Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Whenever I look through the children's and YA fiction sections at my local bookstore, I find myself having a hard time not buying one of everything. I have to remind myself that I didn't win the lottery, and I have to pay my bills and buy food. Otherwise, I'm pretty sure I'd be spending a big chunk of change on books. Yes, I do use my library, but I also (as I've said before) buy books every month week. I bought Ghost last year and it sat on my shelf until this month. One of my book groups will be discussing it next week. I love reading a book for a group discussion and  ticking it off my backlist reading challenge. 

Ghost is a quick read, and I quickly became a fan of Jason Reynolds. Ghost is a young boy named Castle Cranshaw, and he can run. He found that out one night when his father, drinking heavily, tried to shoot Ghost and his mother. They fled and his father went to jail. Now Ghost and his mom have a new normal, and that new normal is tough for Ghost. He's bullied at school for pretty much everything: how he looks, what he wears (his mom buys clothes bigger so he can grow into them), what he eats (french fries at lunch so he has money to buy sunflower seeds after school). He doesn't really have any close friends, and feels isolated. Until one day he sees some kids practicing at a track, and his life takes a big turn. 

Ghost's life doesn't automatically become better just because he's given a chance to be part of a track team. He still struggles between doing what's right and doing what's wrong, and not letting his emotions and frustration guide his choices. Coach is tough on Ghost, but that's what Ghost needs. His mom is hard working and striving to make life better for both of them, but that leaves Ghost alone all week and he's very conscious of not creating extra demands on his mom. All of this is bundled up inside Ghost, who runs to find relief and escape. 

You get quickly invested in Ghost, and will find yourself cheering him on. He's a good kid who reacts and hasn't yet learned how to deal with frustration and anger. Yes, your typical teen. We've all been there, right? But Ghost has a whole lot of difficult emotions to work through and a whole lot of stereotypes to deal with as well. 

Ghost is the first in The Track Series. I was excited to see this, and plan on reading about all of the track team members. I'm sure their stories will be just as compelling as Ghost's story. There are discussion questions at the back of the book for book groups--I'm sure my group will have some interesting things to say about Ghost. 

Rating:  4/6 for a compelling story about one young man's choices, working through emotional turmoil, finding a positive outlet and believing in yourself. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Universe Sent Me a Romance Novel to Read: The Hygge Holiday by Rosie Blake

I was cataloging new materials at the library last week and this came across my desk. At first I didn't pay any attention to what it was about, but something made me pause and take a second look. Aha! After realizing I didn't have anything romantic at all on my reading list for February, the universe decided to hand me something to read. Thank you, Universe. 

The Hygge Holiday is a novel that will, quite simply, make you want to light candles and cozy up with your favorite blanket and something warm to drink. It's a delightful tale about Clara, a Danish woman traveling around England, who finds herself in the small town of Yulethorpe shortly before Christmas. Yulethorpe was, just a few short years before, a bustling, delightful town full of quaint shops, lovely restaurants, and a steady stream of folks from all around. Yet now the last shop, a toy store, is closing down, and the only remaining pub is a bit bare bones. Yulethorpe has lost it's mojo. Clara befriends Louisa, the owner of Alden's Toys, as she announces she's giving up, closing the shop and flying off to Spain. Clara offers to flat sit for her, and asks if she can keep the shop open, since Christmas is coming soon and folks need to buy gifts. With Louisa's blessing, Clara settles into the flat, and soon has the toy store open, creating amazing window scenes that draw crowds and generate positive buzz in Yulethorpe. 

Joe Alden, Louisa's son, is a high-flyer in London, always working, never taking a day off, and he's frustrated he can't get a hold of his mother. He drives down to Yulethorpe to see what's going on, and he clashes with Clara. Clara herself practices  hygge--which is a Danish concept of slowing down, enjoying life, and making simple changes that keep you happy and content. Yes, it means having candles, making supper, creating a cozy home, taking the time to enjoy the scenery on a walk. Can Clara work her magic on Joe, and get him to put his phone away, slow down and rediscover the simple pleasures of life?

There is a romance between Joe and Clara, but it's pretty minimal and slow paced. The main focus of this novel is really about becoming aware of the simple pleasures in life, and how they can create a sense of contentment and peace in all of us. Simply slowing down, puttering at home, and shutting off the phone can help us destress and enjoy life. It's fun to watch Joe slowly let go of his frantic London life and discover that he really doesn't enjoy his job, his cold apartment, and all those take out meals. The physical toll it is taking on him becomes more and more apparent as he spends more time around Clara. 

This was a sweet, fun read; just what I needed this week. I would definitely read more Rosie Blake novels in the future! I can guarantee you'll want to buy candles and comfy throws after you've turned the last page. If you already practice hygge, congratulations! You've learned the art of de-stressing. 

Rating: 3/6 for a sweet tale of turning off, tuning out, and enjoying the simple joys of life. I would love to read more tales set in Yulethorpe. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Secretary by Renee Knight

I've read so many husband-wife thrillers over the past few years it was refreshing to read a thriller that took place in a work environment; one that is between a female executive and her personal assistant. Office power struggles take on a whole new meaning in The Secretary.  

Told from the perspective of Christine Butcher, PA to Mina Appleton, we are looking back with Christine over the past 18 years of her life working for Mina. What started out as a seemingly innocent opportunity for a full-time job with great pay and benefits turned into a nightmare for Christine. A nightmare that cost her her marriage and her family, and left her completely reliant on Mina and her job as the only things that mattered in her life. 

You, as the reader, know from the beginning that something bad has happened, and Christine spends most of the novel giving you  plenty of foreshadowing. Mina is a manipulative, conniving, horrible woman who--you guessed it--puts on a face for the public that has everyone convinced she's actually a warm, wonderful, brilliant executive for her family's grocery company, Appleton's. Mina does what it takes to kick her father (the founder of the company) out of the business, and take it over in order to become one of the top grocery chains in England. Christine is along for the ride, making sure Mina's every wish, demand, and desire are taken care of; Christine will do whatever she has to in order to stay on Mina's good side. Unfortunately for Christine, she's just being used and falls for Mina's manipulative ways. She realizes too late just what Mina will do and who she'll ruin in order to keep herself on top. 

It's easy to see how loving your job can evolve into something that occupies more and more of your time. We've all done that at some point in our lives. At first, I got Christine's desire to prove herself indispensable and wanting to give her all. But after her marriage ends, and her relationship with her daughter grows distant, I felt alarmed and desperately wanted Christine to wake up! 

It takes a public humiliation before Christine wakes up, but she eventually does. And when she does, hoo boy, Mina has no idea what's about to happen. The ending may surprise some; for others, it may seem over the top. How far would you go to destroy someone who destroyed you?

Thank you to HarperCollins for sending me an advanced copy of this novel. It's definitely a thriller, and a look at the art of manipulation. It's a quick read; I read it in one day and couldn't put it down. 

Available in the U.S. on February 12 in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Rating: 4/6 for a different kind of relationship-thriller-drama; this time it takes place in the business world. A novel of loyalty, manipulation, and revenge. 

Saturday, February 2, 2019

February Reads: Where's the Romance?!

I just went through what I was planning on reading this month and realized I don't have any novels on tap that celebrate smoochy love. Yikes! I do have a few on hand, so I may have to slip one onto my reading list this month. 

I'm still going full speed on my goal to read from my backlist (also known as the stacks on the floor and my bookcases). Now that I've decluttered my basement stash of books, I will start on my bookcases. I'd say about 75% of the books on my bookcases are books I haven't read, so I have plenty of motivation. It's much harder to let these go, since I really do want to read them--and the second I do that, I will let them go. I have to make room for all the books in my future!

February's reads are a mix of titles I've been asked to review, a title for a book group, and one that I've been wanting to read for a few months. I'll also read other titles as they pop up. Right now I'm working on another cozy mystery.  

Here's what I'll be reading this month:

Reading group selection-YA novel

A novel about two sisters; one with a mental illness. Publisher review. 

Okay, it's been a few months since I got this as a Christmas present. Time to read it! Magical, mystical storytelling. 

A psychological thriller about an executive and her personal assistant. A publisher review.

Happy reading everyone!  

The Bookalicious Babe

Thursday, January 31, 2019

How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O'Neal

Iowa has been dead center in the middle of this horrible "polar vortex" the past few days. It's been so cold that pretty much everything was shut down, and people stayed home. Crazy, crazy cold--the kind that hurts your face the second you step out. Add to that a lovely snow storm today (it was only supposed to be an inch, but we're at about 4 with horrible roads and many, many accidents), and we're all ready for a balmy 32 degrees (coming in a few days). January has certainly been an interesting month.

I was doing a great job on reading lots of books, and then hit a wall. I've got all sorts of books started, but can't seem to get through any of them. I decided to reach for a book I've had sitting on my bookcase for a few years and get a head start on reading for a book group later in February. I also needed to read something a bit lighter. 

How to Bake a Perfect Life is a mixed bag of chick lit, family drama, and bread. Oh, I loved the bread! I've never made my own bread, but this certainly has me thinking I should try.  At the heart of this plot is Ramona Gallagher, a forty-year old woman who owns her own bakery in Colorado Springs, CO. Her daughter Sophia is married to a solider who's been severely injured while on active duty, and is in Germany at a hospital. Sophia must go, but Sophia is currently 8 months pregnant, and her stepdaughter Katie comes to stay with Ramona in her rambling Victorian home/bakery. Katie's mother is a drug addict in rehab, and Katie has nowhere to go. 

There are a lot of moving parts to this story, and they unfold little by little, so you get to know Ramona, Sophia and Katie as the story moves along. Ramona was a young mother-fifteen--and her accidental pregnancy created tension within her family--a prosperous large family that owns and operates many restaurants in the area. She inherited her grandmother's home, and decided to finally take her talent for baking bread and turn it into her own bakery, with no ties to her family's businesses. This also has created tension. But of course her money and her plan have gone awry with unexpected building issues that are keeping Ramona close to ruin. Can she keep going and make the bakery a success? 

There's a whole lot to this novel, and I can't possibly tell you all of it, and I wouldn't want to anyway! The bread is a big part of it, and there are recipes included throughout. There are many themes, too: mother-daughter relationships, forgiveness, veteran issues, drug addiction, home, and second chances. There's also a delightful dog named Merlin who is a very wise old soul, and an elderly woman who sits in the back garden and talks to Katie about the family. Multiple points of view help you understand what each character is thinking, and gives the plot a lot more depth. I was expecting a fun, lighthearted novel, but got more than that--and I happily dove right in and couldn't put it down. 

This novel helped me get back on track with some reading to finish out January. I'll post my February reads list this weekend--there are so many I want to read, I'm not sure what to start with first. 

Rating: 4/6 for a read-off-the-shelf novel that has me yearning for a warm crusty loaf of sourdough bread, guitar music, and a beautiful garden to soothe my soul.   Lots of characters have me hoping there are more novels ahead with the Gallagher family. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Letting Go Wasn't as Painful as I Expected...

I've accumulated a whole lot of books over the years; probably to make up for my early years when I didn't have money to buy books and I didn't have easy access to a library. When I got my first job at a bookstore (Farley's Bookshop in New Hope, PA), I was like a kid in a candy store. I could buy whatever I wanted, and I didn't waste any time. Then I worked at B&N for 21 years, and having my own place and the freedom to spend my money however I wanted to; well, I bought a lot of books. I loved life then; I spent a lot of time talking to friends about books, bought books for family and friends, and had a bunch of young nieces and nephews that I could introduce to the magic and complete awesomeness of books and reading. I kept all of my textbooks from college, and just kept adding to boxes and piles. I had no intention of ever letting any of my books go. I just couldn't imagine it. 

I've been in the same house for 18 years (OMG I just realized that), and we all know that means adding boxes and boxes to the basement--out of sight, out of mind. But life has certainly changed over the years, and thinking of what are sure to be lots of big life changes coming up in the next few years, I've got to let go. And it's just not letting go of a bunch of books, but letting go of a part of my life where books kept me sane, kept me from being overwhelmed by loneliness, and kept me exploring all of the subjects I so loved: ancient history, American Civil War, all things paranormal, and odd, quirky books. All of those books helped me be better at my job as a bookseller; they gave me an education that was priceless, and helped me make connections with people. Those books made me realize just how much I loved reading and books, and how central it was to my life and my happiness. They helped me understand that whatever I did for a career, it had to include books and connecting them to people. I've gone through boxes of books before, and taken books to donate and for resale at Half-Price books. But I didn't let go of much. Today was different. I let go of a lot. 

So this morning, instead of reading, I decided to go through the boxes I had in my basement. I had 10, which doesn't sound like much. I didn't look at anything on my bookcases, but focused on those 10 boxes. Hundreds of books. Probably not as many as others have, but a lot for my little house to hold. I can't even think about the hundreds I have everywhere else in my house. This was a big first step. 

It's taken me about 4 hours, but I've sorted my books, and out of ten boxes, I've managed to whittle what I'm keeping down to 2 1/2 boxes. I've got books to give to Goodwill, books to donate to the Friends of the Library, books to go to the recycling bin, and books to give to friends. I discovered a few books I forgot about, but really want to read (more John Bellairs novels!) and realized it wasn't hard to let go. I kept a steady pace and didn't waver in putting books in the donate piles. My little house is a bit of a mess, but I've made a big dent in clearing out a lot of "stuff". Looking at my college books, and thinking about that part of my life...it seems life a lifetime ago. So much has changed since then: I've gone back to school, changed careers, lost both parents and a sister; found the love of my life and have made plans for a life together that will see us into our retirement years. For me, books make a house a home. I will always have too many books, but I've found that letting go gets easier the older I get. Not having kids to pass my stuff onto also makes it easier to let go. My mind feels a bit more calm, knowing I've made a start clearing the clutter and getting organized. 

Now I've got to haul everything out to my car and send all of these books off into the world, for someone else to enjoy. So yes, I pulled a KonMari today. It was good. My heart is happy. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

I hadn't read any of Liane Moriarty's novels before I decided to try out Nine Perfect Strangers. I've joined the Book of the Month Club, and this was my choice for December. A very snowy and cold weekend kept me on the couch (in between cooking and laundry) reading this novel. I have to say I was a bit disappointed, and also at the same time, interested enough to keep reading. 

Nine Perfect Strangers is about a group of people who travel to Tranquillum House- a  remote health resort in Australia-for a ten day rest and relaxation session. Owned and run  by the glamorous and mysterious Masha, along with her assistants Yao and Delilah, it's a stunning resort guaranteed to reset your life. Electronics and cell phones are forbidden; any junk food or alcohol are confiscated from luggage. 

The nine strangers come from all walks of life: Frances, a romance author with a career on the skids; Tony, a grumpy ex-soccer star; Jessica and Ben, a young married couple who won the lottery (which promptly ruined their lives), Carmel, a mother of four girls feeling fat and rejected since her husband left her for a younger model; Lars, a handsome lawyer who faces a big life decision; and the Marconi family: Napoleon, Heather, and their daughter Zoe, who are together to endure the painful anniversary of Zach's (their son and Zoe's twin) death. Normal, every day people with the usual issues. They are just want some peace and quiet, good meals, relaxation, and hey-if they lose weight, even better. 

However, they are all in for a highly unusual stay at Tranquillum House. It's bizarre, and just gets even stranger as the story moves along. Masha is, quite frankly, batshit crazy. She's decided this group will be the first group of guests to take part in a new program, one that will change their lives profoundly. The guests, however, have no clue what's in store for them. As a reader, I didn't, either. The plot takes some very odd turns. I wasn't sure what to expect, and I was a bit underwhelmed. I liked Frances very much, and the Marconi family dynamics are interesting. I felt some characters had more development than others. I wasn't quite sure what the purpose of this tale was; if it was a tongue-in-cheek look at spa resorts, or if it was about strangers coming together and finding out they have a lot more in common than they think. Or if it was about being in a quiet place where you're forced to examine your life, what's worked, and what hasn't, and how you got to the place you are today. Masha as a character was just odd, and her decisions later in the novel are just bizarre. 

I've read reviews online and people are either hot or cold on this novel. I'm somewhere in the middle. It was interesting, but vaguely dissatisfying at the same time. It was longer than I thought was necessary; extra plot could have been condensed. Short chapters made it move quickly; multiple viewpoints from characters kept me turning the pages. If the chapters had been long I probably would have given up before the end. I was, however, interested in what came of everyone after they left Tranquillum House, so I'm glad the author helped close out the story with those chapters. 

Have I left you confused? Well, join the club. It was an okay novel, with elements I enjoyed, but overall, just kind of an odd plot. 

Rating: 2/6 for an uneven novel. Some characters were developed much more than others, leaving me feeling like I was missing something. An extremely strange turn of events at the resort seemed like it was just tossed in for effect, and made the whole novel one that left me scratching my head. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.