Friday, June 22, 2018

Review: Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

I can be an annoyance in my book club. I've read a lot and have strong opinions about whether books are good for book club or not. Not all enjoyable books are good for discussion so sometimes it seems like I'm being a party pooper when I object to books others have enjoyed. Other times I will wrinkle my nose at a suggestion because I really, really don't want to read it. (Admitting this isn't going to get me invited to any new book clubs I'm sure.) But maybe it helps redeem me a little bit when I say that there are books I am not terribly keen to read but have heard such good and promising things about that when they are suggested for book club, I jump on the bandwagon and push for them, despite the fact that I would normally shy away from them. I figure this is my way of getting out of my comfort zone. If book club picks it, I will have to read it, right? Sometimes I have my initial reluctance to read these books validated and other times I am surprised and pleased by having spent time between the pages. David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon was one of the latter books. I don't much like books with murders but so many people were raving about it that when it was suggested for book club, I was willing to go along with its selection. And I am happy to say that I was thoroughly engaged by the story and am glad that I didn't pass this one by, even if people do die in it.

Less than 100 years ago members of the Osage tribe were being murdered. Chances are that you never heard about this in history class despite how recent it was and how the case played such a large part in the emergence of the FBI as the nation's top investigative agency. Perhaps it isn't covered because it is a history of greed, racism, and evil, one that we would surely want to distance ourselves from. But it's a history that shouldn't be ignored. In the 1920s, the Osage people were some of the wealthiest people in the US. After being driven out of their ancestral lands and relocated several times, they finally settled on what appeared to be a worthless piece of land in Oklahoma. In negotiating to create the reservation, their chief was smart enough to retain all mineral rights for the tribe members so when a large oil reserve was discovered under the reservation, the Osage struck it rich. But then they started to die, shot, poisoned, bombed. And no one was looking into these murders.

Told in three sections, this is narrative non-fiction at its best, both well-researched and thorough as well as engaging. The first section of the book focuses on Mollie Burkhart, an Osage woman whose family is mysteriously dying before her very eyes. Local law enforcement investigates only very cursorily and allows obvious murders to remain unsolved. The so named Reign of Terror becomes so overwhelming that the Osage themselves finance an investigation into the untimely deaths. And then the people investigating start to die as well. The second portion of the book deals with the elaborate investigation, including that by the emerging FBI in its early days under J. Edgar Hoover. This piece of the book is centered on former Texas Ranger Tom White, whose dogged investigation, including using people and tactics that Hoover didn't always approve of, resulted in a trial despite local obstruction and prejudice. The third part of the book deals with Grann's speculation about the breadth of the case, all the pieces that have gone unpunished or unsolved, and the further evidence that he uncovered in the course of researching the book. The narrative sometimes bogs down a bit in the midst of the second piece, especially since the mastermind is never in doubt but over all, the story is a fascinating one and the path to justice is disturbing and byzantine. True crime aficionados will enjoy this immensely but those who rarely or never read true crime will find this completely engrossing as well.  If you like narrative non-fiction, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Review: Left by Mary Hogan

When things go wrong in life, some people retreat into fantasy. Sometimes the life they imagine is very basic and other times it can grow to be an elaborate escape from the reality they are facing. This is the case in Mary Hogan's newest novel, Left: A Love Story.

The novel opens with Fay Agarra, the narrator of the story, walking her dog Lola and talking to and about a pre-war building in her New York City neighborhood, a building she's fallen in love with and is fantasizing about moving into "after it was all over" without mentioning what "it" is. The story immediately jumps to Spain and a vacation she took with her husband, the time from which she dates the changes in her life. Fay is 21 years younger than her husband and although she says often that their May-December romance shouldn't have worked, it has been a nearly perfect marriage for 22 years. Paul is a well-respected sitting judge in the city and has an adult son and an annoying ex-wife. Fay is an artist whose Etsy store is finally taking off. They're in Spain for a break from real life and so that Fay can find some more inspiration for her lamp shades. As they are getting ready to leave Spain, something strange happens though. Fay's "there kind of guy" drives off and leaves her, then telling police that she's lost. This turns out to be the first instance of Paul's forgetting, his dismissal of Fay's concerns, and a rather abrupt personality change that comes and goes. Fay is concerned by what she sees as significant changes but when she mentions her fears to her stepson and to Paul's doctor, each of them discounts her observations, suggesting she is imagining things. Only after a fall and surgery change things irreparably, does the truth come out.

Fay, as Paul's wife and caretaker, narrates the story, flipping back and forth from the past that led her to where she is and the present where she imagines herself falling into a relationship with a man she's seen in the building she covets. That she has created a whole story about this man---she's dubbed him Blake and invented his entire life out of thin air--and seems to truly believe her invention or maybe just wants to believe it so badly that she is shocked when it turns out to be as far from the truth as possible seems a little odd, as does her obsession with the building this man lives in. This easy belief in her own story, and the fact that Fay is so easily bullied, unsure of her observations about Paul once they are questioned, contribute to her coming off as far younger than she actually is. Her world, until the incident in Spain, seems to have been so charmed that she is incredibly naive and completely blindsided by any hint of trouble. Although Fay narrates her own story, she resolutely steers away from discussing everything going on with Paul as much as she can, escaping into her imaginings rather than detailing the actual day to day with her failing husband. This means that although the novel deals with a very difficult subject, the story as a whole remains mostly quite light and superficial. It does address some of the stresses of being a caretaker but obliquely instead of head-on, making it difficult to connect and sympathize with Fay's character. She almost seems as if she spends the entire book in shock, repeating phrases throughout and focused on inconsequential things rather than bigger issues and concerns. The reader is told about the Agarra's wonderful marriage but never shown it to make it real. Secondary characters, including Paul, are lightly sketched, keeping Fay as the main focus of the story. The book, this tale of a love and marriage slowly fading away, is quite short and a very fast read that many readers will find sweet and affecting.

For more information about Mary Hogan and the book, check out her webpage, like her on Facebook, and 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 inspiring me to take my copy of the book off the shelf for review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was 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. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

Notes from the Cevennes by Adam Thorpe.

The book is being released by Bloomsbury Continuum on July 3, 2018.

Amazon says this about the book: Adam Thorpe's home for the past 25 years has been an old house in the Cévennes, a wild range of mountains in southern France. Prior to this, in an ancient millhouse in the oxbow of a Cévenol river, he wrote the novel that would become the Booker Prize-nominated Ulverton, now a Vintage Classic.

In more recent writing Thorpe has explored the Cévennes, drawing on the legends, history, and above all the people of this part of France for his inspiration. In his charming journal, Notes from the Cévennes, Thorpe takes up these themes, writing about his surroundings, the village, and his house at the heart of it, as well as the contrasts of city life in nearby Nîmes. In particular he is interested in how the past leaves impressions--marks--on our landscape and on us. What do we find in the grass, earth, and stone beneath our feet and in the objects around us? How do they tie us to our forebears? What traces have been left behind and what marks do we leave now?

He finds a fossil imprinted in the single worked stone of his house's front doorstep, explores the attic once used as a silk factory, and contemplates the stamp of a chance paw in a fragment of Roman roof-tile. Elsewhere, he ponders mutilated fleur-de-lys (French royalist symbols) in his study door and unwittingly uses the tomb-rail of two sisters buried in the garden as a gazebo. Then there are the personal fragments that make up a life and a family history: memories dredged up by 'dusty toys, dried-up poster paints, a painted clay lump in the bottom of a box.'

Part celebration of both rustic and urban France, part memoir, Thorpe's humorous and precise prose shows a wonderful stylist at work, recalling classics such as Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Review: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

There is nothing new under the sun. While we may not have heard of separating children from their families at the border before, taking children from their families, housing them in orphanages, and then adopting them out to new families is not new in the history of this country. From 1924 through 1950, Georgia Tann ran the Tennessee Children's Home Society, an adoption agency that stole babies from single mothers or kidnapped older children from their poor parents and sold them to wealthy people looking to adopt. The law looked the other way for decades, and they and the adoptive parents colluded with Tann to keep the secret of the these illegal adoptions. In Lisa Wingate's novel, Before We Were Yours, she fictionalizes Georgia Tann's very real crimes to create a novel about the devastation and long term affects on the children and families illegally ripped apart.

In 1939, a young woman loses her baby and is advised not to have more. To mitigate this devastating heartbreak, her father is directed to a woman in Memphis. In present day Aiken, SC, high-powered federal prosecutor Avery Stafford has come home from Baltimore to help her father, a wealthy and well-respected Senator in the midst of a reelection campaign who is also facing a health crisis. Avery is both being groomed to take over for her father one day and also to provide an additional face for his campaign events right now. At one such event, an elderly woman named May Crandall mistakes Avery for someone else. This case of mistaken identity is somehow the thing that Avery latches onto during this stressful time, leading her first to her grandmother, suffering from dementia, with questions about the past and then to the family secret buried for so many years. May might have gotten Avery's identity wrong but she remembers quite a lot from her own tragic past.

Memphis, Tennessee, 1939. Rill Foss lives with her parents and four siblings on a riverboat shanty tucked away on the Mississippi River. When her mother's latest labor becomes dangerous, Rill's parents must go into town to the hospital, leaving the 12 year old in charge. While they are gone, the boat is raided and the children taken to an orphanage to await reunification with their parents. But Rill comes to understand that there will be no reunion, in fact her parents were tricked into signing their children away, even as she fights to keep her siblings together. The orphanage is an appalling and terrifying place. The children are abused and starved. They are molested. They are punished for outspokenness. And they disappear. Some children disappear into new adoptive families. Others just plain disappear.

Avery's and Rill's story lines alternate back and forth as the novel progresses taking the reader from the heart-breaking and horrific life in the orphanage in the 1940s to the closely guarded secrets of the present day. The description of what the Foss children endured daily after being ripped from their parents is so disgusting and their perseverance is so extraordinary that this historical story was far more compelling than the modern day revelations. Rill's determination to stay connected with her siblings and to find her way back to her family is incredible. Avery's story is more of a blossoming love story with a side of mystery and less engaging in general. The two plots come together in ways that reader will see coming long before the end but somehow that doesn't take much away from the power of the novel. Although based in large part on a terrible, true historic tragedy, this novel manages to be hopeful and positive in the end. Historical fiction fans will be completely engrossed in this one and all readers will sadly learn that we have not always been concerned with the welfare of children or of the sanctity of families.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It turns out that getting ready to leave for the summer, rally my youngest to get ready too, and leave the house in a reasonable state of being for my husband and oldest (who don't get to bug out of this nasty heat and humidity) cuts into reading and reviewing time terribly! This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past two weeks are:

The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
You'll Always Have Tara by Leah Marie Brown
The Paris Wedding by Charlotte Nash
The Taster by V.S. Alexander
Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce
Calypso by David Sedaris

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

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
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J. Andersson
The New York Time Footsteps by various authors
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
Mean by Myriam Gurba
The Widow Nash by Jamie Harrison
The Wangs Vs. the World by Jade Chang
The Bottom of the Sky by Rodrigo Fresan
One House Over by Mary Monroe
Postcards from the Canyon by Lisa Gitlin
Burntown by Jennifer McMahon
Everything She Didn't Say by Jane Kirkpatrick
The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky by Jana Casale
The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman
The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor
Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax

Reviews posted this week:

The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
The Paris Wedding by Charlotte Nash

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

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Unslut by Emily Lindin
This Far Isn't Far Enough by Lynn Sloan
The Hounds of Spring by Lucy Andrews Cummin
Paper Boats by Dee Lestari
Mothers of Sparta by Dawn Davies
A Handful of Happiness by Massimo Vacchetta and Antonella Tomaselli
Swimming with Elephants by Sarah Bamford Seidelmann
As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman
Dates from Hell and Other Places by Elyse Russo
Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard
The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
Love Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
A Song for the River by Philip Connors
Daditude by Chris Erskine
In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt
Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian
Still Life with Monkey by Katharine Weber
America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
Vanishing Twins by Lea Dieterich
Tenemental by Vikki Warner
Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
The Lido by Libby Page
The Invisible Valley by Su Wei
The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs
The Showrunner by Kim Mortishugu
I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice
Paris by the Book by Liam Callanan
Terra Nullius by Clare G. Coleman
Christmas in July by Alan Michael Parker
Nothing Forgotten by Jessica Levine
Housegirl by Michael Donkor
Wildwood by Elinor Florence
All Day at the Movies by Fiona Kidman
Weedeater by Robert Gipe
The Mannequin Makers by Craig Cliff
Chemistry by Weike Wang
The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams
Come Back to the Swamp by Laura Morrison
The Animal Gazer by Edgardo Franzosini
Melmoth by Sarah Perry
Sound by Bella Bathurst
Celine by Peter Heller
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
You'll Always Have Tara by Leah Marie Brown
The Taster by V.S. Alexander
Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce
Calypso by David Sedaris

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Review: The Paris Wedding by Charlotte Nash

How long would it take you to get over the guy you thought was the love of your life? Would you mourn your relationship for days, months, years? What about a full decade? And if you are still in love with him a decade on despite being dumped for no good reason, would you be able to accept an invitation to this man's wedding to someone else, even if only in hopes of giving yourself closure on your relationship? In Charlotte Nash's new novel, The Paris Wedding, main character Rachael West is faced with just such a decision.

Rachael's mother, who suffered from a fast moving and rare kind of MS, has just died when into her mailbox drops an invitation to Rach's ex-boyfriend's wedding. It's in Paris, all expenses paid. But Rachael has never gotten over Matthew and in the wake of her mother's death, a decade during which she gave up her dreams of university and a life and family with Matthew to stay on the family wheat farm and care for her mother, she is even more conscious than ever of all she gave up, sacrificing the husband and children that so many of her contemporaries now have. Initially she doesn't think she can go to the wedding. Seeing Matthew marry Bonnie, a wealthy Sydney socialite and philanthropist, would be too hard. But then she reasons that maybe actually seeing him commit his life to another woman will help her get over him and move on. So she asks her best friend Sammy to be her plus one as she and the other members of their tiny, rural Australian community travel to Paris for an incredible wedding experience.

Once in Paris, things get impossibly complicated though. Rachael is horrified to discover that she still has feelings for Matthew.  She is also intrigued by the sexy wedding photographer, Antonio. She and Sammy get in a fight that tests their friendship; she meets and likes Matthew's fiance Bonnie; and her talent as a seamstress and designer, something she's always thought of only as a hobby, is recognized and applauded. With so many potential futures suddenly open to her, where will her heart lead her?  Is that once yearned for life with Matthew her dream or is her dream something else entirely?

Rachael's character initially feels stuck in place. She never regretted staying and caring for her mother but she did make a huge sacrifice to do so. That she hasn't been able to move past her love for Matthew despite not seeing him for a decade is completely believable given the small town and lack of opportunities in it so the reader sympathizes with her feeling of life having passed her by. Although going to Paris is supposed to help her get unstuck, she can't quite let go of that promised life with Matthew even while she's attracted to Antonio. Her waffling between the two men is frustrating because the reader knows for sure early on what the correct choice is. She spends much of the novel wrapped up in her own troubles, without giving a thought to those around her but luckily she's drawn as kind and caring enough that the reader still wants to see her happy and moving forward. Some of the plot threads are fairly predictable (and some seem to be intentionally so), especially those around the secondary characters, but this doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the novel. When Rachael remembers her mother and the things she used to tell her daughter to help her cope with life, her mum offers some lovely, profound, and true sentiments. This is a sweet romance but it's also about facing the future and learning to let go of those who leave you, whether intentionally (a break-up or abandonment) or because they have no choice (death) and it's about figuring out and following a dream no matter how delayed.

For more information about Charlotte Nash and the book, check out her webpage, like her on Facebook, and 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 the book for review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was 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. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

The Dependents by Katharine Dion.

The book is being released by Little, Brown and Company on June 19, 2018.

Amazon says this about the book: A wise and lyrical debut novel about a new widower confronting the truth about his long marriage.

After the sudden death of his wife, Maida, Gene is haunted by the fear that their marriage was not all it appeared to be. Alongside Ed and Gayle Donnelly, friends since college days, he tries to resurrect happy memories of the times the two couples shared, raising their children in a small New Hampshire town and vacationing together at a lake house every summer. Meanwhile, his daughter, Dary, challenges not only his happy version of the past but also his view of Maida. As a long-standing rift between them deepens, Gene starts to understand how unknown his daughter is to him--and how enigmatic his wife was as well. And a lingering suspicion seizes his mind that could upend everything he thought he knew.

Katharine Dion's assured debut moves seamlessly between Gene's present-day journey and the long history of a marriage and friendship. Rich and wonderfully alive, The Dependents is the most moving kind of drama, an intimate glance into the expanse of family life and the way we must all eventually bridge the chasm between what we want to believe and what we know to be true.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Review: The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash

I have read other Wiley Cash books and thoroughly enjoyed them. I have heard him speak and even had dinner with him at a literary event. He writes beautifully and is clearly invested in the forgotten or hidden stories he tells of his native South. The Last Ballad, based on a true story, is a novel that he obviously holds close to his heart. Ironically though, despite his closeness to the subject matter, it is the least successful of his novels for me.

It's 1929 and Ella May Wiggins is a single mother of five children (four living) who works in a textile mill in Bessemer City, NC. She earns $9 a week, which isn't really enough to feed and clothe herself and her children. Her alcoholic ex-husband up and left before her last baby was born and the man she's with now (and pregnant by) is almost as no-account as her disappeared husband. Ella May lives in Stumptown, in the Negro part of town, despite the fact that she and her children are white.  The Wiggins family, like their black neighbors, live in grinding, desperate poverty. When Ella May is reprimanded for missing work to care for her very ill child, she decides that she will attend a meeting to see what unionization could mean to her and to her children. Despite her fear of losing her job and the only income she has, she agrees to join the movement.  After singing a heart-rending ballad she's written about the mills and motherhood, she quickly becomes the local face for the union, trading her mill job for one within the union organization. But the local mill owners are not about to allow these communist unions into their mills without a fight, a truly horrible and violent fight if required. Ella May, being so publicly recognizable will be square in the cross hairs of those determined to keep the unions out no matter what.

Mostly set in 1929 with two short portions in 2005, the novel is told from various characters' points of view. The multiplicity of characters, from Ella May to her daughter, from the wealthy wife of a mill owner to a violent sheriff's deputy, from a black activist to a broken man haunted by his past, and many more, shows the events of the novel from many different perspectives, highlighting the way that so many different people converged on Gaston County.  This same multiplicity made it hard to follow the story as it switched from one person to another to another, sometimes quite far from the main plot thread. Eventually the threads all converged but until that point, the narrative structure gave it a choppy feel. While the history here is incredibly important to the story, it often drove the novel to the exclusion of the human story. History has covered the general story of unions and the conditions that led to them pretty thoroughly but the story of Ella May herself has faded into obscurity. Unfortunately, Ella May didn't quite come to life here either, portrayed as she was first as an unthinking pawn of the union and later as a martyr to their cause rather than the complete person she must have been. Her personal story, the things that made her more than just the singer, are sometimes told, not shown, in the novel but are almost never fully explored, lessening the emotional impact of this woman's life and her struggle. It must have taken heaps of courage to stand up for her children and herself, as well as for her black neighbors, who were not being welcomed into the union fold, but somehow this courage is only viewed at a far remove and not close and viscerally for the reader. I think perhaps the message overwhelmed the story here, which is a shame because there's quite a story to be told and usually Cash has the chops to pull it off. The writing itself is well done despite the stumbling block of the structure and the story is an important one, if incredibly bleak. Readers who like their fiction to confront injustice will still want to read this even if the emotional punch isn't quite there.

For more information about Wiley Cash and the book, check out his webpage, like him on Facebook, and 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 Trish from TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was 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. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

The Madonna of the Mountains by Elise Valmorbida.

The book is being released by Spiegel and Grau on June 12, 2018.

Amazon says this about the book: An epic, inspiring novel about one woman’s survival in the hardscrabble Italian countryside and her determination to protect her family throughout the Second World War—by any means possible

Maria Vittoria is twenty-five when her father brings home the man who will become her husband. It is 1923 in the austere Italian mountain village where her family has lived for generations, and the man she sees is tall and handsome and has survived the First World War without any noticeable scars. Taking just the linens she has sewn that make up her dowry and a statue of the Madonna that sits by her bedside, Maria leaves the only life she has ever known to begin a family. But her future will not be what she imagines.

The Madonna of the Mountains follows Maria over the next three decades, as she moves to the town where she and her husband become shopkeepers, through the birth of their five children, through the hardships and cruelties of the National Fascist Party Rule and the Second World War. Struggling with the cost of survival at a time when food is scarce and allegiances are questioned, Maria trusts no one and fears everyone—her Fascist cousin, the madwoman from her childhood, her watchful neighbors, the Nazis and the Partisans who show up hungry at her door. As Maria’s children grow up and her marriage endures its own hardships, she must hold her family together with resilience, love, and faith, until she makes a fateful decision that will change the course of all their lives.

A sweeping saga about womanhood, loyalty, war, religion, family, food, motherhood, and marriage, The Madonna of the Mountains is a poignant look at the span of one woman’s life as the rules change and her world becomes unrecognizable. In depicting the great cost of war and the ineluctable power of time on a life, Elise Valmorbida has created an unforgettable portrait of a woman navigating both the unforeseen and the inevitable.

Monday, June 4, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Lighthouse Beach by Shelley Noble
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

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
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J. Andersson
The New York Time Footsteps by various authors
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
Mean by Myriam Gurba
The Widow Nash by Jamie Harrison
The Wangs Vs. the World by Jade Chang
The Bottom of the Sky by Rodrigo Fresan
One House Over by Mary Monroe
The Taster by V.S. Alexander
Postcards from the Canyon by Lisa Gitlin
Burntown by Jennifer McMahon
Everything She Didn't Say by Jane Kirkpatrick
The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky by Jana Casale
The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman
The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor
Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash

Reviews posted this week:

Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson
Lighthouse Beach by Shelley Noble

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

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Unslut by Emily Lindin
This Far Isn't Far Enough by Lynn Sloan
The Hounds of Spring by Lucy Andrews Cummin
Paper Boats by Dee Lestari
Mothers of Sparta by Dawn Davies
A Handful of Happiness by Massimo Vacchetta and Antonella Tomaselli
Swimming with Elephants by Sarah Bamford Seidelmann
As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman
Dates from Hell and Other Places by Elyse Russo
Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard
The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
Love Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
A Song for the River by Philip Connors
Daditude by Chris Erskine
In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt
Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian
Still Life with Monkey by Katharine Weber
America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
Vanishing Twins by Lea Dieterich
Tenemental by Vikki Warner
Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
The Lido by Libby Page
The Invisible Valley by Su Wei
The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs
The Showrunner by Kim Mortishugu
I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice
Paris by the Book by Liam Callanan
Terra Nullius by Clare G. Coleman
Christmas in July by Alan Michael Parker
Nothing Forgotten by Jessica Levine
Housegirl by Michael Donkor
Wildwood by Elinor Florence
All Day at the Movies by Fiona Kidman
Weedeater by Robert Gipe
The Mannequin Makers by Craig Cliff
Chemistry by Weike Wang
The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams
Come Back to the Swamp by Laura Morrison
The Animal Gazer by Edgardo Franzosini
Melmoth by Sarah Perry
Sound by Bella Bathurst
Celine by Peter Heller
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Monday Mailbox

I really should stop indulging myself but I couldn't resist. Can I ever? This past week's mailbox arrival:

The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan came from me just because.

I really liked The Keeper of Lost Things so this one by the same author about a grieving woman who runs across two amazing women who help her start to live again sounds wonderful.

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, May 30, 2018

Review: Lighthouse Beach by Shelley Noble

I went to Maine for the first time last year. It was beautiful and rugged and remote feeling. And it could definitely be the perfect place to escape to when you need to reexamine your life and change direction or if you are hiding from a hurt. Perhaps that's exactly why Shelley Noble chose to set her latest novel, Lighthouse Beach, in a small ocean side town in Maine. Her characters certainly have a lot to figure out in this summer beach read.

Lillo Gray inexplicably agrees to attend an old friend's high society wedding in Kennebunkport. She hasn't seen or spoken to Jess in many years and she doesn't quite know why she's been invited. But when Jess needs to run away from her awful, cheating fiance and her nasty, controlling parents, it's a good thing Lillo is there. She, Jess, and Jess' college friends, Diana and Allie, flee the debacle in the battered van Lillo drove there and head back to Lillo's small cottage at Lighthouse Beach. None of them bargained on spending a week together, hiding out from Jess' unpleasant parents and starting the slow process of facing the issues that each carries with her as baggage. Initially the women think that they are there to help Jess but in fact, they are all on a journey to self-discovery and to breaking free of the things that hold each of them back.  As they examine the painful parts of their lives, they slowly start weaving into the life of this struggling small town and of the people who live or serve there, becoming a part of the community. 

The characters do not all get equal time with Lillo and Jess being the main focus of the story. In particular, Allie's problems seem to be less detailed and the healing she does in Lighthouse Beach is far less touched on than the other women's, being more of an aside than anything else. Jess' long time inability to stand up to her parents is remarked on repeatedly so that her backbone, when she discovers it, feels a little bit unearned. After all, she was willing to let her parents steamroll her into a marriage she didn't want and to direct her entire life just one week prior and had dithered about allowing herself to be sucked back into their orbit even less time ago than that. Lillo's story remains a mystery for quite a long time although there are multiple cryptic hints along the way as to why she abandoned her promising medical career, the thing she once wanted most in the world. She spends much of the story self-flagellating over this mysterious incident. Mainers do have a reputation for being taciturn or closed-mouthed but knowing her story earlier might have made her a more sympathetic character, especially initially, to the reader. And there were places where it seemed some backstory or plot thread was missing from the novel. For instance: why on earth would Diana lie to Jess about where her former fiance might have gotten Diana's cell number? Was this originally meant to be a piece of the story that got cut? It never turned into a plot thread, despite priming the reader for something significant. Most of the novel was unsurprising but sometimes it's okay (and even desirable) to submerse yourself in the predictable and familiar. Despite my criticisms, I did enjoy the book as an easy read about female friendships and the support the characters (female and male alike) gave each other as they faced fears and found the courage to stand up for their needs and wants. The ending of the novel was fairly open-ended, just as in life, leaving the possibility of someday revisiting these characters again. Readers looking for an easy and satisfying read to tuck into their beach bag would do well to consider this one.

For more information about Shelley Noble and the book, check out her webpage, like her on Facebook, and 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 William Morrow for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was 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. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

The Life Lucy Knew by Karma Brown.

The book is being released by Park Row on June 12, 2018.

Amazon says this about the book: One woman is about to discover everything she believes—knows—to be true about her life…isn’t.

After hitting her head, Lucy Sparks awakens in the hospital to a shocking revelation: the man she’s known and loved for years—the man she recently married—is not actually her husband. In fact, they haven’t even spoken since their breakup four years earlier. The happily-ever-after she remembers in vivid detail—right down to the dress she wore to their wedding—is only one example of what her doctors call a false memory: recollections Lucy’s mind made up to fill in the blanks from the coma.

Her psychologist explains the condition as honest lying, because while Lucy’s memories are false, they still feel incredibly real. Now she has no idea which memories she can trust—a devastating experience not only for Lucy, but also for her family, friends and especially her devoted boyfriend, Matt, whom Lucy remembers merely as a work colleague.

When the life Lucy believes she had slams against the reality she’s been living for the past four years, she must make a difficult choice about which life she wants to lead, and who she really is.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Review: Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson

Do you know Robert Burns' "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry?" If not, I'm sure you're familiar with the concept. No matter how well you plan something, no matter how many contingencies you plan for, no matter how solid everything seems, there's just no guarantee that fate will allow the plan to happen. And sometimes that's for the best, even if it doesn't seem like it at the moment. This is very true for main character Marnie MacGraw in Maddie Dawson's newest novel, Matchmaking for Beginners.

Marnie is on the verge of marrying the man she loves and settling down into the happy, ordinary domesticity she's always wanted when she meets her fiance Noah's kindly and eccentric Great Aunt Blix. Blix, who the family thinks is batty (and not in a good way), tells Marnie that she's going to live a big, big life. Although this isn't what Marnie wants, she and Blix hit it off, realizing that they share some very special matchmaking and magic skills, both in tune with the people and environment around them. When Marnie and Noah's marriage has a rough start and then completely falls apart after less than two weeks, Marnie is completely devastated, returning home to Florida to heal and recover, and quickly ending up in a serious relationship, more or less by default, with an old friend who promises to want the same tame and conventional life that she does, the life she thought she would build with Noah. And it seems that Marnie will get her wish of a predictable and expected life until Blix, who has been ill for a long time, dies and leaves Marnie her quirky, slightly shabby Brooklyn brownstone and the assorted tenants and friends who live in it with the stipulation Marnie has to live in the house for three months in order to inherit. Surprising everyone, not least herself, Marnie agrees to the terms and moves in.

As Marnie lives in Blix's house, she starts to question what she really wants, to get involved in the lives of Blix's beloved but emotionally damaged tenants, and to build a life in Brooklyn, starting to muster the courage to reject convention and find the life she's supposed to live. Marnie evolves from being uncertain, making poor choices the reader can see from a mile away, and allowing others to dictate her life and suppress her natural joie de vivre to embracing all the painful and wonderful chaos that is life, and learning, as Blix told her, that love is in fact the most important thing of all. The small touches of magic, like Marnie and Blix seeing sparkles around things and people, are both magic sounding and synesthesia-like and add an extra bit of charm to the story.  The matchmaking, referenced in the title, actually plays a much smaller role than might be expected.  The secondary characters mainly orbit around Blix and later Marnie although it would have been satisfying to have had more to their stories than there is. Blix was a lovely character and her personal mantra, "whatever happens, love that," sums up not only the way she lived her own life and advised Marnie to live hers but also the way that we readers should live ours as well. The novel is sweet and delightful and reminds us that we can control the color of the light that surrounds us. We can choose goodness and love no matter what. Readers looking for an ultimately affirming, positive book will be thoroughly gratified by the time they spend in the pages of this novel.

For more information about Maddie Dawson and the book, check out her webpage, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram. 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 Lake Union for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Monday, May 28, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

As predicted, this week was no better than last week on the reading/reviewing front. In fact, it may have even been worse! The end of the school year always has me scrambling and busy and it seems this year is no exception. This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist
Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

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
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J. Andersson
The New York Time Footsteps by various authors
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
Mean by Myriam Gurba
The Widow Nash by Jamie Harrison
The Wangs Vs. the World by Jade Chang
The Bottom of the Sky by Rodrigo Fresan
One House Over by Mary Monroe
The Taster by V.S. Alexander
Postcards from the Canyon by Lisa Gitlin
Burntown by Jennifer McMahon
Everything She Didn't Say by Jane Kirkpatrick
The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky by Jana Casale
The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman
The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Reviews posted this week:

nothing... ::big sigh::

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

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Unslut by Emily Lindin
This Far Isn't Far Enough by Lynn Sloan
The Hounds of Spring by Lucy Andrews Cummin
Paper Boats by Dee Lestari
Mothers of Sparta by Dawn Davies
A Handful of Happiness by Massimo Vacchetta and Antonella Tomaselli
Swimming with Elephants by Sarah Bamford Seidelmann
As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman
Dates from Hell and Other Places by Elyse Russo
Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard
The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
Love Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
A Song for the River by Philip Connors
Daditude by Chris Erskine
In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt
Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian
Still Life with Monkey by Katharine Weber
America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
Vanishing Twins by Lea Dieterich
Tenemental by Vikki Warner
Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
The Lido by Libby Page
The Invisible Valley by Su Wei
The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs
The Showrunner by Kim Mortishugu
I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice
Paris by the Book by Liam Callanan
Terra Nullius by Clare G. Coleman
Christmas in July by Alan Michael Parker
Nothing Forgotten by Jessica Levine
Housegirl by Michael Donkor
Wildwood by Elinor Florence
All Day at the Movies by Fiona Kidman
Weedeater by Robert Gipe
The Mannequin Makers by Craig Cliff
Chemistry by Weike Wang
The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams
Come Back to the Swamp by Laura Morrison
The Animal Gazer by Edgardo Franzosini
Melmoth by Sarah Perry
Sound by Bella Bathurst
Celine by Peter Heller
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist
Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was 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. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza.

The book is being released by SJP for Hogarth on June 12, 2018.

Amazon says this about the book: As an Indian wedding gathers a family back together, parents Rafiq and Layla must reckon with the choices their children have made.

There is Hadia: their headstrong, eldest daughter, whose marriage is a match of love and not tradition. Huda, the middle child, determined to follow in her sister’s footsteps. And lastly, their estranged son, Amar, who returns to the family fold for the first time in three years to take his place as brother of the bride.

What secrets and betrayals have caused this close-knit family to fracture? Can Amar find his way back to the people who know and love him best?

A Place for Us takes us back to the beginning of this family’s life: from the bonds that bring them together, to the differences that pull them apart. All the joy and struggle of family life is here, from Rafiq and Layla’s own arrival in America from India, to the years in which their children -- each in their own way -- tread between two cultures, seeking to find their place in the world, as well as a path home.

A Place for Us is a book for our times: an astonishingly tender-hearted novel of identity and belonging, and a resonant portrait of what it means to be an American family today. It announces Fatima Farheen Mirza as a major new literary talent.

Monday, May 21, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Some serious travel/driving time really put a damper on the reading and reviewing. This coming week might not be much (any?) better. This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Sound by Bella Bathurst
Celine by Peter Heller
Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

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
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J. Andersson
The New York Time Footsteps by various authors
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
Mean by Myriam Gurba
The Widow Nash by Jamie Harrison
The Wangs Vs. the World by Jade Chang
The Bottom of the Sky by Rodrigo Fresan
One House Over by Mary Monroe
The Taster by V.S. Alexander
Postcards from the Canyon by Lisa Gitlin
Burntown by Jennifer McMahon
Everything She Didn't Say by Jane Kirkpatrick
The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky by Jana Casale
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist
The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman

Reviews posted this week:

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist
Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams

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

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Unslut by Emily Lindin
This Far Isn't Far Enough by Lynn Sloan
The Hounds of Spring by Lucy Andrews Cummin
Paper Boats by Dee Lestari
Mothers of Sparta by Dawn Davies
A Handful of Happiness by Massimo Vacchetta and Antonella Tomaselli
Swimming with Elephants by Sarah Bamford Seidelmann
As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman
Dates from Hell and Other Places by Elyse Russo
Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard
The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
Love Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
A Song for the River by Philip Connors
Daditude by Chris Erskine
In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt
Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian
Still Life with Monkey by Katharine Weber
America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
Vanishing Twins by Lea Dieterich
Tenemental by Vikki Warner
Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
The Lido by Libby Page
The Invisible Valley by Su Wei
The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs
The Showrunner by Kim Mortishugu
I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice
Paris by the Book by Liam Callanan
Terra Nullius by Clare G. Coleman
Christmas in July by Alan Michael Parker
Nothing Forgotten by Jessica Levine
Housegirl by Michael Donkor
Wildwood by Elinor Florence
All Day at the Movies by Fiona Kidman
Weedeater by Robert Gipe
The Mannequin Makers by Craig Cliff
Chemistry by Weike Wang
The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams
Come Back to the Swamp by Laura Morrison
The Animal Gazer by Edgardo Franzosini
Melmoth by Sarah Perry
Sound by Bella Bathurst
Celine by Peter Heller

Monday Mailbox

It's a nice thing to come home to book mail after being away, even for a week.  This past week's mailbox arrivals:

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist came from me just because.

A gut wrenching novel about a man whose partner is diagnosed with an aggressive and terrible illness while pregnant with their child and how he must handle the terror and bureaucracy both of the hospital and the government after their daughter's premature birth.

The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman came from me just because.

A novel based on true and horrifying history where a young girl gives up her baby for adoption but the child is raised in a psychiatric hospital because they get more money than orphanages. It sounds heartbreaking and crazy (no pun intended).

Inlaws and Outlaws by Kate Fulford came from me just because.

A novel about a feud over a man: his mother doesn't like his girlfriend and will go to any lengths to make sure said girlfriend out of her son's life. Delicious sounding, no?

The Paris Wedding by Charlotte Nash came from William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

A woman agrees to go to Paris, all expenses paid, to attend her ex-boyfriend's wedding.  Quite the set-up, right? I can't wait!

A View of the Empire at Sunset by Caryl Phillips came from FSG.

A novelization of Jean Rhys' life? Oh yes, please!!!

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.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Review: Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams

When I was small, I dreamed up whole worlds, frequently retreating to my bedroom to talk to myself and the characters I created, advancing their stories or changing them to suit my mood. It's been a long time since I did that and I certainly never did it with any kind of thoroughness or maturity. Author Beatriz Williams is still creating worlds and revisiting them but she isn't doing it in the privacy of her room; she's sharing these people and their world with all of us in her novels. Many of her books are interconnected although they aren't properly sequels to each other. Her characters do range in and out of books about each other so reading more than one will give you insider information that enriches the reading experience though. Her latest novel, Cocoa Beach, is definitely a companion novel to A Certain Age and has strong connections to Wicked City as well.

Virginia Fortescue Fitzwilliam leaves New York with her two year old daughter Evelyn after the very public trial and conviction of her father for her mother's long ago murder. As if the one tragedy wasn't enough for this young woman to endure, she must go down to Cocoa Beach, Florida in order to look into and wrap up her estranged late husband's estate. Her husband Simon has perished in a house fire leaving behind a thriving business, a shipping company, an orange plantation, and a hotel. When she gets to Florida though, things are not as straightforward as might be expected and Virginia finds herself uncertain who she can trust.

The novel flips back and forth between 1917 and 1922. In the former, Virginia tells the story of her meeting and romance with Simon in France in the midst of WWI. She's an intrepid American ambulance driver while he's a handsome Cornish surgeon with a complicated background. In the latter story line, Virginia is in Florida with Simon's twin brother Samuel and his sister Clara and perhaps getting too close to dangerous things that she clearly doesn't understand. Her feelings about her husband's character have undergone a complete turnaround from 1917 and 1922 and the reasons why are liberally teased throughout the length of the novel.  But she cannot completely let his memory go, not least because their daughter Eleanor is the love of her life. In fact, she feels betrayed by both her father and her husband, something that makes her question her own judgment. After some of the 1922 chapters are letters written from Simon to Virginia during their almost three year estrangement, giving the reader information about his perspective on their marriage and his character that Virginia, not having read the letters, doesn't have.

The lush surroundings of a Florida just starting to be developed cease to be a tropical escape, instead feeling increasingly oppressive and scary as the tension rises throughout the novel. In the end the book almost becomes a thriller, starting to gallop along at such a pace. There are bootleggers, a shadowy revenue agent, toxic family secrets, illegitimate children, murder, a villain pulling strings, romance, life threatening danger, the question of who wanted Simon dead, and manipulations galore in this soap opera of a historical novel. Virginia is suspicious and occasionally strong and decisive but her defining characteristic is the love she has for her beloved daughter. Protecting Eleanor and being there for her always so that her baby doesn't know the pain of growing up without a mother, as she did, is the driving force in her life and it will be the thing that prompts her to not just survive but to find the strength to overcome as she uncovers all the answers she seeks. The final revelation of truth comes rather late in the story and the ending is ultimately left wide open for another book set in this same fictional Prohibition world. In fact, the end of the novel is where it might be more than a little handy to have read Williams' other books mentioned above. Williams does a good job of keeping the reader guessing about Simon's character, giving a tiny bit of proof that he is not all he seems when Virginia is head over heels with him but then countering that doubt just enough to make the reader question Virginia's change of heart.  Was she right about him in 1917 or is she right about him in 1922?  I liked the other books in this (loose) series a bit better but this was still well researched, pulse pounding historical fiction.

For more information about Beatriz Williams and the book, check out her webpage, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram. 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. #beatrizbinge #cocoabeach
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for prodding me to pull the book off my shelf to review.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was 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. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

A View of the Empire at Sunset by Caryl Phillips.

The book is being released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on May 22, 2018.

Amazon says this about the book: Award-winning author Caryl Phillips presents a biographical novel of the life of Jean Rhys, the author of Wide Sargasso Sea, which she wrote as a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

Caryl Phillips’s A View of the Empire at Sunset is the sweeping story of the life of the woman who became known to the world as Jean Rhys. Born Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams in Dominica at the height of the British Empire, Rhys lived in the Caribbean for only sixteen years before going to England. A View of the Empire at Sunset is a look into her tempestuous and unsatisfactory life in Edwardian England, 1920s Paris, and then again in London. Her dream had always been to one day return home to Dominica. In 1936, a forty-five-year-old Rhys was finally able to make the journey back to the Caribbean. Six weeks later, she boarded a ship for England, filled with hostility for her home, never to return. Phillips’s gripping new novel is equally a story about the beginning of the end of a system that had sustained Britain for two centuries but that wreaked havoc on the lives of all who lived in the shadow of the empire: both men and women, colonizer and colonized.

A true literary feat, A View of the Empire at Sunset uncovers the mysteries of the past to illuminate the predicaments of the present, getting at the heart of alienation, exile, and family by offering a look into the life of one of the greatest storytellers of the twentieth century and retelling a profound story that is singularly its own.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Review: Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist

Husband and wife writing team Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist's charming new novel Two Steps Forward was obviously meant for me right now. I had previously read and loved The Rosie Project so the writing was likely to appeal to me. I have been noticing an uptick in the amount of uplifting literature or "up lit" published recently and have been interested not only in the phenomenon but also in these faith-in-humanity restoring stories and what they give to us as readers. And finally I do have a fascination with books about hiking and pilgrimages and the Camino de Santiago in particular pulls at me. With all of that going for it, it's no surprise that I enjoyed this gentle novel.

People undertake pilgrimages for every reason under the sun. Zoe, an American, is a recent widow struggling to process the sudden change in her life, her unexpected lack of money, and her re-awakened interest in the art she gave up in order to have children (now grown) and be a wife. She's arrived in Cluny to visit an old college friend as she contemplates what to do with her life now. Martin, a Brit, is an engineer who fled to Cluny, France to teach for a year after his wife's affair with his boss left him both unemployed and divorced. Completely broke, Martin sees a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago struggling with the trolley he's using to transport his belongings and decides first to see if he can design a better option, and once he does, to try and market it to earn some money. Neither Zoe nor Martin intended to hike the Camino de Santiago (also known as the Chemin or the Way), but it offers each of them a chance to change themselves, their perspectives, and their lives. Zoe will walk it in order to have time to think and to plan her next steps in life, to reflect on her marriage and who she became versus who she wants to be. Martin will walk it to road test his one-wheeled cart as proof to investors that it is everything he claims. But both of them will gain so much more from their walk than just what their original intentions promise.

Starting out within days of each other on their respective walks after having met briefly in Cluny, Zoe and Martin have set (negative) initial ideas about each other and even though they continue to run across each other as they look for places for food and to spend the night, they keep their distance. They each meet a wide variety of fellow travelers as they walk, all of whom have their own reasons for tackling the long and winding way.  It is through these fellow pilgrims that Zoe and Martin start to thaw towards each other, coming to value the others' presence on the trail even though long stretches of their time is still spent walking alone. Alternating first person chapters between Zoe and Martin, the reader sees not only their internal motivations for walking but also what they think of each other and of the others they meet along the way. The first person narration also allows the reader to see when and how they each start to confront the things in their life that have brought them to this place and this walk as they learn that no matter how far they go, they cannot out walk the things that burden them and instead must acknowledge them, face them, and either release them or embrace them in order to move forward. Sometimes this knowledge comes as their relationship deepens but at other times it must be learned in solo contemplation.

The novel takes some time to really get going, focused as it is on the walk itself. In the beginning the characters are quite consumed by the purely physical concerns of the journey, finding food and inexpensive shelter, caring for their feet and tired, dirty bodies. It is only later in their respective travels that they start to focus on the emotional aspects of this pilgrimage to find themselves. The pacing is slow and only ever speeds up to leisurely as the novel progresses so readers looking for a romp of any sort are forewarned. Instead of a rollicking adventure, this is a sweet story of starting over, embracing change--good and bad, the goodness of humanity, and second (or third) chances at love. It is a quick and easy read and it is clear to see that Simsion and Buist, who have themselves walked the route that Zoe and Martin take, not only have a knowledge of the Camino but also a strong affection for it and for the changes it made in their own lives. Sweet, sometimes funny, sometimes romantic, and definitely thoughtful, this is a delightful and engaging read.

For more information about Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist and the book, check out his webpage or her webpage, like him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter of 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 prodding me to pull the book off my shelf 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 Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall.

The book is being released by Knopf Books for Young Readers on May 15, 2018.

Amazon says this about the book: The finale you've all been waiting for: The Penderwicks at Last is the final, flawless installment in the modern classic series from National Book Award winner and New York Times bestselling author Jeanne Birdsall!

Nine years, five older siblings, a few beloved dogs, and an endless array of adventures--these are the things that have shaped Lydia's journey since readers first met her in The Penderwicks in Spring.

Now it's summertime, and eleven-year-old Lydia is dancing at the bus stop, waiting for big sister Batty to get home from college.

This is a very important dance and a very important wait because the two youngest sisters are about to arrive home to find out that the Penderwicks will all be returning to Arundel this summer, the place where it all began. And better still is the occasion: a good old-fashioned, homemade-by-Penderwicks wedding.

Bursting with heart and brimming with charm, this is a joyful, hilarious ode to the family we love best. And oh my MOPS--Meeting of Penderwick Siblings--does Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks at Last crescendo to one perfect Penderwick finale.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Review: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

If you had told me that I would read a Western, chock full of violence and killing, for my book club and would thoroughly enjoy it, I would wonder if you knew me at all. And yet that is exactly what happened with this Booker Prize short-listed book. I really did not want to read it but because book club should be about pushing your personal reading boundaries, I decided to give it a try.  Now I'm sure I'll read whatever deWitt come up with next because his The Sisters Brothers was such an oddly pleasing novel to read.

Charlie and Eli Sisters are contract killers living in Oregon. Hired by the Commodore to track Hermann Kermit Warm and kill him for stealing something from the Commodore, the two brothers, whose names strike fear in any who hear it, strike out towards Sacramento and the last place Warm was seen.  They don't care what he's stolen or really anything at all about him other than that they get to kill him.  Along their long journey, they meet (and often kill) a whole host of other characters, some who deserve it (evil) and some who don't (unlucky bumblers). And it is through their interactions with others, and their decision of what to do with Warm when they finally catch up with him, that show the reader who they are at their cores. Eli is quiet and naive with some semblance of a conscience while Charlie is more a straight up cold-blooded killer greedy for what he thinks he deserves.

Narrated by the childlike Eli, the reader is given access to his inner humanity instead of just his outside appearance and reputation. Considered simple by his more psychopathic brother, he details their encounters with others and his growing realization not only that they might be doing wrong but that his brother is using Eli's easily sparked rage for his own purposes. Although they are a team, Eli acts as much out of filial duty to Charlie as anything and the brothers' differences are legion as the book progresses. Eli loves food and wants to settle down with any woman who will have him, respectable or prostitute while Charlie loves nothing so much as whiskey and killing.  One brother is a rather lovable (or perhaps pitiable) doofus while the other is more hardened and ruthless although both are unquestionably killers.

The story is undeniably violent but is wonderful despite that. DeWitt has a light hand throughout, leavening the darkness with humor and funny little details. His Eli is constantly dieting and is delighted by the minty taste of the tooth powder he discovers in the course of the brothers' adventures, not exactly your stereotypical gunslinger.  His feelings and actions toward his plodding horse are misguided and gruesome but somehow also touching.  The structure of the novel is mostly straightforward but there are two intermission pieces that are a bit confusing, completely different in tone from the rest of the story, and seem to contribute little to nothing to the story. Readers will find themselves feeling surprisingly sympathetic with characters who should by all rights be unlikable and although the ending is a bit quick, this was a fun and entertaining reading experience. If you like adventure stories with killing, or even if, like me,you don't, this is one to pick up and enjoy.

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