Wednesday, September 20, 2023

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 Woman at the Wheel by
Penny Haw.
The book is being released by Sourcebooks Landmark on October 3, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: Inspiring historical fiction based on the real life of Bertha Benz, whose husband built the first prototype automobile, which eventually evolved into the Mercedes-Benz marque.

"Unfortunately, only a girl again."

From a young age, Cäcilie Bertha Ringer is fascinated by her father's work as a master builder in Pforzheim, Germany. But those five words, which he wrote next to her name in the family Bible, haunt Bertha.

Years later, Bertha meets Carl Benz and falls in love--with him and his extraordinary dream of building a horseless carriage. Bertha has such faith in him that she invests her dowry in his plans, a dicey move since they alone believe in the machine. When Carl's partners threaten to withdraw their support, he's ready to cut ties. Bertha knows the decision would ruin everything. Ignoring the cynics, she takes matters into her own hands, secretly planning a scheme that will either hasten the family's passage to absolute derision or prove their genius. What Bertha doesn't know is that Carl is on the cusp of making a deal with their nemesis. She's not only risking her marriage and their life's work, but is also up against the patriarchy, Carl's own self-doubt, and the clock.

Like so many other women, Bertha lived largely in her husband's shadow, but her contributions are now celebrated in this inspiring story of perseverance, resilience, and love.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Review: Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge by Helen Ellis

Helen Ellis is pretty reliable for the reader looking for light and oftentimes relatable humor. She is the person who you'd like to have as a friend because her filter is a little askew but not malicious. I've read a collection of her quite entertaining, definitely offbeat short stories (American Housewife) and several of her generally enjoyable essay collections (Southern Lady Code is my pick for the best) so I was looking forward to Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge: Intimate Confessions from a Happy Marriage.

These short essays, many of which are a result of settling into her NYC apartment with Lex, her husband of twenty years, during the pandemic, are mildly humorous but not quite as laugh out loud funny as I'd hoped, maybe because I'm the long time inhabitant of a similar marriage. Ellis is quite candid about her life with her husband and pokes fun at him and, more often, at herself throughout the collection. Her gentle hyperbole makes for heartwarming and appealing storytelling. She's quirky, finding humor in the mundane, and looking at things just a bit slant, writing about her husband's (and her friends' husbands) snoring and all the failed solutions for it, learning to tend plants and turning their apartment into a jungle during the pandemic, her particular and exacting instructions for their cat sitter, using stickers--which she adores--to commemorate her sex life with her husband, her views on death, and more.

There is much to enjoy here and it is a quick read but ultimately it didn't make me laugh out loud and I forgot a lot of it as soon as I closed the book. To be fair, this might be because I come from a family filled with our own brand of crazy (for instance, my youngest once told me that when he was home alone every sound was a serial killer, and his ever empathetic sister questioned why it had to be a serial killer since they only had to kill him, we claim gifts and other items of interest belonging to others by asking if we can have whatever it is on that person's "last day," and like Ellis, my parents have debated who can be trusted to be their "plug-puller" at the end of life--spoiler, it's not my sister or me but our husbands, which probably tells you more than you need to know about us, and my father has requested that his ashes be spread over the ever malfunctioning septic field because he's spent so much time up to his knees in it in life that he might as well spend eternity there too) so Ellis and her friends and family's brand of crazy is less entertaining kookiness and more just everyday, normal daily life to me. Most people think she and this book are outrageously funny. Me? I think she's moderately amusing in this collection and wonder (not really) if we're distant branches on the same, not right family tree. That said, most readers will get a lot of chuckles out of this light and easy read.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

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.

All You Have to Do Is Call by
Kerri Maher.
The book is being released by Berkley Books on September 19, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: Chicago, early 1970s Who does a woman call when she needs help? Jane.

The best-known secret in the city, Jane is an underground women's health organization composed entirely of women helping women, empowering them to live lives free from the expectations of society by offering reproductive counseling and safe, illegal abortions. Veronica, Jane's founder, prides herself on the services she has provided to thousands of women, yet the price of others' freedom is that she leads a double life. When she's not at Jane, Veronica plays the role of a conventional housewife--which becomes even more difficult during her own high-risk pregnancy.

Two more women in Veronica's neighborhood are grappling with similar disconnects. Margaret, a young professor at the University of Chicago, secretly volunteers at Jane as she falls in love with a man whose attitude toward his ex-wife increasingly disturbs her. Patty, who's long been content as a devoted wife and mother, has begun to sense that something essential is missing from her life. When her runaway younger sister Eliza shows up unexpectedly, Patty is forced to come to terms with what it really means to love and support a sister.

In this historic moment when the personal was nothing if not political, when television, movies, and commercials told women they'd "come a long way, baby," Veronica, Margaret, and Patty must make choices that will change the course of their lives forever.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

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.

Mother-Daughter Murder Night by
Nina Simon.
The book is being released by William Morrow and Co. on August 29, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: High-powered businesswoman Lana Rubicon has a lot to be proud of: her keen intelligence, impeccable taste, and the L.A. real estate empire she's built. But when she finds herself trapped 300 miles north of the city, convalescing in a sleepy coastal town with her adult daughter Beth and teenage granddaughter Jack, Lana is stuck counting otters instead of square footage--and hoping that boredom won't kill her before the cancer does.

Then Jack--tiny in stature but fiercely independent--happens upon a dead body while kayaking. She quickly becomes a suspect in the homicide investigation, and the Rubicon women are thrown into chaos. Beth thinks Lana should focus on recovery, but Lana has a better idea. She'll pull on her wig, find the true murderer, protect her family, and prove she still has power.

With Jack and Beth's help, Lana uncovers a web of lies, family vendettas, and land disputes lurking beneath the surface of a community populated by folksy conservationists and wealthy ranchers. But as their amateur snooping advances into ever-more dangerous territory, the headstrong Rubicon women must learn to do the one thing they've always resisted: depend on each other.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Review: Death of a Bookseller by Bernard J. Farmer

Put books on the cover of a book and I'm guaranteed to pick it up. I'm almost even guaranteed to buy it. In this particular case, Death of a Bookseller was destined to come home with me. I mean, seriously, look at that gorgeous cover! Now I know, as well as anyone, the adage that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but we all do it. And while Bernard J. Farmer's bibliomystery didn't live up to the cover, it was a pleasant enough read for a couple of hours.

Sergeant Wigan is heading home after his late evening shift when he meets a cheerful and inebriated man. Michael Fisk is celebrating his acquisition of a first edition copy of Keats' Endymion, owned and inscribed by the author, an excedingly rare and valuable find for a runner and collector in the antiquarian book trade. Rather than arresting him, Wigan escorts Fisk home, eventually striking up a friendship with the otherwise lonely man and starting to learn about the business of collecting from him. When Fisk is subsequently found murdered in his study some time later, the Keats book missing, Wigan is called to assist the D.I. assigned to the case because of his knowledge of the surprisingly cutthroat business of rare books.

Wigan is a kindly and honest policeman with a strong moral streak and he knows when he doesn't know something, having no trouble relying on others to help him when his own knowledge is lacking. When another book runner, an unpleasant, argumentative man defended by no one who knows him, is arrested for the murder and sentenced to hang, Wigan is troubled because he is certain the man didn't do it, convicted instead on circumstantial evidence that the D.I. forced around him instead of thoroughly examining all avenues. Sure of this impending miscarriage of justice, Wigan investigates on his own time, jeopardizing his police career. He meets and talks to many colorful characters in the antiquarian trade, from humble barrow boys selling books out of wheelbarrows, to runners who scour secondhand stores, estate sales, and such for undiscovered prizes, to buyers working for wealthy clients, the wealthy collectors themselves, and respectable, or seemingly respectable, book shop owners. As the time when the convicted man will be hanged grows closer, Wigan and the tradesmen who are helping him seem to be hitting nothing but dead ends.

The first half of the mystery is quite slow and drawn out while the second half takes on a much tenser and desperate pace. The writing is simple, direct, and accessible; it feels sturdy and workmanlike. Wigan is not really an investigator for much of the story but is the person around whom all of the information coalesces. The ultimate solution to the crime was a bit out of left field and the confession offered up was simply strange, compelled by almost nothing. There is a thread of occultism dotting the story, ultimately important to the denouement, but awkwardly inserted. Where Farmer really shines is in the depiction of police procedures of the 50s and the truthful depiction of the surprisingly less than genteel and scholarly antiquarian book trade and the eccentric characters who practiced it. The mystery itself was simply the hanger on which to hang Farmer's observations of the chicanery surrounding the buying and selling of old books. Over all it was enjoyable enough, if not a thrilling exampe of the genre.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

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 Breakaway by
Jennifer Weiner.
The book is being released by Atria Books on August 29, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: Thirty-three-year-old Abby Stern has made it to a happy place. True, she still has gig jobs instead of a career, and the apartment where she's lived since college still looks like she's just moved in. But she's got good friends, her bike, and her bicycling club in Philadelphia. She's at peace with her plus-size body--at least, most of the time--and she's on track to marry Mark Medoff, her childhood summer sweetheart, a man she met at the weight-loss camp that her perpetually dieting mother forced her to attend. Fifteen years after her final summer at Camp Golden Hills, when Abby reconnects with a half-his-size Mark, it feels like the happy ending she's always wanted.

Yet Abby can't escape the feeling that some-thing isn't right...or the memories of one thrilling night she spent with a man named Sebastian two years previously. When Abby gets a last-minute invitation to lead a cycling trip from NYC to Niagara Falls, she's happy to have time away from Mark, a chance to reflect and make up her mind. But things get complicated fast. First, Abby spots a familiar face in the group--Sebastian, the one-night stand she thought she'd never see again. Sebastian is a serial dater who lives a hundred miles away. In spite of their undeniable chemistry, Abby is determined to keep her distance. Then there's a surprise last-minute addition to the trip: her mother, Eileen, the woman Abby blames for a lifetime of body shaming and insecurities she's still trying to undo.

Over two weeks and more than seven hundred miles, strangers become friends, hidden truths come to light, a teenage girl with a secret unites the riders in unexpected ways...and Abby is forced to reconsider everything she believes about herself, her mother, and the nature of love.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

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.

It's Not a Cult by
Lauren Danhof.
The book is being released by Alcove Press on August 22, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: Mona Awad's All's Well meets Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in Lauren Danhof's darkly humorous debut, in which a daughter races to save her mother from a dangerous cult before it's too late.

Glinda Glass is truly trying her best. After dropping out of her graduate school program, she moves back to her childhood home with her mom--who has not only joined a cult, the Starlight Pioneer Society, but has also become enraptured by its charismatic and menacing leader, Arlon. Meanwhile, Glinda spends her days working in the Drench-the-Wench dunk booth at the local Renaissance fair with her only friend Troy--who may be falling in love with her.

When Glinda learns that the cult will be turning her family's home into their commune, she decides to take matters into her own hands--by infiltrating the cult and taking it down from the inside. There, she realizes things are far more sinister than she could have ever imagined and that she must get her mom out from under the spell of Arlon by any means necessary.

But Glinda can't do it on her own; to save her mother, she'll have to confront her own history of trauma and grief and repair her relationships with her sisters and Troy, no matter the cost.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Review: Miracle Country by Kendra Atleework

I love memoirs of place. It fascinates me to see what pulls people, connecting them to a land that shaped them, the land they forever carry within. I have my own place like that, a place my old Geology professor called "la querencia," roughly translated as "place of my heart." So I will forever be attracted to books that try to explore these landscapes, combining memoir, nature writing, and history. Kendra Atleework's Miracle Country promised to be a book that would be exactly that, instead I struggled mightily through it, never connecting, never interested enough to keep going but for my compulsion to finish all books I start.

Atleework grew up in the forbidding landscape of Owens Valley, in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is an arid, unforgiving place prone to drought and wild fires, especially given the effects of climate change. But there is a beauty in the land as well and it holds the history of both her happy family and the devastating loss of her mother when Atleework was just 16. She writes the personal story of her family and the story of the Native people who preceded her family in the area; she addresses California land and water rights, the devastation that people are wreaking, and the environmental history of the area as well. Even when she moved far from Swall Meadows, she carried the place deep within her, eventually realizing that she has to return to the place that formed her and confront both its past and future as well as her own.

The writing here is very stream of consciousness and meanders far and wide. This is problematic since there is no strong through narrative keeping the writing focused, or at least reining it in from the many digressions. The lack of focus also allows the reader (or at least this reader) to mentally wander off as well. There are strange, impenetrable metaphors that feel forced: "In a dangerous world, the sustained desire of our mother's life was a bag of marbles she could hand to lost boys, to her son and daughters--to impart to us some design that might teach us care and yet let joy master fear. Those marbles were, all along, a token meant to tell us we could always come home." (p. 120) The different pieces of the narrative, the personal, the historical, and the environmental are uncomfortably mashed together rather than flowing organically, resulting in an occasionally jarring reading experience. That the whole thing is also non-linear adds to the discombobulation and disconnectedness of the reader. I know there must have been a kernel of what attracted me to the book in the first place somewhere in there but I ultimately wasn't interested enough to turn over enough desert stones to find it. There do seem to be quite a few people who rave about the book so perhaps it's a me problem rather than a book problem.

Thank you to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for a copy of this book to review.

Review: The Kitchen Whisperers by Dorothy Kalins

My mother doesn't like to cook. My grandmothers didn't love it either. They did though, because we all have to eat. But none of them really seemed to get any joy out of the doing (and my mother has happily ceded kitchen duties to me whenever I'm around). Despite the long family history of having no love of cooking, I thoroughly enjoy it and am often in the kitchen making messes. I attempt things far above my skill level. I read and collect all the cookbooks. I eat my mistakes as well as my successes. And sometimes I learn things that help me with future meals. Not being surrounded by a community of enthusiastic cooks, I was completely intrigued by the idea of Dorothy Kalins' tales of the people who have helped her learn throughout her long career in food and food writing as told in The Kitchen Whisperers.

Kalins is the founding editor of Saveur magazine, and as such has many friends and colleagues whose names are immediately recognizable in the food world. She has indeed had the opportunity to cook with and learn from the very best of the best. She recounts her experiences cooking with the greats and the things that she learned from them. Some of lessons she learned, like the fact that shortcuts are often fine, are valuable to the home cook who might otherwise feel as if they are cheating by not making each and every thing by hand. Other lessons, like the one about photographing food, might only be of use to cooks striving to be influencers but not of particular use otherwise. This does show the breadth of the people from whom she has learned over the years though and the chapter is worth inclusion in that way. Kalins details the amazing meals she's been a part of, both as an eater and as a participant but even when she is just a guest luxuriating in good food, her experience comes across as so far above the regular person's that it is impossible to relate to it. Somehow she misses conveying the homey, community feel of cooking together, and not just because her own "Kitchen Whisperers" are mostly renowned professionals. The book was less a sharing of wisdom than a recounting of her own impressive connections and experiences, which was not the way it was presented up front, and not the book I thought I would be reading. Still, Kalins is a good writer and dedicated home cooks who have a knowledge of or interest in the people she has learned from over the years might enjoy the book despite its more formal feel. I just wish I was coming away from it having learned some kitchen wisdom myself.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

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 One That Got Away by
Charlotte Rixon.
The book is being released by St. Martin's Press on August 15, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: Two years together.

Twenty years apart.

One day to change their story.

2000. Benjamin's world is turned upside down the night he meets Clara. Instinctively, he knows that they are meant for each other, but a devastating mistake on their last night at university will take their lives in very different directions.

20 years later, Clara has a high-profile job and a handsome husband. But despite the trappings of success, she isn't happy, and she knows that a piece of her heart still belongs to Benjamin, the boy she fell in love with years earlier. The boy whose life she fears she ruined.

When a bombing is reported in the city where they first met, Clara is pulled back to a place she tries not to remember and the first love she could never forget. Searching for Benjamin, Clara is forced to confront the events that tore them apart. But is it too late to put right what went wrong?

Across the miles and spanning decades, Charlotte Rixon's The One That Got Away is a sweeping, poignant story about growing up, growing apart, the people who first steal our hearts, and the surprising, winding roads that love can take us on, for readers of Jill Santopolo, Rosie Walsh, and Colleen Hoover.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

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.

How to Care for a Human Girl by
Ashley Wurzbacher.
The book is being released by Atria Books on August 8, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: From "a writer at the top of her game" (The New York Times) comes a bighearted and sharply funny debut novel about two estranged sisters and the crossroads they face after becoming unexpectedly pregnant at the same time.

Two years after the death of their mother, Jada and Maddy Battle both navigate unplanned pregnancies. Jada, a thirty-one-year-old psychology PhD student living in Pittsburgh, quietly obtains an abortion without telling her husband, but the secret causes turmoil in her already shaky marriage. Back home in rural Pennsylvania, nineteen-year-old Maddy, who spends her time caring for birds at a wildlife rehabilitation center, is paid off by the man who got her pregnant to get an abortion. But an unsettling visit to a crisis pregnancy center adds to her doubts about whether to go through with it.

Although Maddy still hasn't forgiven Jada for a terrible betrayal, she goes to her for support, only to discover the cracks in the façade of her sister's seemingly perfect life. As their past resentments boil over, the sisters must navigate the consequences of their choices and determine how best to care for themselves and each other.

With luminous prose and laser-sharp psychological insight, How to Care for a Human Girl is a compassionate and unforgettable examination of the complexities of choice, the special intimacy of sisterhood, and the bizarre ways our heated political moment manifests in daily life.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Review: The Break Up by Tilly Tennant

Sometimes life calls for a light and easy read that is a guaranteed happily ever after. Tilly Tennant’s The Break Up is just that kind of book even if there are some frustrations as the story moves forward.

The story opens with Lara at a jazz club with Lucien, her boyfriend of a year. Lara hates jazz but listening to music she doesn’t like is not the worst part of the night. The worst part is finding out that Lucien is breaking up with her and then turning to her best friend Siobhan for sympathy only to discover that she and Lucien have been cheating on Lara together. The only good thing to come of the night is a small, hungry, bedraggled stray cat who walks out of the storm into her kitchen and into her heart. One year later, Lara is running a successful wedding planning business out of her back garden. She has a cheerful assistant named Betsy and she loves the cat she’s named Fluffy. He is a bit of a wanderer though and one night while she is searching for Fluffy, she runs into a neighbor, Theo, out looking for his own missing cat, Satchmo. Except Satchmo and Fluffy turn out to be the same cat. Lara and Theo dislike each other immediately. And then they start running into each other everywhere. Lara is a wedding planner. Theo is a jazz musician whose band is in high demand at weddings. Can they work together? Can they become something more?

This is very much an enemies to lovers story, and the switch from the one to the other is quite fast but it’s easy to want Lara to have a far better boyfriend than Lucien turned out to be. She and Theo have some fun banter and all of the misunderstandings that could tank a fledgling relationship that serious contemporary romance readers could want. There is, however, a bit of a distance between the reader and the characters, and the misunderstandings are so clearly of the hysterical (not funny hysterical, but imaginary, jump to conclusions hysterical) variety that the reading can be frustrating. Fluffy/Satchmo is a major driver of the plot but he disappears for major portions of the story and it seems as if his presence should be a little more consistent given his hand (paw?) in the entire wobbly arc of Lara and Theo. This is over all a breezy, easy romance but not a particularly memorable one.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Review: Charlotte Illes Is Not a Detective by Katie Siegel

Who among us read Harriet the Spy and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and didn't want to be a spy or detective? I definitely carried a notebook around for my very mundane and unimpressive observations and was always hopeful I'd stumble across a case I could solve (and if it meant staying overnight in a museum, all the better). Of course, I was neither a spy nor a detective and I didn't grow up to be one either. But what if I had? In a twist on this thinking, Charlotte Illes, in Katie Siegel's novel Charlotte Illes is Not a Detective, was a detective as a child but has grown up trying to move away from her early fame, eschewing any cases people try to throw her way. It's a fun and nostalgic premise for those of us of a certain age but it wasn't quite as wonderful in the execution as I'd wanted.

Charlotte was once a celebrated "kid detective." Now she's a floundering adult, recently fired from her job at a call center, and at a loss as to what is next for her. She is still trying to run away from the fame she acquired as a child, insisting that she's not a detective and has zero desire to be one again. But when her older brother Landon calls her old garage phone (the one she used as the kid detective) and tells her he has a case he needs her help with, she can hardly say no. Apparently his girlfriend has been receiving creepy notes and he wants his sister to figure out who the quasi-stalker is. Charlotte grudgingly agrees to go to NYC and help Landon and Olivia out, reconnecting with two of her closest friends who she hasn't been responding to much lately. Charlotte uncovers the truth of the notes very quickly but then things turn serious as a much larger situation arises, one that has a disappearance and danger written all over it. Will Charlotte be able to solve this higher stakes mystery?

Charlotte as a character was pretty directionless, whiny, and quite probably a little depressed when the novel opens. It is slightly disconcerting to have a grown up Harriet the Spy out at bars, speed dating, and the like but that could have been entertaining in the end, especially if the actual mystery that Charlotte investigates ended up being compelling. Unfortunately I'm not all that interested in a mystery about a corporate workplace and unionization in a novel peopled by a multitude of characters the reader never quite gets to know or care about. The story was also quite a bit slower than expected. This is apparently the first in a book series and based on a TikTok series by the author. It was a lighthearted and easy read, if not everything I'd hoped, so the jury's still out on whether I'll look for the next one or not. But for readers intrigued by the concept of a kid detective all grown up, amateur sleuths, and cozy mysteries, this might be what you're looking for.

Review: A Quiet Life by Ethan Joella

I heard nothing but rave reviews for Ethan Joella's sophomore novel, A Quiet Life, so I pickd it up in hardcover. It is exactly as it claims on the tin: a quiet life. It is a slow, introspective story about grief and loss and life.

Chuck, an older man who lost his wife to cancer and finds himself emotionally unable to go on the vacation they took together every year, Kirsten, a young woman whose whole life trajectory changed after her father's senseless death in a gas station shooting, and Ella, a hardworking, single mother whose young daughter has been kidnapped by her ex, all come together in this emotionally resonant story. None of these three know what to do with their grief and guilt, or, indeed, with their futures. All of them are stuck and suffering, trying to put one foot in front of the other.

All three characters are ordinary people and although no loss is the same, each of them is in a similar holding pattern. The novel is quite character driven, and rotates between the three characters' stories. The eventual intersections between the characters are convenient in that small town Hallmark movie sort of way and the book does read a bit like a heartwarming movie. The characters were often not much more than their struggles and the introspective writing means this likely won't be particularly memorable for me. The pacing was uneven with the ending speeding up significantly and it was predictably satisfying, the latter of which can be good or bad depending on your reading mood. If you're looking for a hopeful novel about people healing themselves with the help of community, you'll find what you're looking for in the pages of this one.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

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.

Who We Are Now by
Lauryn Chamberlain.
The book is being released by Dutton on August 8, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: Four friends. Fifteen years. Who We Are Now is a story of Sliding Doors moments, those seemingly small choices of early adulthood that determine the course of our lives.

It is 2006 and Rachel, Clarissa, Dev, and Nate are best friends, seniors on the eve of their college graduation. Their whole lives are before them, at once full of promise and anxiety. Bound to one another as they are, they imagine their closeness will last forever--but things change as they take their first steps away from one another and into adulthood.

Each year is told from one character's point of view, and in that way, we stride swiftly through their lives. These four friends feel their twenties and thirties flying by, and suddenly small moments fast become regrets or unexpected boons, decisions they'll spend years wishing they could undo and choices that come to define them. As the foursome endure professional setbacks, deep loss, and creative success, fortunes shift and friendships strain--and it will take a tragic turn of events to bring them together again.

Who We Are Now is a poignant story of epic friendship that jumps boldly through the years, moving at the same unforgiving pace as does that precious, confusing time between college and real life. This novel is perfect for readers who adore tales of friendship, explorations of the second coming of age moment that arrives in our thirties, and fans of Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings or Dolly Alderton's Ghosts.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Review: The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais

If you've browsed a bookstore recently, you know that there's a bevy of books about witches. Many of them are lighthearted romances or cozy fantasies. The last book of Bianca Marais' that I read was Hum If You Don't Know the Words, not exactly lighthearted or cozy, but a good read. So I was quite curious to see what she might do with the conceit of witches and their magic and how she might weave in her darker, serious themes in The Witches of Moonshyne Manor.

In one week, the six octogenarian witches, Queenie, Ursula, Ivy, Jezebel, Tabitha, and Ruby, who call Moonshyne Manor home will default on their mortgage. Only Queenie, the matriarch of the coven, knows about this looming deadline but they all know that something ominous is going on, alarms are sounding. When an angry mob assembles outside of the house to try and take it early, the women must start to share their long-hidden secrets and lean on the sisterhood of their found family to defend themselves and come up with a plan to save their home as they anticipate Ruby's long awaited return home. They are aided in their efforts by Persephone, a teenager and social media maven who shows up on their doorstep with her dog, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and who is the daughter of the mayor scheming to oust the witches in order to build the Mens World theme park on Moonshyne's land.

The story is both whimsical and addresses serious themes like the patriarchy, feminism, aging, sexism, racism, domestic violence, gender identity, and more. The contrast between the unsubtle, heavy-handed themes and the light-hearted writing was somewhat uncomfortable rather than complimentary though. The timeline moves forward chapter by chapter towards the mortgage default deadline but there are memories, flashbacks, and hints of the past, plus the mystery of what happened the night of a heist gone wrong threaded through each chapter as well. The point of view switches from character to character, even within the chapters, and there's a confusion of characters to try and keep straight, if nothing else, because of the sheer number of named characters. Sprinkled in between some of the chapters are recipes from the grimoire. They can be delightful recipes for life, self-care, potions, and distillery recipes pertinent to the preceding chapter. It was refreshing to see older characters portrayed as spunky and still fully engaged in life if a little slower than in their prime, main characters rather than sidekicks. The novel's pacing was uneven, bogging down in the middle, and the end was crazy and chaotic with some too easy resolutions but overall it was an easy, pleasant read, a funny, light, inclusive story of the power of friendship, acceptance, and strong women.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

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 Deja Glitch by
Holly James.
The book is being released by Dutton on August 1, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: To break out of a 24-hour time loop, all Jack needs is for Gemma to fall in love with him in a single day. All Gemma needs is to remember him first . . .

Gemma Peters is doing fine. She's making a name for herself in the L.A. music biz as a radio producer. She's got a ride-or-die best friend in Lila, and she gets to come home to Rex, her loving Labrador, every night. But ever since her rock star ex-boyfriend used her to get a record deal from her rock legend dad, she's made a "no musicians" rule when it comes to dating that's becoming more like a "no dating" rule, period.

So, when Gemma crashes (literally) into Jack one Thursday morning, at first she feels like fate might finally be doing her a favor. After all this guy is cute and, wait, is she imagining it, or is he staring a little too deeply into her eyes? And how does he know her name? Even harder to explain is the funny feeling of déjà vu she gets every time she looks at him. It's not at all like Gemma to kiss a man and forget him completely, so then how can she explain the dreamlike memory of his lips on hers?

The truth is this is no ordinary Thursday. Not for them. In fact, they've lived this day over and over for months. And while Gemma has been totally oblivious to the time loop, Jack has been agonizingly aware of every single iteration. Luckily, Jack has a theory to bring his own personal Groundhog Day to an end. And it's simple. Before the day is over, he just has to get Gemma to fall in love with him.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Review: This Isn't Going to End Well by Daniel Wallace

People are a mystery. We can only know the pieces of them that they are willing to show or share. No matter how much they appear to be an open book, there is some hidden part, smaller or larger, that they hold secret. Mostly we don't give much thought to this very private piece of the people in our lives. Their public self is enough. But when you lose someone by suicide, someone you thought you knew, someone who was instrumental in forming your own adult self, someone you loved dearly, you might start to look harder to try and find that missing piece, the unshared and unsharable aspect of your loved one's persona. This was definitely true for Daniel Wallace, as he chronicles in his non-fiction look at his late brother-in-law, William Nealy, This Isn't Going to End Well.

When Wallace was twelve, he first met his future brother-in-law. There was an immediate case of hero worship for this fearless, adventurous, talented, and charismatic man. William represented everything cool in Wallace's world and the fact that he took time to get to know this awkward kid and to occasionally include him or teach him was an absolute gift. Wallace wanted to be like William when he grew up, never knowing the demons that William fought underneath that legendary exterior until it was far too late.

William was a deeply complex person suffering from deep trauma and suicidal ideation. He was increasingly obsessed with his best friend's unsolved murder. On the surface, he was a master at just about everything he turned his hand to, he was loving and tender, especially with Holly, Wallace's sister, who suffered from crippling arthritis and a multitude of other health problems, he was (and still is) a famed cartoonist, a storied and respected river runner, and a much beloved brother-in-law. But all of that could not keep him from taking his own life, an act that left Wallace confused, angry, and devastated, and ultimately searching for the truth of the man he thought he'd known.

The book is almost a series of vignettes from Wallace's own life, his memories of William, Holly, and his attempts to work through his own confused feelings about William's death. It is both Wallace's book and William's book and even occasionally Holly's book. It is musing and reflective when Wallace is focused on himself. Oddly enough, it is less sympathetic when it turns to William though. Wallace uses excerpts from William's private journals, which were supposed to be destroyed, to give the reader a look into William's mind. This private, made very public without consent, in fact, expressly against consent, makes for some very uncomfortable reading. Clearly Wallace is still angry about William's death and while he doesn't sugar coat this ugly emotion and all it inspired him to do, he hasn't seemed to work past it far enough to feel deep sorrow and understanding for the man who suffered so much emotionally in private. In a way, the anger feels like a betrayal of all that William gave to him over the years.

This is less a memoir/biography than a reflection on how hard it is, indeed, to realize that someone you adored was merely human like the rest of us and the sadness of discovering that the inner person isn't like the outer person, or at least the outer person isn't the whole of the person you thought you knew. William was a major influence on Daniel's life but one has to wonder after reading this, what William himself would have thought of his brother-in-law's book, whether he would have thought it a fair exposure or not. Laying bare what it did, in the manner that it did, was deeply uncomfortable to me as a reader.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Review: The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff

Don't judge a book by its cover. We've all heard that, right? Well, this book, with it's fun and appealing cover can indeed be judged on its wrapping. Although perhaps in this case, it would be appropriate to suggest that the cover doesn't show the depth and serious topics included here in a story that superficially matches its light-hearted cover. Parini Shroff's new novel, The Bandit Queens, is that tricky balancing act, a delightful novel filled with incredibly difficult topics but liberally laced through with humor and good feeling.

Geeta's abusive, alcoholic husband disappeared five years ago and the rumor in town is that she killed him even though she is adamant that she didn't. Her only friendship fell apart years ago for reasons that are only slowly revealed, leaving her to become a curmudgeonly loner, mostly avoided by her fellow women and whispered about by their children. She's a member of a business cooperative with several other women because she needs to earn a living now that she's a widow but even in this business dependency, she has never been entirely accepted by her fellow businesswomen. Unlike the other women in the group, she does not ignore it when one of the other women is once again beaten badly by her husband but she is appalled when that woman comes to her for her help in ridding her of her terrible husband as she assumes Geeta did to her own. And she is not the last woman from the group who seeks Geeta's help in "removing her nose ring."

This is not just a romp about killing terrible men though. There is real depth and complexity here to not only Geeta but to the other side characters, female and male, as well. And the story addresses far more than just abused women bumping off their abusers. Geeta's a wonderful, awkward, emotionally damaged character and Shroff uses her beautifully to explore the problems of caste, the disgrace of childlessness, the patriarchy, abuse, women's strength, and more. The title refers to the very real Indian folk hero, Phoolan Devi, who escaped a horrific marriage, became a bandit, and revenged herself on not only the men who terrorized her but those who abused and terrorized other women, all on her way to becoming an elected official in India's Parliament. She is Geeta's hero and gives her the inspiration and strength to keep moving forward through all of Geeta's own trials. The twists and turns the novel take keep surprising the reader, making for a lightly suspenseful tale. This is a clever, engaging, and serious look at life for women in a small Indian town with a main character you can't help but root for.

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 Crow Valley Karaoke Championships
by Ali Bryan.
The book is being released by Henry Holt and Co. on July 25, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: A prison escape, a bear on the loose, botched lyrics. What more could go wrong with Crow Valley's most anticipated night of the year?

A year after forest fires ravaged the town of Crow Valley and claimed the life of Dale Jepson--karaoke legend, local prison guard, and all-around good guy--the community hosts a high-stakes karaoke competition. But when a convicted murderer escapes from nearby Crow Valley Correctional, residents discover there's more on the line than local, perhaps even national, karaoke fame.

In this darkly comedic, fast-paced ride through an unforgettable small town, five residents with intimate connections to Dale and drastically different goals for the night will collide into, conspire with, and aid one another as they scramble to make it successfully through the evening under the scrutinizing watch of neighbors.

To the soundtrack of classics belted out with abandon, voices will crack, cars will be stolen, marriages will falter, and kids will slip away in search of trouble. And maybe, just maybe, lives will be transformed for the better.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

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.

Forever Hold Your Peace by
Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke.
The book is being released by Alcove Press on July 11, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: Father of the Bride meets Bride Wars in Forever Hold Your Peace, in which two ex-best friends find themselves shockingly entangled after more than two decades apart, for fans of Good Company.

When their newly engaged kids ask all four divorced parents to meet each other over brunch, everyone RSVPs yes--secretly hoping someone at the table will get to the bottom of the bottomless mimosas fast enough to say what they're all thinking: that this engagement, coming after a whirlwind romance between two people barely out of college, is too much too soon.

But at that brunch it's not the impulsive couple's decisions that end up under the microscope, as it turns out June, mother of the bride, and Amy, mother of the groom, certainly do know each other--they're ex-best-friends who haven't spoken since their explosive falling out more than twenty-five years ago. Reeling from their unwanted reunion and eager to shift the spotlight off their past as decades-old secrets and rivalries come to light, the two moms battle it out for the prize of Most Enthusiastic About This Wedding.

But when their history--and their present-day shenanigans--threaten to crack the foundations of the happy couple's future, June and Amy find themselves becoming unexpected allies in an all-hands-on-deck effort to get their kids (and themselves) a happily-ever-after two generations in the making.

Forever Hold Your Peace is perfect for readers who love messy, complicated family novels like All Adults Here and stories that bring the past and present together like One Italian Summer.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

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.

Hello Stranger by
Katherine Center.
The book is being released by St. Martin's Press on July 11, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: Love isn't blind, it's just little blurry.

Sadie Montgomery never saw what was coming . . . Literally! One minute she's celebrating the biggest achievement of her life--placing as a finalist in the North American Portrait Society competition--the next, she's lying in a hospital bed diagnosed with a "probably temporary" condition known as face blindness. She can see, but every face she looks at is now a jumbled puzzle of disconnected features. Imagine trying to read a book upside down and in another language. This is Sadie's new reality with every face she sees.

But, as she struggles to cope, hang on to her artistic dream, work through major family issues, and take care of her beloved dog, Peanut, she falls into--love? Lust? A temporary obsession to distract from the real problems in her life?--with not one man but two very different ones. The timing couldn't be worse.

If only her life were a little more in focus, Sadie might be able to find her way. But perceiving anything clearly right now seems impossible. Even though there are things we can only find when we aren't looking. And there are people who show up when we least expect them. And there are always, always other ways of seeing.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Review: Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

Some people seem to make poor choice after poor choice in life, whether because they don't know any better or because they didn't have better role models. But poor life choices don't have to define a person forever. Breaking the pattern, breaking away, can be incredibly difficult but it is possible. There is always hope. Joshilyn Jackson's novel Backseat Saints is full of both poor decisions and hope for the future.

Ro Grandee, nee Rose Mae Lolley, was a side character in Jackson's debut novel gods in Alabama (lower case g intentional) but here she takes center stage. She grew up in Alabama, abandoned by her mother when she was just eight, and left directly in the line of fire of her alcoholic father's fists. So it's no surprise when she high tails it out of town as soon as possible. But leaving doesn't break the cycle of violence in her life as she meets and marries Thom Grandee, the son of the first family in his small Texas town. Rose Mae becomes Ro, a quiet, compliant, perfect wife whose hair and makeup are always impeccable and whose long sleeves hide the near constant bruises on her arms. Ro Grandee is not the quick, fearless spitfire that Rose Mae Lolley was although she needs to find that irrepressible girl inside herself again to find the courage to leave Thom, especially after a tarot reading stranger at the airport tells her that she will have to kill her husband or be killed, a truth she recognizes even as she still loves her abuser. And if she does leave, can she escape Thom as long as they're both still alive?

This is a companion novel to gods in Alabama although no knowledge of the first novel is needed to enjoy this one. There is a surprising amount of humor here, even in the face of such heavy topics as abandonment, domestic abuse, and alcoholism. Many of the characters, and especially Rose Mae, are emotionally damaged by their pasts. She must reckon with that past though, perhaps find her mother and confront her father, in order to understand and change the present, to escape her own certain death at Thom's hands. Jackson is adept at drawing small Southern towns and the people who inhabit them, understanding where each person fits in the hierarchy of place and the complications inherent in all of that. The novel is funny, heartbreaking, suspenseful, and twisty. Those who are looking for a good look into the psychology of an abused wife, the bravery it takes to run to a new life, and the promise of hope will find this a satisfying read.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Review: Sandman by Bob Drews

Sometimes a book sounds promising but completely misses the mark and Bob Drews' Sandman was one of these for me. Worse, it, and I'm not sure whether it was the character or the book as a whole or the time in which the novel was written (which really isn't much of an excuse), was misogynistic and homophobic. All in all, it was quite an unhappy reading experience for me.

Tom Phillips is a travel writer in his forties when he gets the news that he has Alzheimer's. As it would for most people, this diagnosis makes him examine and reassess his life and whether it is worth living with something this debilitating hanging over his head. His doctor suggests journaling so some of the novel is written as diary entries while other portions are third person narrative focused on Tom and all of the people in his life. The novel jumps from narrative focus to narrative focus, sometimes even within the same paragraph so the reader is not always clear whether they are reading about Tom or Bea or Helena or another character entirely. The writing is clunky and awkward when it's not downright uncomfortable. Tom likes to tell the reader whenever he's pissing over the railing, jerking off, having an orgasm after a lap dance, and more. He has a deep fascination with "pussy." None of these things add anything to the story or to the development of Tom's character (assuming he's not meant to be a gross dirtbag). But this description in the service of nothing narratively is not confined to just Tom's bodily functions and urges. The reader is treated to an almost daily recounting of Tom's meals, the sexual predilections of every character, and long philosophical conversations between Tom and characters who are only there to be repositories of his musings. The female characters are clearly written by a man, unbelievable and inauthentic in so many ways. Tom talks to himself throughout the book, a lot. The bad news is that he is, quite frankly, boring.

There is much here that had promise: the story of a man who doesn't want to have to rely on others and who is struggling mightily for meaning in a life that is suddenly not what he envisioned for his future. Unfortunately it didn't come close to fulfilling the promise and I can't recommend it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

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 Only Purple House in Town by
Ann Aguirre.
The book is being released by Sourcebooks Casablanca on July 11, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: Iris Collins is the messy one in her family. The "chaos bunny." Her sisters are all wildly successful, while she can't balance her budget for a single month. It's no wonder she's in debt to her roommates. When she unexpectedly inherits a house from her great aunt, her plan to turn it into a B and B fails--as most of her plans do. She winds up renting rooms like a Victorian spinster, collecting other lost souls...and not all of them are "human."

Eli Reese grew up as the nerdy outcast in school, but he got rich designing apps. Now he's successful by any standards. But he's never had the same luck in finding a real community or people who understand him. Over the years, he's never forgotten his first crush, so when he spots her at a café, he takes it as a sign. Except then he gets sucked into the Iris-verse and somehow ends up renting one of her B and B rooms. As the days pass, Eli grows enchanted by the misfit boarders staying in the house...and even more so by Iris. Could Eli have finally found a person and a place to call "home"?

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

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.

Goodbye Earl by
Leesa Cross-Smith.
The book is being released by Grand Central Publishing on July 3, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: Four women take fate into their own hands in this big-hearted story of friendship, resilience, and revenge on monstrous men, from the award-winning author of Half-Blown Rose.

Taking inspiration from the infamous, empowering song, Goodbye Earl follows four best friends through two unforgettable summers, fifteen years apart. In 2004, Rosemarie, Ada, Caroline, and Kasey are in their final days of high school and on the precipice of all the things teenagers look forward to when anything in life seems possible . . . from falling in love, to finding their dream jobs, to becoming who they were meant to be.

In 2019, Kasey has returned to her small Southern hometown of Goldie for the first time since high school--and she still hasn't told even her closest friends the truth of what really happened that summer after graduation, or what made her leave so abruptly without looking back. Now reunited with her friends in Goldie for a wedding, she's determined to focus on the simple joy of being together again. But when she notices troubling signs that one of them might be in danger, she is catapulted back to that fateful summer. This time, Kasey refuses to let the worst moments of her past define her; this time, she knows how to protect those she loves at all costs.

Uplifting, sharp-edged, and unapologetic, Goodbye Earl is a funeral for all the "Earls" out there--the abusive men who think they can get away with anything, but are wrong--and a celebration of enduring sisterhood.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

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.

Sally Brady's Italian Adventure by
Christina Lynch.
The book is being released by St. Martin's Press on June 13, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: What if you found yourself in the middle of a war armed only with lipstick and a sense of humor? Abandoned as a child in Los Angeles in 1931, dust bowl refugee Sally Brady convinces a Hollywood movie star to adopt her, and grows up to be an effervescent gossip columnist secretly satirizing Europe's upper crust. By 1940 saucy Sally is conquering Fascist-era Rome with cheek and charm.

A good deed leaves Sally stranded in wartime Italy, brandishing a biting wit, a fake passport, and an elastic sense of right and wrong. To save her friends and find her way home through a land of besieged castles and villas, Sally must combat tragedy with comedy, tie up pompous bureaucrats in their own red tape, force the cruel to be kind, and unravel the mystery, weight, and meaning of family.

Heir to Odysseus's wiles and Candide's optimism, Sally Brady is a heroine for the 21st century.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

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 Gay Best Friend by
Nicholas Didomizio.
The book is being released by Sourcebooks Casablanca on June 6, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: He's always been the token gay best friend. Now, stuck between a warring bride and groom hurtling toward their one perfect day, he's finally ready to focus on something new: himself.

Domenic Marino has become an expert at code-switching between the hypermasculine and ultrafeminine worlds of his two soon-to-be-wed best friends. But this summer--reeling from his own failed engagement and tasked with attending their bachelor and bachelorette parties--he's anxious over having to play both sides.

The pressure is on. The bride wants Dom to keep things clean. The groom wants Dom to "let loose" with the guys. And Dom just wants to get out of this whole mess with his friendships intact.

But once the rowdy groomsmen show up at the beach house--including a surprise visit from the groom's old frat brother, handsome and charming PGA star Bucky Graham--chaos (and unexpected romance) quickly ensues. By the time Dom returns for the bachelorette party, he's accumulated a laundry list of secrets that threaten to destroy everything--from the wedding, to Bucky's career, to the one thing Dom hasn't been paying nearly enough attention to lately: his own life.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

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.

Hedge by
Jane Delury.
The book is being released by Zibby Books on June 6, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: An emotionally charged, richly observed novel about a woman balancing the demands of motherhood and marriage with her own needs.

Maud is a talented garden historian and devoted mom to daughters Ella and Louise. Motivated to reignite her career and escape her troubled marriage, she accepts a summer job restoring the garden of a lush, 19th century estate in the Hudson Valley.

Reveling in her work and temporary independence, Maud relishes her days in the sun. While waiting for her daughters to join her at the end of their school year, she strikes up a friendship with a coworker, archeologist Gabriel Crews. As the two share nightly dinners, their relationship grows more intimate, and Maud starts to imagine a future outside of her stifling marriage. Once Ella and Louise arrive, however, she is torn by her desire for Gabriel, her obligations to her daughters, and her growing concern for Ella’s dark moods. Is Ella acting out because she senses that Maud and Gabriel have fallen in love?

What happens next is a seismic shock that profoundly changes Maud's life, as well as the lives of everyone she cares about.

Deeply moving and impossible to put down, Hedge is an unforgettable portrait of a woman’s longing to be a good mother while still answering the call of her soul and mind.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Review: Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann

If you've ever done any reading about the Greek gods and goddesses and the messy, immortal family dynamic that they've got going on, you'll have a head start with Stacey Swann's novel Olympus, Texas. Although her novel is about human beings, it's not hard to see the parallels, starting with the very title of the novel. This is not gods behaving badly but rather mortals behaving badly, though no less interesting for the change. For those who don't have a close knowledge of the gods, that is actually no impediment here; the story will still be a captivating wreck without the mythological backstory.

The Briscoe clan in Olympus, Texas is as close to the town's first family as it gets. They have money and influence and scandals galore. March Briscoe is returning home from a two year self-imposed exile after he was very publicly discovered sleeping with his brother Hap's wife, Vera. Neither Hap nor June, the boys' mother, has forgiven March for the damage he's done to their family and they'd prefer if he had stayed away. His arrival not only reopens old wounds but it plays a part in a new and terrible tragedy. Taking place over just six days, with sections of the novel labeled by the day of the week and with short chapters within the section labeled for the origin stories of the characters, their feelings, and their relationships, the novel is epic in scope.

The major characters here are Peter, the powerful patriarch of the family (Zeus), who has strayed often over the years and fathered several children outside his marriage; June, the matriarch (Hera), who has tolerated, forgiven, or ignored her husband's foibles but has a spine of steel of her own; Hap, their oldest son (Vulcan), who is a hard worker and always felt over shadowed by his younger brother despite being the one who manages to marry the beautiful Vera (Venus); March, the younger brother (Mars), who has an explosive temper and riles everyone up; and twins Arlo (Apollo) and Artie (Artemis) who are Peter's children by another woman but have been welcomed into the Briscoe clan by June and who are trying to figure out their respective futures. The secrets and shifting alliances between these complicated characters and the convoluted family dynamics come together in great shows of destruction and demolition. There is much wrath and ruin, love and death, cheating and vengeance, and sound and fury as all of the hallmarks of the mythological gods' worst (and rarely the best) natures are placed on show. Even March's dogs are named Romulus and Remus. If you ever needed proof that the gods on Olympus were just bigger, more over the top reflections of the human family, this novel highlights this truth in ways you can't miss.

The novel is as sprawling as the Briscoe family tree. The characters are not necessarily likeable, and without the cache or divine gifts of the Greek gods and goddesses, they come off as selfish and terribly, humanly flawed. The messes they make and then leave in their wake are outsized and probably unredeemable even with the glimmer of hope in the end. As Peter says on the second to last page, "It seems like we're all armed with sharp knives we can barely control." But those readers who enjoy a good family dysfunction tale will likely find this satisfying.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

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.

Such Good Friends by
Stephen Greco.
The book is being released by John Scoglamiglio Books on May 23, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: On a Thursday morning in May 1961, a well-mannered twenty-one-year-old named Marlene enters the Fifth Avenue apartment of Lee Radziwill to interview for the position of housekeeper and cook. The stylish wife of London-based Prince Stanislaw Radziwill, Princess Lee is intelligent and creative, with ambitions beyond simply jet-setting. But to the public, she is always First Lady Jackie Kennedy’s little sister. As Marlene becomes a trusted presence in the Radziwill household, she observes the dazzling array of famous figures who flit in and out of Lee’s intimate circle, including Gloria Vanderbilt, Rudolf Nureyev, Jackie and the President, Ari Onassis, Gore Vidal, Andy Warhol, and, most regularly, celebrated author Truman Capote. At the height of his fame following the success of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman has granted Lee place of honor in his flock of glamorous socialite “swans.” Their closeness stems from an unexpected kinship. Both know too well the feeling of being second-best. Seeing his shadow in the woman he refers to as his most unconventional swan, Truman uses his influence and talent to try and make Lee a star. Their bond deepens through the decade’s extraordinary events, from JFK’s assassination to the era-defining Black and White Ball. But Marlene, who Truman has taken under his wing as an aspiring writer, can see Truman’s darker side—especially his penchant for mining his friends’ private lives for material. And there are betrayals on either side that may signal the end not just of a friendship, but of the shared expectation that wealth and fame can shield against every heartbreak.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Review: The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

The contributions and lives of women are often overlooked. The Bible names very few women compared to men. Even in the begats (Genesis tracing the lineage from Adam to Noah), women are marginalized, as if they had no bearing on the birth of this string of men. Of course they aren't completely erased; there are a few women named in the Bible. Ruth even has her own book. But there is certainly far less about the women and their lives than there is about the men. What if that wasn't true? What would the Biblical world have looked like from a woman of the times' perspective? What would it have been like to be a woman close to Jesus? What, in fact, if Jesus had had a wife? What would she have been like? Sue Monk Kidd imagines this very scenario for her novel, The Book of Longings, not only giving Jesus a wife but giving that wife a voice, a story, and a perspective of her own.

Ana is 14 and from a respected family when she first sees the kind and compassionate Jesus ben Joseph in the marketplace. She is intrigued by him even as she is destined to be given in marriage elsewhere. But Ana is not a compliant daughter and is ultimately forsaken by her father, resulting in her marriage to Jesus. She finds a very different life with his family, especially as he starts leaving for longer and longer periods of time.

There is, of course, no doubt about where this story will end up, even if Jesus and his divinity is not the center of it. Ana and the women around her really take center stage in the novel. Kidd has done a good job of researching what life would have been like for women in the first century, although Ana does occasionally come off as anachronistic in her beliefs, actions, and demands. Even so, her desire to have a voice and tell her own story for posterity is a thrilling one that helps drive the narrative, especially as it slows down through the middle of the novel. Obviously this is a very different take on Jesus, his life, and his miracles than the Bible. Ana, narrating the story herself, presents him as wholly human with the failures and blind spots that all humans have. The writing is well done and the story is an interesting take for sure but I'm not sure, in the end, it was entirely successful.

Popular Posts