Monday, April 22, 2019

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I forgot to post the week before last and this past week I was driving all over the country taking my youngest child on college visits so not much reading or reviewing was accomplished. This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past two weeks are:

Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Saint Everywhere by Mary Lea Carroll
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Tonic and Balm by Stephanie Allen
Black Light by Kimberly King Parsons
In the Shadow of Wolves by Alvydas Slepikas
The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
The Bottom of the Sky by Rodrigo Fresan
A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George
The Death of Noah Glass by Gail Jones
A Moveable Feast edited by Don George
Bent but Not Broken by Don Cummings

Reviews posted this week:

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais

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

Rules of Surrender by Christina Dodd
The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handle
Oh, Tama! by Mieko Kanai
The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Exposure by Jean-Philippe Blondel
Here I Am! by Pauline Holdstock
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
Miss Blaine's Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas
Ways to Hide in Winter by Sarah St. Vincent
The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Drager
Granny’s Got a Gun by Harper Lin
White Elephant by Julie Langsdorf
At Briarwood School for Girls by Michael Knight
The Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel
All Ships Follow Me by Mieke Eerkens
Like This Afternoon Forever by Jaime Manrique
Gravity Well by Melanie Joosten
Motherhood So White by Nefertiti Austin
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Dear Baba by Maryam Rafiee
Saint Everywhere by Mary Lea Carroll
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Tonic and Balm by Stephanie Allen
Black Light by Kimberly King Parsons
In the Shadow of Wolves by Alvydas Slepikas
The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin

Monday Mailbox

I took my youngest on college visits this spring break and I came home to an appalling number of books but many of them are up for consideration for Great Group Reads so I can't post them. Trust me when I say they look amazing. But the ones that came for review or just because that I can post look equally amazing. This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Bent but Not Broken by Don Cummings came from TLC Book Tours and Heliotrope Books for a book tour.

A memoir by a man afflicted with Peyronie's Disease, which is painful and causes a curvature to the penis, I am curious to read something so honest about a body part that we don't often discuss.

Waisted by Randy Susan Meyers came from TLC Book Tours and Atria for a book tour.

A novel about seven women who are the subjects of an extreme weight loss documentary, I am eager to see how fighting back against the exploitation of the filmmakers empowers these women.

The Wonder of Lost Causes by Nick Trout came from TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for a book tour.

A novel about what happens when on old and ugly dog arrives unexpectedly in the life of a single mom veterinarian and her chronically ill son, I'll bet this one will make me need tissues galore.

The Children's Bach by Helen Garner came from me for myself.

About a family, two parents and two sons, one of whom has autism, when a friend arrives with three charismatic companions, this novel sounds both threatening and promising.

Dictionary Stories by Jez Burrows came from me for myself.

Short stories based on words and sentences found in the dictionary, this promises to make my little word nerd heart sing.

Far Flung by Cassandra Kircher came from West Virginia University Press and Shelf Awareness.

These essays about nature and the wild, written by a former employee of the National Park Service, look completely fascinating.

Brides in the Sky by Cary Holladay came from me for myself.

I couldn't resist this based on the title and the old timey picture on the cover. Add in the themes of sisterhood and migration and I'm sold.

Yellow Stonefly by Tim Poland came from me for myself.

A fly fishing story with a female protagonist? Color me intrigued for sure!

Madame Victoria by Catherine Leroux came from me for myself.

A female skeleton was never identified despite facial reconstruction and knowledge of where she came from based on the food she ate so Leroux imagines twelve different stories for this forgotten women. Sounds cool, right?

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 17, 2019

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 Behavior of Love by Virginia Reeves.

The book is being released by Scribner on May 14, 2019.

The book's jacket copy says: Doctor Ed Malinowski believes he has realized most of his dreams. A passionate, ambitious behavioral psychiatrist, he is now the superintendent of a mental institution and finally turning the previously crumbling hospital around. He also has a home he can be proud of, and a fiercely independent, artistic wife Laura, whom he hopes will soon be pregnant.

But into this perfect vision of his life comes Penelope, a beautiful, young epileptic who should never have been placed in his institution and whose only chance at getting out is Ed. She is intelligent, charming, and slowly falling in love with her charismatic, compassionate doctor. As their relationship grows more complicated, and Laura stubbornly starts working at his hospital, Ed must weigh his professional responsibilities against his personal ones, and find a way to save both his job and his family.

A love triangle set in one of the most chaotic, combustible settings imaginable, The Behavior of Love is wise, riveting, and deeply resonant.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Review: Métis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais

If you wrote your autobiography, what would be in it? Would it be a sweeping epic or a mundane recitation of boring sameness? Mine would definitely be the latter. I'm not famous, have never run afoul of the law (well, aside from a speeding ticket or two), haven't been involved in historically significant events, and usually have a pretty cordial relationship with family and friends. The same cannot be said of the main character in Claudine Bourbonnais' epic novel, Métis Beach. His life makes for a catalogue of the changing mores and attitudes of second half of the twentieth century in this expansive novel.

In his fifties, Roman Carr is the writer and creator of the famous satirical show called In Gad We Trust. It is designed to entertain and offend in equal measure and although the show is a hit, Roman has been able to fly mostly under the radar, at least until the story opens. Telling his own story, Roman goes back in time to his life in Métis Beach on the Gaspé Peninsula, a town he fled as a teenager many years before. Born Romain Carrier, he and his father worked as caretakers for the English Canadians who had large summer homes in the area until one evening when everything went wrong for the young man. He flees the judgment of his father and the English community, ending up in New York City for several years before a terrible tragedy sends him out to San Francisco and then Hollywood. Along the way, he meets his best friend, has an affair, learns about feminism, protests Vietnam, and embraces humanism. His experiences lead him to develop his TV show, exposing the sordidness, greed, and hypocrisy of organized religion and present it as a microcosm of America. As protests against his show grow, a surprise from his past shakes his firm belief on certain social rights, tempering his stances and making things far less black and white. And then the strident patriotism of the immediate aftermath of 9/11 happens, throwing his life and relationships into even greater turmoil.

The novel is epic in scope, taking on an absolute litany of issues: feminism, protest, freedom of speech, religion, radical evangelicalism, abortion, class, capital punishment, the draft, mental health, greed, and patriotism. It's simply too much. And while Roman did and saw many things in his life, he is rarely the driver of his own life. He is buffeted around by the multiple women who loved him, the one who hated him, and the people in his life who found him to be an easy mark to manipulate. He had to endure narrow minds at almost every turn although the characters who saved him are generous and giving. Roman narrates his own story, sharing each piece of his life, looking back at the pieces as distinct sections relating to a certain person or people in his life rather than the significant events of the time. For all the issues and historical events contained here, in the end, this is a story of people, of the family you make and the friends you love. By the end of the novel, I was fatigued by Roman's life when I think I was meant to be sympathetic to this astute observer of society and the litany of tragedies in his life. This is not a bad novel, far from it, but it erred on the side of everything but the kitchen sink in the making of its point.  If you're a fan of epic novels, you may feel differently than I do.

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

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Review: Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

We here in the US have a sort of conflicted relationship to royalty. We are fascinated by them but we are also proud of our successful rebellion against them. We are definitely conflicted. As is one of the main characters (at least to start with) in Casey McQuiston's charming new romance novel, Red, White and Royal Blue.

Alex Clairmont-Diaz has his life trajectory pretty well planned out. His mother is the President of the United States. His father is a Congressman. He is a political science student who has his own political aspirations and is thrilled to be helping out on his mother's reelection campaign until he can launch his own campaign in a few years. When Prince Philip, the Queen of England's oldest grandson gets married, Alex and his sister June attend the wedding. Normally this wouldn't be any more than a blip in his life but Alex intensely dislikes Philip's younger brother Henry and everything in left-leaning Alex rebels against royal privilege and the spectacle of this royal wedding. Then Alex gets a little drunk and he and the handsome but bland Henry start bickering, ending only when the two of them inadvertently crash into the wedding cake. In order to combat the subsequent bad press and rumors of Alex and Henry's deep dislike of each other, the two are ordered to spend time together and fake a friendship. As Alex gets to know Henry, he discovers that there's a lot more to the proper, buttoned-up prince than he thought and they become true friends. And then they become more. But they have to hide their relationship from a homophobic world that won't accept a gay prince or a bisexual first son.

This modern day romance is a complete delight. Not only do Alex and Henry move from enemies to lovers but Alex must first recognize and accept who he is. Both of them have to decide whether they want to conform to what the world wants of them or if they will be true to themselves. Their growing relationship, presented through texts and emails is sweet and tender but also snarky and hilarious and filled with witty banter and honest expressions of love and struggle. The outside world also presents an obstacle to their love story. Alex doesn't want his sexuality to cost his mother reelection, especially since his biracial identity (his father is Mexican-American and his mother is white) has already been an issue in the past, and Henry is weighted with the centuries long traditions and expectations of royalty. Their respective obligations to their families are enormous but the intrusive and scandal-hungry press is also a deterrent. Alex is occasionally frustratingly immature but both he and Henry are so beautifully human and sympathetic as characters. The secondary characters here are as funny and as endearing as Alex and Henry are. There is a cuteness and lightness to the story that belies some heavy issues (homophobia, sacrifice, love, and being true to oneself to name a few) and the story ends up wonderfully, achingly hopeful. If you can read this and not finish wanting to be these men's friend, I just don't know about you. McQuiston has written an enchanting romantic comedy that will have you reading with a smile on your face and I'd enthusiastically recommend this to all contemporary romance readers.

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.

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev.

The book is being released by William Morrow Paperbacks on May 7, 2019.

The book's jacket copy says: It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep.

Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes, her influential immigrant family who’s achieved power by making its own non-negotiable rules:

· Never trust an outsider

· Never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations

· And never, ever, defy your family

Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat old mistakes.

Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.

As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts. But before a future can be savored there’s a past to be reckoned with...

A family trying to build home in a new land.

A man who has never felt at home anywhere.

And a choice to be made between the two.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Review: The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

Genocide. When you read that word, you probably think of the Holocaust. But that is certainly not the only genocide in recent memory. There's the Armenian genocide, the Cambodian genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge, and the Rwandan genocide which pitted the Hutu against the Tutsi. And these examples are probably not the only ones, they're just the ones I came up with off the top of my head. I learned about them in various history classes and read about the genocides and their aftermath in books like Baking Cakes in Kigali and In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills. But both of those, wonderful as they are, are fiction. Clemantine Wamariya's The Girl Who Smiled Beads is a memoir, an actual lived experience by a girl too young initially to understand the terror that forever changed her life.

In 1994, when war came to Kigali, Clemantine's mother told her fifteen year old sister Claire to take six year old Clemantine and flee to relatives where the child and the teenager would hopefully be safe. But eventually the men came there too and Clemantine and Claire had to flee again, and again, and again. These children of war sought safety in seven different African countries, living and moving on from refugee camp to refugee camp, trying to build a life over six long and hunted years before finally being granted asylum in the US. They fled war and unfriendly authorities both, witnessing great acts of kindness and unimaginable atrocities. They lost contact with their family, never knowing if their parents and other siblings were alive or dead. And even in the relative safety of the US, Wamariya didn't feel settled, living with her sister and her sister's family only at weekends and with sponsors during the week.

This is the story of Wamariya's life, her own experience of "war and what comes after" narrated through the voice of a child. The child's perspective is authentic given that she was only six when her whole world imploded but that perspective sacrifices even the slightest background of the war for those readers who aren't already familiar with it. And perhaps that backstory doesn't matter in the beginning but its lack gives no reference to how huge and tragic this was for so very many, focusing it solely on one young woman and her sister and their personal, horrific experiences. The memoir moves back and forth in time between Wamariya's life in the US and her life trying to survive the horrors of war and displacement, giving the narration a fragmented feel. And although this is a terrible story, one that the reader can hardly believe was perpetrated on anyone, never mind a child, there is something of an emotional remove to it. Maybe this is because Wamariya, understandably, can't or won't fully revisit the horror and it feels terrible to have wanted more depth, but I did. It seems almost trite to say that she is resilient and impressive and incredibly intelligent, scarred and hurt, and yes, lucky, but she is all those things and this memoir is her way of owning all the pieces of who she is. Critiquing a memoir of such tragedy and inhumanity is difficult and this one is no exception. It is an important story, one that I'm glad was told but the confusing back and forth of the narrative line makes it more difficult for the reader to truly comprehend the sheer scope Wamariya's story. The subject matter is interesting but the writing just didn't quite grab me as much I'd hoped.

Popular Posts