Thursday, December 3, 2020

Review: The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray

Can we survive our families? Sometimes the legacy we have from family is crushing, leading to repeated patterns and damaging coping mechanisms. And when an already splintered family faces yet another blow, will they come together, fragile as they may be, or do they break completely? This is the question swirling through Anissa Gray's debut novel, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls.

The Butler family had a tough upbringing, each member shaped differently by their hard childhood. Oldest sister Althea stepped into the gap created by their mother's death and their angry and volatile father's absences caring for her younger siblings until she moved on to start her own family and a restaurant that was a community touchstone with husband Proctor. Now she and Proctor are in jail, arrested for fraud, guilty of taking donated charity money for themselves and illegally buying food stamps. Someone will have to care for Althea and Proctor's fifteen year old twin daughters, Kim and Baby Vi, who are struggling mightily with their family's fall from grace. Lillian, who has moved into their father's old house and is already taking care of her late ex-husband's elderly mother Nai-Nai, steps up but she is desperate for help from younger sister Viola and is equally as determined that the girls do not end up with brother Joe. Viola ignores the pleas from Lillian as long as she can, grappling as she is with her own demons, a floundering marriage and a recurrence of her bulimia.

The story is told in the first person from each of the sisters' perspectives and interleaved with letters from Proctor to Althea. As the sisters tell the story of what exactly happened that landed Althea and Proctor in jail and even further back in their pasts, it is clear that each of them continues to struggle with the legacy of that past. But as they reckon with their own festering hurts, the twins, Kim and Baby Vi, are floundering as well and the adults in their lives do not know how to best help them. Gray keeps some of the reasons behind the women's suffering vague, writing around the causes for much of the novel, ostensibly to increase tension. Why is Viola's marriage to Eva on the rocks? Why does Lillian have her ex-mother-in-law living with her? Why did Althea and Proctor do what they did? Choosing to use first person narration makes it hard to offer the answers to questions like these for the reader because the narrator already knows the answer but without enough forthcoming information, it's hard for the reader to get completely invested in the characters. The letters from Proctor to Althea help this a bit as he tries to exonerate her for his part in all of it, giving explanations of why he went along with her decisions. The letters are loving but also offer much needed truths and the reasons for everything else eventually come out. The explanations do feel anti-climactic though after being avoided for so long. Each of the women is fully fleshed out but seeing the rest of the characters only through their eyes, especially Kim and Baby Vi, makes these secondary characters less complex even though the escalating situation with the twins drives a lot of the actual action in the novel. Gray is an accomplished writer and the book has some beautiful language in it. This novel of healing and forgiveness, of family and need, of overcoming and hope offered an interesting book club discussion although I ultimately didn't connect with it emotionally as much as I think was intended.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Review: The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

So very often we hide parts of ourselves, the unhappy parts, the unsavory parts, the hard, struggling parts. This has probably always been true but seems to be accentuated by our social media society. We only post our highlights reel. If we can get the lighting correct and crop the messes of real life out, our curated life looks enviable and aspirational. But behind the scenes, we're all human with all the attendant ups and downs of real life. So what would happen if we told the truth about our lives? Telling the truth is exactly what happens in Clare Pooley's debut novel, The Authenticity Project.

Monica, owner of Monica's Cafe, finds a plain green journal titled The Authenticiy Project at the recently vacated table of a dapper, elderly man. She reads the first page in hopes that she can identify the owner and return it but what she discovers is an honest and open journal entry that almost eighty year old Julian Jessop, a lonely artist whose wife is gone, has written. At the end of his journal entry, he challenges whoever finds the journal to add their own truth to the pages and pass it along if they would like to. So Monica, a control freak for whom the cafe is her entire life, does so, admitting her sorrow at the lack of a husband and child in her life. She leaves the journal at the bar across the street where it is picked up by a deeply unhappy man named Hazard. Hazard surprises himself by not only furthering Monica's plan to engage Julian in life by getting him to teach art classes at the cafe, but also by reading, contributing to the journal, and passing it along to an easy going Australian named Riley, who he's vetted as a friend for Julian and as a potential lover for Monica and is headed to London from the Pacific Island where Hazard has landed to try and beat his addiction and get a handle on his life. These characters, with the addition of Monica's barista Benji, his boyfriend Baz, and Alice, a local, frazzled, mommy Instagrammer whose life is anything but picture perfect all come together through the journal and the art classes as they learn to bare their true selves to others, to chase their own happiness, to offer kindness, and to be authentic in the world.

The novel is definitely a feel good story. It's a story of love and friendship and claiming the life you want. The conceit of the journal passing from hand to hand and connecting disparate people is a sweet one. Each of the characters has quirks and flaws that make them feel real. This also makes them not always terribly likable and sometimes they come across as a bit too stereotypical. The short chapters are centered on different characters, moving the story along as they interact together but also when they are at a far remove but thinking of the others. Of course, the path to happiness isn't smooth. The novel's conflict is a little reminiscent of a romance novel and there is an interesting twist in one character's "authentic" story. The final scene is predictable but still the right ending. This is a big hearted and charming novel, perhaps perfect for the year we've all been having.

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 War Widow by Tara Moss.

The book is being released by Dutton on December 29, 2020.

The book's jacket copy says: The war may be officially over, but journalist Billie Walker's search for a missing young immigrant man will plunge her right back into the danger and drama she thought she'd left behind in Europe in this thrilling tale of courage and secrets set in glamorous postwar Sydney.

Sydney, 1946. Though war correspondent Billie Walker is happy to finally be home, for her the heady postwar days are tarnished by the loss of her father and the disappearance in Europe of her husband, Jack. To make matters worse, now that the war is over, the newspapers are sidelining her reporting talents to prioritize jobs for returning soldiers. But Billie is a survivor and she's determined to take control of her own future. So she reopens her late father's business, a private investigation agency, and, slowly, the women of Sydney come knocking.

At first, Billie's bread and butter is tailing cheating husbands. Then, a young man, the son of European immigrants, goes missing, and Billie finds herself on a dangerous new trail that will lead up into the highest levels of Sydney society and down into its underworld. What is the young man’s connection to an exclusive dance club and a high class auction house? When the people Billie questions about the young man start to turn up dead, Billie is thrown into the path of Detective Inspector Hank Cooper. Will he take her seriously or will he just get in her way? As the danger mounts and Billie realizes that much more than one young man’s life is at stake, it becomes clear that though the war was won, it is far from over.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Review: Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur

Other people's lives are endlessly fascinating, especially the hidden pieces of those lives. One of the reasons we read is to inhabit these lives so very different from ours, at least for a a little time. Adrienne Brodeur's memoir about her glamorous mother Malabar, who entrusts fourteen year old Rennie with the knowledge of Malabar's affair with her husband’s married, best friend, making Rennie both confidante and co-conspirator, and the effects of this knowledge on her life and relationships, offers the reader a life it is impossible to look away from.

Brodeur has written an astonishing memoir of mothers and daughters, dysfunction, complicity, lies, and secrets. She looks back, not only at the obviously inappropriate revelations of her mother but also at her own deep desire to be her mother's ally, the favorite, to be special, the one who would aid and abet her mother in this affair despite her love for her stepfather. She presents the reality of her relationship with her mother and her knowledge of this affair as she remembers it, not letting her mother off the hook for her questionable decision to include her young teen in her deception but not letting herself off the hook either for the thrill she felt in safeguarding this knowledge. Her writing is self-reflective and honest. She knows she's writing of rich people behaving badly but she embraces that without apologizing for it.

Without excusing her selfish and toxic behavior, Brodeur tries to convey the magnetism and appeal of her mother but she's not entirely successful. And her own complicity can easily be forgiven when she's a child but the reader will find it harder to understand her loyalty to this secret once she is older and it threatens her own relationship and marriage. This is a perfect book for book clubs who can delve into the very real, even if it reads like fiction, impact Brodeur's mother had on her life and in forming the person, wife, and mother she has grown into being and the rocky journey of self-discovery that got her there.

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

Monday, November 30, 2020

Review: Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

Hmmm. Sometimes there's a book that gets praised to the sky and back, one that wins awards and accolades in all corners of the literary world, one that I can't wait to get my hands on, but that I just can't connect with, can't even begin to glimpse why all the acclaim and glory have been piled on it and unfortunately Terese Marie Mailhot's Heart Berries is one of those books.

This short, honest memoir in essays from Mailhot, a Canadian Indigenous woman, feels more like prose poetry than a cohesive nonfiction narrative. It is an on the page grappling with her abusive childhood, the loss of custody of her first child, her own mental illnesses, her destructive tendencies, her complicated and damaging relationships, motherhood, the creative drive, her identity as an indigenous woman and her dysfunctional, trauma-filled life. She is introspective and raw in her writing; it is heavy and deeply personal. But the narrative is choppy and fragmented making it a struggle to want to follow her in her jumbled stream of consciousness. Mailhot jumps forward and backward in time, leaving the reader completely untethered in her story. This makes for a slow and deliberate reading experience but this same slowness highlights the oftentimes meaningless and pretentious writing masquerading as deep and lyrical. "Every door is the same when I kneel in a corner--with a hand over my mouth." (p. 14) But there's also the occasional powerful truth woven in as well. Most of Mailhot's essays are addressed to a boyfriend, opening herself to him, explaining her past and her present, but Mailhot also addresses her mother in the final piece of the memoir, remembering, confronting, lamenting. The unconventional structure of the book allows for a disjointed and incomplete telling, brushing past some of the defining moments of her life so far without elaborating and stripping the emotional content back to bare bone. I felt nothing by the end except profound relief that I was finished with the book. Many others have claimed this as a magnificent and important work, so perhaps don't necessarily take my word for it.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Very little reading this week as I get ready for the holidays (have you started Christmas shopping yet?) and try to put my house back together again after all the work on it. I've reached the stage of wishing I could just walk away from it all so I'm sort of at crisi point on it! This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past week are:

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot
Lady Helena Investigates by Jane Steen
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai
The Last Leonardo by Ben Lewis

Reviews posted this week:

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

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

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
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
Raphael Painter in Rome by Stephanie Storey
Blue Summer by Jim Nichols
The Miracle of Saint Lazarus by Uva de Aragon
Red Mother with Child by Christian Lax
The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos
Tamba Child Soldier by Marion Achard
The Girl with Braided Hair by Rasha Adly
The Book of Second Chances by Katherine Slee
Disfigured by Amanda Leduc
Floating in the Neversink by Andrea Simon
Seven Sisters and a Brother by Marilyn Allman May
A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen
Sansei and Sensibility by Karen Tei Yamashita
The Paris Secret by Natasha Lester
Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat
I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon
Godshot by Chelsea Bieker
The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson
The Change by Lori Soderlind
The Man in the White Linen Suit by David Handler
I Saw Three Ships by Bill Richardson
A Wicked Kind of Husband by Mia Vincy
Wild Ride Home by Christine Hemp
The Book of Rosy by Rosayra Pablo Cruz and Julie Schweitert Collazo
The Devil to Pay by Liz Carlyle
How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences by Sue William Silverman
The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels
The Bitch by Pilar Quintana
Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
Continental Divide by Alex Myers
The Road to Urbino by Roma Tearne
The Wanting Life by Mark Rader
Invented Lives by Andrea Goldsmith
Friends of the Library by Susan Cushman
In Praise of Paths by Torbjorn Ekelund
Tea by the Sea by Donna Hemans
Heiress for Hire by Erin McCarthy
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur
The Royal Abduls by Ramiza Shamoun Koya
The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline
The Expert's Guide to Driving a Man Wild by Jessica Clare
How to Eat by Thich Nhat Hanh
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
Startled by His Furry Shorts by Louise Rennison
Love and Hunger by Charlotte Wood
Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify by Carolyn Holbrook
You Have Arrived at Your Destination by Amor Towles
In Our Midst by Nancy Jensen
On the Steamy Side by Louisa Edwards
The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah
The Second Home by Christina Clancy
Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells
A Shot in the Dark by Lynne Truss
Unconditional Love by Jocelyn Moorhouse
Along Came Mary by Jo-Ann Mapson
The Big Quiet by Lisa D. Stewart
All My Mother's Lovers by Ilana Masad
The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray
The Moonshiner’s Daughter by Donna Everhart
True North by Beverly Brandt
Betrayal at Ravenswick by Kelly Oliver
Queen of the Owls by Barbara Linn Probst
Wild Dog by Serge Joncour
Meet Me In Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
Children of Dust by Ali Eteraz
Happily Ever After by Debbie Tung
The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin
Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles
The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg
Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew
The Last Blue by Isla Morley
Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler
Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario
Falling In by Frances O'Roark Dowell< br /> The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart
Yellow Earth by John Sayles
Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith
Murder at Archly Manor by Sara Rosett
House of Gold by Natasha Solomons
A Royal Affair by Allison Montclair
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbuo
Death at High Tide by Hannah Dennison
In the Hall with a knife by Diana Peterfreund
Miracle Country by Kendra Atleework
Death in Brittany by Jean-Luc Bannalec
The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis
Things to Bring, S#!it to Do by Karen Rizzo
Bingo by Rita Mae Brown
Down and Out in Bugtusssle by Stephanie McAfee
Sir Philip's Folly by M.C. Beaton
Exit Strategy by Martha Wells
One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde
The Exact Same Moon by Jeanne Marie Laskas
The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith
Slightly Chipped by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
I'm with Fatty by Edward Ugel
Breakfast in Bed by Robin Kaye
A Beach Less Traveled by John Berglund
Pulling Princes by Tyne O'Connell
Lady Helena Investigates by Jane Steen
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Murder on Brittany Shores by Jean-Luc Bannalec came from me for myself.

I liked the first mystery in the series about cranky, coffee addicted Commissaire Dupin and set in Brittany so I picked up this next one as well.

The Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke came from me for myself.

I love animals and I also love strange animal facts so this book is completely perfect for me.

Shook by Jennifer Hull came from me for myself.

I huff and puff up my neighborhood hill so I'm clearly no mountaineer but I thoroughly enjoy reading accounts of mountaineering and especially of Everest so I can't wait to read this one about an earthquake that shook the mountain and the expedition that was there when it happened.

The Last Pearl Fisher of Scotland by Julia Stuart came from me for myself.

Julia Stuart's books delight me and this one about a pearl fisher in Scotland looking for one last pearl to complete his wife's necklace and hopefully salvage their marriage looks to do it as well.

Boop and Eve's Road Trip by Mary Helen Sheriff came from me for myself.

About a granddaughter looking for her missing best friend and a grandmother determined to visit her sister, this road trip novel sounds kooky and quirky and full of love, just what we all need right now.

On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz came from me for myself.

I am fascinated by the question of how and what we see when we walk around so I am looking forward to these essays about eleven walks the author took around Manhattan.

Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten came from St. Martin's Press.

I find the Russian tsars and tsarinas fascinating so I am looking forward to this novelization of the life of Peter the Great's second wife, Catherine Alexeyevna, a woman who tried to seize power herself after Peter's death.

Murder by Milk Bottle by Lynne Truss came from Bloomsbury.

Another in Truss' Constable Twitten series, this should be as delightful as the others.

Among Flowers by Jamaica Kincaid came from Picador.

A travel memoir about 3 weeks trekking through Nepal by Kincaid? Yes, please!!!

To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu came from Tor.

I'm very curious about this collection of short stories by a major name in sci-fi.

Hunter's Moon by Philip Caputo came from Picador.

I first read Caputo decades ago so finding that he'd written a novel in stories set in Michigan's UP, meant I was definitely going to be lining up to get this one!

One Winter Morning by Isabelle Broom came from me for myself.

When a woman's adoptive mother dies, she finds her biological mother half a world away. Sounds heartwarming and wonderful, doesn't it?

Life in a Postcard by Rosemary Bailey came from me for myself.

I do so love a moving and starting over memoir, especially when it's set in an old building like the crumbling, medieval monastery as it is in this one.

The Secrets of Sunshine by Phaedra Patrick came from me for myself.

Called The Secrets of Love Story Bridge in the US, this is the British version. I have enjoyed Patrick's lovely stories and I expect the same from this one about a lonely, single father who saves a woman who falls off the love story bridge and sets about trying to find her based only on the clues she left behind on the padlock she affixed to the bridge.

The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders came from me for myself.

With the main character as an unassuming widow who discreetly investigates cases, this looks like it is the beginning of a delightful new series.

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.

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