Tuesday, June 15, 2021

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 Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict aand Victoria Christopher Murray.

The book is being released by Berkley on June 29, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: The remarkable story of J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, the Black American woman who was forced to hide her true identity and pass as white to leave a lasting legacy that enriched our nation, from New York Times bestselling author Marie Benedict, and acclaimed author Victoria Christopher Murray.

In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture in New York City society and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps create a world-class collection.

But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white—her complexion is dark because she is African American.

The Personal Librarian tells the story of an extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit, and shares the lengths she must go to—for the protection of her family and her legacy—to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.

Monday, June 14, 2021

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Miracle of miracles, I've actually read and reviewed some books since the last time I posted. This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past weeks are:

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey
So Happy Together by Deborah K. Harris
Lighting the Stars by Gabriele Wills
A Winter Night by Anne Leigh Parrish
A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark
Shipped by Angie Hockman
Brother Sister Mother Explorer by Jamie Figueroa
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
Everywhere You Don't Belong by Gabriel Bump

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
Interior Chinatown by Cahrles Yu
The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey
House of Trelawney by Hannah Rothschild
In Love with George Eliot by Kathy O'Shaughnessy
Other People's Children by R. J. Hoffmann
When Stars Rain Down by Angela Jackson-Brown
Inheritors by Asako Serizawa
We Learnt About Hitler at the Mickey Mouse Club by Enid Elliott Linder
The Restaurant Inspector by Alex Pickett
Modern Jungles by Pao Lor
Pleasantview by Celeste Mohammed
Miseducated by Brandon P. Fleming
The Colour of God by Ayesha S. Chaudhry
Strange Tricks by Syd Moore
A Trick of the Light by Ali Carter
The Stone Sister by Carolyn Patterson
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney

Reviews posted this week:

So Happy Together by Deborah K. Harris
Lighting the Stars by Gabriele Wills
A Winter Night by Anne Leigh Parrish
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis
Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

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

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London
Minus Me by Mameve Medwed
We Think the World of You by J.R. Ackerley
What You Wish For by Katherine Center
The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Initiates by Etienne Davodeau
You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle
The Arctic Fury by Greer MacAllister
Writers and Lovers by Lily King
Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Austenistan edited by Laaleen Sukhera
Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin
Love Is Blind by Lynsay Sands
Saving Miss Oliver's by Stephen Davenport
Refining Felicity by M.C. Beaton
Queenie by Candace Carty-Williams
Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson
Sea Swept by Nora Roberts
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
More Confessions of a Trauma Junkie by Sherry Lynn Jones
Inlaws and Outlaws by Kate Fulford
The Belinda Chronicles by Linda Seidel
Jane in Love by Rachel Givney
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
The Wind Blows and the Flowers Dance by Terre Reed
Lovely War by Julie Berry
A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
Dear County Agent Guy by Jerru Nelson
This Time Next Year We'll Be Laughing by Jacqueline Winspear
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
All Adults Here by Emma Straub
Nice Girls Finish First by Alesia Holliday
Cosmogony by Lucy Ives
Heartwood by Barbara Becker
My Own Miraculous by Joshilyn Jackson
Duchess If You Dare by Anabelle Bryant
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
After Francesco by Brian Malloy
When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson
Assembly by Natasha Brown
The Walls Came Tumbling Down by Henriette Roosenburg
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
Silence by William Carpenter
The Ghost Dancers by Adrian C. Louis
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Shipped by Angie Hockman
Brother Sister Mother Explorer by Jamie Figueroa
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
Everywhere You Don't Belong by Gabriel Bump

Friday, June 11, 2021

Review: Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

Just under 40% of women who are murdered die at the hands of their domestic partner. According to the UN, as of 2013 this accounts for the deaths of more than 30,000 women a year. This is horrific and unfathomable. Former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey's mother Gwen was one of these women. And Memorial Drive is the reflective memoir she's written to grapple with the loss of her mother at the hands of her former step-father.

Trethewey was born to a beautiful, young black mother and a white Canadian father in the strictly segregated Deep South. Her early years with her parents, living amongst the extended maternal side of her family was happy and her memoir is filled with joy as she describes those early years. But her parents drifted apart after her father went back to school and they ultimately divorced. She and her mother moved to Atlanta where her mother got a job as a social worker and eventually met Big Joe, the man who will be Tasha's stepfather and who will murder her mother. Trethewey recounts the physical abuse her mother endures and the emotional abuse she herself faces whenever Big Joe is around. She also tells, fairly dispassionately, of the ways in which the system fails her mother over and over again. A teacher doesn't report the abuse Trethewey tells her about. A person at the women's shelter brushes it off as normal when Natasha calls to say that her mother got into her car with Big Joe and something is wrong. The policeman assigned to watch her mother's apartment all night the night she was murdered left his post.

Trethewey's recounting of life with her mother and stepfather is patchy and she ruminates on the nature of memory. She talks of intentionally forgetting those years and the constant fluctuating levels of terror but if her head doesn't remember, she still carries the trauma and misplaced guilt over her mother's death deep in her bones. Her telling is dreamy, philosophical, and poetic but it is strangely emotionally removed, flatter than it should be, almost as if despite wanting to open up in this memoir, she is still protecting herself from the full brunt of emotion. And while she discusses the fact of her erasing what she could of those years, the lack of her half brother's presence (and also to some extent that of her biological father) is a strange omission. She was 19 when her mother was murdered by Big Joe and she is reckoning with her memories 30 years after the fact but it all felt unsatisfyingly incomplete. Almost at the end of the memoir, there is a transcript of several phone calls between her mother and Big Joe after he's gotten out of prison for assaulting Gwen in which he threatens her and she tries to reason with him. The transcripts are quite long given the overall length of the book and while they are horrific, they don't really add anything that Trethewey hasn't already shown the reader about this murderous, delusional man. It feels somehow wrong to criticize this book in any way given the terrible thing that Trethewey is sharing but in the end, I just didn't connect with the way it was written and I wanted to know more than I was given (and that I certainly wasn't owed). Others have raved about this though so perhaps take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis

Great authors are have amazing insights into human nature. They need to understand the motivations behind the actions, reactions, and feelings of their characters. So it's not a far stretch to imagine our favorite authors as detectives and investigators as Bella Ellis does with Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte in The Vanished Bride, the first novel of the Bronte Sisters Mystery series.

Governess Mattie French discovers blood leaking out of her mistress' room one early morning in 1845. Her mistress has vanished but the quantity of blood can only mean murder. Brother Branwell brings this ghastly news to Haworth and Charlotte and Emily realize that their school friend Mattie is the one who discovered her mistress missing. They resolve to walk across the moor to Chester Grange and comfort their friend and perhaps to discover the truth of what happened to Elizabeth Chester. Knowing that Mrs. Chester left behind a child and a young stepchild and that Mr. Chester was not a good man, the three sisters are determined to become lady detectors and solve this troubling case.

Ellis, a play on Emily Bronte's own pen name--Ellis Bell, who is actually novelist Rowan Coleman, takes readers on a fun, cozy mystery ride with the three amateur sleuth and as yet unpublished novelist sisters. The atmosphere often veers toward the gothic and there are common Victorian plot contrivances like gypsies and the supernatural contained here. There are seeds of the sisters' future novels scattered throughout the mystery as well. The sisters have a delightful bickering and bantering way with each other and they are all drawn with curious and lively minds. There is a real sense of them pushing against the strictures placed on women in their time both in their own choices and in their sympathy for the missing Mrs. Chester. Occasionally though, they discuss the lot of women in terms that feel anachronistic. Their observational skills suit them well in detecting. The plotting of the mystery is consistent and the denouement is unexpected but well drawn. Fans of the Brontes who don't mind a little creative license will certainly enjoy this entertaining historical mystery.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Review: The Library Book by Susan Orlean

If you're a book lover, you need to see the way that Susan Orlean's The Library Book is put together in the hardback edition. It is a completely gorgeous production designed to look like a leather tooled library book, from the spine to the endpapers to the deckle edges. And not only is the book physically gorgeous but a book about the 1986 LA Central Library fire was guaranteed to appeal to readers. How could it not? Unfortunately, the book didn't live up to the promise of the physical package for me.

Orlean is a masterful researcher. When she digs into a topic, like this devastating library fire, she uncovers absolutely everything there is to uncover about it. But that is where this book falls down. It's not focused on the largest library fire in American history where more than a million books were damaged or completely destroyed. It's not focused on the mystery of whether it was deliberately set or was the result of an electrical failure. It's not focused on Harry Peak, the main suspect in the arson investigation. It's not focused on the history of the building itself. It's not focused on the sometimes eccentric or colorful librarians who have served at the LA Central Library. It's not focused on the way that libraries around the country serve and enrich their communities. It's not focused on Orleans' own reminiscences about libraries and her mother. In short, it's not focused. There are so many varied threads here, none of which, it seems, was long enough to sustain the book on its own but instead are all alternately woven together in a rather disjointed, choppy way. Starting each chapter with book titles and their library call number to hint at the contents of the chapter is clever. The sheer amount of information is impressive. And the core of each piece of the narrative was interesting but it ultimately went on too long and ended up feeling tedious. Did I hate the book? No. But I certainly didn't love it like I expected either and that makes me sad because there was a lot to enjoy here if it had been edited down and presented differently.

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.

Blush by Jamie Brenner.

The book is being released by G.P. Putnam's Sons on June 22, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: From acclaimed author Jamie Brenner comes a stunning new novel about three generations of women who discover that the scandalous books of their past may just be the key to saving their family's future.

For decades, the Hollander Estates winery has been the premier destination for lavish parties and romantic day trips on the North Fork of Long Island. But behind the lush vineyards and majestic estate house, the Hollander family fortunes have suffered and the threat of a sale brings old wounds to the surface. For matriarch Vivian, she fears that this summer season could be their last—and that selling their winery to strangers could expose a dark secret she's harbored for decades. Meanwhile, her daughter, Leah, who was turned away from the business years ago, finds her marriage at a crossroads and returns home for a sorely needed escape. And granddaughter Sadie, grappling with a crisis of her own, runs to the vineyard looking for inspiration.

But when Sadie uncovers journals from Vivian's old book club dedicated to scandalous novels of decades past, she realizes that this might be the distraction they all need. Reviving the "trashy" book club, the Hollander women find that the stories hold the key to their fight not only for the vineyeard, but for the life and love they've wanted all along.

Blush is a bighearted story of love, family, and second chances, and an ode to the blockbuster novels that have shaped generations of women.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Review: A Winter Night by Anne Leigh Parrish

I have been reading Anne Leigh Parrish's works for a long time, both her short stories and her novels. So I know what an accomplished writer she is and the way that she creates complex and intriguing characters. In this latest novel, A Winter Night, she is once again writing about one of the Dugans, a family she created many years ago and for whom she clearly has a big soft spot and an endless fascination. And although main character Angie Dugan has appeared on the page before, new readers need not fear; it is more than possible to read this novel as its own separate work.

Angie Dugan is 34. She works at Lindell retirement home and is vaguely dissatisfied with the job she once loved. She's in a new relationship but isn't entirely certain she wants to trust boyfriend Matt as much as a relationship needs in order to thrive. She's close to some of her siblings but not others and she worries terribly about her father as he relapses and starts drinking again. Angie doesn't have much faith in herself and that spills over into her personal relationships despite the fact that at heart, she is a caretaker.

This is very much a character study, the story of a woman who wants to learn to trust despite her struggles to do so. The narration is third person but firmly focused solely on Angie, her insecurities, anxieties, and fears, her brusque bluntness, and her hopes for the future. Angie can self-sabotage with the best of them and she seems unable to decide whether the red flags she sees in her relationship are legitimate or if they are her own creation. She is very different at work, sure, intuitive, and thoughtful, if burned out. Readers who are looking for action driving the plot will not find that here. It is much more a ruminative, interior sort of novel with Angie working out how she feels and how she wants to feel about her relationship with Matt, with her father, with her family, and about her job. She continues to be pulled into her family but keeps a cautious distance with everyone else around her. Is this what she wants though, or is she ready to risk herself? Even the oral history project plot thread, recording the memories of the elderly at Lindell, highlights relationship and love and the complexity of family, with one woman confessing to a decades old crime and another telling how she protected both her husband and her son in keeping the son's sexuality from his father. Parrish subtly highlights this theme over and over in Angie's story even as she slowly and carefully unwraps the layers of the past that surround both Angie and Matt. This is a quietly done, rewarding book and those who like to sit and savour their reads will find much to appreciate and enjoy.

If you enjoyed this book, be sure to read Parrish's short story collection By the Wayside, her interconnected story collection where the Dugan clan makes their first appearance, Our Love Could Light the World, and the story of Angie's mother Lavinia's unexpected widowhood in The Amendment.

For more information about Anne Leigh Parrish and the book, check our her author site, like her on Facebook, 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 Unsolicited Press for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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