Friday, July 23, 2021

Review: Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne

There's a perception that young people are out at the bars living their best lives, partying, and just the slightest bit self centered. This is, of course, not true of all twenty-somethings (and maybe not even for the majority of them). Some are quiet, introverted types who have settled into a staid and quiet life, like the heroine in Sally Thorne's Second First Impressions. But it also never hurts to inject just a little bit of spice and excitement into an otherwise predictable life.

Ruthie works at a retirement community and she truly cares for the inhabitants of the place. She lives on the grounds and enjoys her job. She is hard working and conscientious. And when she tries to be a Good Samaritan at a local gas station, she is mistaken for an elderly woman, like the residents at Providence Retirement Villas. Filling in for her boss, who is on an extended vacation, Ruthie spends her days checking the locks, keeping things running, attending to the needs of quirky folks like the elderly, irascible, Parloni sisters, watching a Christian based tv show called Heaven Sent, and dodging her temp Melanie's desire to add some spunk to Ruthie's non-existent love life.

Teddy Prescott is the son of the retirement village's new owner and is the man Ruthie rescued at the gas station. He is also the one who mistook her for one of her aged residents. Teddy has an appealing little boy lost vibe to him but he's also covered with tattoos and has luscious long hair that Ruthie wants to run her fingers through. He wants to open his own tattoo studio rather than go to work for the family company. He is definitely not a long term romantic prospect for Ruthie. She suggests Teddy as the newest assistant to the Parloni sisters and to her surprise, he actually enjoys it, lasting far longer than any of their previous "boys."

This is a quick, light, and fluffy romance that ends up feeling more platonic than romantic. Teddy's hair must be impressive indeed because it is mentioned enough it should almost be its own character. There's supposed to be a clear dichotomy between the buttoned up, straight laced Ruthie, daughter of a reverend, and the long-haired, tattoo artist, love 'em and leave 'em Teddy that makes them a surprising pairing but somehow their relationship comes across as more friendship than sexy and unexpected. And Teddy was definitely more infantilized than he was a bad boy, despite his appearance. The secondary characters are quirky and generally fun, if sometimes over the top. The pacing of the book was steady until the end of the book when all of the plot lines and reveals wrapped up incredibly quickly. Family issues that had governed lives for decades were immediately solved and absolution handed out like lollipops. Over all an easy and enjoyable enough read for a couple of hours but not quite as satisfying as I wanted.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

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.

Heartbreak for Hire by Sonia Hartl.

The book is being released by Gallery Books on July 27, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: Brinkley Saunders has a secret.

To everyone in the academic world she left behind, she lost it all when she dropped out of grad school. Once a rising star following in her mother’s footsteps, she’s now an administrative assistant at an insurance agency—or so they think.

In reality, Brinkley works at Heartbreak for Hire, a secret service that specializes in revenge for jilted lovers, frenemies, and long-suffering coworkers with a little cash to spare and a man who needs to be taken down a notch. It might not be as prestigious as academia, but it helps Brinkley save for her dream of opening an art gallery and lets her exorcise a few demons, all while helping to empower women.

But when her boss announces she’s hiring male heartbreakers for the first time, Brinkley’s no longer so sure she’s doing the right thing—especially when her new coworker turns out to be a target she was paid to take down. Though Mark spends his days struggling up the academic ladder, he seems to be the opposite of a backstabbing adjunct: a nerd at heart in criminally sexy sweater vests who’s attentive both in and out of the bedroom. But as Brinkley finds it increasingly more difficult to focus on anything but Mark, she soon realizes that like herself, people aren’t always who they appear to be.

With Sonia Hartl’s “bitingly funny” (Publishers Weekly) prose, Heartbreak for Hire is a clever romcom you and your girlfriends won’t be able to stop talking about.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Review: We Think the World of You by J.R. Ackerley

It has always been good to be a dog in my family. We often love them more than people. Like us, J.R. Ackerley famously loved his own dog furiously so it is not surprising that he would write a novel that uses a dog as a major plot driver in his queer classic, We Think the World of You.

Frank is a middle aged, middle class civil servant. He is in love with Johnny, a good looking working class man who has just been sent to prison for stealing. When he first visits Johnny in prison, Johnny asks Frank to look after his German Shepherd, Evie, but Frank refuses, leaving the beautiful dog to be neglected and ignored by Johnny's parents. As Frank engages in a passive aggressive bid for permission to visit Johnny, vying with Johnny's parents and wife, he falls for the dog, spending much of his emotional energy on trying to rescue her from Johnny's family.

None of the characters here are likable. Frank condescends to Johnny's family, never realizing that they (and Johnny himself) do not in fact, think the world of him, but are using him for financial gain. Every last character is less likable than Evie, who is definitely pitiable and misused by everyone around her. There is definite social commentary here on the lives of working class Britons but the characters are all seen through Frank's eyes so they are in fact little better than stereotypes; even Johnny, who he professes to love, comes across as a bit of a careless dimwit. The female characters are terrible and it's hard to say whether that's Frank's misogyny or indeed Ackerley's. Others have found humor in the telling but I missed that entirely. I'd have felt sorry for Frank, who Johnny basically used as a bottomless wallet, if he hadn't also been such a snob. The writing is very well done but the book as a whole was dull, populated as it was by hateful, opportunistic characters.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

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.

A Woman of Intelligence by Karen Tanabe.

The book is being released by St. Martin's Press on July 20, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: A Fifth Avenue address, parties at the Plaza, two healthy sons, and the ideal husband: what looks like a perfect life for Katharina Edgeworth is anything but. It’s 1954, and the post-war American dream has become a nightmare.

A born and bred New Yorker, Katharina is the daughter of immigrants, Ivy-League-educated, and speaks four languages. As a single girl in 1940s Manhattan, she is a translator at the newly formed United Nations, devoting her days to her work and the promise of world peace—and her nights to cocktails and the promise of a good time.

Now the wife of a beloved pediatric surgeon and heir to a shipping fortune, Katharina is trapped in a gilded cage, desperate to escape the constraints of domesticity. So when she is approached by the FBI and asked to join their ranks as an informant, Katharina seizes the opportunity. A man from her past has become a high-level Soviet spy, but no one has been able to infiltrate his circle. Enter Katharina, the perfect woman for the job.

Navigating the demands of the FBI and the secrets of the KGB, she becomes a courier, carrying stolen government documents from D.C. to Manhattan. But as those closest to her lose their covers, and their lives, Katharina’s secret soon threatens to ruin her.

With the fast-paced twists of a classic spy thriller, and a nuanced depiction of female experience, A Woman of Intelligence shimmers with intrigue and desire.

Monday, July 12, 2021

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm still chugging along slowly with the reading and reviewing but they are getting done, so that's a plus. This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past week are:

Why Birds Sing by Nina Berkhout
Strange Tricks by Syd Moore
When Stars Rain Down by Angela Jackson-Brown
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin
Love in Color by Bolu Babalola
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
Interior Chinatown by Cahrles Yu
The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey
House of Trelawney by Hannah Rothschild
In Love with George Eliot by Kathy O'Shaughnessy
We Learnt About Hitler at the Mickey Mouse Club by Enid Elliott Linder
The Restaurant Inspector by Alex Pickett
Modern Jungles by Pao Lor
Pleasantview by Celeste Mohammed
Miseducated by Brandon P. Fleming
The Colour of God by Ayesha S. Chaudhry
Strange Tricks by Syd Moore
A Trick of the Light by Ali Carter
The Stone Sister by Carolyn Patterson

Reviews posted this week:

Tamba, Child Soldier by Marion Achard and illustrated by Yann Dégruel
One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London
Minus Me by Mameve Medwed
Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner

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

We Think the World of You by J.R. Ackerley
What You Wish For by Katherine Center
The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Initiates by Etienne Davodeau
You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle
The Arctic Fury by Greer MacAllister
Writers and Lovers by Lily King
Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Austenistan edited by Laaleen Sukhera
Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin
Love Is Blind by Lynsay Sands
Saving Miss Oliver's by Stephen Davenport
Refining Felicity by M.C. Beaton
Queenie by Candace Carty-Williams
Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson
Sea Swept by Nora Roberts
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
More Confessions of a Trauma Junkie by Sherry Lynn Jones
Inlaws and Outlaws by Kate Fulford
The Belinda Chronicles by Linda Seidel
Jane in Love by Rachel Givney
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
The Wind Blows and the Flowers Dance by Terre Reed
Lovely War by Julie Berry
A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
Dear County Agent Guy by Jerru Nelson
This Time Next Year We'll Be Laughing by Jacqueline Winspear
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
All Adults Here by Emma Straub
Nice Girls Finish First by Alesia Holliday
Cosmogony by Lucy Ives
Heartwood by Barbara Becker
My Own Miraculous by Joshilyn Jackson
Duchess If You Dare by Anabelle Bryant
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
After Francesco by Brian Malloy
When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson
Assembly by Natasha Brown
The Walls Came Tumbling Down by Henriette Roosenburg
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
Silence by William Carpenter
The Ghost Dancers by Adrian C. Louis
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Brother Sister Mother Explorer by Jamie Figueroa
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
Everywhere You Don't Belong by Gabriel Bump
One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney
The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
Other People's Children by R. J. Hoffmann
Willie Nelson bt T.J. Kirsch
Inheritors by Asako Serizawa
Why Birds Sing by Nina Berkhout
When Stars Rain Down by Angela Jackson-Brown
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin
Love in Color by Bolu Babalola
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Review: Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner

I was 10 when Prince Charles and Lady Diana married. My mother and sister and I all got up at some insane hour of the morning to watch the historic wedding with friends. Obviously I've been interested in the royals for a long time now. So when I saw Anne Glenconner, a lady in waiting to Princess Margaret, on Graham Norton's show and giggled at her stories, I knew I'd want to read her memoir. I even ordered it for my mom for Christmas from England ahead of its publication in the US. While an interesting look into the world of spoiled, rich people behaving badly, and the tragedy filled life Lady Glenconner has lived, it was less engaging to read the memoir than it was to hear her anecdotes on tv. (Not my usual experience, by the by.)

Lady Glenconner's service to Princess Margaret is certainly the hook, and interesting enough, but she has lived an extremely privileged life herself. She was raised traditionally, within the aristocracy, to make an advantageous marriage and to keep a stiff upper lip no matter what. She's breaking with the latter somewhat in writing this memoir and exposing her terrible marriage, her husband's incredibly bad behaviour, including tantrums and gross eccentricities that might have been manifestations of mental illness, and the almost unbelievable experiences of her long life. Oftentimes this feels like a list of happenings in her life without the smoothness and connection of a well-wrought memoir. She does come across as scrupulously honest and even understated in her acceptance of the insanity of a life like hers which makes the reader wonder not only what her family thinks of her exposing their secrets but what her entire set thinks given their presentation here in such an unvarnished accounting. The tone of the book is rather blandly matter of fact throughout, even when recounting things that should be brimming with emotion, flattening the effect on the reader. She has led a pretty amazing life, filled with drama and tragedy, lived in close contact with the ever intriguing Princess Margaret for 30 plus years, and met some of the most famous names of the last century, but in the end this memoir was ultimately rather dull and disappointing despite the outlandishness of the things that she experienced. Probably only a must read for the most ardent of royal fanatics.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

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 Rehearsals by Annette Christie.

The book is being released by Little, Brown and Company on July 13, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: Megan Givens and Tom Prescott are heading into what is supposed to be their magical wedding weekend on beautiful San Juan Island. But with two difficult families, ten years of history, and all too many secrets, things quickly go wrong. After a disastrous rehearsal dinner they vow to call the whole thing off—only to wake up the next morning stuck together in a time loop. Are they really destined to relive the worst day of their lives, over and over? And what happens if their wedding day does arrive?

A funny, romantic, and big-hearted debut novel, The Rehearsals imagines what we might do if given a second chance at life and at love—and what it means to finally get both right.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Review: Minus Me by Mameve Medwed

Passamaquoddy, Maine. Famous, at least to me, because of Pete's Dragon, the movie from the late seventies. It's also the setting for Mameve Medwed's sweet, easy novel about love, death, and what's most important in life.

Annie is married to Sam, her high school sweetheart, and together they own Annie's Samwich Shop, a locally famous eatery. Sam, despite his goofy incompetence at tasks most adults can accomplish with their eyes shut, has been there for Annie always, supporting her after her beloved father died and grieving with her through miscarriages and the still birth of their daughter. But when Annie receives a diagnosis of possible terminal lung cancer, she cannot bring herself to insist her husband have a serious discussion with her about her health, deciding to tell him only after her future appointment with a specialist. Instead of telling him about the grim diagnosis, she starts writing him an instruction manual called Life Minus Me: A User's Guide so she can know he'll be able to navigate everyday life without her. She hides the manual in her underwear drawer where her flamboyant, overbearing actress mother, Ursula, in town to receive an award, finds it. Their relationship is more antagonistic than anything else, with Annie frustrated by what she sees as her mother's constant narcissism, but when Ursula pulls strings to get Annie into a hot shot oncologist in NYC, Annie agrees to go to the city with Ursula without telling Sam what is going on. The trip, which extends longer than planned and results in more answers than expected, gives Annie and her mother time to work toward understanding and reconciliation with each other as well as a change in perspective for Annie.

The story of a woman given a terrible diagnosis and deciding to help her husband out once she is gone is not new. It's not even fiction if you've seen the news in the past few years. But for as long as Annie and Sam have been together, her inability to ask him to comfort her in this scary time is troubling and his continued incompetence (or is it enabled haplessness?) is not cute. They, and their marriage, come off as far more immature than their ages would assume. There is some conflict here, between Annie and her mother and Annie and Sam, based in large part on misunderstandings but everything is a little too easy, too tidy, and all ends are tied up neatly in the Hallmark-y epilogue. The writing is well done but somehow Annie and Sam don't inspire the laughter and tears that they should. Or maybe it's me being too cynical for the heartwarming, happily ever after. ::shrug:: I suggest you read it yourself and see if you agree with me.

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

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

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.

Shoulder Season by Christina Clancy.

The book is being released by St. Martin's Press on July 6, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: The small town of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin is an unlikely location for a Playboy Resort, and nineteen-year old Sherri Taylor is an unlikely bunny. Growing up in neighboring East Troy, Sherri plays the organ at the local church and has never felt comfortable in her own skin. But when her parents die in quick succession, she leaves the only home she’s ever known for the chance to be part of a glamorous slice of history. In the winter of 1981, in a costume two sizes too small, her toes pinched by stilettos, Sherri joins the daughters of dairy farmers and factory workers for the defining experience of her life.

Living in the “bunny hutch”—Playboy’s version of a college dorm—Sherri gets her education in the joys of sisterhood, the thrill of financial independence, the magic of first love, and the heady effects of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. But as spring gives way to summer, Sherri finds herself caught in a romantic triangle—and the tragedy that ensues will haunt her for the next forty years.

From the Midwestern prairie to the California desert, from Wisconsin lakes to the Pacific Ocean, this is a story of what happens when small town life is sprinkled with stardust, and what we lose—and gain—when we leave home. With a heroine to root for and a narrative to get lost in, Christina Clancy's Shoulder Season is a sexy, evocative tale, drenched in longing and desire, that captures a fleeting moment in American history with nostalgia and heart.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Review: One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

I am famously not much of a television watcher. Yeah, I know. My avid tv watcher husband wonders how we managed to ever get together given how different our interests are. ::shrug:: So it will surprise absolutely no one who knows me to hear that I've never seen even an episode of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette (are they considered different shows?). I do like to defy expectations though so even without having any interest whatsoever in the show, I couldn't wait to read Kate Stayman-London's novel One to Watch, which clearly owes a lot to the Bachelor franchise.

Bea Schumacher is a plus-size fashion blogger who hasn't been particularly lucky in love, having just been ghosted by the old friend she has always fantasized about after sleeping with him despite knowing that he's engaged to someone else. After the ghosting quickly followed by a not so great Tinder date, she tweets out some critical comments about the way that plus size people are always excluded from reality shows like her favorite, Main Squeeze. Her tweets go viral, leading to her being contacted to be the show's first plus size lead. She's officially done with love but decides to go on the show in order to up representation, having no idea how vulnerable being this much in the limelight will make her or how far she still has to go to be as confident inside as she is outside.

I don't think there's really anyone out there who thinks that reality shows are fully real, is there? Stayman-London has captured some crazy staged situations and ratings grabbing shenanigans on the show that feel like something that real producers might try to pull. When Bea is filming the show, the story is fun and flirty, right up until it isn't, and she is fat shamed and her own publicly hidden insecurities come racing to the fore again. She might present as sassy and confident but she hasn't fully freed herself from the attitudes and stereotypes she's heard all her life. The novel is told in tweets, texts, blog entries, transcripts, and interviews woven through the more traditional narrative, grounding this firmly in the present day. At times this felt like overkill especially for a reader who doesn't often immerse herself in all of these various media sources. The novel is humorous and cute but when Bea is hurt, the reader is hurt along with her. It makes sense that the men Bea has to choose from on Main Squeeze are also a diverse bunch since she's the first plus size lead. It does feel a bit unrealistic that almost all of the men Bea seriously considers are from an under represented group themselves and in some ways the careful inclusion of each group feels a little too much like tokenism. The ending was entirely predictable even as it leaves the reader with a huge smile and plenty of warm fuzzies. Readers who enjoy rom coms, especially those that tackle a slightly unusual social issue, and who love it when a heroine grows and learns to truly accept herself, will find much to enjoy here.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Review: Tamba, Child Soldier by Marion Achard and illustrated by Yann Dégruel

When my children were eight years old, they were fighting me on cleaning their rooms, not taking food out of the kitchen, and doing their homework. When Tamba Cisso, the main character in Marion Achard's graphic novel Tamba, Child Soldier, is eight, he is kidnapped from his village and forced to fight in a guerilla war he doesn't even understand. This powerful story and its illustrations, based on real experiences and real children, help to show just how far apart my children's world and the world of children like Tamba are.

Opening with Tamba's appearance in front of a truth and reconciliation commission, the novel has a tearful Tamba telling the horrifying story of how he came to be a child soldier against his will, what he did during the war, how and why he escaped, and his life as a refugee carrying enormous amounts of guilt for his past actions. The panels telling of Tamba's past are incongruously colorful while the panels depicting the commission which are interspersed with his recounting are earthy, almost sepia toned. The illustrations, with their subtle shading, add emotional depth to the appalling story. The country it all takes place in remains unnamed so that it can stand for any African country at war with itself, using its most innocent to wage that war. It is hard to look at but also impossible to look away from, especially knowing that there are still many child soldiers out there, war destroying them almost more than it is destroying their countries.

After the conclusion of the novel, there are brief, factual histories of child soldiers, truth and reconciliation commissions, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The telling is haunting and terrible and it doesn't shy away from the immediate and long-term devastation perpetrated on the child Tamba and his people and it acknowledges the difficulty in assigning responsibility for all of the hurt and the terror and the inhumanity. This is a gut-wrenching look at the life of a child soldier, the weight these children will carry forever, and the ways in which some countries are trying to heal with compassion for both the children compelled to commit these atrocities and their victims.

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

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm still chugging along slowly with the reading and reviewing but they are getting done, so that's a plus. This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past weeks are:

One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
Eva and Eve by Julie Metz
Other People's Children by R. J. Hoffmann
Willie Nelson by T.J. Kirsch
Inheritors by Asako Serizawa

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
Interior Chinatown by Cahrles Yu
The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey
House of Trelawney by Hannah Rothschild
In Love with George Eliot by Kathy O'Shaughnessy
When Stars Rain Down by Angela Jackson-Brown
We Learnt About Hitler at the Mickey Mouse Club by Enid Elliott Linder
The Restaurant Inspector by Alex Pickett
Modern Jungles by Pao Lor
Pleasantview by Celeste Mohammed
Miseducated by Brandon P. Fleming
The Colour of God by Ayesha S. Chaudhry
Strange Tricks by Syd Moore
A Trick of the Light by Ali Carter
The Stone Sister by Carolyn Patterson
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
Love in Color by Bolu Babalola
Why Birds Sing by Nina Berkhout

Reviews posted this week:

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Shipped by Angie Hockman
Eva and Eve by Julie Metz
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

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

Minus Me by Mameve Medwed
We Think the World of You by J.R. Ackerley
What You Wish For by Katherine Center
The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Initiates by Etienne Davodeau
You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle
The Arctic Fury by Greer MacAllister
Writers and Lovers by Lily King
Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Austenistan edited by Laaleen Sukhera
Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin
Love Is Blind by Lynsay Sands
Saving Miss Oliver's by Stephen Davenport
Refining Felicity by M.C. Beaton
Queenie by Candace Carty-Williams
Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson
Sea Swept by Nora Roberts
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
More Confessions of a Trauma Junkie by Sherry Lynn Jones
Inlaws and Outlaws by Kate Fulford
The Belinda Chronicles by Linda Seidel
Jane in Love by Rachel Givney
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
The Wind Blows and the Flowers Dance by Terre Reed
Lovely War by Julie Berry
A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
Dear County Agent Guy by Jerru Nelson
This Time Next Year We'll Be Laughing by Jacqueline Winspear
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
All Adults Here by Emma Straub
Nice Girls Finish First by Alesia Holliday
Cosmogony by Lucy Ives
Heartwood by Barbara Becker
My Own Miraculous by Joshilyn Jackson
Duchess If You Dare by Anabelle Bryant
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
After Francesco by Brian Malloy
When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson
Assembly by Natasha Brown
The Walls Came Tumbling Down by Henriette Roosenburg
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
Silence by William Carpenter
The Ghost Dancers by Adrian C. Louis
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Brother Sister Mother Explorer by Jamie Figueroa
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
Everywhere You Don't Belong by Gabriel Bump
One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney
The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
Other People's Children by R. J. Hoffmann
Willie Nelson bt T.J. Kirsch
Inheritors by Asako Serizawa

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Review: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Imagine if you will a famous, if aging, actress who, with her young, handsome husband agrees to star in a play called City of Girls, written especially for her by a famed playwright and put on in a theater that desperately needs a hit to stay in business. Now imagine that being a mere side plot to a sprawling look at one woman's life from the 1940s to 2010. Elizabeth Gilbert's City of Girls is about the New York City theater world and freedom and judgement and love and embracing and accepting all the experiences of life, good and bad.

It's the 1940s and Vivian Morris, the daughter of a wealthy family in upstate New York, gets kicked out of Vassar college. Having no idea what to do with this ungrateful child who has no interest in either school or marriage, her parents ship her off to her unconventional Aunt Peg in New York City. Peg owns and operates a down at the heels, struggling theater called the Lily Playhouse. The shows put on at the Lily are mediocre and formulaic. Vivian, accustomed to wealth, notices all of this but she thrills to the glamorous and sexy NYC theater world anyway. She is a gifted seamstress and her Aunt Peg quickly employs her as a costumer for the theater, giving her an easy way to become friends with the showgirls. She parties hard with them, embracing the alcohol and the sex, and generally behaving as if the world isn't at war until a scandal sends her home with her tail between her legs for a time. But the Vivian she uncovered on her first foray into the City has changed her, taught her to embrace all of her wildness and reject the expected.

The novel is told as one long letter to the daughter of a man she once knew who has contacted her asking for the truth of Vivian's relationship with her father. As conceits go, it is a fine one but in this instance, it is far too long between the address and the end of the letter for it to work comfortably. That Vivian is almost 100 and is looking back at the most formative bits of her life, when she was just discovering who she was and that actions have consequences, makes this an epic of a story. The first part of the novel is full of gaiety and bad (sometimes in a good way) decisions and is loads of fun. Vivian and her friends bounce from party to party, bed to bed, man to man in a flamboyant and glittering world. The second half of the novel, while still full of sex and the embrace of sexuality, felt like a very different novel in tone. Gilbert's writing is evocative and her descriptions of New York through the decades are wonderful. Her characters are eccentric and fabulous and the reader never doubts that Vivian has lived quite a life. City of Girls is overly long for sure, especially if it truly had been a letter of explanation, but it is a mostly interesting look at an independent woman forging her own wild and unapologetic life, discovering the power of forgiveness, and learning about love in all its forms.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Lolita. Seductress or victim? Great love or abuse? Victim and abuse, of course. But what does Lolita herself think? Kate Elizabeth Russell's difficult and uncomfortable novel is a Lolita tale, but not from Humbert Humbert's point of view; My Dark Vanessa is from Lo's point of view then, and seventeen years on. It is graphic and hard to read, a tale that needs to see the light.

Vanessa Wye is fourteen years old and a budding poet when she convinces her parents to let her go to a top notch boarding school on a scholarship instead of to the local public school. She has a falling out with her roommate and best friend after her first year, leaving her lonely, feeling betrayed, and isolated at the beginning of her second year. She is captivated by her English teacher's interest in her writing and in her. Strane's interest and encouragement quickly goes beyond normal and acceptable as the 42 year old grooms the fifteen year old Vanessa, complimenting her in ways he shouldn't, touching her increasingly inappropriately, giving her books like Lolita to read that bend her to his thinking, and so on. As the abhorrent situation plays out, seventeen years further on, thirty-two year old Vanessa, who is still in touch sporadically with Strane, is horrified as she watches public allegations against her former teacher gather momentum. Contacted herself by the woman exposing Strane, adult Vanessa vows to say nothing, to protect her first love, truly believing that their relationship back then had been consensual and equal.

The past and present alternate in this deeply disturbing novel. The reader watches in horror as the pedophile Strane increases his hold on the teenaged Vanessa through manipulation and guilt. She rationalizes that he wouldn't jeopardize his entire life if his love for her wasn't one for the ages, convincing herself, despite her disassociation during repeated graphic rapes, that she too is in love with him, that this is nothing more than a grand, if unfairly forbidden, romance. Even in her thirties, when it is clear that her whole life has been derailed by this unnatural affair, she clings to the illusion that it was love between them, because to admit otherwise is unspeakable. The deep psychological damage Vanessa suffers is on display even as it is occurring. Russell has written a convincing portrait of a preyed upon child and the woman she grows into being. The first half of the book is well paced but the second half starts to feel repetitive and too long. Even so, the reader cannot help but writhe with repulsion and anger throughout the read and it's almost hard to know where to center all of this feeling, on Strane certainly, but also on the school and system that failed Vanessa, on Vanessa for withholding from her therapist, on the reporter who badgers her, on all of the people who saw what was happening at the time or who saw how she was so broken in the years afterwards and turned away from it. Infuriating, heartbreaking, stomach turning reading indeed.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Review: Eva and Eve by Julie Metz

History is made up of people. We often look at the larger events without ever seeing the important, if smaller, details that effect the people on an intimate and personal level. But it's these details that coalesce to make the whole and in the case of the atrocities that led up to WWII and the Holocaust, it is these details that come together to show the full scope of the thing, from the macro level on down. In Eva and Eve, Julie Metz's part memoir, part biography, part history, Metz goes looking for the details that shaped her mother and in turn shaped herself.

As Julie Metz watched her mother Eve die of colon cancer in 2006, she reflected on their relationship and the way that while Metz knew the broad strokes of her mother's life, Eve, and especially her childhood, was still an enigma to her. Finding a never before seen Poesiealbum or keepsake book of her mother's from childhood, she realizes that she wants to know the whole story, the story she only knows as pieces of family lore, and how that story is a part of the larger story of Viennese Jews fleeing the homeland they loved barely in advance of Hitler's Final Solution. Metz needed to know how Viennese Eva Singer became the quintessential New Yorker Eve Metz.

Metz has done an impressive amount of research into her mother's life, using official documentation, family stories, interviews with her elderly uncles, photographs, and organizations committed to preserving the history of the war and the people who suffered so unfairly from it. When she cannot find photographic evidence, she speculates wholly believable scenes from her grandparents' and mother's lives although the scene she imagines of her grandparents' honeymoon is a bit uncomfortable and graphic. She movingly tells the story of her grandparents and her mother, their early years, the combination of knowledge and luck that kept her Jewish grandfather alive and necessary in Nazi-occupied Vienna, and the increasingly obvious need to leave Vienna for somewhere safer. In the course of this recounting, she also tells a little of the people who helped her family escape their home and of their life in America. Woven through this historical biography, Metz also weaves the larger history of the politics in Austria at the time and what Nazi-occupied Vienna was like as well as pieces of her own life, from when she was a student through her years researching of book, and throughout the decade following her mother's death. She draws parallels between the anti-immigration sentiment of the world, and specifically America, during WWII with the rising anti-immigration sentiment of the present. This is a very personal book and it definitely fills in many of the holes Metz has in understanding who her mother was and how she became that person. It is to our benefit that she allowed us to go along on the investigation with her.

For more information about Julie Metz and the book, check our her author site, follow her on Twitter or 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 book to review.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Review: Shipped by Angie Hockman

Summer is for fun and frothy books. And what's more fun and frothy than an enemies to lovers rom com novel? Angie Hockman's Shipped is the perfect book to tuck into your beach bag to enjoy when your toes are pushed into the sand.

Henley Evans is working full time for a cruise line and going to school for her MBA. She is incredibly hard working and between all of her actual work and her school work, she has no social life at all. Her biggest thrill is in the email zingers she sends off to the company's remote social media manager, Graeme Crawford-Collins. Graeme frustrates Henley no end but she's also a little intrigued by this man she's only met over the phone, a man who seems to skate by through ingratiating himself with their boss and taking credit for one of Henley's brilliant ideas. So it's particularly galling to Henley when the company creates a new position and she and Graeme are both up for the promotion, a promotion that is, by all rights, hers. They'll have to take a Galapagos cruise, together, and create a proposal to entice more travelers to this particular vacation package. The one with the best proposal earns the promotion. Complicating matters is Henley's sister Walsh, who Henley takes with her on the cruise to help her get an outsider's perspective on the trip, and who is having personal problems of her own. Can Henley fight her growing attraction to Graeme, help her sister, and create a homerun of a proposal all at the same time?

The entire novel is told from Henley's point of view, allowing the reader to see the reasoning behind her misunderstanding of Graeme and her confusion as she adjusts her picture of him. There is no similar insight into Graeme so the reader learns about him and his motivations at the same pace as Henley. Interestingly, she is the character who blows hot and cold while he is more consistent, if she just wanted to open her eyes to that fact. The plot is sweet and the light touch of the importance of conservation and the issue of misogyny in the work place help give the novel a bit more depth. The reader roots for both Henley and Graeme so the ending is both endearing and so beyond unrealistic that it almost works. At the very least it leaves the reader satisfied.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Review: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

On the 19th anniversary of the murder of 7 year old Thomas Hardcastle, the Hardcastle family has invited a huge house party to join them at their country home (the scene of the crime) to celebrate the return from abroad of their daughter Evelyn. If this strikes you as a curious situation, just wait until you hear the rest of the premise of Stuart Turton's complex murder mystery. There's not only murder, but there's a time loop, and inhabiting different bodies or "hosts" each time the main character wakes as he races the clock to solve the murder that happens over and over again each night at 11 pm. It's an original and intriguing premise that ends up being hampered somewhat by its very complexity and need for exposition.

A man wakes up in a panic in a forest with his arm slashed and no memory of who he is. All he knows is that he is certain he's heard a woman shot and he thinks that her name might be Anna. As he stumbles out of the dense and threatening woods and into the large, frayed at the seams country house, he is launching himself into a living nightmare. The house is Blackheath House and it is the country home of the Hardcastles who have gathered the people who were with them at another party so many years ago when their young son was murdered. The party is ostensibly to celebrate daughter Evelyn's return from Paris but instead appears to be more of a punishment since she, 10 years old at the time, was supposed to be in charge of little Thomas when he was killed. Worse than the circumstances surrounding the party is the information that the main character receives the horrifying news that at 11 pm that night Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered. He has 8 days, which he will spend in 8 hosts, to solve the murder. Each of the 8 days will be a repeat of the one before it and only if he solves the murder will he be allowed to leave Blackheath. Actually, only one person, the person who solves the murder, will be allowed to leave and there are others competing with him to solve the crime, others who might even be out to kill him to win. It will take everything in him, and many of the good and bad traits of his "hosts," who include a morally weak doctor, an elderly lawyer, a socialite, a well-heeled rapist, an obese banker, a sharp police officer, the butler, and a painter, to even begin to make sense of the situation and the elaborate rules governing it.

There is an air of threatening menace woven through the whole sprawling plot. The gothic atmosphere, the crumbling mansion, and the abandoned features around the house all contribute to the feelings of desperation and panicked frustration that our main character lives with for eight long days. He is confused, as is the reader, by the days lived out of order and trapped in hosts who help and hinder his investigations in unequal measure. The story is carefully woven and intricate but it also lagged in the middle and the characters whom the main character inhabits were not all equally well fleshed out so as to differentiate them from each other. The clues to solve the mystery were quite sparse until the end. And what a mixed up, chaotic ending it was with the main character's own past being revealed in addition to the twists and turns of the main mystery. The main character himself has very little personality beyond those of the hosts he inhabits although he occasionally makes reference to having to hold back the host's natural feelings. But keeping his hosts from acting in certain ways does not, in fact, endow him with a fully realized personality. This is both part of the horror of the book, that his very self is being subsumed by his hosts, and a weakness as it makes it hard for the reader to connect with him or to understand when he is acting on his own initiative. It must have been tricky indeed to write a novel this circular, always looping back on itself, but it proved to be tricky to read it, to unpick all of the tangles, as well.

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 Tiger Mom's Tale by Lyn Liao Butler.

The book is being released by Berkley on July 6, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: When an American woman inherits the wealth of her Taiwanese family, she travels to confront them about their betrayals of the past in this stunning debut by Lyn Liao Butler.

Lexa Thomas has never quite fit in. Having grown up in a family of blondes while more closely resembling Constance Wu, she's neither white enough nor Asian enough. Visiting her father in Taiwan as a child, Lexa thought she'd finally found a place where she belonged. But that was years ago, and even there, some never truly considered her to be a part of the family.

When her estranged father dies unexpectedly, leaving the fate of his Taiwanese family in Lexa's hands, she is faced with the choice to return to Taiwan and claim her place in her heritage . . . or leave her Taiwanese family to lose their home for good. Armed with the advice of two half-sisters (one American and the other Taiwanese, who can't stand each other), a mother who has reevaluated her sexuality, a man whose kisses make her walk into walls, and her self-deprecating humor, Lexa finds the courage to leave the comfort of New York City to finally confront the person who drove her away all those decades ago.

With fond memories of eating through food markets in Taiwan and forming a bond with a sister she never knew she had, Lexa unravels the truth of that last fateful summer and realizes she must stand up for herself and open her heart to forgiveness, or allow the repercussions of her family's choices to forever dictate the path of her life.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

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 Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict aand Victoria Christopher Murray.

The book is being released by Berkley on June 29, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: The remarkable story of J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, the Black American woman who was forced to hide her true identity and pass as white to leave a lasting legacy that enriched our nation, from New York Times bestselling author Marie Benedict, and acclaimed author Victoria Christopher Murray.

In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture in New York City society and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps create a world-class collection.

But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white—her complexion is dark because she is African American.

The Personal Librarian tells the story of an extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit, and shares the lengths she must go to—for the protection of her family and her legacy—to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.

Monday, June 14, 2021

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Miracle of miracles, I've actually read and reviewed some books since the last time I posted. This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past weeks are:

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey
So Happy Together by Deborah K. Harris
Lighting the Stars by Gabriele Wills
A Winter Night by Anne Leigh Parrish
A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark
Shipped by Angie Hockman
Brother Sister Mother Explorer by Jamie Figueroa
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
Everywhere You Don't Belong by Gabriel Bump

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
Interior Chinatown by Cahrles Yu
The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey
House of Trelawney by Hannah Rothschild
In Love with George Eliot by Kathy O'Shaughnessy
Other People's Children by R. J. Hoffmann
When Stars Rain Down by Angela Jackson-Brown
Inheritors by Asako Serizawa
We Learnt About Hitler at the Mickey Mouse Club by Enid Elliott Linder
The Restaurant Inspector by Alex Pickett
Modern Jungles by Pao Lor
Pleasantview by Celeste Mohammed
Miseducated by Brandon P. Fleming
The Colour of God by Ayesha S. Chaudhry
Strange Tricks by Syd Moore
A Trick of the Light by Ali Carter
The Stone Sister by Carolyn Patterson
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney

Reviews posted this week:

So Happy Together by Deborah K. Harris
Lighting the Stars by Gabriele Wills
A Winter Night by Anne Leigh Parrish
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis
Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

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

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London
Minus Me by Mameve Medwed
We Think the World of You by J.R. Ackerley
What You Wish For by Katherine Center
The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Initiates by Etienne Davodeau
You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle
The Arctic Fury by Greer MacAllister
Writers and Lovers by Lily King
Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Austenistan edited by Laaleen Sukhera
Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin
Love Is Blind by Lynsay Sands
Saving Miss Oliver's by Stephen Davenport
Refining Felicity by M.C. Beaton
Queenie by Candace Carty-Williams
Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson
Sea Swept by Nora Roberts
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
More Confessions of a Trauma Junkie by Sherry Lynn Jones
Inlaws and Outlaws by Kate Fulford
The Belinda Chronicles by Linda Seidel
Jane in Love by Rachel Givney
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
The Wind Blows and the Flowers Dance by Terre Reed
Lovely War by Julie Berry
A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
Dear County Agent Guy by Jerru Nelson
This Time Next Year We'll Be Laughing by Jacqueline Winspear
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
All Adults Here by Emma Straub
Nice Girls Finish First by Alesia Holliday
Cosmogony by Lucy Ives
Heartwood by Barbara Becker
My Own Miraculous by Joshilyn Jackson
Duchess If You Dare by Anabelle Bryant
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
After Francesco by Brian Malloy
When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson
Assembly by Natasha Brown
The Walls Came Tumbling Down by Henriette Roosenburg
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
Silence by William Carpenter
The Ghost Dancers by Adrian C. Louis
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Shipped by Angie Hockman
Brother Sister Mother Explorer by Jamie Figueroa
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
Everywhere You Don't Belong by Gabriel Bump

Friday, June 11, 2021

Review: Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

Just under 40% of women who are murdered die at the hands of their domestic partner. According to the UN, as of 2013 this accounts for the deaths of more than 30,000 women a year. This is horrific and unfathomable. Former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey's mother Gwen was one of these women. And Memorial Drive is the reflective memoir she's written to grapple with the loss of her mother at the hands of her former step-father.

Trethewey was born to a beautiful, young black mother and a white Canadian father in the strictly segregated Deep South. Her early years with her parents, living amongst the extended maternal side of her family was happy and her memoir is filled with joy as she describes those early years. But her parents drifted apart after her father went back to school and they ultimately divorced. She and her mother moved to Atlanta where her mother got a job as a social worker and eventually met Big Joe, the man who will be Tasha's stepfather and who will murder her mother. Trethewey recounts the physical abuse her mother endures and the emotional abuse she herself faces whenever Big Joe is around. She also tells, fairly dispassionately, of the ways in which the system fails her mother over and over again. A teacher doesn't report the abuse Trethewey tells her about. A person at the women's shelter brushes it off as normal when Natasha calls to say that her mother got into her car with Big Joe and something is wrong. The policeman assigned to watch her mother's apartment all night the night she was murdered left his post.

Trethewey's recounting of life with her mother and stepfather is patchy and she ruminates on the nature of memory. She talks of intentionally forgetting those years and the constant fluctuating levels of terror but if her head doesn't remember, she still carries the trauma and misplaced guilt over her mother's death deep in her bones. Her telling is dreamy, philosophical, and poetic but it is strangely emotionally removed, flatter than it should be, almost as if despite wanting to open up in this memoir, she is still protecting herself from the full brunt of emotion. And while she discusses the fact of her erasing what she could of those years, the lack of her half brother's presence (and also to some extent that of her biological father) is a strange omission. She was 19 when her mother was murdered by Big Joe and she is reckoning with her memories 30 years after the fact but it all felt unsatisfyingly incomplete. Almost at the end of the memoir, there is a transcript of several phone calls between her mother and Big Joe after he's gotten out of prison for assaulting Gwen in which he threatens her and she tries to reason with him. The transcripts are quite long given the overall length of the book and while they are horrific, they don't really add anything that Trethewey hasn't already shown the reader about this murderous, delusional man. It feels somehow wrong to criticize this book in any way given the terrible thing that Trethewey is sharing but in the end, I just didn't connect with the way it was written and I wanted to know more than I was given (and that I certainly wasn't owed). Others have raved about this though so perhaps take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Review: The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis

Great authors are have amazing insights into human nature. They need to understand the motivations behind the actions, reactions, and feelings of their characters. So it's not a far stretch to imagine our favorite authors as detectives and investigators as Bella Ellis does with Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte in The Vanished Bride, the first novel of the Bronte Sisters Mystery series.

Governess Mattie French discovers blood leaking out of her mistress' room one early morning in 1845. Her mistress has vanished but the quantity of blood can only mean murder. Brother Branwell brings this ghastly news to Haworth and Charlotte and Emily realize that their school friend Mattie is the one who discovered her mistress missing. They resolve to walk across the moor to Chester Grange and comfort their friend and perhaps to discover the truth of what happened to Elizabeth Chester. Knowing that Mrs. Chester left behind a child and a young stepchild and that Mr. Chester was not a good man, the three sisters are determined to become lady detectors and solve this troubling case.

Ellis, a play on Emily Bronte's own pen name--Ellis Bell, who is actually novelist Rowan Coleman, takes readers on a fun, cozy mystery ride with the three amateur sleuth and as yet unpublished novelist sisters. The atmosphere often veers toward the gothic and there are common Victorian plot contrivances like gypsies and the supernatural contained here. There are seeds of the sisters' future novels scattered throughout the mystery as well. The sisters have a delightful bickering and bantering way with each other and they are all drawn with curious and lively minds. There is a real sense of them pushing against the strictures placed on women in their time both in their own choices and in their sympathy for the missing Mrs. Chester. Occasionally though, they discuss the lot of women in terms that feel anachronistic. Their observational skills suit them well in detecting. The plotting of the mystery is consistent and the denouement is unexpected but well drawn. Fans of the Brontes who don't mind a little creative license will certainly enjoy this entertaining historical mystery.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Review: The Library Book by Susan Orlean

If you're a book lover, you need to see the way that Susan Orlean's The Library Book is put together in the hardback edition. It is a completely gorgeous production designed to look like a leather tooled library book, from the spine to the endpapers to the deckle edges. And not only is the book physically gorgeous but a book about the 1986 LA Central Library fire was guaranteed to appeal to readers. How could it not? Unfortunately, the book didn't live up to the promise of the physical package for me.

Orlean is a masterful researcher. When she digs into a topic, like this devastating library fire, she uncovers absolutely everything there is to uncover about it. But that is where this book falls down. It's not focused on the largest library fire in American history where more than a million books were damaged or completely destroyed. It's not focused on the mystery of whether it was deliberately set or was the result of an electrical failure. It's not focused on Harry Peak, the main suspect in the arson investigation. It's not focused on the history of the building itself. It's not focused on the sometimes eccentric or colorful librarians who have served at the LA Central Library. It's not focused on the way that libraries around the country serve and enrich their communities. It's not focused on Orleans' own reminiscences about libraries and her mother. In short, it's not focused. There are so many varied threads here, none of which, it seems, was long enough to sustain the book on its own but instead are all alternately woven together in a rather disjointed, choppy way. Starting each chapter with book titles and their library call number to hint at the contents of the chapter is clever. The sheer amount of information is impressive. And the core of each piece of the narrative was interesting but it ultimately went on too long and ended up feeling tedious. Did I hate the book? No. But I certainly didn't love it like I expected either and that makes me sad because there was a lot to enjoy here if it had been edited down and presented differently.

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.

Blush by Jamie Brenner.

The book is being released by G.P. Putnam's Sons on June 22, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: From acclaimed author Jamie Brenner comes a stunning new novel about three generations of women who discover that the scandalous books of their past may just be the key to saving their family's future.

For decades, the Hollander Estates winery has been the premier destination for lavish parties and romantic day trips on the North Fork of Long Island. But behind the lush vineyards and majestic estate house, the Hollander family fortunes have suffered and the threat of a sale brings old wounds to the surface. For matriarch Vivian, she fears that this summer season could be their last—and that selling their winery to strangers could expose a dark secret she's harbored for decades. Meanwhile, her daughter, Leah, who was turned away from the business years ago, finds her marriage at a crossroads and returns home for a sorely needed escape. And granddaughter Sadie, grappling with a crisis of her own, runs to the vineyard looking for inspiration.

But when Sadie uncovers journals from Vivian's old book club dedicated to scandalous novels of decades past, she realizes that this might be the distraction they all need. Reviving the "trashy" book club, the Hollander women find that the stories hold the key to their fight not only for the vineyeard, but for the life and love they've wanted all along.

Blush is a bighearted story of love, family, and second chances, and an ode to the blockbuster novels that have shaped generations of women.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Review: A Winter Night by Anne Leigh Parrish

I have been reading Anne Leigh Parrish's works for a long time, both her short stories and her novels. So I know what an accomplished writer she is and the way that she creates complex and intriguing characters. In this latest novel, A Winter Night, she is once again writing about one of the Dugans, a family she created many years ago and for whom she clearly has a big soft spot and an endless fascination. And although main character Angie Dugan has appeared on the page before, new readers need not fear; it is more than possible to read this novel as its own separate work.

Angie Dugan is 34. She works at Lindell retirement home and is vaguely dissatisfied with the job she once loved. She's in a new relationship but isn't entirely certain she wants to trust boyfriend Matt as much as a relationship needs in order to thrive. She's close to some of her siblings but not others and she worries terribly about her father as he relapses and starts drinking again. Angie doesn't have much faith in herself and that spills over into her personal relationships despite the fact that at heart, she is a caretaker.

This is very much a character study, the story of a woman who wants to learn to trust despite her struggles to do so. The narration is third person but firmly focused solely on Angie, her insecurities, anxieties, and fears, her brusque bluntness, and her hopes for the future. Angie can self-sabotage with the best of them and she seems unable to decide whether the red flags she sees in her relationship are legitimate or if they are her own creation. She is very different at work, sure, intuitive, and thoughtful, if burned out. Readers who are looking for action driving the plot will not find that here. It is much more a ruminative, interior sort of novel with Angie working out how she feels and how she wants to feel about her relationship with Matt, with her father, with her family, and about her job. She continues to be pulled into her family but keeps a cautious distance with everyone else around her. Is this what she wants though, or is she ready to risk herself? Even the oral history project plot thread, recording the memories of the elderly at Lindell, highlights relationship and love and the complexity of family, with one woman confessing to a decades old crime and another telling how she protected both her husband and her son in keeping the son's sexuality from his father. Parrish subtly highlights this theme over and over in Angie's story even as she slowly and carefully unwraps the layers of the past that surround both Angie and Matt. This is a quietly done, rewarding book and those who like to sit and savour their reads will find much to appreciate and enjoy.

If you enjoyed this book, be sure to read Parrish's short story collection By the Wayside, her interconnected story collection where the Dugan clan makes their first appearance, Our Love Could Light the World, and the story of Angie's mother Lavinia's unexpected widowhood in The Amendment.

For more information about Anne Leigh Parrish and the book, check our her author site, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or 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 Unsolicited Press for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Review: Lighting the Stars by Gabriele Wills

I am once again at my family's cottage on an island in northern Michigan, the perfect place to immerse myself in Gabriele Wills' latest installment of her Muskoka Novels, Lighting the Stars. This is Book 4 and it focuses on the younger generation of Wyndhams, Thorntons, and friends as Canada enters WWII. This novel is every bit as epic and engrossing as the previous books and although it again plunges the extended members of the families into the chaos and the worry, the heartache and the fear, the desperation and the grief of war, it also showcases love and friendship, loyalty and forgiveness, action and adventure. In some ways it is a mirror of the previous books but with different characters who react in their own ways to similar situations. It is the same story of war told in its own unique way, just as every instance and every feeling is as old as time and brand new all at once.

Merilee Sutcliffe, a budding photographer, lives at Muskoka year round, surrounded by the love, belonging, and yes, the wealth, of the rest of her family during the summers. Her best friend Peggy, an accomplished pianist, is still working to overcome the lingering effects of polio. And the cousin of Merilee's heart, Elyse, who might once have made it as an actress in Hollywood, has instead decided that she is enlisting in the ATA so she can ferry planes in England. WWII upends each of their lives in expected and unexpected ways as they watch their family and friends go off to war, as the old Sanitarium between Merilee and Peggy's houses is turned into a German POW camp, as their hearts are captured, and as they themselves contribute to the war effort and face all of the anguish and desperate hope that war brings with it. Through it all, the love of Muskoka, the peace and the memories, sustain them.

Wills invites readers to reconnect with beloved characters from the previous books but deftly shifts the focus to the next generation. This generation is as well fleshed out as the previous one with characters the reader enjoys spending time with and new characters they are eager to meet. The older generation lived through the heartache of WWI and now it is the turn of their children to face the loss and horror of war themselves. The stories this time are different but no less engaging as Merilee, Elyse, and Peggy face the personal and emotional cost of war. There are echoes of the previous books but Wills does a good job making it possible to read this as a standalone although it is likely better read in order with the others to really sink into the story and these families. The Muskoka setting is once again beautifully evoked, as is the way that the newly established German POW camp both alters the peace of the area and brings a tangible reminder of the war right onto the home front's doorstep. England under siege is also well drawn, the bombing, the randomness, the quotidian. The social class issues from the previous books continue to subtly carry through this one as do the sometimes strained and complicated family relationships. The main characters are charmingly engaging and the reader experiences their feelings right along with them, hoping that they will come out of their experiences unscathed but knowing that is impossible. Following this latest chapter in the Muskoka chronicles is as enchanting as it was in the previous books. It is a joy to be completely immersed in this bold family saga once again.

You can see what I thought of the the first book, The Summer Before the Storm, or the second book, Elusive Dawn, as well.

Have I enticed you enough to want to read this yourself? You're in luck. There's a Rafflecopter giveaway and three lucky winners will get copies of the book. Even if you don't win, do get yourself the series though! a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more information about Gabriele Wills and the book, check our her author site, 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 Teddy Rose from Premier Virtual Tours and the author for sending me a copy of this book to 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.

Haven Point by Casey Virgrinia Hume.

The book is being released by St. Martin's Press on June 8, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: A sweeping debut novel about the generations of a family that spends summers in a seaside enclave on Maine's rocky coastline, for fans of Elin Hilderbrand, Beatriz Williams, and Sarah Blake.

1944: Maren Larsen is a blonde beauty from a small Minnesota farming town, determined to do her part to help the war effort––and to see the world beyond her family’s cornfields. As a cadet nurse at Walter Reed Medical Center, she’s swept off her feet by Dr. Oliver Demarest, a handsome Boston Brahmin whose family spends summers in an insular community on the rocky coast of Maine.

1970: As the nation grapples with the ongoing conflict in Vietnam, Oliver and Maren are grappling with their fiercely independent seventeen-year-old daughter, Annie, who has fallen for a young man they don’t approve of. Before the summer is over a terrible tragedy will strike the Demarests––and in the aftermath, Annie vows never to return to Haven Point.

2008: Annie’s daughter, Skye, has arrived in Maine to help scatter her mother’s ashes. Maren knows that her granddaughter inherited Annie’s view of Haven Point: despite the wild beauty and quaint customs, the regattas and clambakes and sing-alongs, she finds the place––and the people––snobbish and petty. But Maren also knows that Annie never told Skye the whole truth about what happened during that fateful summer.

Over seven decades of a changing America, through wars and storms, betrayals and reconciliations, Virginia Hume's Haven Point explores what it means to belong to a place, and to a family, which holds as tightly to its traditions as it does its secrets.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Review: So Happy Together by Deborah K. Shepherd

Are you the same person you were ten years ago? Fifteen? Twenty? We all change as we experience different things, as life leads us down different paths. But what if you took a look at yourself and the life you were leading and you felt like you'd lost the best part of yourself, the piece that made you the happiest, the you that was most authentic? How do you handle that realization? In Deborah K. Shepherd's novel So Happy Together, main character Caro takes off on a road trip away from the life she's created and her unraveling marriage back towards the man she loved in college and the woman she was then, despite how it all ended. Can Caro recapture that love and the life she once craved? Should she?

It's the 80s. Caro Tanner is a wife and mother of three living a conventional life in Westport, Connecticut with her lawyer husband Jack. She is dissatisfied with her life, mourning the loss of her once promising life as a playwright (she hasn't written anything in years), unhappy in her marriage, and suffocated by the image of the perfect housewife and mother (nose job, dyed hair, PTA, country club, and all) that she has turned into. Once upon a time, Caro was a completely different person. At the University of Arizona in the 60s, Caro was a free wheeling, pot smoking, protest attending, free love practicing, kooky spirited playwright. She was authentic in ways she lost over the intervening 20 years. The morning that she puts her three children on the bus for summer camp, Caro leaves a note for her husband, telling him she needs time away, and she hits the road to find Peter, the man she has always loved, the man who accepted her exactly as she was back in school and who she has convinced herself is her soul mate, the solution to all the discontent in her current life. As she slowly wends her way across the country, memories of that time and the deep friendship and love she had for Peter accompany her, interwoven occasionally with scenes from her life with Jack and of her travels west.

Caro has lost herself, sold out, and she doesn't much like herself as she drives along. Together she and Jack changed from idealistic young protesters to a conventional, establishment couple. Her unhappiness and the ennui in their marriage is palpable but so is her love for their children. At the same time, her idealized return to her past through her memories drives her desire for a new start with Peter. Shepherd captures the 60s time period very well, the atmosphere, the feelings, the rebellion. Her young Caro is naive and damaged, searching for acceptance and love, but she's also talented, smart, and principled. Like Caro, Peter is carrying some pretty heavy baggage, wanting to be someone he's not. He is gifted at playing a part, onstage and off. They care very deeply for each other but sometimes that's not enough. Both characters are well drawn and their story is engaging. Caro and Jack's story is less fleshed out than Caro and Peter's but it does take Caro revisiting her feelings about and life with Peter for her to really see the truth in her everyday life with Jack. The story is definitely engrossing and although the reader understands the truth of the past and the present long before Caro does, they will still turn the pages quickly to find out what happens with Caro and Peter and Jack. This is a novel of second chances, rediscovering the core of who you are, cherishing memories, and moving forward. Caro learns a lot about herself and who she wants to be on her road trip and while the novel ends in the 80s, I'd love to know who Caro is in the 2020s.

For more information about Deborah K. Shepherd and the book, check our her author site, 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 She Writes Press for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

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.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston.

The book is being released by St. Martin's Griffin on June 1, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop is a magical, sexy, big-hearted romance where the impossible becomes possible as August does everything in her power to save the girl lost in time.

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