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 stiļ¬‚ing 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.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Review: Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin

There seem to be a plethora of novels about quirky and/or neurodivergent characters lately and I am drawn to every one of them. Sometimes they are utterly charming and sometimes I just don't connect the way that I expect to (or that everyone else seems to). I don't know if it's a me thing or a book thing. And unfortunately, this book was one that was just an okay read for me.

Gilda is a bundle of anxiety and depression who spends much of her time spiraling in her own brain. She's found a flyer for free therapy at a local Catholic Church but when she goes to the church, Father Jeff mistakes her for someone interested in the church receptionist position. She doesn't correct him and finds herself employed. This is only a problem because she is both an atheist and a lesbian who has to now pretend she is a straight, single Catholic woman. This is the sort of thing that happens to Gilda more often than you might imagine. She's awkward and uncomfortable making others uncomfortable by setting the record straight, spending a lot of time going along to get along. In fact, she starts writing emails to the former, deceased receptionist's old friend because she cannot bring herself to tell Grace's friend that Grace is dead, and she especially can't do it once there's a question of whether Grace was murdered.

It's hard to get a grasp on Gilda as a character despite the book being told in first person and the reader knowing so many facts about her: she is a hypochondriac who is well known at the local hospital; she is so depressed she can't wash her dishes; she worries desperately about her seemingly alcoholic younger brother; she is completely fixated on death and has panic attacks. This should add up to a knowable character and yet it somehow doesn't quite. She herself is an odd combination of caring deeply for and being emotionally disconnected from the people around her. It's almost as if the sense of her own aloneness is transmitted to the reader, keeping her at a distance.

The novel mostly meanders through Gilda's anxiety without much of a plot to it. Even the major question of whether Grace was murdered is rather tangential to Gilda and the inner workings of her unhappiness. The novel follows the church calendar from Advent to Easter, moving through Twelvetide, Ordinary Time, and Lent in between, mirroring Gilda's journey from beginning to rebirth, although the ending is nowhere near as hopeful as Easter would imply. Over all, this was a quick read and while I didn't love it, others sure seem to and to find themselves reflected in it so it quite possibly is just a me thing.

Wednesday, May 10, 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.

Someone Else's Bucket List by
Amy T. Matthews.
The book is being released by Kensington on May 23, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: My dying wish is for you to finish my bucket list. I refuse to die without knowing this list will be completed. And I refuse to die without knowing my family will be okay . . .

Jodie Boyd is a shy and anxious twenty-something, completely unsure what to do with her life. Her older sister, Bree, is an adventurous, globe-trotting, hugely successful Instagram influencer with more than a million followers. She’s the most alive person Jodie knows—up until Bree’s unfathomable, untimely death from Leukemia. The Boyds are devastated, not to mention overwhelmed with medical debt. But Bree thought of everything—and soon, Jodie is shocked by a new post on her sister’s Instagram feed.

The first of many Bree recorded in secret, the post foretells a jaw-dropping challenge for Jodie: to complete Bree’s very public bucket list. From “Fly over Antarctica,” to “Perform a walk-on cameo in a Broadway musical,” if Jodie does it—and keeps all Bree’s followers—a corporate sponsor will pay off the staggering medical debt. If she gains followers, the Boyds won’t be the only ones to benefit. It’s crazy. It’s terrifying. It’s impossible, immoral even, to refuse. So, despite the whole world watching, Jodie plunges in, never imagining that in death, her sister will teach her how to live, and that the last item on the list—“Fall in love”—may just prove to be the easiest.

Wednesday, May 3, 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 Language of Love and Loss by
Bart Yates.
The book is being released by John Scognamiglio Books on May 23, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: When his difficult mother is diagnosed with ALS, a sharp-witted yet sensitive artist named Noah York reluctantly returns to his New Hampshire hometown - and all the ghosts he left behind. Fans of Andrew Sean Greer, Jonathan Tropper, and Armistead Maupin will adore this outrageously funny, deeply touching, buoyant new novel from the award-winning author of Leave Myself Behind.

As it turns out, you can go home again. But sometimes, you really, really don't want to . . .

Home, for Noah York, is Oakland, New Hampshire, the sleepy little town where Noah's mother, Virginia, had a psychotic breakdown and Noah got beaten to a pulp as a teenager. Then there were the good times--and Noah's not sure which ones are more painful to recall.

Now thirty-seven and eking out a living as an artist in Providence, Rhode Island, Noah looks much the same--and swears just as colorfully--as he did in high school. Virginia has become a wildly successful poet who made him the subject of her most famous poem, "The Lost Soul," a label Noah will never live down. And J.D., the one who got away--because Noah stupidly drove him away--is in a loving marriage with a successful, attractive man whom Noah despises wholeheartedly.

Is it any surprise that Noah wishes he could ignore his mother's summons to come visit?

But Virginia has shattering news to deliver, and a request he can't refuse. Soon, Noah will track down the sister and extended family he never knew existed, try to keep his kleptomaniac cousin out of jail, feud with a belligerent neighbor, confront J.D.'s jealous husband--and face J.D. himself, the ache from Noah's past that never fades. . . . All the while, contending with his brilliant, unpredictable mother.

Bittersweet, hilarious, and moving, and as unapologetically candid and unforgettable as Noah himself, The Language of Love and Loss is a story about growing older, getting lost--and finding your way back to the only truths that really matter.

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