.  Each of the other characters' stories occur in relation to Jewel.  The perspective jumps to and from the other characters can be a little disconcerting at times and changes the narrative tension quite a bit. Hugo has drawn Jewel quite sensitively so that the decision she makes at the breaking point is certainly understandable. The rest of the characters are not quite as noble as Jewel and it is hard to be positive about their collusion with each other against her. The family is completely and totally dysfunctional, riddled with drugs and alcohol and terrible secrets making Hack and Louetta's aging and loss of independence that much sadder. Each character knows what he or she wants and is so enmeshed in his or her own needs that it is hard to read although this same selfishness makes them all so very human. As each pursues that which they want above all, they do all start to open to others, to grow, and to change and there is hope for these damaged characters to see clearly once more.

For more information about Lynne Hugo, take a look at her web page, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Wrong Highway by Wendy Gordon
Remember My Beauties by Lynne Hugo
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
You Have Never Been Here by Mary Rickert
West With the Night by Beryl Markham
A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
Riverine by Angela Palm
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
I Will Find You by Joanna Connors
The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel
Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
The Winter War by Philip Teir
I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee
Bertrand Court by Michelle Brafman
This Side of Providence by Sally M. Harper
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Different Kind of Daughter by Maria Toorpakai

Reviews posted this week:

A House For Happy Mothers by Amulya Malladi
The Royal Nanny by Karen Harper
Wrong Highway by Wendy Gordon

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman
My Confection by Lisa Kotin
Put a Ring on It by Beth Kendrick
One Perfect Summer by Paige Toon
The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
American Housewife by Helen Ellis
The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
Closer All the Time by Jim Nichols
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Forsaken by Ross Howell Jr.
The Cosmopolitans by Sarah Schulman
The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
A Very Special Year by Thomas Montasser
Specimen by Irina Kovalyova
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod
The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera
The Boy Who Speaks in Numbers by Mike Masilamani
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas
After the Dam by Amy Hassinger
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
Umami by Laia Jufresa
The Education of a Poker Player by James McManus
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea
The Iceberg by Marion Coutts
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Remarkable by Dinah Cox
Miss Jane by Brad Watson
The Inland Sea by Donald Ritchie
The Unseen World by Liz Moore
The Silver Spoon by Kansuke Naka
Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett
The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine by Alex Brunkhorst
The Honeymoon by Dinitia Smith
The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter
The Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum
Bottomland by Michelle Hoover
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison
The Lake by Perrine Leblanc
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
If You Left by Ashley Norton
The Heart You Carry Home by Jennifer Miller
And Again by Jessica Chiarella
Man by Kim Thuy
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
Remember My Beauties by Lynne Hugo
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Secrets of Nanreath Hall by Alix Rickloff came from William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

A mother, the daughter she left behind, and family secrets uncovered during WWII, what could be more appealing?

All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker came from St. Martin's Press.

This novel about a girl attacked and then given a drug to make her forget the horrific events seems sadly relevant these days. I expect it to raise some important questions even though it sounds like a tough read.

If you want to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Review: Wrong Highway by Wendy Gordon

Siblings can be so very different. They can look like they came from different families. They can face different expectations from those around them. Even similar seeming siblings are different people and life shapes them differently. Sometimes they seem to go such opposite directions in order to differentiate themselves from each other, to be unique, to be individuals. Some of the differences though, are a function of their inherent personalities and while they may not be obvious on the outside, underneath they lead to very different choices and lives. In Wendy Gordon's novel Wrong Highway, younger sister Erica, called Rikki by her family, has spent her whole life rebelling against those things that define her older sister Debbie and although their adult lives might look somewhat similar, Erica is traveling down a completely different highway than Debbie, what turns out to be a very wrong highway indeed.

Erica has always been more free-spirited and impulsive than her buttoned up, rule following older sister. Right from childhood they've made very different decisions in their lives. Now as adults in the mid nineteen eighties, Erica is the married mother of four. Her husband works for a high powered investment firm and he's very successful at what he does. She spends her days running her kids around and going to her exercise class. Debbie is also married with one troubled, teenaged son. Her husband works as on-air talent at a local radio station and she works part time in a beauty salon. Both women live out on Long Island not far from their parents. On the surface at least, their lives are not so dissimilar but underneath, they are still the very different personalities they've always been.

Erica is bored with her life. The biggest rush she's had recently is childbirth. Otherwise she spends her time in stultifying mundanity, listening to her sister's domestic and health problems. One family dinner, she realizes that her nephew Jared is high and that knowledge lights a little spark for her. Acting under the guise of the cool aunt who cares about his well-being more than his overbearing parents, she asks him to help her get her own pot and gets him talking to her about his home life. And this is where she starts making wrong decision after wrong decision for him, for her sister, for herself, and for her own children.

Erica as a character is immature and entirely unlikable. Following along with her is worse than watching a train wreck and the reader wants to not only slap her, they will want to smack all those around her who cannot see just how out of control she has grown. Her husband is consumed with his own issues; his company is under federal investigation and people are going to go to jail so he has no idea what is going on with Erica. Her sister is juggling her resentful son, her husband's hair-trigger temper, and a long standing resentment about her sister's seemingly golden life.

Gordon has drawn a tiny sliver of the glittering wealth and expensive drug culture that is part of the definition of the eighties here and she's done it well. Suburban Erica's decent into unacknowledged addiction and terrible decisions is also depicted well. And Gordon is a skilled writer. But the story itself is disagreeable and each of the characters are insufferable. It's hard not to read along and condemn spoiled, unpleasant, and pettish Erica as well as everyone around her. Debbie comes off as a whiny, not very smart hypochondriac. And her husband is a nasty, slimy piece of work. When every decision, by every character, is one that the reader knows is wrong, it's hard to get much enjoyment from the read. The major climax of the novel doesn't manage to redeem any of the characters and changes the tone of the book quite a bit. The ending is rather open but at least marginally positive, and perhaps too easy at that given the downward spiral of the rest of the novel. The book is well written but I couldn't enjoy it. I kept hoping for something that would draw me in; unfortunately that just didn't happen.

For more information about Wendy Gordon, take a look at her web page. Check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review: The Royal Nanny by Karen Harper

You've probably seen the adorable pictures of the current royal children and if you're an Anglophile, you've oohed and aahed over those pictures. But pictures don't tell what it's like to be around these special and different children all the time. They don't tell what it's like to raise them or to love them. Karen Harper's newest novel, The Royal Nanny, isn't about Prince George and Princess Charlotte's nanny but instead fictionalizes the life of Lala, the nanny to their great-great grandfather and his siblings.

Charlotte Bill is a young woman when she is engaged as the under nurse at York Cottage. She is to help the head nurse with David and Bertie and their soon to be new sibling. She is completely devoted to her small charges, loving them dearly even as she must make them toe the lines that their parents require and she will defend them with the zeal of a mama bear. Although Queen Victoria is still on the throne when the newly christened Mrs. Lala comes to York Cottage, the children are already being groomed for their eventually very public life. Lala must try to balance her own personal desires, including a budding romance with one of the games keepers on the estate, with her duty and care of the growing brood of children, a brood which eventually numbers six. She loves each of the young Yorks but her special child is the last and youngest, Johnnie.  He was a frail baby who had a very rough birth, doesn't appear to have the same mental capacity as his siblings, and suffers from epileptic seizures, all of which combine to make him the hidden child, rarely spoken of or seen.

Lala was in fact a real person who did indeed come to serve the Yorks and their children. She was the nanny to two future kings, Edward VIII and George VI, and was privy to the intimacies of family life with two more kings, Edward VII and George V. Told in first person by Charlotte/Lala, the reader is plunged into the personal lives of the royals. She witnesses the bickering and antagonisms between fathers and sons, the distance between spouses, and had a front row seat to British history. But all of these things, even the parts she disapproved of, are told through her loving eyes. Genuinely caring for the children and the trials they faced, Lala recounts tales about the children that correspond closely to adult traits that history has recorded for the more public of the Yorks, tales that might not be terribly flattering but that keep these rarified children human.  She chronicles the ups and downs of life in the nursery and to some extent beyond.  Woven into the happiness she derives from raising her charges, is the conflict she feels personally and just what sacrifices of her own hopes and dreams she's willing to make in order to continue to care for David, Bertie, Mary, Harry, George, and Johnnie.

The novel is well-researched and offers readers a fascinating glimpse into royal life at the time and all of the conflicts swirling about in the family. Harper has done a good job balancing Charlotte's devotion and her regrets, asking the question whether duty and love for the children should supersede a chance at marriage and her own family. Life in the royal household, and especially Johnnie's so carefully hidden life is brought to life sympathetically and any reader who thrills to news of the royals will be engrossed. The pieces about Lala's own personal life sometimes felt a little contrived or repetitous although they were necessary to show the very real choices she had to make and how those choices shaped her entire life, even once her charges were too old to need a nanny. Life with the royals could certainly be glamorous but there was a heavy cost and readers will come away feeling sorry for the personal cost not only to Lala but to the children who bore the weight of a nation on their small shoulders from the moment of their births. Hopefully things have changed some for the better now but even if they haven't, this is a page turning read that definitely has a place in the beach bags of historical fiction readers this summer.

For more information about Karen Harper, take a look at her web page or check out her page on Facebook. Check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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