Wednesday, June 21, 2017

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 Necklace by Claire McMillan.

The book is being released by Touchstone on July 4, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: Two generations of Quincy women—a bewitching Jazz Age beauty and a young lawyer—bound by a spectacular and mysterious Indian necklace.

Always the black sheep of the tight-knit Quincy clan, Nell is cautious when she’s summoned to the elegantly shabby family manor after her great-aunt Loulou’s death. A cold reception from the family grows chillier when they learn Loulou has left Nell a fantastically valuable heirloom: a stunningly ornate necklace from India that Nell finds stashed in the back of a dresser in a Crown Royal whiskey bag. As predatory relatives begin circling and art experts begin questioning the necklace’s provenance, Nell turns to the only person she thinks she can trust—the attractive and ambitious estate lawyer who definitely is not part of the old-money crowd.

More than just a piece of jewelry, the necklace links Nell to a long-buried family secret. It began when Ambrose Quincy brought the necklace home from India in the 1920s as a dramatic gift for May, the woman he intended to marry. Upon his return, he discovered the May had married his brother Ethan, the “good” Quincy, devoted to their father. As a gesture of friendship, Ambrose gave May the necklace anyway—reigniting their passion and beginning a tense love triangle.

Crisp as a gin martini, fresh as a twist of lime, The Necklace is the intelligent, intoxicating story of long-simmering family resentments and a young woman who inherits a secret much more valuable than a legendary necklace.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Sometimes a book washes over you and you find yourself stunned by everything about it. Such is Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent, a novel about science and faith, desire and need, superstition and truth. Even trying to reduce it to these few paltry words makes it seem less than it is, encompassing so much more than can be easily articulated. It really is a magnificent and impressive Victorian tale.

Cora Seaborne is newly widowed and she's not shaping up to be a good widow any more than she was a good wife or a good mother. Cora was dutiful but nothing more to the wealthy and well-known man who broke her down and shaped her into the woman he expected her to be.  She can't possibly mourn his loss, except perhaps for their odd, young son Francis, a child with whom she has never been able to connect. Widowhood is, strangely enough, freedom for her: freedom from convention and constraints, freedom to pursue her interest in fossils and natural history, freedom to become the inquisitive and intelligent woman she is. With her newfound freedom, Cora leaves London for the wilds of Essex. Taking her son and her beloved companion Martha with her, Cora wants to uncover fossils, perhaps even a living fossil, in the salty estuaries of the country. Through the introduction of a mutual friend, Cora meets William Ransome, the vicar of Aldwinter, a small town sinking into the superstition and myth of the return of the Essex Serpent. Will is certain that the myth is just that, a myth, not a portent of evil or a sign of end times. But his parishioners ratchet up the fear with every further story, every unexplained disappearance or death of man or beast, and with nebulous almost sightings out on the Blackwater. Cora is not so quick to dismiss the possibility of the beast's existence, eager to uncover scientific evidence that might prove its existence. So is set the dichotomy between faith and science and although Cora and Will's beliefs are so at odds, they forge a deep and abiding intellectual relationship arguing their respective stances even as they respect the other.  In fact, in many ways, they are each one half of the other.

The story is not just one of faith versus science but one of relationship and connection. Even the novel's secondary characters, Luke Garrett, George Spencer, Martha, Will's beautiful, tubercular wife Stella, the Ambroses, the Ransome children, and Francis and their ties to Cora are vital to the unwinding of this philosophical, complex, seductive, and character driven story. There is an air of Gothic menace and light foreboding that permeates the pages leaving the reader uncertain how the tale of the serpent will ultimately pan out. Is it real or is it imagined? Perry has written an exquisite novel, full of beautiful, unsettling writing. Her portrayal of Cora as magnetic, unconventional, and rebelling against the usual role of women is thoughtfully done, as is her depiction of Will as both publicly close-minded and privately curious. The details of Stella's blue collection, the restraint with which Perry draws the peculiarities of Francis and his bits and bobs, and the unconscious way in which Cora collects the hearts of those around her is understated and effectively disturbing. Perry pulls in other advances of the time, that of health care and medicine and views of poverty and housing through the secondary characters in ways that don't overwhelm the primary theme but add historical verisimilitude and which weave seamlessly into the whole. The dense and atmospheric prose is leavened with unexpected humor lurking within serious paragraphs. Truly a brilliant, thoughtful novel, this is multi-layered and compelling and should be read slowly and savoured. But be warned that it is very much a modern rendering of a Victorian novel. It will creep up on you until you are compelled to finish it, but it might take a while before you realize that you are completely trapped by its hypnotic telling.

For more information about Sarah Perry and the book, check out her website or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads 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 Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Water From My Heart by Charles Martin

Book clubs can make you go outside of your usual reading choices. This can be wonderful, allowing you to discover books that you would never have chosen on your own. There are several books I have found this way that I am the richer for having read. But just as you can find amazing books, you can also find duds. It's definitely a disappointment when the latter happens rather than the former, but it is a risk you take when you allow others to direct your reading for you. Charles Martin's Water From My Heart was, unfortunately, one of those disappointments although the group had quite a time teasing out all of our frustrations with the novel.

Charlie Finn is a drug runner. His childhood was terrible but he managed to overcome it and go to Harvard. Incredibly smart and successful, he ends up working for his wealthy girlfriend's father, a man with very little conscience. In his role in this hedge fund, he manages to buy a coffee plantation in Nicaragua, completely destroying the people who live and work there without a second thought. After realizing that Marshall, his boss/potential father-in-law, doesn't think he's good enough for daddy's little girl, he quits his job and bums around Miami until meeting his new best friend Colin, another fabulously rich person. He ends up working for Colin as a drug runner. Despite his unsavory job, he's a really good guy, a part of Colin's family, close with his children, and engaged to a lovely doctor. But then things go horribly wrong. Colin's son Zaul ends up on the run from bad guys. Maria, Colin's young daughter, is badly injured when Zaul's gambling buddies try to collect from him. And Shelly, Charlie's doctor fiance, dumps him because he's lied to her about his life. The only way that Charlie can begin to make good on everything he's done wrong is to go after Zaul and save him for Colin. As he tracks Zaul down to Central America, he meets Leena, her daughter Isabella, and the people of a small Nicaraguan town, who give him yet another chance to redeem himself and allow good to triumph.

The theme of redemption is very strong and Charlie is given every opportunity to right all his wrongs.  If his conscience so much as pricks him, he is given the opportunity to fix it.  All of the characters here are one-dimensional and the plot, outlandish just in summary, is given over with ridiculous  coincidences. Martin draws all of the poor people Charlie comes across as uniformly noble and good. Everyone, good and bad, reaps what he/she sows in this novel. It might be nice if life actually worked this way but it doesn't.  Nuance and realism are missing entirely in the telling of this tale.  Add the unrealistic outcomes of every character's story line to the sloppy, oftentimes hokey writing and this is a treacly mess.e

Because this was a book club book, I was taking notes on it but had to stop when I realized that noting each and every inconsistency (Charlie spends weeks in Nicaragua--and not with ex-pats either--and never learns any Spanish?  If he's able to conduct all the business which he's flown down for remotely, why on earth did he need to fly down at all? Leena can figure out what the US company did to ruin her father but didn't know a bank could call in a loan? Massive mudslides destroy just about everything in the area but the coffee and mangoes survive because they are too vital to the plot to wipe out? A 5 gallon bucket is large enough to carry a chunk of rock that has entombed two intertwined people? For that matter, the mud that entombed them has become rock in less than two decades? And so on.) was just making me angrier and angrier at the time it was taking to read this book. Perhaps there was a seed of something there since so many other people have loved this book (although not in my book club, I feel compelled to add) but the writing was poor, cliched, and heavy-handed and I just couldn't get beyond that.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Reviews posted this week:

I Hid My Voice by Parinoosh Saniee
The Beach at Painter's Cove by Shelley Noble
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

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

The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Florence Diary by Diana Athill
Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James
The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
The Young Widower's Handbook by Tom McAllister
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could've Done Better by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
Make Trouble by John Waters
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Water From My Heart by Charles Martin
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma

Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Female spies. How many have you heard of? The only one I could have named before reading this book was Mata Hari. I'm not surprised that there are many more nor that they have been forgotten by history even though their contributions to war efforts have been remarkable. Kate Quinn's new novel, The Alice Network, brings a female run spy network back into view as it highlights the sacrifices that women made in wartime, the damage that war does, and the fierce loyalty so many women felt for family, friends, and country.

Charlotte St. Clair is in disgrace. A math major at Bennington, she has disappointed her wealthy family by coming home pregnant and unwed. To forestall gossip, Charlie and her mother sail to England on their way to Switzerland to take care of Charlie's "Little Problem." But Charlie wants to use this trip to find her French cousin Rose, who hasn't been heard from since 1944, three years ago now. Charlie has made some initial inquiries and so once in England, she slips away from her mother to follow the one lead she has, landing on Eve Gardiner's doorstep in London. Eve has no intention of helping the little Yank on her doorstep until Charlie utters a name that Eve hasn't heard since the end of World War I. Eve is a broken woman. Her hands are destroyed and she spends her nights completely pickled. She's brusque and angry and imperious. But if the man whose name Charlie invokes lived past WWI, Eve is willing to use Charlie's quest for her cousin for her own reasons. The two women, plus Eve's taciturn Scottish driver Finn, head to the Continent, in search of the past.

Alternating chapters tell the story of both Charlie and Eve and what drives them in their search. Charlie lost her soldier brother to suicide and blames herself for not being able to save him.  She is determined not to fail again and to find and save Rose. She is frozen emotionally and it is only in her determination on this journey that she allows herself to feel anything. Eve is carefully guarding her own wartime wounds. Unlike Charlie though, Eve's war was the First World War, when young and innocent, Eve became Marguerite Le Francois, a valuable member of the Alice Network, a female spy ring in France reporting from German occupied Lille. Eve, as Marguerite, one of the fleurs du mal, gets a job as a waitress in Le Lethe, a restaurant run by a French profiteer and patronized by high ranking Germans. In serving the Germans, Eve hears valuable information she can pass on to Lili, the leader of the Alice Network. As Charlie, Eve, and Finn motor through France searching out Eve's contacts in order to track down Rose and Rene, Le Lethe's owner and the man connected to both Eve and Rose, Eve's story slowly comes out.

Both Charlie and Eve are damaged and they don't really want to have to rely on the other, or anyone really. Each carries enough guilt to break them but they are both also fighters. While Charlie's story is interesting and heartbreaking, it is Eve's story, the story of an Alice Network operative and what lengths she needed to go to to uncover information that is most engrossing. Because of the alternating time lines, the story is quite action filled and the revelations that occur on the journey are fascinating. The reader is as curious about Eve's life in occupied Lille and how her hands came to be so destroyed as Charlie is. The reader is also invested in finding Rose and seeing how Charlie and Finn's growing friendship develops. The drive to know the truth makes the pages turn fast indeed. Quinn has drawn both WWI France and post WWII France carefully and the historical details of life in both times is well done. The tension in both story lines is delicately balanced and heightens in concert as the novel progresses. Tying together both World War I and World War II makes this story that much more fascinating, as does the note in the back of the novel detailing true roots of Eve's story. Historical fiction fans will thoroughly enjoy this novel of spying, betrayal, love, and hope. That it brings to light the little remembered fact of the Alice Network, the danger women faced as they worked for their country, and their important contributions is wonderful indeed.

To hear what some of my fellow bloggers talked with Kate about, check out this You Tube video.

For more information about Kate Quinn and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads 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 Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

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.

Hello Sunshine by Laura Dave.

The book is being released by Simon and Schuster on July 11, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: Sunshine Mackenzie has it all…until her secrets come to light.

Sunshine Mackenzie is living the dream—she’s a culinary star with millions of fans, a line of #1 bestselling cookbooks, and a devoted husband happy to support her every endeavor.

And then she gets hacked.

When Sunshine’s secrets are revealed, her fall from grace is catastrophic. She loses the husband, her show, the fans, and her apartment. She’s forced to return to the childhood home—and the estranged sister—she’s tried hard to forget. But what Sunshine does amid the ashes of her own destruction may well save her life.

In a world where celebrity is a careful construct, Hello, Sunshine is a compelling, funny, and evocative novel about what it means to live an authentic life in an inauthentic age.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: The Beach at Painter's Cove by Shelley Noble

There are about a million and one different reasons to be attracted to a book. There's the appeal of the cover. The jacket copy can pique your interest. Sometimes a favorite writer blurbs the book. You hear other readers whose opinions you trust recommending it. The topic resonates with you. You've read and enjoyed the author's other works. And on and on. But a reason we don't often discuss is something as superficial as the name of the character(s) being yours. Shelley Noble's newest novel, The Beach at Painter's Cove, has a gorgeous cover. It sounds wonderful. I've read her novels before and enjoyed them. The topic and themes, a dysfunctional family in danger of losing their long time home, art, and love, completely appeals. But the biggest reason I wanted to pick up this book? The characters are Whitakers. I'm a Whitaker. My sister and I were always the Whitaker girls growing up. So even before I cracked open the book, these women felt like family, not that our family is anything like the family in the book, but still... Shelley Noble even spelled Whitaker right. Of course I was going to read this!

Issy Whitaker is a museum exhibit designer who is very sought after. She loves her job, both the creative part and the adrenaline rush of the actual installations. When she was small, her famous actress mother, Jillian, dumped Issy and her older sister Vivienne at Muses by the Sea, the family's seaside mansion and an artist's retreat, with her grandmother Leo, grandfather Wes, and great aunt Fae. Since Issy left home for college, she hasn't been back to The Muses, not even for her grandfather's funeral but when she gets a phone call from her niece, twelve year old Stephanie, telling her that Vivienne has done the same thing their mother did, leaving Steph and younger siblings Amanda and Griffin at The Muses, that Leo has been admitted to the hospital, and eccentric great aunt Fae is no where to be found, Issy knows she cannot just abandon the children much as she wants to. Taking a leave from her job, she heads back to the place that she loves with more questions than answers and walks into a mess about which she had no inkling. As Issy tries to make sense of the situation, she is horrified to discover that the money that her grandfather entrusted to Vivienne's husband to maintain the art work filled house and extensive grounds has gone missing (along with both Vivienne and her husband) and if Issy doesn't come up with a plan quickly, her beloved Leo and Fae will lose everything. And while she's saving the estate, she needs to try and save the rest of the family and herself too.

Any time there are four generations of one family under a roof, there's bound to be conflict but the Whitakers manage to put the fun in dysfunctional. Leo lives in the past, staying as much as possible in her grand love story with the deceased Wes. Jillian, finding it hard to age in Hollywood, has never had much of a relationship with her daughters, especially Issy. Issy has become so laser focused on her career that she doesn't often (ever?) spare a thought for family. And Steph is still just a child but she could be one of the lost so very easily if someone doesn't keep the spark alive in her. The plot here is one that steams along at a good clip although there are some repetitions that could have been eliminated: the retelling of Leo and Wes's love story, Issy's identical grappling with how to save the house at several different points in the novel, and so on. Leo, as the matriarch of the family, didn't quite come together as fully rounded out but the rest of the primary characters made up for that. The secondary characters of Issy's friends Chloe and Ben were a delightful addition to even out some of the tenseness of the family interactions.  Great aunt Fae was airy fairy, just as her name implies and although she is an incredibly loyal person, she didn't quite fit with the rest of the family.  This is a family who has to learn to untangle their relationships and resentments, to stop pushing each other away, to overcome their lack of understanding, to develop empathy for each other and everyone's limitations, and to work together. In the beginning, the reader needs to persevere past characters who are so wrapped up in themselves that they don't want to do the right thing and that can be hard but it is worth it to see the change in the Whitakers, to appreciate the passion they discover in purpose, and to see them learn about each other and themselves. This is a fun beachy, summer read even if you don't happen to be a Whitaker girl yourself.

For more information about Shelley Noble and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads 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 Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: I Hid My Voice by Parinoosh Saniee

As a mother, it's hard to imagine choosing a favorite child. It's even harder to imagine allowing one of your children to be denigrated by the whole family, mocked and ridiculed. But in Parinoosh Saniee's novel, I Hid My Voice, four year old Shahaab's lack of language, brings shame to his family and to himself and the family makes little effort to show him that he is more than his unheard voice.

Shahaab is mute. There's no physical reason for his lack of language and he understands everything said and done to him but because he himself is unable to communicate, he is considered dumb and is often treated as if he is invisible. He hears and sees things that he is really too young to witness but being an observant child, he takes it all in. His family is not a happy one and even in the extended family, strict gender roles are firmly adhered to, making it that much worse that Shahaab is an embarrassment to his father. Shahaab acts out in frustration, earning a reputation as a bad little boy, except in the eyes of his kindly grandmother and one doting cousin.  But acting out is just another way to get attention, albeit the same negative attention he receives for being mute.

The novel is one of small instances in the life of an unhappy family with an unusual child rather than a big and sweeping story. Shahaab narrates his own story, giving him a voice and the reader a glimpse into the mental effects of the unkindnesses done to him. This insight allows the reader to feel sympathy for this forgotten and almost unloved middle child. His family members are fairly one dimensional, and whether this is a function of a very young narrator who would not see nuances in those around him or of the translation of the novel itself, it's hard to say. In any case, the writing feels simplistic. The majority of the novel takes place in Shahaab's young childhood but it does eventually take him to the age of twenty to see the effects that this early treatment of him has had. This is an easy read and quick read with an interesting premise but over all it felt like it was lacking something.

Thanks to 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:

Love Potion Number 10 by Jennifer Conner
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Reviews posted this week:

Love Potion Number 10 by Jennifer Conner
Nine Island by Jane Alison

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

I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Florence Diary by Diana Athill
Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James
The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
The Young Widower's Handbook by Tom McAllister
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could've Done Better by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
Make Trouble by John Waters
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Water From My Heart by Charles Martin
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
The Beach at Painter's Cove by Shelley Noble

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Attempting Elizzabeth by Jessica Grey came from me to me.

I do adore Pride and Prejudice and will always be drawn to retellings or updated tales using it as inspiration so this one sounds completely and totally delightful.

A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain came from me to me.

This is another of the books I bought to see if I can find a way into mysteries. I chose this one because the idea of a female FBI agent going back in time to 19th century England and having to catch a killer piqued my interest.

Lift And Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein came from the author and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

How could a busty woman not be inclined to pick this up?! The story line looks as delightful as the cover and title too.

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.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Review: Nine Island by Jane Alison

When do you give up on romantic love? Jane Alison's novel Nine Island has a main character contemplating just this question as she watches life go by from her glass fronted high rise condo on the Venetian Islands on Miami Beach.

J. is translating, and sometimes changing, Ovid's tales into English. She's also a recently divorced, middle aged woman who lives with her aging, incontinent cat and has just returned to her condo after a wasted month trying to make a go of it with an old boyfriend, Sir Gold. As she works through Ovid's take on mythological stories of love and lust, she contemplates whether it's time for her to give up on romantic love. While pondering this and what it would mean for her life, she swims in the building's pool, watches her neighbors, takes care of her elderly mother, and tries to help a wounded duck. These things might feel disparate but they form the structure of her life and they come to clearly define her despite their initially perceived smallness. J. feels stranded and alone in her life but still harbors a wildness in her just like the duck she wants to rescue, a wildness that shows itself in her imaginings and her translations.

This literary novel is very much character driven and introspective. Told entirely in first person with J. narrating her own story, the story flows over the reader, with a dreamlike lushness to the writing but also a fevered restlessness underpinning the languid pace of the story.  Alison manages to pull off this seeming contradiction beautifully.  The novel is incredibly descriptive and the landscape, the shabby building, and the injured duck become metaphors for the loneliness of aging without connection or relationship. The novel is composed of brief chapters that tell of past and present and fluctuate in tone dependent on what part of the story they are recounting. Alison does an amazing job showing the yearning and vulnerability of an intelligent, solitary woman of a certain age. There is a taut sexuality to J.'s life, and emotional connection where it is least expected. This is a smart and accomplished novel, one that very much requires an agile and educated reader to appreciate it.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Review: Love Potion Number 10 by Jennifer Conner

The cover of this less than 100 page story says, "Be careful what you wish for" and all I have to say is that I should have taken that to heart. I don't know if the author intended this to be a short story, a novella, or a full novel, but in any form, it was terribly disappointing.

Everett has a crush on her boss, Felix. Since he doesn't seem to be noticing her at all, she decides to go to a fortune teller and pay for a love potion to make him fall in love with her. When she tells her friend in the office, their co-worker, Royce, overhears them. He has a crush on Everett and knows what a jerk Felix actually is but he's nothing but wallpaper to Everett. When Felix offers Royce one of his two tickets to the symphony (with an ulterior motive, of course), Royce suggests that he offer the other ticket to Everett knowing she loves music.  She is delighted to accept the invitation.  Expecting Felix to be at the symphony with her, it surprises her that her seat companion is Royce. And she is further surprised that they share a wonderful, sexy evening together. Now she's worried she gave the love potion to the wrong person and she has to figure out how she's going to fix everything.

The plot is very simplistic and barely more than an outline. The character development is scant and the sudden connection between Everett and Royce is unbelievable. She's never noticed him before other than to consider him "harmless" but finding him in the seat next to hers at the symphony, all of a sudden he's "sexy as hell" and she's not only extending their non-date but finding him so delectable she can't keep her hands off of him. There's absolutely no development of their relationship, the chemistry between them is non-existent, even their conversation is dull. The resolution of the little problem of the love potion cookies is completely and totally ridiculous and I actually snorted when I read it but I don't think it was meant to be farcical. If the statement on the cover wasn't warning enough, I should have realized that this book and I were not going to coexist well when I read the first line: "I need a love potion," Everett asked, as she tried not to breathe." And the writing doesn't improve. What could have been a cute premise unfortunately didn't deliver on any front.  On the plus side, it's a really quick read.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

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.

Away With Words by Joe Berkowitz. The book is being released by Harper Perennial on June 13, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: Fast Company reporter Joe Berkowitz investigates the bizarre and hilarious world of pun competitions from the Punderdome 3000 in Brooklyn to the World competition in Austin.

When Joe Berkowitz witnessed his first Punderdome competition, it felt wrong in the best way. Something impossible seemed to be happening. The kinds of jokes we learn to repress through social conditioning were not only being aired out in public—they were being applauded. As it turned out, this monthly show was part of a subculture that’s been around in one form or another since at least the late ‘70s. Its pinnacle is the O. Henry Pun Off World Championship, an annual tournament in Austin, Texas. As someone who is terminally self-conscious, Joe was both awed and jealous of these people who confidently killed with the most maligned form of humor.

In this immersive ride into the subversive world of pun competitions, we meet punsters weird and wonderful and Berkowitz is our tour guide. Puns may show up in life in subtle ways sometimes, but once you start thinking in puns you discover they’re everywhere. Berkowitz’s search to discover who makes them the most, and why, leads him to the professional comedian competitors on @Midnight, a TV show with a pun competition built into it, the writing staff of Bob’s Burgers, the punniest show on TV, and even a humor research conference. With his new unlikely band of punster brothers, he finally heads to Austin to compete in the World Championship. Of course, in befriending these comic misfits he also ended up learning that when you embrace puns you become a more authentic version of yourself.

Monday, June 5, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
The Beach at Painter's Cove by Shelley Noble

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

Reviews posted this week:

Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

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

Nine Island by Jane Alison
I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Florence Diary by Diana Athill
Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James
The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
The Young Widower's Handbook by Tom McAllister
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could've Done Better by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
Make Trouble by John Waters
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Water From My Heart by Charles Martin
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
The Beach at Painter's Cove by Shelley Noble

Monday Mailbox

I needed a hard copy of a book that expired on my Nook (it was an advanced copy) so I went ahead and made myself happy by ordering several books in addition to it just because. ;-) This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Plaid and Plagarism by Molly MacRae came from me to me.

I am trying to overcome my general disinterest in mysteries so I searched out some that might help me appreciate them and this was one of the collection I stumbled on. I mean, if I don't fall for a mystery involving four bookshop owners in Scotland, I won't ever fall for them!

Forks, Knives and Spoons by Leah DeCesare came from me to me.

A New Adult novel where young women classify men as either forks, knives, or spoons, this looks like lighthearted fun.

Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu came from me to me.

A mystery about a rich Singaporean restauranteur, this is another one I picked to interest me in mysteries.

The Shortest Way to Hades by Sarah Caudwell came from me to me.

And another of the mysteries designed to intrigue me, this one is about an inheritance but it's not the heiress who dies so this promises to have an interesting twist.

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.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

If I told you a book was about a man sentenced to more than thirty years of house arrest in a hotel in Moscow, would you ever imagine that it could hold your attention for 462 pages?  I wasn't sure it would hold my attention that long either.  But this is exactly what Amor Towles has accomplished with his beautifully written, surprisingly engaging, and historically expansive novel, A Gentleman in Moscow.

Count Alexander Rostov is a gentleman, a bona fide aristocrat, and poet newly returned from exile when he is called into a Moscow court in 1922. Spared a death sentence, he is instead declared a "former person" and sentenced to house arrest in the grand Hotel Metropol just around the corner from the Kremlin, the hotel in which he's been living. Stepping a toe outside the hotel will violate his sentence and he will be summarily shot. So begins the Count's long incarceration inside the mostly unchanging world of this premier luxury hotel, a place that weathers all of the changes of the outside world by maintaining its status as the preferred place for those in power to congregate and for foreign diplomats and press to experience a Soviet life no longer truly available outside of its confines. And while many people would consider it a terrible thing to be confined to the hotel, the Count accepts his sentence with amazing equanimity. In fact, he goes on to build a full and surprisingly busy life. He meets and befriends a whole cast of people, from the high party official in the KGB to the young daughter of a guest to the hotel's seamstress and chef and everyone in between. The Count is proper, diplomatic, and respected and he is respectful of all those he comes in contact with, with one exception which provides a big piece of the narrative tension of the novel. From his vantage point in the hotel, he has a side view seat (rather than front row) to the political happenings going on outside its four walls. Ironically, he faces less hardship than almost anyone else in his orbit because of his situation. And he is lucky enough to find love and friendship and loyalty all in his genteel imprisonment although he also has to contend with the sadness of never being able to leave the hotel, that of the need, for good or ill, to wait for people to come to him and the idea that they could disappear out of his life without a trace (although this latter was no less true of the rest of the country as well).

The novel is very much character driven, but what a delightful character he is. Even in his diminished surroundings, he maintains an air of curiousity and interest in the goings on of others. He finds a way to safely thumb his nose at any perceived deprivations and to mock the excesses of the Bolsheviks, even as he mourns the impact on those for whom he cares deeply. The story is deceptive in that it is about more than one man, offering a distilled look at Russian and Soviet history from the Revolution to the 1950s. The pacing of the novel is slow but consistent and the reader is happy to luxuriate in the careful and sometimes clever turns of phrase of which Towles makes great use. The language is thoughtful and perfectly chosen. There are charming bits of fluff (exploring the hidden parts of the hotel is just one example) interspersed into the story to keep it light and touching. The over all feel is one of time forgotten, elegant and enchanting. Although not as expansive in place as most classic Russian novels, the book is a beautifully crafted homage of sorts with its large cast of characters, the proximity of the political and the personal, the abiding love for country, and the constant, immutable sense of honor in the main character. If you choose to sink into the Count's world, it will be time well spent.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Review: The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro

Very often books provide us with an escape. But sometimes they show us a place not so much an escape but a waking nightmare, a place we don't want to go. Julia Fierro's The Gypsy Moth Summer, a novel about a wealthy community in turmoil, facing its secrets and prejudices, is narrated almost exclusively by outsiders or those on the fringes. And while the characters might, although not certainly, want to be a part of this group, the reader definitely does not.

In 1992, Avalon Island, off the coast of Long Island, is being overrun by rapacious gypsy moths. As they decimate the island's foliage and it's anyone's guess which trees and shrubs will survive the onslaught, they coat everything beneath them in black excrement. The inhabitants of the island are themselves coated in the nastiness of racism, classism, and willful ignorance and disregard of environmental safeties in the name of profit among other things. This ugliness comes to a head when Leslie Day Marshall, the daughter of one of the island's ruling families inherits The Castle, her family's estate, and moves back to Avalon with her black husband and two mixed race children. Leslie's husband Jules is a Harvard trained landscape designer but his skin marks him immediately as an outsider. He is wary of this place, cognizant of the daily casual racism he encounters, uncomfortable except when he's working in the garden. Their son Brooks is a teenager and daughter Eva is just a toddler when they move into this very white, very rich enclave. Maddie Pencott LaRosa is Brooks' age and she lives next door to him in the guest house on her grandparents' estate. Like Brooks, she is an outsider in the tony East side. Her mother grew up in East Avalon, a daughter of wealth and privilege, but Maddie's father is Italian from West Avalon, the side of the island where the working class lives, so Maddie is constantly straddling both sides of a sharp class divide and desperately wanting to fit in with the preppy teenagers at her high school. This summer she's finally made it into the coveted in-group. Her younger brother Dom is also an outsider, his crime hers but also complicated by the fact that the bullies have homed in on the fact that he's gay, something that Dom is only just figuring out himself and is certainly not acceptable in the military inspired society of East Avalon. Veronica, Maddie and Dom's indomitable grandmother, has come back to the island with their grandfather, the Colonel, hiding some major secrets but determined to fight for Grudder Aviation, the company that looms so large over the island. All of these characters come together this summer in what starts out seeming innocent enough but ends explosively.

Jules, Maddie, Dom, and Veronica are the focus of the bulk of the narration with occasional chapters about Leslie's multiple miscarriages and one notable chapter centered on the Colonel. Each of these outsiders builds up a damning story of a terrible place. It's a place where the main industry, Grudder Aviation, is potentially (almost certainly) poisoning the very water the inhabitants drink. Cancer and other biological disasters run rampant through the population who lives there. It's a place where bored, rich teenagers are left to their own devices, drinking, smoking, doing drugs, and exploring sex, while their parents stumble drunkenly from one big, gracious home to another, gossiping about one another, acting two-faced, and turning aaside from their own unconscious racism. It's a place where both casual and intentional cruelty is ignored and accepted. The only disruption to this long standing life is the appearance around the island of graffiti targeting the environmental crimes perpetrated by Grudder. "Grudder is cancer. Grudder kills." These startling pronouncements only cause a ripple in the lush, dreamlike life of the island. But just as the gypsy moths tearing through the island's greenery leaves the land naked to view, so too the events of the summer leave the society and the company open to scrutiny.

The writing is hypnotic and intense with descriptions of the moths, their excrement, and their devastation. Fierro has created a place that is so real feeling you can hear the moths crunching through the trees and see them writhing on every trunk. All of the characters here are hollowed out by desperation of one kind or another. They are well fleshed out and although they seem easy to read, each of them has more going on underneath the surface than expected. But this is a society based on appearance so what's underneath doesn't matter.  Until it does. But Fierro doesn't let the reader forget that even the superficial gloss of wealth isn't pretty; in fact, it's downright ugly. The novel was uncomfortable to read and Avalon Island itself sounds like a terrible place filled with horrible people but the novel shines a light on all of the awfulness, the hidden crimes and their unacknowledged impact through the shocking final reckoning in the end. There is an air of impending disaster throughout the novel, heightened by the inexorable progress of the gypsy moths from hatching through to spawning. The narration shifts are easy to follow but sometimes the jumps from one character to another weaken the narrative thread, making it a little too easy to set the novel down. And there isn't an "ism" or social ill that isn't included in the story, lessening the impact that a tighter focus might have had. The foreshadowing is pretty obvious but there are still a few surprises in the end. This is not a light summer read but those who want more heft in their beach bags might enjoy it for sure.

For more information about Julia Fierro and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads 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 Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. The book is being released by William Morrow on June 13, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: A lively, sexy, and thought-provoking East-meets-West story about community, friendship, and women’s lives at all ages—a spicy and alluring mix of Together Tea and Calendar Girls.

Every woman has a secret life . . .

Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a "creative writing" course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.

Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.

As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s "moral police." But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Review: Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney

Alaska intrigues me. It is one of the places on my bucket list. I'm intrigued by the rugged, naturalness of the state, it's remoteness and the idea of it as this country's last frontier. How much more rugged and unspoiled would it have been at the dawn of the twentieth century when prospectors were racing there for the promise of gold? Ashley Sweeney's novel, Eliza Waite, captures that air of rough and tumble and the possibility of reinvention in the frontier town of Skagway, Alaska.

Eliza Waite is a widow who lives alone on a remote island in the San Juan Islands of Washington. From a well-off Midwestern family, she was married off to a stranger who took her west to Cypress Island where he was a minister. When an epidemic decimated the population of the island, carrying off both Eliza's beloved young son and her husband, she stays in their home to be close to her boy's final resting place even though she is all alone and life is hard and dangerous. When Eliza injures herself, she manages to make it to the mainland where she is nursed back to health.  She thinks she might just be coming alive again out of the well of deep grief she's been existing in but when things go awry, she flees to Skagway, Alaska with the intention of opening a bakery in the booming gateway to the Klondike. In Skagway, Eliza has the chance to reinvent herself, to take charge of her own destiny. She opens herself up to the diverse people around her and works on building a life among these unusual but wonderful new friends.

Eliza is a strong and appealing character. The courage it takes to hop a ship with the flood of prospectors having no guarantee that the fifty dollars in her pocket will buy her a new life is astounding. She has endured hardship, tragedy, and deception and yet she never loses her determination to survive. Sweeney draws the evolution of Eliza's character very well and she's captured the gritty verisimilitude of a a gold rush town beautifully. Eliza's past, her unhappy childhood and less than ideal marriage, weaves through the narrative, helping the reader to understand better who she is. The second part of the book, once she reaches Alaska is far more compelling than the story of her sad and lonely existence on Cypress Island, perhaps because that is where her character feels true and empowered.  She's actually forging a life instead of treading water.  As she is a wonderful baker, there are recipes sprinkled throughout the book, directly in the text and they feel historically accurate. Although the beginning is too drawn out, the writing is good and the setting is intriguing so fans of historical fiction will certainly enjoy this unusual tale of a smart, capable, and undaunted woman.

Thanks to the publicist for sending me a copy of the book for review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

The House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Reviews posted this week:

The House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

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

Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
Nine Island by Jane Alison
I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Florence Diary by Diana Athill
Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James
The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
The Young Widower's Handbook by Tom McAllister
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could've Done Better by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
Make Trouble by John Waters
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Water From My Heart by Charles Martin
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro

Monday Mailbox

As if my summer reading list wasn't long enough already, this little goodie dropped into my hands. This past week's mailbox arrival:

Living the Dream by Lauren Berry came from Holt Paperbacks and LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Somehow I still think of myself as a twenty something but in actual fact, my children are almost there and my own twenties are but a distant memory. Distant memory or not, I'm still really looking forward to this novel about a group of twenty somethings in London trying to figure out where they want to be in life and how to get there.

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.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday Salon: Summer Reading List

It's that time of year again. The time of year when I publicly declare what I am going to read this summer. For the purposes of my list, summer runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Even so, as in past years, it will be about a thousand miles longer than I can possibly accomplish. And if the past is any indication, I will veer off list at least a few times because I just can not confine myself to the list, no matter how much I adore lists (and I do adore lists). I am going up north sooner than I have been able to in the past decade or so so perhaps I'll be closer to finishing the list than usual. Or maybe not. In any case, here's what I'd like to accomplish this summer:

The books that I've started and not yet finished (with any luck one of these will be finished today so I can strike it off my summer reads list):

No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro
A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

The book I didn't read on time because I missed the book club meeting:

Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

The books for my summer book club:

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
You and I and Someone Else by Anna Schachner

Books for review:

The Beach at Painter’s Cove by Shelley Noble
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
My Glory Was I Had Such Friends by Amy Silverstein
Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani
The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
The Dress in the Window by Sofia Grant
Whispering in French by Sophia Nash
The Sworn Virgin by Kristopher Dukes
The Daughters of Ireland by Santa Montefiore
The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes by David Handler
Life and Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein

Just because:

A Fugitive in Walden Woods by Norman Lock
The Strays by Emily Bitto
The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec
The Windfall by Diksha Basu
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Little Exile by Jeanette S. Arakawa
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma
Good Karma by Christina Kelly
The Tower of Antilles by Achy Obejas
Mothers and Other Strangers by Gina Sorrell
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Meantime by Katharine Noel
June by Miranda Beverly-Whittmore
We Were Witches by Ariel Gore
Queen of Spades by Michael Shou-Yung Shum
No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts
Kinship of Clover by Ellen Meeropol
The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck
Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig
Chasing the King of Heart by Hanna Krall
The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein
The Last Days of Café Leila by Donia Bijan
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain
The Best of Us by Joyce Maynard
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz
The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
Family Lexicon by Natalia Ginzburg
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman
The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy
So Much Blue by Percival Everett
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
Hola and Goodbye by Donna Miscolta
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
The Farm in the Green Mountains by Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer
Beck by Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
Murder on the Red River by Marcie Rendon
The Crows of Beara by Julie Christine Johnson
You & a Bike & a Road by Eleanor Davis
The Guy We Didn’t Invite to the Orgy by David Ebenbach
Ars Botanica by Tim Taranto
The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel Davis Huber
The Skin Above My Knee by Marcia Butler
The Portrait by Antoine Laurent
Songs from the Violet Café by Violet Kidman
Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar
Bloodlines by Marcello Fois
A Bloom of Bones by Allen Morris Jones
Hidden Figures by Margot Shetterly
Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya
Inhabited by Charlie Quimby
Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon


If you scrolled through the entire obnoxiously long list, here's where I've been traveling in books this past week: I was in China with an ethnic minority woman who gave up her baby and in the US with that baby after her adoption; I was in Afghanistan with a woman awaiting trial for the murder of her husband; I time traveled into the past to meet Jane Austen in her England; I was in California as a wife and mother coped with her husband's ALS diagnosis, his subsequent personality change, and eventual death all while trying to raise their young sons and maintain her career; I came from an alternate reality Toronto with the man who went back in time and changed the future (our present) by accident. I did also do some actual travel to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park and that was wonderful. Where have your reading and actual travels taken you this past week?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

Books take us to places other than those we know. They pull us from our comfort zones and ask us to put ourselves in characters and situations completely outside our realm of experience. For most Americans, Afghanistan is not somewhere we've ever been. It's a place we see on the news or lump in together with the rest of the Middle East. But we don't have much knowledge of life there at all, especially in its villages. Nadia Hashimi's newest novel, The House Without Windows, takes the reader to this Afghanistan to see not only the plight of women there but to see the ways in which its justice system still disproportionately punishes women and how there are people working to right the imbalances so prevalent today.

Zeba has been charged with the murder of her husband, Kamal. She endured his beating and drinking for years, bearing him four living children, cooking and cleaning, and always being a dutiful wife. When she is discovered, with blood on her hands, in the courtyard of their home with her husband's body, there is little doubt that she was the one to embed the hatchet in the back of his skull. But she won't talk about what happened, even after she is arrested and sent to Chil Mahtab, the women's prison. Her biggest concern is not with defending herself nor with whether she will be found guilty but how her four children are doing at their aunt's house, whether Kamal's family is treating them as the children of a murderer, and whether the children will believe all of the terrible things that are surely being said about her. She never for a minute doubts that she will be found guilty and hang for the crime. And there's no reason for her to believe otherwise given all of the other women locked up with her, many for the crime of zina. This crime encompasses an unmarried woman having sex, an unmarried woman dallying/flirting with a coworker, rape, and more. It is essentially a charge of immorality. Such is the lot of women.

Zeba might not talk about what happened the day that Kamal was murdered, but the narrative moves between her present day situation and her past, culminating in the eventual revelation of just what did happen that terrible day. Most of the story is focused on Zeba and her current situation but there are a couple of other interesting threads also woven throughout the story, that of her mother Gulnaz, a jadugar (sorceress), and the father who disappeared when Zeba was just a child as well as that of Yusuf, a young Afghani-born lawyer returned from America and assigned to Zeba's case. The perspective of the story shifts from Zeba to Gulnaz to Yusuf and back again in order to move the plot along. Hashimi does a good job using the imprisoned women in the story to show the overall insignificance of women in the culture and the inequalities they suffer in all aspects of life, but certainly in the justice system. Zeba's situation is horrifying on many levels and the reader can be no more assured of Zeba's receiving true justice than the character herself is. It took skill to weave the story as Hashimi does, balancing the reader's desire with staying true to the reality of the culture. Those interested in women's rights, especially in the Middle East, will find this to be a dynamic and compelling story.

For more information about Nadia Hashimi and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads 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 Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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 Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green. The book is being released by Berkley on June 6, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: The New York Times bestselling author of Falling presents a warm, wise, and wonderfully vivid novel about a mother who asks her three estranged daughters to come home to help her end her life.

Ronni Sunshine left London for Hollywood to become a beautiful, charismatic star of the silver screen. But at home, she was a narcissistic, disinterested mother who alienated her three daughters.

As soon as possible, tomboy Nell fled her mother’s overbearing presence to work on a farm and find her own way in the world as a single mother. The target of her mother’s criticism, Meredith never felt good enough, thin enough, pretty enough. Her life took her to London—and into the arms of a man whom she may not even love. And Lizzy, the youngest, more like Ronni than any of them, seemed to have it easy, using her drive and ambition to build a culinary career to rival her mother’s fame, while her marriage crumbled around her.

But now the Sunshine sisters are together again, called home by Ronni, who has learned that she has a serious disease and needs her daughters to fulfill her final wishes. And though Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy have never been close, their mother’s illness draws them together to confront the old jealousies and secret fears that have threatened to tear these sisters apart. As they face the loss of their mother, they will discover if blood might be thicker than water after all...

Monday, May 22, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
On the Sickle's Edge by Neville D. Frankel
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

Reviews posted this week:

The Truth About Goodbye by Russell Ricard
On the Sickle's Edge by Neville D. Frankel

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

Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
Nine Island by Jane Alison
I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Florence Diary by Diana Athill
Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James
The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
The Young Widower's Handbook by Tom McAllister
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could've Done Better by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
Make Trouble by John Waters
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Water From My Heart by Charles Martin
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Review: On the Sickle's Edge by Neville D. Frankel

I took a Russian-Soviet Life class in high school.  We read both Russian and Soviet dissident writers as well as learning the history of this massive country and its peoples.  I took two years of Russian which left me able to count to ten and insult people. I took Russian history classes in college.  Go ahead and ask me about Peter the Great!  Obviously I have been intrigued by Russia for a long time. I was less interested in the country in its incarnation as the USSR though, despite the second half of that history/literature class I had in high school. There was just something about the institutionalized grimness that appealed to me far less than the glamour of the tsars and tsarinas (yes, I plain old ignored the plight of the serfs). But over the many years since I was in school, I have picked up more and read more about this fascinating part of the world, once so closed off and now so prominent in our own currentpolitical situation. The grimness of life in the USSR is still not my favorite part of history but I am more open to it than I ever used to be so I was intrigued by the idea behind Neville Frankel's novel On the Sickle's Edge.

Lena's family were Latvian Jews. Her father fled to South Africa after deserting from the tsar's army. His wife and children made the journey later and it was in South Africa that Lena and her twin brother were born. Their mother died in childbirth and this tragedy ultimately drove their father to take his three youngest children back to their village in Illuxt. He left the two oldest boys, young teens, in South Africa as he didn't have the funds to pay for so many passages back to Russia. The separation was intended to be temporary but the First World War and then the Russian Revolution exploded, making the family's split permanent. The narrative then follows Lena and her family as they give up Judaism in the hopes of making their way in the new communist Moscow. Eventually the story includes Darya, Lena's granddaughter who marries a man determined to rise in the ranks of the KGB but who is herself questioning what she sees in the party, and Steven, the grandson of one of Lena's South American brothers, now living and working in Boston as an artist and a teacher.

The novel opens with Steven crouched in a clump of trees holding a gun and watching a dacha. From that tense initial image, the narrative of these three generations moves back in time to 1898 to tell the story of this family who escaped, returned, and was trapped in the oppressive USSR to make a living as best they could. It ranges from the tsars to perestroika and glasnost. The bulk of the story is Lena's and she is by far the most interesting of the characters. Frankel does a pretty good job weaving the political happenings of this gigantic country into the lives of his characters, showing the actual effects of policies on the masses. When the novel follows Lena, it is clearly a historical novel but when Darya and Steven become more the focus, it shifts gears into an almost pure political thriller rife with danger, sex, murder, and betrayal. The split is an uneasy one and leaves the reader wondering what the book is supposed to be as it is neither one nor the other. The small details, like the difference in food available to those who are merely workers and those who are party officials, expose the flawed society quite clearly. The atmosphere of the novel feels right and the generational story is interesting over all if too long.

Although the story was generally good enough, it was  a bit ponderous and I never quite felt fully immersed in it so when I came across details that were wrong, well, I couldn't stop myself from noting them. Darya's eye color when Lena meets her goes from being the same startling green as her grandfather's to being brown when Steven later describes them. Late in the novel Lena is surprised by Steven's resemblance to her father and his great-grandfather so she shows him a picture of the family. In it are her father, his wife, her older brothers and sister, and Lena and her twin. The problem is that Lena's mother died giving birth to Lena and her brother and her stepmother was never in a photo with the oldest boys who were left behind in South Africa before she and their father married. Darya and Steven are described in the novel as being distant cousins but based on the family tree at the beginning of the novel, they are actually only second cousins, not terribly distant at all as their grandparents were siblings. Small mistakes for sure, but ones that pulled this reader out of the tale. Couple these mistakes with the strange thriller-y turn the novel took in the last third to quarter of the book and it didn't work for me quite as well as I had hoped. Others have really loved it though so perhaps you should try it for yourself if the premise interests you as it did me.

For more information about Neville D. Frankel and the book, check out his website, like him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads 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 Dialogos Books for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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