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.