Wednesday, July 29, 2020

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 Bright Side Sanctuary for Animals by Becky Mandelbaum.

The book is being released by Simon and Schuster on August 4, 2020.

The book's jacket copy says: From the winner of the 2016 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction comes a tender and funny debut novel, set over one emotionally charged weekend at an animal sanctuary in western Kansas, where maternal, romantic, and community bonds are tested in the wake of an estranged daughter’s homecoming.

The Bright Side Sanctuary for Animals is in trouble.

It’s late 2016 when Ariel discovers that her mother Mona’s animal sanctuary in Western Kansas has not only been the target of anti-Semitic hate crimes—but that it’s also for sale, due to hidden financial ruin. Ariel, living a new life in progressive Lawrence, and estranged from her mother for six long years, knows she has to return to her childhood home—especially since her own past may have played a role in the attack on the sanctuary. Ariel expects tension, maybe even fury, but she doesn’t anticipate that her first love, a ranch hand named Gideon, will still be working at the Bright Side.

Back in Lawrence, Ariel’s charming but hapless fiancĂ©, Dex, grows paranoid about her sudden departure. After uncovering Mona’s address, he sets out to confront Ariel, but instead finds her grappling with the life she’s abandoned. Amid the reparations with her mother, it’s clear that Ariel is questioning the meaning of her life in Lawrence, and whether she belongs with Dex or with someone else, somewhere else.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

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.

Every Bone a Prayer by Ashley Blooms.

The book is being released by Sourcebooks Landmark on August 4, 2020.

The book's jacket copy says: Misty's holler looks like any of the thousands of hollers that fork through the Appalachian Mountains. But Misty knows her home is different. She may be only ten, but she hears things. Even the crawdads in the creek have something to say, if you listen.

All that Misty's sister Penny wants to talk about are the strange objects that start appearing outside their trailer. The grown-ups mutter about sins and punishment, but that doesn't scare Misty. Not like the hurtful thing that's been happening to her, the hurtful thing that is becoming part of her. Ever since her neighbor William cornered her in the barn, she must figure out how to get back to the Misty she was before -- the Misty who wasn't afraid to listen.

This is the story of one tough-as-nails girl whose choices are few but whose fight is boundless, as her coping becomes a battle cry for everyone around her. Written by a survivor of sexual abuse, Every Bone a Prayer is a beautifully honest exploration of healing and of hope.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

It seems like everyone in the world has already read this one so I am incredibly late to the party. However, every party needs a pooper; that's why they invited me. Yes, unlike the rest of the world, I did not love this. I can almost see why people reacted the way they did but I was generally unmoved.

In 1952 on the coast of North Carolina, Kya is just six when her mother walks away from their family's rough cabin in the marsh, leaving behind Kya, her older brother Jodie, and their alcoholic, abusive father. Several older siblings are already long gone. That same year, Jodie leaves. And finally, when Kya is ten, her father disappears too, leaving this child to survive in the marsh alone. Kya becomes known as The Marsh Girl in town, laughed at, neglected, and avoided by almost everyone. She manages to figure out how to survive with a little help from Jumpin' and Mabel where she goes to buy her meager supplies and gas. They collect clothing and food for her from the colored church while the white part of town ignores her and scorns her. Kya watches the nature surrounding her, observant and quiet, learning the marsh and its ecosystem like the back of her hand. As she grows, she also watches the people around her, becoming friends with a golden haired boy named Tate, a friend of her older brother's, who will teach her to read and encourage her in her collecting.  She also observes the small group of privileged young people around her age, led by the town's best quarterback ever, Chase Andrews. It is Chase who, in the second timeline of the story will be found dead at the base of an abandoned fire tower, setting off a murder investigation aimed straight at the beautiful, odd Marsh Girl, Kya.

The story ranges from the 50s to the 70s and is a murder mystery, a romance, and a naturalist's diary all rolled into one. The latter is the most successful part of the novel, with Owens' lovely descriptions of the natural world shining through. Unfortunately the murder mystery and the romance were significantly less well written, filled with cliches and stilted writing. There were quite a few completely unrealistic plot points, including Kya's unlikely education and phenomenal success later in life, the uncharacteristic and out of the blue event that contributes to a motive for charging Kya with Chase's murder, and in fact the complicated case for how this simple, reclusive woman who had only left her home once in her life would have plotted and committed it (scroll over the following spoiler to read it) (that this hypothesis basically turns out to be true is even less believable). The characterizations in the novel were thin and underdeveloped and some, like those of the sheriff and his deputy were complete caricatures. Kya started off as a believable character but when Owens tried to add more depth and nuance to her backstory, sharing Kya's parents' more genteel backgrounds and history, she and her situation became less believable. Dialogue between characters was eye-rolling and the fact that dialect was used sometimes and not others, and not character dependent, was incredibly distracting. The beginning of the novel, as Kya is abandoned again and again, facing prejudice and disdain, and has to find a way to scratch out a meager living, is quite slow making the second part of the novel feel like it is in a huge rush to get to the end. I know I am in the minority, but I just couldn't overcome the problems with the novel to really appreciate this the way so many others clearly do.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Review: At the Pond compiled by Daunt Books

There’s something really special about swimming in ponds and lakes. I wait every year for my first dip in the lake, heading out past the reeds and the cattails to float above an unseen bottom, sometimes brushed by lacy tendrils of seaweed, wondering whether fish are darting past me in the cold, refreshing water. My lake is quite different than I imagine the Ladies’ Pond at Hampstead Heath to be but as I read this collection of essays from authors and poets of different ages, races, and sexuality I felt the same love and feeling for place that I feel for my lake, plus their  appreciation of the community of women, open and inclusive and welcoming.

The Hampstead Ladies' Pond is one of several formed by the River Fleet as it flows through and under London. It is both a natural and a created space, one that feels timeless. It is nature tucked away and appreciated for its very hiddenness. The varied short essays are organized by season starting with those intrepid author swimmers who brave the cold of the pond in winter. Obviously the pond is more crowded and in demand during the summer but each of the seasons chronicled here is appealing. The reader slips into the essays the same way you'd slip into the smooth waters of the pond. Written by the famous as well as less well known authors, the essays are as different as each woman's experience swimming although each firmly places themselves in a long line of women bathing in the pond, a fellowship of women from every walk of life. As a collection, there is the unhurried importance of nature's role in creation and in the discovery of self. The essays read without any urgency, just a bucolic sense of rightness. Instead they inspire a slowing down, an examination, and an appreciation. This collection is probably best for those who can think of nothing better than sliding into the soft, magical fresh water of a pond or lake, those who love to swim "wild," but all nature enthusiasts will probably enjoy the wonder of the place just as literary readers will be pleased by the wide-ranging references.  I will think about several of these gorgeous essays for a long time, especially as I bob in the ripples blown across the surface of my lake.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

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.

Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel.

The book is being released by Atria on July 21, 2020.

The book's jacket copy says: The “quick-witted and razor-sharp” (Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones & The Six) author of Limelight and Small Admissions returns with a hilarious and heartfelt new novel about a perfectly imperfect summer of love, secrets, and second chances.

Bridget and Will have the kind of relationship that people envy: they’re loving, compatible, and completely devoted to each other. The fact that they’re strictly friends seems to get lost on nearly everyone; after all, they’re as good as married in (almost) every way. For three decades, they’ve nurtured their baby, the Forsyth Trio—a chamber group they created as students with their Juilliard classmate Gavin Glantz. In the intervening years, Gavin has gone on to become one of the classical music world’s reigning stars, while Bridget and Will have learned to embrace the warm reviews and smaller venues that accompany modest success.

Bridget has been dreaming of spending the summer at her well-worn Connecticut country home with her boyfriend Sterling. But her plans are upended when Sterling, dutifully following his ex-wife’s advice, breaks up with her over email and her twin twenty-somethings arrive unannounced, filling her empty nest with their big dogs, dirty laundry, and respective crises.

Bridget has problems of her own: her elderly father announces he’s getting married, and the Forsyth Trio is once again missing its violinist. She concocts a plan to host her dad’s wedding on her ramshackle property, while putting the Forsyth Trio back into the spotlight. But to catch the attention of the music world, she and Will place their bets on luring back Gavin, whom they’ve both avoided ever since their stormy parting.

With her trademark humor, pitch-perfect voice, and sly perspective on the human heart, Amy Poeppel crafts a love letter to modern family life with all of its discord and harmony. In the tradition of novels by Maria Semple and Stephen McCauley, Musical Chairs is an irresistibly romantic story of role reversals, reinvention, and sweet synchronicity.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Review: Days Gone Bye by K.A. Spencer

I spend my summers in Upper Peninsula Michigan, not far from Mackinac Island. Most summers we make it over to the Island at least once, although this summer it is unlikely we will given the worry about coronavirus. So when I remembered that this book had been sitting, unread, on my shelves for years, I decided to pull it down and read it, hoping that it would take me to Mackinac on the page.

It’s 1979 and Christopher Allen’s grandfather has passed away in his cottage on Mackinac Island. Christopher travels to the Island to take care of the myriad things that accompany a death. While there, he meets an old friend of his grandfather’s and goes out to Round Island Light, where his grandfather was once an assistant light keeper, to spread his grandfather’s ashes. While there, he hits his head, blacks out, and comes to in 1926 in his grandfather’s body. He has to adjust to life in an earlier time, making friends with his grandfather’s friends and falling in love with a wealthy and beautiful young woman, while always wondering if and when he’ll return to his own time.

In many ways, the plot of the novel reads like a mash-up of Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson (the movie, not the book) and The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser, which could have been interesting but was marred by the writing with such sentences as “Fall signaled the end of the long summer on Mackinac Island.” (p. 20) The dialogue is stilted and unrealistic and occasionally illogical, as if the author forgot to include entire portions of it. He uses many words or phrases incorrectly. For instance, in describing the fact that the cause of a shipwreck would never be known, he writes, “We might never know the real raison d’etre.” (p. 70) Simpler, more accurate language would have been better. I used to suggest that my students read whatever they had written out loud to help catch strange grammatical constructions or leaps of logic and just garden variety typos. This short novel could have benefited from that quite a bit. Spencer has clearly done some research for the story but he felt the need to insert everything he learned into the story, which reads as clunky info-dump rather than fitting organically. And he explains things that need no explanation, such as when he writes, “Pastor Kilmer read from the book, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ a classic 1843 tale by Charles Dickens, as everyone enjoyed dinner.” (p. 63) In addition to the writing difficulties, the plot jumps from one thing to another without the necessary transitions and the characters are barely explored, sharing their hopes and dreams with each other but not the reader. I wish the book had been engaging enough to overlook even one of these problems, but in the end, it wasn’t and I was terribly disappointed with it.

Monday, July 6, 2020

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past two weeks are:

Sansei and Sensibility by Karen Tei Yamashita
The Paris Secret by Natasha Lester
Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat
I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon
Days Gone Bye by K. A. Spencer
Godshot by Chelsea Bieker
The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Yellow Earth by John Sayles
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles
I Saw Three Ships by Bill Richardson
The Second Home by Christina Clancy
All My Mother's Lovers by Ilana Masad
The Big Quiet by Lisa D. Stewart
If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim
How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences by Sue William Silverman
Wild Dog by Serge Joncour
The Moonshiner’s Daughter by Donna Everhart
Unconditional Love by Jocelyn Moorhouse
The Change by Lori Soderlind

Reviews posted this week:

nothing these past two weeks

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

Beginning with Cannonballs by Jill McCroskey Coupe
The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair
Faces: Profiles of Dogs by Vita Sackville-West
The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
Holding on to Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne
Difficult Light by Tomas Gonzalez
Adults and Other Children by Miriam Cohen
Grief's Country by Gail Griffin
Moments of Glad Grace by Alison Wearing
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Misconduct of the Heart by Cordelia Strube
Search Heartache by Carla Malden
What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
The Book Keeper by Julia McKenzie Munemo
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Temporary by Hilary Leichter
Blue Marlin by Lee Smith
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
A Short Move by Katherine Hill
A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger
Watershed by Mark Barr
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
The Goshen Road by Bonnie Proudfoot
We Have Everything Before Us by Esther Yin-ling Spodek
Anna Eva Mimi Adam by Marina Antropow Cramer
This Is My Body by Cameron Dezen Hammon
Impurity by Larry Tremblay
The Last Goldfish by Anita Lahey
Invisible Ink by Guy Stern
A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
Raphael Painter in Rome by Stephanie Storey
Blue Summer by Jim Nichols
The Miracle of Saint Lazarus by Uva de Aragon
Red Mother with Child by Christian Lax
The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos
Tamba Child Soldier by Marion Achard
The Girl with Braided Hair by Rasha Adly
The Book of Second Chances by Katherine Slee
Disfigured by Amanda Leduc
Floating in the Neversink by Andrea Simon
Seven Sisters and a Brother by Marilyn Allman May
A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen
At the Pond compiled by Daunt Books
Sansei and Sensibility by Karen Tei Yamashita
The Paris Secret by Natasha Lester
Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat
I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon
Godshot by Chelsea Bieker
The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

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.

Filthy Beasts by Kirkland Hamil.

The book is being released by Simon and Schuster on July 14, 2020.

The book's jacket copy says: Running with Scissors meets Grey Gardens in this gripping, true riches-to-rags tale of a wealthy family who lost it all and the unforgettable journey of a man coming to terms with his family’s deep flaws and his own long-buried truths.

“Wake up, you filthy beasts!” Wendy Hamill would shout to her children in the mornings before school. Startled from their dreams, Kirk and his two brothers couldn’t help but wonder—would they find enough food in the house for breakfast?

Following a rancorous split from New York’s upper-class society, newly divorced Wendy and her three sons are exiled from the East Coast elite circle. Wendy’s middle son, Kirk, is eight when she moves the family to her native Bermuda, leaving the three young boys to fend for themselves as she chases after the highs of her old life: alcohol, a wealthy new suitor, and other indulgences.

After eventually leaving his mother’s dysfunctional orbit for college in New Orleans, Kirk begins to realize how different his family and upbringing is from that of his friends and peers. Split between extreme privilege—early years living in luxury on his family’s private compound—and bare survival—rationing food and water during the height of his mother’s alcoholism—Kirk is used to keeping up appearances and burying his inconvenient truths from the world, until he’s eighteen and falls in love for the first time.

A fascinating window into the life of extreme privilege and a powerful story of self-acceptance, Filthy Beasts recounts Kirk’s unforgettable journey through luxury hotels and charity stores, private enclaves and public shame as he confronts his family’s many imperfections, accepts his unconventional childhood, and finally comes to terms with his own hidden secrets.

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