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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:

KIRKUS REVIEW


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 C├óndido 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. 

AND NOW....MY SUMMER READING LIST!

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?  

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What's Your Dream Home Library?


Every book lover has thought a time or two (or, in my case, hundreds of times) about having an at home library.  Most of us will never have the space for a library; I'd have to live on an English estate to have my perfect library.  My tiny house has just enough room for 3 bookcases and plenty of shelving in my bedroom.  It's pretty fantastic to fall asleep with books all round me.  So far I haven't had any fall on my head.  Although I may have just jinxed myself.  

I've been challenged by Arhaus to write a blog on my dream library.  So, if money was no object, and I could have whatever I wanted...this is what I'd like:



A bar is a must!

This would be my library on the grounds of my estate
Dream library


Tree of Life pillow from Arhaus


A lovely rug for my library from Arhaus



A couple of these Baldwin chairs from Arhaus
I'd have to have some great wall art mixed with the books! Blue Haze from Arhaus

So as you can see, I'd like something cozy, yet light; toss in a couple hundred books and I'd be a happy camper!  Check out more home goods and living room furniture at Arhaus to help you build your dream library (or home!).
Lots of bookcases, of course!  Arhaus Athens 

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown

If you're a long time follower of the Bookalicious Babe, well...you know I have a soft spot for witches.  As in I read a heck of a lot of fiction that features witches.  I believe the first actual "paper" I wrote for school in 8th grade was all about the Salem witch trials.  

Yes, I wrote a paper about the Salem witch trials and I attended a private Catholic school. And it was 1980. Oops. I don't even remember what I wrote about, but I'm pretty sure I played it safe and just regurgitated what my library books put down as history. I'm pretty sure my opinion today would have gotten me a trip to the principal's office and a grounding at home.  It's obvious my interest in witches has been around for a very long time, so when I saw this title on Goodreads I had to request it from the library.  

I knew this novel was going to be a bit heavy, so I kept putting off reading it.  I finally dived in this past week, not knowing quite what to expect.  It takes place in Essex, England in 1645.  Alice Hopkins is returning home to the small village of Manningtree after her husband dies in a shooting incident in London.  She is a few months pregnant, broke, and the only family left in England is her younger brother, Matthew Hopkins.  They haven't seen each other for five years; she married a servant's son, and Matthew was, to put in today's terms, pissed.  Meanwhile their mother (Alice's step-mother) has died, and Alice hasn't told Matthew her husband is dead, too.  She's had five miscarriages and doesn't want to even think about her current pregnancy for fear of losing it, too.  So she keeps mum about it, hoping to reveal it when she's farther along and closer to her due date.  

Matthew Hopkins has grown up and prospered since Alice left.  He owns an inn, where Alice comes to stay.  He's grown a beard to hid the awful scars on his face and neck that resulted from falling into a fire when he was a baby.  The exact how of that incident has never been explained; but a wet nurse was blamed and lost her job over it.  

Oh--did I mention that Matthew is a witchfinder?  

What starts out as a few people taking revenge on women in the village soon spreads across England, with people accusing pretty much anyone that looked different, lived alone, was poor, or involved in the healing arts.  It was not a time to have any enemies.  Matthew would travel to other villages by horse with a female servant, and spend hours questioning  and examining women under very cruel conditions until they broke and told him what he wanted to hear.  The women were then taken to the gaol, to await trial.  Usually, in times past, the women would be let off after a few months.  But this time, the atmosphere in England was different, and people were out for blood.  

Alice's mother-in-law Bridget had worked for the family when Alice and Matthew were younger.  Matthew doesn't like Bridget (for reasons you will find out as the story unfolds), and Alice is terrified Bridget will be on Matthew's list of potential witches.  She challenges Matthew on his path of destruction, but realizes he's got the bug, and is not one to be challenged.  Matthew is a man with a mission and plenty of zeal.  He's not a fan of women.  

The plot moves fairly slowly; not a whole lot happens over the course of the book.  But, that slowness of plot gives you ample time to feel the dread building as the witch hunts intensify and Matthew grows further apart from Alice.  Family secrets, the real story behind Matthew's childhood accident, and the political atmosphere of England at the time make for one unsettling book.  When you can't trust anyone around you, and you can't trust anything to be real...just what do you do to save yourself? Can Alice save anyone else?

I thought there would be more movement in the book, but I'm not unhappy with the story.  It was actually pretty good, and had a few twists.  You'll be saying "Girrrl....you go Alice!" as she starts to grow a spine and stand up to Matthew---at her own peril.  

If you're a fan of witchy fiction, you'll want to read this.  Matthew Hopkins was an actual witchfinder in England, but that's about all that is factual in this novel. Not a nice man!

Rating:  3/6 for a historical novel set in the midst of England's witch hysteria, with an unsettling atmosphere that will keep you reading even when you dread what's coming next. 

Available in hardcover and ebook. 






Monday, May 15, 2017

The Simplicity of Cider by Amy E. Reichert

Amy E. Reichert is an author that I associate with summer.  She writes foodie fiction tossed with a dash of magic, along with strong female protagonists who fight for the life they want to live, even if it may mean giving up their chance on love.  

I've read all three of Amy's novels:  The Coincidence of Coconut Cake; Luck, Love, and Lemon Pie, and now The Simplicity of Cider. They all take place in the Midwest, which of course is very appealing to a Midwest gal like myself.  Cider takes place in Door County, WI.  If you've never been, please go.  It's so gorgeous; Wisconsin was the location of many wonderful family vacations during my childhood.  

Sanna Lund runs the family apple orchard business along with her father, Einars. Her brother Anders has left the farm and lives in the city with his wife and two daughters. He would love to sell the farm, and a water park company is sniffing around.  Sanna's orchard is the perfect place to build a tourist mecca, sure to make a lot of money in a place where tourism is a big deal.  Einars is getting old, and the orchard is too much for just Sanna to run on her own. She's determined to graft the oldest trees to new trees, thus keeping the very best cider making apple trees from one day dying.  Those trees have been on the property for decades. Sanna's gift is being able to blend apple juices perfectly to create different ciders. She can see, in her mind, the colors each blend will make.  It's a form of synesthesia, and a few other people in her family have had the same gift.  

Along comes Isaac and Bass, his son. Isaac has traveled from California, seeking to escape a family tragedy and protect his son.  They wind up on the Lund apple farm, and Einars hires Isaac to help out. Isaac is immediately attracted to Sanna, but she's too busy running the orchard and being stand-offish to realize that she's attracted to him, too.  

Meanwhile, the pressure is on to sell the farm. Anders returns to the farm, and along with her prickly relationship with Anders, she's forced to finally come to peace with "the egg donor"; aka her mother. Poor Sanna has a lot of stuff going on in her life.  Can she navigate safely through troubled waters and find happiness with Isaac?  And Isaac; well, he's got a few big issues to face as well.  

I was very excited to read Amy's latest novel. She's an author that I won't hesitate to read or recommend to friends.  This was a refreshing setting, with some pretty fantastic apple trees and a wonderful, cranky old truck as supporting characters.  Little Bass was a delightfully sweet addition to the mix, and helped soften Sanna's prickly exterior. 

A big thank you to Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster) for an advanced copy of this novel.  It is being released in paperback on Tuesday, May 16th in the U.S. 

Rating:  4/6 for a perfect summer read set on an apple orchard in Door County, WI.  A strong, prickly female protagonist carries the story to a satisfying and happy ending.    

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Life Reimagined: The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife by Barbara Bradley Hagerty: An Audio Book Review

I stumbled upon this audio book perusing my local library's online catalog, and thought it would be perfect for my weekly commute.  It was perfect, and quite honestly, it woke me up a bit.  

I am in midlife.  I'm 50; childless, unmarried (but in a long term relationship), and oftentimes puzzled at how my life has turned out so far.  Where exactly did I make the turns that led me to this place?  How, quite frankly, did my life turn out so completely different than I had hoped?  Could I possibly craft the rest of my life by thoughtful planning and reflection?

Barbara Bradley Hagerty is an NPR reporter who had a few midlife crises of her own.  It led her to spend a year traveling the country, talking to experts and some every day people about what we expect from life in our 40's, 50's, and 60's.  What she found surprised her.  It seems that there is a natural dip in our happiness that begins in our 40's.  Some people think it's a midlife crisis, but when scientists actually dug into the question of midlife crisis, they found out that people weren't having a midlife crisis at all--it's all bogus. 

 We have a natural dip that occurs when we reach an age where we re-examine where we've been, where we want to go, and what hasn't worked out.  We look at our jobs, our relationships, our dreams.  We realize that we won't get that big promotion; maybe we've worked in a career for 20 years and realize the passion and love is gone; our drive calls us to seek something else.  We are seeing our parents age and pass on; we are the next generation up.  It's a big wake up call.  With luck, we'll have another healthy 25-35 years--so what are we going to do to make them the best we can make them?  

But guess what?  People in their 60's are the happiest they've ever been in their lives.  That natural dip climbs again, and by refocusing our lives around those we love, building those relationships, giving of ourselves and letting go of the material stuff, we are at our most content and most free.  We cherish those moments, small and random, where life is most sweet.  We explore our creativity; we cherish our friends and family.  And what's great about all of this is that science actually backs this up.  

I recognized myself in some of the things Barbara talks about:  I returned to graduate school at 46 after the loss of my sister; at 48 I graduated and began a new career as a librarian.  Shortly after I began my new career, my mother passed away.  My father had already passed away when I was in my late 30's; I felt a bit lost and orphaned.  My parents were gone.  What did that mean to me?  How was it going to define my life going forward?  

My partner takes care of his aging parents and I do what I can to help him.  We've discussed what we want to do next with our lives, after the inevitable happens.  With no children between us, and no one to answer to, we will be free to pursue his dreams, long put on hold.  And in doing that, I will be able to pursue my dreams alongside him.  So for now, we plan, and we cherish the moments we have together.  It is a bittersweet time, and painful moments are on the horizon.  But, as Barbara has discovered, those snapshot moments of happiness are more frequent, and even sweeter than you can imagine. 

I highly recommend this book.  I enjoyed the audio so much, I bought the paperback so I could mark it up, discuss it with my partner, and keep it on my bookshelf.  

Rating:  5/6 for a fascinating look at a second phase of life that can be just as exciting and rewarding as those heady days of our youth.  It will definitely make you think about your life; you'll find yourself in the pages of this book. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio.

 

Monday, May 8, 2017

32 Yolks: From My Mother's Table to Working the Line by Eric Ripert-Audio Book Review


In my ongoing quest to listen to audio books on my commute, I happened on this memoir and decided it had been long enough since I had immersed myself in a foodie book. And I had never heard of Eric Ripert.  

I had no idea he's a famous chef in New York City.  He has a show on the Cooking Channel (which I would probably watch if I got the Cooking Channel!), and grew up in France.  I read a few reviews of this memoir before I had finished it and the big complaint was where in Eric's life he decided to stop his story. I decided, after listening to this audio, that it stops at a very natural place, and just hearing about his early years was such an interesting journey that I didn't need to know more.  We know how it ends, so this was all about how it began.  

Eric was born in France to a vibrant mother and a loving father.  The first few years of his life were very happy; his parents adored him and their life was full of fun, good times, and delicious food.  He developed a very sophisticated palate very early, and nothing was better to Eric than sitting down to a memorable meal.  His parents divorced when Eric was around 5 years old; it was a difficult split and Eric didn't get to see his father very often.  He moved around with his mother, as she opened and ran successful clothing boutiques throughout France.  Their connection, as always, was food.  A mean step-father made Eric's life hell, and he struggled through his tween and teen years with a lot of anger and resentment.  His father died suddenly when Eric was eleven, and he had no way to relieve his grief.  Through this all, there was food.  He watched, listened, and learned wherever he could, but never was allowed to actually cook until he was in high school, and entered a cooking school.

Eric's journey after graduating from cooking school takes him to Paris and his first big job.  Let's just say his idea of his talent and the actuality of his talent weren't the same, and the stories of his humbling experiences as a young cook in very fine restaurants never get old.  Eric kept coming back for more; his passion drove him to keep improving, keep practicing, knowing that he was meant to be a chef.  It is a lesson in perseverance and believing in yourself and your dreams.  

I listened to the audio, and Peter Ganim does a fine job narrating, with a very good French accent and pacing. My only complaint is listening to the audio made me hungry.  

Rating:  3/6 for a memoir about knowing what you love, and pursuing your dreams even when they seem very far away.  

Available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook.

 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Romance Reader's Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell

I can't tell you where I first saw this cover; wherever it was, it caught my eye.  Then I read a short synopsis of the novel and decided that I just had to read it.  A rainy, chilly weekend with no plans guaranteed me plenty of time to read it, and I did in just a few short days. 

 I'm not one to sit for hours and buzz through a book; I get twitchy and have to get up and move around, so while I read quickly, it still takes me a few days longer to finish a novel.  This was the exception for me, and I'm still trying to figure out exactly why.

It appears by the cover this could be a romance, a historical romance, or even a chick-lit novel.  It's not really any of these.  After thinking about it for a few days, I still can't quite decide just what  exactly it is, so I'm going to stop trying.  I'll give you a quick peek:

An Irish-American family, growing up in Lynn, Massachusetts in the early 1930's.  Sisters Lilly and Neave are close in age, but pretty different personalities.  Lilly is all glamour, while Neave lives for books.  She gets paid a nickel to read to an elderly neighbor, and Neave hopes it is an entry into being able to read those forbidden romances her neighbor has on the shelf.  Nope, no luck.  The lure of those romances is too much to bear, and Neave steals The Pirate Lover and reads it in her closet at home.  It's terribly exciting, and the story of Electra Gates and her adventures reflects back onto Neave and Lilly's lives as they grow up and start a cosmetics company in post-World War 2 America.  Things are going fairly well, until Lilly meets a horrible, horrible man whom she marries (her second marriage).  She ends up dead.  No surprise, since the first chapter is Lilly telling you that she's dead.  

Lilly, along with the family dog Mr. Boppit (who appears on the other side as a young man in a naval uniform and wearing high heels) are there to help Neave not only keep the company going after Lilly disappears, but protect her from Lilly's husband.  Neave, quite frankly, doesn't take any crap from him, and he's filled with such loathing for her that he decides she must be punished.  He's a psychopath in 1950's America, and is a frightening character.  He eerily echoes a character in The Pirate Lover.  Poor Neave is finding out the hard way that love and romance in real life are nothing like romance novels. In fact, reading those romance novels as a young girl have given her a false sense of what life as an single young woman looking for love really means.  As Lilly finds out it can be downright dangerous, and finding the right guy isn't easy or guaranteed.  

This novel sounds like it's a bit crazy, right?  But it's actually quite good.  It is a mixture of mid-twentieth century America, family drama, romance, thriller, humor, and a bit of magical realism all tossed together.  Yet somehow it all works.  Neave just cracks me up.  She is so very funny as a young girl.  It was a treat to watch her mature into a poised young woman, even in the midst of her anxiety at being stalked and not knowing where her sister was, but knowing deep down something very bad had happened. The reader gets to know Lilly both from her perspective on the other side, and through Neave's eyes.  I grew to love her, too.  Mr. Boppit starts out as a dog (who loves to chew up shoes!) and Neave's companion, and ends up as a charming character who loves Neave so much he continues to protect her from the other side.  

The Romance Reader's Guide to Life is quite unlike anything I've read recently, and it was a refreshing experience.  I hope Ms. Pywell continues to write; I will eagerly await her next novel.  

Rating:  4/6 for a completely different novel that marries quite a few genres into one interesting read about family, love, romance, faith, and perseverance. 

Available in hardcover and ebook. 
 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Don't Worry, Life is Easy by Agnes Martin-Lugand


I was thrilled to be able to read this sequel to Happy People Read and Drink Coffee (click on the link to read my review from 2016), because quite frankly the tale of Diane and Edward was so powerful I couldn't wait to find out what happens next.  If you haven't read Happy People, I'm going to probably spoil a few things for you, so beware.

Translated from French, this sequel picks up a year after Diane returns to Paris from Ireland.  Her bookstore is doing well after Diane renews her commitment to making it a success.  Her life has a routine; her grief has subsided.  Her feelings for Edward, however, are still pretty strong, and her time in Ireland and the people she met remain on her mind.  Felix, her best friend, is still a delightful character who can be counted on to keep things light.  

Diane has been going out on dates, and they're all pretty horrible.  Listening to the tales my dating friends tell me, it's amusing to read about similar experiences in Paris, the City of Love.  Bad dates happen everywhere!  But Diane does meet Olivier...a kind, quiet, handsome man who is very patient with Diane.  He's safe, and doesn't stir her wild emotions as Edward did in Ireland.  And who's to say safe is a bad thing, after the emotional devastation Diane has gone through?  

One night out, Diane and Olivier run into Edward, who's visiting Paris for a photography exhibition.  Diane is shaken, and her feelings for Edward are still strong.  She finds out his Aunt Abby is ill, and decides to travel back to Ireland to visit her.  

I'll stop there.  I won't give any more away.  I will tell you that this sequel is just as good as the first novel.  Agnes succeeded in reducing me to a sobbing mess more than once.  She writes so beautifully; simply said but so impactful.  Spare, but packs a punch.  You are wishing so much for Diane and Edward to find a way; can two people who live in different countries, are both emotionally damaged, and so wary find happiness together?  

It's a quick read, but one that will stay with you for quite some time after you've turned the last page.  It is one of my favorite reads for 2017. Both novels remind us that life can be so very painful, unfair, and dark.  But if we are brave enough, it can also be pretty wonderful, too.  


Thank you to Hachette Books for a chance to read this book ahead of publication.  Also a huge thank you to Roslan & Campion for giving me the opportunity to talk about this wonderful author once again.   

Don't Worry, Life is Easy will be available May 2nd in the U.S. in hardcover and ebook.  But you must read Happy People first!

Rating:  5/6 for a sequel that is just as good as the original novel about  finding the sunshine in life after devastating loss.