Tuesday, August 30, 2016

September TBR List, and a Fail from August

Well nuts!  I thought it was a sure thing that I would get through all of my TBR list for August.  But, I didn't get to finish Smoke by Dan Vyleta.  It will go back into the mix for a hopeful finish before the end of the year.  Carving out those opportunities to really sink into a good book are becoming hard to find lately.  Life is so darn busy that now, when I need to read and relax more often, I'm not getting to it.  So I'm resetting for September, which I'm pretty sure will be a busy month as well.  

September's TBR list is a mix of books to review for publishers and books that have been recommended to me by friends.  I'm also thinking of taking a short trip into some quick reads that I absolutely loved in my childhood and are due for a post about childhood favorite reads.  I will be taking a nice, long (but busy) vacation in October, so I may set the way back machine and bring back reviews I posted from years past.  I've read so many wonderful books it will be hard to choose what to re-post!

Without further ado, here's what I've got on tap to read and review in September:

A teen novel that turns the story of Jane Grey into one crazy ride

The sequel to Girl Waits With Gun

The buzz is incredible! 

Takes place in small town Iowa with a family tragedy that isn't all that it seems

A fictional account of Einstein's wife

Recommended by a friend--magical realism!    

 Well, I've got rather a bit much on my plate.  Not really a surprise, now is it?  I'm excited to dive into each one.  Stay tuned for reviews!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Violinist's Thumb by Sam Kean

DNA.  Genes.  What makes us human.  Well, we aren't very different from chimpanzees; only a few genes separate us on the big scale.  It's all very interesting, and a bit hard to follow in the nitty gritty scientific bits, but overall, this was a very enjoyable scientific book for anyone who is interested in genes and the story of humans.

Sam Kean has some pretty good stories in the chapters to demonstrate the wild and wacky ways of nature and the complexity of DNA.  If you're like me, and use the terms DNA and genes interchangeably, well...they are two different things.  Genes are in DNA, and they are inherited from our parents. They determine traits we will receive from each parent.  DNA is basically the giant cloud that holds all the genes.  I could go into chromosomes, but I won't.  Some parts of the DNA/gene science explanations went right over my head.  What I loved were the stories Kean told.

Like the story of Paganini, often lauded as the best violin player ever known to man.  He was pretty brilliant, and could play like no other.  The reason for this was because of his crazy uber-flexible fingers and hands.  He could play parts of the violin that no one else could.  What no one realized was that he suffered from what is now known at Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.  People who have this syndrome can't make collagen, which makes their joints hyper-flexible.  It also causes skin to thin and become very sensitive; bowel issues, vision impairment, and a host of other problems.  People thought Paganini sold his soul to the devil in order to play so magnificently.  

Did you know that the liver of a polar bear is toxic to humans?  You may think, "Why would I ever have to worry about this?" and that's a fair question.  But, early explorers of the Arctic Circle found themselves chosing between starvation or feasting on polar bears (who were also feasting on the men).  After eating the liver of a polar bear, an expedition became violently ill; vomiting, dizziness, sensitivity to sunlight, and the most spectacular of all, sloughing off of skin.  It seems the polar bear's liver stores an enormous amount of vitamin A, and through thousands of years of evolution, the polar bear has adapted to eating seals (who produce a lot of vitamin A in order to continually replenish skin cells to stay warm) without becoming ill themselves.  After all, seals were the only food source polar bears had, way up North.  It was either adapt or be starved out of existence.  Pretty cool!

There are loads more stories in The Violinist's Thumb on odd genes and why they do what they do.  I had a hard time at first getting through the scientific bits, but soon became deeply interested in reading all of the stories about people and animals who are living proof that we continue to change, yet stay the same, on a cellular level.  

This is a great book for any high schooler or collegiate who is showing interest in science, biology, or even archaeology and forensics.  There are so many new fields of study popping up because of the interest in genetics that most anyone will find this book fascinating.  

Rating:  7/10 for a scientific book that explains science for the masses, along with pretty cool stories that show our genetic quirks in action.  

Available in paperback, e-book, and audio.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir

I may be one of the few women in America that haven't read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I think I started it, but never finished it.  I actually watched the movie and formed a horrible crush on Javier Bardem.  Most of my reluctance to read the book stems from that old bookstore danger:  getting so sick of everyone asking for the same book, over and over, for months at a time.  I end up loathing any mention of the book and never wanting to read it.  I think that's what happened with Eat, Pray, Love. So years passed, and I never read it.

I knew the basic story, and at any other time I would have read the book right away.  And I did really enjoy the movie.  Cut to years later, and I see this book somewhere in my bookish wanderings.  I immediately checked it out of the library, and proceeded to dive in and be amazed at some of the stories people have shared.  

This non-fiction book is a collection of essays by various men and women (mostly women) who read Eat, Pray, Love  sometime in the past 10 years and had such a visceral reaction to it they changed their lives.  For some, like Elizabeth, it was a wake up call to leave an unhappy marriage or relationship; for others it was a reminder that life can and should be joyful and creative.  If we find ourselves stuck, we need to get moving.  For other women, it was about coping with motherhood and finding balance.  

One woman says "From Liz, I learned that it is never too late to start again.  I forgave myself my indiscretions and granted myself the permission to create the life I now understood I deserved."  Liz's story resonated with so many women that I was a bit floored by how her journey became the spark women needed to change their lives into more meaningful, peaceful, and vibrant quests.  

There wasn't one essay in this compilation that wasn't touching and amazing to me.  I can't imagine how Liz Gilbert feels knowing she's influenced so many people simply by telling her story.  It is a prime example that we never know who we will touch just by being open with the good and the bad in our lives.  

I think this would make an obvious choice for anyone who loved Eat, Pray, Love.  But you don't have to read that to feel the impact of these essays.  It will probably drive you to read Liz's memoir after you've turned the last page.  Powerful stuff.

Rating:  7/10 for so many touching essays about the power of one woman's journey of discovery to give courage, grace, and peace to those who struggle through life.  

Available in paperback, audio, and e-book.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Memory of Lemon by Judith Fertig

This is not the book to read if you're trying to eat clean.  Nope.  But I read it anyway, and it was enjoyable even if I did experience some big pangs for delicious tarts, cakes, and pies.  

This is the sequel to The Cake Therapist, which I reviewed last year after discovering another new author that writes one of my favorite genres:  foodie fiction.  

The Memory of Lemon returns to Millcreek Valley, Ohio and Claire "Neely" Davis.  Her bakery Rainbow Cake is winning people over, and business is good.  Her love life, however, is not in a good place.  Still married to her football pro (and cheating) husband, she can't file for divorce until she's established residency in Ohio--she's got a few weeks yet.  Her growing feelings for childhood sweetheart Ben are confusing and frustrating--her prenup agreement with Luke has a clause in it stating that he gets anything he's provided for her if she's caught being unfaithful during their marriage.  And that means Claire's home and bakery are on the line.  And gee, Luke doesn't want to give Claire up.  

Claire's latest client is getting married in June, and is having a tug of war over her wedding with her mother. Lydia wants to be married at her grandmother's old cabin, with a rustic theme and no cake; her mother wants a wedding fit for high society--and a spectacular cake.  Claire's usual special intuition, which matches dessert flavors exactly with her clients, is failing her each time she meets Lydia.  She just can't pinpoint what Lydia wants.  A visit to the cabin in Kentucky sparks Claire's talent and gives her a peek into the past history of the cabin and the women who lived, loved, and raised families there.  

This was a sequel that was almost better than the original.  The past glimpses of history between Claire's family and Lydia's family were really quite interesting.  Claire's father, long absent from her life, begins to connect to Claire through letters.  He's a homeless Vietnam vet who is trying very hard to get his life together and find a place of peace.  It's surprising how Claire's family history becomes such an integral part of the story, and melds perfectly with her latest efforts to create the perfect wedding for Lydia.  

And of course the descriptions of pastries, flavors, and scents all create such a wonderful background.  My mouth was watering!  There is a reason recipes are passed down generation after generation.  It's not just the tradition, but the memories those flavors invoke in us that keep us connected to our families and our roots.  Sometimes those flavors can bring us back when we're lost and feeling adrift.  

Rating:  8/10 for a lovely sequel to The Cake Therapist.  I hate to say goodbye to Claire and the folks of Millcreek Valley, so I certainly expect a third book.   

Available in paperback and e-book. 


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Review: The Girl Who Slept with God and Winner of the Giveaway!

In the right hands, this novel would make a very good movie.  It is the story of Jory and her sisters Grace and Frances in the summer and fall of 1970, living in the small town of Arco, Idaho.  It is at times funny, poignant, and heartbreaking.  

Jory is 13 going on 14, and Grace is 17.  Their father is a Harvard educated astronomer who is a very strict Christian.  They go to a Christian school, aren't allowed to wear makeup or dance; must wear very modest clothes, and eat a lot of lentil loaf.  Their mother is deeply unhappy and pretty much spends all of her time on tranquilizers, sleeping in her bedroom.  Grace believes it is her destiny to serve as a witness to Jesus; to do this, she wants to go on a mission to Mexico.  Off she goes for a few months, but is sent back home when she's taken ill.  Her illness is actually a pregnancy.  Her parents are just besides themselves at this turn of events.  It gets even more strange when Grace announces that this child is a gift from God, and yep, God got her pregnant.  

To save face and keep the scandal to a minimum, Grace's father Oren buys a house outside of town and moves Jory and Grace there.  Jory's furious at this turn of events.  She's forced to go to the public high school, where kids wear bell bottoms, smoke lots of weed, and have a life completely different than Jory's.  Befriending the ice cream truck driver Grip is part of Jory's rebellion.  She is on the fence; does she keep to her religious upbringing, or does she step into a different life, away from her parents?  It's a lot for a 14 year old to handle.  Grace is very fragile, and Jory is both frightened for her sister and angry at where her sister's actions have brought her.  Not having her parents and sister Frances around much makes things very difficult.  Yes, Jory's Dad moves a 14 and 17 year old to a house by themselves, with only an elderly neighbor to keep an eye on them.

There are moments that brought a smile to my face.  The culture of 1970 is everywhere in this novel:  the clothes, the attitudes of youth, the food,  the feeling that our country was on the cusp of great change.  Jory's growing pains mirror the culture she's reluctantly witnessing.  

Will Jory and Grace make it through this trying time?  I can't tell you.  This is a powerful novel, and I felt for every awkward, uncomfortable moment Jory experiences.  Her uncertainty, her anger, her feelings of abandonment.  That sister  love/hate relationship that only those who have sisters can ever possibly understand.  This would make an excellent book club pick.  There is much to this novel, and I'm so glad I received a copy from Penguin/Random House to review.  I would have skipped over this title otherwise, and that would have been a shame.  

The winner of a copy of The Girl Who Slept with God is:


Rating:  8/10 for a novel that really grew on me.  Jory is a very well written character, and her growing pains are both beautiful and poignant.  

Available in paperback and e-book.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Book that Matters Most by Ann Hood

I had no expectations before I started this novel;  all I knew was that the story involved a book club. I had never read an Ann Hood novel which made it all a big unknown read for me.

I was pleasantly surprised.  Ava's husband has left her for another woman; her two children Maggie and Will are out of the house (and out of the country); she's alone, bitter, and needs to get out and mingle.  When a chance to join an exclusive book club at her local library pops up, she decides it is a good way to dip her toe into the social pool.  The club decides that the next year will be all about reading and discussing books that matter the most to each of the ten members.  One book each month, presented by one of the members.  Ava's choice, From Clare to Here, is a poignant novel about the loss of a daughter, and a mother's choice to stay in the land of the dead with her instead of returning to the land of the living and her other daughter.  It hit pretty close to home for Ava; as a child her younger sister Lilly fell out of a tree and was killed in their front yard.  Ava's mother, Charlotte, ended up killing herself a year later.  Ava grew up with her father, haunted by the deaths of her sister and mother.  

The novel moves back and forth between Ava's book group (and her budding romance with one of the members) and her daughter Maggie, who is living in Paris--even though Ava thinks she is studying in Florence.  Maggie is a mess.  She's always been a handful; Ava and her husband struggled to keep her straight and away from drugs, alcohol, and bad choices.  Maggie left Florence, following a boy to Paris, and now is in deep trouble.  Addicted to heroin, she's living in a haze, dangerously roaming around Paris, becoming involved with unsavory characters.  She lies to Ava and sends deceptive texts with stock photos of Florence to her mother to keep her thinking Maggie's still in Florence.  
Meanwhile, Ava has promised her group she will bring the author of From Clare to Here to the December book group.  Only problem:  Ava has no idea where Rosalind Arden is, and time is growing short before she's forced to admit she lied to the group and can't produce Rosalind Arden.  

One of the characters talks about books that matter most to us.  Kiki says:
"...I think it's impossible to pick such a book.  When you read a book, and who you are when you read it, makes it matter or not.  Like if you're unhappy and you read, I don't know, On the Road or the Three Musketeers, and that book changes how you feel or how you think, then it matters the most.  At that time."
That passage had an impact on me.  People ask me all the time what my favorite book is, and I never have a good answer.  This is because so many books have mattered to me at different times in my life.  I don't have one go to book that comforts me.  They all comfort me at different times.  I don't have a favorite, I have favoritesMany books have changed my perspective on something, taught me a history lesson, made me cry, helped me with my grief.  You get a taste of that in the characters of this book, and the books that matter most to each one of them.  

If you didn't already know the power of books to change you, reading this book may very well give you a kick in the pants.  If anything, it will get you started on a book list, or encourage you to start or join a book club.  Just remember:  watching the movie isn't the same as reading the book--don't be like Ava in her first few months at the book club. 

Rating:  8/10 for a novel that wasn't what I expected.  A little bit of this, a little bit of that.  A look at life after a marriage ends, the grip that drugs can have on a soul, and grief that never lets go.  

Available in hardcover and e-book. 

Thank you JBP for the review copy!  

Monday, August 8, 2016

Giveaway! The Girl Who Slept With God by Val Brelinski

Here's your chance to win a paperback copy of The Girl Who Slept With God by Val Brelinski.  I'll be posting my review of the book on Saturday, August 13th, along with the winner of the giveaway.

Meanwhile, here's what Penguin has to say about a book inspired by the author's own unconventional  upbringing:

When she was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford, Val Brelinski, who had run out of short stories to hand in for workshop, sat down one afternoon thinking about her rather unorthodox childhood and, as if compelled, wrote one hundred pages of what would later become THE GIRL WHO SLEPT WITH GOD (Penguin; On-sale: July 5; $16.00; ISBN: 9780143109433), her powerfully affecting debut novel, which is now available in paperback. Growing up in rural Idaho, Brelinksi, the daughter of devout evangelical Christians, spent much of her time reading the Bible, attending services, and “witnessing” to unbelievers. She and her two sisters were not permitted to read magazines, play cards, or visit bowling alleys, movie theaters, and restaurants that served alcohol. These experiences and their profound effects, sometimes for the worse, became the emotional impetus of Brelinski’s entrancing debut.

Set in Arco, Idaho, in 1970, THE GIRL WHO SLEPT WITH GOD tells the story of three sisters: moral-minded Grace, gregarious and strong-willed Jory, and young Frances. Their father, Oren, is a respected member of the community and science professor at the local college. Yet their mother’s depression and Grace’s religious fervor threaten the seemingly perfect family, whose world is upended when Grace returns from a missionary trip to Mexico and discovers she’s pregnant with—she believes—the child of God. Distraught, Oren sends Jory and Grace to an isolated home at the edge of the town. There, they prepare for the much-awaited arrival of the baby while building a makeshift family that includes an elderly eccentric neighbor and a tattooed social outcast who drives an ice cream truck.

I'm making it easy to enter:  just post a comment to either this blog post or my facebook page @bookaliciousbabe  and tell me one thing you did in your childhood that you just can't forget...and keep it clean!

U.S. entries only please. 


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

This book was on my radar, but not on the "I've just got to read it now!" radar.  I put myself on the hold list at the library, but soon realized it would probably be next year before I would reach the top of the list.  That just wouldn't do.  I was contemplating buying the hardcover, when my friend Kirk talked about the book at our monthly book club and offered up his copy to anyone who wanted to read it.  

When the book gods offer up a book you want to read, you take it.  It was immediately bumped up to this month's TBR pile so I wouldn't lose it at home, forget to read it, or have to keep telling Kirk "I'm going to read it soon".  

Before the Fall is a pretty quick read.  Noah Hawley is a very talented writer of tv shows (Fargo, Bones), and that talent shows in the back and forth that happens in the novel.  I'm not giving anything away when I give you the plot of the story:  a very rich couple vacations on Martha's Vineyard in August.  They are heading back to New Jersey on a private plane.  They've invited along another couple, and an artist who's hitching a ride back to New Jersey.  The couple Maggie and David Bateman also have their two kids on board:  nine year old Rachel and four year old JJ.  Also along for the ride is the Bateman's security guard, Gil Baruch.  A simple flight, taking less than an hour.  

Except 16 minutes into the flight, the plane crashes into the ocean.  Only two people survive:  Scott Burroughs, the artist, and little JJ.  

How does the plane crash?  Why?  Was it a mechanical failure, or something more ominous?  There are plenty of possibilities.  The novel moves from Scott's experience after the crash to each person on the plane, and the days leading up to the crash.  One strange bit is that the date of each person's death: August 23, 2015 is the same except for Gil Baruch's:  his is August 26th, 2015.  What the heck does that mean?  

Another kicker:  Scott doesn't remember what happened.  He hit his head, and next thing he knows, he's in the ocean, surrounded by flames.  And then he hears a cry.  It's JJ, floating on a piece of debris.  

It's a pretty good book.  I wouldn't say it's a thriller; more of a mystery.  The novel also looks at the way the 24 hour news treats tragedies; how they treat survivors, and through it all is the sense of how abruptly life can end for some of us without any warning.  What makes this such a big news story is the fact that Bateman was the head of a Fox-like news company (worth millions), and the other couple, Ben and Sarah Kipling, are also millionaires.  And Ben just found out he's going to be indicted for money laundering the next day.  Will they find the plane?  Will the FBI figure out what happened?  And how will Scott move forward, knowing he's got a second chance?

I enjoyed this novel.  It was a complete switch from reading about baking and Vermont.  The ending, oh, it just felt like a punch in the stomach to me.  

Rating:  8/10 for a novel that sucks you into the lives of characters that perish in the first chapter, but haunt you throughout the story.  A good read!

Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller

I've been itching to read this novel for a few months.  I'm a sucker for my foodie novels, and this one didn't disappoint.  I was certainly in the mood for a novel that was gentle, full of warm characters, and set in a lovely little town.  Toss in some incredible desserts that made my mouth water, and I was a happy camper this weekend reading Louise Miller's debut novel.  

Olivia is a very talented pastry chef working at an exclusive club in Boston.  She's also having an affair with Jamie, a much older married man who is a big wig at the club.  One night at a huge party, she accidentally drops a flaming Baked Alaska and starts a fire at the club.  Oops.  Seeing this as an excuse to leave a messy situation, she flees to Guthrie, Vermont to visit her best friend Hannah.  At loose ends, Olivia applies for the pastry chef job at the Sugar Maple Inn, owned by the cranky Margaret.  Olivia soon settles into her job, acting non-committal but knowing deep down in her bones that she wants to stay in Guthrie.  Olivia and her dog Salty become involved with the McCracken family, who represent everything Olivia has always yearned for in her life.  Martin McCracken is not the usual type Olivia goes for; he is kind,  kinda cute, and an excellent fiddle player.  But his home is in Seattle, and he doesn't plan on remaining in Guthrie forever. 

Olivia is a bit of a square peg in Guthrie.  She dyes her hair fantastical colors, drinks, and has no problem standing up for herself. You get a sense that Guthrie used to be a very conservative town, but seems to have loosened up.  But the same families have lived there for decades, and past loves, slights, and hurts still simmer under the surface.  Small town life will always be one where everyone knows your business all the time.  Olivia is used to living anonymously in a large city.  It's a bit of an adjustment. 

There is romance, heartbreak, friendship, sadness, and oodles of baking in this novel.  I'm pretty sure I'll have to have some apple pie very soon.  As you'll see, it plays a big part in the life of this town.   There aren't any surprises in this novel, and that's alright with me.  Sometimes a gal just needs a good read that, at the turn of the last page, puts a smile on her face and a bit of sadness in saying goodbye to Olivia and Guthrie, Vermont.  

A huge thank you to Pamela Dorman books/Viking for providing a review copy of this book.  It made my day to receive this book in the mail. 

This novel will be on sale nationwide on August 9th in hardcover, e-book, and audio.  

Rating:  7/10 for a novel about finding home, the small pleasures in life, and families that come in all shapes and sizes.