Friday, May 24, 2019

Review: The Desert Sky Before Us by Anne Valente

We drive a lot in this family. 16 hours or so each way every summer. We don't head west; we head north. But the destination is almost unimportant. The monotony, the quiet time inside your own head, the conversation with fellow passengers not face to face but side by side as the miles unspool under the tires their own importance. There is something sacred, something hypnotic in long drives. How much more would it be if there were wounds to heal, futures to try to find, and a past to reconcile like there is in Anne Valente's hypnotic new novel, The Desert Sky Before Us?

Rhiannon and Billie are sisters whose paleontologist mother has recently died. Only Rhiannon could attend her funeral because Billie was in prison, finishing a 6 year sentence for setting the library she worked in on fire. Knowing she was dying, their mother arranged for a second funeral so that Billie could attend, one far from their Illinois home, at the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in Utah where Margaret Hurst spent the bulk of her professional career. All over the world, planes have been falling out of the sky, likely because of climate change, and knowing this, she devised a long driving road trip for her daughters, giving them the gift of time together to overcome their estrangement, to learn more about who she was, and to look into themselves to discover who they once were, who they are now, and who they want to be. Rhiannon was once a promising race car driver but now sells textbooks. Her long term relationship with her girlfriend has fallen apart and she is completely emotionally shut off, as she has been for so long. Billie is free of prison but not of the past, the abuse she suffered at the hands of her boyfriend, the loss of the red tailed hawk she once trained, and she is bottled up with rage and hurt. Spending time in a car with her older sister, traveling to each point of their mother's planned journey will test them both.

Both Rhiannon and Billie are lost characters. Each of them used to have a passion and a purpose but they've both lost them and it remains to be seen if their late mother can help them recover either. They are damaged in their own ways, poor communicators, and so used to stifling their emotions that cracking open and laying themselves bare will be the hardest part of their journey, far harder than the multiple days they'll spend crisscrossing the West toward the final memorial site for their mother. There are no big plot climaxes here but there is a humming background tension threading through an emotional exploration. There is a starkness to the land and landscape the women are driving through, but beauty and infinity too, mirroring their hearts as they uncover themselves within the context of their relationship to each other and to their family, reduced as it may now be, as a whole. The fossils of their mother's career, the artifacts from her life that she left them to find, can only tell them so much, still holding secrets and uncertainties, perhaps to be uncovered one day, perhaps not. This is beautifully written, a warning, haunting and aching. Readers who prize tender character development and who wonder at the slow, painful, messy revelation of real relationship and understanding will find much to appreciate here.

For more information about Anne Valente 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 Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this books for review.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Review: Waisted by Randy Susan Meyers

Glance at the magazines in the checkout aisle at the supermarket. Notice what the people on the cover look like. Read the article teasers and see how many of them refer to looks or weight loss. Now turn on the TV and note what all of the actresses look like. If you see an actress who isn't incredibly thin (this will be hard to do), do a quick internet search and note how many articles about her mention her weight. While you're at it, try to see how many articles there are out there about any actress (go ahead and pick one who is in the news a lot) who has supposedly gained weight and see how many times the speculation is whether she's pregnant or not because of something as small as 5 pounds. Now search and read articles accusing magazines of airbrushing women to conform to our often times unattainable looks (read weight) guidelines. On the internet, fat shaming is one of the last, close to universal, and least called out moments of nastiness around. When you start paying attention to these seemingly superficial things, it is easy to see that we as a society have a weight obsession. Now try being an overweight woman who is bombarded with this everyday. Fat people are told all sorts of things from the falsely concerned "you need to lose weight to be healthy" to the hurtful "you have such a pretty face" to the downright mean (and generally not said in front of a person but instead said behind their back within earshot) "she's huge." There is judgment in all of it. All of it is painful. For those of us who have battled our weight, it all hurts. And yes, we are aware of just exactly how many pounds we need to lose in order to escape the categories of overweight, obese, or morbidly obese. Don't think we aren't. But even women who aren't overweight probably have a very good idea of what they weigh and worry when they overindulge because that is the way society has programmed us. Randy Susan Meyers' newest novel, Waisted, takes on the issue of women's weight, how far people will go to lose it, the underlying emotional issues that contribute to it, and the strength it takes to love yourself no matter what size your skin.

Daphne is a former Hollywood makeup artist who owns her own business. She is absolutely amazing at her job and can transform anyone. But while she can make herself "painted pretty," she can't seem to transform her body into something she isn't ashamed of. Her lovely husband Sam loves her just the way she is but she has absorbed a lifetime of her mother's comments about her weight, especially in contrast to her thin sisters, that have wounded her to the core.

Alice successfully runs a large community center in a wonderfully diverse neighborhood while her husband is a handsome and talented documentary filmmaker. Alice met him when she was at her thinnest, right after a breakup, but now she's gained a lot of weight and he makes no secret of the fact that he prefers her thin. Her mother tells her that she should own herself, be big, black, and bold but it's hard for Alice to take that advice when it's coming from her slight, white mother who has no idea what it's like to be mixed race, belonging fully to neither culture that forms her.

Daphne and Alice meet each other when they sign up to participate in an intensive weight loss boot camp experience. But the minute they walk in the door to the farm, their experience is nothing like it was billed. It is humiliating, unhealthy, abusive, and frankly misogynistic. The women are shamed, kept on an unsafe calorie restriction and exercised for hours, while a cameraman documents everything. Do they lose weight? Yes, and the joy they feel as they step on the scale every day and see lower numbers fuels their ability to endure the hatefulness of the place even as they know that this life isn't right or sustainable. But when they finally question something in private, they discover that this "fat camp" is far more than they ever imagined and they vow to fight back and expose the unethical seediness.

I had to suck in my breath many times as I read this, recognizing myself in these characters and the self-destructive things they said and did. Each woman chose food as a way to salve her emotions, as a way to avoid addressing the emotional baggage they each carried, and then chose it again to deal with her unhappiness about her burgeoning size. While this may not represent all overweight women, it certainly does capture the shame and powerlessness of many. It was hard to read about women so beaten down, so full of self-hatred, that they would accept all manner of abuse but this does forcefully point out how deeply internalized our societal beliefs go and how much power they have over us in so many ways. As the women work towards acceptance of themselves, whether without the weight or with it, the story slows down and dips more fully into their lives in the outside world. In some ways this change made it feel like two different books, not always entirely comfortable together. But even once released from Privation Farm, the women have to hear comments and speculation about whether the weight will stay off, have to acknowledge and address their wounds, and have to ultimately live in their bodies whatever shape they take in the end, a lessen all of us should understand. This may not be an easy read for anyone struggling with her weight but it will certainly inspire reflection and adds to the conversation about personal and social expectations about women's appearances and I'm glad to have read it.

For more information about Randy Susan Meyers and the book, check our her author website, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and 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 Atria Books for sending me a copy of this books for 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 Ghost Clause by Howard Norman.

The book is being released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on July 2, 2019.

The book's jacket copy says: Simon Inescort is no longer bodily present in his marriage. It’s been several months since he keeled over the rail of a Nova Scotia–bound ferry, a massive heart attack to blame. Simon's widow, Lorca Pell, has sold their farmhouse to newlyweds Zachary and Muriel—after revealing that the deed contains a “ghost clause,” an actual legal clause, not unheard of in Vermont, allowing for reimbursement if a recently purchased home turns out to be haunted.

In fact, Simon finds himself still at home: “Every waking moment, I'm astonished I have any consciousness . . . What am I to call myself now, a revenant?” He spends time replaying his marriage in his own mind, as if in poignant reel-to-reel, while also engaging in occasionally intimate observation of the new homeowners. But soon the crisis of a missing child, a local eleven-year-old, threatens the tenuous domestic equilibrium, as the weight of the case falls to Zachary, a rookie private detective with the Green Mountain Agency.

The Ghost Clause is a heartrending, affirming portrait of two marriages—one in its afterlife, one new and erotically charged—and of the Vermont village life that sustains and remakes them.

Monday, May 20, 2019

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I am in the middle of a streak of picking up and putting down a lot of books. :-( This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this week are:

Haben by Haben Girma

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
The Desert Sky Before Us by Anne Valente
The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi S. Laskar
Educated by Tara Westover
Speaking of Summer by Kalisha Buckhannon
The Paris Orphan by Natasha Lester
Breaking the Ocean by Annahid Dashtgard

Reviews posted this week:

The Printed Letter Bookshop by Kathrine Reay

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 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
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
Portugal by Cyril Pedrosa
To Keep the Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari
Haben by Haben Girma

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sunday Salon: How I consume my books

When you have as many books as I do, the second question you usually hear from people is "You know you can use the library, right?" (The first is "Have you read all of these?") The answer to that question is that of course I know about libraries. In fact, I still have my very first, much treasured library card from my childhood in a memento box. I spent many lovely hours during indoor recess (and sometimes even when it wasn't raining) in the school library. I was even one of two students invited to my elementary school librarian's wedding. But somewhere along the line, I stopped using the library (don‘t throw stones, I have reasons I‘ll list below). And that has led to my house being its own sort of library, which makes me happier than you can ever imagine. I did take my children to the library a lot when they were small for story time or to check their own books out. Now that they are grown, they are like me though. They buy books (well, I buy them books--in fact my college child texted me pictures of books she wanted knowing full well that they'd be waiting for her here at home when she came home for the summer, and they were). Oh, and the answer to the first question? No, I haven't read all the books I own. In fact, I haven't read the majority of them. It wouldn't be as satisfying to have all of these books if I had. And now, before my librarian friends get too worked up with me, my reasons for not using the library as an adult:

Reason #1: Libraries have this irrational interest in having their books returned. Even if I'm not finished. I mean, doesn't everyone set a book down and come back to it 8 months later?

Reason #2: Libraries want me to read a book when it‘s available rather than when the mood strikes me 4 years from now. And did you know they purge books from their collection? I mean, what if I want to read an obscure book twenty years after I heard about it and no one else has ever checked it out in that time frame? Gone from their shelves but not from mine.

Reason #3: Working in the industry means I often get books long before the library.

Reason #4: In theory I‘m reading from my own out of control library and don‘t need another source of temptation.

Reason #5: The last time I checked a book out, it was on the boat I sank so I very shamefacedly had to fess up to ruining their lovely, new hardback book and pay for it. Library bound copies are more expensive than regular books so I would have come out ahead by not borrowing it. They would have come out ahead too by not having boneheaded me flood their book. Did I mention it was the newest in a series of books that have a pretty extensive fan base? Yeah, I'm really sorry to the librarian who had to tell them that the library was waiting for a replacement copy to arrive and be processed. :-/

Reason #6: If I lost a library book in this house, I‘d never find it again. And given the book state of my house, I lose books with shocking regularity. (See above on cost of library books.) I can't tell you how many children's books over the years led to very extensive scavenger hunts through the house. And that seriously cuts into my reading time.

This probably helps to explain my insane book acquisitions this past week. And no, I'm not 'fessing up to how many books came in versus how many headed out. No one needs that kind of negativity in their life.

I started and set aside a bunch of books this week but I'm diligently trying to finish the latest one, which has me in Europe during WWII with female photographers and correspondents. What have you been reading this week (from the library or from your own personal collection)?

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Review: The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay

Independent bookstores are, as a rule, wonderful and magical places. They're all different, but no matter how different, they generally evoke a similar feeling in the readers who love them. They are a refuge, a home, a quieting. The people who work in them have to love them too, but in a different way than the readers who wander in to visit and browse and buy. The owners and employees see behind the welcome to the stresses that accompany any business: the costs, the work, and the balancing act that is stocking the store. Katherine Reay's newest novel, set in the fictional Printed Letter Bookshop, shows the magic and importance of the small bookshop in the hearts and lives of the women who work there.

Madeline Cullen is up for partner at her high powered legal firm when her Aunt Maddie dies of cancer. Madeline had spent one wonderful summer working with her Aunt Maddie in the Printed Letter Bookshop before a rift between her father and her aunt caused her to lose touch with Maddie. But Maddie never forgot her beloved niece, leaving the bookshop and all its inventory to Madeline. Despite her good memories, Madeline is certain she will sell the store and its contents because her life is on a different track, at least until life deals her another blow. The idea of selling the store devastates the store's two employees, good friends of Maddie's, Janet and Claire. Both of them are struggling emotionally and the store and their jobs in it are their touchstones, ones they desperately want to hold onto, even if it means cooperating with the niece who, to their minds, abandoned her aunt, their dear friend. And as the women open up to each other, coming together to try to pull the store out of the red, each of them starts to heal in her own way from the emotional hurt that is holding her down.

The novel is told in alternating perspectives from all three women. Madeline and Janet tell their own stories in first person while Claire's is told in the third person. The revolving narratives allow the reader to see the evolution of the three women's friendship, their misunderstandings, their fears, and what motivates their actions, as well as the things they keep private from each other, especially in the beginning. The bookshop gives each of them the chance to start over again, for Madeline to come to terms with her lack of passion for the law and her desire for a settled home, for Janet to acknowledge and accept from the fallout and unhappiness after a divorce she herself precipitated, and for Claire to adjust to and push back at being shut out of her teenage daughter's life and the loneliness of a marriage with a constantly traveling husband. The beginning of the novel is a little difficult to get into, each of the characters coming across as standoffish not only to each other but also the reader, and several of the later plot twists are entirely predictable but Madeline, Janet, and Claire's growing relationship is well done and the book succeeds as a cozy, gentle read about renewal, forgiveness, and second chances.

For more information about Katherine Reay and the book, check our her author website, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and 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 Lisa from TLC Book Tours and publisher Thomas Nelson for sending me a copy of this books for review.

Wednesday, May 15, 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.

Lifelines by Heidi Diehl.

The book is being released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on June 18, 2019.

The book's jacket copy says: For fans of Meg Wolitzer and Maggie Shipstead: a sweeping debut novel following an American artist who returns to Germany—where she fell in love and had a child decades earlier—to confront her past at her former mother-in-law’s funeral.

It’s 1971 when Louise leaves Oregon for Düsseldorf, a city grappling with its nation’s horrific recent history, to study art. Soon she’s embroiled in a scene dramatically different from the one at home, thanks in large part to Dieter, a mercurial musician. Their romance ignites quickly, but life gets in the way: an unplanned pregnancy, hasty marriage, the tense balance of their creative ambitions, and—finally, fatally—a family secret that shatters Dieter, and drives Louise home.

But in 2008 she’s headed to Dieter’s mother’s funeral. She never returned to Germany, and has since remarried, had another daughter, and built a life in Oregon. As she flies into the heart of her past, she reckons with the choices she made, and the ones she didn’t, just as her family—current and former—must consider how Louise’s life has shaped their own, for better and for worse.

Exquisitely balanced, expansive yet wonderfully intimate, Lifelines explores the indelible ties of family; the shape art, history, and nationality give to our lives; and the ways in which we are forever evolving, with each step we take, with each turn of the Earth.

Monday, May 13, 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 week are:

The Lonely Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya
Portugal by Cyril Pedrosa
To Keep the Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari
The Printed Letter Bookshop by Kathrine Reay

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
Haben by Haben Girma

Reviews posted this week:

Gold Fever by Steve Boggan

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 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
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
Portugal by Cyril Pedrosa
To Keep the Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari
The Printed Letter Bookshop by Kathrine Reay

Wednesday, May 8, 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 Desert Sky Before Us by Anne Valente.

The book is being released by William Morrow Paperbacks on May 14, 2019.

The book's jacket copy says: From award-winning author Anne Valente comes this poignant and unforgettable literary novel of two estranged sisters—one, a former racecar driver and the other a recently-released prisoner—who embark on a road trip together to complete the scavenger hunt their mother designed for them before her death.

When Billie is released from a correctional facility in Decatur, her sister Rhiannon is there to meet her, even though the two haven’t seen each other in months. Painful secrets and numerous unspoken betrayals linger between them—but most agonizing is the sudden passing of their mother, a renowned paleontologist.
br> Rhiannon and Billie must overcome their differences as they set off on a road trip west, following the breadcrumb-trail of their late mother’s scavenger hunt, a sort of second funeral she planned in her final days. The sisters know the trail will end in Utah at the famous Cleveland-Lloyd Quarry, where their mother spent her career researching dinosaur fossils. But the seemingly endless days on the road soon take their toll, forcing Rhiannon and Billie to confront their hostilities and revisit old memories—both good and bad.

As they travel across the heart of America, and as a series of plane crashes in the news make their journey all the more urgent, the two sisters begin to rediscover each other and to uncover their late mother’s veiled second life, taking them on an unexpected emotional journey inward—and forcing them to come to terms with their own choices in life.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Review: Gold Fever by Steve Boggan

The California Gold Rush. 1849, right? Yes, but did you have any idea that people are still prospecting for gold in the modern day? You've probably seen ads offering to buy your old unwanted gold jewelry for top dollar or maybe you've been invited to a gold party where you take old, tangled chains and other assorted pieces you no longer want and sell them to the consultant running the party, a kind of reverse Tupperware situation. The ads and the parties may not be as prevalent today as they were just a handful of years ago, but like modern day gold prospecting, they are similar results to the global financial crisis that saw prices for gold and other precious metals skyrocket in the early twenty-teens. In Steve Boggan's Gold Fever, the UK journalist set out to try his own hand at panning for gold, to illuminate the history of the past Gold Rush, and to chronicle the community hard at work in California rivers and streams.

There's something addicting about gold and the idea of making a fortune overnight after finding just one sizable nugget and even a journalist who recognizes that panning for gold is akin to playing the lottery isn't immune to that lure. As the price of gold climbed in 2011, Steve Boggan decided to see just what it was about gold. He had no experience. He didn't even live in the US, never mind California. All he had was a healthy curiosity. So like the original '49ers, he set out to make of this mini gold rush what he could. His experiences, the people he met, and a historical perspective all weave together beautifully in this narrative travelogue.

Boggan as a prospector is charming and lucky, not because he finds gold, but because he finds acceptance and help in the small community of people looking to strike gold in modern days. His recounting of his travels through gold country today and the historic places of yesteryear are appealing and descriptive. He talks to people who have made panning for gold their reason for being and he discusses the ways in which the technique today, aided by technology, differs from 1849. He meets some real characters and he offers up his own sometimes bumbling attempts in this quest, keeping the reader fully engaged in the tale he's telling and rooting for him to actually find gold. The tone is familiar and casual and Boggan is dryly funny. He is also openly surprised by his own attraction to the hunt, his own gold fever. I'm not sure I'd want to learn to prospect for gold but I sure did enjoy going along for the ride as Boggan did. This is a delightful and interesting read for both those who know about and are interested in the 1849 Gold Rush and for those who aren't.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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 week are:

The Wonder of Lost Causes by Nick Trout
The Fragments by Toni Jordan
The Question Authority by Rachel Cline
More to Life by ReShonda Tate Billingsley
The Plaza by Julie Satow

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
The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya

Reviews posted this week:

The Wonder of Lost Causes by Nick Trout
Rules of Surrender by Christina Dodd

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 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
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
More to Life by ReShonda Tate Billingsley
The Plaza by Julie Satow

Monday Mailbox

Just one but it looks like a delightful confection of a one. This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Dictionary The Love Detective by Alexandra Potter came from me for myself.

I am stocking up on my charm-filled, love-filled beach reads and this one about a woman who finds people's happily-ever-afters but loses faith in love when her own happy future collapses sounds like it will do the trick nicely.

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.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Review: Rules of Surrender by Christina Dodd

All societies have their rules. Those rules may not always agree, but to function as an accepted member of a society, it behooves a person to hew to the expectations and requirements that society has codified. Of course there are people who get away with flouting the rules but they are almost always a person who knows the rules before intentionally violating them. These rule breakers are generally either questioning the rules or just don't care about them. When someone who is a rule follower meets a rule breaker, sparks are sure to fly, as is the case in Christina Dodd's Rules of Surrender, an early Victorian set historical romance.

Lady Charlotte Dalrumple works for the newly established Distinguished Academy of Governesses. She is no nonsense and her nickname is Miss Priss. She is hired by the Viscountess Adorna Ruskin to civilize her grandchildren, recently come to England from El Bahar, a Middle Eastern country that evokes Bedouins and camels rather than the English niceties they must conform to now. But the children are not the only ones Charlotte must try to civilize, there's also Lord Wynter Ruskin, the Viscountess' long lost son who ran away from home at the age of fifteen after his father's death. Wynter hates the hypocrisy of English society and is only willing to conform to a point for love of his mother. Horrifyingly, Charlotte finds herself attracted to this rugged, heathenish man. And that's not all of her worries since this finishing governess post is in the same village that she grew up in and from which she ran after refusing a marriage her uncle had engineered for her. As Charlotte coaches the children on how to be proper English children, she falls for them and for their father and he for her despite their opposing ideas about civilization.

Charlotte is a completely forgettable heroine. Her love for the children is sweet but as for the rest, she's an uptight snob and her relationship with the domineering Wynter never did seem to move beyond teacher chastizing pupil even though we are told it does. Wynter is an annoying and horrible, smug, chauvinist. The flowery language he uses that is supposed to be as if a translation of a foreign language is grating and his casual misogyny is awful. He purposely baits Charlotte and has to be pretending that he doesn't understand English society because he didn't leave the country until he was fully fifteen years old. He might have forgotten the nuances in the intervening decades but he wouldn't be as ignorant to the big picture as he is written. In addition to the main plot line, there are also smaller plot lines and happenings that don't integrate all that well or are too easily resolved: embezzlement, a scandal that forces marriage, Viscountess Adorna's own relationship, another runaway, and the revelations of the past. I spent much (all) of the book wanting Wynter to disappear permanently, not a good situation for a romance.  Add in what is essentially a wedding night rape and I just can't recommend this one.  One barbarian hero outside of society's rules and one stickler heroine equals one truly disappointing romance.

Wednesday, May 1, 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 Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister.

The book is being released by St. Martin's Press on May 21, 2019.

The book's jacket copy says: Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them. As Emmeline grows, however, so too does her curiosity, until one day the unforeseen happens, and Emmeline is vaulted out into the real world--a place of love, betrayal, ambition, and revenge. To understand her past, Emmeline must unlock the clues to her identity, a quest that challenges the limits of her heart and imagination.

Lyrical and immersive, The Scent Keeper explores the provocative beauty of scent, the way it can reveal hidden truths, lead us to the person we seek, and even help us find our way back home.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Review: The Wonder of Lost Causes by Nick Trout

If you are a dog person, you know what magic dogs are. They are love wrapped in fur. They make bad things more bearable and good things simply joyous. Finding the right dog for you is completely wondrous and will change your life forever. But if you're a dog person you already know this and probably already have a dog (or several). But what would you do if you couldn't have a dog? If your child had a life threatening disease that made a dog a bad idea? If your apartment didn't allow for dogs? If you were a single mother so overwhelmed by the thought of caring for a dog that having one was just a bridge too far? What if all of this was true and then your terminally ill child meets the dog of his heart, the ugliest dog ever, one that was clearly abused and battered, and you watch as they become a vital piece of each other. What do you do then? In Nick Trout's heartwarming new novel, The Wonder of Lost Causes, this is exactly the case.

Kate Blunt is a veterinarian at a financially struggling dog shelter. But unlike most vets, she doesn't have a menagerie at home, despite the shelter being a limited, aka kill shelter, because her eleven year old son Jasper has cystic fibrosis, a terminal, genetic lung disease. Kate's a single mom, Jasper's dad has never been in the picture, and she can't risk her boy's health nor can she take on one more responsibility no matter how much Jasper has always wanted a dog. And then the ugliest, most unadoptable mutt ever lands at the shelter and Jasper falls in love. Whistler has been terribly abused and has run off from several previous "forever homes" but he clearly has a connection with Jasper, who claims that he can understand what Whistler is feeling because Whistler is telling him. Kate can't quite bring herself to believe in telepathy between her son and this dog but as Whistler's fourteen days at the shelter start counting down, she can see the tight bond they've formed. And she sees the way that Whistler has changed Jasper, making him more willing to embrace and enjoy life in the moment. But there are so many hurdles to keeping Whistler, their no pets allowed apartment, Jasper's illness and frequent hospitalizations, and finally something big, something from outside of their control.

The story is told by both Kate and Jasper in alternating chapters so the reader sees each perspective, the innocent and hopeful child as well as the pragmatic and overwhelmed adult. The first half of the novel is a slow negotiation between mother and son, building the backstory, and showing the distance and loneliness both Kate and Jasper feel without close friends and emotionally closed off from family, the second half turns into a tear jerking roller coaster ride followed by an epilogue that feels a little too much like Trout needs to reassure the reader this isn't a tragedy so the narrative tension is somewhat uneven. There are certain plot lines that start and then are dropped (Kate's boss needing to speak with her urgently, Kate taking Jasper's Adderall to cope with this stressful life) and some that are too easily resolved (Kate's family issues, Whistler's ownership) but it's generally a sweet, heartwarming story with the beautiful message to live life without regrets, to recognize and hold onto love in whatever form it comes, and to always be open to possibility. This is a dog story; this is an adoption story; this is a love story. Readers looking for a sweet tale of a boy and his (potential) dog, of a mom learning to let go a little, and of the wisdom of animals and children will want to grab their Kleenex before they open this one but they'll likely find it quite satisfying.

For more information about Dr. Nick Trout and the book, check our his 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 Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this books for review.

Monday, April 29, 2019

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past two weeks are:

Bent but Not Broken by Don Cummings
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

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
The Wonder of Lost Causes by Nick Trout

Reviews posted this week:

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Bent but Not Broken by Don Cummings

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
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

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Review: Bent but Not Broken by Don Cummings

If you have ever had or been around a baby boy, you probably noticed as soon as he discovered his penis. Hands down the diaper, fiddling with this most intriguing of toys. And this fascination (fixation?) doesn't seem to abate much as boys grow up. Perhaps the only thing that eclipses the penis in importance as most boys grow up is the idea and then the reality of sex. But what happens when a man is faced with penis problems? Of course there's Viagra or Cialis but impotence is not the only ill that can befall a man. In Don Cummings' honest and open memoir, he discusses his experience living with and treating Peyronie's disease, a condition where scar tissue and/or plaque build up in the penis causing a painful penile curvature.

Cummings is a middle aged, gay man whose hitherto perfectly normal, average penis suddenly becomes curved, making erections painful and sex with his partner all but impossible. Cummings definitely identifies himself very much in terms of his sexuality and sexual life. He is very focused on his looks and his perceived desirability to others. The unexplained onset of this condition leaves him reeling and searching for answers not only to how it happened to him but also how to fix it. Without his ability to have sex, who is he really?

Cummings shares very honestly about the emotional turmoil this is putting him through and details the excruciating sounding (thank heaven for numbing medication!) physical treatments he undergoes to try and combat and prevent the calcification of the plaque causing the bending and constricting of his penis. But in addition to his treatment experience, the failures, the successes, and the acceptance, he also weaves in details from his childhood, memories of growing up, coming out, his sexual experiences along the way, and the stress of Peyronie's on his many years long relationship with his boyfriend and eventual husband. The memoir can be a little overly graphic such as when his penis becomes too bent to achieve penetration or when he details a specific sexual encounter and he uses a lot of penis slang I thought was only the purview of middle school boys: rocket, rod, tube steak, tuber, member, Celtic tiger, etc. There is no doubt that this condition was incredibly hard for him (pun intended), especially given his heavily weighted focus on himself as a sexual being. He comes across as a little arrogant and certainly cocksure until Peyronie's strikes, when his repeated assertion of his previous desirability becomes more a plea than a certainty. Perhaps as a woman I will never understand the central importance of the penis to any man, but especially to a man like Cummings who knows its measurements before and after being afflicted, who has felt like he wielded it as a gift during his sexual prime, and who is so intimately and emotionally connected with his penis. In fact, the most relatable piece of this memoir to me was that this condition appears to be related to Dupuytren's contracture, a condition my dad had in both of his hands, the surgical repair of which was apparently quite painful. Does this mean I need to warn my sons to watch their penises even more than I suspect they already do? Cummings' memoir may aim to take away the shame or embarrassment about penis imperfections and to raise awareness about issues we rarely or never discuss but I still suspect my boys would rather not have this conversation with their mother.  In any case, although I didn't love it, this is an occasionally funny, informative memoir on a topic I never would have known about otherwise.

For more information about Don Cummings and the book, check our his author website, like his author page on Facebook or follow him on 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 Heliotrope Books for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, April 24, 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.

Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton.

The book is being released by Blackstone Publishing on May 7, 2019.

The book's jacket copy says: Set in eighteenth-century Spitalfields, London, Blackberry and Wild Rose is the rich and atmospheric tale of a household of Huguenot silk weavers as the pursuit of the perfect silk design leads them all into ambition, love, and betrayal.

When Esther Thorel, wife of a master silk weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel, she thinks she is doing Gods will, but her good deed is not returned. Sara quickly realizes that the Thorel household is built on hypocrisy and lies and soon tires of the drudgery of life as Esthers new ladys maid. As the two womens relationship becomes increasingly fractious, Sara resolves to find out what it is that so preoccupies her mistress

Esther has long yearned to be a silk designer. When her early water colors are dismissed by her husband, Elias, as the daubs of a foolish girl, she continues her attempts in secret. It may have been that none of them would ever have become actual silks, were it not for the presence of the extraordinarily talented Bisby Lambert in the Thorel household. Brought in by Elias to weave his masterpiece on the Thorels loom in the attic of their house in Spitalfields, the strange cadence of the loom as Bisby works is like a siren call to Esther. The minute she first sets foot in the garret and sees Bisby Lambert at his loom, marks the beginning of Blackberry and Wild Rose, the most exquisite silk design Spitalfields has ever seen, and the end of the Thorel households veneer of perfection.

As unrest among the journeyman silk weavers boils over into riot and rebellion, it leads to a devastating day of reckoning between Esther and Sara.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Review: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

This book has won so many awards and received so many accolades that it hardly needs my voice. This is a good thing because despite really loving previous books by Jones, I did not love this one. It is every bit as well written as the others but I could not connect with it, could not understand or sympathize with the characters, and found myself wanting to lecture one of them for pure selfishnesss and poor choices. Not a good combination to be sure!

Celestial and Roy have only been married for a year when Roy is wrongfully accused and convicted of raping a woman in a hotel. As he serves his sentence, wife Celestial is serving an unjust sentence of her own, stripped of her husband and the life they had planned. Celestial is a child of privilege, having parents who made it through hard work into the African American upper middle class in Atlanta and who have given their only daughter everything she ever wanted. Roy was raised in a small Alabama town with loving parents but not a lot of money. Together Roy and Celestial are in the black professional class and have good prospects for the future until Roy's accuser is believed over his well-spoken but stiff wife who was with him the entire evening in question. All of a sudden, their lives are completely derailed. Roy goes to prison and Celestial eventually starts a boutique filled with art piece dolls that she's made. Roy has no choice but to wait to be reunited with Celestial but how long can she wait, especially with her life-long best friend André waiting in the wings?

Much of this is told through letters, perfect considering the distance between Celestial and Roy both in terms of physical geography and in terms of legal status. Most of the letters are between the two of them but there are some others interspersed as well to complete the picture. Roy is probably the least complicated character because he must endure the loss of everything he cares about, his liberty, his wife, his marriage. Although Celestial's uncle is trying to get him out, he essentially has no recourse once he is declared guilty. He is honest about his emotions, the rage and the despair he faces, and about the pieces of his life where he was not entirely free of blame in their marriage. Celestial, however, was entirely unsympathetic to me. When Roy is sentenced to years in prison, Celestial is also sentenced to a life she never wanted or chose. But she had the ability to move on without considering Roy too terribly much. Her frequent assertion that she and Roy barely knew each other when he was arrested sounded like nothing more than a flimsy excuse to move on. It's not like they met each other the day they married so she certainly had more than that one year to go on in terms of his character and their relationship. The fact that her parents supported her, making her dreams come true and shielding her from any other hardship, made her even less sympathetic since she suffered only the smallest of emotional hardships during Roy's incarceration. In fact, Jones' creation for her of a doll making career, even if it was "art," just further infantilized her as a character. In leaning so heavily on André, the friend whose advances she'd long ago spurned, she took the easy, selfish road.  There's a revelation late in the book where Roy gave her permission to do something she wanted to do anyway so that she wouldn't feel all the guilt herself that I just can't accept of a woman who truly loved her wrongfully incarcerated husband and intended to create a long term life with him.  As for André, well he's milquetoast with Celestial and if you consider him Roy's friend, well, with friends like that...  The only character I actually liked in here? Celestial's father, who shoots straight with her and mirrors many of my thoughts on the one big life choice he knows of her making.

I spent most of the book frustrated and not at the right things. Yes, I was frustrated by a justice system that failed this man so spectacularly but I also wanted to yank Celestial by the hair and tell her to get herself straight and do the right thing. Jones is an amazing wordsmith and she highlights some really important, broken aspects of our culture but I was too annoyed by the narrative to pay as much attention to the larger message as I should have. Obviously others, not least of which many prize committees, entirely disagree with me. Maybe you will too. In fact, I hope you will because I don't wish my reading experience on anyone else.

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

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.

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