Wednesday, July 17, 2024

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 Faculty Lounge by
Jennifer Mathieu.
The book is being released by Dutton on July 23, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: By the acclaimed author of Moxie, a funny, bighearted adult debut that is at once an ode to educators, a timely glimpse at today's pressing school issues, and a tender character study, following a sprawling cast of teachers, administrators, and staff at a Texas high school

With its ensemble of warm and unforgettable characters, The Faculty Lounge shows readers a different side of school life. It all starts when an elderly substitute teacher at Baldwin High School is found dead in the faculty lounge. After a bit of a stir, life quickly returns to normal--it's not like it's the worst (or even most interesting) thing that has happened within the building's walls. But when, a week later, the spontaneous scattering of his ashes on the school grounds catches the attention of some busybody parents, it sets in motion a year that can only be described as wild, bizarre, tragic, mundane, beautiful, and humorous all at once.

In the midst of the ensuing hysteria and threats of disciplinary action, the novel peeks into the lives of the implicated adults who, it turns out, actually have first names and continue to exist when the school day is done. We meet: a former punk band front man, now a middle-aged principal who must battle it out with the schoolboard to keep his job; a no-nonsense school nurse willing to break the rules, despite the close watch on their campus, when a student arrives at her office with a dilemma; and a disgruntled English instructor who finds himself embroiled in even more controversy when he misfires a snarky email. Oh, and there's also a teacher make-out session in a supply closet during a lockdown.

As these people continue to manage the messiness of this school year, there is the looming threat of what will become of their beloved Baldwin High. Ultimately, at the heart of this unconventional workplace novel is a story of the power of human connection and of the joy of finding purpose in what it is we do every day.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Review: Ladies' Lunch by Lore Segal

Interconnected short stories are my favorite way to read short stories and as a lady of a certain age who would like to lunch (sometimes, if I'm feeling social enough), how could I resist this collection by Lore Segal?

Ruth, Bridget, Farrah, Lotte, Bessie are Manhattanites in their eighties and nineties. They've been friends for decades, lunching together as they share their lives' trajectories. The stories tell of their current situations, including the move to assisted living of one of their number, aging, loss, COVID, frustration with aging children, and more but also of their long history together, the ups and downs of longstanding friendships, and the perspective and wisdom that comes from a long life. There are a few stories that may or may not be connected to the bulk of the other stories but they too tackle the transitions of life.

The stories are both bittersweet and filled with life, even if the acknowledgement that life is much shorter at the ladies' end is never far away. There is humor and sadness here but what these stories capture is the beautiful mundanity of life, the value and support of friendship, and importance of living every day. Segal's characters live forward; they look back but they always move onward. The stories are not all equally interesting and some can feel a little muddled at times. The elderly main characters are unique and unusual in literature. Over all, this was a strong and readable collection centered on an underrepresented demographic.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Review: The Curious Secrets of Yesterday by Namrata Patel

We've all felt the weight of expectations. Some expectations are heavier than others. Some are very small things while others affect your whole life and its trajectory. Some people rise to meet expectations. Some revolt against them. And some chafe against them quietly, wondering how to live life on their own terms no matter what the expectations on them are. This latter group of people includes the main character of Namrata Patel's newest novel, The Curious Secrets of Yesterday.

Tulsi Gupta is in her thirties. She lives with her mother and grandmother in Salem, Massachusetts. The Gupta women run a spice shop and practice Ayurvedic healing, tracing their family lineage back to the Vedic Hindu Goddess of Earth, Dharti. Tulsi's grandmother Aruna started the shop and her mother, Devi, has taken over most of the running of it. Both older women are waiting for Tulsi to take her final test as a spice healer and assume her rightful place, taking over from her mother. The problem is that Tulsi doesn't want to be a spice healer. She wants no part of this family tradition and has no idea how to tell her mother and grandmother the truth: that she feels stuck and wants out, out of the store and out of Salem. So instead of admitting these feelings, Tulsi maintains the status quo, quietly unhappy. But change comes to people's lives whether they seek it out or not and change is barreling down on Tulsi. She uncovers evidence of a major family secret, the new cafe next door has a very attractive chef/owner, and an anonymously run social media account first catapults the Gupta's store into the spotlight and then notoriety. All of these things pile up, forcing Tulsi, Devi, and Aruna into some hard reckonings.

The cover of this book suggests to the reader that this is going to be a lighthearted story, and in many ways it is, but it also tackles some difficult topics like abandonment, lies, and devastating family secrets. Tulsi, as a character, struggles to find herself because of her instinct to be a caretaker and a mediator, to defend her mother and grandmother, even when their choices are indefensible and have caused her pain or to miss out on things in her life. It is painful to watch Tulsi stifle her own needs and wants for so long and the constant repetition of her unhappiness with the expectations placed on her in the first part of the book does wear thin. (I'm obviously not as patient and understanding as Tulsi.) The beginning of the story also contains many explanations of Ayurvedic healing, perhaps trying to make the concept more accessible to an unfamiliar audience but it felt much more than necessary and slowed the pace of the story down. As the story progressed, this became less of an issue though as it focused more on the characters and the plot. The romance subplot stays fairly lowkey centering Tulsi finding herself as the focus of the story so don't go into this thinking it is a romance. It's not. There might be a touch too many plot threads here: a family curse dooming the Gupta women to single motherhood, Ayurvedic healing and the role of spices in it, complex family dynamics, a budding romance, the mystery of Tulsi's father, the mystery of grandmother Aruna's rift with a former friend, the rewards and perils of social media, and a coming of age to name a few. The novel needed to either focus tighter, eliminating some of these, or go into more depth to make them all equally relevant to the story. Even with the busy-ness of the plot though, ultimately this was a warm and pleasing novel that makes for a different and generally likable, happily ever after summer read.

Thanks to Amazon for sending me this book to review.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

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.

What Would Jane Austen Do by
Linda Corbett.
The book is being released by One More Chapter on June 18, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: When Maddy Shaw is told her Dear Jane column has been cancelled she has no choice but to look outside of London’s rental market. That is until she’s left an idyllic country home by the black sheep of the family, long-not-so-lost Cousin Nigel.

But of course there’s a stipulation… and not only is Maddy made chair of the committee for the annual village literary festival, she also has to put up with bestselling crime author –and romance sceptic – Cameron Massey as her new neighbour.

When Maddy challenges Cameron to write romantic fiction, which he claims is so easy to do, sparks fly both on and off the page…

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Review: Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall

We see women's rights debated daily in the news. (How has this even become a debate?) We see people working hard to remove rights from fully half of the population, in accordance with nothing so much as their paternalistic ideas of what is right for everyone. (It goes without saying that they are incorrect on every front on which they might argue.) Any decision about pregnancy, abortion, adoption, or fertility treatments should be made by the woman whose body is the one in question. I trust her to make the best decision for herself and her future life. Anyone who doesn't should examine why not a little (a lot) closer. As we step backwards, closer to a time when women were not allowed to choose for themselves, a time that feels awfully, terribly like the present right about now, there will be more and more stories, fiction and non, reminding us of what we risk when we lose personal choice. Heather Marshall's novel Looking for Jane is one of these. It's a triple stranded narrative set in Canada in 2017, 1971, and 1980, about secrets, choices, women's bodily autonomy, and the brave network of women determined to ensure the government treated women as fully adult human beings capable of making their own decisions about their health and lives.

Angela Creighton, who manages an antiques and used bookstore, finds an unopened letter which was misdelivered to the shop almost 10 years prior. After reading the life-changing message inside it, she decides to find the intended recipient, partly as a way to distract her from the fertility problems she and her wife are currently experiencing. As Angela searches for the letter's addressee, she learns about the Jane Network, an underground network of women, including abortion providers, who offered safe procedures for women before abortion was legalized in Canada in 1988.

In addition to the search for the intended recipient of the letter, two other stories weave through the narrative as well. The first follows Dr. Evelyn Taylor, who, as a teenager, was sent to a Catholic maternity home for unwed mothers and forced to give up her baby. Having never recovered from the trauma of this, she trained as an ob/gyn and joins the Jane Network in order to offer other women more choice than she was ever given. The second is that of Nancy Mitchell, a woman raised in a family crippled by silence and secrets. When she finds herself pregnant two decades after Dr. Taylor's experiences, her choices are still very limited but she finds the Jane Network and Dr. Taylor. She joins the Janes herself to help the women who find themselves in the same situation she herself was in, always keeping her involvement a secret, even from those she loves the most.

The stories of these three women come together in ways that are perhaps not very surprising (except in one case) but Marshall's story of life for women without unfettered access to health care is increasingly important as our sovereignty over ourselves and our reproductive care is slashed, hacked, eroded and legislated against by a faux moralistic minority. Although the Jane Network and abortion are a significant piece of the books, Marshall also includes adoption and fertility struggles as they are also important choices for women to have. Marshall captures the shame of a society that judges women (and only women) for pregnancies out of wedlock. She touches on the great harm, both immediate and lifelong, done to young women without their consent by organizations purporting to be in their best interests. She brings the whispers out into the open, into the light of day. The story is engaging and fast paced and while the end might be a little tidy, it is a good and pertinent read.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

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 God of the Woods by
Liz Moore.
The book is being released by Riverhead Books on July 2, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: When a teenager vanishes from her Adirondack summer camp, two worlds collide Early morning, August 1975: a camp counselor discovers an empty bunk. Its occupant, Barbara Van Laar, has gone missing. Barbara isn't just any thirteen-year-old: she's the daughter of the family that owns the summer camp and employs most of the region's residents. And this isn't the first time a Van Laar child has disappeared. Barbara's older brother similarly vanished fourteen years ago, never to be found.

As a panicked search begins, a thrilling drama unfolds. Chasing down the layered secrets of the Van Laar family and the blue-collar community working in its shadow, Moore's multi-threaded story invites readers into a rich and gripping dynasty of secrets and second chances. It is Liz Moore's most ambitious and wide-reaching novel yet.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

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.

Lies and Weddings by
Kevin Kwan.
The book is being released by Doubleday on May 21, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: Rufus Leung Gresham, future Earl of Greshambury and son of a former Hong Kong supermodel has a problem: the legendary Gresham Trust has been depleted by decades of profligate spending, and behind all the magazine covers and Instagram stories manors and yachts lies nothing more than a gargantuan mountain of debt. The only solution, put forth by Rufus's scheming mother, is for Rufus to attend his sister's wedding at a luxury eco-resort, a veritable who's-who of sultans, barons, and oligarchs, and seduce a woman with money.

Should he marry Solène de Courcy, a French hotel heiress with honey blond tresses and a royal bloodline? Should he pursue Martha Dung, the tattooed venture capital genius who passes out billions like lollipops? Or should he follow his heart, betray his family, squander his legacy, and finally confess his love to the literal girl next door, the humble daughter of a doctor, Eden Tong? When a volcanic eruption burns through the nuptials and a hot mic exposes a secret tryst, the Gresham family plans--and their reputation--go up in flames.

Can the once-great dukedom rise from the ashes? Or will a secret tragedy, hidden for two decades, reveal a shocking twist? In a globetrotting tale that takes us from the black sand beaches of Hawaii to the skies of Marrakech, from the glitzy bachelor pads of Los Angeles to the inner sanctums of England's oldest family estates, Kevin Kwan unfurls a juicy, hilarious, sophisticated and thrillingly plotted story of love, money, murder, sex, and the lies we tell about them all.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

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.

Every Time We Say Goodbye by
Natalie Jenner.
The book is being released by St. Martin's Press on May 14, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: In 1955, Vivien Lowry is facing the greatest challenge of her life. Her latest play, the only female-authored play on the London stage that season, has opened in the West End to rapturous applause from the audience. The reviewers, however, are not as impressed as the playgoers and their savage notices not only shut down the play but ruin Lowry's last chance for a dramatic career. With her future in London not looking bright, at the suggestion of her friend, Peggy Guggenheim, Vivien takes a job in as a script doctor on a major film shooting in Rome's Cinecitta Studios. There she finds a vibrant movie making scene filled with rising stars, acclaimed directors, and famous actors in a country that is torn between its past and its potentially bright future, between the liberation of the post-war cinema and the restrictions of the Catholic Church that permeates the very soul of Italy.

As Vivien tries to forge a new future for herself, she also must face the long-buried truth of the recent World War and the mystery of what really happened to her deceased fiancé. Every Time We Say Goodbye is a brilliant exploration of trauma and tragedy, hope and renewal, filled with dazzling characters both real and imaginary, from the incomparable author who charmed the world with her novels The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

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 Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club by
Helen Simonson.
The book is being released by Dial Press on May 7, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: timeless comedy of manners--refreshing as a summer breeze and bracing as the British seaside--about a generation of young women facing the seismic changes brought on by war and dreaming of the boundless possibilities of their future, from the bestselling author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

It is the summer of 1919 and Constance Haverhill is without prospects. Now that all the men have returned from the front, she has been asked to give up her cottage and her job at the estate she helped run during the war. While she looks for a position as a bookkeeper or--horror--a governess, she's sent as a lady's companion to an old family friend who is convalescing at a seaside hotel. Despite having only weeks to find a permanent home, Constance is swept up in the social whirl of Hazelbourne-on-Sea after she rescues the local baronet's daughter, Poppy Wirrall, from a social faux pas.

Poppy wears trousers, operates a taxi and delivery service to employ local women, and runs a ladies' motorcycle club (to which she plans to add flying lessons). She and her friends enthusiastically welcome Constance into their circle. And then there is Harris, Poppy's recalcitrant but handsome brother--a fighter pilot recently wounded in battle--who warms in Constance's presence. But things are more complicated than they seem in this sunny pocket of English high society. As the country prepares to celebrate its hard-won peace, Constance and the women of the club are forced to confront the fact that the freedoms they gained during the war are being revoked.

Whip-smart and utterly transportive, The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club is historical fiction of the highest order: an unforgettable coming-of-age story, a tender romance, and a portrait of a nation on the brink of change.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

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.

Real Americans by
Rachel Khong.
The book is being released by Knopf on April 30, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: Real Americans begins on the precipice of Y2K in New York City, when twenty-two-year-old Lily Chen, an unpaid intern at a slick media company, meets Matthew. Matthew is everything Lily is not: easygoing and effortlessly attractive, a native East Coaster, and, most notably, heir to a vast pharmaceutical empire. Lily couldn't be more different: flat-broke, raised in Tampa, the only child of scientists who fled Mao's Cultural Revolution. Despite all this, Lily and Matthew fall in love.

In 2021, fifteen-year-old Nick Chen has never felt like he belonged on the isolated Washington island where he lives with his single mother, Lily. He can't shake the sense she's hiding something. When Nick sets out to find his biological father, the journey threatens to raise more questions than it provides answers.

In immersive, moving prose, Rachel Khong weaves a profound tale of class and striving, race and visibility, and family and inheritance--a story of trust, forgiveness, and finally coming home.

Exuberant and explosive, Real Americans is a social novel par excellence that asks: Are we destined, or made? And if we are made, who gets to do the making? Can our genetic past be overcome?

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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.

Every Time I Go on Vacation, Someone Dies by
Catherine Mack.
The book is being released by Minotaur Press on April 30, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: All that bestselling author Eleanor Dash wants is to get through her book tour in Italy and kill off her main character, Connor Smith, in the next in her Vacation Mysteries series--is that too much to ask?

Clearly, because when an attempt is made on the real Connor's life--the handsome but infuriating con man she got mixed up with ten years ago and now can't get out of her life--Eleanor's enlisted to help solve the case.

Contending with literary competitors, rabid fans, a stalker--and even her ex, Oliver, who turns up unexpectedly--theories are bandied about, and rivalries, rifts, and broken hearts are revealed. But who's really trying to get away with murder?

Every Time I Go on Vacation, Someone Dies is the irresistible and hilarious series debut from Catherine Mack, introducing bestselling fictional author Eleanor Dash on her Italian book tour that turns into a real-life murder mystery, as her life starts to imitate the world in her books.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

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.

Every Time We Say Goodbye by
Natalie Jenner.
The book is being released by St. Martin's Press on May 14, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: In 1955, Vivien Lowry is facing the greatest challenge of her life. Her latest play, the only female-authored play on the London stage that season, has opened in the West End to rapturous applause from the audience. The reviewers, however, are not as impressed as the playgoers and their savage notices not only shut down the play but ruin Lowry's last chance for a dramatic career. With her future in London not looking bright, at the suggestion of her friend, Peggy Guggenheim, Vivien takes a job in as a script doctor on a major film shooting in Rome's Cinecitta Studios. There she finds a vibrant movie making scene filled with rising stars, acclaimed directors, and famous actors in a country that is torn between its past and its potentially bright future, between the liberation of the post-war cinema and the restrictions of the Catholic Church that permeates the very soul of Italy.

As Vivien tries to forge a new future for herself, she also must face the long-buried truth of the recent World War and the mystery of what really happened to her deceased fiancé. Every Time We Say Goodbye is a brilliant exploration of trauma and tragedy, hope and renewal, filled with dazzling characters both real and imaginary, from the incomparable author who charmed the world with her novels The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

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 Titanic Survivors Book Club by
Timothy Schaffert.
The book is being released by Doubleday Books on April 2, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: From the author of The Perfume Thief, a remarkable tale about the life-changing power of books and second chances, following the Titanic librarian who opens a bookshop in Paris where he meets a secret society of survivors.

For weeks after the sinking of the Titanic, Yorick spots his own name among the list of those lost at sea. As an apprentice librarian for the White Star Line, his job was to curate the ship's second-class library. But the day the Titanic set sail he was left stranded at the dock.

After the ship's sinking, Yorick takes this twist of fate as a sign to follow his lifelong dream of owning a bookshop in Paris. Soon after, he receives an invitation to a secret society of survivors where he encounters other ticket holders who didn't board the ship. Haunted by their good fortune, they decide to form a book society, where they can grapple with their own anxieties through heated discussions of The Awakening or The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Of this ragtag group, Yorick finds himself particularly drawn to the glamorous Zinnia and the mysterious Haze, and a tangled triangle of love and friendship forms among them. Yet with the Great War on the horizon and the unexpected death of one of their own, the surviving book club members are left wondering what fate might have in store. Elegant and elegiac, The Titanic Survivors Book Club is a dazzling ode to love, chance, and the transformative power of books to bring people together.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

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 Trail of Lost Hearts by
Tracey Garvis Graves.
The book is being released by St. Martin's Press on March 26, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: Thirty-four-year-old Wren Waters believes that if you pay attention, the universe will send you exactly what you need. But her worldview shatters when the universe delivers two life-altering blows she didn't see coming, and all she wants to do is put the whole heartbreaking mess behind her. No one is more surprised than Wren when she discovers that geocaching--the outdoor activity of using GPS to look for hidden objects--is the only thing getting her out of bed and out of her head. She decides that a weeklong solo quest geocaching in Oregon is exactly what she needs to take back control of her life.

Enter Marshall Hendricks, a psychologist searching for distraction as he struggles with a life-altering blow of his own. Though Wren initially rebuffs Marshall's attempt at hiker small talk, she's beyond grateful when he rescues her from a horrifying encounter farther down the trail. In the interest of safety, Marshall suggests partnering up to look for additional caches. Wren's no longer quite so trusting of the universe--or men in general--but her inner circle might argue that a smart, charismatic psychologist isn't the worst thing the universe could place in her path.

What begins as a platonic road trip gradually blossoms into something deeper, and the more Wren learns about Marshall, the more she wants to know. Now all she can do is hope that the universe gets it right this time.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

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 Divorcees by
Rowan Beaird.
The book is being released by Flatiron Books on March 19, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: Lois Saunders thought that marrying the right man would finally cure her loneliness. But as picture-perfect as her husband is, she is suffocating in their loveless marriage. In 1951, though, unhappiness is hardly grounds for divorce--except in Reno, Nevada.

At the Golden Yarrow, the most respectable of Reno's famous "divorce ranches," Lois finds herself living with half a dozen other would-be divorcees, all in Reno for the six weeks' residency that is the state's only divorce requirement. They spend their days riding horses and their nights flirting with cowboys, and it's as wild and fun as Lake Forest, Illinois, is prim and stifling. But it isn't until Greer Lang arrives that Lois's world truly cracks open. Gorgeous, beguiling, and completely indifferent to societal convention, Greer is unlike anyone Lois has ever met--and she sees something in Lois that no one else ever has. Under her influence, Lois begins to push against the limits that have always restrained her. How far will she go to forge her independence, on her own terms?

Set in the glamorous, dizzying world of 1950s Reno, where housewives and movie stars rubbed shoulders at gin-soaked casinos, The Divorcees is a riveting page-turner and a dazzling exploration of female friendship, desire, and freedom.

Review: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Diane Setterfield draws misty trails across her stories in ways that both obscure and illuminate, challenging her readers to uncover the truth she writes. Her settings are the otherworldly that sit opaquely on top of a solid reality and her characters draw a reader in through fascination and curiousity. She is a master of language. I first encountered her work through The Thirteenth Tale and then in Bellman and Black, the former of which I liked more than the latter, and I bought Once Upon a River several years ago in order to once again immerse myself in her work. And then as is common with books I buy, it languished, unread, on my shelf for literal years, until now, when I picked up this unsettling, dreamy, and immersive fairy tale of a story about the power of storytelling and want and loss.

In 1887, on the evening of the winter Solstice, at The Swan, a rural inn on the banks of the River Thames, as a public room full of people drank and listened to the publican's storytelling, a man three quarters frozen through, and dripping river water, burst into the room carrying the body of a four year old girl and promptly collapsed. The child had drowned and was beyond help but the man could still be saved. Rita, a local nurse, was called to assist with the unconscious man. She saw the body of the child and confirmed to herself by all measures that the small girl was dead, only to then witness the girl come back to life with a gasp. The man who saved her regains consciousness but has no idea who the child is, leading to confusion and speculation. Was she the missing child of the Vaughns, wealthy local landowners whose baby was kidnapped several years before? Was she missing daughter of a thief from a local farming family who disapeared when her mother died by suicide and was last seen being led to the river before her mother's death? Was she the young sister of the parson's cleaning lady? Each of these three possibilities diverge and then come together just as the River Thames and its tributaries meander toward the sea. Each of these missing girl stories is like a tributary of the great river--sometimes taking over and sometimes meandering slowly like a trickle but always weaving inexorably back to the main story. There is a fourth, and supernatural, possibiliy as well. Could this mute child be the daughter of Quietly the boatman who is said to haunt this stretch of the river? Threaded through these larger tales are smaller stories that also flow into the greater story, that of Daunt, the photographer who saved the girl and who finds himself falling in love with his nurse; that of the local farmer, the son of royalty and a Black maid, who has created his own wonderful, much loved family; and that of the solitary, haunted woman who cleans for the parson, keeping quiet about the history of abuse she has suffered and continues to suffer.

The line between the realistic and the supernatural is a thin one and this story straddles it well with its slowly rising tension, its lush descriptions, the ongoing question of the child's identity, and the hypnotic feel of the prose itself. In the person of the reanimated little girl and the various characters' great desire for her to be their missing child, all of the characters are all faced with the secrets and heavy guilt each carries. Setterfield has taken a complex plot, stirred in elements of magical realism, Victorian sensibilities, the hold of superstition, and questions of belonging and identity in this paean to the power and importance of storytelling. The ending of this mesmerizing tale starts to come apart a bit, as if the answer to the question of the child's identity must be hurried along so that all of the other plot threads could be neatly tied up too. Despite this oddly curtailed conclusion after so many pages of slowly heightening the suspense, the story as a whole was an engrossing one that keeps a reader turning the pages hoping for the truth, or at least a satisfying resolution to each of the major and minor story lines.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

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 Funeral Ladies of Ellerie County by
Clare Swinarski.
The book is being released by Avon Books on March 12, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: Armed with a Crock-Pot and a pile of recipes, a grandmother, her granddaughter, and a mysterious young man work to bring a community together in this uplifting novel for readers of The Chicken Sisters.

Esther Larson has been cooking for funerals in the Northwoods of Wisconsin for seventy years. Known locally as the "funeral ladies," she and her cohort have worked hard to keep the mourners of Ellerie County fed--it is her firm belief that there is very little a warm casserole and a piece of cherry pie can't fix. But, after falling for an internet scam that puts her home at risk, the proud Larson family matriarch is the one in need of help these days.

Iris, Esther's whip-smart Gen Z granddaughter, would do anything for her family and her community. As she watches her friends and family move out of their lakeside town onto bigger and better things, Iris wonders why she feels so left behind in the place she is desperate to make her home. But when Cooper Welsh shows up, she finally starts to feel like she's found the missing piece of her puzzle.

Cooper is dealing with becoming a legal guardian to his younger half-sister after his beloved stepmother dies. While their celebrity-chef father is focused on his booming career and top-ranked television show, Cooper is still hurting from a public tragedy he witnessed last year as a paramedic and finding it hard to cope. With Iris in the gorgeous Ellerie County, though, he hopes he might finally find the home he's been looking for.

It doesn't seem like a community cookbook could possibly solve their problems, especially one where casseroles have their own section and cream of chicken soup mix is the most frequently used ingredient. But when you mix the can-do spirit of Midwestern grandmothers with the stubborn hope of a boy raised by food plus a dash of long-awaited forgiveness--things might just turn out okay.

Includes Recipes

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

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.

Finlay Donovan Rolls the Dice by
Elle Cosimano.
The book is being released by Minotaur Books on March 5, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: Finlay Donovan and her nanny/partner-in-crime Vero are in sore need of a girls' weekend away. They plan a trip to Atlantic City, but odds are--seeing as it's actually a cover story to negotiate a deal with a dangerous loan shark, save Vero's childhood crush Javi, and hunt down a stolen car--it won't be all fun and games. When Finlay's ex-husband Steven and her mother insist on tagging along too, Finlay and Vero suddenly have a few too many meddlesome passengers along for the ride.

Within hours of arriving in their seedy casino hotel, it becomes clear their rescue mission is going to be a bust. Javi's kidnapper, Marco, refuses to negotiate, demanding payment in full in exchange for Javi's life. But that's not all--he insists on knowing the whereabouts of his missing nephew, Ike, who mysteriously disappeared. Unable to confess what really happened to Ike, Finlay and Vero are forced to come up with a new plan: sleuth out the location of Javi and the Aston Martin, then steal them both back. But when they sneak into the loan shark's suite to search for clues, they find more than they bargained for--Marco's already dead. They don't have a clue who murdered him, only that they themselves have a very convincing motive. Then four members of the police department unexpectedly show up in town, also looking for Ike--and after Finlay's night with hot cop Nick at the police academy, he's a little too eager to keep her close to his side.

If Finlay can juggle a jealous ex-husband, two precocious kids, her mother's marital issues, a decomposing loan shark, and find Vero's missing boyfriend, she might get out of Atlantic City in one piece. But will she fold under the pressure and come clean about the things she's done, or be forced to double down?

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

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 Last Days of the Midnight Ramblers by
Sarah Tomlinson.
The book is being released by Flatiron Books on February 13, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: Perfect for fans of Daisy Jones and The Six and Almost Famous, a gripping debut about the complicated legacy of a legendary rock band and the ghostwriter telling their story

Three Rock and Roll icons. Two explosive tell-all memoirs. One ghostwriter caught in the middle.

Anke Berben is ready to tell all. A legendary model and style icon, she reveled in headline-grabbing romances with not one but three members of the hugely influential rock band the Midnight Ramblers. The band members were as famous for their backstage drama as for their music, and Anke is the only one who fully understands the tangled relationships, betrayals, and suspicions that have added to the Ramblers' enduring appeal and mystique. That is most evident in the mystery around Anke's role in the death of Mal, the band's founder and Anke's husband, in 1969.

When Mari Hawthorn accepts the job to work with Anke on her memoir, she is dead set on getting to the truth of Mal's death. She has always been deft at navigating the fatal charms of celebrities, having grown up with a narcissistic, alcoholic father. As she ingratiates herself into the world of the band, she grows enchanted, against her better judgment, by these legendary rock stars. She knows she can't get pulled in too deep, otherwise she'll compromise her objectivity--and her integrity.

Filled with all of the glamour and attitude of rock and roll, The Last Days of the Midnight Ramblers is a bighearted page-turner that will appeal to fans of Daisy Jones and The Six and Almost Famous.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

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 Phoenix Crown by
Kate Quinn and Janie Chang.
The book is being released by William Morrow and Company on February 13, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: From bestselling authors Janie Chang and Kate Quinn, a thrilling and unforgettable narrative about the intertwined lives of two wronged women, spanning from the chaos of the San Francisco earthquake to the glittering palaces of Versailles.

San Francisco, 1906. In a city bustling with newly minted millionaires and scheming upstarts, two very different women hope to change their fortunes: Gemma, a golden-haired, silver-voiced soprano whose career desperately needs rekindling, and Suling, a petite and resolute Chinatown embroideress who is determined to escape an arranged marriage. Their paths cross when they are drawn into the orbit of Henry Thornton, a charming railroad magnate whose extraordinary collection of Chinese antiques includes the fabled Phoenix Crown, a legendary relic of Beijing's fallen Summer Palace.

His patronage offers Gemma and Suling the chance of a lifetime, but their lives are thrown into turmoil when a devastating earthquake rips San Francisco apart and Thornton disappears, leaving behind a mystery reaching further than anyone could have imagined . . . until the Phoenix Crown reappears five years later at a sumptuous Paris costume ball, drawing Gemma and Suling together in one last desperate quest for justice.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Review: Babbacombe's by Susan Scarlett

Warm, sweet, and wholesome are just some of the adjectives that apply to Susan Scarlett's (Noel Streatfeild) novels. Streatfeild is probably best known for her children's books (Ballet Shoes, et al) but her lovely, WWII, adult novels must have proved to be the kind of cozy, escapist reads that would have been embraced during wartime. In fact, they are still appealing today, even if they feel a little simplistic in their lack of nuance. Babbacombe's is the second of her novels that I've read and it was as charming as the first.

When the story opens, sweet, naive Beth Carson is graduating from school amidst a shower of compliments and despite wanting to go on and study further, she must take up a job to help her loving family, which lives paycheck to paycheck. Father George, who has worked faithfully at Babbacombe's department store for decades, has secured her a position as a junior assistant in Gowns. As Beth is starting her new job, cousin Dulcie, who is Beth's age, comes to live with the Carsons and she is also found a job at Babbacombe's. But she can't be more different than Beth. Dulcie is scheming, spoiled, and nasty, and her work ethic is non-existent. She causes stress for the family, none more so than when David Babbacombe, the son of the store owner, meets the pretty and natural Beth and continues to show an interest in her, despite her continued assertion that they have no future given their different class situation. Dulcie's machinations threaten everyone's happiness but in the end, good will triumph.

Scarlett gently highlights class difference here and plays into the trope of the cheerful working class. The story is predictable but still delightful for all that. The characters are quite one dimensional with Beth being good through and through and Dulcie being the villain at every turn but somehow this straightforward and uncomplicated rendering works for this easy, undemanding, and heartwarming, if unrealistic, read. It's a winsome book all the way around.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

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.

When Grumpy Met Sunshine by
Charlotte Stein.
The book is being released by St. Martin's Griffin on February 6, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: A steamy, opposites-attract romance with undeniable chemistry between a grumpy retired footballer and his fabulous and very sunshine-y ghostwriter.

When grumpy ex-footballer Alfie Harding gets badgered into selling his memoirs, he knows he's never going to be able to write them. He hates revealing a single thing about himself, is allergic to most emotions, and can't imagine doing a good job of putting pen to paper.

And so in walks curvy, cheery, cute as heck ghostwriter Mabel Willicker, who knows just how to sunshine and sass her way into getting every little detail out of Alfie. They banter and bicker their way to writing his life story, both of them sure they'll never be anything other than at odds.

But after their business arrangement is mistaken for a budding romance, the pair have to pretend to be an item for a public who's ravenous for more of this Cinderella story. Or at least, it feels like it's pretend--until each slow burn step in their fake relationship sparks a heat neither can control. Now they just have to decide: is this sizzling chemistry just for show? Or something so real it might just give them their fairytale ending?

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

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.

Clover Hendry's Day Off by
Beth Morrey.
The book is being released by G. P. Putnam's Sons on January 30, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: A hilarious and empowering perimenopausal Ferris Bueller's Day Off, about Clover Hendry, 46, and the day she decides to stop keeping the plates spinning, say F@#! it all, and finally get hers.

Today is not the day to mess with Clover Hendry.

Clover hasn't said "No" a day in her life. Until today. Normally a woman who tips her hairdresser even when the cut is hideous, is endlessly patient with her horrendous mother, and says yes every time her boss asks her to work late--today, things are going to be very different. Because Clover is taking the day off. Today, she's going to do and say whatever she likes, even if it means her whole life unravels.

What made Clover change her ways? Why doesn't she care anymore? There's more to this day than meets the eye.

Clover Hendry's Day Off is a joyful, raging, galvanizing story about putting life on pause, pleasing yourself, and getting your own back. Whatever it takes. Because when Clover stops caring, she can start living.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

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.

Everyone on This Train Is a Suspect by
Benjamin Stevenson.
The book is being released by Mariner Books on January 30, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: For fans of Richard Osman and Anthony Horowitz, a fiendishly fun locked room murder mystery from the author of the indie darling Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone --this time set on a train full of mystery writers, agents, editors, and fans.

Ernest Cunningham returns in a deliciously witty locked room (train) mystery.

When the Australian Mystery Writers' Society invited me to their crime-writing festival aboard the Ghan, the famous train between Darwin and Adelaide, I was hoping for some inspiration for my second book. Fiction, this time: I needed a break from real people killing each other. Obviously, that didn't pan out.

The program is a who's who of crime writing royalty:

the debut writer (me!)

the forensic science writer

the blockbuster writer

the legal thriller writer

the literary writer

the psychological suspense writer

But when one of us is murdered, the remaining authors quickly turn into five detectives. Together, we should know how to solve a crime.

Of course, we should also know how to commit one.

How can you find a killer when all the suspects know how to get away with murder?

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

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.

Love and Hot Chicken by
Mary Liza Hartong.
The book is being released by William Morrow on February 20, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: The Chickie Shak is something of a historical landmark. Red clapboard walls, thriving wasp population, yard-toilets resplendent with sunflowers. My best friend Lee Ray and I used to come after our softball games and snag a picnic table while our mammas ordered the home team special. Truth is, most people around here order the same thing until the day somebody throws their ashes off a roller coaster at Dollywood. The line snakes around the building as far as you can see, the grimiest bunch of Jessies, Pearls, and Scooters you ever did behold, hobnobbing in the parking lot from noon until night.

When PJ Spoon returns home for her beloved daddy's funeral, she doesn't expect to stick around. Why abandon her PhD program at Vanderbilt for the humble charms of her hometown, Pennywhistle, Tennessee? Mamma's broken heart, that's why. But truth be told, PJ's own heart ain't doing too good either. She impulsively takes a job as a fry cook at Pennywhistle's beloved Chickie Shak, where locals gather for Nashville-style hot chicken. It may not be glamorous, but it's something to do.

Fate shakes up PJ's life again when the town rallies around the terribly retro and terribly fun Hot Chicken Pageant. PJ finally notices her cute redheaded coworker Boof, a singer-songwriter with a talent as striking as her curly hair, and learns to fear her smack-talking manager, Linda.

As PJ and Boof fall for each other, Boof's search for her birth mother--a Pennywhistle native--catapults the budding couple into a mystery that might be better left unsolved. The Chickie Shak pageant takes off, spurring old rivalries and new friendships in this tale of unexpected connections and new beginnings.

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