Wednesday, August 21, 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.

Don't Put the Boats Away by Ames Sheldon.

The book is being released by She Writes Press on August 27, 2019.

The book's jacket copy says: In the aftermath of World War II, the members of the Sutton family are reeling from the death of their “golden boy,” Eddie. Over the next twenty-five years, they all struggle with loss, grief, and mourning. Daughter Harriet and son Nat attempt to fill the void Eddie left behind: Harriet becomes a chemist despite an inhospitable culture for career women in the 1940s and ’50s, hoping to move into the family business in New Jersey, while Nat aims to be a jazz musician. Both fight with their autocratic father, George, over their professional ambitions as they come of age. Their mother, Eleanor, who has PTSD as a result of driving an ambulance during the Great War, wrestles with guilt over never telling Eddie about the horrors of war before he enlisted. As the members of the family attempt to rebuild their lives, they pay high prices, including divorce and alcoholism―but in the end, they all make peace with their losses, each in his or her own way.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Review: The Chocolate Maker's Wife by Karen Brooks

Can you imagine a world without chocolate? Or a world where chocolate was brand new and extremely expensive, a luxury? A world where you couldn't just go to the pantry for a chocolate bar or some hot cocoa? Restoration London was such a place. Chocolate was just being introduced as major historical events swept through the capital and political intrigue and persecution were rife. Karen Brooks has set her latest novel, The Chocolate Maker's Wife, smack dab in the middle of all this foment, stirred in some family drama, secrets, and scandal, and poured out a complex and swirling historical fiction.

Rosamunde is the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman. She was raised in her late father's household until the death of her grandmother when Rosamunde was eight at which time she went to live with her mother, stepfather, and step-brothers in the family's tavern and inn.  Blossoming into a beautiful girl, she is abused by her stepfather and step-brothers and mostly ignored by her mother. She is rescued from this terrible existence when she is run down by Sir Everard Blithman, who is persuaded to marry the filthy, smelly young woman. Roasmunde doesn't fully understand why her new husband, after a closer look at her, agrees to pay her parents for her and beyond that to actually marry her. Even once she understands that she greatly resembles his much beloved, late daughter, she doesn't fully comprehend his intentions, nor will she for many years but she is determined to be an asset to the Blithman name, loyal and obedient. Sir Everard acquaints her with the sad history of his family and all of the losses he's suffered, laying several of those losses at the feet of Matthew Lovelace, his former son-in-law. When Everard marries Rosmaunde, he is in the midst of creating a chocolate house, akin to a coffee house, complete with a Spaniard who knows how to brew the most delectable chocolate drink and Everard intends to install Rosamunde in the chocolate house to pour chocolate, increase their profits, and to enact an exquisite piece of revenge. The chocolate house, his beautiful young wife, doppelganger of his daughter, his former son-in-law's appearance, and the secrets and lies underneath everything are just the starting point for this sweeping historical novel.

Brooks has clearly done an immense amount of research into the time period, the plague, the Great Fire of London, and the preparation of chocolate. The details she includes are fascinating and impressive. Real life historical figures stroll through the pages of the novel with Samuel Pepys even becoming one of the major characters. She has captured the sense of chocolate houses as gathering places for the dissemination of news and gossip, for aboveboard and under the table planning, and for being one of the beating hearts of an area. Her evocation of place is completely on target. As for characters, Rosamunde has a few too many modern sensibilities to be entirely believable. She is also painted as an absolute paragon of strong and capable womanhood, smart, beautiful, and caring. She cares about the personhood of slaves, she is religiously tolerant, she sees the terrible plight of the poor and hires them in order to help them, she ignores society's views of women and is determined to chart her own course. She has been sorely used in her life but she is forgiving and gentle and kind. In opposition to Rosamunde, who is frequently described for her beautiful smile and her contagious laugh or as a ray of sunshine, the baddies here are completely evil with not one redeeming or pitiable quality at all. Instead they are brutish and horrifying or they are nefarious and scheming. And in fact, there is a strand of good versus evil running through the book but there seem to be no shades of gray. This is a story of the power and danger of words and literacy, of created family, and of the sordidness of the world and the triumph of love (and chocolate). There is a very strong romantic element here and the story is very dramatic and action filled. It is a long novel, spanning only five years but a five years that changed London as quickly and irrevocably as any time period before or since.

For more information about Karen Brooks and the book, check our her author website, 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 inspiring me to pull the book off my shelf to read and review.

Monday, August 19, 2019

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past few weeks are:

Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery by John Gregory Brown
Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
Advanced Physical Chemistry by Susannah Nix
Death of a Rainmaker by Laurie Lowenstein
No Good Asking by Fran Kimmel
Laurentian Divide by Sarah Stonich
The Abolitionist's Daughter by Diane C. McPhail
A London Country Diary by Tim Bradford
The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah
The Accidentals by Minrose Gwin

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
A Moveable Feast edited by Don George
Speaking of Summer by Kalisha Buckhannon
Breaking the Ocean by Annahid Dashtgard
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton
The Ventriloquists by E.R. Ramzipoor
The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell
A Stranger at My Table by Ivo de Figueiredo
The Tubman Command by Elizabeth Cobb
Something Like Breathing by Angela Readman
The Last Ocean by Nicci Gerrard
Love You Hard by Abby Maslin
Vacationland by Sarah Stonich
Crazy Cupid Love by Amanda Heger
The Chocolate Maker's Wife by Karen Brooks

Reviews posted this week:

America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
Plus One by Christopher Noxon
The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah
The Accidentals by Minrose Gwin

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

The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handle
Oh, Tama! by Mieko Kanai
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
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
CinderGirl by Christina Meredith
The Death of Noah Glass by Gail Jones
The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis
Autopsy of a Boring Wife by Marie-Renee Lavoie
The Fragments by Toni Jordan
The Question Authority by Rachel Cline
The Plaza by Julie Satow
The Lonely Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya
To Keep the Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari
Haben by Haben Girma
The Paris Orphan by Natasha Lester
Educated by Tara Westover
State of the Union by Nick Hornby
Turbulence by David Szalay
Southernmost by Silas House
What a Body Remembers by Karen Stefano
The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi S. Laskar
Questions I Am Asked About the Holocaust by Hedi Fried
Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok
Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurain
Peculiar Questions and Practical Answers by the New York Public Library The Honey Bus by Meredith May
The Liar in the Library by Simon Brett
The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib
Church of the Graveyard Saints by C. Joseph Greaves
Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery by John Gregory Brown
Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
Advanced Physical Chemistry by Susannah Nix
Death of a Rainmaker by Laurie Lowenstein
No Good Asking by Fran Kimmel
Laurentian Divide by Sarah Stonich
The Abolitionist's Daughter by Diane C. McPhail
A London Country Diary by Tim Bradford

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Review: The Accidentals by Minrose Gwin

One decision has the power to send a life off course. A big enough decision can send several lives off course. When birds spin out of their usual habitats or migratory paths, they are called accidentals. But people too can be accidentals, out of place and alone, as are the characters in Minrose Gwin's newest novel, The Accidentals.

In 1957 rural Mississippi, about an hour from New Orleans, Olivia McAlister finds herself pregnant again. Already depressed and stifled by her very constrained and prescribed life as a wife and mother, she who had grown up in New Orleans and worked during WWII, Olivia cannot go through with another pregnancy and so she makes the fateful decision to have a backwoods abortion. This decision will reverberate in her family's life for decades, leaving her husband reeling, her daughters motherless and adrift, and will eventually touch the lives of those completely unrelated to her. This botched abortion sets off a chain of events that feels both inevitable and deeply sad.

Grace and June are Olivia's daughters and they are forever marked by their mother's decision, leading them to make their own fateful choices. The chapter narration switches back and forth, mostly between Grace and June but also including the first chapter from Olivia, chapters from their father Holly, and from Ed Mae, a black woman working in an orphanage for white babies, and Fred the Ambulance Driver, who responds to a call from that orphanage. The very disparate voices allow Gwin to both tell aspects of the story that Grace and June couldn't possibly know without forcing information where it doesn't belong and to show how each decision in one life ripples out and affects others seemingly unconnected. The novel takes on a plethora of social issues: abortion, teenage pregnancy, adoption, homosexuality, racism, opportunities for women, and so much more as it spins through some of the major events (the moon landing, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, the Challenger disaster, and Obama's first presidential campaign to name a few) of the second half of the twentieth century and into the present. The novel has an air of deep, pervading sorrow weaving through it, a story of lives lived out of place and alone. It moves slowly through Grace and June's early lives but then picks up speed and races through their adulthood, skipping quickly through large swathes of time, sometimes leaving the reader a little confused as to just where the story stands in time. The pacing is uneven and the ending is both too tidy and out of keeping with the rest of the novel. Despite this, the writing is beautiful and it is clear that Gwin is talented, if perhaps a little lost at the end. Her McAlisters are a family broken by their mother's death, young women who continue to cycle through feelings of betrayal and a desire for forgiveness throughout the years, never quite regaining their closeness but always remaining tied to each other, no matter how loosely.

For more information about Minrose Gwin and the book, check our her author website, 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 inspiring me to pull the book off my shelf to read and review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

The Reckless Oath We Made by Bryn Greenwood.

The book is being released by G. P. Putnam's Sons on August 20, 2019.

The book's jacket copy says: A provocative love story between a tough Kansas woman on a crooked path to redemption and the unlikeliest of champions, from the New York Times bestselling author of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.

Zee is nobody's fairy tale princess. Almost six-foot, with a redhead's temper and a shattered hip, she has a long list of worries: never-ending bills, her beautiful, gullible sister, her five-year-old nephew, her housebound mother, and her drug-dealing boss.

Zee may not be a princess, but Gentry is an actual knight, complete with sword, armor, and a code of honor. Two years ago the voices he hears called him to be Zee's champion. Both shy and autistic, he's barely spoken to her since, but he has kept watch, ready to come to her aid.

When an abduction tears Zee's family apart, she turns to the last person she ever imagined--Gentry--and sets in motion a chain of events that will not only change both of their lives, but bind them to one another forever.

Wednesday, August 7, 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 Last Post by Renee Carlino.

The book is being released by Rutgers University Press on August 9, 2019.

The book's jacket copy says: “See you on the other side.”

Laya Marston’s husband, Cameron, a daredevil enthusiast, always said this before heading off on his next adventure. He was the complete opposite of her, ready and willing to dive off a cliff-face, or parachute across a canyon—and Laya loved him for it. But she was different: pragmatic, regimented, devoted to her career and to supporting Cameron from the sidelines of his death-defying feats.

Opposites attract, right?

But when Cameron dies suddenly and tragically, all the stages of grief go out the window. Laya becomes lost in denial, living in the delusion that Cameron will come back to her. She begins posting on his Facebook page, reminiscing about their life together, and imagining new adventures for the two of them.

Micah Evans, a young and handsome architect at Laya’s father’s firm, is also stuck––paralyzed by the banal details of his career, his friendships, and his love life. He doesn’t know what he’s looking for, only that there is someone out there who can bring energy and spirit to the humdrum of his life.

When Micah discovers Laya’s tragic and bizarre Facebook posts, he’s determined to show Laya her life is still worth living. Leaving her anonymous gifts and notes, trying to recreate the sense of adventure she once shared with her late husband, Micah finds a new passion watching Laya come out of the darkness. And Laya finds a new joy in the experiences Micah has created for her.

But for Laya, letting another man in still feels like a betrayal to her late husband. Even though Micah may be everything she could wish for, she wonders if she deserves to find happiness again.

Written with RenĂ©e Carlino’s signature “tender and satisfying” (Taylor Jenkins Reid, author of Maybe in Another Life) prose, this warm and compassionate novel shows us how powerful the courage to love and live again truly is.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Review: The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

Wines and France are pretty much synonymous. Many of the categories of wine that we Americans use generically are named for specific regions in France and experts would not be so sloppy as to refer to a wine not from that region by that name. In fact, there's a lot that experts know that the general wine drinking population doesn't know and there are rigorous and exacting tests to pass for those wanting the prestige of an official designation and the job opportunities that recognition opens up. The main character in Ann Mah's novel The Lost Vintage has a long history connected to wine and needs to take that final step and earn the impossibly difficult Master of Wine.

Kate is a sommelier in California and she's studying for her last chance at passing the Master of Wine test. Her biggest weakness, the blind spot on her previous two failed tests, is French white wines. Determined to finally pass this important test, Kate, whose mother is French, returns to the family vineyard in Burgundy to really focus. As she reconnects with her best friend Heather, now married to Kate's cousin Nico, she slides into life at the domaine easily, despite her lingering discomfort over how her own relationship with family friend Jean-Luc ended a decade ago. Kate helps with les vendages and also tackles the overwhelming clutter in the old farmhouse basement with Heather. As the women clear out decades of both junk and keepsakes, Kate uncovers an old suitcase filled with clothes and a family picture with an unknown young woman in it. Drawn to the woman in the photograph, Kate slowly uncovers more about who she is and just exactly why Kate's Uncle Philippe wants her digging into the past to stop.

The story is told in two narrative arcs, one of Kate in the modern day and one through the teenaged Helene's WWII diary. Although Kate is studying for the Master of Wine certification, this is only tangentially a novel about wine. It is far more about secrets, the shame of the past, the weight of history, truth, family, and what the future owes to the past. What Kate and Heather discover leaves them with very complicated feelings about the family legacy and upends their present. Do they maintain the stoic silence of previous generations or do they allow everything to come to light, the good and the terrible both? In a small way, Heather and Nico's desire to turn the farmhouse into a bed and breakfast over Uncle Philippe's vehement unwillingness mirrors the question of what to do with their newfound knowledge. Helene's diary isn't the only thing that Kate uncovers in the basement though.  Her startling discovery is accidental but there are others knowingly looking for this hidden room and its valuable contents, adding some outside tension to Kate's inner turmoil. This piece was far weaker than the much more compelling plot lines of Kate's reckoning with family ghosts and Helene's life during and immediately after the war.  In fact, this third plot line faded in and out of the story without really adding much to it. But the other two story lines were quite compelling. Kate is a character the reader will sympathize with. Her past (and present) relationship with Jean-Luc might be frustrating (and sometimes a bit thin) but her dogged interest in the hidden past of her family is completely relatable. Helene is fascinating and her diary is a good chance for Mah to describe the realities of the war, the Resistance, and collaborators in ways that Kate (and potentially the readers as well) wouldn't necessarily have learned. As the diary entries continue alongside Kate's suppositions from Heather's and her other research, the reader wonders when she'll find this primary source and how that will change her reckoning. A fast and engrossing read, this is a satisfying family drama, a small window into the life of a vintner, and an enjoyable historical fiction offering an inside view of Vichy France and the continued repercussions of the Nazi Occupation.

For more information about Ann Mah and the book, check our her author website, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or Instagram, check out her boards on Pinterest, 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 inspiring me to pull the book off my shelf to read and review.

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