Monday, October 22, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

One Day in December by Josie Silver
The Widow Nash by Jamie Harrison
Stuck in Manistique by Dennis Cuesta
The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
Miss Featherton's Christmas Prince by Ella Quinn

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

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
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
The New York Time Footsteps by various authors
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
Mean by Myriam Gurba
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
Surviving Paradise by Peter Rudiak-Gould
The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Reviews posted this week:

The Amendment by Anne Leigh Parrish
One Day on December by Josie Silver

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

Mothers of Sparta by Dawn Davies
Swimming with Elephants by Sarah Bamford Seidelmann
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
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
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
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
Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax
Second Wind by Nathaniel Philbrick
Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia
Paper Is White by Hilary Zaid
Hotel Silence by Audur Ava Olafsdottir
The Vain Conversation by Anthony Grooms
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
The Last Suppers by Mandy Mikulencak
Ostrich by Matt Greene
The Mercy Seat by Elizabeth H. Winthrop
Maggie Boylan by Michael Henson
We All Love the Beautiful Girls by Joanne Proulx
Every Note Played by Lisa Genova
Shores Beyond Shores by Irene Butter
The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher
Fiction Can Be Murder by Becky Clark
Tigerbelle by Wyomia Tyus
Wolf Season by Helen Benedict
Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers
London Road by Tessa Smith McGovern
Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt
Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe
Love Literary Style by Karin Gillespie
The Secret of the Irish Castle by Santa Montefiore
The Cactus by Sarah Haywood
The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J. Andersson
A Cast of Vultures by Judith Flanders
The Governess Game by Tess Dare
In-Between Days by Teva Harrison
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
In the Heart of the Canyon by Elisabeth Hyde
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Penelope Lemon by Inman Majors
I'd Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel
Royally Screwed by Emma Chase
The Wangs Vs. the World by Jade Chang
Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
All the Colors We Will See by Patrice Gopo
The Book Lovers' Appreciation Society by assorted authors
Don't Point That Thing at Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
The Widow Nash by Jamie Harrison
Stuck in Manistique by Dennis Cuesta
The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
Miss Featherton's Christmas Prince by Ella Quinn

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Family Trust by Kathy Wang came from TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for a blog tour.

The dying patriarch of a first generation Chinese American family in Silicon Valley has a last bequest and this is the story of his family trying, or not trying, to fulfill that. Sounds positively delicious, doesn't it?

All Over the Map by Betsy Mason and Greg Miller came from TLC Book Tours and National Geographic for a blog tour.

I cannot even begin to explain to you how gorgeous this book is in person. If you are a map junkie or a frustrated cartographer like me, you must see this to believe it. I'm looking forward to delving into the information behind these really cool maps.

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

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Review: One Day in December by Josie Silver

Do you believe in love at first sight? Do you believe that "The One" is out there for you somewhere? Is there anything that would stop you from pursuing the person you are so clearly fated to be with?  Does friendship trump love?  If you've ever pondered the answers to these questions, Josie Silver's engaging new novel, One Day in December, is for you.

Laurie is headed home one day in December when she sees a man from her bus window. He sees her too. And somehow she just knows that he is "The One." But she doesn't get off the overcrowded bus, nor does he get on. And the bus pulls away.  Just like that, he's gone. For the next year, Laurie looks for and dreams about the "bus boy" but it isn't until her best friend and flatmate, Sarah, brings home her hot new boyfriend, Jack, that Laurie sees him again. Sarah is head over heels in love with Jack and so Laurie, supportive and loyal, aching more than a little on the inside, swallows down her feelings for Jack, not letting on to Sarah that Jack is bus boy. Jack also recognizes Laurie but he too turns away from this knowledge a little regretfully. For the next nine years, Laurie and Jack develop a deep friendship with each other but go on about their lives ignoring the memory of that bus stop glance, only once guiltily acknowledging their continued pull to each other out loud. Fate has indeed brought them together in the meanest of ways.

Told in alternating first person chapters, first Laurie and then Jack tell the tale of the nine years of wrong timing. Both characters are drawn as good, loyal, and kind people who have no desire to hurt those they love, no desire to be so selfish that they would sacrifice a friend/girlfriend because of the coup de feudre they felt at that bus stop. Both of them struggle with suppressing feelings for the other as their lives go on, tied to other people. Obviously this affects their relationships with their partners and because of the first person narration, the reader sees all of that struggle and guilt as well. Each passing year starts with a copy of Laurie's New Year's Resolutions, although the reader comes to discover that setting out a plan for the year rarely ends up as expected (or wished for).  But Laurie's hopes lay the groundwork for the coming chapters.  In addition to the likable characters of Laurie and Jack, Laurie's best friend/Jack's girlfriend, Sarah, is wonderfully drawn and well nuanced as a character. Laurie's Oscar is less fleshed out but the reader never does get to see him from an unbiased source, only through Laurie's changing perspective and Jack's irrational dislike. The amount of time covered in the novel is quite long but each year only has a few pivotal parts covered so over all, it is quite a fast paced, addictive read. This is a love triangle unlike any you've read before. The story is very visual, cinematic in scope, and it is easy to see the richly satisfying, if totally expected, final scene (among others) on the big screen. If you like romantic comedies, this is the best kind. It's a whole-hearted commitment to love and friendship. You'll be charmed and completely engaged. Once you open it, you'll be unable to put it down so don't start it at night unless sleep is unimportant to you.  Prepare to catch yourself smiling and to be moved by the love that shines through each of the characters in this wonderful, feel-good novel.

For more information about Josie Silver and the book, check out her webpage or 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 Crown for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Review: The Amendment by Anne Leigh Parrish

When I read Anne Leigh Parrish's first book, a collection of linked short stories called Our Love Could Light the World, I got to meet the messy and dysfunctional Dugan clan. In her new novel, The Amendment, mother Lavinia Dugan, now Lavinia Starkhurst and married to second husband Chip, has a whole different life. She's now in her 50s and her children are adults. She is more than comfortable financially. And she and her husband have an easy, generally considerate, if not passionate and love-filled, marriage. When Chip is struck by lightning on the golf course and dies, Lavinia's whole existence is thrown for a loop. She's confused by her grief and by the expectations others have for her in the wake of Chip's death. She feels like she needs to take a physical trip to process and make sense of everything so she sets off alone on a road trip, heading West without any particular plan, and along the way, ends up meeting strangers, down and out, struggling, and sometimes eccentric, whose lives she touches and who, in turn, touch her life.

Lavinia is a flawed and entirely human character. She can be judgmental and unkind, surprising given her own acknowledged background, but she can also be giving and forgiving, especially with her children, several of whom certainly struggle with navigating adulthood. While she seems content with who she is or thinks she is and initially uninterested in changing, she quickly realizes she doesn't really know who the real Lavinia is outside of the role she took on as Chip's wife.  She'll have to change to find herself at her core.  She is funny and sarcastic and grieving the loss of her husband in a way only she understands. But she is also doing the hard work of learning who she is, who she wants to be, and how she wants the rest of her life to proceed. In the process, this strong, resilient woman opens her heart a sliver at a time. Her insights into herself are realistic and her growth as a person is not overdone; change is incremental. The writing is very accessible and the pacing is consistent and appropriate. There is a nice balance of humor and pathos, with the humor dominating and keeping the mood of the novel, focused as it is on a new widow, from becoming overwhelmingly sad. Lavinia sometimes seems to treading water both before and during the trip, as people do, but there is never any doubt that this outspoken, determined woman will in fact find the road she needs to travel into the next phase of her life. If you like road trip novels, novels where women find their future, or novels of emotional resilience peppered with humor, this is the novel for you.

For more information about Anne Leigh Parrish and the book, check out her webpage, like her page on Facebook, or 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. You can also check out my review of Parrish's previous short story collection, Our Love Could Light the World, the linked story collection with Lavinia Dugan Starkhurt in it, or of another of her short story collections, By the Wayside, both of which I liked very much.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and Unsolicited Press 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 Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay.

The book is being released by St. Martin's Press on October 23, 2018.

The book's jacket copy says: Linden Malegarde has come home to Paris from the United States. It has been years since the whole family was all together. Now the Malegarde family is gathering for Paul, Linden’s father’s 70th birthday.

Each member of the Malegarde family is on edge, holding their breath, afraid one wrong move will shatter their delicate harmony. Paul, the quiet patriarch, an internationally-renowned arborist obsessed with his trees and little else, has always had an uneasy relationship with his son. Lauren, his American wife, is determined that the weekend celebration will be a success. Tilia, Linden’s blunt older sister, projects an air of false fulfillment. And Linden himself, the youngest, uncomfortable in his own skin, never quite at home no matter where he lives―an American in France and a Frenchman in the U.S.―still fears that, despite his hard-won success as a celebrated photographer, he will always be a disappointment to his parents.

Their hidden fears and secrets slowly unravel as the City of Light undergoes a stunning natural disaster, and the Seine bursts its banks and floods the city. All members of the family will have to fight to keep their unity against tragic circumstances. In this profound and intense novel of love and redemption, de Rosnay demonstrates all of her writer’s skills both as an incredible storyteller but also as a soul seeker.

Monday, October 15, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor
The Art of Failing by Anthony McGowan
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
The Amendment by Anne Leigh Parrish

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

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
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
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 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
Surviving Paradise by Peter Rudiak-Gould
The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
One Day in December by Josie Silver

Reviews posted this week:

The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor
Paper Boats by Dee Lestari
The Art of Failing by Anthony McGowan
Vanishing Twins by Leah Dieterich

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

Mothers of Sparta by Dawn Davies
Swimming with Elephants by Sarah Bamford Seidelmann
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
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
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
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
Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax
Second Wind by Nathaniel Philbrick
Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia
Paper Is White by Hilary Zaid
Hotel Silence by Audur Ava Olafsdottir
The Vain Conversation by Anthony Grooms
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
The Last Suppers by Mandy Mikulencak
Ostrich by Matt Greene
The Mercy Seat by Elizabeth H. Winthrop
Maggie Boylan by Michael Henson
We All Love the Beautiful Girls by Joanne Proulx
Every Note Played by Lisa Genova
Shores Beyond Shores by Irene Butter
The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher
Fiction Can Be Murder by Becky Clark
Tigerbelle by Wyomia Tyus
Wolf Season by Helen Benedict
Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers
London Road by Tessa Smith McGovern
Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt
Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe
Love Literary Style by Karin Gillespie
The Secret of the Irish Castle by Santa Montefiore
The Cactus by Sarah Haywood
The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J. Andersson
A Cast of Vultures by Judith Flanders
The Governess Game by Tess Dare
In-Between Days by Teva Harrison
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
In the Heart of the Canyon by Elisabeth Hyde
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Penelope Lemon by Inman Majors
I'd Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel
Royally Screwed by Emma Chase
The Wangs Vs. the World by Jade Chang
Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
All the Colors We Will See by Patrice Gopo
The Book Lovers' Appreciation Society by assorted authors
Don't Point That Thing at Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
The Amendment by Anne Leigh Parrish

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy came from TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for a blog tour.

I mean, who among Anne's kindred spirits wouldn't want to read this one? I just about squealed when I heard it was coming out.

The Book Ninja by Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus came from me for myself.

About woman who is fed up with online dating decides to leave copies of her favorite books, with her contact info in them, on trains in hopes of meeting the perfect man through a shared love of the same books, this sounds completely delightful!

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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Review: Vanishing Twins by Leah Dieterich

Do you ever read a book everyone else who read it is raving about and wonder if you read the same book they did? Once you compare the text of what they read and what you read and discover that the book does in fact contain the same words, do you wonder if it's a case of the Emperor's New Clothes or if you missed something somehow? (I will admit I do tend to think that it's the former much more often than the latter.) Leah Dieterich's memoir, Vanishing Twins, is a book I struggled with as I was reading it and found utterly perplexing when I discovered that so many others consider it amazing.

The memoir is the story of Dieterich's sense of being one half of a whole, missing some shadow piece of herself, and searching for wholeness in ballet, in philosophy, in an early marriage, in sexual fluidity, in every aspect of her life, really. She says that she feels as if she is a twin, suggesting that she is the product of a vanishing twin pregnancy, where the mother's body (or the twin herself) reabsorbs one of the fetuses early on in the pregnancy. Unless I missed it, there is no scientific basis for her feeling; it is just a feeling she accepts as truth.  And one that drives her life.  She marries early and while she loves her husband, she finds the nature of monogamy stultifying so they eventually ease into an open marriage in which Dieterich explores her sexual feelings for a woman while her husband Eric has his own affair. What this duel exploration and Dieterich's living in a different city from her husband means to their marriage, her sense of herself, who she wants to be, and her acceptance of herself is the thrust of this memoir.

The writing here is choppy and fragmented. It is bluntly honest and yet somehow still hard to connect or sympathize with. Dieterich struggles with balancing her individual art within a marriage, a merged life, but she looks outside of herself rather than within herself to find a scapegoat for this struggle, her need for and the simultaneous rejection of a pas de deux. It is clear she is afraid she is subsuming her real self in the heterosexual, monogamous marriage society expects of her and that this fear of losing herself as an individual is absolutely overwhelming to her.  While she captures that feeling on the page, it didn't make for compelling reading for me. In fact, combine this with the style of writing and I just wanted to be done with the book. A search of self, love, and acceptance can be dynamic and gripping but, for me, unfortunately this just wasn't.

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

Friday, October 12, 2018

Review: The Art of Failing by Anthony McGowan

Anthony McGowan is not right. If you too, are of the not right variety (as I am), you'll find him inappropriately hilarious and hilariously inappropriate. I'd throw in some quotes from the book to prove it but I'm afraid I'd want to use so many I'd be charged with copyright infringement. This is a very British, very droll book. The cover is truly egregious and I'm only sad that its lack of appeal (it's a banana so lack of a peel, get it? Yeah, groaner for sure.) kept me from picking this up sooner.

Written as mostly brief, almost daily observational diary entries over the span of a year (plus a few days), there's little to no narrative arc here but, trust me, you won't care. And when McGowan does in fact refer back to something in a previous entry, the reader feels as if she is an insider, someone included in McGowan's private meanderings, like an old friend would be. Each entry is fairly short and generally highlights a happening in McGowan's marriage, his professional life, or just everyday life that could, quite probably, happen only to him.  We all have that one friend who is one disaster and humiliation after another, right?  The bits he records are funny, well-written, and oftentimes cringe-inducing (but in a good way--if there can be a good way of cringing). He focuses on the personal, the embarrassing, and the hilarious failures, inviting the reader to laugh along with him at these nutty and outrageous occurrences. His intelligence is clear to the reader paying attention, his wit is in sharp focus, and it is patently obvious that he adores his wife and children, even if he claims to have no idea why Mrs. McG. puts up with his shenanigans and less than ideal person. He does make fun of others on occasion but most of the time he's busy taking the piss out of himself. I truly laughed aloud at quite a few passages and thoroughly enjoyed my tenure in the pages of McGowan's life. If he'd write more diary entries, I'd happily read them, lack of narrative arc be damned.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Review: Paper Boats by Dee Lestari

I don't think I've ever read another book set in Indonesia and I am not familiar with the fairy tales of the culture, but I suspect that Lestari's book is meant to feel like one to readers who are familiar with them. She also hits all of the tropes of the romance genre here with boy meets girl, they are kept apart because of misunderstandings and other reasons, they renew their friendship and this time nothing stands in their way. It's all very charming if not quite as centered on place as I was hoping.

Keenan's parents have called him home from Amsterdam where he has been living with his grandmother for quite a few years, telling him that it's time he go to university and prepare to take over his father's business rather than continue to dream of a life as a painter. Although he doesn't want to give up his dream and is quite a skilled artist, he is a dutiful and loyal son so he returns as requested, meeting his cousin, his cousin's girlfriend, and the girlfriend's dear friend when they pick him up at the airport. He is immediately captivated by the friend, Kugy, who is outgoing, confident, and unconventional. It turns out they will be at university together and they quickly become close friends themselves. In fact, Kugy, who wants to write fairy tales, lets Keenan read what she has written so far, becoming Keenan's artistic muse. Over the next four years, Keenan and Kugy, who are in the same friend group at school, always miss out on being a couple and then finally lose track of each other as Kugy intentionally distances herself from the group. Both of them go on to try to work in the conventional jobs expected of them even though their respective artistic dreams still haunt them. Their misunderstandings and trouble communicating with each other keep them apart despite the fact that they are clearly perfect for each other and need to be together for their artistic sides to bloom and flourish.

The novel feels like a YA chick lit kind of book and the decisions made by some of the characters are wildly frustrating. But then the reader remembers that they are all so very young and so probably realistically drawn despite the frustrations. There didn't seem to be much grounding this in Indonesian culture although the conceit of Kugy writing her dreams out, folding the paper into paper boats, and sending the dreams out to sea via whatever body of water she could find was rather enchanting. Keenan as a character comes across as very naive and despite his life experiences, he still seems to be mostly so at the end of the book. For both of them, the interpersonal relationships with the secondary characters causes some of the plot tension here but they were quite easily solved in the end. Over all a light and sweet book but perhaps just a bit too easy for all that.

Wednesday, October 10, 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.

Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners by Gretchen Anthony.

The book is being released by Park Row on October 16, 2018.

The book's jacket copy says: A formidable matriarch learns the hard way that no family is perfect in this witty, sparkling debut novel

Dearest loved ones, far and near—evergreen tidings from the Baumgartners!

Violet Baumgartner has opened her annual holiday letter the same way for the past three decades. And this year she’s going to throw her husband, Ed, a truly perfect retirement party, one worthy of memorializing in her upcoming letter. But the event becomes a disaster when, in front of two hundred guests, Violet learns her daughter Cerise has been keeping a shocking secret from her, shattering Violet’s carefully constructed world.

In an epic battle of wills, Violet goes to increasing lengths to wrest back control of her family, infuriating Cerise and snaring their family and friends in a very un-Midwestern, un-Baumgartner gyre of dramatics. And there will be no explaining away the consequences in this year’s Baumgartner holiday letter…

Full of humor, emotion and surprises at every turn, Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners brings to life a remarkable cast of quirky, deeply human characters who must learn to adapt to the unconventional, or else risk losing one another. This is the story of a family falling to pieces—and the unexpected way they put it all back together.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Review: The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor

Lots of people have a real fascination with lighthouses. They collect miniatures or pictures. They visit local lights and climb the steps up into the towers. Lighthouses are certainly scenic, romantic, and eternally appealing. (Just look at this cover!)  But even for people with this lighthouse fascination, how much thought is really ever given to the actual keepers, their families, daily life on small rocky outcrops off the mainland, and to the dangerous but vital duties they performed, especially in the time before lights became automated when winter storms wreaked havoc on ships in treacherous waters? Hazel Gaynor's newest novel, The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter, presents the life of Grace Darling, a lighthouse keeper's daughter who became famous in 1838 for doing what she saw simply as her duty, and of Matilda Emmerson, an unmarried, pregnant, Irish woman in 1938 banished to America and the care of a distant lighthouse keeper relative until her baby's birth.

Matilda has shamed her parents by getting pregnant so they send her off to America to live with Harriet Flaherty, a relative she's never heard of before. Harriet keeps the lighthouse in Newport, Rhode Island and although she doesn't easily embrace Matilda's presence in her life, she does give her a way to stay busy and engaged while waiting for the baby. Matilda works on scrapbooks of famous female light keepers, including the famous Grace Darling, who has a connection to Matilda's own great-great granny, Sarah Dawson.

 In 1838, living at the Longstone Lighthouse where her father is the keeper, Grace helps out with all aspects of his job. Almost all of her other siblings, besides one younger brother destined to one day take over from their father, have moved on and made lives for themselves on the mainland or at other lighthouses.  Unlike these siblings, Grace is quite content living a solitary and quiet life amidst the rocky islands and the spraying waves. Nothing has ever made her question her decision to stay with her parents at the lighthouse until she meets artist George Emmerson. She finds him living in her thoughts as she goes about the daily business of keeping watch. Then everything changes one night as a storm batters the lighthouse and Grace spots the wreck of the steamer Forfarshire and people bobbing in the thrashing sea. She and her father set off to try and rescue any survivors, eventually bringing two boatloads of people back to the lighthouse despite the terrible risk to their own lives in doing so. One of the people who is rescued is Sarah Dawson, a young mother who has tragically lost both of her young children in the wreck. Grace bonds with the devastated woman, only later discovering that she is George Emmerson's sister and was on her way to visit him. Grace's role in the rescue catapults her into a fame she never wanted, a fame that she finds intrusive and distressing.

Grace's story alternates with Matilda's story as she starts to come to know the reserved and undemonstrative Harriet, slowly uncovering the tragedy in her past that Harriet refuses to discuss. She comes to understand her own mother's longstanding cold, judging remoteness and finds a happiness in her life that has long been missing, even before the unwelcomed and unexpected pregnancy. With the help of Harriet, her new friend Joseph, and the kindly, maternal Mrs. O'Driscoll, who accompanied her from Ireland and reappears in her life when she most needs her, Matilda learns to look into her heart to make the right decisions for her future and that of her baby.

Based on the true story of Grace Darling and her part in the rescue of the Forfarshire survivors, Gaynor has woven an engaging tale of bravery, duty, love, and loss. Both of her main characters, Grace and Matilda, are well drawn and complete, both buffeted by the storms of life in ways that they cannot fully control. Grace's story is the more interesting, especially as it has its origin in truth but Matilda too is an engaging character. Reading of Grace's decision about honor and where her life lies is hard and affecting for sure. Her frustration with the intrusiveness of fame and the desire to go back to her previously quiet, unheralded life is absolutely palpable in the text. Both Grace and Matilda are isolated in so many ways beyond the obviousness of lighthouse living. Some of these ways are good and welcome and others are sad and heartbreaking. All of the losses, great and small, of life and love, resonate throughout both stories, leaving a mark on the reader's own heart. The connection between the women is well done; they are close but not so close as to be unbelievable. The ending of the novel is both beautiful and devastating. If you are a historical fiction fan, like dual story lines (both in the past here), or have secret yearnings to live a solitary life in a lighthouse, this book will be perfect for you but definitely make sure to have a box of tissues at hand. You'll need them.

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

Monday, October 8, 2018

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
All the Colors We Will See by Patrice Gopo
The Book Lovers' Appreciation Society by assorted authors
Don't Point That Thing at Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

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
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
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 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
Surviving Paradise by Peter Rudiak-Gould
The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor

Reviews posted this week:

Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastava Vikram
As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman
In the Distance by Hernan Diaz
Daditude by Chris Erskine

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

Paper Boats by Dee Lestari
Mothers of Sparta by Dawn Davies
Swimming with Elephants by Sarah Bamford Seidelmann
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
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
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
Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax
Second Wind by Nathaniel Philbrick
Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia
Paper Is White by Hilary Zaid
Hotel Silence by Audur Ava Olafsdottir
The Vain Conversation by Anthony Grooms
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
The Last Suppers by Mandy Mikulencak
Ostrich by Matt Greene
The Mercy Seat by Elizabeth H. Winthrop
Maggie Boylan by Michael Henson
We All Love the Beautiful Girls by Joanne Proulx
Every Note Played by Lisa Genova
Shores Beyond Shores by Irene Butter
The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher
Fiction Can Be Murder by Becky Clark
Tigerbelle by Wyomia Tyus
Wolf Season by Helen Benedict
Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers
London Road by Tessa Smith McGovern
Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt
Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe
Love Literary Style by Karin Gillespie
The Secret of the Irish Castle by Santa Montefiore
The Cactus by Sarah Haywood
The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J. Andersson
A Cast of Vultures by Judith Flanders
The Governess Game by Tess Dare
In-Between Days by Teva Harrison
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
In the Heart of the Canyon by Elisabeth Hyde
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Penelope Lemon by Inman Majors
I'd Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel
Royally Screwed by Emma Chase
The Wangs Vs. the World by Jade Chang
Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
All the Colors We Will See by Patrice Gopo
The Book Lovers' Appreciation Society by assorted authors
Don't Point That Thing at Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh

Monday Mailbox

I'm starting to think I should rename this weekly post, Kristen's Weakness Continues or Gluttony Really Isn't Such a Mortal Sin, Is It? Yes, I had to get a gift or two for someone else and if I'm buying for them, I'm buying for me, natch. ;-) This past two weeks' mailbox arrivals:

The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman came from me for myself.

About a woman who will do anything to save her mother's life, including sacrificing her own and changing the past, this looks fantastic.  (Yes, there's time travel involved.)

Perfect Meringues by Laurie Graham came from me for myself.

Do I need more than the awesome title as a reason to read this? Not really but the premise also sounds delicious, a TV cook and single mom who needs to find her own life outside of television.

Last of the Summer Moet by Wendy Holden came from me for myself.

It's been a long time since I've read one of Wendy Holden's books and I remember them as fun and frothy so I'm looking forward to this one about an editor at a glossy magazine and her exciting and glamorous friends.

Four by Andy Jones came from me for myself.

A novel about three longtime close friends, two of whom are married to each other, and the woman who is the new fourth, this could have all sorts of repercussions and craziness to it and I can't wait!

The Vintage Cinema Club by Jane Linfoot came from me for myself.

A novel about three friends who run a vintage business, this looks like retro fun.

The Last of the Greenwoods by Clare Morrall came from me for myself.

Two brothers who live in side by side railway carriages but never speak receive a letter from a sister they thought long dead--murdered. What's the truth? And how does it connect to the reclusive woman helping her only friend restore an old railway line on his father's property? I feel like I should insert a "dun dun dun..." here!

Sunshine and Sweet Peas in Nightingale Square by Heidi Swain came from me for myself.

I want to live in this cover! About a woman running from her soon to be ex husband who stumbles into the perfection of Nightingale Square, becomes involved in the community, and must help to save it from developers, this looks completely scrummy.

The Reinvention of Love by Helen Humphreys came from me for myself.

Helen Humphreys is amazing so I can't wait to dive into this early book of hers about a man who meets Victor Hugo but is most drawn to Hugo's wife. A setting of Paris during the reign of Napoleon III doesn't hurt either.

The Coffee Shop Book Club by assorted authors came from me for myself.

A collection of stories about love and fidelity benefiting Breast Cancer Care by some of the biggest names in women's fiction, this is the perfect October read, right?

The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor came from TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for a blog tour.

I might have mentioned once or twice that I have a thing for water and books set by water of any kind. I also have romantic ideas about living in a lighthouse, away from other people, just accompanied by my books. Since that isn't going to happen, I like to read about people who have chosen such a remote life (even if it is much harder than what I like to imagine) so this one about a lighthouse keeper's daughter who becomes a heroine in England after she rescues shipwreck survivors and a young, pregnant Irish woman 100 years later who is banished to Rhode Island to live with a relative at a lighthouse there and the thread that ties the two women together is tailor made for me.

The Importance of Being Aisling by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen came from me for myself.

Ireland, relationship, an adult woman moving back in with her mam, and a girl's trip to Vegas all combine for what promises to be a funny and delightful read.

Papa Goose by Michael Quetting came from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Aside from the fact that goslings grow up to be geese (nasty creatures, geese), how could you not want to read a memoir about a guy who becomes a father to seven fuzzy goslings, from incubator to air, all in the name of science? It could even change my mind about geese. (Nah.)

A Home at Honeysuckle Farm by Christie Barlow came from me for myself.

A child who is moved from the family home to New York for reasons she doesn't understand comes back 13 years later and her friendship with a local man seems to be making everyone nervous. Sounds deliciously fun, right?

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman by Mamen Sanchez came from me for myself.

When a stuffy Englishman is sent to Madrid to shut down a failing literary magazine, he disappears. The five Spanish women who run the magazine will do anything to save their jobs.  So what have they done with him?  I do love a good literary caper and this one looks fantastic.

Lady Fortescue Steps Out by M.C. Beaton came from me for myself.

I picked up the third one of the series at the bookstore so of course I need the first to start with, right?  This is therefore the first in the Poor Relations series.  Besides, I can't resist a novel about a hotel where upper crust poor relations wait on and work for the guests.

The Songs of Us by Emma Cooper came from me for myself.

A mom with a neurological condition that causes her to sing when she's nervous, a father who left his family after something terrible happened, and two teenagers trying to deal with what life throws their way, this sounds like a wonderful and heartbreaking novel.

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

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Review: Daditude by Chris Erskine

I’ve watched my husband parent our children for more than 21 years now, through the mundane and the extraordinary, the humdrum and the hilarious. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed all these years, it’s that fatherhood, like motherhood, is not for the faint of heart. Chris Erskine, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, has collected his columns on his experience of fatherhood here in Daditude: The Joys and Absurdities of Modern Fatherhood.

Erskine is funny and relatable in his writing. Instead of being organized chronologically, the columns are arranged thematically. At the end of each column, there are brief addendums either from the now teenaged or even adult child about whom the column is written, his wife, or even himself many years after the original writing. As they were originally published in the newspaper, none of the columns are terribly long and each captures just one snippet of life with children. Erskine touches on the joys and fears that come part and parcel with having small, dependent people living in your house, making the personal universal through the feelings evoked within each column. Because of the non-chronological arrangement of the book, this might be better suited to dipping into than to a straight through read. The columns are warm and charming, short enough to read in the bathroom (where any modern dad might get his only peace and quiet) for those who are looking for happily nostalgic pieces.

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Review: In the Distance by Hernan Diaz

There is a popular narrative about the settling of the American West. Streams of settlers set out from the East and made their way in covered wagons to the lands further west in search of a better life. These pioneers built farms, they encountered native peoples under both peaceful and hostile conditions, they panned and mined for the gold of their fever dreams, and they pushed ever forward in the promise of Manifest Destiny. There are variations on this tale, of course, but most variations do not generally veer too far from this imagined story. Hernan Diaz, though, has turned this story on its head in his novel, In the Distance, starting with an immigrant determined to get not from the East to California but from California to New York.

Hakan Soderstrom is an old man called The Hawk about whom many legends are told when he sits down on a ship bound for Alaska and tells his story. He and his brother Linus left their parents and their home in Sweden to travel to America. At a stopover in Portsmouth, Linus disappears and speaking no English, Hakan must try to find their boat to America himself. Instead of the one heading for New York that he assumes Linus caught, Hakan ends up on a boat making for San Francisco to land people close to the gold fields. The young boy intends to walk the breadth of the continent to find his brother and protector in New York. Along the way, he meets with a whole host of people, some of whom are willing to help him and others who want to use him for their own ends, but for the largest part of his journey, he is alone, reliant only on himself, what the few kind people he has encountered have taught him, and what nature provides.

The novel is written in soaring prose with evocatively described landscapes and echoes of Frankenstein's monster's journey. The Hawk is an epic figure, traveling mainly on foot across empty stretches of a new country and also journeying into the recesses his own soul. This is both a literal and a metaphorical quest for his brother and for home. The hardships that Hakan endures would have felled a lesser man. Diaz captures the emptiness of the land, the solitude, even in company, of the immigrant who cannot communicate in the language of the country, and the loss of the self to constructed myths told by others. Reading this felt like sitting out in the blazing sun for hours with time telescoping in and out, some pages seeming to last for days and others for seconds. It is a book about both existence and nothingness. Not for the reader who wants fast moving plot, but for one who will take the time to sink into the hypnotic maelstrom.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to 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 Waiter by Matias Faldbakken.

The book is being released by Gallery/Scout Press on October 9, 2018.

The book's jacket copy says: In the tradition of modern classics The Dinner and A Gentleman in Moscow comes The Waiter, in which the finely tuned balance of a grand European restaurant (that has seen better days) is irrevocably upset by an unexpected guest.

In a centuries-old European restaurant called The Hills, a middle-aged waiter takes pride in the unchangeable aspects of his job: the well-worn uniform, the ragged but solid tablecloths, and the regular diners. Some are there daily, like Graham “Le Gris”—also known as The Pig—and his dignified group of aesthetes; the slightly more free-spirited drinking company around Tom Sellers; and the closest one can get to personal friends of the waiter, Edgar and his young daughter, Anna.

In this universe unto itself, there is scarcely any contact between the tables...until a beautiful and well-groomed young woman walks through the door and upsets the delicate balance of the restaurant and all it has come to represent.

Like living in a snow globe, The Waiter is a captivating study in miniature. Everything is just so, and that’s exactly how the waiter needs it to be. One can understand why he becomes anxious when things begin to change. In fact, given the circumstances, anxiety just might be the most sensible response...

With the sophistication of The Remains of the Day and the eccentricity of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, The Waiter marks the North American debut of an exciting new voice in literary fiction.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Review: As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman

Sometimes when you read outside of your comfort zone you are richly rewarded. And sometimes you remember why you don’t often read a certain genre. I freely admit I have trouble with graphic novels and I am not much of a YA reader so Melanie Gillman’s As the Crow Flies had two fronts on which to try and broaden my reading mind. Now, I have in the past come across a few YA novels and one or two graphic novels that I really, really enjoyed, so it can be done. Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen here.

The story is of Charlie, a thirteen-year old girl, who has been signed up for camp by her parents, apparently against her will. And it’s not just any camp but a majority white, Christian, feminist, Outdoor Experience camp when Charlie is black and queer and likes sitting on benches, not hiking and exploring. Charlie isn’t terribly open to the other campers or the experience right from the get-go, showing combinations of typical teenage attitude, unhappiness, and even depression. The only positive thing she can see about the whole experience is her immediate and all-encompassing crush on the lead counselor’s young adult daughter, which seems to be shorthand for declaring Charlie’s sexuality as it isn’t addressed any other way. With her crow’s feather talisman, Charlie plods through the uncomfortable experience of being in the minority in so many ways although meeting a transgender girl in the small group, as well as her crush help to make things less than consistently terrible. Gillman seems to want to criticize Christianity, white feminism, and cis-gender assumptions but it is a mild criticism for sure, manifesting mainly in Charlie’s conflict within herself about whether to confront the casual, thoughtless, and hurtful language the others use. And the story itself ends rather abruptly and without resolution, suggesting a sequel to wrap it up and perhaps to make more explicit what Gillman is trying to highlight here.

The art of the novel is rendered in colored pencil using muted, earthy tones, reflecting Charlie’s somber unhappiness and feelings of not belonging. There are pages of wordless and beautiful renderings of natural landscapes but the people are strangely cartoonish against the realistic drawings of nature. As the Crow Flies has been nominated for many industry awards, whether for its art or its story, I don’t know, so perhaps I have just entirely missed the boat like one of the unrealized and likely oblivious fellow campers Charlie is trapped with, so if you’re a graphic novel fan, and especially if you’re looking for one offering diversity in its main character, this might be for you. It just wasn’t for me.

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

Monday, October 1, 2018

Review: Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

We are facing a defining moment in history. Women everywhere are sharing their stories. From the biggies like rape and assault to smaller everyday occurrences and casual harassment, women are speaking up and speaking out, throwing off their unearned mantles of shame, refusing to be silenced. The #metoo movement has certainly drawn attention to the almost universality of the problem but there's more to be done to combat violence against women around the world. Sharing stories and drawing awareness is a good first step but it can't be the only step, as the main character in Sweta Srivastava Vikram's novel Louisiana Catch knows.

Ahana is an Indian woman in her thirties. She gave up a successful career in finance to work for a non-profit and her current assignment is organizing a large, international conference called No Excuse, designed to highlight and address the issue of violence against women. Ahana also happens to be a marital rape survivor, recently divorced, still very much ashamed of that divorce and wondering if she wasn't at least a little bit to blame for her husband's abuse of her. She has never fully explained her experiences with her husband to either her beloved mother or her supportive cousin. In putting together this very high profile conference, she often feels like an imposter. On top of her feelings about the end of her marriage and all of the work she is facing with the conference, her mother, the anchor of her life, dies unexpectedly. She is overwhelmed with extreme grief so at the urging of her cousin and despite her generally reserved personality, she joins an online therapy group for the recently bereaved. In the group she meets Jay, a man who has also lost his mother and with whom she starts building a supportive and somewhat dependent rapport.  At work, she connects with the handsome, teasing US-based Rohan.  She has a rather antagonistic relationship with him, judging him on the public face he presents on his social media. But Rohan is in charge of PR for the conference so she must work closely with him and try to temper her negative assumptions about him. As the conference grows closer, she uncovers more about each of these men, changing her feelings, potentially leading her into both emotional and physical danger, but also potentially opening her up to trust again.

As timely as the message of the book is, and as much as I wanted to love it, I found it frustrating and occasionally overwritten and clunky. For instance, we really don't need to know the color of Ahana's top and the brand of her pants as she practices yoga.  Conversely, this sort of detail is well done when Ahana is describing the mothers with strollers on the streets of New York, quickly telling the reader quite a lot about the character of the area she's in.  There are plot threads that get dropped pretty easily here. At one point Ahana's father begs her to come home to New Delhi. She ignores this because she must stay through the conference but it is never fully addressed. He's absent for the entire book, far less of an influence on Ahana than her late mother, but all of a sudden he needs her presence?  Frustrating. 

Ahana has been damaged by her ex-husband and reluctant to trust any man as a result, but she quickly bonds with Jay over the devastating loss of their mothers, which seems out of character for a woman so (deservedly) leery of men. She blames her own mother for making her dependent and incapable of judging people correctly although her mother is never presented as anything but supportive, strong, and kind in the brief time she is alive in the book. Ahana's treatment of Rohan, a work colleague, is pretty terrible and unprofessional.  Why he doesn't hand her off to his team after the first time she is awful to him is a real question. They've never actually met, only spoken on the phone or by Skype so why he would continue to deal with her professionally (never mind personally) is a mystery, unless it is because of the large size of her chest (unnecessarily mentioned several times in the book), which is counter to the entire theme of the novel and to the way that Rohan is otherwise drawn. The dialogue is virtually indistinguishable from character to character.  In particular, Rohan doesn't sound like an American born and raised, using the syntax and grammar that Ahana herself, as an Indian woman, uses.  The narrative as a whole is quite slow and goes over the same ground again and again with Ahana musing on the mental state of Jay or Rohan, blaming her mother for her weakness, revisiting the horror of her marriage, and getting angry at all of those around her who care for her. This may in fact be the way that survivors process, or at least some of them do, but it was a little tedious to read. As the novel does address an incredibly timely and important issue, and it appears that others feel very differently about the book than I do, those readers with a keen interest in women's issues and in a woman finding her own power may want to read it and make up their own minds.

For more information about Sweta Srivastava Vikram and the book, check out her webpage, like her page on Facebook, or 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 Modern History Press for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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