Wednesday, July 18, 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.

Nothing Good Can Come From This by Kristi Coulter.

The book is being released by MCD x FSG Originals on August 7, 2018.

Amazon says this about the book: Kristi Coulter inspired and incensed the internet when she wrote about what happened when she stopped drinking. Nothing Good Can Come from This is her debut--a frank, funny, and feminist essay collection by a keen-eyed observer no longer numbed into complacency.

When Kristi stopped drinking, she started noticing things. Like when you give up a debilitating habit, it leaves a space, one that can’t easily be filled by mocktails or ice cream or sex or crafting. And when you cancel Rosé Season for yourself, you’re left with just Summer, and that’s when you notice that the women around you are tanked―that alcohol is the oil in the motors that keeps them purring when they could be making other kinds of noise.

In her sharp, incisive debut essay collection, Coulter reveals a portrait of a life in transition. By turns hilarious and heartrending, Nothing Good Can Come from This introduces a fierce new voice to fans of Sloane Crosley, David Sedaris, and Cheryl Strayed―perfect for anyone who has ever stood in the middle of a so-called perfect life and looked for an escape hatch.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Review: The Summer List by Amy Mason Doan

When I was in high school, one of my friends and I created a scavenger hunt list and invited friends to collect the random assortment of things one night. I don't remember much of the list although I know we put a bouquet of flowers on it because we wanted flowers. And I remember going to the grocery store to buy Spam and condoms. I don't remember now if it was the items or the combination listed on the receipt that was so funny to us but I do still remember the look on the cashier's face when we ran up to her till with these two things, giggling madly. The last thing I remember from the list was one of the letters (it might even have specified our first initials) from the movie marquee but if I recall correctly, no one managed to snag one of those. It was a mostly innocent (we were asking people to steal those letters), fun, only partly planned party and I wonder if anyone else remembers it. I've never been on a scavenger hunt as an adult and I don't know if I could do one that sent me back to one particular summer with a friend but it sure is an intriguing idea. In Amy Mason Doan's novel, The Summer List, two long estranged friends reunite on a scavenger hunt designed by the mother of one, in order to repair their friendship and to reveal a major secret.

Laura hasn't been home in seventeen years when she gets an invitation to one last scavenger hunt from her former best friend Casey. She is torn about going, still harboring the hurt that made her run away from Coeur de Lune so many years ago. But something compels her to go back. When she discovers that Casey received a letter from her asking if she could come visit, the two women, distant and wary, realize that Casey's free-spirited mother has forged the letters to both of them and engineered their weekend. Alex has even left them a scavenger hunt that forces them to revisit the scenes from their high school years, promising to reveal something to them only at the end of the successful hunt.

Laura, the one who ran without an explanation, narrates the story. As she and Casey go each place that once meant so much to them, she flashes back into the past, telling the story of their friendship and why the place they are sitting holds so much meaning. She also holds onto the thing that made her leave even while she wonders if there's any way to repair their friendship. Casey's upbringing was unconventional, her mother a single mother and artist who seemingly wanted nothing more than to be a kid like her own daughter. Laura, on the other hand, grew up in a very strict, religious household, the adopted daughter of much older parents. Laura and Casey's friendship was not only controversial but always in danger of being squashed by Laura's mother. But it was also the thing that saved Laura and gave her a different view of the world, even if it meant she was always a little bit jealous of her best friend. Can the memories of the past repair the present? And just what is the secret Alex says she'll reveal at the end of the hunt?

The focus on Laura as the only narrator allows the reader into her head and to see what her fears are. Since she knows why she ran, she doesn't dwell on it, which keeps it from the reader longer than might be expected. This narration also keeps present day Casey and her thoughts as unknowable to the reader as she is to Laura. The main portion of the story line is the past and what led up to their estrangement and the scavenger hunt is a device to get them to each place so Laura can remember and a reminder of the scavenger hunts that Alex created for the high schoolers those last few summers. In addition to Laura's narration, there are brief italicized sections that tell the story of a girl named Katherine and the summer that her mother joined a strict church, sending her young teenaged daughter to church camp. These sections become very important to the story in a way that slowly becomes clear to the reader but in the beginning they feel like an intrusion on happy, positive memories. As they become more integral to the over all story, the tone shifts and the novel becomes darker and less nostalgic. The journey to Laura and Casey being ready to hear the secret Alex wants to finally share is laden with emotion and yearning. The tale of the girls as teenagers is wonderful and relatable while the present day characters are filled with tension and are less universal feeling. The novel is perfectly titled, giving off the feel of summer and friendship and reconnecting. You'll want to read it beside a lake of your own.

For more information about Amy Mason Doan and the book, check out her webpage, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and Graydon House for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Wednesday, July 11, 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.

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway by Kate Bradbury.

The book is being released by Bloomsbury Wildlife on July 17, 2018.

Amazon says this about the book: Finding herself in a new home in Brighton, Kate Bradbury sets about transforming her decked, barren backyard into a beautiful wildlife garden. She documents the unbuttoning of the earth and the rebirth of the garden, the rewilding of a tiny urban space. On her own she unscrews, saws, and hammers the decking away, she clears the builders' rubble and rubbish beneath it, and she digs and enriches the soil, gradually planting it up with plants she knows will attract wildlife. She erects bird boxes and bee hotels, hangs feeders and grows nectar- and pollen-rich plants, and slowly brings life back to the garden.

But while she's doing this her neighbors continue to pave and deck their gardens. The wildlife she tries to save is further threatened, and she feels she's fighting an uphill battle. Is there any point in gardening for wildlife when everyone else is drowning the land in poison and cement?

Throughout her story, Kate draws on an eclectic and eccentric cast of friends and colleagues, who donate plants and a greenhouse, tolerate her gawping at butterflies at Gay Pride, and accompany her on trips to visit rare bumblebees and nightingales.

Monday, July 9, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past three weeks are:

Left by Mary Hogan
A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass
Postcards from the Canyon by Lisa Gitlin
Midnight Blue by Simone van der Vlugt
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor
The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman
Boardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger
As Wide As the Sky by Jessica Pack
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
Merely a Marriage by Jo Beverley

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
Burntown by Jennifer McMahon
Everything She Didn't Say by Jane Kirkpatrick
The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky by Jana Casale
The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax

Reviews posted this week:

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Left by Mary Hogan
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
Midnight Blue by Simone van der Vlugt
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Unslut by Emily Lindin
Boardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger

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

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
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
A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass
Postcards from the Canyon by Lisa Gitlin
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor
The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman
As Wide As the Sky by Jessica Pack
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
Merely a Marriage by Jo Beverley

Wednesday, July 4, 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 Brush with Death by Ali Carter.

The book is being released by Oneworld Publications on July 10, 2018.

Amazon says this about the book: In the village of Spire, murder is afoot. Wealthy landowner Alexander, Earl of Greengrass is caught with his trousers down in the village graveyard before meeting a gruesome end. Luckily Susie Mahl happens to be on hand. With her artist’s eye for detail and her curious nature she is soon on the scent of the murderer…

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Review: Boardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger

As the days get hotter and you start to pack your beach bag, you'll want to find appropriate reading and what better to read than a book with a beach on the cover, set in Santa Cruz, California and its boardwalk? Meredith Jaeger's newest novel, Boardwalk Summer, is that book and good for women's fiction fans looking for an easy and quick read while parked on the sand with the sun on their faces.

When Violet Harcourt is crowned Miss California in 1940, she's certain she's on her way to the Hollywood career she's dreamed of forever. There's just one problem. Violet is married to a wealthy and connected but abusive husband who will never agree to her pursuing her dreams. Of course, just being married disqualifies her from the pageant but she's willing to lie for a chance at being discovered. Until her husband Charles finds out, that is.

In 2007, Marisol Cruz is a single mother, living at home with her parents, and waiting tables, having given up her dreams of graduate school after a drunken one night stand at the end of college resulted in a pregnancy. Four year old Lily is the love of Mari's life and while she mourns the loss of the life she thought she'd be leading, she adores her little girl. Mari has always loved history and when she has the chance, in addition to her waitress position, she takes on a part time job with the local museum in the run up to the area's Centennial Celebration. While staffing the museum's booth on the boardwalk, she learns of plans to tear down the old gazebo and replace it with expensive condos. She's outraged and determined to find a way to save the place that her grandparents once danced. In the course of her research, Mari learns more about her grandfather, a Mexican immigrant who was once a stunt diver on the boardwalk and his unexpected friendship with Violet Harcourt.

The novel has a dual narrative structure, jumping back and forth between Violet in 1940 and Mari in 2007. As Violet runs away to Hollywood and encounters the soul destroying, seedy underbelly of the movie business, Violet is in a race against time to save the gazebo even as she is captivated by this talented beauty queen who died so young, researching Violet's life in between her research into the history of the gazebo. Violet narrates her own story line in first person while Mari's story is told in third person. This serves to make the abuse Violet suffers at her husband's hands and the terrible situations she finds herself in in Hollywood that much more visceral. Both characters are drawn as strong women, determined to make a life for themselves: Mari as a single mother who, while she might have temporarily lost her way, eventually finds her way back to her love of history and the preservation of the past, and Violet in escaping a controlling husband who might just kill her if she doesn't break away forever. The connection between the two women, through Mari's grandfather, is well done and resists the obvious although there is another enormous coincidence that does stretch credibility later on in the story. There are parts of the story where plot lines are raised and then dropped, such as when Mari thinks she should look into the unexpected charitable donation the late Charles Harcourt made during WWII and his sudden Quakerism. The story behind this is explained in Violet's narration so Mari never goes back to it, despite the fact that it is the reader, rather than her character who discovers the truth about it. Also, Mari's grant project concerning the gazebo is only mentioned very superficially but the idea behind it (its importance to the marginalized Latinx and working class community), had it been elaborated on even slightly, would have added some nice depth to the story. There are hard, discussion worthy topics here, spousal abuse, casual racism, chasing dreams, sexual politics, and single parenthood but they are handled lightly. The book reads quickly and although it isn't hard to guess most of the plot twists, readers will race through the pages to confirm that they are in fact right, to find out the end to Violet's story, and to see how Mari's life is changing. Definitely a book for summer beach blanket reading.

For more information about Meredith Jaeger and the book, check out her webpage, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the 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.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Review: Unslut by Emily Lindin

Kids are mean. This is not a surprise to anyone, especially not these days with all the focus on bullying and mental health. It is also no surprise to anyone who made it through middle school that those years are hard and awful. To be honest, if anyone had told me that having kids meant having to go back to middle school with each one of them, I'd have thought a lot harder about having them than I did. Many (most?) middle schoolers are insecure, confused, sometimes nasty or cruel, and aching to fit in. Emily Lindin chose to immortalize these terrible years in her diaries (thankfully mine were all pitched long ago) and now to share them with the world to shine a spotlight on the ugliness of slut shaming and bullying in this diary/memoir offshoot of The Unslut Project online.

Emily was 11 years old when her "friends" and classmates labeled her as a slut. Her diary captures her often casual acceptance of this label, the sometime hurt that it caused, and the boy crazy pursuits that it might have inspired. In addition to her diary from the time (names are changed to protect the innocent and the not so innocent), there are sidebars where adult Emily offers commentary on the entries written by her preteen self. The diaries are immature, repetitious, and painful reading. They are full of her crushes and the drama of frenemies. They will make you wince, sometimes with younger Emily and sometimes at younger Emily. The notes by older Emily range from interesting social commentary and expanding on the story she wrote down at the time to completely inane comments about pop culture, fashion, and other nostalgic "gee whiz" moments. The impulse behind writing the book was solid--slut shaming starts early and leaves indelible marks on these young girls--but in practice, the book is pretty cringe-worthy reading. If you want to read someone else's preteen diaries, then this might be the book for you. I can see how some people will be able to overlook the disconcerting format and the lack of real in depth analysis presented here. Me, I remember my own discomfort at that age, and as real and uncensored as Emily's dairies are and as thin as her commentaries are, I didn't learn anything new from them, nor did I really want to spend time in her preteen head, having long since thankfully gotten out of my own.

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

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Review: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

My book club likes to choose at least one classic every year. This past year we had trouble settling on one that too many people hadn't already read or that were too long for the reading time frame so I suggested Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, a book I hadn't read since I was a child but one that I knew I'd be happy to revisit. After all, who doesn't like swashbuckling?

As a classic, the plot is probably familiar to most people but broadly drawn, young Jim Hawkins, son of an innkeeper, finds a map to Treasure Island in the late Billy Bones' belongings and sets out with a couple of old men eager to add to their wealth and a scurvy crew of mostly shifty sailors for the promised treasure. Along the way there is plotting, betrayal, and mutiny from the sailors, treasure unearthed, a battle fought, a maroon found, and ultimately the triumph of goodness, luck, and bravery.

This novel is in fact the original pirate tale, the one that has influenced so much of the pop culture portrayals of pirates to this day. It is a portrait of Britain in the Victorian age and of the romanticism of the high seas; it is pure adventure. The language in it is decidedly more difficult than what is presented to children today but the story, after a bit of a slow start, is still completely entertaining and engrossing. Young Jim is lucky, often in the right place at the right time, and he has invaluable instincts. Long John Silver seems charming and kindly but who hides his real, greedy and evil nature as long as possible.  I first read this at our cottage by flickering gaslight and that was perfect for the atmosphere evoked here. If you don't have such a place to sink into this book, I suspect it would make a fantastic read aloud bedtime story. Be warned though, that the audience for the story will beg you not to stop at this chapter or that, wanting the whole adventure in one go.  And good luck not getting "yo ho ho and a bottle of rum" or "sixteen men on a dead man's chest" stuck in your head after you read it!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Review: Midnight Blue by Simone van der Vlugt

The high point of my artistic career is a self-portrait, drawn in marker, and forever captured on a melamine plate from pre-school more than four decades ago. I was so advanced for my age I even remembered to give myself eyelashes. If that’s not long-lasting genius and a genuine artistic legacy, I don’t know what is. It may not be the Mona Lisa but surely it’s up there with beautiful ceramics like Chinese porcelain and Delftware. OK, maybe not; my talent may not be one for the ages but we do know how it developed (or didn’t). We don’t actually know which potter came up with the idea for Delft Blue, just that it was a cheaper but incredibly popular alternative to Chinese porcelain and came to prominence in the 1650s. Simone van der Vlugt has written a fictional beginning for the rise of these blue and white decorative pieces, assigning the inspiration for the pottery to an artistic, young widow from a rural Dutch village in the novel, Midnight Blue.

Catrin Barentsdochter endured much in her brief marriage: the premature birth and death of her baby and terrible abuse from her husband. She’s not sorry he’s dead only a year into their life together and after selling her inheritance from him, she leaves her family and the small village of De Rijp behind for a housekeeper position in a larger town nearby. When that falls through, she ends up going to Amsterdam and it is there that her artistic talent is accidentally discovered. The past she's fleeing catches up with her though and she runs even farther, ending up working at a pottery owned by the brother of her previous employer. Not only is Catrin a good painter, she is innovative and astute, suggesting to her kindly boss that they try to mimic the blue and white pieces of Chinese porcelain that are all the rage. And so Delft Blue is born. But Catrin’s past won’t stay away and her life and the revelation of her huge secret is threatened again.

Van der Vlugt weaves pivotal and fascinating Delft history in with her story of this determined young woman, credibly placing Catrin near the gunpowder explosion and fire that destroyed much of Delft in 1654 and in the midst of the rampaging plague epidemic of 1655. The details of pottery making included here are not extensive but are incredibly interesting nonetheless. Catrin is a practical and generally strong character although occasionally her actions and language seem anachronistic for a woman in the 1650s. Whether that is a function of the author’s writing or of the translation is hard to tell. The secondary characters are fairly one dimensional and the ending is quite neat and convenient given the reality and fragility of life at the time. There is a romance that feels rather rushed and could have used elaboration but even as it stands, it does drive the story forward and figures into Catrin’s decisions several times. Fans of historical fiction will find this an easy, fast, and generally engaging read set at a time and a place not often found in English language works and they might even be inspired to learn a little more about the actual pottery and of Delft’s place in the Dutch Golden Age.

For more information about Simone van der Vlugt 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 Intermission by Elyssa Friedland.

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

Amazon says this about the book: Have you ever had a secret so gut-wrenching you couldn't tell anyone, not even the person who shares your bed? Told from the alternating perspectives of a husband and wife who both have something to hide, this incisive novel pulls back the curtain on a seemingly-happy marriage, posing the question: how much do we really know--and how much should we want to know--about the people we love the most?

After five long years, the unshakable confidence Cass Coyne felt as a bride is gone. Her husband, Jonathan, on the other hand, is still smitten. It's true that the quirks he once found charming in his wife--her high standards, her refusal to clean the dishes--are beginning to grate. But for him, these are minor challenges in a healthy relationship.

So it comes as a complete shock to Jonathan when Cass suddenly requests a marital "intermission": a six-month separation during which they'll decide if the comfortable life they've built is still the one they both want.

Aside from a monthly custodial exchange of their beloved dog, contact will be limited. But as the months pass, they begin to see that calculated silences just like these have helped to drive them apart--and that it may finally be time to confront the blistering secrets they've been avoiding.

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

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