Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is 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.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin.

The book is being released by Algonquin Books on August 22, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: From the author of the international bestseller The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry comes another novel that will have everyone talking.

Aviva Grossman, an ambitious congressional intern in Florida, makes the mistake of having an affair with her boss--and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the beloved congressman doesn’t take the fall. But Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins: slut-shamed, she becomes a late-night talk show punch line, anathema to politics.

She sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. This time, she tries to be smarter about her life and strives to raise her daughter, Ruby, to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, Aviva decides to run for public office herself, that long-ago mistake trails her via the Internet and catches up--an inescapable scarlet A. In the digital age, the past is never, ever, truly past. And it’s only a matter of time until Ruby finds out who her mother was and is forced to reconcile that person with the one she knows.

Young Jane Young is a smart, funny, and moving novel about what it means to be a woman of any age, and captures not just the mood of our recent highly charged political season, but also the double standards alive and well in every aspect of life for women.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Review: Whispering in French by Sophia Nash

Family can be the source of great joy but also great frustration and we don’t always know what we want to do with the history and legacy they place on our shoulders. Sometimes we think we know and sometimes we feel as if we have no choice, even when that choice is a hard and painful one. Kate Hamilton, in Sophia Nash’s new novel, Whispering in French, is faced with just such a painful task when she goes back to France at her mother’s behest to try and convince her elderly grandfather to sell the ancient, crumbling family villa.

Kate is half French and half American and she hasn’t been to France in years. A psychologist, she is considered the practical one in the family despite the shambles her own life is in. She’s left a terrible marriage and her teenaged daughter is estranged from her but it seems her most pressing problem is getting her grandfather Jean to agree to sell Madeleine Marie, the birthright of the Du Roque family for generations, perched precariously on a seaside cliff above a Basque village.  To the locals, although Kate's mother Antoinette grew up there, Kate is not quite considered “one of them” but an American and an outsider. She's not just an outsider in the town though, she's an outsider in her own life, unable or unwilling to look inside her own heart to find the woman behind the professional mask. As she tries to figure out the financial situation and navigate her family, her own guilt, and the bureaucracy of the town, she consults with Magdali, the loyal and trusted housekeeper with whom Kate once played as a child, and counsels the nephew of a long-time neighbor. Major Soames is a former soldier suffering from PTSD and shutting his family out of his life. His conversations with Kate (he's not really a patient) eventually lead her to face her own demons and to risk taking her own mask off.

The novel is told in the first person so that the reader really sees Kate’s insecurities and avoidance techniques. She even addresses the reader early on and acknowledges that this is a story she’s telling, an odd choice since the narration never breaks this wall again. In addition to Kate's telling of the story, there are brief "Whispers From the Garden" chapters interspersed into the narrative and these are focused mainly on an anthropomorphic hedgehog and cat. These chapters feel completely out of place, cutesy, and rather twee, even if the cat is necessary to the plot much later in the book. There are many plot threads here and more are added as the novel progresses but this constant addition of new and unexpected story lines, including surprising revelations about Kate's family, means that several of them are not developed terribly deeply. The main thread, though, is that of Kate's opening up and embracing risk while coming to know her true self, allowing that self to shine. Given the slow pacing of the novel, it takes rather a long time for her to get there, but get there she does. The general story is an interesting one but the ending feels unrealistic and unresolved although interestingly it does circle back to the otherwise seemingly unrelated prologue and the first chapter. Despite these flaws, Kate's transformation and the setting of the novel are both satisfying. I didn't like this as much as I'd hoped (especially as I've enjoyed Nash's Regency set historical romances) but it was a fine way to spend a couple of hours of reading time.

For more information about Sophia Nash and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is 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.

How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas.

The book is being released by Tim Duggan Books on August 15, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: An absorbing, darkly comedic novel that brilliantly evokes the confusions of adolescence and marks the arrival of an extraordinary young talent.

Isidore Mazal is eleven years old, the youngest of six siblings living in a small French town. He doesn't quite fit in. Berenice, Aurore, and Leonard are on track to have doctorates by age twenty-four. Jeremie performs with a symphony, and Simone, older than Isidore by eighteen months, expects a great career as a novelist--she's already put Isidore to work on her biography. The only time they leave their rooms is to gather on the old, stained couch and dissect prime-time television dramas in light of Aristotle's Poetics.

Isidore has never skipped a grade or written a dissertation. But he notices things the others don't, and asks questions they fear to ask. So when tragedy strikes the Mazal family, Isidore is the only one to recognize how everyone is struggling with their grief, and perhaps the only one who can help them—if he doesn't run away from home first.

Isidore’s unstinting empathy, combined with his simmering anger, makes for a complex character study, in which the elegiac and comedic build toward a heartbreaking conclusion. With How to Behave in a Crowd, Camille Bordas immerses readers in the interior life of a boy puzzled by adulthood and beginning to realize that the adults around him are just as lost.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review: Make Trouble by John Waters

The printed and illustrated version of Water's 2015 graduation address at RISD, this slight work is full of motivational snippets, advice to the newly graduated, and a call to, as the title implores, "make trouble." Most people know of Waters' work either in movies or writing and so they won't be surprised by much of his advice, unless they are surprised at how safe much but not all of it is, nor by his take on the state of the world in 2015, but there are still surprising bits as befits his reputation as a rebel. As a gift book aimed at graduates (it came out in time to give it to all your favorite students moving into the real world), it's a quick and easy read as well as a good reminder to all of us that while we have to live in the world as it is, we should never stop striving to make it a world as we want it to be.

Thanks to the publisher for giving me a copy of the book to review.

Monday, August 7, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Dress in the Window by Sofia Grant
So Much Blue by Perceval Everett
Good Karma by Christina Kelly
Lift And Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein
The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel Davis Huber

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker
The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel David Huber

Reviews posted this week:

The Dress in the Window by Sofia Grant
Lift And Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein

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

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could've Done Better by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
Make Trouble by John Waters
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Inhabited by Charlie Quimby
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain
The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike
You and I and Someone Else by Anna Schachner
Meantime by Katharine Noel
The Portrait by Antoine Laurain
So Much Blue by Perceval Everett
Good Karma by Christina Kelly
The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel Davis Huber

Friday, August 4, 2017

Review: Lift And Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein

We've all heard the statistics that 50% of marriages end in divorce and even though that number has never actually been true, its widespread acceptance in pop culture makes us unsurprised when we hear that someone we know is getting a divorce. In actual fact, the statistic is quite complicated and is quite low for people who have been married for a long time (roughly 35 years or more). Perhaps it is this that makes us more surprised when a long time marriage fails ccoupled with the idea that the couple has presumably been through so much and weathered it together. So it makes sense that only something huge like infidelity will drive them apart. This is the case in Marilyn Simon Rothstein's surprisingly humorous and empowering novel of a woman whose husband leaves her after 33 years of marriage.

Marcy and Harvey Hammer have been married for a long time. They have three grown children. Marcy has always tried to be a good, conscientious wife, helping her beloved Harvey with Bountiful Bosom, the family lingerie company, volunteering, and working part time at a local arts charity. She has put everyone else in her life first, only carving things out for herself last. But this is how she likes it; at least this is how she thinks she likes it until Harvey calls home one day and announces that he's leaving her. Eventually he admits that he's been having an affair with a 22 year old Argentinian bra fitting model and suddenly Marcy is living a cliche. As her marriage is falling to pieces, she also has to deal with her own oldest daughter's affair with a married man and her aging mother's devastating fall and sudden illness. She can hardly decide how she's going to handle Harvey and his infidelity when it's all she can do to handle the other curveballs that life is throwing her. While she works through her feelings about her husband and faces the other crises in her life, she meets Candy, a new friend juggling many of the same disasters that Marcy is but whose much appreciated connection to Marcy might be threatened.

The reader can't help but feel sorry for Marcy. She's invested everything in being a wife and mother and all of a sudden she is no longer the first and isn't needed daily as the second. Her search for who she is besides these two things drives much of the novel.  It is incredibly realistic in Marcy's waffling back and forth on whether or not she can take Harvey back, whether she can forgive him, and most importantly, if she wants to do either of those things and that is sometimes frustrating but always forgivable.  Often conflicted about her needs and wants in her new reality, Marcy is a funny and sarcastic character.  She manages to maintain a charity of spirit towards her husband, even when she is most hurting, that is lovely but not too self-effacing to be believed. The secondary characters around her are entertaining, quirky, and realistic and add a satisfying depth to the story. The plot clips along at a good pace and the writing is smooth. There is a lot of humor here but there's also a thoughtfulness and a poignancy about the end of a long marriage that takes the novel beyond the superficial. It is a fast and appealing read as the reader roots for Marcy, wonders just what decision she'll ultimately make about Harvey, and no matter what her choice, watches her become the fully rounded and fulfilled woman she should be. Recommended fun.

For more information about Marilyn Simon Rothstein and the book, like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the author for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is 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.

How to Change a Life by Stacey Ballis.

The book is being released by Berkley on August 15, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: A dare between friends leads to startling revelations and simmering tensions in the latest novel from the author of Wedding Girl.

Eloise is happy with her life as a successful private chef. She has her clients, her corgi, and a recipe for the world’s most perfect chocolate cream pie. What more could she need? But when her long-lost trio of high school friends reunites, Eloise realizes how lonely she really is.

Eloise, Lynne, and Teresa revamp their senior-class assignment and dare one another to create a list of things to accomplish by the time they each turn forty in a few months. Control freak Lynne has to get a dog, Teresa has to spice up her marriage, and Eloise has to start dating again.

Enter Shawn, a hunky ex-athlete and the first man Eloise could see herself falling for. Suddenly forty doesn’t seem so lonely—until a chance encounter threatens the budding romance and reveals the true colors of her friends. Will the bucket listers make it to forty still speaking to one another? Or do some friendships come with an expiration date?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: The Dress in the Window by Sofia Grant

History books record the fact that World War II allowed women to enter the workplace, replacing all of the young men who went off to fight in Europe and the Pacific but far less frequently do they address how women survived the hard aftermath of war, especially those women whose husbands, fiances, or sons didn't come home or only came home in flag-draped coffins. With so many men home from the war, women's professional options were limited and what was available was appallingly low paid, even for those women who desperately needed jobs to support themselves and their families.  So many of these all female households struggled to stay one step ahead of their bills. Sofia Grant's novel, The Dress in the Window, is the story of one such family, determined to survive and eventually to thrive.

Sisters Jeanne and Peggy live with Peggy's mother-in-law and Peggy's young daughter in a poor mill town just outside of Philadelphia. Their life is not one that any of them once imagined. Jeanne's fiance and Peggy's husband both died in the war and with their own parents dead, they had no choice but to move in with the widowed Thelma. The three women scrimp to make ends meet as they collectively raise little Tommie, born after her father's death in Europe. The sisters work together, Peggy drawing dress designs and Jeanne sewing the dresses, to sell to better off women in their small community, helping to supplement their meager income. Both of them have a talent for fashion but although they are working together and love each other dearly, they still harbor long standing resentments about each other, resentments that sometimes cause them to lie and keep secrets, both large and small. Thelma also has secrets and as she chooses to divulge them (or not), her relationships with each of the sisters changes. All three women, working together or for themselves, are survivors, having endured so much loss, and each of them wants a chance to chase her own dreams in the world of fashion and the world of fabric but how they each go about reaching for their dreams might tear them apart forever.

The third person narration's focus rotates mainly amongst Thelma, Peggy, and Jeanne but young Tommie has a small bit towards the end as well. This allows the reader to see not only the choices each character makes but to understand those choices and the impact they have on each of the other characters. By moving between characters, the reader can see the conflicts coming long before the characters do and can find sympathy for all positions. Jeanne and Peggy are very realistic as sisters, bound together by a deep love for each other but also prone to jealousy and rivalry. They are quite different from one another and their way of going about achieving their professional dreams highlights that. Calling attention to not only the changing roles of women in the late 40s and early 50s, the novel also chronicles the much appreciated changes in fashion from wartime austerity to abundance and show, a reimagining that showcases not just fashion but an attitude shift of an entire nation. Grant taps into the new spirit pervading the country after the war, branding practical America as innovative and new through the struggles and rise of the sisters. The pacing of the novel is pretty consistent. As each secret is revealed, something else happens to take its place and to keep the reader turning pages.  This is a domestic and family drama as much as it is a picture of society's changing place for women.  The ending is a bit abrupt and the epilogue allows for a glossing over of some of the unresolved plot threads but in general this is a quick and pleasing read. Historical fiction lovers and those with an interest in fashion and the industry as a whole will enjoy the well researched details and the sisters who found a way into this male dominated world.

For more information about Sofia Grant and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or follow her on Instagram. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday, July 31, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Best of Us by Joyce Maynard
Meantime by Katharine Noel
The Portrait by Antoine Laurain

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
So Much Blue by Percival Everett
The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker

Reviews posted this week:

Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel
Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

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

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could've Done Better by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
Make Trouble by John Waters
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Inhabited by Charlie Quimby
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain
The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike
You and I and Someone Else by Anna Schachner
The Best of Us by Joyce Maynard
Meantime by Katharine Noel
The Portrait by Antoine Laurain

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is 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.

Woman Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole.

The book is being released by Ballantine Books on August 8, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: In the 1950s, movie star Louise Wilde is caught between an unfulfilling acting career and a shaky marriage when she receives an out-of-the-blue phone call: She has inherited the estate of Florence “Florrie” Daniels, a Hollywood screenwriter she barely recalls meeting. Among Florrie’s possessions are several unproduced screenplays, personal journals, and—inexplicably—old photographs of Louise’s mother, Ethel. On an impulse, Louise leaves a film shoot in Las Vegas and sets off for her father’s house on the East Coast, hoping for answers about the curious inheritance and, perhaps, about her own troubled marriage.

Nearly thirty years earlier, Florrie takes off on an adventure of her own, driving her Model T westward from New Jersey in pursuit of broader horizons. She has the promise of a Hollywood job and, in the passenger seat, Ethel, her best friend since childhood. Florrie will do anything for Ethel, who is desperate to reach Nevada in time to reconcile with her husband and reunite with her daughter. Ethel fears the loss of her marriage; Florrie, with long-held secrets confided only in her journal, fears its survival.

In parallel tales, the three women—Louise, Florrie, Ethel—discover that not all journeys follow a map. As they rediscover their carefree selves on the road, they learn that sometimes the paths we follow are shaped more by our traveling companions than by our destinations.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

As a rule, I don't generally read a lot of mysteries. I happily buy them for other members of my family, all of whom seem to have a thing for whodunits but they have never been my genre of choice. Part of it is that I object to dead bodies in my reading. I prefer happily ever after to "Miss Scarlet in the conservatory with a wrench" (although both the board game and the movie are hugely entertaining). But every now and again, I break my own rules. When a mystery features a minor royal from Scotland and is set in the 1930s like in Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness, well, I am more than happy to break that rule.

Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, the daughter of the late Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch and thirty-fourth in line for the throne, lives with her brother Binky, the current Duke, his parsimonious wife, Fig, and their small son in a drafty castle in Scotland. She flees to London after she overhears Binky and Fig discussing a house party they've been instructed to throw by the queen in order to get Georgie engaged to a distasteful foreign prince. Although she's living in Binky's town home in London, cut off from any allowance, she has no money to speak of and no way to request any either, the family being rather in the weeds financially. As she schemes for ways to survive without having to resort to the very boring solution of being a lady-in-waiting to the last surviving daughter of Queen Victoria's (Georgie's great aunt), she starts her own housekeeping business, meets a scrummy but destitute Irish noble, crashes quite a few parties, spies on Wallis Simpson for Queen Alexandra, and, oh yes, finds a dead man in the tub in her house in London, a murder she must solve without implicating her brother, compromising her reputation, or ending up dead herself.

This is the first of the Her Royal Spyness Mysteries cozy mystery series. As the first book, there is quite a bit of scene setting before the plot really gets going but getting to know Georgie and her circumstances is highly entertaining all on its own. Bowen's writing is rife with dry humor and well researched period details. She has created a character who is not anomalous for her time, even if she is striking out on the edges of a rather fast set. In the course of staying generally true to the time period, Georgie's spying is really "spy lite" and the mystery is alsovery much a light one. The murderer is pretty easy to uncover and it's surprising that it takes Georgie as long as it does to figure it out herself. But this book is exactly as it appears, a delightful, quick, breezy, and fun mystery and those readers who enjoy romps with royals or favor the early 1930s socialite scene will be charmed by Georgie and crew.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel

Oh, how I love a good epistolary novel! And despite appearances otherwise (how many ways can you really change letters?), there are multiple ways to shape an epistolary novel. It can be letters, emails, notes, etc. from both the main character and secondary characters. It can be solely missives written by the main character. And it can be composed of letters and emails from others to one main character whose responses remain unwritten. Susanna Fogel's hilarious, crazy epistolary novel of a dysfunctional family, Nuclear Family, is the latter of these options.

Julie Fellers' extended Jewish family is nuts in its own special way. Over the course of twenty plus years, she receives letters, emails, and notes from many of the members of her family. Her father is a neurologist, her mother a therapist. She hears from them, as well as her grandmother, her immature younger sister, her mother's goddaughter, her stepmother, her precocious half-brother, her uncle, a couple of ghosts, a few inanimate objects that have cause to know her well, and more. The letters serve to illuminate everything that is going on in the family's life, revealing their authors with surprising clarity, as well as addressing Julie's life even though the reader never sees a response from her. The letters form the portrait of a fractured family but one that has stayed connected to each other, even when they drive each other round the bend.

Fogel manages to infuse healthy doses of humor, neuroses, perfect passive aggressiveness, self-centeredness, cluelessness, and family loyalty and love in the very distinct, well-developed voices she's created here. True emotions peek out from between the lines of all the characters' writings no matter what the actual content of the letter is and that's an impressive feat.  The inanimate objects and ghosts weighing on Julie's life may be a little bit over the top but since there's no other good way to introduce some of the things they know about Julie, they do serve a purpose.  Each letter is headed with a title that captures the tone and content of the following letter beautifully (and many of the headings will cause readers to snort with laughter). At first glance, there seems to be little plot driving the story beyond the passage of time and Julie's long deferred dream of writing a novel but when you reach the end and realize what Fogel has done, you will snicker with appreciation. Truly, the book is quite clever and a joy to read. Heaven forbid you recognize your own family in the book, but at least if you do, you'll know you're not alone and have the chance to laugh at the crazy other people are keeping hidden, except in their letters, too.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
You and I and Someone Else by Anna Schachner
Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Meantime by Katharine Noel

Reviews posted this week:

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
The Young Widower's Handbook by Tom McAllister

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

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could've Done Better by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
Make Trouble by John Waters
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Inhabited by Charlie Quimby
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain
The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike
You and I and Someone Else by Anna Schachner
Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: The Young Widower's Handbook by Tom McAllister

When you say your wedding vows, you expect to spend the rest of your life with that person, til death do you part. But what happens if death comes sooner rather than later? What if you are still young when the one person you love the most in the world, the one person who believed in you over everything, dies suddenly, leaving you alone? How do you go on? How do you define yourself? Who are you now that you're not part of a couple? Tom McAllister's touching novel The Young Widower's Handbook asks these questions even if it can't quite answer them.

Hunter Cady is a little bit aimless and unmotivated. His wife Kait is the one person who believes in him and makes him want to be better. So when she dies unexpectedly while they are still in their twenties, he is set completely adrift. Her crazy, thuggish family blames him for her death following an ectopic pregnancy and they want to claim her ashes. Instead, Hunter takes off with them, embarking on a cross country tour, visiting the places that he and Kait had jokingly suggested they might move to one day. Sunk in his grief, he tells no one where he's gone or where he's headed, just sends photographs of himself holding Kait's ashes at stops along his way to family and friends via social media to reassure them he's still out there. As he travels the country without any clear plan, he runs into quirky people, has odd encounters, and gains some insight into their marriage and the love that he still has for her while trying to learn how to go on without her.

Hunter as a character is not always good and he doesn't always make the best decisions but he's grieving an unimaginable loss and is understandably gutted and numb after Kait's sudden death. In fact, Hunter is completely and totally human, flaws and all, and while this sometimes makes him unsympathetic, most of the time, the reader can understand his thoughtless actions and his lack of consideration for anyone else who cared for Kait. The road trip itself, with its random, unplanned stops and detours, is clearly a metaphor for the emotional journey he's on but it never verges on cliched. The pacing of the novel and the revelations of Hunter and Kait's life together and their now lost plans for the future are woven together well into a lovely and coherent whole. The writing here is beautifully done; the story itself is bittersweet without being sentimental and the ending will tear your heart out with its beauty and its rightness.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

The South has long been a hotbed of racism. I don’t think this is news to anyone. It has a terrible history with issues of race, the raw wounds of which continue to bleed into its present. And there’s no shortage of novels, tv shows, and movies that focus on this still rampant racism. Joshilyn Jackson’s latest novel, The Almost Sisters, tackles this issue from the inside and is told with Jackson’s signature humor, eccentric characters, and unpredictable plots.

Leia Birch Briggs is a famous comic book artist. She is well known for her creation, Violence in Violet, and has signed on to write a prequel for this fan favorite, the origin story for Violence, a bloody, destructive, and vengeance minded character. At a Comic Con where the prequel is announced, Leia has a drunken one-night stand with a fan. She doesn’t remember his name, calling him Batman, for the costume he wore in the bar where they met and her major recollections of him are of his eyes and his smile and the fact that he’s black. When it turns out that she’s pregnant from this encounter, she makes peace with the fact that her child, who will be biracial, will not have a father, because how do you locate a stranger in a costume whose name you don’t know? Her bigger concern is telling her family that she’s pregnant and unwed. But just as she works up the nerve to do that, the lives of those she loves go to hell in a handbasket. Perfect step-sister Rachel kicks her husband out. Niece Lavender witnesses her parents’ ugly blow-up. And even more concerning, Leia’s ninety year old paternal grandmother Birchie, who she spent every summer with as she was growing up, causes a very uncharacteristic scene in church, a clear sign that something is not right with her. Swallowing the secret of her pregnancy, Leia hightails it to Birchville, Alabama, to the town that her family founded, to uncover what is going on with her beloved Birchie. What she eventually uncovers shows her a side of this small Southern town that she has never seen before and which makes her question the reality her unborn child will face, especially in the South.

As is usual in Jackson’s novels, there is a great deal of humor and kookiness on display here. Most of the characters are richly drawn and balanced in their characterizations. Birchie and her best friend and companion, Wattie, are wonderful. Rachel and Lavender are very real, flawed and good-hearted both. The biggest contradiction to the idea of fully fleshed out characters is Batman himself. He’s certainly unknown while Leia herself remembers nothing about him but as he is revealed to her, he stays a rather flat character to the reader, only as a real as a superficial Facebook profile is. The novel has a multitude of storylines, corresponding to the multiplicity of secrets the characters hold, and sometimes they tangle around each other. Other times they complement or mirror each other and add to the complexity of the issues weaving through the novel. Just as Leia is trying and struggling to discover the origin story for Violence, she is discovering the sometimes hidden, and not always pretty, origin stories of the town, its families, and her family in particular. The novel flows easily and the story is just the kind of zany that Jackson’s readers have come to expect but there are a few sections, mainly when Leia starts musing to herself, where it becomes heavy-handed, bordering on preachy about racism in the South. In fact, it’s strange that as smart as Leia is, she never noticed the dichotomy of the two different Souths before she got pregnant with Digby. Call it an oddly belated awakening. Over all though, this novel is a nutty and engaging romp of a story. Jackson’s fans and readers who like solving old mysteries, enjoy offbeat stories and quirky characters, and want a little more substance to their beach reads will enjoy this funny, disturbing, and eminently readable novel.

For more information about Joshilyn Jackson and the book, check out herwebsite, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is 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.

Pieces of Happiness by Anne Ostby.

The book is being released by Doubleday on August 1, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: A novel of five lifelong friends who, in their sixties, decide to live together on a cocoa farm in Fiji, where they not only start a chocolate business but strengthen their friendships and rediscover themselves.

"I've planted my feet on Fijian earth and I intend to stay here until the last sunset. Why don't you join me? Leave behind everything that didn't work out!"

When Sina, Maya, Ingrid, and Lisbeth each receive a letter in the mail posing the same question, the answer is obvious. Their old high school friend Kat—Kat the adventurer, Kat who spread her wings and took off as soon as they graduated—has extended the invitation of a lifetime: Come live with me on my cocoa farm in Fiji. Come spend the days eating chocolate and gabbing like teenagers once again, free from men, worries, and cold. Come grow old in paradise, together, as sisters. Who could say no?

Now in their sixties, the friends have all but resigned themselves to the cards they've been dealt. There's Sina, a single mom with financial woes; gentle Maya who feels the world slipping away from her; Ingrid, the perennial loner; Lisbeth, a woman with a seemingly picture-perfect life; and then Kat, who is recently widowed. As they adjust to their new lives together, the friends are watched over by Ateca, Kat's longtime housekeeper, who oftentimes knows the women better than they know themselves and recognizes them for what they are: like "a necklace made of shells: from the same beach but all of them different." Surrounded by an azure-blue ocean, cocoa trees, and a local culture that is fascinatingly, joyfully alien, the friends find a new purpose in starting a business making chocolate: bittersweet, succulent pieces of happiness.

A story of love, hope, and chocolate, PIECES OF HAPPINESS will reaffirm your faith in friendship, second chances, and the importance of indulging one's sweet tooth.

Monday, July 17, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past two weeks are:

My Glory Was I Had Such Friends by Amy Silverstein
The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike
Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
You and I and Someone Else by Anna Schachner

Reviews posted this week:

Disaster Falls by Stephane Gerson
My Glory Was I Had Such Friends by Amy Silverstein
Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James
Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani

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

The Young Widower's Handbook by Tom McAllister
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could've Done Better by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
Make Trouble by John Waters
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Inhabited by Charlie Quimby
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain
The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Review: Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani

Instead of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Adriana Trigiani's Kiss Carlo is a My Big Crazy Italian Family story. And I should know because I've got the remnants of one of those. In fact, some parts of this felt very similar to the (unofficial?--I was little so I don't know if they spontaneously happened or were planned) family reunions that seemed to occur every year at one of my distant relative's house. I recognized the love and loyalty in the book but also the long holding of grudges. It was a fun, somewhat nostalgic read but it also reminded me of the not perfect parts of my own crazy southwestern Philly family.

The story opens in South Philadelphia with the falling out of the two Palazzini brothers over a promised inheritance that went to the wrong brother, effectively splitting this formerly close family in half. Then it jumps to 1949 and the small mountain town of Roseto Valfortore in Italy, where the town's ambassador, Carlo Guardinfante, is getting ready to leave for the US and the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania's Jubilee in hopes of convincing the town's Italian Americans, whose parents and grandparents emigrated from Roseto Valfortore to help the Italians rebuild their flood destroyed road, something they can't afford to do on their own. Once the story gets going though, it centers around Nicky Castone, a nephew of one of the original Palazzini brothers. Nicky drives a cab for his Uncle Dom and has been engaged to Peachy for seven years. Orphaned at a young age, Nicky was raised by his Aunt Jo and Uncle Dom, easily and happily enfolded into their large and growing family. But as Nicky starts to look at his life, he's no longer certain he wants to follow the path set out for him by others. What would really bring him happiness is to act. He's been moonlighting at the Borelli theater for several years and when he gets his acting break under the direction of Carla Borelli, who is taking over the theater from her father, he knows he has found his purpose. But divulging his change of plans to everyone in his life, especially Peachy, sets off a chain of events no one could have predicted and will pull together the disparate beginnings of the novel.

The plot has some almost farce-like elements as it borrows from the mistaken identity plots in Shakespeare, the only plays that are put on at Borelli's. It is light-hearted and comedic in tone and there are many, many plot threads and secondary characters taking the stage in turn. The side stories give context but there are a few too many of them at times and there is an odd abruptness to the story as it comes closer to the end, especially given the long and detailed build ups earlier in the novel. Nicky is a character who is clearly still trying to find himself, even at thirty years old, but he has a good heart and readers will root for him. This is a family saga with heart, a warm and inviting read, and if there are too many plot threads that don't necessarily move the story along, it does give the novel a big cinematic sweep. For all of its 500 plus pages, this is a relatively fast read. Readers who like family sagas, enjoy allusions to Shakespeare's comedies or acting, and those who are drawn to the nuttiness of large, crazy families should tuck this into their beach bags for sure.

For more information about Adriana Trigiani and the book, check out herwebsite, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or check out her Instagram. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is 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.

The Tin Man by Sarah Winman.

The book is being released by Tinder Press on July 27, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: The unforgettable and achingly tender new novel from Sarah Winman, author of the international bestseller WHEN GOD WAS A RABBIT and the Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller A YEAR OF MARVELLOUS WAYS. 'Exquisite' Joanna CannonIt begins with a painting won in a raffle: fifteen sunflowers, hung on the wall by a woman who believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things.And then there are two boys, Ellis and Michael,who are inseparable.And the boys become men,and then Annie walks into their lives,and it changes nothing and everything.Tin Man sees Sarah Winman follow the acclaimed success of When God Was A Rabbit and A Year Of Marvellous Ways with a love letter to human kindness and friendship, loss and living.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review: Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James

If you want me to swoon, include witty banter in your book. It doesn't matter what kind of book it is, just include the banter. Of course, it certainly helps romances in particular when there's an intelligent, strong heroine but sometimes creating such a woman can be hard while still staying true to historical realities. But Eloisa James always manages to create worthwhile heroines in her Regency set historical romances like Seven Minutes in Heaven, the latest in the Desperate Duchesses series.

Eugenia Snowe is a widow. Although she is the daughter of a marquis, after the death of her beloved young husband Andrew 7 years prior, she turned to work to keep herself busy. Eugenia runs the exclusive and discreet Snowe's Registry Office for Select Governesses and her governesses are highly sought after in all the best homes. She herself is businesslike and circumspect and she has a real knack for business, pairing each family on her books with the perfect governess. Somehow she has not managed to land on the right governess for Edward Reeve's half sister and brother though. Ward is trying to keep guardianship of his young half siblings away from his tyrannical, unpleasant grandmother and having the proper governess working with the children would certainly go some way to taking one of her arguments away from her. When the latest Snowe-provided governess quits, Ward determines that Eugenia herself would be the perfect governess and "kidnaps" her (she goes most willingly so it's hardly a kidnapping). Ward, a rich inventor, is the illegitimate son of an earl and is cognizant of what society will expect of his half-siblings so although he is incredibly attracted to Eugenia, he guards against a real attachment, believing her to not be a member of the nobility. Meanwhile, Eugenia is falling in love with Lizzie and Otis, the children in question, and she is feeling a sexual attraction for the first time in 7 years even as she finds it hard to accept this sign that she is moving on from the grief and loneliness that has colored her world for so long.

Eugenia and Ward sizzle when they are together. They flirt and spar almost from the first moment they meet and their quick intelligence is great fun. The misunderstanding that keeps them apart, ie Ward's belief that Eugenia is not noble, is a bit far fetched given that everyone else and their grandmother knows her whole history but without the misunderstanding, there's no reason for them to ever be apart. While Ward was illegitimate, both of his parents were noble themselves so he would have had a similar understanding of who was noble as his contemporaries do and would surely have known of Eugenia's family. If he didn't hear of her husband's drowning at the time, he would have heard of it once he looked to Snowe's Registry for the children. The children, with their odd quirks and strange interests, Lizzie wearing mourning and dissecting rabbits and Otis with his quick mathematical mind and his pet rat Jarvis, are delightful and much more entertaining than children in novels generally are and it is easy to see how Eugenia warms to them and wants them to have love and stability in their lives. Although Ward, with his occasional bouts of condescension and priggishness, is not nearly as likable as Eugenia, they are still a well-matched couple and James once again delivers for her readers.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review: My Glory Was I Had Such Friends by Amy Silverstein

Are you an organ donor? I am. In fact, I ticked that box on my license registration without thinking much about it. When I encouraged my children to do the same, I did think a little more about it (these are my kids, after all!), hoping against hope that I would never have to face a situation where this decision came into play. As you can see, all of my admittedly slight thinking about it focused on the tragic, not on the equally important miraculous, life giving aspects of organ donation. For the sick and dying person waiting for a healthy organ, finally getting a match is an amazing thing indeed. But that’s not the end of the story at all; it’s not even the beginning. The wait for a donor organ be emotionally and physically brutal but life afterwards isn’t easy and worry free either. Amy Silverstein’s memoir of her second heart transplant, twenty-five years after her first, is an honest and moving look at all of the factors, good, bad, and everything in between, that she faced, with the help of her husband and her dearest friends, as she waited again for a heart to become available. It is a celebration of life, its fragility and its strength, and of the people who make up that life and indeed make it worth holding onto.

At the age of fifty, Amy Silverstein’s twenty-five year old transplanted heart started to fail from the development of vasculopathy, a common and deadly problem with transplanted hearts. Silverstein had long since survived the 10 years that she was initially told she’d have with her new heart and in that time she’d not only married and raised her son but she’d also faced many medical emergencies related to her transplant and undergone a double mastectomy for breast cancer. Silverstein knew firsthand that a retransplant would not be easy or mean that she would be cured forever and so she agonized over whether or not to go ahead and get on the list for a new heart, what that would mean to her emotionally and physically, and how her decision would impact her husband and her close friends. Once she decided to hope for retransplant, she and husband Scott moved to California to be closer to Cedars-Sinai for when a heart became available. During the months that Silverstein would wait, her friends from all stages of her life rallied around her. Nine women came out to stay with her on a rotating basis, to try and help her cope with everything and to give Scott a tiny break from the intensity and sleep deprivation. As they did this, Silverstein also learned a lot about each of the women, about her friendship with them, about herself, and about love and selflessness in new and deeper ways.

The memoir is self-reflective and emotional and Silverstein doesn’t whitewash the parts where her fear and anger get the better of her. She gives the reader intimate access into what makes her tick and how she makes decisions but also shares where her blunt approach is unfair to those around her and how, as the days and months tick past, she considers her impact on others, confronting her husband’s admonition to think about how she wants people to remember her in both the short term and for all time. Her fierce gratitude to those who shared her journey to a new heart shines through the pages of this unusual celebration of friendship. While Silverstein’s story is certainly medically interesting, it is the strong and continued support of those friends who gave up so much of themselves and their time to be fully present there with her, to make sure she was never alone, that make this memoir so beautiful and inspiring. Truly for Amy Silverstein, as the quote from Yeats (and the source of the title) says, “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends."

For more information about Amy Silverstein and the book, check out herwebsite or like her on Facebook. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is 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.

Refuge by Dina Nayeri.

The book is being released by Riverhead Books on July 11, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: The moving lifetime relationship between a father and a daughter, seen through the prism of global immigration and the contemporary refugee experience.

An Iranian girl escapes to America as a child, but her father stays behind. Over twenty years, as she transforms from confused immigrant to overachieving Westerner to sophisticated European transplant, daughter and father know each other only from their visits: four crucial visits over two decades, each in a different international city. The longer they are apart, the more their lives diverge, but also the more each comes to need the other's wisdom and, ultimately, rescue. Meanwhile, refugees of all nationalities are flowing into Europe under troubling conditions. Wanting to help, but also looking for a lost sense of home, our grown-up transplant finds herself quickly entranced by a world that is at once everything she has missed and nothing that she has ever known. Will her immersion in the lives of these new refugees allow her the grace to save her father?

Refuge charts the deeply moving lifetime relationship between a father and a daughter, seen through the prism of global immigration. Beautifully written, full of insight, charm, and humor, the novel subtly exposes the parts of ourselves that get left behind in the wake of diaspora and ultimately asks: Must home always be a physical place, or can we find it in another person?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Review: Disaster Falls by Stephane Gerson

Is there anything more devastating than the death of a child? It is an inversion of the universe, a shattering of the heart, an unrepairable rip in the fabric of life. For Stephane Gerson and his family, it became a terrible reality when 8 year old Owen drowned on a family rafting vacation. And this memoir is one of the ways in which Gerson not only acknowledged their huge loss but a way that allowed him to finally look more closely at what happened that day, to understand and to accept.

When you plan a vacation with your two young children, you would never imagine that your family of four would be a family of three before it is over. The Gersons, father Stephane, mother Alison, oldest son Julian, and youngest son Owen couldn't have either. Their vacation was supposed to be safe for families with children, a rafting trip on the Green River in Utah. But they left New York as four and returned home as three, Owen having drowned at the spot known as Disaster Falls. Gerson chronicles his overwhelming grief at losing Owen as well as the different journeys that Alison and Julian also took through the days, weeks, months, and years after Owen's death. He speaks of the isolation of sorrow, the pain and anguish, his guilt over what happened that day, and the shocked huddle of a family violently rent apart in this emotionally devastating memoir.

The non-linear time line jumps from the rawness of immediately after the accident to what led up to it and back again as the family learns to negotiate life after Owen. The whole of how Owen died isn't fully presented until well into the book, Gerson coming close to it before shutting down the remembrance many times, only telling the whole of it when he feels he's capable and strong enough to look at it. The story is heart rending and the reader can feel the ache and the searching in the haunting writing even years after Owen's death. The book is clearly a way for Gerson to honor his son and his memory of his son, to mourn the loss not only of the boy that he was, but also the whole of the imagined life he never had a chance to live. There are repetitions here but they so closely echo the stunned and frozen rehashing of what happened, the what ifs, and the if onlys that they seem entirely fitting. Not easy to read, this is a thoughtful, introspective, quite beautiful look at a family and a father going on forever changed by their shared loss for those readers who don't mind being emotionally wrung out at the end of a book.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past two weeks are:

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Inhabited by Charlie Quimby
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
My Glory Was I Had Such Friends by Amy Silverstein

Reviews posted this week:

Water From My Heart by Charles Martin
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman

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

The Florence Diary by Diana Athill
Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James
The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
The Young Widower's Handbook by Tom McAllister
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could've Done Better by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
Make Trouble by John Waters
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Inhabited by Charlie Quimby
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Review: The Other Woman by Therese Bohman

Sometimes the title of the book gives you more than a good sense of what a book is going to be about. Therese Bohman's The Other Woman is one such title. There's no doubt that it's about an affair. What you still have to read it to uncover is the actual story though because all affairs are both alike and yet unique to the two people involved.

Our attractive, young, unnamed narrator is a working class girl taking a break from her education for lack of money. She works in the cafeteria of a hospital in the small Swedish city of Norrkoping and leads a monotonous, conventional life. But the narrator wants to write a novel and she wants to have a life worthy of being possible subject matter for that novel. The boring meaninglessness of her life, of her very existence, won't do. One day she sees an attractive, married, well dressed older doctor in the cafeteria, a man she has occasionally wondered about having an affair with and she accepts a ride home from him after missing her bus. As she is getting to know Carl and ultimately seducing him, she is also getting to know Alex, a girl her age who is exciting and friendly and who has a secret that will change everything for the narrator and have repercussions that resonate both in an out of her inevitable affair with Carl.

The novel is a slow psychological study with a selfish and often unsympathetic narrator. But for all that, she's still rather fascinating. Her pursuit of Carl and her subsequent fantasies inserting herself in his life feel predatory even though he is equally culpable in their affair. Her relationship with Carl and the jealousy she feels towards his wife and children is not the only destructive force here though. There are several depictions of power imbalances, the darkness of money and class differences, and the question of fidelity and its worth. The first person narration puts the reader directly in the narrator's head, seeing the manipulations as well as the naivete. The story is quite slow starting and very philosophical in tone. The narrator's pre-affair life is dull and no recounting of it will change that so it's a bit of a chore to get past it to the real meat of the story. Once you do though, you see that the narrator is creating a version of herself, the other woman, a writer, something more than her surface suggests. Even when her choices go from bad to worse, she is forging the identity of the woman she will become on the other side of this affair and the other side of her friendship with Alex. This is a translation from the Swedish and will appeal to readers who don't mind extended character studies, moral ambiguity, and a lot of introspection balanced with a healthy sense of self-worth.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this books to review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is 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.

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons.

The book is being released by Viking on July 11, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: Raised in Pennsylvania, Thandi views the world of her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever present. She is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor—someone, or something, to love.

In arresting and unsettling prose, we watch Thandi’s life unfold, from losing her mother and learning to live without the person who has most profoundly shaped her existence, to her own encounters with romance and unexpected motherhood. Through exquisite and emotional vignettes, Clemmons creates a stunning portrayal of what it means to choose to live, after loss. An elegiac distillation, at once intellectual and visceral, of a young woman’s understanding of absence and identity that spans continents and decades, What We Lose heralds the arrival of a virtuosic new voice in fiction.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is 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.

The Necklace by Claire McMillan.

The book is being released by Touchstone on July 4, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: Two generations of Quincy women—a bewitching Jazz Age beauty and a young lawyer—bound by a spectacular and mysterious Indian necklace.

Always the black sheep of the tight-knit Quincy clan, Nell is cautious when she’s summoned to the elegantly shabby family manor after her great-aunt Loulou’s death. A cold reception from the family grows chillier when they learn Loulou has left Nell a fantastically valuable heirloom: a stunningly ornate necklace from India that Nell finds stashed in the back of a dresser in a Crown Royal whiskey bag. As predatory relatives begin circling and art experts begin questioning the necklace’s provenance, Nell turns to the only person she thinks she can trust—the attractive and ambitious estate lawyer who definitely is not part of the old-money crowd.

More than just a piece of jewelry, the necklace links Nell to a long-buried family secret. It began when Ambrose Quincy brought the necklace home from India in the 1920s as a dramatic gift for May, the woman he intended to marry. Upon his return, he discovered the May had married his brother Ethan, the “good” Quincy, devoted to their father. As a gesture of friendship, Ambrose gave May the necklace anyway—reigniting their passion and beginning a tense love triangle.

Crisp as a gin martini, fresh as a twist of lime, The Necklace is the intelligent, intoxicating story of long-simmering family resentments and a young woman who inherits a secret much more valuable than a legendary necklace.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Sometimes a book washes over you and you find yourself stunned by everything about it. Such is Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent, a novel about science and faith, desire and need, superstition and truth. Even trying to reduce it to these few paltry words makes it seem less than it is, encompassing so much more than can be easily articulated. It really is a magnificent and impressive Victorian tale.

Cora Seaborne is newly widowed and she's not shaping up to be a good widow any more than she was a good wife or a good mother. Cora was dutiful but nothing more to the wealthy and well-known man who broke her down and shaped her into the woman he expected her to be.  She can't possibly mourn his loss, except perhaps for their odd, young son Francis, a child with whom she has never been able to connect. Widowhood is, strangely enough, freedom for her: freedom from convention and constraints, freedom to pursue her interest in fossils and natural history, freedom to become the inquisitive and intelligent woman she is. With her newfound freedom, Cora leaves London for the wilds of Essex. Taking her son and her beloved companion Martha with her, Cora wants to uncover fossils, perhaps even a living fossil, in the salty estuaries of the country. Through the introduction of a mutual friend, Cora meets William Ransome, the vicar of Aldwinter, a small town sinking into the superstition and myth of the return of the Essex Serpent. Will is certain that the myth is just that, a myth, not a portent of evil or a sign of end times. But his parishioners ratchet up the fear with every further story, every unexplained disappearance or death of man or beast, and with nebulous almost sightings out on the Blackwater. Cora is not so quick to dismiss the possibility of the beast's existence, eager to uncover scientific evidence that might prove its existence. So is set the dichotomy between faith and science and although Cora and Will's beliefs are so at odds, they forge a deep and abiding intellectual relationship arguing their respective stances even as they respect the other.  In fact, in many ways, they are each one half of the other.

The story is not just one of faith versus science but one of relationship and connection. Even the novel's secondary characters, Luke Garrett, George Spencer, Martha, Will's beautiful, tubercular wife Stella, the Ambroses, the Ransome children, and Francis and their ties to Cora are vital to the unwinding of this philosophical, complex, seductive, and character driven story. There is an air of Gothic menace and light foreboding that permeates the pages leaving the reader uncertain how the tale of the serpent will ultimately pan out. Is it real or is it imagined? Perry has written an exquisite novel, full of beautiful, unsettling writing. Her portrayal of Cora as magnetic, unconventional, and rebelling against the usual role of women is thoughtfully done, as is her depiction of Will as both publicly close-minded and privately curious. The details of Stella's blue collection, the restraint with which Perry draws the peculiarities of Francis and his bits and bobs, and the unconscious way in which Cora collects the hearts of those around her is understated and effectively disturbing. Perry pulls in other advances of the time, that of health care and medicine and views of poverty and housing through the secondary characters in ways that don't overwhelm the primary theme but add historical verisimilitude and which weave seamlessly into the whole. The dense and atmospheric prose is leavened with unexpected humor lurking within serious paragraphs. Truly a brilliant, thoughtful novel, this is multi-layered and compelling and should be read slowly and savoured. But be warned that it is very much a modern rendering of a Victorian novel. It will creep up on you until you are compelled to finish it, but it might take a while before you realize that you are completely trapped by its hypnotic telling.

For more information about Sarah Perry and the book, check out her website or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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