Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The High Tide Club by Mary Kay Andrews

It's been a long time since I've read a Mary Kay Andrews novel, and I'm happy to report her latest, The High Tide Club was just as entertaining as her previous novels. 

Set on an island off the coast of Georgia, The High Tide Club centers around Josephine Bettendorf Warrick, a 99 year old woman who is dying of cancer, and wants to make amends with friends before she dies. Brooke Trappnell, a young lawyer in the small town St. Anne, is called in to help Josephine with her requests. Living in a crumbling pink mansion on the island of Talisa, Josephine wants to reconnect with the ladies of the High Tide Club: Ruth, Varina, and Millie. Unfortunately, only Varina still lives, but she's a fragile 91 year old. Brooke quickly realizes there's more to Josephine's story--she's quite the sassy, bossy, and tough lady, even in her last days. 

Woven throughout the contemporary plot is the story of the High Tide Club, and a momentous evening in 1941, as Millie's engagement party takes place at Shellhaven, the Bettendorf mansion on Talisa Island. Engaged to a cruel man in order to provide for her mother, Millie is miserable, and the night of her party is a turning point for not only her, but all the girls. Russell Strickland, Millie's finance, is missing the next morning. What happened to him, and what do the friends know? How is Brooke connected to Talisa Island, and Josephine's family? Who will inherit the house and island after Josephine dies? 

I very happily settled into this novel. There were a few little twists that I wasn't expecting, and I was disappointed in the weak storyline regarding Henry, Brooke's three year old son. Brooke's reconnection with Henry's father seemed like an afterthought, and could have used more attention in the novel. But overall, I loved the characters, the plot, and the setting. A satisfying read all around. It's got me itching to read more of Mary Kay Andrews' backlist. I've missed a few over the years. 

Rating:  4/6 for an enjoyable summer read about the power of friendship, the power of money, family, and some good old scandals. Friendships between women old and young; friendships that span decades and some that are new,  built from shared experiences and connections. Pack your beach bag with this novel!

Available in hardcover, audio, and ebook.  

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf

In my quest to read more books off my shelves at home, I pulled Not a Sound off a shelf the other day. I have met Heather Gudenkauf at a few book signings at my local B&N (she's an Iowa author) and I've read a few of her novels. They're all set in Iowa, and are thrillers. I have to say this is by far my favorite, and in my opinion, her best yet. She definitely stepped it up.

Quick synopsis: Amelia Winn was a victim of a hit and run which left her profoundly deaf.  It also cost her a career as an emergency room nurse; she became an alcoholic to cope with it all and lost her marriage as a result. Still married, but separated from her doctor husband and step-daughter, Amelia is sober and living in a cabin in the woods. She has learned to lip read and has learned sign language, but is still coping with her deafness and living with her service dog, Stitch. She spends a lot of time kayaking, paddle boarding, and running. One morning she's out paddle boarding, enjoying the peace. She stumbles upon a body in the water. Horrified, she recognizes the body as a fellow nurse that she worked with at the hospital. Amelia's childhood friend Jake, a local detective, arrives at the scene and comforts Amelia. He's the one who took her to AA and taught her sign language, and their friendship is what has kept Amelia sober and straight for the past few years.  

Amelia gets deeply involved in the murder of her friend Gwen, and is determined to figure out why she was murdered and who did it. Amelia's new job, working part time scanning patient files at a prominent oncologist's office leads to clues that something big is going on, if only Amelia can piece it all together. 

Wow. I was sucked into this novel very quickly. Amelia is such a strong character. The author's descriptions of Amelia's world of silence are so well written, you get a very good sense of what it is like to live with no sound all. How isolating it can be, how frustrating it can be. I can't imagine suddenly losing my hearing; how do you cope with that? How do you grieve that loss? One day you're a professional nurse, doing good work, living a happy life; the next you're profoundly deaf and have lost your career and life has changed completely. How do you rebuild your life? Just goes to show the kind of character Amelia is-she's human, and has her weaknesses, but she is one tough woman. 

I thought the mystery was fantastic, and how Amelia figured it out was through hard work and paying attention with all of her other senses. The last fifty pages were a thrill, and I was on the edge of my seat. Amelia is the first deaf main character I've encountered in a novel, and she is pretty impressive. 

If you like Jodi Picoult, I would recommend Heather Gudenkauf. She centers her novels around contemporary issues that are making headlines; one of her strengths is her ability to write about these issues in a small town setting--people face crime, ethical issues, and family issues in every walk of life. Her novels are a quick read and hard to put down. 

Rating:  5/6 for one of the most compelling characters I've come across in a long time. Gudenkauf's heroine is likeable, strong, and introduced me to a world of silence. Great plot, action, and really hard to put down. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Where the Wild Cherries Grow by Laura Madeleine

This novel came into my reading life in a roundabout way.  I had purchased The Confectioner's Tale by the same author, and started reading it.  Not quite 100 pages in, I got restless (my usual MO). I looked to see if she had written anything else, and Where the Wild Cherries Grow popped up, and not only that, my library had it available.  Bingo! And thus began my summer reading with a lovely novel and a new author. 

Sometimes an unexpected book comes along that is a delightful surprise. That's how I feel about this novel, and author Laura Madeleine. It was a refreshing read full of crisp smells, the tang of the ocean, the heat of the sun, and oh! the food!  

Where the Wild Cherries Grow is the story of a young woman who runs away from home to the South of France, and 50 years later, the young legal clerk who is assigned the task of finding out what happened to her. It's 1919, Emeline Vane has suffered too much loss in her short life: two older brothers have died in World War I; her mother, unable to recover from the loss, has died. Emeline, suffering overwhelming grief, is unable to cope and her Uncle Andrew pushes her to sell the family home and send her young brother Timothy off to relatives to live. Emeline is sent to France, on her way to a psychiatric hospital in Switzerland, when she has a brief moment of realization, and jumps off the train. Where does she go, and is she still alive in 1969?

Forward to 1969, and London. Bill Perch, a young solicitor still living with his parents and working for a cheesy law firm, is given the task of confirming that Emeline is dead. Her relatives want to sell the family home to a development company, and since her mother left the home equally to Emeline and Timothy, she must be declared dead for the deal to move forward. Timothy has been ill, unable to communicate with his children, and in the hospital. He is convinced Emeline is still alive, and refuses to declare her dead. 

Bill Perch is a character that I just grew to like more and more. A young man in 1969, he's unsure of himself, awkward, and seems removed from the tumultuous time he lives in.  His transformation to a determined, living by the seat of his pants kind of person is one of the best parts of the novel. I kept cheering him on every time he took a chance and went with what he felt was right. He becomes Emeline's champion against those who would dismiss her. Both Bill and Emeline change from sheltered young people, restricted by family expectations, into who they are both meant to be.  The setting in the small seaside town of Cerebre felt magical and timeless. Bill's experience at Emeline's family home is another magical place, another timeless place that of course would generate change in anyone who was restless and ready for new experiences. 

I loved both Bill and Emeline's stories, and they dovetail together nicely.  Oh, so good!  This novel engages all your senses, and while it had a bit of sadness, I think of it as a bright, happy novel about finding your true self, and in doing so, finding happiness.  Sometimes taking chances can lead to wonderful people, places, and opportunities. 

This is a perfect armchair travel novel, and one you'll want to read while sipping a refreshing drink and nibbling on bread, cheese, and fruit. 

Rating:  5/6 for a delightful historical novel that captured me from the first chapter. Loved everything about it!

Available in hardcover and ebook. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Summer Reading! YAY!!!

Oh Summer, I'm so glad you're hear.  Except for the sudden hike in humidity, temperatures (It was 97 degrees here on Sunday), and those damn gnats. Sitting on the deck? Yes! Sipping moscow mules while sitting on the deck? Yes!
Grilling? Yes! Summer reading?  YEESSSSSSS.

I am, as always, ambitious in the many books I want to finish this summer. Big surprise, right? I'm going to carve out time every day for reading. I try to do this 365 days a year, but I'm making a conscious effort starting today. I always tell myself "If you clean the bathroom, and do the dishes, you can read afterwards." Only problem is there's no one but me to hold myself to it, so of course half the time I just read anyway and leave the house a bit, ahem, messy. 

I posted a video on my Facebook page ( search @Bookaliciousbabe on FB) highlighting a few of the books I plan on reading and reviewing this summer.  Check it out! I welcome comments.  Just know I will video when I get the chance, and I am not the least bit worried if my hair is a mess and I look goofy.  But those books aren't the only ones I'm reading this summer.  Here are some of the books I mentioned in no particular order, as well as a few more on my list for Summer 2018:

There's my rough list.  There will be other books, of course. 

 What are you going to read this summer?
I'd love to know! 

I'll be posting random videos, giving quick reviews or talking about books I've discovered.  
They will appear on my Facebook page, and I'll attempt to load them here, too. 

Happy Summer!  Get reading!

The Bookalicious Babe

Sunday, May 27, 2018

White Sand, Blue Sea by Anita Hughes

I've read plenty of novels set in exotic locations, characters who live the lush life and think nothing of it.  Anita Hughes novels are all about that, and I've read three of her novels. I find myself rolling my eyes and being annoyed at the characters, the writing, and pretty much the whole story. Every. Single. Time. 

I picked White Sand, Blue Sea because I thought I'd give her another chance, and it looked like a fun read. I have a book group meeting in June that has the theme of "reading something that we consider a guilty pleasure".  A fun, frolicky, summer novel was perfect, and I knew Anita Hughes would write about a lifestyle that is completely foreign to me.  Fun stuff. 

Ugh. This took me way longer than it should have, and mostly because I was annoyed a lot of the time.  A quick recap:  Olivia Miller is almost 25; she's beautiful, in love, and her boyfriend will be proposing to her on her birthday.  She's in St. Bart's, staying with her mother and step-father in the family villa. They spend time there every summer and at Christmas. One day, there's a knock on the door.  It's Olivia's father, Sebastian, whom Olivia hasn't seen in 20 years.  A semi-famous artist, he's spent his whole adult life traveling the world, painting. Now he's come to help celebrate Olivia's 25th birthday.  Surprise!

Sebastian stirs up trouble, of course, when he questions Olivia's relatively boring, staid life. She only goes to the best restaurants in NYC and spends the weekends in the Hamptons. Poor Olivia. Her engagement to Finn may be in trouble if she follows her father's advice to travel and see the world before marriage.  Hadley, Olivia's mother, is furious at Sebastian for potentially ruining what was supposed to be a wonderful time at St. Bart's.  Present day and the past mingle at Hadley remembers key times in her marriage to Sebastian, as they traveled the world, living in guest houses, hotel suites, and wherever else hosts would put them up while Sebastian painted.  The marriage ended when Sebastian refused to return to the U.S. to settle down in New York City so Olivia could go to school. 

Here's what annoyed me about this novel. EVERYTHING.  Sebastian couldn't have a conversation without saying "this reminds me of the time I climbed a tree to save myself from a tiger", or "I spent three months in Tibet in a monastic retreat not speaking to anyone", or...well, you get my drift. I kept waiting for someone other than me to shriek "Shut up about your stupid travels!" 

And Olivia! She was so damn annoying. She's either slightly peeved she hasn't seen her father for 20 years, or defending him.  Here's a passage from the novel that I found stupefying: 

" I know I should be angry that he missed my whole childhood, but artists are wired differently," Olivia continued. "Can you imagine Cezanne getting a job in a factory, or Matisse working in La Bon Marche? They have to roam the world of where would they get the inspiration to paint?"

What?!  The whole novel was like this! My take on Olivia: very immature. Her excitement over her birthday seemed very childish to me, and not the way an adult would act at all. She came across as very shallow and dumb. 

So. I know I'm not usually so harsh on books I review, but this one was just too much.  This is escapism on a high level, if you can overlook the shallow characters. The only thing I got out of this was a desire to see St. Bart's sometime. Sounds like a beautiful place. 

Rating:  2/6 for poorly developed characters who didn't appreciate what they had, made excuses for bad behavior, and were just, ugh. If you want to read a pure fantasy summer read, this is it. But if you're like me, your eyes will roll. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Plaid and Plagiarism: The Highland Bookshop Mystery Series, Book 1 by Molly MacRae

I had high hopes for this mystery series, but unfortunately I was disappointed. 

Set in the Scottish town of Inversgail, four women have purchased the local bookstore Yon Bonnie Books, with additional plans to open a tea shop next door, and have rooms upstairs for overnight guests.  Janet and her daughter, Tallie, have moved from Illinois. Janet's tie to Inversgail is a vacation home she and her now ex-husband bought and used for years before their divorce. It will now be Janet's permanent home. Janet's friend Christine, and Tallie's friend Summer have also moved to Inversgail to help run the tea shop and bookstore.  It's a fresh start for all the women--but murder and mayhem quickly make an appearance. 

The local advice columnist and reporter is found murdered in the shed behind Janet's home. An unpleasant woman, Una is the local font of all gossip, and sticks her nose in everyone's business, while remaining secretive about hers. There are a number of suspects in Una's death. But who had the biggest motive?

I completely expected to fall in love with this series, the characters, the town, and, of course, the bookstore. I didn't.  The story felt clunky; the supporting cast of characters felt one dimensional; Janet--who I thought for sure I'd love, given her previous job as a librarian and lover of all things books--well, Janet and Christine, along with Tallie and Summer, felt wooden to me. I didn't get the vibe of a warm, long friendship with Janet and Christine. Usually when I read a cozy mystery, the author spends some time building up the characters, and the setting, inviting you in to stay awhile. I didn't get that from this mystery. I always felt like I was missing part of the story.  

There is a second book in the series: Scones and Scoundrels,which takes place four months after Plaid and Plagiarism.  I may read it, and see if I change my mind. The person I suspected as the murderer was correct; the motive behind Una's murder was the only interesting part of the plot. But otherwise, I felt like I had to wade through a lot of disjointed story before I got to the big reveal. 

Rating: 2/6 for a mystery that could have been so much more.  I felt completely disconnected to the four main characters; the town didn't feel very cozy, and overall, the mystery just wasn't that interesting. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: A DNF that I Finally Finished

May has been a month where I've skipped the fun and frothy books and instead dove straight into the tough reads. I can't lie; reading too many in a short time frame tends to bring me down. 

That is part of the reason why I tried reading Homegoing before, and just couldn't do it. I definitely believe in books not only reflecting your mood, but affecting your mood. Homegoing was a tough read for me; I picked it for my book group's May read because it would push me to read it. We meet on Tuesday, and I'm looking forward to the discussion we'll have about this thought provoking novel. 

Homegoing  is about eight generations of people who come from two half-sisters who don't realize the other exists. One sister, Effia, stays in Ghana and is married to a white British officer there to help with the slave trade in the late 1700's--when British interests in acquiring and selling slaves was huge. Unbeknownst to Effia for most of her young life, she has a half-sister, Esi, who was also raised in Ghana, but in a different village and a different tribe. The cruelty of slavery and tribal affiliations begin early with Effia and Esi, as Esi is captured by raiders and sent to the dungeons at the Castle, the very place where Effia is living with her British husband. Esi is shipped off to the United States, to become a slave and begin the chain of events that will shape her descendants into the 20th century. 

Effia doesn't have it all good, either. Despised by her step-mother, caught between two worlds, unhappy with her life, her descendants remain in Ghana for generations, until Yaw, disfigured by an accident as a baby, moves to the United States to teach. Finally, the two branches meet in San Francisco as Yaw's daughter Marjorie and Esi's great-great-great-great-great (I think?!) grandson Marcus travel back to Ghana in a very moving final chapter. 

There are so many stories, and each is heartbreaking. No one in this novel has a happy life. The issue of slavery is so prevalent for both sides that it is soaked into the fiber of their being. Seeing the chain of generations, and reading their stories, it is very clear why, even today, events that took place hundreds of years ago keep thundering through our lives and our nation.  The women in this novel are extraordinary; fierce, strong, and survivors of enormously horrible situations. Sprinkled through the generations, there are also men who stand out. 

The story that I most connected to was H's story. Born into slavery (his mother's story is so sad I can't even think about it!), freed after the Civil War, and sent to work in coal mines as punishment for not being able to pay bail, H is such a strong character through every trial that comes his way. His journey was probably my favorite part of the novel. So, so good. 

Homegoing is a very emotional novel, and that is what makes it hard to read quickly, or in one sitting. You have to sit with it, think about each generation as they tell their story, and follow the chain of history down through the generations. Family history, world history, magic, spiritual belief, ancestor respect-all are a part of this novel, along with the all too often whims of fate.  People sometimes don't understand how something that happened 200 years ago can affect our present day; this novel shows that very thing over and over again, and for that, this is a novel that everyone should read. High schoolers and college age students should read this and discuss it together. 

I am very glad I returned to this DNF and finished it. Not many books have the power to deeply move me; Yaa Gyasi's astounding novel joins that list. 

Rating:  5/6 for a novel that is not an easy read-not because of writing style, or plot, but because of the powerful characters who live, love, dream, and survive tragedy after tragedy through the generations. I highly recommend this for book groups, high school and college students, and anyone interested in history. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio.