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 fa├žade 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.

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