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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

That Summer by Jennifer Weiner

 

Last year's Big Summer was the first Jennifer Weiner book I'd read and I enjoyed it very much. That Summer has completely different characters, but Cape Cod plays a big role in this novel, too. 

Diana Scalzi is fifteen years old and has the world ahead of her the summer she spends on Cape Cod, nannying for her mom's friend Dr. Levy. She even meets a boy named Poe who just graduated from Emlen, a private boy's school that is the place to send the sons of the wealthy and powerful. They spend time on the beaches, getting to know one another. Diana is smitten, and believes Poe is, too. 

Until one night, at the end of the summer, when Poe gets her drunk, and rapes her. It changes Diana forever. Revenge comes back years later, just when she thinks she's able to let go and move on. However, Diana finds out revenge isn't that easy.


Diana "Daisy" Shoemaker is married to Hal, an older, handsome lawyer. Their daughter Beatrice is a teenager who recently was kicked out of Hal's alma mater, Emlen. Daisy is the woman who keeps the family running--always putting Hal's needs before her own. She keeps getting the wrong emails-emails for another Diana. Soon they form a friendship and begin meeting each other for lunch and dinner. Who is this new friend, and what does she want from Daisy?

Yes, you guessed it--Daisy's friend is none other than Diana Scalzi. Whatever Diana has planned, she never planned on actually liking Daisy and Beatrice. Does she continue on her path of revenge, or walk away before confronting Hal?

So I've got to admit I was not expecting a story about a teenage rape and the drive to avenge. I didn't really read any blurbs about the novel, so that was surprising. I much preferred Big Summer--it was a much more solid plot This plot seemed a bit thin and there wasn't much driving it forward. I was hoping Daisy would stand up to Hal in a really big way, but had to wait a long time for any kind of tough Daisy. 

It wasn't a bad story; I was just underwhelmed and had hoped for more. Warning there is a rape scene in this novel (it is not graphic) so if this is a sensitive subject for you this may be a tough read. 

I'll keep reading Jennifer Weiner and hope her next novel is a bit different than That Summer. 

Rating: 3/6 for a novel about a woman who is haunted by her tragic past and cannot move forward until she confronts her rapist. In doing so, she finds innocent casualties in her drive for revenge. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

My Lemon Grove Summer by Jo Thomas

 

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This was a fun, quick read. Jo Thomas is an English author who reminds me of Katie Fforde novels--contemporary women's fiction with a dash of romance and usually featuring a woman in her 30's-40's.

This novel takes place in Sicily, Italy and involves lemons--which I adore so much. I love everything lemon. Lennie and Zelda are friends who have come to the conclusion that life in England is not going to get better. Neither of them are happy with their humdrum lives. Lennie tells Zelda about an opportunity to move to Italy and live in a small town where they will pay for you to stay and help grow the community. Sounds like a win-win, right? And that pesky part about not finding love? 

Lennie and Zelda made a pact years ago that if they reached age forty without finding true love, they would get married. What could possibly go wrong with marrying your best friend?

Off they go to Italy, and meet a few other people who have also taken the leap and moved in the hope of starting fresh. Only problem is the town folks don't want outsiders moving in, and the houses they were promised are falling down disasters. Someone in the village of Citta d'Ora is pulling all the strings to push Lennie, Zelda, and their new friends out. 

There's also the local legend that says if a marriage doesn't happen in the village every ten years, Etna (volcano!) will show it's displeasure. And wouldn't you know, but that volcano is doing some rumbling...will Lennie and Zelda say "I do", even though it's quite clear they are firmly in the friend zone? Especially when Zelda sees Luca and feels the zip of instant connection...what's a woman to do?

This was a fun, quick read that took me away to Italy. Lemons abound in this novel, and I couldn't help but smell them the whole time I was reading this novel. There are even recipes in the back of the book for lemon-flavored treats. My only annoyance was with Zelda continually talking herself into keeping her promise to Lennie even when it was so very obvious they were not attracted to each other. 

I'll be reading more of Jo Thomas--she's an entertaining writer; romance is part of the story, but it's pretty clean--lots of longing looks and maybe a kiss or two.This novel was all about being true to yourself, taking chances, and using your talents to carve out a new life. 

Rating: 3/6 for a lovely novel set in Sicily, full of lemon groves and a sad, dying town that just needs some loving care to come back to life. Characters are enjoyable and just enough side stories to keep it all interesting and moving towards a satisfying conclusion. 

Available in ebook and paperback. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

 

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This memoir has gotten a lot of buzz in the book industry the past few months, but that didn't make me want to read it. I happened to watch CBS' Sunday morning news and they interviewed Michelle Zauner. That did the trick. Then I had to read it, and luckily it was 50% off at B&N so I snagged it. 

Michelle's mother is Korean, and Michelle's father is white. She grew up feeling a bit lost in between, but absolutely loved all of the Korean foods, stories, and family history her mother shared with her. Very rocky teen years full of rebellion and depression created a wedge between Michelle and her mother that was hard to overcome. 

The news that her mother had cancer rocked Michelle's world, and she promptly packed her bags and flew back to Eugene, Oregon to help care for her during treatment. 

This memoir is about Michelle's grief, and how she climbed out of it with the help of her boyfriend Peter, her Korean family, and her memories of her mother. So many regrets, to be sure. But also gratitude for all her mother taught her about her Korean roots, resilience, and the importance of family-whether it's the one you are born into, or the one you make. 

I absolutely loved all of the Korean food descriptions and how many memories came from those special dishes. Michelle's grief is heartbreaking and anyone who has gone through losing a parent understands completely her highs and lows. 

Michelle Zauner is also well known for her musical abilities--she's the lead singer in the band Japanese Breakfast, which is getting a lot of buzz, too. 

I found this a thoughtful and touching memoir from a woman who takes ownership  for her part in a loving but oftentimes difficult mother-daughter relationship. 


Rating: 4/6 for a memoir about loving and losing a parent, and the gifts they leave behind. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. Michelle's band Japanese Breakfast has albums available on iTunes, Amazon, and other music stores.


Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict & Victoria Christopher Murray

 

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I picked this book up not knowing a whole lot about the subject matter and under a deadline to read it in ten days before returning it to the library. Add in a very busy  July 4th weekend and I only had a few days to read it.  I wasn't sure I'd make it, but happily the story grabbed my attention and I've spent the last few nights reading about an amazing librarian: Belle da Costa Greene.  

Belle became the personal librarian of JP Morgan in 1906. JP Morgan had built an impressive private library to house his already impressive collection of manuscripts and rare books. Belle was hired to organize and develop his collection. What JP and everyone around Belle didn't know was that Belle was an African American woman who passed as white. Her secret would drive her career and personal choices for the rest of her life. 

Belle's family history was definitely one that kept her conflicted about her choice to follow her mother's wish to pass as white in a city and country where African Americans were being lynched, denied rights, and only hired for menial, low paying jobs. Belle's job had her dining with the Vanderbilts, attending the opera with well known New York socialites, and most importantly, garnering JP Morgan's admiration and trust. Belle traveled to Europe to spend millions of JP's money at auctions, all the while building his private collection into one that rivaled most museums. 

Belle was an amazing woman--brilliant, hard working, and self-taught. She gave up a lot to keep her secret, and her place as librarian. I was curious enough to google her, and there's a lot out there about her. The Morgan Library and Museum will have a exhibition on Belle in 2024.  

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel about a woman who blazed a trail during a time when women were struggling to be heard and respected. She was the ultimate career woman and remarkable for her time. 

Both authors have notes in the back of the book detailing their experience writing this novel during the 2020 Pandemic. This would make an interesting discussion for a book club. I'd like to read more about Belle. 

Rating: 4/6 for a fascinating novel about JP Morgan's personal librarian. She was an incredibly smart, talented woman who defied societal norms while creating one of the most important collections of manuscripts, art, and books in the United States. Anyone with a love of libraries, art, or books will find this novel hard to put down. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

July is Starting Off With a Bang! Summer Reads Continued...

 I don't know about all of you, but I'm finding the re-entry into society to be a bit exhausting. While I'm enjoying seeing people again, I realize I got used to my very small circle of peeps, and just going home from work most nights. I'm squeezing my reading in here and there (lunch is always a good time to read) and making a dent in my stack at home. When I check a "quick-pick" out from the library it makes me either read it right away or take it back. Quick-picks are books that only check out for ten days instead of the usual twenty-one and you can't renew them. So you either read it quickly or not. It's a way to get books into people's hands when other copies may have a long hold list. 

July is already here and I've got family over this weekend for July 4th. That means a lot of yard and house tidying up! I'm happy to say I've taken July 5th off of work so I can recover from a weekend full of people and places. 

Here's what I'm reading in July- you guessed it, I'm firmly in summer fun reading mode:


Summer in Italy. What's not to love?

Reading this on my Nook. A woman ditches her bad marriage and stays in a small town in France to start her life all over. Can she make a new family out of strangers?


I've been intrigued by this memoir and watched a story about the author on a Sunday morning news show. A young woman mourns her mother in a most unusual place. 

Historical novel about a young black woman who passes as white in 1905 New York City. She becomes the personal librarian of JP Morgan.

I discovered Jennifer Weiner last summer and couldn't resist this tale of two strangers brought together by a mistaken email. Seems life isn't so random after all. 

A young black woman thinks a new employee is going to be her ally, but oh, she's wrong...a look at the white world of publishing houses.




Happy July! Watch for reviews coming soon.

The Bookalicious Babe

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Blush by Jamie Brenner

 

Click here to purchase from Amazon
I spotted this novel a few months ago as I was ordering books for my library and thought "Hmmm" this may be an interesting read. 

I was correct.

 I will confess to drinking a glass of wine Friday night as I was reading the last 50 pages, but it wasn't a rose. I kid you not, if you're not a wine drinker, this novel will certainly tempt you to try a few. If you are a wine drinker, just settle back, pop the cork, and pour yourself a glass while you enjoy this novel about a family winery, 80's glam novels, and cheese. Yes, cheese. You'll want some cheese and crackers, too. 

The Hollander Estates Winery has been a hot spot for parties, day trips, and a big tourist attraction on the North Fork of Long Island for decades. What were once potato fields is now a gorgeous winery, complete with an equally gorgeous home to the Hollander duo of Leonard and Vivian. Newly married, the couple created the winery through years of hard work and effort. Their son Asher--who does not want to work at the winery, helps runs it. Their daughter Leah Hollander Bailey runs a successful cheese shop in New York City. Leah was, sadly, not given the chance to help run the winery with her father. He is not about to have a woman make the big decisions. Leah's cheese shop is not her passion and now her lease is up and she's got to make a decision to find another location or close shop. 

Leah, Steve (her husband), and Sadie her college age daughter arrive at the winery for a week of rest and relaxation. Instead, they hear the news that Leonard must sell the winery--the whole kit and caboodle, due to big losses. Vivian is beyond bereft--she had no idea. Again, Leonard not sharing. Leah wants to do whatever she can to save the winery, even if it means angering her father by pushing the idea of creating a Hollander Rose--the one thing Leonard refuses to do. 

Oh, there's a whole lot going on here! Sadie is in a college thesis crisis; Steve wants to move the cheese shop and is not happy Leah keeps putting off returning to NYC; Vivian is crushed she will lose her home. Asher just doesn't seem to care, and his much younger girlfriend rubs Vivian the wrong way. 

Enter Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, and a few other big authors from the 1980's when glamorous women's fiction was all the rage. Sadie begins reading it, Leah follows (remembering how she would sneak the books as a kid), and some of that magic 80's tough heroine fiction rubs off. The show isn't over, not by a long shot. 

I so enjoyed this novel that I'm probably going to read Jamie Brenner's other novels, too. I didn't read Jackie Collins or Judith Krantz back in my teen years, but I was certainly aware of them--and can't forget those glam covers, either. It's pretty interesting how the characters they wrote about influence these women of 2021. Some call it trash fiction, but really, if it speaks to you, entertains, and years later still makes an impact, why would you call it trash? Sounds like darn good storytelling to me. 

This would make a great book club choice--head out to a winery with your friends to sip, nibble, and discuss. There is a lot to talk about! Probably enough for at least one bottle of wine...

Rating: 4/6 for a swiftly moving family novel with plenty of strong women who are just not going to take being in the back seat anymore. Plenty of information about how a winery operates, the magic of growing grapes, and oh, plenty of drama, too. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

How Lucky by Will Leitch

 

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I saw this last month in my BOTM selections and decided to take a chance. After finishing it, I think this is a novel that is a "word of mouth" kind of novel. It's touching, funny, suspenseful, and has an incredible main character. 

Daniel is twenty-six and lives by himself in Athens, Georgia. He is wheelchair bound with SMA (spinal muscular atrophy); a degenerative neuromuscular disorder. It will kill him at a young age. The fact that he's made it to twenty-six is a testament to his strength, support, and just good luck. 

Daniels spends his days as an online customer service rep for a regional airline. He's limited to just using his left hand to work his iPad, but he makes it work and has adapted as he has slowly lost his ability to speak and the use of his right hand and arms. He's got his friend Travis who visits weekly and helps take care of him and treats him as a normal person; Marjani is his caregiver who comes every morning to get him dressed, fed, and in his chair. He has two helpers who come in the middle of the night to turn him in his bed so he doesn't choke. 

I know. It sounds horrible. But Daniel is not a pity party at all. He's always looking on the bright side, and grateful for everyday he wakes up. 

One morning, Daniel is sitting on his front porch, and observes a young Chinese college student walking along the street. She's been regularly doing this, and Daniel knows her schedule. This one day, a car approaches and stops. She bends down, smiles, then gets in the car. Strange, thought Daniel. 

He was right. Ai-Chin has disappeared, and across the college campus, alarms are raised and search parties are formed. A hotline is set up with the police. No one knows what happened. Except Daniel. 

He enlists Travis' help, but the police are slow to respond, and just being in Daniel's company makes them very uncomfortable. What could Daniel possibly know to help them? 

Daniel persists and posts online--and he gets a response that sends this tale off in another direction. Is he playing with fire? Is he in danger?

The kidnapping is just part of the story. Daniel's life and how he lives it is another. He always says he is lucky. Lucky to have lived. He also says he is lucky because he knows he'll die before he will have to experience losing loved ones, and he won't have to grieve. He'll go first.  Oh, that got me in the heart. He's a funny, thoughtful, smart character. 

I'd recommend this novel for anyone who is looking for disability focused characters and plot. It's also just a good story; one that will keep you engaged as Daniel races to help find Ai-Chin, and puts himself in danger doing so. He's no scaredy cat! 

Rating: 5/6 for a strong central character who sees no limits in his life; a twist at the end, and a loveable cast of characters. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.