Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Summer Reading is Almost Over: Upcoming Reads and Reviews

I just can't believe it's the middle of August.  In my part of the U.S., kids start back to school next week.  Then it's a short hop to Labor Day weekend, the gateway to all things pumpkin spice and bonfires galore.  

My summer reading is coming along, but I'm not getting to nearly all the books I'd hoped to--a change in jobs and a last moment vacation have thrown my routine into chaos.  September is going to be my reset button.  Now that my commute to work has shortened from 2 hours a day to less than 20 minutes a day, I will be rethinking my audio book choices. I'll miss listening to the audio books, but not the commute. 
Here's what I've got in my reading pipeline:

Life as Ma Ingalls from Caroline's point of view
A legendary creature in Victorian England
A thriller that mixes reality and fiction: who did what?
A young woman serves as a physician to supernatural creatures in London
I've heard rave reviews about this ! Something completely different for me.

While the weather is still warm I'll be sitting on my deck reading whenever I have a chance.  Can't wait to dig into these titles!  And, of course you know I'll have a few random reads thrown into the mix.  :)

Happy Reading!
The Bookalicious Babe

Saturday, August 12, 2017

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry

The only bad thing I have to say about reading this novel is that I couldn't sit down and read it all in one day.  Instead, I had to fit it in a little bit each day for over a week, and it was frustrating because I just wanted to sit and enjoy it in one big gulp. 

Stacey Ballis and Jenny Colgan fans have a new author to love--Veronica Henry.  She's got a pretty good backlist of novels, but they're not available in the U.S., which I hope changes soon.  

Emilia Nightingale returns to Peasebrook, a lovely little town in the English countryside, to take over her father's bookstore, Nightingale Books.  Emilia's father was a beloved figure in town, and his death leaves not only Emilia lost and grieving, but quite a few of the townspeople, as well.  Emilia plans on taking over the bookstore, but has a slimy businessman angling to buy the store so he can gain access to much needed parking space for an apartment building behind the shop.  She also finds out her father wasn't the best businessman, and the bookshop is in danger of closing.  

The cast of characters rounds out this novel and keeps it from being all focused on Emilia and the bookshop.  Ms. Henry cleverly weaves books, reading, and the bookshop into multiple storylines--from the local wealthy married woman who had a affair with Julius Nightingale; to Thomasina, the very shy yet talented chef who has a crush on the local cheesemonger; and Alice, engaged to a sophisticated city man, but not realizing her heart lies with someone else in Peasebrook. There are even more storylines; Emilia's got her own chance at love, too.  I was happy reading about all of the people and their situations, and felt completely at home in the English countryside. 

A HUGE thank you to Viking/Penguin Books for the opportunity to read this before publication.  I'm afraid I wouldn't have found this book otherwise, and that would have been such a shame.  

Rating:  5/6 for the perfect read to take me away from everyday life and into a bookshop that I hope exists somewhere in this world.  Wherever it is, I'd like to visit it sometime.  

Available on Tuesday, August 15th in hardcover and ebook in the U.S. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss

I have no idea where I first saw this book, but I knew it was something I just had to read.  It looked quirky, inventive, and a good way to stick my toe back into science fiction/fantasy.

Theodora Goss started her writing journey during her dissertation.  Her interest in monsters lead her to wonder why, in 19th century literature, the female creatures were always destroyed by their creators?  What if they survived?  

This is their story.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I ended up liking this story, even though there wasn't a lot of action.  I liked it so much that when the second novel comes out (which just has to happen!) I will pick it up and dive right into the story of Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

Yes, each of these young ladies is the result of monsters.  For Mary and Diana, they both have the same father, but one was the scientist, the other the madman.  Beatrice is a walking vision, but so poisonous she can't touch or breath on anyone or she'll kill them.  Catherine is the result of Dr. Moreau's attempt to change a puma into a woman; Justine is the original "Bride of Frankenstein".  

The story starts out with Mary Jekyll burying her mother, and facing the inevitable:  she's broke, her father is dead, and she is alone in the world.  Her mother's lawyer leads Mary to find out she has a sister: Diana, who has been raised in a poorly run and not very holy convent.  Diana is fourteen, fiesty, and able to climb up buildings with ease.  The two reluctantly become housemates, and for an extra kicker, they are pulled into the mysterious Whitechapel killings.  Young women are being murdered, and parts of them are being taken away:  arms, legs, hands, and even brains.  Who would do this madness?  In steps...Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  Yes!  What a great addition to this tale.  Holmes & Watson help anchor the storyline and provide some good guidance and stability to the ladies.  

As time goes on, each young lady is introduced in the story line, their tale is told, and the web gets more and more tangled.  Each has a connection to a secret society through their creators, but they can't figure out what exactly goes on in this society, and who exactly belongs to it.  

The only thing I didn't like about this novel were the interruptions in the tale by the characters. Catherine was writing it all down, to be turned into a publication (which would provide some income)--most likely a penny dreadful.  Yes, these interruptions helped shape the present relationships between the ladies, but I found it a bit annoying.  And anyway, I knew they'd all get along, so I didn't need this extra bit to explain things.  My thought as I read this was that it would make a great movie in the same vein as the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies.   

This is an adult book, but I certainly could see teens reading it.  At times I felt like I was reading a teen novel, so I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to a teenager who likes a bit of Victorian England fantasy.  It stops short of steampunk, but with a few little adjustments, it could certainly be steampunk.  

Rating:  3/6 for a twist on the usual monster/creator story.  This was full of young women who lived on their own, were smart, capable, and unafraid to search for answers to their mysterious beginnings.  I will definitely read the second novel when (not if!) it comes out.  Also, I just adored the cover art.  That made me pick it up in the first place.  

Available in hardcover and ebook.  Paperback will be out in February, 2018.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Address by Fiona Davis

I just reviewed Ms. Davis' first novel, The Dollhouse a few weeks ago and had the opportunity to read and review her second novel, The Address.  Both novels are set in New York City, and I've realized I enjoy reading about historical NYC.  I think it's fascinating to explore the history of famous buildings with a fictional element added to what is solid fact.  

In The Address, we have a dual story line:  the start of the famous Dakota apartment building in 1884, and the Dakota in 1985, a few years after the death of John Lennon outside the front doors of his residence.  In 1884, Sara Smythe works as head housekeeper at a respectable hotel in London.  She's not happy with her boss, who is always looking to blame her when things go wrong.  Sara's very good at her job, and one day she crosses paths with Theodore Camden, an architect visiting from New York.  She saves his child from falling out a window, and he offers her a job at a new residence in New York City:  the Dakota.  It's a new concept:  an apartment building where the well-to-do own exclusive apartments, and the building has all the amenities:  a tailor, a dining service, servants for every floor (beyond the servants each family brings to live and work in their apartments).  It's a new kind of luxury for the wealthy of New York.  

Sara decides to take the leap and leaves London for New York City.  Upon arrival at the Dakota, she's a bit taken back by the location of the Dakota:  it's in an area that isn't developed, and a bit off the beaten path.  Sitting directly across from Central Park, eventually it will become a premiere spot, but in 1884, it looked like a big mistake.  

Sara's relationship with Theodore Camden evolves, and she finds herself falling in love with him, despite his marital status and the knowledge that there will be no happy ending.  Running the Dakota as the "managerette" is a challenge, but Sara is up to the task, and enjoys her life.  

Until she becomes pregnant.  Disaster.  Sara's life takes a turn for the worse and spirals out of control.  I really liked Sara, and hated to see her choices create havoc for herself. Her life was dictated by the morals of the times, society's rules, and the limitations of being a single woman with no family.  

1985 Dakota is still an exclusive apartment building, but it has lost a bit of luster, and has become infamous as the place where John Lennon was shot in 1980. Bailey Camden is fresh out of rehab; she has lost her job as an interior designer, and has nowhere to go.  She ends up at the Dakota, staying with her cousin Melinda Camden, who is the great granddaughter of Theodore Camden.  She lives in the same apartment that Theodore did in 1884, and it's also the place where Theodore was murdered in 1885.  Melinda is total 1980's excess:  lots of partying, drinking, and drugs.  Bailey struggles to stay sober, and her family's sad history is something she's struggling to overcome.  Her grandfather was raised as a Camden, but was actually a ward of Theodore and his wife.  He left the Dakota at 15 and became a mechanic in New Jersey, living his life in bitterness after not receiving any kind of inheritance while Melinda's grandfather and great aunt received everything. Melinda hires Bailey to completely redo the apartment into a horrible faux marble monstrosity, and Bailey takes the job in order to get back on her feet. 

While Bailey is going through old trunks in the basement of the Dakota, she finds clues to the Camden family history that creates more puzzles than answers.  Who was Sara Smythe, and who killed Theodore?  

Sara's story is so darn good.  I couldn't get enough of her.  It was kind of hard to get into 1985; maybe because for me, it's recent history--I was just out of high school in 1985!  But the early history of the Dakota, and the history of Blackwell's Island ( I can't tell you--you'll have to read the book!) is exactly the type of history I love to read about. 

Now that I've read both of Fiona Davis' novels, I am a firm fan.  What I like most, of course, is the history.  She's got an unlimited treasure trove of potential material just in NYC with so many wonderful buildings.  Her characters are strong, but flawed.  Life is messy, and a happy ending is not guaranteed. Her novels are also a history of women fighting to be seen and heard; to have the freedom to live life without societal strictures and rigid rules.  We forget sometimes today how tough it was for women to have such limited choices, and to be dependent on family and husbands to have a comfortable life. 

Both The Dollhouse and The Address are standalone novels, so you don't have to read one before the other.  I recommend both for anyone who likes to read about New York City, history, and strong female characters.  There is an element of reality in both novels that I found refreshing.  It's all well and good to read novels where everything always works to a happy conclusion, but sometimes I enjoy reading novels where the conclusion leaves me satisfied knowing everything ended as it should.  

Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.  

A huge thank you to Dutton (Penguin/Random House) for a review copy of this novel.  

Rating:  4/6 for a gripping read about the Dakota apartment building in NYC, both past and present.  Sara's story was hard to put down, and the links to Bailey's life in 1985 NYC helped create a "whodunnit" element that carried the story along. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Forbidden Garden by Ellen Herrick

I was looking over my post from 2015 on Ellen Herrick's first novel The Sparrow Sisters,  and saw that I ended my review with a wish that Sorrel's story was told in a future book.

My wish was granted.  I'll start out by saying you should read The Sparrow Sisters first before you read The Forbidden Garden.  Having Sorrel's background, and understanding where she comes from and the talents of the Sparrow sisters will give this novel more clarity.  Granted, you could read this without reading the first novel, but then I imagine you'd spend a lot of time wondering about Nettie and Patience, and just what the heck happened in The Sparrow Sisters. Save yourself some frustration!

So.  Sorrel Sparrow is asked to travel to England by Sir Graham Kirkwood to re-create a Shakespeare garden on his family's estate, Kirkwood Hall.  This garden has been lying dormant for hundreds of years, thanks to a curse placed on it by Graham's ancestor (and complete nasty creep!) Thomas Kirkwood. Sure enough, anyone who attempted to bring the garden back to life mysteriously became ill and died.  Sir Graham's wife had been determined to succeed, and became very ill.  Sir Graham has decided once and for all to break the curse, and Sorrel, known for her mysterious gifted ways with plants and gardens, was recommended to him.  

Sorrel is unaware of the curse when she arrives, but is soon given the story of the garden, as she is quickly drawn into the Kirkwood family.  They really are a wonderful group of people; warm, friendly, down to earth, and people who love and protect their legacy.  One part of their legacy are the legendary family tapestries, kept locked up in a room where they are left in quiet.  Why?  Because these tapestries tell a disturbing story of a chase, but the seventh tapestry is missing, and without that tapestry, the story remains inconclusive.  The tapestries are so disturbing that no one is allowed to view them.  But, as you find out, they are a big part of the reason why the Shakespeare garden is cursed.  

Will Sorrel's magic way with nature overcome the dark history of the garden?  Can she break the curse?  I have to say I was sucked into this story pretty quickly.  The Kirkwood family is so well drawn out that I was ready to sit down in their cozy kitchen and visit with them.  Sorrel's magical ability--which she doesn't see as magic at all, just the way she is--causes people to both admire, be astonished, and be doubtful of it all.  What is magic, and what is Godly?  Can something be both?  Sorrel's budding romance with Andrew, who is going through his own crisis of faith, leads you into some interesting thoughts on faith, having a calling, and how those can be based in reality.  

Gardens, luscious flowers, delicious foods, a cast of characters that are pretty fantastic, and an interesting family history--complete with a villain. It's a combo that I couldn't resist!

Rating:  4/6 for a lovely sequel to The Sparrow Sisters.  I hope there is more to come, as I love the world Ellen Herrick has built and want more!  For fans of Alice Hoffman, Sarah Addison Allen, M.J. Rose,  and Brunonia Barry.  

Available in paperback, e-book, audio, and hardcover. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

DNF's, Summer Reading Update, and a Couple Quick Fly-By Reviews

Oh July. The gateway to August, back to school, and that short skip into the holidays.  Yes. I said it.  👻💀

Another summer galloping by and my book stacks remain teetering with no inroads made.  Yes, I've been reading.  Library books and ARCs and not actually anything I own!  Funny how that happens.  

I thought I'd combine a whole bunch of book business into one post.  It's helping me clear my head and create some space for new reads. One glaring omission in my reading pattern lately: science fiction/fantasy.  I'm missing it terribly, so I hope to dip into a few titles in a few weeks to relax and reconnect to a genre I really do enjoy.

Onto business!  First, a couple of DNF's:

A novel about a young woman who sees the deceased, and an unsolved murder that puts her in danger?  Sign me up!  But I checked it out of the library, started reading it, and lost interest.  Subject matter is just a bit too dark for me right now.  Maybe I'll return to it again in the future. My duh moment was realizing the front cover shows a young woman...for some reason I kept seeing a tropical flower.  Call me clueless.  Not a good sign of my attention span for this book.  

This book.  Dang it.  I was so excited to read this, especially after visiting Italy last October.  I got about 100 pages in, and the overarching sense of doom finally got to me.  A slave known for his culinary skills becomes the secret weapon of Apicius, a wealthy Roman man determined to become the Emperor's favorite noble.  But lord, the schemes, murders, plotting, and complete disregard for life got a bit old!  I loved the culinary aspect (I can say I wouldn't have eaten most of what they put together--meat and fruit: argh!!) but the political machinations and cruelty just wore on me.  I'll try again in the future, because I'm fascinated by the idea of this novel.  

Now, onto a few quick reviews:

I've had this hardcover on my bookshelf at home for a year.  I've wanted to read it, but just didn't squeeze it in until I saw it was available as an audio book through my library.  Took me two weeks to listen to this incredible memoir of Mary Hamilton, a woman who lived from 1866-1936 and had an extraordinarily tough, tragic, and what many might see as a poor life.  But listening to Mary's memoir, I was awed by her grit, her determination to make a home wherever she was, and her efforts to raise her children as good, descent, and kind people.  She was a force to be reckoned with, and withstood more tragedy than any one person should ever be expected to live through.  I highly recommend this book--either the paperback, or the audio.  No pictures in the book, however.  Her memoirs were first printed in the 1930's.  Rating: 5/6 because pioneer women rock!!

On a completely different track, this book is unusual in its narrator.  You never know his name, but you get to know him very well.  He's an unborn baby (about 3 weeks shy of his due date) who hears, in utero, his mother and her lover plot to murder his father for his inheritance.  Yes, a baby.  One smart, scarily brilliant baby with a taste for wine (his mother drinks a lot of white wine) and podcasts. 

It sounds amusing, and on the surface it is, until you read this short tale and are disturbed by his helplessness in stopping what will happen to his father, and his pondering on living life in jail with his mother.  There are many philosophical moments, and Ian McEwan is a high-caliber writer. However, the little twists make this a very interesting read. It makes you wonder just what babies do hear, feel, and think inside the womb.  A friend recommended this novel, and I'm glad I plugged away at it.  It's not long at all in terms of pages, but can be a bit gloomy in the subject matter.  This made it a book to read in chunks, rather than in a rush.  Rating:  4/6 for a uniquely narrated thriller.  What harm do we do to the most innocent?  Available in hardcover and e-book. 

So, I've been busy. This summer most of my books haven't hit that sweet spot of satisfaction I was hoping for, but I haven't lost hope. I've got many more to go before September hits.  I've over halfway to my reading goal for 2017 and it helps keep me on track.  

What books are you reading this summer?  Anything out of the ordinary for you?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

1952 New York City must have been a pretty cool place.  Certainly it was a lure to those who wanted to make it on their own, or make it big.  It was a place for young women to escape their hometowns and experience freedom, within the confines of 1950's ideals, of course.  

The Dollhouse was certainly a refreshing break from my usual historical fiction.  Yes, this is a dual-history novel; it takes place in 1952 and 2016.  I usually don't read much about mid-twentieth century history; it's just not a time that appeals to me.  But I was intrigued by the idea of a women's hotel in 1952, and I'm glad I read this novel. I had no idea where the story would take me, and it definitely surprised me.

Darby McLaughlin is a young woman from Ohio, sent to New York City by her mother to live at the Barbizon Hotel, a place where young women stayed while attending modeling school, secretarial school, or other suitable educational avenues for a young woman in 1952. Of course, it was understood that this was just a way to meet a man and get married.  Darcy, a shy young lady very conscious of her mother's disappointment in her, comes to NYC to attend the Katie Gibbs school for secretaries.  She hopes to return to Ohio after a year of school, find a secretary job, and quietly live her life.  Unfortunately for Darcy, her small room is on the same floor as the modeling school beauties, who make her feel less than welcome.  Esme, a young maid and elevator operator at the Barbizon, befriends Darcy, and this is where Darcy's life changes.

The other part of the story begins in 2016 with Rose Lewin, a woman who lives with her boyfriend in the Barbizon building, which is now expensive apartments.  A few women who lived at the Barbizon in the 1950's continue to live there in small rent-controlled apartments.  The mysterious woman who lives directly underneath Rose's apartment wears hats and veils that shield her face, and doesn't talk to anyone when she takes her dog outside every day.  Rose's life is in flux; her boyfriend decides to return to his wife, and kicks Rose out of his apartment.  Struggling to take care of her ailing father; with no place to live, and a job as a journalist at a questionable online news site, Rose is looking for something that will kick start her career again and give her some choices. 

Enter that mysterious woman.  It's Darcy; she's lived at the Barbizon since 1952, and a mystery surrounds her that Rose wants to solve.  Darcy was involved in the unfortunate death of a maid at the hotel, and Rose wants to write a story about it.  Only problem is that Darcy has left the city, and Rose has to wait her out.  Meanwhile, Rose interviews the other elderly women, and begins to get the real story of the Barbizon Hotel during its heyday.  It was not, as people thought, a place full of genteel, well behaved young women.  People are people, after all, no matter what the time period.  

Rose identifies with Darcy, and becomes entangled in her tale as she waits for Darcy to return to her apartment.  Rose's ethics are questionable; her unhappiness spurs her into doing things that she normally wouldn't do. Rose's ethical choices connect her to Darcy's story; otherwise the novel wouldn't work. As the story flips between 1952 and 2016, we see Darcy and Esme's friendship deepen, Darcy meeting the sweet young cook Sam, and Darcy frequenting the Flatted Fifth, a jazz club with some seedy undertones. The feeling that you're on a journey that isn't going to end well keeps growing. 

The story is compelling, and I couldn't stop reading it.  There are some twists that were unexpected; but I figured out that was because I was also lulled into the assumption that young ladies in the early 1950's were always well-behaved and proper.  My bad!  

Rose was a bit confusing to me.  On one hand, she seemed very mature and put together.  But being dumped by her boyfriend really seemed to reveal a heck of a lot of insecurities and unhappiness that must have been festering for a long time.  There wasn't any sense of female empowerment with her until the very end.  Darcy was definitely a complex character; New York City brought out her real personality, only to see it dampen after the dramatic events of 1952.  She was a mix of wanting to do the right thing and fulfill other people's expectations, and wanting to be herself and doing what made her happy.   

I think this would make a good book club selection.  There is certainly enough to discuss, just in the characters of Rose and Darcy.  The Barbizon is an actual building in NYC, now known at the Barbizon 63.  It's on the National Register of Historical Places and was home to many famous women over the years.  

Rating:  4/6 for an entertaining dual-time period novel about 1950's NYC and the struggle of women to break free of expected societal roles.  The life of Darcy was certainly one that kept me reading late into the night.  A good book group choice--so many things to talk about, and a great historical background as well.  I'll read more from Fiona Davis!

Available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and e-book.

A big thank you to Penguin/Random House for a preview of this novel. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Heroines of Mercy Street: The Real Nurses of the Civil War by Pamela D. Toler, PhD

My unceasing interest in women living through the Civil War continues with The Heroines of Mercy Street. This history book focuses mostly on the experiences of a few women living and working as nurses in the North during the American Civil War of 1861-1865.  Many people may be familiar with the PBS series  Mercy Street.  It created such interest in the characters that this book was written to look a bit closer at the women who worked under miserable circumstances and conditions to treat the wounded from both the Yankee and Confederate sides. 

Dorothea Dix was a feisty middle-aged spinster who inherited her grandparent's wealth, and that made possible her endeavors to bring reform to sanitariums, jails, poorhouses, and the treatment of mentally ill prisoners.  She was a woman on a mission, and when the Civil War began with the firing on Fort Sumter in April, 1861 she was ready to help gather supplies that would be needed to care for the wounded soldiers that were sure to come.  She faced an uphill battle in her quest to hire women for nursing positions.  There were no nursing schools in the United States in 1861; the only women who were loosely called nurses were those who were working off jail sentences.  They were drunks, uneducated, and usually women of ill-repute.  

Dorothea's strict requirements kept a lot of otherwise perfectly capable women out of the nursing positions she needed to fill.  She only wanted women who were plain faced, in their 30's and older, and of a very good reputation.  She did get plenty of women traveling to Washington, D.C. to work in hastily constructed hospitals, but her strict rules and the overwhelming opposition to women taking care of soldiers by doctors, surgeons, and pretty much every male in the U. S. Army created a lot of issues.  

Some women, you'll be glad to know, ignored Dorothea's rules and struck out on their own, often times just showing up at hospitals (which were usually hotels, factories, churches, and homes) hoping to help.  For many, the severity of soldiers' injuries was too much.  Some had very genteel ideas of what it meant to take care of soldiers.  Dysentery, typhoid fever, and so many other diseases ran rampant through the troops.  The medical world in the U.S. at the time of the Civil War was far behind Europe; there was still no belief in sterilization, clean water and instruments for the wounded, nor clean linens or bandages.  Infections and gangrene were everywhere.  Nurses oftentimes slept on the floor or in chairs, ate hard bread and really bad coffee, and worked 12 hour days with no breaks.  And the majority weren't trained in much of anything.  It's appalling to realize just how many soldiers died from sheer ignorance of basic cleanliness, or soldiers suffering from gastrointestinal diseases that kept them from eating the usual horrible foods offered in the hospitals. Women in the hospitals pushed to create special diets for soldiers who were unable to eat the heavy meals cooked for fighting soldiers.  There are just certain things you don't give someone who has dysentery and expect them to recover!

Dorothea isn't the only woman featured in this fascinating book.  Anne Reading, Mary Phinney von Olnhausen, Louisa May Alcott, Clara Barton, and so many others were at the forefront of new radical changes in medicine and the dawning of a fundamental change in medical care in the U.S.  It's hard to imagine nurses were seen as little better than prostitutes in 1860, but it's true.  One of the good things to come out of this terrible war was the realization of the importance of nurses in the care of and as advocates for patients.  

Clara Barton, addressing an audience in 1888 said "...that as a result of the Civil War women had advanced at least fifty years beyond the position they would have held had the country remained at peace" (p. 221). 

I learned so much about Civil War medicine, the perception of women's capabilities and "delicateness" during mid-19th century America, and the sheer strength and determination of so many women to contribute to the healing of so many damaged men during such a brutal war. It's a fascinating read, and anyone who is interested in women's history, the Civil War, politics, or even medical history will find this a good addition to their history bookshelf. I'd recommend this to anyone who is interested in pursing nursing as a career.

Rating:  4/6 for a part of Civil War history that has been long overlooked.  Such a rich history, and well worth the read!  

Available in paperback and e-book.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl

My plans to read like hell over my long 4th of July weekend were completely dashed by last minute opportunities to spend time having fun outside in the sun and an unexpected (but happy!) home project. But this was  a good thing, as it gave me time to think about this novel after I finished it. It's one that you need to read and digest slowly. 

I'll begin by saying I read this book with very little knowledge regarding the world of comic books and comic book conventions, so there were probably many things that I missed just through lack of knowledge.  But, I worked in a bookstore for many, many years, and have friends who are comic book fans, so I completely get the fandom that surrounds series, superheroes, authors and illustrators.  
There is a large cast of characters, with Valerie Torrey and her nine year old son, Alex, in the center of the plot. Valerie was once Bethany Frazer, the female lead on a wildly popular sci-fi tv show, Anomaly.  Valerie and the male lead, Andrew (who plays Ian Campbell) meet, marry, and have Alex during the course of the series.  But their marriage falls apart, and Valerie flees to New York with Alex, and six years later they are returning to Los Angeles so that Alex can live with Andrew.  Valerie is dreading this, but doesn't have a choice, since she basically fled in the night and has made no attempt to contact Andrew or let him see his son.  And Andrew hasn't made any attempt, until lately.  Something momentous had happened that tore them apart, and ended Anomaly prematurely.  

Stopping at comic conventions from Cleveland, to Chicago, to finally L.A. gives Valerie time to spend with her son, and a reconnection to her fame as the iconic Bethany Frazer.  It's been a long time since she had identified with Bethany, and she's not ready to revisit the past. 

There are a host of other characters, each with a sizeable storyline of their own.  Gail is the only female comic writer; she's tough, frustrated with her career, and dreams of striking out on her own without being bound by the ties of a large publishing company.  Brett is part of a duo that is working the conventions to bring attention to their independently produced comic series Lady Stardust.  He's also at a crossroads, and wondering how to be happy and make it in the comic book industry.  

Valerie and Alex have a road trip story; full of questionable hotels, late night storytelling, and many moments of wanting to be back home.  All the characters cross paths over and over again as we get to know their stories, their motivations, and how each uses storytelling to work through their problems.  They are all at major crossroads; who will leap forward, and who will let the past limit them?

I have to say it was a bit slow going at first; but about halfway through I realized I was invested in each story and wanted to see where they lead.  There's a point in the novel where one character talks about how stories are so much bigger in the beginning, because they can go anywhere, but eventually they are winnowed down because there needs to be an ending.  That's kind of how this novel plays out.  Alex is a smart kid, but he's trying to write his own story; Gail and Brett both change the endings of their stories; and Valerie finds it in herself to make a big decision and make peace with her tragic past.  The plot is neatly tied up, except for Alex's.  Maybe I missed something, but the way I read the last few pages, author Bob Proehl leaves it up to you to finish the story how you would want it.  Instead of feeling frustrated, it's a great way to demonstrate the power of storytelling, the power in all of us to write our own story, and the knowledge that our stories never end.

A big thank you to Viking/Penguin for the chance to read and review this book.  It's not something I would have ever picked up myself, but I'm glad I rewrote my reading story this summer and dipped my toe into the world of comic book fandom.  I would recommend this novel for a sci-fi or even a comic book group.  There are a lot of things to discuss, and many characters who represent real world giants in the comic book industry.  There are plenty of plot points, characters, and real world references to keep a group of fans busy for hours. 

Rating:  4/6 for a novel that has a bit of everything:  road trip adventure, mother-son dynamic, comments on the comic book industry with all of the good and bad, and characters that read like everyday people just trying to write their lives.  

Available in paperback and e-book. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

Wow. This book blew me away. I'm not sure what I was expecting when I requested it from the library; I have a vague recollection of knowing it was about an archaeologist and a neanderthal, and that was it.  It was so much more that I am declaring it to be one of my favorite books of 2017.  

Two stories, thousands of years apart, yet entwined together.  Rose is an archaeologist working in France in a cave where she has recently made a ground-breaking discovery: the skeletal remains of a Neanderthal and the remains of a "modern" human, buried together facing each other.  This find will turn the idea of Neanderthals going extinct through extermination by modern humans completely around.  Many will doubt the clear evidence, as they are happy to continue to believe Neanderthals were, well, neanderthal-ish in their lifestyle and behavior, and were incapable of intersecting and living with modern humans.  This will make Rose's career.

The other story is told by Girl.  She is the Neanderthal Rose finds in the cave centuries later.  Girl lives within a small family:  Big Mother, Brother, Bent, and Runt.  Runt has stayed with the family ever since he was discovered wandering around the forest.  He's very different looking than Girl and her family:  dark skinned, black hair, more finely boned.  Girl has bright red hair, and a body that is made to be muscular and incredibly strong. She is a warrior queen. Girl is so finely tuned into the world around her that she, along with her family, are able to sense warm blooded creatures just by feeling the air currents flow over their upper gums.  They are so much a part of the cycle of life that they can feel the trees' thoughts, sense bears hybernating, and move through their days completely a part of the world around them. Claire Cameron's prose is just beautiful.  Her descriptions of the reverence and honor Girl and her family have for the world around them is one of the best parts of this novel. 

I quickly became obsessed with Girl's story.  Tragedy upon tragedy quickly follows Girl, and soon she is completely alone. Or is she?  I was all in on her quest to survive, and her fight to not give up.  Girl is tenacious, quick thinking, warm, kind, and capable.  She's a survivor.  Life is pretty black and white in Girl's time, and there was no room or time for contemplating morals.  It was kill or be killed.  

Rose is also obsessed with uncovering the two skeletons.  She is prepared to fight for her vision of Neanderthals, knowing it will be an uphill battle against established beliefs in the scientific community.  Working against time (Rose discovers she is pregnant at the beginning of the novel) she feverishly works to uncover as much of Girl as she can before she's forced to leave and have her child.  Two women, from two very different worlds, fighting for survival in very different ways.  Rose is Girl's storyteller, and she fights hard to tell the true story.

This was such a good book.  I would love to see this as a movie.  When it comes down to it, the connection we share with our Neanderthal ancestors (yes, we do have Neanderthal in our DNA) is knowing that we are not alone in this world. I was sad to see my time with Girl come to an end. What a powerful character. What a powerful woman.  

Rating:  5/6 for a roller coaster ride through the life of the last Neanderthal, Girl.  Her connections to the land and nature are beautifully written by Claire Cameron.  Girl is an unforgettable character to me.  Rose is also equally strong, but Girl is the star of this novel. 

Available in hardcover and e-book. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard: Audio Book Review

My attempts to get the names down of people and places in this adventure tale pretty much failed. That's the downside of audio books! So, to give you a brief overview of this historical tale I turn to Kirkus Reviews:


The 26th U.S. president, failing re-election, has an adventure that nearly kills him.
In an admirable debut, historian Millard records Theodore Roosevelt’s exploration of a hitherto uncharted river in the heart of the Mato Grosso. A confluence of circumstances, including a South American speaking tour and the eagerness of others to investigate the Amazonian headwaters, brought Teddy, aged 55 and still bold and plucky, to Brazil, then largely unmapped and unknown. When the opportunity came to change a planned route to follow the uncharted course of the ominously named River of Doubt, the former chief executive seized it eagerly. And so, with devoted son Kermit and truly intrepid Brazilian co-commander Cândido Rondon, along with a band of hardy recruits, the party plunged into the fierce, fecund jungle and its unknown dangers. (It’s an exploit that standard TR biographies generally treat lightly, if at all). With heavy, useless equipment and inappropriate provisions, the Roosevelt-Rondon Expedition ventured into the luxuriant wilderness where every life form threatened. There were pit vipers, piranhas and tiny fish that attack where a man is most vulnerable. There were poisonous plants, malevolent insect swarms and native warriors, ever present and never seen. The beefy former president must have embodied some prime cuts for the cannibals as he sat in his canoe. Eventually Colonel Roosevelt was downed by injury and fever. He ended his journey emaciated at three-quarters of the weight he started with on the watercourse now found in atlases as the Roosevelt River. Millard tells the story wonderfully, marshaling ecology, geography, human and natural history to tell the tale of the jungle primeval, of bravery and privation, determination and murder in the ranks as cowboy Roosevelt survived the Indians of the Amazon.
So now, for my review of the audio book.  I really did want to actually read the book, and spend time looking at the photos included in the book.  But, I had a chance to listen to the audio and decided the 11 discs were worth two weeks of commuting time.  The narrator was great; his different voices for Teddy, his son Kermit, Rondon, and others on the trip were fine.  I did get a bit distracted on occasion, and it seemed to drag a bit from time to time.  But, overall, it is an interesting adventure story to read, especially if you're a fan of The Lost City of Z by David Gran.  I'm a big fan of Amazon adventure stories; mostly because I'd never have the guts to do it.  After listening to the litany of bugs, plants, animals, reptiles, trees, and natives that could kill you in an instant, well, I came close to having nightmares!  
I was very interested in learning about Teddy Roosevelt and his relationship with his son, Kermit.  I am still, a week after finishing this audio book, astounded that these men survived. It really did take immense skill, willpower, and sheer luck.  The number of times the group were faced with rapids that required hauling everything up from the river and portaging through the rainforest was just exhausting.  I don't know how they didn't just sit down and give up.  Poor food planning (who brings mustard and chutney on a rainforest trek?!) on the part of one of the early organizers (he was blinded by the fact that an ex-president was on the trek) left the crew with the very real possibility of starvation.  The rainforest may look lush, bountiful and fruitful, but is the farthest thing from it.  Injuries, exhaustion, fear of attack by natives; being reduced to wearing rags as clothes were ripped, torn, and worn out by the sheer physicality of every day survival. They survived it all. Amazing. 
This book has been out for a number of years, and is still stocked in bookstores and libraries for a reason. It's a tale of survival, a quest, relationships, the changing tides caused by empires and greed, and one man's desire to have one last great adventure. 
Read the book, listen to the audio.  I will probably buy the book just to have it on my bookcase and to look at the pictures.  I would recommend it to anyone; teen boys may find it interesting, and anyone who loves to be an armchair traveler.  
Rating:  5/6 for a spectacular adventure into the Amazon.  Teddy Roosevelt was a pretty cool man.  This tale is colorful, nail-biting, and astounding considering it took place in 1914.  
Available in paperback, audio, and ebook.  

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Second Chance Season: A Grand Valley Novel by Liora Blake

It wouldn't be summer without a scorching hot romance, right?  This novel, the second in a series, caught me off guard, but in a "wow this is such a good story" way.  

First of all, you don't need to read the first Grand Valley novel First Step Forward in order to enjoy the romance between Garrett Strickland and Cara Cavanaugh.  I do, however, want to read the first novel because the second in the series is so darn good.  The third in the series, Ready for Wild, will be out in October, 2017.  I can't wait to read it!  You get hints of its beginnings throughout Second Chance Season, and you get an update on the couple from First Step Forward. I love it when characters in a trilogy pop into each other's story lines.  

So...Garrett meets Cara on the side of the road outside the small Colorado town of Hotchkiss.  She's smoking hot, and lost.  Garrett stops on his way to work after seeing her SUV pulled over on the side of the road, and being a decent man, he wants to make sure the driver is okay.  Cue the instant lust Garrett has when he sees Cara.  And, of course, Garrett's no slouch in the hot department himself, and Cara likes the looks of him, too.  She's traveled to Hotchkiss on a freelance assignment to write a series of articles about farmers who are creating successful businesses and changing the face of rural agriculture in America.  She could use Garrett's help, as she's new to the area and unsure of who to make contact with to get some great stories.  

Cara is also staying for the next 8 weeks in the home that Garrett grew up in, but lost after his father died and their farm went bust.  Garrett's future was radically changed, and now he works at the local co-op, which is way below what he could do, but there's nothing really spurring him on to pursue his dreams.  Until Cara, of course. 

Well.  The lust between these two is pretty intense.  I've got to hand it to Ms. Blake, she does a really good job at creating sexual tension and ramping up the heat.  Plus, she writes a darn good story, with characters that aren't shallow and have real issues.  Cara's wealthy background does become somewhat of an issue, but not because of her attitude about wealth.  After all, she could sit back and enjoy,but wants a career of her own and is willing to work hard to get it.  There's an minor age difference between Cara and Garrett, but it's only mentioned briefly, and is never an issue, which I found refreshing. The path to happiness doesn't run smoothly for these two, but it does eventually conclude in a satisfying way that has a little bit of an unusual twist.  

If you're a romance fan, or may even if you're not, I recommend this book and heck, I'll even encourage you to read the first in the series, and hang on until October to read the third.  I'll be reading them both.  Yes, romance is the main plot point, but there's so much more to this story that I would certainly recommend this to anyone who likes contemporary women's novels with a bit of steam.  Enjoy this one on the beach!

Rating:  4/6 for a novel that caught me off guard with a well written plot, fully shaped characters with real issues, and wowee some steamy sex!

Thank to to Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster) for a review copy.    

Available in paperback and ebook.  

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan

I've come to the conclusion that anytime is a great time to read a new Jenny Colgan novel.  I've very quickly become a reader who dives right into her latest release, often stopping my progress on other books so I can greedily gulp down another lovely tale.  

Colgan's latest revolves around Flora MacKenzie, a young woman working as a paralegal in London, hopelessly crushing on her boss Joel.  Flora's definitely a small cog in a big law firm, and Joel certainly doesn't notice her.  Most people don't notice Flora, or if they do, wonder why she's so darn pale.  Tall, with milky white skin, blonde hair so blonde it looks white, and eyes that change from blue to green, to gray, Flora fades into the hustle and bustle of London.  She's from the island of Mure, way up north, off the coast of Scotland.  Rumor has it her mother, dead from cancer, was a Selkie, and Flora herself is one, too.  Flora fled to London with the encouragement of her mother, who married young and spent her life raising Flora and her three older brothers and working as a farm wife with no chance to spread her wings. Now with her mother gone, and unable to process her grief, Flora hasn't returned to Mure since her mother's funeral.  

Colton, an American billionaire, has come to the law firm with a case that takes place on Mure: someone wants to put wind turbines directly in the view of Colton's new place on Mure called the Rock. Hoping to create a beautiful resort, he's poured a lot of money in to the place, and this could ruin it. Mure is known for bird watching, whale watching, and hiking.  A paradise where the sun never sets in the summertime, and the winter nights are endless.  It's a peaceful, beautiful, and sometimes desolate island.  

 Flora is quickly dispatched back to Mure, as part of the legal team that will use her connections to the folks in Mure to help win the case for Colton. Reluctantly, she heads back to Mure, sure it will be a short visit.  Her father and brothers run the family farm, and have not taken care of themselves since their mother died.  Flora's not sure of her welcome, but quickly gets back into the swing of her rambunctious family, finding her mother's recipes and creating tasty meals for everyone.  

Colton turns out to be a pretty nice billionaire, who truly loves Mure. But Colton is unaware that he hasn't made any fans of the island folk because he doesn't support the community by hiring local workers and eating the bounty of the island.  With Flora's help, can he turn it around?

There's more, of course, to this tale.  Flora's unresolved grief over the death of her mother, her distance from her family, and her resolve to return to London as quickly as possible.  There's Joel, who is a whole story himself!  Will he ever notice Flora?  Is her crush just a silly crush, or something real?  Flora doesn't realize it, but the island is where she is most at home, and the happiest.  Can Colton's ideas for the island convince her to stay?  

This is probably one of my favorite Colgan novels.  Not only did I love the setting--so very different from the usual London setting, but I loved the complexity of Flora and Joel, both together and separately.  Flora's brothers were colorful characters, as well as the islanders and Colton, too.  I hope there are more novels set on Mure, because I'd love to visit the island again.

Rating:  4/6 for a perfect summer read set on a unique island, with a generous mix of unrequited love, local mythology, and a island and a family on the cusp of change.  

Available in paperback, audio, and ebook. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Last Days of Cafe Leila by Donia Bijan

This novel caught my eye a few months back for two reasons:  it is set in Iran, and it's about food.  It's also about coming home after a very long absence.  

Flipping between present day Iran and San Francisco, and Iran before and during the revolution in the late 1970's and early 1980's, The Last Days of Cafe Leila tells the story of the Yadegar family; Russian immigrants who moved to Iran in the mid-twentieth century to escape persecution and settled in Tehran, opening a popular cafe.  Yanik and Nina have three sons:  Davoud, Zod, and Morad.  Zod is the son who works alongside his parents, cooking delicious meals for friends and family.  The Cafe Leila becomes very well known, and a hotel is built to accomodate guests, along with nightly music, dances, and a beautiful garden full of delightul scents and exotic plants.  It's a happy life, until tragedy suddenly takes a family member.  Zod marries Pari, and they quickly fall in love, raising Noor and her brother Mehrdad with the help of Naneh Goli, Zod's childhood nanny.  

And then the revolution comes, and with it terror and uncertainty, and terrible, terrible heartbreak.  Zod decides to send his children to the United States to safety.  Noor and Mehrdad, speaking no English, find themselves in Oakland, struggling through college, unsure of their surroundings, and for Noor, experiencing culture shock.  They both know they can't go home. 

Interwoven with this story is present day Noor, now the mother of teenage Lily, and going through a divorce from Nelson, a cardiologist with a wandering eye.  Zod is dying, and he calls Noor home for the first time in decades. It's the perfect excuse to take Lily and escape the pain and humiliation of her husband's infidelity.  Lily, of course, is very angry and not at all interested in visiting Iran or the grandfather she's never met. But for Noor, it is a crucial turning point in her life, and how she sees herself. For so long a timid, gentle woman, she's forced to move out of her boundaries while at the same time physically covering herself with garments when she leaves Cafe Leila and the apartment upstairs.  Iran becomes for her a place of freedom.

This truly is a family saga with plenty of love, laughter, and loss. The food is the most magical part of this novel; pomegranates, lemons, kebabs, perogie, rose water, honey; it is so much a part of the culture of Iran, but also the history of the Yadegar family and their blending of Russian and Persian foods. There is a bit of a twist at the end, but I didn't think it was very surprising, and it was the best way to end the novel.  Who knows?  There may be more to Noor's story in a future novel. 

Rating:  3/6 for a novel about a woman traveling back home to rediscover herself, her family history, and her future.  The descriptions of food were mouthwatering and have me craving pomegranates and perogies.  It is an interesting look at how people can live life in a society that has undergone tremendous, painful change. 

Available in hardcover, audio, ebook, and large print.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Alex and Eliza: a Love Story by Melissa De La Cruz

My teen reading hasn't been the best this year, so when I found out there was a novel about Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler's courtship, I just had to read it. 

 I was curious to see how Melissa De La Cruz, who's known mostly for her Blue Bloods and the Witches of East End series, tackled history; especially a well known love story.  

I'm happy to say I was pleased with this retelling of a passionate love story that has become widely known due to the musical Hamilton.  While it isn't jam packed full of historical anecdotes or have the depth of an adult historical novel, it certainly fleshes out enough of the political climate to make a person curious to explore more.  Alex and Eliza lived in an extraordinary time, surrounded by giants in American history; even as Alex himself was becoming one of those very giants himself.  A new nation struggling to defeat the British under the constant stress of harsh weather conditions, lack of food and shelter, and never knowing exactly who was firmly on the American side or the British side.  Can you imagine being part of a time where the country you lived in was brand new?  What that must have been like?  The possibilities and the unknowns?  

Melissa De La Cruz smartly decided on writing about Alex and Eliza's early meetings and the years before they were married.  Alex was a red-headed, blue-eyed, strikingly handsome wunderkind who arrived in America as a young teen with no money and no family.  All he had were his brilliant mind and ambition.  He landed an extremely important job as aide de camp to General George Washington; writing all the General's correspondence and being his right hand man. He was so valued by George that even though Alexander wanted to fight in the Revolution, George refused to send him into battle. It was frustrating for Alexander, who felt he should be able to lead a regiment into battle and prove himself to those who felt he kept himself safe by quill and paper.  

Elizabeth Schuyler was the middle of three oldest daughters to the Schuylers, a powerful family who could trace their time in America back to the 1600's.  Her father was a general in the Revolution, and marrying into the Schuyler family was seen as a savvy political move to any man who had ambition.  

Elizabeth and Alexander met at a dinner in 1777; after that they didn't meet again until 1780, when Elizabeth traveled to Morristown, NJ to stay with her Aunt.  Alexander was there with General George Washington as they wintered in town and prepared for the Spring battles that were sure to come. Elizabeth and Alexander certainly had a spark, and fell deeply in love. This is where De La Cruz takes some fictional license and creates obstacles along the path to true love.  This had me thinking about the few choices women had in matters of marriage and living a life they wanted to live.  It reminded me of just how much freedom we do have now, in America, to choose our partners, have a career, have or not have children, and support ourselves financially without a partner. While Elizabeth can, at times, sound a bit more like a modern young lady, I can see this intelligent young lady thinking about life as a woman during the revolution and wondering about her choices.  

Overall, I enjoyed this teen novel.  Even knowing the history of their marriage, and the early death of Alexander by a fatal duel with Aaron Burr, the novel ends with hope and the love of two people who truly found their better halves.  

Rating:  3/6 for a teen historical novel that takes some liberties with the love story, but overall gives life to a long ago love that still fascinates us today. Plenty of historical figures in this novel; the background of the struggles to become a nation adds a sense of urgency and danger to an enduring love story. 

Available in hardcover, audio and ebook. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Ahhhhh!!  Alice Hoffman returns to the world we first discovered in Practical Magic, the first Alice Hoffman book I ever read. I was so excited to read this and it met my expectations in every way. 

This is a prequel to Practical Magic.  It begins in the 1960's, in New York with the Owens family:  mother Susanna, her husband, and their three children:  Frances, a beautiful young lady with red hair and fair skin; Bridget (Jet), stunningly beautiful with long black hair and grey eyes, and Vincent, the youngest and the first male child to be born to the Owens line. Owens is the name descended from their first ancestor, who arrived in America way back when.  She was  witch.

Susanna tried to run away from her gifts, and forbade her children to do anything that might be construed as magic.  They weren't quite sure why, but as they grew into their teens, it was impossible to deny they each had abilities.  Along with those abilities came a curse: no Owens could love anyone, for it would lead to disaster and death.   

Oh, so much happens in this novel!  Vincent is pulled to dark magic as he wander the streets of New York, playing guitar, hanging out in bars (at 14!), and having a hypnotic pull on pretty much every woman who sees him. He doesn't even have to try, and is pretty unhappy with his life, but doesn't really know why. Both Frances and Jet are slowly discovering a few magical talents they each have, as well.  All on the hush, so their parents don't know. 

 One summer, the three siblings are invited to spend the summer with their Great Aunt Isabelle in Massachusetts.  Actually, it's not an invitation, but a command.  All three end up discovering more about their magical powers and more of the family history--and meet their cousin April in the big old house on Magnolia Street.  The house where the porch light is always on, the gardens are full of mysterious plants, and townspeople come at night to get potions and charms.  

At the novel travels through the 1960's, all three teens struggle to understand the family curse about love; sometimes with disastrous consequences.  It seems they are all heading for unhappy, loveless lives.  Can the curse be broken?  

I so loved this novel.  It is classic Alice Hoffman, and that makes me so happy.  While I absolutely adored The Dovekeepers, my heart always goes back to her tales of magic.  This prequel brings you right up to the day Sally and Gillian, as little girls, come to live at the house on Magnolia Street with Franny and Jet. 

I'm leaving a lot of the details and story for you to discover and enjoy yourself.  There is plenty of heartbreak, love, and turmoil in the journey of the Owens siblings, but it is masterfully written.  It left me very reluctantly finishing the last page.  I may have to go back and reread Practical Magic again.  

I'm sorry to say, but The Rules of Magic won't be published in hardcover until October, 2017 in the United States.  You have a wonderful summer to build up the anticipation of reading this book so appropriately released in October.  A big thank you to Edelweiss for the chance to read this!  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to wait until October.  

Rating: 5/6 for a satisfying prequel to Practical Magic.  Getting to know Franny, Jet, and Vincent and all their trials and heartbreaks makes this one of my favorite reads of 2017.  

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy

It's been about 13 years since I visited Ireland, but I can still remember the stunning beauty:  the intense colors, the fresh air, and the small towns and villages. Someday I'll return for another visit, but in the meantime, I was lucky to read The Library at the Edge of the World and be reminded of that special time in Ireland.  

Hanna Casey has returned to live with her mother in a small home set just outside of Lissbeg. She's newly divorced, with a grown daughter (Jazz) who's off on her own as a flight attendant. Hanna's ex-husband had been carrying on a years-long affair with a family friend behind Hanna's back. Very angry, Hanna only wanted out, and left behind the chance to be compensated for supporting her husband's career during their long marriage. So broke, she's living with her mother, working as a librarian in the Lissbeg public library. Not where she expected to be; after all, her dreams were to work in one of the great libraries of  London, helping to preserve and showcase history. Hanna is a bit of a wet blanket; she doesn't allow her library to have much going on for the public. People go to the library to check out books and none of that nonsense about classes, programs, or groups meeting in the library. She's cranky, which doesn't quite jive with the description of her rather youthful appearance. Her relationship with her mother is combative, as well.  

Hanna decides to remodel a crumbling little stone cottage she inherited from a distant relative.  It's a huge mess, but Fury, a local colorful character, decides he is the one to tackle this rather large project.  He's a man unto himself; he won't answer his phone, makes decisions for Hanna, and has his own reasons for wanting to restore the cottage.  What starts out as a prickly relationship becomes one of friendship, and it was fun to read the scenes between Hanna and Fury.  

Meanwhile, the local council has decided to push forth a large project that will benefit part of the Finfarran Peninsula:  a larger port to welcome cruise ships, a bigger center for activities, and a huge push to welcome more tourists.  Only problem with this is that it leaves a huge portion of the peninsula (and Lissbeg) out in the cold, with no access to services and no chance to survive.  If the Lissbeg library and local businesses hope to survive, they've got to come up with a plan and fight the council.  Hanna finds herself smack dab in the middle of this project with the help of an elderly nun and Conor, her part-time library assistant.  They've got to pull the community together and showcase all the wonderful people, places, and services the whole Finfarran Peninsula has; but have they run out of time?

I have to say this novel started out slowly for me.  I had to keep reminding myself that it was contemporary, because I felt like I was reading a novel that took place in the 60's or 70's. Hanna took a bit to warm up to; she has a lot of emotional baggage to work through, and it took up much of the first half of the novel. I'm happy to say the second half of the novel was much more interesting and picked up speed as the fight for Lissbeg's survival took center stage.  It is through this that Hanna begins to find her strength and looks at her library position as something more, rather than a drudgery.  As her home nears completion, she's finding her place. There are sufficient loose ends to hope for a sequel. Hanna has a budding romance; her home isn't quite finished (but is thisclose), and where does Lissbeg go after the surprise Fury pulls off?  I want to see what happens next! 

This novel was published outside the U.S. in 2016; it will be out in paperback by HarperCollins in the U.S. in November, 2017.  I was lucky to have a chance to read an ARC through Edelweiss and it was a great way to kick off my summer reading list. Add it to your TBR list now!

Rating:  3/6 for an entertaining read about a small Irish village, a librarian, and how they need one another.  The first half is more angsty relationship stuff, but the second half was delightful and makes me want to read a sequel. I  enjoyed getting to know the people who surrounded Hanna; a great job in building an enjoyable cast of characters.  

Monday, May 29, 2017

DNF's for May and A Big List of Summer Reads: Where I Tackle the Pile of Books in the Corner of My Living Room

Well May just flew by and I still don't have any flowers potted.  Today, Memorial Day, I will rectify that; there's something to be said for planting beautiful flowers on a day of remembrance.  

This post is really two posts in one.  I've got a couple of DNF's from May, and I thought I'd show my followers all the random books I'm planning on reading the next few months.  It's not an all-inclusive list, but it's pretty darn close.  

First, my DNF's.  Neither was because the books weren't appealing; rather time and media type played parts in my calling them quits.  

I checked this out from the library and started it.  I knew it would be a difficult read for me (I struggle with WW2; especially books that involve Germany and the Holocaust).  Unfortunately, my check out time expired and since there was a waiting list for the book, I couldn't renew it.  Back to the library it went.  I'll try again at another time when I feel ready to tackle it and I have more time. 

I have always enjoyed reading Alison Weir's non-fiction books on the Tudors.  She's one historian I can rely on to be accurate.  I tried to listen to this on audio during my commute.  It was 11 discs; I made it to 5 discs and called it quits.  While the story of Margaret Douglas (niece of Henry the 8th) is fascinating, the book is so detailed, with so many names, machinations, and, quite frankly, real-life soap opera shenanigans, it would be better suited for me to read the book.  Just too much information to stay focused enough while driving.  I'll be buying this in paperback and reading through it in the future. 


Books are shown in no particular order.  I've got advanced reader's copies of a few; most are stacked in the corner of my living room, next to my very full bookcase.  Some are on my Nook. This is not everything I hope to read; I like to leave room for those unexpected books that pop up.  My plan is to read through all of these titles during the months of June, July and August.  

My never ending fascination with the Civil War continues

Long overdue reading this thriller.

Another book I've had for a few months.  Can't wait to read this acclaimed author.

WW 2 novel 

Follow up to the Sparrow Sisters (magical realism)

Food and Ancient Rome.  Bingo!

A woman returns to her home in Iran

A favorite author.  

On my Nook.  A french bistro?  Check. 

I'll read Jenny Colgan anytime!  Her newest on my Nook.

The coast of Ireland and a library.  Be still my heart. 

Teen novel about Alexander Hamilton and his love Eliza.

This looks like a wonderful summer read.

Can't wait to read this!

I screamed out loud when I saw this prequel to Practical Magic.  OMG!!
I've been wanting to read this for a very long time. 

Any book about the Ingalls family is on my must reads list. 
I can't wait to read all of these!  What are you looking forward to reading this summer?