Wednesday, April 21, 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 Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser.

The book is being released by Ballentine Books on May 4, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: A woman desperate to turn a new page heads to the Scottish coast and finds herself locked in a battle of wills with an infuriatingly aloof bookseller in this utterly heartwarming debut, perfect for readers of Evvie Drake Starts Over.

Thea Mottram is having a bad month. She’s been let go from her office job with no notice—and to make matters even worse, her husband of nearly twenty years has decided to leave her for one of her friends. Bewildered and completely lost, Thea doesn’t know what to do. But when she learns that a distant great uncle in Scotland has passed away, leaving her his home and a hefty antique book collection, she decides to leave Sussex for a few weeks. Escaping to a small coastal town where no one knows her seems to be exactly what she needs.

Almost instantly, Thea becomes enamored with the quaint cottage, comforted by its cozy rooms and lovely but neglected garden. The locals in nearby Baldochrie are just as warm, quirky, and inviting. The only person she can’t seem to win over is bookshop owner Edward Maltravers, to whom she hopes to sell her uncle’s book collection. His gruff attitude—fueled by an infamous, long-standing feud with his brother, a local lord—tests Thea’s patience. But bickering with Edward proves oddly refreshing and exciting, leading Thea to develop feelings she hasn’t experienced in a long time. As she follows a thrilling yet terrifying impulse to stay in Scotland indefinitely, Thea realizes that her new life may quickly become just as complicated as the one she was running from.

Wednesday, April 14, 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.

Maggie Finds Her Muse by Dee Ernst.

The book is being released by St. Martin's Griffin on April 20, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: A sparkling romantic comedy starring a bestselling author who goes to Paris to overcome writer's block and rediscovers family, independence, and love along the way.

All Maggie Bliss needs to do is write. Forty-eight years old and newly single (again!), she ventures to Paris in a last-ditch effort to finish her manuscript. With a marvelous apartment at her fingertips and an elegant housekeeper to meet her every need, a finished book—and her dream of finally taking her career over the top—is surely within her grasp. After all, how could she find anything except inspiration in Paris, with its sophistication, food, and romance in the air?

But the clock is running out, and between her charming ex-husband arriving in France for vacation and a handsome Frenchman appearing one morning in her bathtub, Maggie’s previously undisturbed peace goes by the wayside. Charming and heartfelt, Dee Ernst's Maggie Finds Her Muse is a delightful and feel-good novel about finding love, confidence, and inspiration in all the best places.

Monday, April 12, 2021

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's been an age since I posted so this is many weeks worth but I was in a reading slump for much of it so it still won't be long. This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past weeks are:

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

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy
Brother Sister Mother Explorer by Jamie Figueroa
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Reviews posted this week:

nothing yet

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

Tuesday, April 6, 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 Kew Gardens Girls by Posey Lovell.

The book is being released by G. P. Putnam's Sons on April 20, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: A heart-warming novel inspired by real life events, about the brave women during WWI who worked in the historic grounds of London's Kew Gardens.

Can the women of Kew keep the gardens alive in the midst of war?

London, 1916. England is at war. Desperate to help in whatever way they can, Ivy and Louisa enlist as gardeners at Kew, the Royal Botanic Gardens, taking on the jobs of the men who have gone to fight. Under their care, the gardens begin to flourish and become a safe haven for those seeking solace--but not everyone wants women working at Kew.

The pair begin to face challenges on the home front. When a tragedy overseas affects the people closest to them, can the women of Kew pull together to support themselves and their country through the darkest of times?

Wednesday, March 17, 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 Million Reasons Why by Jessica Strawser.

The book is being released by St. Martin's Press on March 23, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: When two strangers are linked by a mail-in DNA test, it’s an answered prayer—that is, for one half sister. For the other, it will dismantle everything she knows to be true.

But as they step into the unfamiliar realm of sisterhood, the roles will reverse in ways no one could have foreseen.

Caroline lives a full, happy life—thriving career, three feisty children, enviable marriage, and a close-knit extended family. She couldn’t have scripted it better. Except for one thing:

She’s about to discover her fundamental beliefs about them all are wrong.

Sela lives a life in shades of gray, suffering from irreversible kidney failure. Her marriage crumbled in the wake of her illness. Her beloved mother, always her closest friend, unexpectedly passed away. She refuses to be defined by her grief, but still, she worries what will happen to her two-year-old son if she doesn’t find a donor match in time.

She’s the only one who knows Caroline is her half sister and may also be her best hope for a future. But Sela’s world isn’t as clear-cut as it appears—and one misstep could destroy it all.

Wednesday, March 10, 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 Sweet Taste of Muscadines by Pamela Terry.

The book is being released by Ballantine Books on March 16, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: Lila Bruce Breedlove never quite felt at home in Wesleyan, Georgia, especially after her father’s untimely demise when she was a child. Both Lila and her brother, Henry, fled north after high school, establishing fulfilling lives of their own. In contrast, their younger sister, Abigail, opted to remain behind to dote on their domineering, larger-than-life mother, Geneva. Yet despite their independence, Lila and Henry know deep down that they’ve never quite reckoned with their upbringing.

When their elderly mother dies suddenly and suspiciously in the muscadine arbor behind the family estate, Lila and Henry return to the town that essentially raised them. But as they uncover more about Geneva’s death, shocking truths are revealed that overturn the family’s history as they know it, sending the pair on an extraordinary journey to chase a truth that will dramatically alter the course of their lives. The Sweet Taste of Muscadines reminds us all that true love never dies.

Monday, March 8, 2021

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Eye surgry and a massive kidney stone means my reading has been rather limited. This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past week are:

Inlaws and Outlaws by Kate Fulford
The Belinda Chronicles by Linda Seidel

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Jane in Love by Rachel Givney
Lovely War by Julie Berry

Reviews posted this week:

Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
Murder on Millionaire's Row by Erin Lindsey
Will the Circle Be Unbroken? by Sean Dietrich
Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing by Maryla Szymiczkowa
What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen

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

Friday, March 5, 2021

Review: What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen

Scandal. It seems human beings have always been fascinated by scandal, especially when it happens to famous or wealthy people. And there were fewer scandals at the time in Chicago as big as the decades long extra-marital affair between department store owner Marshall Field and wealthy socialite Delia Spencer Caton. Renee Rosen takes this affair and weaves a romantic and tragic story around it in her novel, What the Lady Wants.

When the novel opens, 17 year old Delia (Dell) Spencer, daughter of a wealthy dry goods purveyor, is attending a ball celebrating the opening of Palmer House in Chicago just as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 starts. It is here that the young woman will first meet Marshall Field, her father's rival, a married man twenty years her senior, with whom she becomes completely intrigued and he equally intrigued by her. Despite the devastation of the fire, which wipes out rich and poor alike, Field rebuilds his store, turning it into the famed department store that bore his name. And while he rebuilt his store into something grander and visionary, his personal life and marriage continued to be unhappy. Dell meanwhile is reacquainted with Arthur Caton, eventually marrying the wealthy young man only to quickly realize that their marriage was not destined to be happy for reasons beyond her control. But she plays at the frivolous and unfulfilling life of a rich woman as expected by society even as she continues to be conscious of and attracted by Marsh. Eventually their mutual attraction cannot be stopped, the two of them embarking on an affair that causes their respective spouses to react quite differently and sets Chicago society on its ear.

This is very much a love story between Dell and Marsh and much less of the story of his founding of Marshall Field's department store. With the narrative centered on Dell, the reader sees all of the action from her perspective so there's more insight into her marriage and her deep love and obsession for Marsh, her appreciation for his genius, and the impact their affair had on her life as a society matron than there is on his feelings about any of it. The time period is very thoroughly evoked; in fact, early on there's a bit of an info dump feeling to the narrative. Certainly major historical events happened in Dell's lifetime, the Great Fire, the Haymarket Incident, and the Chicago World's Fair and each of these drove the narrative to greater or lesser degrees but some of the information given on these events still sits awkwardly in the story. The novel is both historical and biographical fiction and while it is definitely engaging, keeping the reader turning the pages, it is also a bit uncomfortable to know that Rosen created stories for Arthur and Nannie that reflects badly on them given that they were real human beings about whom not that much is known purely for narrative tension. These invented stories certainly make Dell and Marsh's long love affair more forgivable and understandable than it might be otherwise. Dell's position, in spite of her charity work, very much highlights the essential uselessness of women in the eyes of high society, especially a woman who did not have children, and this position, and the repeated tragedies and nastiness that Dell suffers despite her incredibly privileged life, will evoke sympathy for her. Her hero worship of Marsh, though, gets rather old and one-note. Marsh himself stays far more enigmatic than Dell here. This novel's reader would do well to remember this is fiction but it can also be pure, fun escapism.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Review: Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing by Maryla Szymiczkowa

Poland is not often the country we in the US think of when we think of European countries. But it has a rich and varied history, including being partitioned by Russia, Austria, and Germany (Prussia) from 1795-1918, wiping its very existence off the map. In fact, Cracow in 1893 was very diverse in population and complicated politically and religiously, at least in part because of this partition. The authors behind the pen name Maryla Szymiczkowa have written a Golden Age inspired mystery set in this very complex time and place in Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing, the first in a new series.

Zofia Turbotynska is a professor's wife. She's a busybody, a gossip, and a raging snob. And she has nothing better to do with her time than to push her unambitious husband's career forward, ingratiate herself as high up in society as she can, and hire and fire maids. She decides that she should run a charity raffle, intending to ask the nuns at the local church run retirement home for contributions from their residents and to get a countess at the home to head up the effort with her in order to give the raffle benefitting scrofulous children the social cachet it needs. But when she arrives at Helcel House to propose her plan, things are all aflutter, a resident having gone missing. Curious and intrigued, Zofia is the driving force behind finding Mrs. Mohr's body but when the little old woman's death is ruled natural causes, Zofia does not agree. And when a second resident is discovered murdered in her bed, Zofia jumps into an unofficial investigation with both feet, pursuing it personally as well as with the help of her cook Franciszka and of her wide net of social contacts giving her entre into places she should never be allowed.

Zofia is not an entirely likeable character and that, combined with the slow pace of the novel, makes it hard to get fully engaged with the story. The mystery of whodunit itself is quite complex and convoluted although Zofia's strong determination, she's really a force of nature, leaves no doubt that she will be able to collect all the information she needs to prove her case dramatically in an unveiling scene worthy of the greats. Where this novel really shines is not so much the mystery though as in its examination of class in nineteenth century Cracow, the look into the political climate of the time and its recent, bloody past, the confounding complexities of proper etiquette and society, and the rich and detailed historical setting itself. Zofia is smart and deductive and always (irritatingly) convinced of her own superiority. Her keeping her sleuthing from her dear husband Ignacy is rather entertaining but humor at his expense helps make Zofia just that slightest bit more endurable. Even the other characters all seem to find her to be a pill. Zofia's character and the byzantine twists and turns of the mystery (rarely shared with the reader until Zofia's grand reveal in the end) keep this from being the unreserved pick that the fascinating historical situation of Cracow would have made it and I doubt I'll pick up any more in the series but it was a decent enough read.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Review: Will the Circle Be Unbroken by Sean Dietrich

Early tragedy can shape a child's whole life. The death by suicide of a parent is particularly formative, especially as in Sean Dietrich's case, when that parent tried to kill your other parent too. Dietrich has spent years grappling with the legacy of his father and his father's violent death and this memoir is the result of much of that grappling.

Opening with his memory of what he was doing the day that his father shot himself, it is clear that Dietrich is an accomplished storyteller. His stories build up, circling back again and again to his hate and love for his father, each emotion battling it out in his head and his heart. His tone is warm and despite the anger and hurt he feels, an anger and hurt that led him to drop out of school in seventh grade and work years of backbreaking manual labor jobs, he can still find the good and the sweetness in a situation. His stories about his growing up are hard and honest and heartfelt and his arc from furious child to an adult who can extend grace to others, and most importantly to himself, is engaging to read. He has a folksy tone and his essential southerness weaves through the narrative in every word. Readers will come to know his love story with his wife and the bloodhound who was a huge piece of his heart. But most of all, they will come to know a man who is trying to live in hope, to live with his past but still know that he's "going to be okay." The writing is easy and accessible, doled out in vignettes, like sitting on a front porch swing listening to a man tell you all about himself. The first half of the book, when he is still a child, is a bit more engaging than the second half, where he struggles to get out of his own way. And his story of becoming Sean of the South is not as fully written as the earlier stories, perhaps because his avid fans already know who he is. Over all this is a good read for people who like memoirs, who like southern storytelling, who want a positive story about overcoming a sad and hard past, or who want an uplifting story right about now.

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 Arsonist's City by Hala Alyan.

The book is being released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on March 9, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: A rich family story, a personal look at the legacy of war in the Middle East, and an indelible rendering of how we hold on to the people and places we call home.

The Nasr family is spread across the globeBeirut, Brooklyn, Austin, the California desert. A Syrian mother, a Lebanese father, and three American children: all have lived a life of migration. Still, theyve always had their ancestral home in Beiruta constant touchstoneand the complicated, messy family love that binds them. But following his father's recent death, Idris, the family's new patriarch, has decided to sell.

The decision brings the family to Beirut, where everyone unites against Idris in a fight to save the house. They all have secretslost loves, bitter jealousies, abandoned passions, deep-set shamethat distance has helped smother. But in a city smoldering with the legacy of war, an ongoing flow of refugees, religious tension, and political protest, those secrets ignite, imperiling the fragile ties that hold this family together.

In a novel teeming with wisdom, warmth, and characters born of remarkable human insight, award-winning author Hala Alyan shows us again that fiction is often the best filter for the real world around us (NPR).

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Review: Murder on Millionaire's Row by Erin Lindsey

What do you get when you mix a historical mystery with paranormal fantasy and a whiff of potential romance? You get this first in a new series, Murder on Millionaire's Row by Erin Lindsey.

Set in 1886, in Gilded Age Manhattan, the novel tells the story of Rose Gallagher, an Irish girl from Five Points who works as a housemaid in the Fifth Avenue home of the wealthy, single, British Thomas Wiltshire. Rose wants more from her life but is happy enough, a conscientious hard worker who has a fierce crush on her handsome, somewhat mysterious employer. When he goes missing and the police seems unlikely to take his disappearance seriously, Rose decides to search for him herself, inadvertently getting herself mixed up in something far bigger than she could ever have imagined.

There is murder, kidnapping, theft, Irish gangs, Pinkerton agents, Freemasons, magic, ghosts, witches and more here. The novel is told in the first person from Rose's perspective so the reader gets to know her very well indeed. She is smart, perceptive, intuitive, and observant. She is also delightfully spunky and stubborn, determined to find Mr. Wiltshire and to solve the larger case he's wrapped up in too. Her sheer joy and excitement at investigating is charming although there has to be more to her wanting to find her employer than simply her longstanding crush. The interactions between upper and servant class are perhaps too modern for the time the novel is set in and the interactions between different races also reads a bit unbelievably. Lindsey has drawn a wonderful, atmospheric, historic New York though, capturing the grimy underbelly of places like Five Points and an abandoned gas works. The characters were appealing to spend time with and although this is not a mystery the reader could solve, it did feel as if we were learning information right along with Rose so were close to the action in an interesting way. This novel does stand alone fine but it also makes for an intriguing introduction to a new series too. A fun read for historical mystery fans who want a pretty big dollop of paranormal in their mysteries.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Review: Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Just saying 1955 Cannes evokes glamour and style, doesn't it? And who better to epitomize that old Hollywood glamour than Grace Kelly? How hard must it have been to be so sought after, so in the spotlight, all the time. But even as Kelly was embarking on what was seen as a real life fairy tale, another, quieter love story was happening around her in Meet Me in Monaco, a charming historical novel by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb.

Sophie Duval runs her family's boutique parfumerie in Cannes. The shop and Sophie are both struggling after the death of Sophie's beloved father. But on a day when the film festival is in town, Grace Kelly ducks into Sophie's shop in an effort to elude a very persistent British photographer. Sophie makes the split second decision to protect the star, kicking off a warm connection between the women that will change Sophie's life. The photographer, James Henderson, snaps a photo of Sophie instead of his intended subject and after he abruptly returns to England, he will not be able to forget the beautiful parfumeur and the brief, happy time they spent in each other's company before he was called home. Given a second chance to photograph Grace Kelly, this time for her wedding to Prince Ranier, James contacts Sophie in hopes of meeting her again.

There is a love story, the threat of financial ruin, duplicity, soul mates, Hollywood, and royalty all wrapped into this story about two people brought together by chance in the orbit of Grace Kelly. It is far more Sophie and James' stories than Grace Kelly and Prince Ranier's but the glamour of the moment swirls around the lesser known couple too. Love is won and lost and never forgotten. The romance was a bit predictable but still pleasing for all that. The details of creating a perfume, the chemistry and the special intangible spark, that go into an entirely new fragrance are fascinating and the personal tale is bittersweet and mostly lovely. Fictional newspaper reports about the courtship and wedding are sprinkled between chapters, showing the world's love affair with the princess to be and giving a timeline for James and Sophie's relationship. The story behind the breathless newspaper accounts is interesting for showing more detail of the realities of covering the wedding of the century and the reserved young woman marrying a prince. The various secondary characters are drawn to different degrees of completeness but each of them help James and Sophie come to realizations about themselves and about what matters most to them in their lives, family, passion, loyalty. In the end, this is an engaging novel for fans of historical fiction and of novels set in France or Monaco who don't mind more than a little romance in their stories and who don't care if the famous person in the novel is not the focus.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Eye surgry and a massive kidney stone means my reading has been rather limited. This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past week are:

Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing by Maryla Szymiczkowa
Murder on Millionaire's Row by Erin Lindsey
More Confessions of a Trauma Junkie by Sherry Lynn Jones

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Jane in Love by Rachel Givney
Lovely War by Julie Berry
Inlaws and Outlaws by Kate Fulford

Reviews posted this week:

nothing :-(

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
Will the Circle Be Unbroken? by Sean Dietrich
Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing by Maryla Szymiczkowa
Murder on Millionaire's Row by Erin Lindsey
More Confessions of a Trauma Junkie by Sherry Lynn Jones

Wednesday, February 24, 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.

Float Plan by Trish Doller.

The book is being released by St. Martin's Griffon on March 2, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: Heartbroken by the loss of her fiancé, adventurous Anna finds a second chance at love with an Irish sailor in this riveting, emotional romance.

After a reminder goes off for the Caribbean sailing trip Anna was supposed to take with her fiancé, she impulsively goes to sea in the sailboat he left her, intending to complete the voyage alone.

But after a treacherous night’s sail, she realizes she can’t do it by herself and hires Keane, a professional sailor, to help. Much like Anna, Keane is struggling with a very different future than the one he had planned. As romance rises with the tide, they discover that it’s never too late to chart a new course.

In Trish Doller’s unforgettable Float Plan, starting over doesn't mean letting go of your past, it means making room for your future.

Monday, February 22, 2021

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Another two weeks at one stretch because I lost track of time. This pandemic has messed with my sense of time on the daily! This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past two weeks are:

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
Will the Circle Be Unbroken? by Sean Dietrich

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

More Confessions of a Trauma Junkie by Sherry Lynn Jones
Jane in Love by Rachel Givney

Reviews posted this week:

Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon
The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

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
Will the Circle Be Unbroken? by Sean Dietrich

Friday, February 19, 2021

Review: The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

I still have my original Scholastic copy of Jane Eyre, the one that I convinced my mom to buy me out of those joy inducing book order forms that were sent home from school in elementary school. Why Jane Eyre was included in the elementary version (and unabridged at that), I cannot say but it kicked off a long fascination with everything Brontë. I have read the sisters' books. I have read criticisms of the books. I have read re-imaginings. I have read responses and prequels. So when I saw Catherine Lowell's The Madwoman Upstairs, a novel centered on the last living Brontë descendant, I knew I wanted to read it.

Samantha Whipple is an American who has come to Oxford to study English literature. She's a bit older than a traditional student, having been homeschooled haphazardly for a long time by her brilliant, Brontë scholar father who also happens to be a descendant of one of Patrick Brontë's siblings. After her father's death in the fire that destroyed his library and long estranged from her mother, Samantha was sent to a small boarding school in Vermont, her first experience with traditional schooling. And somehow from there she ends up at Oxford, in the college her father always wanted her to attend to read English, which she doesn't seem to actually like very much. And she claims she certainly doesn't like the Brontë sisters and the attention her relationship to them brings her although her actions would dictate otherwise. Samantha is determined to find the family legacy, the Warnings of Experience, from her father, using the scant clues he's left her, starting with the inherited bookmark that she receives in his will. As she embarks on this slow, literary scavenger hunt, she also meets with her professor, Orville, who is clearly modeled on Mr. Rochester. Orville is young, handsome, aloof, disapproving, and enigmatic and the two of them spar over literary discussion and analysis. There's also her father's literary rival, a friendly-ish fellow student, Samantha's mother, the college porter, and a disapproving administrator making mostly brief appearances in the story but the bulk of the novel is Samantha on Samantha and her journey.

The novel is slow and meandering, not quite a scavenger hunt nor a mystery nor a love story. In an appropriately gothic setting, Samantha's room at the college is in a windowless tower where a strange portrait glowers on the wall and which cannot be removed because it is a part of the college tour. Books from her father's burned library mysteriously appear on her bed and she sees a fleeing figure at least once. Samantha is a loner who, it would seem, interacts with almost no one at the college and certainly has no friends. She is an odd combination of intelligent and completely cowed by her professor. She is, however, 100% insufferable, disaffected mess. Her interpretations of her famous ancestors' works are definitely different, almost completely based in biographical history. Interestingly, she is convinced that Anne is the sister whose work is the most misunderstood. The tone of the novel ping pongs between light and academic pretension and back again but it doesn't quite balance both successfully. There's zero chemistry for the love story and it can get a bit tiring to be entirely in Samantha's head for the duration of the book. Most of the twists were quite expected and the whole thing felt strangely ponderous. Lowell does insert some clever allusions to various Brontë works, not least of which is the ending which echoes the end of Charlotte's The Professor. The novel is fine but will probably lose all but the most avid Brontë fans.

Wednesday, February 17, 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.

While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart.

The book is being released by Grand Central Publishing on February 23, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: One woman must make the hardest decision of her life in this unforgettably moving story of resistance and faith during one of the darkest times in history.

Santa Cruz, 1953. Jean-Luc is a man on the run from his past. The scar on his face is a small price to pay for surviving the horrors of Nazi occupation in France. Now, he has a new life in California, a family. He never expected the past to come knocking on his door.

Paris, 1944. A young Jewish woman's past is torn apart in a heartbeat. Herded onto a train bound for Auschwitz, in an act of desperation she entrusts her most precious possession to a stranger. All she has left now is hope.

On a darkened platform, two destinies become intertwined, and the choices each person makes will change the future in ways neither could have imagined.

Told from alternating perspectives, While Paris Slept reflects on the power of love, resilience, and courage when all seems lost. Exploring the strength of family ties, and what it really means to love someone unconditionally, this debut novel will capture your heart.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Review: Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colòn

When the recession of 2008 hit, we were moving from one state to another for a job change. It was hard but we were lucky. Although we lost a lot of money selling our house, financially we were okay and still had a paycheck coming in. Suzan Colòn, a writer and journalist, was laid off from her job, having to rely on sporadic freelancing and her partner's paycheck. This pushed her to be more frugal and thoughtful in her purchases, especially groceries, and Cherries in Winter is her memoir of that time, of looking back at the recipes her family has loved and used in previous lean times and of finding a way to push through and find hope for the future.

Colòn goes through her grandmother's recipes, using them to economize even as she bemoans the loss of the ability to shop in an expensive grocery store and to buy whatever struck her fancy without considering the cost and that cost's impact on her weekly bottom line. Buying whatever she wanted was a sign that she'd moved beyond her family's long history of living paycheck to paycheck and the need to stretch their meals as far as possible. So when she lost that ability, it was hard for her to accept. But as she cooked the economical recipes from her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother, she learned not only how to make it through but also about the strong, resilient women from whom she came. The dishes she recreates, some not entirely faithfully, come with family stories attached and there is wisdom imparted along with the stories and food. She weaves tales from her own life and from the women who came before her into the almost diary like narrative. It is possible to see Colon's magazine background in the spare, straightforward writing. Each chapter is started with a recipe or a snippet from her grandmother's column that leads her down memory lane as well as into her current situation. She is undoubtedly privileged and far from destitute, which will make her unhappiness with her situation tough for some to stomach (a little pun to lighten the mood), but she's honest about the difficulty she faces and the reason why it takes such an emotional toll on her. This is a very quick read. The family stories are heartfelt and illustrative; it was nice to see Colòn realize what is most important in her life, and it's surely not where she can afford to buy her groceries.

Wednesday, February 10, 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 English Wife by Adrienne Chinn.

The book is being released by One More Chapter on February 16, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: VE Day 1945: As victory bells ring out across the country, war bride Ellie Burgess' happiness is overshadowed by grief. Her charismatic Newfoundlander husband Thomas is still missing in action.

Until a letter arrives explaining Thomas is back at home on the other side of the Atlantic recovering from his injuries.

Travelling to a distant country to live with a man she barely knows is the bravest thing Ellie has ever had to do. But nothing can prepare her for the harsh realities of her new home...

September 11th 2001: Sophie Parry is on a plane to New York on the most tragic day in the city's history. While the world watches the news in horror, Sophie's flight is rerouted to a tiny town in Newfoundland and she is forced to seek refuge with her estranged aunt Ellie.

Determined to discover what it was that forced her family apart all those years ago, newfound secrets may change her life forever...

This is a timeless story of love, sacrifice and resilience perfect for fans of Lucinda Riley, Lorna Cook and Gill Paul.

Wednesday, February 3, 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 Love Square by Laura Jane Williams.

The book is being released by Avon on February 9, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: She's single. But it can still be complicated...

Penny Bridge has always been unlucky in love.

So she can't believe it when she meets a remarkable new man.

Followed by another.

And then another...

And all of them want to date her.

Penny has to choose between three. But are any of them The One?

The bestselling author of Our Stop will have you laughing, crying and cheering Penny on in this funny and feel-good exploration of hope, romance and the trust it takes to finally fall in love. Perfect for fans of Mhairi McFarlane's If I Never Met You and Beth O'Leary's The Flatshare.

Monday, February 1, 2021

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:

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

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Saving Miss Oliver's by Stephen Davenport

Reviews posted this week:

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
Wild Women by Autumn Stephens

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

Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London
The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
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

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Jingle Wars by R. Holmes and Veronica Eden came from me for myself.

It may not be the holiday season anymore but I can always save this Christmas rom-com with warring next door neighbor inn owners for December or I can read it at some other time of year when I need a sweet, happy pick me up.

Austenistan edited by Leeleen Sukhera came from me for myself.

Jane Austen inspired short stories set in Pakistan? Why, yes please!

If you want to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Wednesday, January 27, 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.

Make Up Break Up by Lily Menon.

The book is being released by St. Martin's Griffin on February 9, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: Love, romance, second chances, fairy-tale endings…these are the things Annika Dev believes in. Her app, Make Up, has been called the “Google Translate for failing relationships.”

High efficiency break-ups, flashy start-ups, penthouses, fast cars…these are the things Hudson Craft believes in. His app, Break Up, is known as the “Uber for break-ups.” It’s wildly successful—and anathema to Annika’s life philosophy.

Which wouldn’t be a problem if they’d gone their separate ways after that summer fling in Las Vegas, never to see each other again. Unfortunately for Annika, Hudson’s moving not just into her office building, but into the office right next to hers. And he’ll be competing at the prestigious EPIC investment pitch contest: A contest Annika needs to win if she wants to keep Make Up afloat. As if it’s not bad enough seeing his irritatingly perfect face on magazine covers when her own business is failing. As if knowing he stole her idea and twisted it into something vile—and monumentally more successful—didn’t already make her stomach churn.

As the two rival app developers clash again and again—and again—Annika finds herself drawn into Hudson Craft’s fast-paced, high velocity, utterly shallow world. Only, from up close, he doesn’t seem all that shallow. Could it be that everything she thought about Hudson is completely wrong? Could the creator of Break Up teach her what true love’s really about?

Wednesday, January 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.

Mum and Dad by Joanna Trollope.

The book is being released by Mantle on May 1, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: Their parents made a choice years ago. Now they're counting on the children to step in. After so much time, can old wounds heal? Mum & Dad by the Sunday Times bestseller Joanna Trollope is a wise, brilliantly drawn examination of a modern family dilemma.

"What a mess, she thought now . . . what a bloody, unholy mess the whole family has got itself into."

It’s been 25 years since Gus and Monica left England to start a new life in Spain, building a vineyard and wine business from the ground up. However, when Gus suffers a stroke and their idyllic Mediterranean life is thrown into upheaval, it’s left to their three grown-up children in London to step in . . . Sebastian is busy running his company with his wife, Anna, who’s never quite seen eye-to-eye with her mother-in-law. Katie, a successful solicitor in the City, is distracted by the problems with her long-term partner, Nic, and the secretive lives of their three daughters. And Jake, ever the easy-going optimist, is determined to convince his new wife, Bella, that moving to Spain with their 18-month-old would be a good idea. As the children descend on the vineyard, it becomes clear that each has their own idea of how best to handle their mum and dad, as well as the family business. But as long-simmering resentments rise to the surface and tensions reach breaking point, can the family ties prove strong enough to keep them together?

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Review: Wild Women by Autumn Stephens

If you say "Victorian women," I can probably guess exactly what you mean. We have a stereotype of Victorian women as proper, prudish women who take care of their husbands and children, whose focus is only on the home and the so-called womanly sphere. But this pop culture portrayal certainly doesn't include all women. In fact, the women of the era whom we have most likely heard of, with the possible exception of Queen Victoria herself (although even she apparently wasn't nearly as stiff and unhumorous as the popular picture would imply), are all women who most assuredly did not follow the strictures of the age. Autumn Stephens's Wild Women offers brief biographies of some of the women who fought against this straight-laced and rather uninteresting expectation and lived life on their own terms.

This collection of very short biographical blurbs is organized by the transgressions the women committed against the expectations of their sex. With cheesy alliterative chapters like Dreaded Desperados and Gutsy Gamblers, Holy Terrors and Pope Perturbers, Flamboyant Flirts and Lascivious Libertines, and so forth, the 150 biographies focus on the scandalous aspect of each women that best fits the chapter category. This makes many of the women within each chapter start to sound the same. In fact, even across the chapters the brevity of the biographies make the women sound similar. There are only so many ways to rebel against the "Angel in the House" trope but the sameness is highlighted by featuring so many women in so short a space. Stephens' tone is quite glib as she describes these women and it is difficult to figure out how the author determined which women to include as not all of them are nearly as notable as the others. Some of the women are very well known while others are quite unknown. The women profiled here are primarily American women of European descent and one blurb about a woman who contested her father's will for fifty years, only winning the case six years after her own demise is repeated twice within the pages. Given the nature of the book and the lack of in depth information (both intentional), this is really more a book to dip into and out of rather than to sit and read in one go. It was a decent enough diversion but no more than that.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Review: The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Nope. Nope. Nope. Someone please remind me that I am a huge coward and no matter how entertaining a book might look, if anyone out there has described it as horror, I should walk right on past. And if I argue with you, remind me of The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires because I read it and then had the worst night of sleep I've had in a long time, cycling through nightmare to waking fears and back to nightmare. And yes, I recognize I'm a wimp but I have a hard enough time living in my own scaredy-cat head so I should definitely avoid Grady Hendrix's creepy head space in the future.

New to the Old Village part of Charleston in the 1990s, Patricia Campbell is floundering, so overwhelmed with life that she hasn't even managed to read the book club book she's supposed to lead the discussion for. She wouldn't last long in this book club but she doesn't have to as a splinter "not-a-book-club" group breaks off, choosing to read true crime rather than classics, and composed of several women who become friends, quietly stepping up for each other when required. Several years into the not-a-book-club, Patricia is brutally attacked by an elderly neighbor in a terrifically gory scene but her Southern training is so deeply engrained that she still takes a casserole over to the woman's great-nephew to express her condolences at the woman's death and welcomes him into the neighborhood and the not-a-book-club when he decides to stay.

Shortly after handsome great-nephew James Harris' arrival in town, poor, black children start to go missing or die in unlikely ways but the police seem to care not at all, nor do the denizens of the white part of town even hear about the deaths and disappearances. Patricia tries to rally the other mothers in the not-a-book-club with the knowledge of what she accidentally knows, hears, and sees but they only back her until their appallingly chauvinistic husbands step in to set the poor overwrought, little ladies straight. They like James Harris, they like his money, and they like the life he encourages them to lead, not least of which is the pursuit of money to the exclusion of truth. And so they, and their compliant wives gaslight Patricia. Only Mrs. Greene, the African-American woman who cared for Patricia's mother-in-law, believes Patricia and calls out the privilege and racism that allows Old Village to ignore the fear and evil that stalks her community. Despite the relatively little page time, she, more than main character Patricia, is the moral center of the strangely uneven novel.

The portrayal of all of the characters, with the possible exception of the monster, seem just a bit off. The women are spineless until the very end, caricatures of 50s housewives rather than 90s housewives. The men are disgustingly paternalistic to such a degree that they come off as thoroughly despicable people. All of the marriages are horrid and the character's lives are about an inch deep and completely stereotypical. In fact, Hendrix doesn't seem to like his characters much, especially the female characters, mocking them and offering up their uneventful, bored housewife lives as if they were of little to no value. And this attitude is reflected by his one note good ole boy male characters. In the beginning, despite the over the top gory scenes and one truly terrifying scene of an intruder trying to get into the house (this is the one that features in my nightmares, so thanks for that), there is some humor but this quickly peters out as the book moves into the second half. The narrative tension ratchets up until the rug is pulled out from under the reader and the novel settles down into mediocre dullness for a long stretch followed by a whirlwind, highly graphic ending. There are so many issues touched on in the plot, suicide, racism, sexism, classism, alcoholism, spousal abuse, infidelity, elder caretaking, rape, etc. that few of them receive their due. And while a novel with a book club (or not-a-book-club) at its core is quite likely to be about the sisterhood of women, this doesn't quite get there. Nor does it quite succeed as a paean to mother's love for their children either. Yes, this is a satire and therefore over the top, but the overwrought dialogue, the one-dimensional characters, and the unevenness of the plotting and tension miss the mark. Then again, it did successfully give me nightmares so there's something that transcends these flaws too. Mine is a very unpopular opinion as so many others have loved this so if you like horror or aren't nearly as cowardly as I am, I suggest you make up your own mind on this one.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past week are:

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
Wild Women by Autumn Stephens
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Minus Me by Mameve Medwed

Reviews posted this week:

Anonyponymous by John Bemelmans Marciano
Dirty Jewess by Sylvia Fishbaum
The Secret by Julie Garwood
Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams

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

Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London
The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
Wild Women by Autumn Stephens
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Review: Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams

In our world now, with contrails crisscrossing the sky and flights departing constantly for near and far, it can be hard to remember the danger and novelty and glamor of early flight, the way that pilots like Lindbergh and Earhart were bigger than movie stars. They were impossibly brave and reckless and completely fascinating people, daredevils, these pioneers of aviation. Beatriz Williams takes readers back to this time, when pilots kept trying to fly farther, faster, or longer than they had before, topping each others' and their own feats as splashed across newspaper headlines around the world in her novel Her Last Flight.

In 1947, Janey Everett, a photojournalist is writing a book about the famous pilot Sam Mallory, missing in the Spanish Civil War. Opening with her quiet discovery of the wreckage of his plane in the Spanish desert and a chance line in his journal found in the plane, Janey is off to find the one person who can tell her the truth of what happened in that wreck, a person also long missing. Irene Lindquist and her husband Olle run an island hopping airline in Hawa'ii. Janey suspects that this Irene is Irene Foster, once Sam Mallory's student and flying partner and a famous aviatrix in her own right but Mrs. Lindquist is taciturn and evasive and a lot less than welcoming, even initially denying this identity. Janey continues to dig though and the women come to a sort of tentative truce as Irene slowly tells her own incredible story and how it weaves into Sam Mallory's.

Told in chapters alternating between the 1947 present and the book that Janey is writing, this is that rare novel where both threads of the narrative are gripping. The tension between Janey and Irene is palpable and the reader wonders what all is being held back by these two fiercely private women while the chapters out of Janey's book in progress work toward uncovering the mystery of Sam's fate that Janey is so determined to bring to light. This is a story of complicated relationships, of fame, loss, and love. Both Janey and Irene are strong women who have succeeded in men's occupations. Each guards herself carefully, allowing very few people to see behind their protective exteriors. The secondary characters are well drawn and engaging, rounding out the lives of these women, illustrating parts of our main characters that the reader would not otherwise see. The novel is smooth and while filled with drama, it is not a showy kind of drama, more a quiet, personal cost sort. There are, of course, echoes of Earhart's life and final flight but Irene (and Sam) are entirely Williams' own and the story is well conceived. Readers fascinated by the human beings behind early aviation will delight in this well researched and well written novel.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me this book for review.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Review: The Secret by Julie Garwood

I do like historical romances set in Scotland. There's something so swoony about a man in a kilt, right? And the Scottish Highlands, with its fierce warriors and deep distrust (to soft pedal it a bit) of the English is enticing too. So Julie Garwood's 13th century set historical romance, The Secret, about an English woman and a Scots laird hits the kilted, intimidating and tender hero and sassy, kind and caring heroine spot for me.

Judith and Frances Catherine are just children when they meet at a summer festival in the borderlands of England and Scotland. They're too young to know they aren't supposed to like each other because Judith is English and Frances Catherine is Scottish so they became fast friends, meeting up at the festival annually. Frances Catherine's mother died just after childbirth and knowing that her friend was afraid of doing the same, Judith vowed to Frances Catherine that she would come to her and make sure that Frances Catherine lived through the experience herself. Now Frances Catherine, married to the younger brother of the Maitland laird, is pregnant and she wants her friend by her side as promised. Although he is not certain that bringing an English woman into their Highland clan's territory is the right thing to do, Laird Iain Maitland agrees to fetch his sister-in-law's friend, never dreaming that the Englishwoman and outsider will keep her word to sweet Frances Catherine and change his life, and the life of his clan for the better.

Judith is an honorable woman and she is determined to keep her word to her dear friend. Traveling to the Highlands also gets her closer to meeting the father about whom she has been told lies her entire life, a father who is a Scottish laird himself, Laird Maclean. The chemistry between Judith and Iain is good and their verbal sparring is entertaining. They are well matched equals. Although Iain can be high-handed and arrogant, he also admires Judith's strength and bravery and learns to listen to her when she sees ways to make the women of the clan happier. Judith is intelligent, diplomatic, and definitely before her time but her questions, suggestions, and changes to the lives around her are not so far out as to be completely unbelievable. Not much of Iain's past comes to light throughout the novel but Judith's own fractured and sometimes traumatic past, living half the year with her cruel mother and an alcoholic uncle and half the year with a kind aunt and uncle, tied as it is to the secret of the title, is laid out fully for the reader. The evolving relationship between Judith and Iain is wonderfully done and realistic. The end is resolved a little neatly and quickly but that's forgivable given the truly happily ever after which tidily sets up the next book in the series. Historical romance fans will definitely enjoy this.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Review: Dirty Jewess by Sylvia Fishbaum

We have seen many acts of anti-Semitism in the past few years and the incidence of such hate seems to be rising so it is curious to me that Fishbaum would title her memoir, Dirty Jewess, about growing up in Czechoslovakia behind the Iron Curtain the daughter of Holocaust survivors with such a slur, even if it reflects the hatefulness she encountered especially in her early life. In fact, my son was horrified to see the book (not having read the subtitle of course) on my stack of books. I assured him that it was not a hate-filled book but even having read it, I question the wisdom of the title.

Using the pseudonym Sophia, explaining in the author's note that she had intended to stay anonymous, Fishbaum writes of growing up in communist Czechoslovakia and the religious persecution her family faced, first in a small town as the only remaining Jews living there and then in a larger one where there was at least a small Jewish community to belong to. She writes of not understanding the importance of her religion and the ways in which it set her family apart even as she watched her parents refuse to allow her older sister to marry out of the faith but eventually comes to understand the religious legacy she carries. As she grew up, she knew that she didn't want to stay under communist rule and so she worked hard and saved against the day that she could escape, refusing to marry or even consider marriage as she was expected to do in order to be free to escape when the opportunity arose. And despite several setbacks, her determination ruled the day in the end and she ultimately made it to the US, where she met, fell in love, married, and had children.

Early in her memoir she mentions a man in the larger town her family lived in, Ludovit Feld, who the children all called Uncle Lajos. He was a little person, an artist, and an art teacher who had survived the Holocaust. Fishbaum speaks of taking art classes from him for a brief period and of his being one of the people who the evil Dr. Mengele experimented on in the concentration camps but her connection with him doesn't seem that deep until she reveals that she and her husband bought all of Feld's art work in the hopes that they will one day be exhibited in a museum and helped to see that a life-sized statue of the man was erected in his home town. Her story is very personal but she keeps an emotional distance from the reader by not showing the deep emotional attachment she surely has to many of the people in her life who helped shape her into the woman she is. This understated remove is not only there with Uncle Lajos but also with the Italian family with whom she lived for months before being granted asylum in the US. She mentions her American aunt and uncle very little beyond having lived with them in the first days of her life in Chicago. The superficial handling of Fishbaum's relationships with people so important in her life make this much less emotionally resonant than it should be. She says that she wrote this so that her children, family, and friends would know her story and if they already know pieces or the emotional importance of the others in her life, perhaps they didn't need a more full account but those of us who are strangers could have benefitted from more depth. It's an interesting story, one that we don't often see, but it feels sepia toned rather than full color.

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 Lonely Fajita by Abigail Mann.

The book is being released by One More Chapter on January 21, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: It's Elissa's birthday, and she's accidentally booked a cervical smear instead of a celebration... Great. The icing on the cake? Her boyfriend is kicking her out of their houseshare.

So when she's offered the chance to live with a pensioner rent-free, Elissa knows she needs to impress Annie, who turned down the last twenty-two applicants. Somehow, even after Elissa goes on about 'definitely not being an axe-murderer', Annie chooses her.

And just like Elissa, prickly, sweary, big-hearted Annie could use a friend. Elissa may have nowhere else to go, but is she just where she needs to be?

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Review: Anonyponymous by John Bemelmans Marciano

I've always liked word origin stories, especially when they have interesting tales behind them. And what could be more interesting than eponymous words, those words that were created based on the name of a person. These sorts of words are most obvious in areas like science (will someone name a flower or pleasant smell or star or something like that after me, please?), literature, and when someone actually creates a new tangible something that they can name after themselves. But Marciano isn't entirely concerned with these words in his Anonyponymous; he's interested in the words we use frequently but have long since forgotten the person for whom they were named. Anonymous and eponymous both.

This is a slight book, very casual in tone, and set up like a dictionary. The words (and people) chosen for inclusion are sometimes indeed what the title suggests but other times they are more common than the author seems to think (or maybe I'm just smarter than the average bear, but I don't really believe that). I was interested to learn about some of the people behind dog breeds (Jack Russell and Dobermann), Candido Jacuzzi and the reason behind his invention, how a man who neglected to brand his cattle inspired the word maverick, that silhouette came about as tribute (?) to a French official who was incredibly cheap, that syphilis was named for a shepherd but not for the reason you think, and many more. Etymology geeks like me will enjoy this although I'd caution that it is best read in small snippets rather than all at once. One or two entries might not be entirely true but it is mostly well-researched if very superficial and brief. It is a breezy, occasionally funny book of the sort of random trivia with which I cheerfully stuff my brain. If this sounds like you too, enjoy!

Monday, January 11, 2021

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed over the past week are:

Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Reviews posted this week:

nothing

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

Anonyponymous by John Bemelmans Marciano
Dirty Jewess by Sylvia Fishbaum
The Secret by Julie Garwood
Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

Wednesday, January 6, 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.

Pianos and Flowers by Alexander McCall Smith.

The book is being released by Pantheon on January 19, 2021.

The book's jacket copy says: In these fourteen delightful tales, Alexander McCall Smith imagines the lives and loves behind some of the everyday people featured in pictures from the London Sunday Times photographic archive. A young woman finds unexpected love while perusing Egyptian antiquities. A family is forever fractured when war comes to Penang, in colonial Malaysia. Iron Jelloid tablets help to reveal a young man's inner strength. And twin sisters discover that romance can blossom anywhere—even at the altar.

Throughout Pianos and Flowers, McCall Smith employs his indomitable charm to explore the possibilities of love, friendship, and happiness.

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