Wednesday, May 27, 2020

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.

Miss Cecily's Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman.

The book is being released by Sourcebooks Landmark on June 9, 2020.

The book's jacket copy says: Breakfast with a Hangover
Dinner for a Charming Stranger
Tea for a Crochety Aunt

Food for feasting, friends are for savoring, and the way to a man's heart is...irrelevant

When her life falls apart on the eve of her 40th birthday, Kate Parker finds herself volunteering at the Lauderdale House for Exceptional Ladies. There she meets 97-year-old Cecily Finn. Cecily's tongue is as sharp as her mind, but she's fed up with pretty much everything. Having no patience with Kate's choices, Cecily prescribes her a self-help book with a difference. Food for Thought: a charming 1950s cookbook high on enthusiasm, featuring menus for anything life can throw at the "easily dismayed." So begins an unlikely friendship between two lonely and stubborn souls--one at the end of her life, one stuck in the middle--who discover one big life lesson: never be ashamed to ask for more.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Review: All Manner of Things by Susie Finkbeiner

There are many time in the history of mankind where Julian of Norwich's words, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well," speak directly to us, inspiring hope, evoking prayer, and offering solace. Somehow these words just seem to carry peace. As the epigraph to Susie Finkbeiner's well-written, gentle novel All Manner of Things, the words are incredibly fitting.

It's 1967 and Annie Jacobson is eighteen. She lives with her mother and two brothers, one older and one younger. She works as a waitress in a diner. Life in this West Michigan town is pretty ordinary and Annie's life is generally contented and commonplace. But as the novel opens, her older brother Mike is enlisting in the Army, knowing full well that this will get him sent to Vietnam. Their father left the family years before, chased by his own demons left over from fighting in Korea so they all know of the damage that war can inflict, even on those who come home again. As the remaining Jacobsons go about their lives in the wake of Mike's enlistment, Annie tries to figure out where her life is taking her even as she faces the hope and fear of living every day with Mike overseas at war, the confusion of her father's arrival back in their lives, and the uncertainty of a budding relationship.

Finkbeiner has done a beautiful job evoking the time period and in portraying Annie's balancing on the cusp of her whole life. All of the characters here are quite appealing and she's drawn a realistically loving extended family and community and woven their faith in as an integral part of life. The chapters are short and frequently followed by letters to and from Mike, Annie, their parents and others, offering additional insights into each character and the place in which they find themselves. As the war comes to touch more people, the reader feels the same drop in their stomach that Annie does each and every time but the reader also feels the lightness Annie feels as she comes to appreciate the sweet steadiness of love and caring. As the Jacobsons grow and change over the course of not quite a year, they come together in comfort and heartbreak, happiness and sorrow, and they find and offer forgiveness as they look to the unknown of the future. There is a bittersweet, poignant feel to the novel and the feel of another, simpler time.   Somehow Finkbeiner has captured a beautiful calmness here, that certainty reflected in Julian of Norwich's words: "all manner of things shall be well."  This is a lovely, engaging, and winsome read.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for a copy of the book for review.

Monday, May 25, 2020

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Like everyone else, I've lost track of time so this is two weeks' worth at once. This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past weeks are:

Anna Eva Mimi Adam by Marina Antropow Cramer
This Is My Body by Cameron Dezen Hammon
Impurity by Larry Tremblay
The Last Goldfish by Anita Lahey
Invisible Ink by Guy Stern
A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Yellow Earth by John Sayles
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles
I Saw Three Ships by Bill Richardson
The Second Home by Christina Clancy
Sansei and Sensibility by Karen Tei Yamashita
All My Mother's Lovers by Ilana Masad
The Big Quiet by Lisa D. Stewart
If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim

Reviews posted this week:

not one book

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

Beginning with Cannonballs by Jill McCroskey Coupe
The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair
Faces: Profiles of Dogs by Vita Sackville-West
The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
Holding on to Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne
Difficult Light by Tomas Gonzalez
Adults and Other Children by Miriam Cohen
Grief's Country by Gail Griffin
Moments of Glad Grace by Alison Wearing
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Misconduct of the Heart by Cordelia Strube
Search Heartache by Carla Malden
What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
The Book Keeper by Julia McKenzie Munemo
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Temporary by Hilary Leichter
Blue Marlin by Lee Smith
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
A Short Move by Katherine Hill
A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger
Watershed by Mark Barr
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
The Goshen Road by Bonnie Proudfoot
We Have Everything Before Us by Esther Yin-ling Spodek
Anna Eva Mimi Adam by Marina Antropow Cramer
This Is My Body by Cameron Dezen Hammon
Impurity by Larry Tremblay
The Last Goldfish by Anita Lahey
Invisible Ink by Guy Stern
A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

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.

Three Apples Fell from the Sky by Narine Abgaryan.

The book is being released by Oneworld Publications on August 4, 2020.

The book's jacket copy says: An unforgettable story of friendship and feuds in a remote Armenian mountain village

In an isolated village high in the Armenian mountains, a close-knit community bickers, gossips and laughs. Their only connection to the outside world is an ancient telegraph wire and a perilous mountain road that even goats struggle to navigate.

As they go about their daily lives – harvesting crops, making baklava, tidying houses – the villagers sustain one another through good times and bad. But sometimes all it takes is a spark of romance to turn life on its head, and a plot to bring two of Maran's most stubbornly single residents together soon gives the village something new to gossip about...

Three Apples Fell from the Sky is an enchanting fable that brilliantly captures the idiosyncrasy of a small community. Sparkling with sumptuous imagery and warm humour, this is a vibrant tale of resilience, bravery and the miracle of everyday friendship.

Monday, May 11, 2020

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past week are:

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
Goshen Road by Bonnie Proudfoot
We Have Everything Before Us by Esther Yin-ling Spodek

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Yellow Earth by John Sayles
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles
I Saw Three Ships by Bill Richardson
The Second Home by Christina Clancy

Reviews posted this week:

Mrs. Budley Falls from Grace by M.C. Beaton

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

Beginning with Cannonballs by Jill McCroskey Coupe
The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair
Faces: Profiles of Dogs by Vita Sackville-West
The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
Holding on to Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne
Difficult Light by Tomas Gonzalez
Adults and Other Children by Miriam Cohen
Grief's Country by Gail Griffin
Moments of Glad Grace by Alison Wearing
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Misconduct of the Heart by Cordelia Strube
Search Heartache by Carla Malden
What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
The Book Keeper by Julia McKenzie Munemo
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Temporary by Hilary Leichter
Blue Marlin by Lee Smith
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
A Short Move by Katherine Hill
A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger
Watershed by Mark Barr
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
The Goshen Road by Bonnie Proudfoot
We Have Everything Before Us by Esther Yin-ling Spodek

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

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.

Braver Than You Think by Maggie Downs.

The book is being released by Counterpoint on May 12, 2020.

The book's jacket copy says: Newly married and established in her career as an award-winning newspaper journalist, Maggie Downs quits her job, sells her belongings, and embarks on the solo trip of a lifetime: Her mother's.

As a child, Maggie Downs often doubted that she would ever possess the courage to visit the destinations her mother dreamed of one day seeing. "You are braver than you think," her mother always insisted. That statement would guide her as, over the course of one year, Downs backpacked through seventeen countries―visiting all the places her mother, struck with early-onset Alzheimer's disease, could not visit herself―encountering some of the world's most striking locales while confronting the slow loss of her mother. Interweaving travelogue with family memories, Braver Than You Think takes the reader hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, white-water rafting on the Nile, volunteering at a monkey sanctuary in Bolivia, praying at an ashram in India, and fleeing the Arab Spring in Egypt.

By embarking on an international journey, Downs learned to make every moment count―traveling around the globe and home again, losing a parent while discovering the world. Perfect for fans of adventure memoirs like Wild and Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube, Braver Than You Think explores grief and loss with tenderness, clarity, and humor, and offers a truly incredible roadmap to coping with the unimaginable.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Review: Mrs. Budley Falls from Grace by M.C. Beaton

I save the books in the Poor Relations series from M.C. Beaton for when I need a delightful, fluffy, palate cleanser of a read and this third in the series, after Lady Fortescue Steps Out and Miss Tonks Turns to Crime, does not disappoint.

Despite the success, on several fronts, of their previous capers, the proprietors of The Poor Relation Hotel in London are once again in need of money for their concern. This time it is the small, pretty, unassuming widow, Mrs. Budley, who draw the short straw and must go to a relative's home and steal something the group can sell. But Mrs. Budley's relatives, to a person, will not welcome her, a woman in trade, into their houses so instead, a plan is hatched where she will travel to Warwickshire and pose as the relative of the wealthy, elderly, and quite potty Marquess of Peterhouse. But it turns out that Sir Philip's gossip on the Marquess is out of date and the senile old man they thought they were sending Mrs. Budley to has died and his heir is a quite handsome, only in his thirties, and in possession of all of his faculties. He knows immediately that Mrs. Budley is not a relative and he convinces her to tell him the truth of her mission. Meanwhile in London, the group of impoverished aristocratic relations have been hired to cater the ball of the season as long as they will also serve at it. Plots and hijinks ensue.

This is both a caper and a love story. It is 100% predictable. And yet, that is exactly its charm and appeal. The characters continue on as they were in the first and second books of the series and the lightness of the tone throughout is pure pleasure to read. The book touches lightly on the continued economic inequity between different classes during the Regency and the lack of (legal) ways to earn money, as well as the snobbery of the time toward anyone who did in fact earn money as opposed to inheriting it, but mostly these social issues are background to the engaging and breezy plot. If you want or need to escape the state of the world right now, you can't do better than with this happy series.

Monday, May 4, 2020

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past week are:

Resurrecting Rain by Patricia Averbach
The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger
Mrs. Budley Falls from Grace by M.C. Beaton
Watershed by Mark Barr

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Yellow Earth by John Sayles
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles
I Saw Three Ships by Bill Richardson
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

Reviews posted this week:

Resurrecting Rain by Patricia Averbach
Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber

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

Beginning with Cannonballs by Jill McCroskey Coupe
The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair
Faces: Profiles of Dogs by Vita Sackville-West
The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
Holding on to Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne
Difficult Light by Tomas Gonzalez
Adults and Other Children by Miriam Cohen
Grief's Country by Gail Griffin
Moments of Glad Grace by Alison Wearing
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Misconduct of the Heart by Cordelia Strube
Search Heartache by Carla Malden
What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
The Book Keeper by Julia McKenzie Munemo
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Temporary by Hilary Leichter
Blue Marlin by Lee Smith
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
A Short Move by Katherine Hill
A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger
Mrs. Budley Falls from Grace by M.C. Beaton
Watershed by Mark Barr

Friday, May 1, 2020

Review: Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber

Some books just make you smile when you read them. They have a charm and a heart to them that makes reading them a pleasure. Heather Webber's Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is one of these books. It makes you feel good and feel good about others too.

Anna Kate Callow has never been to small town Wicklow, Alabama before even though her mother grew up there and her grandmother lived there Anna Kate's whole life. She's in town for her beloved Granny Zee's funeral and to close up and sell the cafe she ran. But it turns out that she can't leave town that fast and get back to her plans to attend medical school. The terms of Granny Zee's will dictate that she has to stay in Wicklow for sixty days. And so despite her late mother's warning about going there, that is where she'll be for the next two months, whether she really wants to or not. As Anna Kate settles into the town, she reopens the cafe, weathers the curiosity about this granddaughter who the townsfolk have never met, tries to recreate the famous magical blackbird pies her grandmother made, and gets invested in the lives of several of the people around her. She, and several of the other characters, are all a little bit damaged and looking toward their futures uncertainly in this novel of second chances and starting over.

This novel combines some of my very favorite things: small towns, cooking, complicated family relationships, learning personal history, and endearing characters. While this list might make the book sound twee, it was anything but. (And frankly, even if it had been, so what?!) Anna Kate's mother fled Wicklow pregnant and under a cloud of suspicion after the car accident that killed Anna Kate's young father. The tragedy shaped many lives and Anna Kate's appearance has stirred up never resolved feelings. While all of this swirls through the plot thread dealing with her personal life, there's a light and enchanting bit of magical realism threading through the story as well. Granny Zee's blackbird pies allow people to dream of their lost loved ones but Anna Kate doesn't know the complete recipe for them, something she wants and needs to discover for herself and for the townspeople who wrap themselves around her heart. But how much time should people spend in the past, in their memories, especially when the past can contain happiness and pain, and potentially keep someone from living in the present? Anna Kate is not the only one who needs to consider this question.

Webber has written a completely charming and whimsical novel filled with secrets and gentle magic. The characters are sympathetic and well drawn. The mystery of the strange behaviour of the blackbirds behind the cafe is lightly done through the clever use of an outside newspaper reporter's questions to townspeople. Most of the novel is told in the first person with narration switching between Anna Kate and Natalie, a young widow with a child whose connection to Anna Kate is revealed as their friendship grows. There is guilt and forgiveness, the definition of family, healing and moving forward, community and love and a little romance all packed into this lovely look at how the human heart is filled.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

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 Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler.

The book is being released by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 5, 2020.

The book's jacket copy says: He had a strict "no tourists" policy...

Until she broke all of his rules.

When Graham Barnett named his diner The Tourist Trap, he meant it as a joke. Now he's stuck slinging reindeer dogs to an endless parade of resort visitors who couldn't interest him less. Not even the sweet, enthusiastic tourist in the corner who blushes every time he looks her way...

Two weeks in Alaska isn't just the top item on Zoey Caldwell's bucket list. It's the whole bucket. One look at the mountain town of Moose Springs and she's smitten. But when an act of kindness brings Zoey into Graham's world, she may just find there's more to the grumpy local than meets the eye...and more to love in Moose Springs than just the Alaskan wilderness.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Review: Resurrecting Rain by Patricia Averbach

We are who we are because of our past, our choices, and our experiences. Some people work very hard to live a different life than the one they knew in the past, but in rejecting that past, it still shapes their present and their future, if only as something to aspire not to repeat. Some of the things that shape us are well beyond our control, but what we do with our situations is often far more telling than an unplanned destiny. These choices make us who we are every bit as much as our past or the things outside of our control. And sometimes, the correct choice is to start over again, whether it be fresh or at the beginning, to remake life and our future. This is a lesson that Deena, the main character in Patricia Averbach's novel, Resurrecting Rain, will have to learn in the midst of dramatic upheaval.

Deena and Martin have lived a very comfortable life in Shaker Heights. He's a pharmacist and she's a librarian at a local university. They're been married for many years and have two children, a daughter in college and a son who is a senior in high school. But when the novel opens, they are losing their house and most of their possessions thanks to an investment gone bad on Martin's part. As they try to regroup in their tiny, new apartment, it is clear that their finances aren't the only thing shattered by their situation. Martin is remote and depressed, Deena is angry and lonely, son Elliott was blindsided, questioning his expected future, and daughter Lauren drops out of college, retreating from her anxious mother. In short, they are all in free-fall. And then Deena does something that sends her life spiraling even further out of control and sending her south from Ohio to Sarasota, Florida in sheer desperation, even as memories of the childhood she fled as soon as she could, the childhood she has kept hidden from her family, come sneaking back to her, making her question the choices she's made along her way.

Deena has worked very hard to create the life she so desperately yearned for, a life so unlike her secret past, and so it isn't a surprise that she goes off the rails when that life disintegrates before her very eyes. She is also unprepared for the fallout when she is caught in circumstances beyond her control although the reader could and would certainly tell her that some of the information she shared and the thoughtless choice she made, assuming that it would be short term and hurt nothing, would absolutely haunt her. As a character, she is a bit tough to sympathize with, initially thoughtless and then filled with regret, and it takes her a very long time to understand that she is going to have to reckon with her past and expose all of her secrets, first to herself and then to those she loves, in order to move forward and find happiness in her life. This is very much a novel of soul searching and as such the other characters aren't as complete as Deena, their presence revealing more about Deena and her thoughts than about themselves. There are philosophical musings about fate and choice, about materialism, and about family and home as Deena examines her life and what means the most to her. Some of the plot is a little far-fetched but Averbach has done a good job capturing the helplessness and despair of someone who is in danger of losing everything.

Taking place in suburban Cleveland, south Florida, and Santa Fe, the latter is the landscape best captured in the novel, reflecting both Deena's beginnings and the deep change both it and she have undergone. There were a couple of mistakes that stuck out to me and took me out of the story a few times.  Early on, son Elliot's assertion that there are only 9 men's Division One swimming scholarships available is simply untrue. There are far more Division One men's swimming programs nationally than 9 and they all have scholarships to offer, averaging 9 per team, so his choice to drop swimming because he wouldn't possibly get one for lack of numbers is false. And then to have a contracted visiting professor leave a university March 1, which would be smack dab in the middle of a semester, to go to another university, also under contract, is completely unlikely. Although both of these things are important in the world of the novel, they were stumbling blocks for me in my reading. And there were some plot threads I would have liked to have more of, including Raisa's life and her writing. After all, she hires Deena to catalog her papers but none of that gets accomplished in the novel although we do see a fragment of a sad and fanciful work. Over all though, this was a thoughtful novel and the reader cannot help turning the pages to see where Deena is going next, how she'll react, and whether she has found the person she wants to be yet, especially in the absence of the things she thought she needed.

For more information about Patricia Averbach and the book, check our her author site, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, look at 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 publisher Golden Antelope Press for sending me a copy of this book to review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past week are:

The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves
The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Yellow Earth by John Sayles
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles

Reviews posted this week:

The German Heiress by Anika Scott
The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves

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

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber
Beginning with Cannonballs by Jill McCroskey Coupe
The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair
Faces: Profiles of Dogs by Vita Sackville-West
The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
Holding on to Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne
Difficult Light by Tomas Gonzalez
Adults and Other Children by Miriam Cohen
Grief's Country by Gail Griffin
Moments of Glad Grace by Alison Wearing
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Misconduct of the Heart by Cordelia Strube
Search Heartache by Carla Malden
What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
The Book Keeper by Julia McKenzie Munemo
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Temporary by Hilary Leichter
Blue Marlin by Lee Smith
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
A Short Move by Katherine Hill
A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrival:

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi came from me for myself.

A novel about time travel that lasts the duration of a hot cup of coffee, this looks completely fascinating.

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, April 22, 2020

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 Bad Mother's Book Club by Karis Stainton.

The book is being released by Trapeze on May 12, 2020.

The book's jacket copy says: Meet Emma, the new Mum on the block. Since moving to the Liverpudlian seaside after her husband's career change, her life consists of the following: long walks on the beach (with the dog), early nights (with the kids) and Netflix (no chill).

Bored and lonely, when Emma is cordially invited to the exclusive cool school-mums' book club, she thinks her luck may finally be about to change. But she soon finds the women of the club aren't quite what they seem - and after an unfortunate incident involving red wine and a white carpet, she finds herself unceremoniously kicked out.

The answer? Start her own book club - for bad mothers who just want to drink wine and share stories. But will this town let two book clubs exist? Or is there only room for one queen of the school gates...?

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Review: The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves

Some people like to talk. Others are naturally more reticent. Some people share everything. Others hold things much closer to their vest. We may think it's easy to determine the truth of things when people talk a lot, when they share what appears to be their every thought. They chatter away, the life of the party, the friendly, the engaging, the approachable and relatable. But for these garrulous folks, what's the content of their silences? We all have secrets, private things we don't share. It's just more obvious in the quiet people. And if a quiet person isn't sharing a lot normally, will those who know and love them even notice if they stop speaking altogether? And what will it take to bring their words back?

When the fire alarm goes off, Frank goes into the kitchen to find his dinner burnt and his wife of forty some years unconscious next to an empty pack of sleeping pills. Rushed to the hospital, Maggie is put into a medically induced coma and Frank is completely distraught. Urged by a kind nurse to talk to Maggie, to help pull her back to him, Frank is at a loss. He's never been much of a talker but he has said not one word at all to Maggie in the past six months. But he knows he must tell her what drove him to this guilty, immovable silence even if he fears his revelation will mean losing her one way or another. And so he tells her the story of their life together, meeting her, marrying her, the day to day of their marriage, the late, unexpected birth of their daughter, and his deep and abiding love for her through everything. As he talks, he recounts his own feelings of inadequacy as a partner and as a father. He regrets the unspoken and the misspoken, both in the past six months and in their long years together prior to that. He examines all the places he feels he went wrong and all the ways that Maggie did better than he did.

Frank's telling, labelled "Her Silence" is told in the first person. It is rusty and halting and full of recriminations against himself but also the undiminished wonder at his luck in being the person Maggie chose to love. When the story flips to Maggie's perspective, called "His Silence," it is through Frank's reading of her daily planner, in which she's journalled the final seven days of Frank's silence, her countdown to exactly six months of wordlessness, and the narration moves to third person. Despite the shift, both narratives are incredibly personal and open. Frank's view of their marriage, shown in his narration, is not exactly the same as Maggie's, and each of them has kept secrets from the other over the long course of their life together. And just like in a marriage, the two parts together form a whole for the reader. It is the picture of a loving marriage but one stressed by long unfulfilled hopes and dreams, the bewildering sorrow of raising a child who you desperately want to save, and the secrets kept out of fear or guilt or even kindness and protection. It is complicated and knotted and only by finding a voice, can anything heal the two of them, if Maggie wakes up.

The differing perspectives tell the reader how each of them viewed the other and those views don't always line up with how they saw themselves, showing the reader the depth of their love for each other and for daughter, Eleanor. Frank and Maggie might have faced many of the same things in their marriage but even when confronted with the same things, infertility, parenting, addiction, they come at the issues in different ways, ways they have never felt important to articulate to the other despite their deep, deep love. There are feelings of overpowering sorrow, grief, and a panic that it might be too late that pervades the whole of the book. Greaves draws out the reason for Frank's silence and the full circumstances that led to Maggie's attempted suicide, keeping it from the reader, building a sort of desperate anticipation and a heartbreaking undertone as the book moves forward. This is not a book about a marriage gone wrong so much as gone quiet, retreated. It is a book about a family crumbling and helpless. It bears witness to the deep importance and the devastating failures of communication, intimate and moving, emotional and poignant.

For more information about Abbie Greaves and the book, check our her author site, follow her on Twitter or Instagram, look at 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 publisher William Morrow for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Review: The German Heiress by Anika Scott

What good does guilt do? It comes after the fact, never changing the past action that inspired it. The one thing that guilt does do though, is that it confirms the conscience of the person experiencing it. And without guilt there can be no true remorse, no hope that a person will do better going forward. This is particularly interesting in the context of the actions people take during wars like WWII. So many people just put their heads down and carried on. Some people truly agreed with the Nazis, throwing themselves into working for the party willingly, eagerly, while others did what they felt they must to survive. But when the dust settled, who was who? And does it even matter? Do guilt and remorse after the fact, coupled with small gestures during a great evil, balance out the immeasurable harm, known and unknown? What price does loyalty carry, especially loyalty to the wrong thing or person? Anika Scott asks these perhaps unanswerable, unknowable questions in her debut novel, The German Heiress, especially in the person of her main character, Clara Falkenburg, once known as the Iron Fraulein for her position assisting her father in the running of the family's massive ironworks, a key contributor to the Nazi war machine.

Almost two full years after the end of WWII, Margarete Muller gets engaged to her doctor boyfriend just before telling him she needs to return home to search for her missing best friend. But this man with whom she thinks she might start a new life is not who he seems and she is repulsed by the hints of who he truly is. Then again neither she is not who she claims either. Margarete Muller is an alias and she is really the missing heiress to the Falkenburg ironworks, Clara Falkenburg, who fled her home before the Allies arrived. Now she feels pulled to return to Essen to find her friend Elisa and Elisa's son Willy. She is discovered on the train back and is briefly captured by the English Captain Thomas Fenshaw, who has been hunting her for war crimes for two years. She manages to escape but thus starts a cat and mouse game with Clara searching for Elisa and Fenshaw searching for Clara. As Clara searches, she finds an unexpected and unlikely ally in Jakob Relling, a black marketeer, who is searching for Elisa for his own reasons.

While Clara is the main focus of the story, the narration centers on both Clara and Jakob Relling, showing the impact of the war on not only a figurehead suspected of war crimes (Clara) but also a regular German swept along in the war (Jakob). Jakob fought in the Nazi army in Russia, lost his leg, and now must do his best to provide for his two young sisters, one of whom is pregnant by a long disappeared English soldier, and the only family he has left out of a once large clan. Clara is on the run from the Captain, barely staying one step ahead of him and his relentless search, living in the rubble and ruins of her once proud city. Jakob has discovered a treasure trove of Nazi supplies in an old coal mine, a stash that would keep his family fed for a year or more, but he is wary of the teenage boy guarding it, a boy who doesn't believe the war is over and whose mind may be permanently affected by his experiences during the war. How Jakob's discovery and Clara's search are related is not a surprise to the reader but it is to Clara. And it is just one of the secrets that she uncovers over the course of the novel, life-changing secrets about her friends and family. As she comes to understand the truth about others, Jakob also helps her understand the truth about herself, the knowledge that she didn't do enough, that her small acts of conscience never made up for the terrible evil, the exploitation, the abuse, and the death that her position and public actions condoned. Scott beautifully evokes the bleak winter landscape of Essen and the desperate poverty and threat of starvation throughout the devastated city. The bombed outward landscape reflects the frozen piece at Clara's moral core, the place that she has pushed the remorse, the guilt, and the knowledge of her culpability. The story is an intense one, balancing both the thrill of the chase with deep, personal reflections and the ending itself reflects this careful balance. What is right and fair might remain unanswered but this compelling and propulsive historical fiction certainly gives readers a lot to think about in the characters of Clara, Jakob, and Fenshaw.

For more information about Anika Scott and the book, check our her author site, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter look at 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 publisher William Morrow for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrivals:

The Serial Dater's Shopping List by Morgen Bailey came from me for myself.

This looks really light and fun about a journalist who is supposed to have 31 dates in 31 days with men she meets online.

Queen of the Owls by Barbara Linn Probst came from me for myself.

A novel about Georgia O'Keefe, her paintings from her time in Hawaii, and an academic who reenacts O'Keefe's nude photos to try to understand the artist only to have the photos released without her consent by the photographer, this sounds really intricate and fascinating.

Don't Put the Boats Away by Ames Sheldon came from me for myself.

I'm going to be honest, with a cover like this, it almost doesn't matter what the book is about for me to want it! But I am also interested in this novel about a family trying to heal and then compensate for the loss of the family "golden boy" during WWII.

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.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past week are:

A Small Move by Katherine Hill
A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles
The German Heiress by Anika Scott

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Yellow Earth by John Sayles
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles

Reviews posted this week:

You and Me and Us by Alison Hammer
Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Giles

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

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber
Beginning with Cannonballs by Jill McCroskey Coupe
The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair
Faces: Profiles of Dogs by Vita Sackville-West
The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
Holding on to Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne
Difficult Light by Tomas Gonzalez
Adults and Other Children by Miriam Cohen
Grief's Country by Gail Griffin
Moments of Glad Grace by Alison Wearing
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Misconduct of the Heart by Cordelia Strube
Search Heartache by Carla Malden
What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
The Book Keeper by Julia McKenzie Munemo
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Temporary by Hilary Leichter
Blue Marlin by Lee Smith
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
A Short Move by Katherine Hill
A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
The German Heiress by Anika Scott

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Review: Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles

Paulette Jiles is a gorgeous writer. Her News of the World was one of my favorite books of 2016. Simon the Fiddler, her latest novel, is set in the same half-tamed Western world as News of the World. In fact, Simon plays a role in that book and the main character there, Captain Jefferson Kidd, makes an appearance here. And the books are related beyond setting and characters. They have the same beautiful flow to them, evoking the same sweeping musicality, the same tug of lawless danger and possibility that covered so much of Texas in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.

Simon Boudlin, formerly of Paducah, Kentucky, has spent much of the Civil War playing his fiddle and evading the conscription men by hiding or running. Only at the very tail end of the war does his luck run out whereupon he's conscripted into the Confederate Army. His talent on the fiddle saves him after the South's surrender and his ensuing fight with a Union soldier to reclaim his stolen hat and fiddle, keeping him out of prison, putting him instead at a party to entertain the officers and their wives. It is there that he first lays eyes on Doris Dillon, a pretty Irish indentured servant working her contract off as governess to Colonel Webb's daughter. Simon is smitten and despite what he hears about the Colonel's character, he resolves to find and marry Doris once he has something to offer her. He is determined to earn the money and buy himself a good piece of land.  So with the company of two men and a boy he played with that fateful evening, he sets out to do just that. The band travels from war torn Galveston to brash Houston and finally to occupied San Antonio with Simon ever leading the way, getting ever closer to a showdown over the woman he has loved from afar.

Simon is a confident and determined character. He is economical not only with money but with words and feelings, pouring his all into his precious fiddle and the occasional fight he didn't start but will finish. The secondary characters are also fully realized and if they sometimes disappear off into the mesquite and scrub of the Texas landscape, it feels right and expected.  Jiles does an amazing job of drawing the time and the place with all of its potential, both to succeed and to fail.  There are adventures in the novel but they feel slow and deliberate, always working toward the destination Simon has in mind. The prose is languid and hot feeling and the dirt and grit seep through the characters and the place and the plot. The love story is measured and not flashy but steady and relentless. Simon's love of music and his tender care of his fiddle speaks of the soul of him. Some might find this moves too slowly but for readers who want to appreciate the singing of language, this stunning read will satisfy at a bone deep level.

For more information about Paulette Jiles and the book, check our her author site, look at 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 publisher William Morrow for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Dispatches from my quarantine life

Like everyone else, I’ve lost all track of time. I’m pretty sure it’s day eleventy hundred of stay at home, shelter in place, quarantine, or whatever you want to call it. And I have to tell you, we’re having about as much fun here as you’re allowed to have, which is to say, none. I see other people organizing entertaining activities for their family, making sure their kids are keeping up with their schoolwork, mastering bread baking, completing every outstanding home improvement project they can, sewing masks for healthcare workers, and on and on. Meanwhile, I’m doing the important work: I’m testing all our couches for their napability quotient. I’d tell you my conclusions but I’m afraid my family might read this and snag the most desirable couch. But seriously, I am keeping busy. How can I not be? There are always dishes. So many damn dishes! Also, just the other night I went through my bookmark collection and pulled out all of the duplicates. Because that’s a task that benefits everyone, right? But you might be surprised how many store duplicates you find when you have a “little book problem” like I do. And now they are all stacked according to size so I can check for duplicates immediately and not let things get into such a state. By the way, I’ve noticed on my walks that many people have problems guessing distance so some of you could use a task like this that shows you relative sizes. I’m here to tell you that if you are working with a visual distance based on the six inches your husband has always told you about, you’re walking too close to me. But I digress.

If you’re not a book and bookmark kind of person, I’m doing other things too (and how and why do I even know you anyway?). I organized the pantry. I officially know that I have 9 jars of pickles—well, 10 because I bought another jar the other day at the store even though I went *after* I organized the pantry and already knew I had 9 jars. What can I say? I panicked, y’all! I also have a serious mustard problem and my youngest child told me we were almost out of mustard because none of my 11 unopened fancy pantry mustards or 6 opened fancy fridge mustards are the vibrant yellow he prefers. So I’m adding mustard (and probably pickles) to my next grocery list.

Once the pantry was finished, I stuck with the food theme and decided to inventory the freezers. We might have a few too many (the one in the kitchen, the one in the garage that still works okay now that it’s not attached to a water line and that used to be in the kitchen until the ice maker water line leaked and sprayed water everywhere to freeze the whole dang freezer shut, and the stand up one in the basement originally meant for overflow before the kitchen one moved to the garage). Now, with 3 freezers of varying size, it is incredibly easy to put something in one and forget it. The back, bottom, and sides of any freezer are where stuff goes to die anyway, but multiply that by three. So you'll understand the need for an inventory. I cannot even tell you what interesting archaeological finds I uncovered in there. For instance, tonight’s dinner included lamb chops best used or frozen by December 2014. We don’t even like lamb so don’t ask me why they were in there. Those, however, are not even from the lowest stratum in the freezers though. Last night we had stir fried chicken and veggies. Grilled chicken strips best used by 2012 and veggies best by 2010 with the half full bottle of spicy stir fry sauce from the fridge door dating from who knows when. The marinated eggplant and zucchini best by July 2011 that accompanied dinner the other night was a little mushy but edible. And I know most of you would probably have thrown this stuff out, but y’all, I’d rather risk death in my freezer than with coronavirus at the store. Plus, I’m cheap. So there’s that. I also discovered that I have multiple (3 1/2 to be exact) boxes of phyllo dough. Probably all best before the early aughts. But I made an Egyptian Meat Pie recipe found online with one box's worth and none of us got food poisoning so I consider that a win. I do, however, still have 2 1/2 boxes left to use. Does anyone know of any good phyllo dough recipes that use pickles and fancy mustard? Next up is the fridge and I think I’ve seen multiple blocks of blue cheese in there. Also, how do you tell if blue cheese has mold on it? Never mind. You know we’re going to eat it anyway.

Of course, I’m reading during this pandemic although my concentration isn’t as great as I might have hoped, probably because I’m so busy thinking of how to disguise the next oldest freezer item I’ve found in tomorrow night’s dinner. But I am getting some books in. When a friend asked online what people were reading, I was reading a book called Rules for Visiting. I mentioned that these days the title makes it sound like historical fiction since we’re not visiting, no one, no where. His response to the title? “Don’t!” The only rule for visiting is no visiting. And that’s fair. (It’s a good read, though not historical fiction, by Jessica Francis Kane.) I also read Girl Waits with Gun recently and I’m sort of glad I didn’t offer that up to him for commentary too (although it is also a good read, by Amy Stewart).

Since my reading isn’t as voracious as usual, I’ve turned to podcasts. And I listen to about a million of them. Book podcasts, history podcasts, cooking podcasts, random fact podcasts, and more. Oddly, none of the cooking ones seem to use much mustard, pickles, or phyllo dough and certainly not in combination. I might have to write in and let them know they’re really letting me down. My family mostly tunes them out but I can’t count on that so I am having a hard time finding places to listen to the hilarious and totally inappropriate My Dad Wrote a Porno. Hey! No judgment! I get enough weird looks from my kids already. (But seriously, if you haven’t found this yet and you want to laugh uncomfortably, this is your listen.) When I'm not sneaking off to listen to uproariously terrifying erotica, one of my new favorites is Ologies. If you like to learn about all sorts of topics, this is perfect for you. If you don't, don't worry, I'll bore the snot out of you with facts from it at a dinner party, once we're allowed to have dinner parties again. You're welcome and fair warning.

Since I've told you what I'm reading and listening to during "these uncertain times," what am I watching during quarantine, you ask? Why, I’m watching my waistline expand. I think the calories consolidate in the older food or something. Otherwise I have no explanation. I mean, the Oreos are gone, the Twizzlers are gone, the M&M’s are gone, and so on. Anyway, unlike the rest of the world, I am not watching tv. I don’t know how to turn our tv on and unless the cooking shows are teaching me how to deep fry pickles, I don’t have the motivation to learn. (And I’m just kidding about the fried pickles. I already have a recipe for those. Breaded in pretzels even.)

At this point it’s been so many days, that we’re having more "adventures" than usual. We had a pipe burst in the front yard. I got stung by fire ants moving bricks out of the way when our fence got replaced. I might have tried to claw my skin off for a week but at least the dog can't get out of the fence anymore, constrained by the same social distancing rules we are. I went to Walmart for groceries and saw a lady wearing the now recommended face mask and gloves but also still carrying her dog in her purse. Maybe now's my time to start carrying my dog in my purse.  I mean, she can't escape from me through the fence anymore.  I could be a purse pooch accessory lady. Or not. We’ve taped a square on the floor to see if the cat would sit in it (the last one wouldn’t but we thought we’d test this one) but all he did was sniff it suspiciously. I have no idea why he’d be suspicious living with us! I mean we haven’t owned cats for that many years so his food is all new. I took the dog out on the deck yesterday and tried to give her a little clipper cut. Of course, I was chicken and she was too stressed for me to do anything but clip her top half. So now she’s got the doggie version of a mullet. Business on the top and party underneath. I didn’t want to freak her out too much in one day so I did her furry eyebrows today. They are uneven, to say the least. Tomorrow might be beard day if she hasn’t learned to hide from me by then. I suppose I can always try bribing her with some leftover freezer-burned lamb if necessary. (Actually, surprisingly it didn’t taste freezer-burned but it did taste like lamb, and as mentioned before, yuck, although the mint mustard sauce accompanying it was not bad.  Plus, mustard.) The groomers are going to be so concerned about her when they finally open up again! Or I might find other scintillating things to do here like rearrange my bookshelves, which, to be honest, would likely take me to the end of the quarantine even if it lasts until 2021, or clean out the garage, or go through my clothes that no longer fit (and are getting further away from fitting by the minute) or something else similar that I’ve been promising to do since I bought the stir fry veggies in 2010. Or I might take yet another nap on my preferred couch.

How are you all holding up?

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.

Everything Is Under Control by Phyllis Grant.

The book is being released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on April 21, 2020.

The book's jacket copy says: Phyllis Grant’s Everything Is Under Control is a memoir about appetite as it comes, goes, and refocuses its object of desire. Grant’s story follows the sometimes smooth, sometimes jagged, always revealing contours of her life: from her days as a dancer struggling to find her place at Julliard, to her experiences in and out of four-star kitchens in New York City, to falling in love with her future husband and leaving the city after 9/11 for California, where her children are born. All the while, a sense of longing pulses in each stage as she moves through the headspace of a young woman longing to be sustained by a city into that of a mother now sustaining a family herself.

Written with the transparency of a diarist, Everything Is Under Control is an unputdownable series of vignettes followed by tried-and-true recipes from Grant’s table—a heartrending yet unsentimental portrait of the highs and lows of young adulthood, motherhood, and a life in the kitchen.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Review: You and Me and Us by Alison Hammer

When someone you love is given a terminal diagnosis, your whole world comes crashing down around you. The grief and despair and anger threaten to overwhelm. And in perhaps an ironic cruelty, you and the person living with the diagnosis have to do just that: live. How do you go about your daily business with this threat hanging over you? Can life still focus on life until there's no choice but to face inevitable death? What does that look like? In Alison Hammer's debut novel, You and Me and Us, she tackles all of these questions and more when Tommy Whistler, beloved partner, adored father, gentle psychiatrist, and the person who keeps their small family firmly together and ticking, is given a terminal lung cancer diagnosis.

Alexis Gold co-owns an advertising company. She has been scrambling to prove that motherhood and family won't impact her career since long before she started her own company. Luckily, her understanding and supportive partner Tommy, is an amazing dad and he has forever picked up the slack when Alexis is running late or misses another of their daughter's events. Unfortunately this has led to an estrangement between Alexis and CeCe, as the young teenager is certain that she cannot count on coming before her mother's work. CeCe and Tommy's bond though, is incredibly close and loving. And while Tommy may sometimes disapprove of Alexis' unchecked workaholic tendencies, he also understands them and knows that she still loves him and CeCe with all her heart. So when Tommy tells first Alexis and then CeCe that he's been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer they are devastated. Having watched his mother die of cancer after being diminished by treatments, he has chosen the hard option of not fighting for more time, knowing as he does that his outcome cannot, and will not, change. What he does want is quality of life over quantity and that means one last summer in Destin, Florida where he grew up and Alexis spent her summers as a child. It is a summer that will change Alexis and CeCe and reshape their family in ways they don't want to imagine but it will also provide them memories of a lifetime.

When you read this book, you will need more than a fistful of tissues as Hammer deftly weaves the sadness of an impending loss of such magnitude with the making of special memories and some spectacularly macabre humor from Tommy. She doesn't detail Tommy's physical decline as much as she tracks it in Alexis and CeCe's reactions to him, their startled recognition in the ways he's changed, and in the deeply felt way they acknowledge the unimaginable truth of a future coming at them faster than they want. Alexis and Tommy's past slips into their present, both their intangible feelings about things (Alexis' prejudice against marriage and Tommy's belief that he doesn't want his girls to remember him sick and dying as he remembers his mother) and in the physical person of Tommy's ex-wife, an actress filming a tv show in Destin. CeCe is well drawn as a young teenager alternately living her life and facing the death of her adored dad. She both continues to act normally and to push boundaries even as she seeks the moments she needs to grieve. Tommy himself is a thoughtful and understanding character and he is mainly seen through the eyes of Alexis and CeCe although one of the chapters' narration is from his point of view. The rest of the novel slips between Alexis and CeCe's first person narratives, allowing the reader see both of them cycle through every emotion they feel not only for the situation they are facing but also as they try to start to come together as mother and daughter. They are selfish and angry and hurt and they have years' worth of disappointments to overcome but at heart, they not only come together through their shared love of Tommy, but also through their love for each other. Mistakes are made and hearts are certainly broken over the course of this novel but priorities shift and love shines through in this warm, tear-jerking story of loss and love, the life we live, and the people who connect us forever.

For more information about Alison Hammer and the book, check our her author site, follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, look at 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 publisher William Morrow for sending me a copy of this book to review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past week are:

Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
You and Me and Us by Alison Hammer

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Yellow Earth by John Sayles
A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles
A Small Move by Katherine Hill

Reviews posted this week:

The DNA of You and Me by Andrea Rothman
Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

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

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber
Beginning with Cannonballs by Jill McCroskey Coupe
The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair
Faces: Profiles of Dogs by Vita Sackville-West
The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
Holding on to Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne
Difficult Light by Tomas Gonzalez
Adults and Other Children by Miriam Cohen
Grief's Country by Gail Griffin
Moments of Glad Grace by Alison Wearing
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Misconduct of the Heart by Cordelia Strube
Search Heartache by Carla Malden
What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
The Book Keeper by Julia McKenzie Munemo
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Temporary by Hilary Leichter
Blue Marlin by Lee Smith
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrival:

A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill came from me for myself.

A mystery set during the Great Depression in Australia, I am intrigued to read about this time period and the politics at play in this whodunit.

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, April 8, 2020

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 Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels.

The book is being released by Hub City Press on May 19, 2020.

The book's jacket copy says: A stunning novel about the bounds of family and redemption, shines light on an overlooked part of the AIDs epidemic when men returned to their rural communities to die, by Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award-winning author Carter Sickels.

Small-town Appalachia doesn't have a lot going for it, but it's where Brian is from, where his family is, and where he's chosen to return to die.

Set in 1986, a year after Rock Hudson's death brought the news of AIDS into living rooms and kitchens across America, Lambda Literary award-winning author Carter Sickels's second novel shines light on an overlooked part of the epidemic, those men who returned to the rural communities and families who'd rejected them.

Six short years after Brian Jackson moved to New York City in search of freedom and acceptance, AIDS has claimed his lover, his friends, and his future. With nothing left in New York but memories of death, Brian decides to write his mother a letter asking to come back to the place, and family, he was once so desperate to escape.

The Prettiest Star is told in a chorus of voices: Brian's mother Sharon; his fourteen-year-old sister, Jess, as she grapples with her brother's mysterious return; and the video diaries Brian makes to document his final summer.

This is an urgent story about the politics and fragility of the body, of sex and shame. Above all, Carter Sickels's stunning novel explores the bounds of family and redemption. It is written at the far reaches of love and understanding, centering on the moments where those two forces stretch toward each other and sometimes touch.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Review: Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

If there are animals in your life, there's no doubt you've anthropomorphized them, assuming they feel things similar to how we humans feel. And maybe they do feel emotion like us; without a common language, we have no real way to know although science certainly does its best at researching and drawing conclusions. But what if animals, dogs in particular, were given the gift or curse of human consciousness and intelligence? We could know exactly what they were feeling and thinking. But would it make them a different creature altogether? Would it, in fact, be a blessing or a curse? Andre Alexis' novel Fifteen Dogs takes just that premise and question and spins it out to its final, perhaps surprising, answer.

While sitting in a bar one night Hermes and Apollo were arguing about humanity and as Greek gods are wont to do, they made a wager over what the granting of human intelligence would do to other creatures. Apollo argued that any other creature given human intelligence would end up miserable while Hermes maintained that at least one of the creatures would die happy despite this complicated gift of consciousness. Seeing a vet clinic on their walk home, they decided to play out the bet and chose to grant human intelligence on the 15 dogs spending the night in the clinic. And then they moved on, leaving the dogs to realize and accept or reject their confusing new reality on their own.

The changed dogs immediately start acting out of character (species?), escaping the vet, and creating a sort of proto-human society amongst themselves. The novel mostly follows one or two dogs at a time, from their awakening into an awareness that changes everything to their respective deaths. Their lives are not lengthened, remaining realistically short, and many face graphic and terrible deaths as the reader, along with Hermes and Apollo, wonder if even one can in fact die happy or if this intelligence has robbed them of the ability to maintain happiness and joy. While the gods make occasional appearances in the story, for the most part, the dog's lives are left to nature and chance and whatever each dog can create for him or herself using their newly awakened intelligence. There is literally a deus ex machina in black poodle Majnoun's life arc and Prince, a poetry loving mutt, also suffers the meddling of the gods. There is a bleak ferocity here, a relatedness to Lord of the Flies in this apologue, as it examines the nature of happiness, the importance of language and poetry, and the philosophical idea of the cost of awareness. The fifteen dogs represent so much that drags humanity down, their weaknesses and fears, their brutality and power structures, but in the end, the passing of the last dog and the answer to Hermes and Apollo's wager is a reflective and philosophical experience full of the power of possibility, of language, of love. This is a strange but intriguing story, a morality tale that tells a big story using well-rendered small, furry characters. It's surprisingly accessible but is probably not a book for everyone. In the end, I enjoyed the thought behind it and I will probably never look at the dog sitting in my lap quite the same way again.

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

Monday, April 6, 2020

Review: The DNA of You and Me by Andrea Rothman

My sister is the scientist in our family. She's a vet with a Masters in Toxicology. I'm the English major who had to sit in the hallway for the duration of high school fetal pig dissection because I got hysterical thinking about cutting into Wilbur. But just because I am squeamish doesn't mean I'm not fascinated by science. Because I am. Just from a distance.  Especially if it requires dissection or euthanizing lab animals; I'm completely fine with sciences like geology though, one of my favorite subjects in college. And I do love to read about science and the amazing things that scientists are researching and discovering, what drives them to their field of study, the process of their work, and what it might say about us and our world. So Andrea Rothman's novel The DNA of You and Me was a completely engaging and wonderful read about the science world and one woman in it.

Emily Apell is a bioinformatician who has just received that call that she's won a very prestigious prize. As she processes the overwhelming news, she thinks back to what first set her on the path toward this major achievement. Growing up with her chemist father, she was steeped in scientific research quite young. And as an only child with a severe environmental allergy, her childhood was very much spent indoors not around other people so her social skills never quite developed the same way that others' did. Even in adulthood, she is incredibly socially awkward and she struggles to make connections with others. Moving to a prestigious new lab where she is looking for a gene or genes in the olfactory system that create a sort of smell map, she is both consumed by her research and intensely aware of fellow lab mate, Aeden, who, with his technician, is also looking for these genes. They might be in the same lab but they are definitely in competition with each other, at least until they are forced to work together and an antagonistic and bumbling relationship forms. But when tensions and hostility in the lab prove impossible, Emily must choose between the research she's dedicated her life to or the promise of a different life with Aeden.

The framing device of the impending award is well done as it leads Emily to look back a decade prior and wonder if her life could have been different, if it should have been different. Rothman has done a fantastic job creating in Emily a character who is afraid she doesn't have the emotional ability to connect with others that seems to come so easily to people around her. In fact, she is told by other characters, that she is distant and incapable of the depth of feeling that most people have, once as a compliment and once as a warning and insult. And yet this unemotional character feels deeply, absorbing hurt after hurt so that the reader has a lump in their stomach for her. She is so very alone, even in the midst of people. Told through Emily's eyes, Aeden is a far less sympathetic character, perhaps because she doesn't understand his motivations towards her as well as she understands her own position. Their relationship is not a give and take; it is as uncomfortable as the principals. They move from antagonism to emotionless sex, to something that is supposed to be more but that doesn't quite ever reach the richness to which it aspires. The atmosphere of the lab is well drawn, competitive to the point of being cutthroat, where even those driven by a desire to further science will resort to underhanded actions. The daily work, the diligence, the frequent failures, and the much rarer successes of a research lab weave through the narrative, driving the plot forward to its climax. The idea of isolating the genes that help us smell is completely fascinating and the sense of smell pervades much of the story thematically with Emily being acutely aware of smells and their role in her memories. There are many descriptions of the smell of her late father, Aeden's particular scent, a grad student's overwhelming perfume, the memory triggered by a peppermint, and more. Emily may be different but the reader feels for her deeply, for the little girl looking out at a world of people whose reactions are foreign and feel exclusionary and for the adult woman who still feels that way and tries to wrap herself in protective layers to avoid the hurt that she sometimes encounters as a loner. Emily is an atypical main character who really takes up residence in your heart. This is a poignant read about science and relationship, about whether some people are better suited to be alone, and the sacrifices that people make along their chosen paths framed within a story about a really smart woman in STEM.

For more information about Andrea Rothman and the book, check our her author site, follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, look at 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 publisher William Morrow for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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