Thursday, July 19, 2018

Review: The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O'Neal

When I was younger, I used to imagine that I was really an English Lady. Spoiler alert: I'm not. In fact, if you believe in previous lives, I probably wasn't an English Lady then either; I'm more likely to have been a scullery maid. But how cool would it be to suddenly and completely unexpectedly inherit an ancient English title, especially in this day and age? That is just one of the surprising things that happens to Olivia Shaw in Barbara O'Neal's newest novel, The Art of Inheriting Secrets.

When Olivia Shaw's mother dies, Olivia is stunned to find out that she is now the Countess of Rosemere and the possessor of a venerable but crumbling manor home and estate in England. Still on a leave of absence from her editorial job at a renowned food magazine after a terrible car accident and grieving the loss of her beloved mother, Olivia heads to England to try and uncover the mystery surrounding her mother and where she came from as well as to decide what to do with her unexpected inheritance. When she gets to the small village where Rosemere Priory is situated, she finds conflicting responses to her presence from the locals and starts to uncover more secrets than she could ever have imagined. As she is grappling with who she can trust while she determines whether she should restore the once gorgeous priory or sell it, she is also faced with more personal issues: her fresh grief over her loss of her mother, an attraction to a handsome British Indian man in the village whose family has long been connected to hers, and the hard, sad decision that her long term relationship with her fiance no longer feeds her soul the way it should.

The novel has an almost fairy tale feel to it with the falling down manor house, an air of menace surrounding the secrets, and obstacles to the love story. Olivia must overcome doubts in order to have any chance of success and to triumph over the unscrupulous people who are looking to take advantage of her and her family's long abandonment of the property. This is the story of restoration, not just of a house but of confidence. It is a tale of looking to the future, acknowledging the bad in the past but taking the good forward and building a new life. It is about second chances, family skeletons, and uncovering secrets but also of keeping the secrets that are important to keep. It is a tale of love, hidden and forbidden but also of love coming to light. The story is engaging and keeps the reader turning pages for sure, curious as to how Olivia is going to handle each curve ball thrown her way. The love story threatens to overwhelm the rest of the story but in the end all of the threads wind together tightly and in a most satisfying way. There were a few minor bits that didn't fulfill expectations, such as the several mentions of how hard it was going to be to get restoration and renovation work past Mrs. Hortense Stonebridge on the local council since the house was a Grade I listed property but nothing ever came of this. But over all, this was a quick and enjoyable read that will certainly please readers of women's fiction.

For more information about Barbara O'Neal and the book, check out her webpage, read her blog, 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 Lake Union for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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.

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