Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Quick Review of The Guests on South Battery by Karen White AND Books for February

January sped by and now I'm staring February in the face.  Of course all the books I've asked for through the library are now rolling in, so I've got a glut to read.  Gee, twist my arm.  😉  But before I get to what I'm reading for February, I've got a quick review of The Guests on South Battery by Karen White.

I'll tell you right now that I absolutely adore this series.  This is fifth book in the series, so please don't start with this one, but start at the beginning with The House on Tradd Street.  You'll be a bit lost, and darn it, come into the story after all the really good stuff happens between Melanie and Jack.  **Warning:  spoiler alert**

Melanie is returning to work as a realtor specializing in historic homes in her hometown of Charleston, SC.  Work continues on her home, as do the odd paranormal events that come with her home.  Jack is working on a book, and having twin babies means they need a nanny.  Melanie's latest client has inherited a historic home on South Battery Street, and Jayne is eager to sell it.  Very eager to sell it.  It's obvious Jayne is very uneasy around the house, and will do anything to avoid stepping foot in it.  Lucky for Melanie, Jayne is a nanny looking for a job while the house is looked at by a team of historical renovation experts, restored, and all of the valuable antiques are evaluated and sold.  Jayne is a perfect fit for Melanie's household, and her twins Sarah and JJ (both adorable 10 month olds) take to her instantly.  

Meanwhile, lots of recent rainfall has caused part of Melanie's back yard to sink in, exposing a cistern that requires archaeologists from the local college to excavate it, as it's clearly from the early days of Charleston and may be of historical significance.  Only bad thing about it is that something dark and evil has been released and has taken root in Melanie's home.  Also, touring Jayne's home has given Melanie a sense that not only are there spirits around, but one isn't very nice.  Reluctant to embrace her gifts, but frustrated that during her pregnancy they seemed to be blocked, Melanie knows she's being called on to solve another mystery haunting historical Charleston.  But, in doing so, both her and Jack uncover a whole lot more that has repercussions for Melanie and her family.  

I dived right into this novel, and was happy to read the continuation of Melanie and Jack's story.  Here they are happily married, and new parents.  Melanie still suffers from moments of "I can't believe this guy is my husband!" and fresh off of a difficult pregnancy, she doesn't feel her most attractive.  Being a first time mom in her early 40's has given her great joy, but also a bit of a confidence issue.  This is a big part of the story, and while I understand completely, there were times I wanted to shake her!  Just goes to show that marriages always need work, and communication is so important between partners.  I liked the paranormal plot a lot, but I figured it all out pretty quickly so there weren't any surprises.  Still very enjoyable.   I give it a 6/10; it's available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.  If you're a fan of the South, and like a bit of paranormal, family drama, history, and romance, pick up this series.  Can't wait for the next one!

Now, onto my February reads.  I've got a plateful, for sure. 
Moms and drama at a school in small town England

John Wilkes Booth.  Should be interesting

Epistolary novel set during the Civil War

Sequel to the Lace Reader.  I'm giving her another chance

Publisher review.  Thriller. 

 And I'm going to try and squeeze in a romantic read...after all it is the month of love! 

Friday, January 27, 2017

It's Time for a New Look...

Life's been pretty hectic the past few years, but I've always had a plan to update the look of my blog.  Of course every time I started to seriously think about it I'd get a compliment on the look of my blog, so I felt I shouldn't change it.  

But the time has come.  I've been blogging about books since March of 2010--hard to believe it.  I've changed, so it's time for a fresh look!  The current look to my blog isn't permanent; I'll be experimenting a bit until I find a look that reflects how I feel about books, blogging, and life in 2017.  So be patient, and don't be surprised if you see multiple blog looks over the coming months.  

Meanwhile, I'll continue to blog every week about books I love.  


Yours in Books

The Bookalicious Babe 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

It's not a new publication (2003), but hey--that's what makes books such a treat.  It's a new book if you've never read it before.  The tale of this book for me goes back a few years.  When I'd shelve books in the fiction section of my bookstore, this was a constant restock and it always seemed to be sitting face out on the shelf.  I looked at it time and time again for years but never picked it up.  

Forward 14 years, and I'm thinking of what topic I can talk about for my first book talk of 2017.  I usually read non-fiction books that have a medical aspect to them for my book talks at my hospital, and this time I thought I'd try a fiction novel with a medical element. Moloka'i came to mind immediately.  Aha! Now I had a reason to read it.  It was just the historical fiction novel I needed to read in January.

Moloka'i takes place in Hawaii from 1891 through 1970.  It's a historical span that saw Hawaii move from a sovereign country ruled by a king, to a piece of American territory, to finally, the 50th and final state in the United States.  All of this is background to the tale of Rachel Kalama, a seven year old Hawaiian girl who lives with her family in Honolulu.  Her father is a merchant seaman, and every time he comes home, he brings Rachel a doll from far away lands.  

A darkness is starting to creep over Hawaii, and it is leprosy.  The native Hawaiians had no immunity to it, and the biblical tales of horrible disfigurement and spread of the disease had people fearful of it and willing to turn friends and family in when it was discovered they had a spot on their skin that was suspicious.  Rachel's Uncle is taken away, and her family lives in fear that someone else will catch it.  Rachel's mother Dorothy discovers a red patch of skin on Rachel's thigh, and keeps it covered and tells no one.  It soon becomes apparent that Rachel may have leprosy as another spot appears on her foot. Dorothy makes her wear shoes to school, and Rachel is unaware of why her mother is so fearful.  An argument at school with her sister reveals Rachel's secret, and the inspector comes for Rachel.  Taken away to a medical facility, she is looked over and put under isolation, away from her family and friends.  Distraught--remember, she's only seven years old--Rachel's behavior becomes a problem, and her parents are notified that she will be taken to Kalaupapa, on the island of Moloka'i.  It's a leprosy settlement, where people are taken to live out the remainder of their lives. These are people who never see their families again, aren't allowed to leave the island, and live under terrible conditions.  No one knows how to fight leprosy, so they are left to slowly succumb to the horrible afflictions the disease imposes.  

What follows is the tale of Rachel's life on Moloka'i as she adjusts to living without her family or friends, and living with the fear of what leprosy will do to her one day.  Nuns also live on Moloka'i, running a boarding home for young girls (the boys have a separate home), and working tirelessly to provide some comfort and spiritual guidance to the many who are forced to live in Kalaupapa.  

I've never read much about Hawaiian history, and this was fascinating.  You can actually travel to Moloka'i and visit Kalaupapa.  It wasn't until the late 20th century that people were no longer stigmatized by leprosy and allowed to leave Moloka'i.  Now called Hansen's disease, it is curable and almost wiped out.  Rachel's story is one of immense sadness, with hints of joy and beauty in the people she comes to know and love, and in Rachel's ability to adjust to a new world without her family.  It's painful to think children were taken away from their families, never to see them again.  But it did happen.  Even in paradise, darkness lurks.  Alan Brennert did his research, and his writing is such that you quickly become immersed in the story and it's hard to put down.  

I was happily surprised at this novel, and loved reading about Hawaii's history and legends.  I also learned a lot about leprosy, and how terribly people were treated through ignorance and a complete faith in outdated beliefs.  Rachel was an amazing young woman, who persevered through tragedy with the hope that one day she would be free to leave Moloka'i.  I won't tell you what happens, so you'll just have to read the book!

Rating:  8/10 for a well researched historical novel about 20th century Hawaii, leprosy, and an amazing young woman who never gave up.  

Available in paperback and e-book.  

Friday, January 20, 2017

DNF's for January: Books That Just Didn't Click

I'm not the best at admitting I have DNF's (did not finish books) every month.  My method of picking up multiple books and starting them, then setting them down (sometimes for weeks at a time) has been a part of my reading life for years.  I didn't really ever think of it as DNF but rather "moving on" to read something else with the expectation that I would eventually come back to that book and finish it.  Sometimes I do, but most times I don't. 

I think the more you read, the more you realize not every book is a good fit; it can depend on the time of year, what's going on in your life...lots of things.  Usually for me it's all about the mood I'm in and what I want to read to fit that mood.  Forcing myself to read outside of that mood usually leads to an unhappy Sue and an unfinished book.  That's the case with Homegoing. A friend loaned me her copy months ago, and I was eager to read it after hearing some really great reviews from others I know who read it.  And now, months later, I still haven't gotten past 200 pages.  I just can't bring myself to pick it up again and keep going.  Not that the story is bad; it's pretty wonderful, actually.  The writing is superb as well; I just can't focus long enough to keep reading it.  Definitely not the right time for me, so I'll reluctantly admit defeat and try again sometime in the future. For now, it's part of my DNF list.

Another book that I quickly realized was a DNF is one of my current month's picks:  The Eterna Files.  Fifty pages in, I am annoyed, confused, and very impatient.  I've read plenty of books where I've been dropped into the middle of a story, and have to figure out what's going on; there isn't any method of plot hijinks that surprises me.  But this one, for some reason, just turned me completely off.  Trying to make sense of anything has proven to be just a bit much for me, and I lack the patience to wade through it.  I'm disappointed; I had hoped to read this and the sequel.  Too much Victorian nonsense to distill into an understandable story.  Sorry The Eterna Files, but I'm putting you down permanently.  

So there you have it:  my DNF's for the past few months.  Without a doubt I'll have more.  This is no way reflects on each writer's talents; after all, the wide variety of books published speaks to our freedom from censorship, humanity's amazing talents at storytelling,  and our freedom to read whatever floats our boats.  Others have found both of these books great reads.  Carry on!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Pasta Wars by Elisa Lorello

Katie Cravens is a successful CEO of Pasta Pronto, her very own diet frozen food company; she's a size 2, and happily engaged to a lawyer.  Everything sounds great, right?  

Except Katie comes home one day and finds her finance in bed with another woman.  And there are candy wrappers all over the floor!  Her finance's last zinger, as he moves out, is that his lover doesn't worry about what she eats, and that's what makes her more attractive than Katie.  Ouch.  That hurts.  

Katie's blows continue, as her company struggles to survive a recall notice on one of her meals after it makes people sick.  Hoping to save her company, she agrees to partner with the Caramelli family in Italy, famous for their restaurants and quality Italian cuisine. Luci Caramelli invites Katie to Italy to go over paperwork and meet each other.  Luci's twin brother Luca is the moody, extremely sexy chef who doesn't want to partner with Katie and considers her food fake and, well, crap.  But they need a shot in the arm in order to keep their restaurants open, and Katie's partnership just may help them do that.  

As you can imagine, Katie and Luca don't hit it off; the calorie-conscious workaholic and the Italian chef who values fresh, handmade pasta dishes over "plastic" food.  Luca introduces Katie to fresh pasta, biscotti, and the delights of antipasto.  Katie's trip to Italy gives her a chance to look at her life and heal her wounded heart.  Attracted to, yet completely infuriated by Luca, she's torn between raging lust and knowing she's got to go back to New York and take care of her company.  There's just no room in her life for Luca. 

I won't tell you anymore, because there is a little twist in the last bit of the story involving Katie, Luca, and a televised competition.  I liked this novel, but it is definitely on the lighter side and certainly a fun tale to read leading up to Valentine's Day.  I have to say the food descriptions made me want to try my hand at homemade pasta.  Katie's journey from a hard working woman who is so focused on being perfect and in control, to a woman who learns to relax, enjoy life, and enjoy food is one that is certainly believable.  Sometimes we get so focused on walking that straight line we forget to look up, take a breath, and slow down.  In a world where we're all so rushed and it's too easy to eat garbage, this book was a reminder to me to pay attention; most especially that eating the good stuff is worth the time and effort it takes to make it.  

Rating: 6/10 for a light romantic read full of delicious food, the Italian countryside, and a heroine who isn't perfect (and is actually kind of klutzy).  

Available in paperback and e-book. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Kicking off the new year with a dystopian teen novel about a future America where there is no disease, everyone has everything they need, and no one goes hungry.  Sounds great, right?

Well, everything has a price.  With medical advances and a system that has people who have accidents going to revival centers coming out good as new a few days later...it creates a whole lot of people living, and not so many dying.  So the world came up with scythes.  These are special people who are trained, and become for life, someone who goes out and "gleans" people.  Gleaning is another word for killing, murdering, finishing someone off.  When a scythe shows up at your door, your life is over.  Some scythes use statistics to decide who will die, others take a random approach.  Each scythe must glean approximately 250 people a year, which equals about 5 million people world wide.  Not nearly enough people as those who died from disease, accidents, and old age back in the day.  Scythes are respected and feared, and the rules the surround the world of the scythes are unbreakable.

Enter Citra and Rowan, two sixteen year olds who find themselves asked to become apprentices to Scythe Faraday.  Reluctant, both decide the immunity from gleaning granted to their families is worth the terrifying prospect of becoming a scythe.  Both Citra and Rowan are smart, capable teens who each have their own reasons for accepting Scythe Faraday's apprenticeship.  

But, there are dark forces within the scythe community, and they believe they should be able not only enjoy the gleanings they do, but have the limits imposed on all scythes lifted, so that they may glean however many people they wish, however they want.  Those forces won't stop at the underhanded ways they take to ensure the old guard disappears, and the new order of scythes take over.  Citra and Rowan stand in their way.  

I liked this novel.  It took me a bit to figure out what exactly the world was like for Citra and Rowan.  It's a world that we all think we want, but once we have it, probably won't like it.  With the threat of death pretty minimal, plenty of food, and no worries about growing old (people can reset themselves to a younger age--and even have more kids!) or not having enough money, well...life can get a bit boring, and even pointless.  What is there to strive for?  What is there to propel you forward, to try new things, work hard, or take a chance?  

Big themes are morality, mortality, the meaning of death, and sacrifice.  The Thunderhead, the thing of all knowledge, memory, and control of humanity is a fascinating idea and one that plays a good foil to the world of the Scythes.  When people finally pass on, their memories go directly to the Thunderhead, and are stored there, along with all of the rest of human history.  But where, exactly, do we go when we die?  What about the soul of each of us?  Lots of discussion opportunities here!  And, lucky us, this is the first in a series.  We get to find out what happens to Citra and Rowan and see if the scythe world and the Thunderhead remain separate or clash.  My interest is peaked enough that I will certainly want to read the next book in this series.  

Rating:  7/10 for a different dystopian teen novel, with big themes on quality of life, making the right choices, and what life means when the threat of harm is eliminated.  Citra and Rowan are solid characters and I look forward to seeing their adventures continue. Scythes do go about the business of gleaning, so there is a lot of death in this novel.  If you're super sensitive to that, you may not like it.  It's doesn't get overly descriptive, but people are gleaned via poison, knife, gunshot, and flamethrower.  You've been warned. 

Available in hardcover e-book, and audio. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Notwithstanding: Stories from an English Village by Louis de Bernieres

I spotted this paperback at my local bookstore and picked it up, not expecting much at all.  What I got was a wonderful collection of short stories about a fictional village in England called Notwithstanding.  

Each chapter is another story about someone who lives in or around the village.  I spent some time trying to figure out the time frame, but eventually gave up when I realized that there was no firm time frame; rather the families and stories remained the same and lent a familiar air to other stories.  I got a sense of the history of this village being knitted together each time I started another tale.  

The stories range from humorous, to sad, to tender, to simply fond memories about people and events.  Some of my favorites:  Mrs. Mac and her ghostly husband; Colonel Barkwell and his disastrous dinner (was the fish bad?), the beautiful house that a young man never wants to leave; the big fish that must be caught in order to save the baby birds that make the pond a home, too. I especially loved Miss Agatha Feakes.   You quickly understand the layers of memories, people, and lives lived that have made Notwithstanding a home to many souls.  It is, in some ways, the quintessential English village we all expect in our wild imaginings to be scattered across England.  

Well, as Louis de Bernieres writes in his afterword, he wrote these stories based loosely on the village he grew up in; a village that was slowly becoming a modern space.  It was becoming less and less of the countryside and quirky folks who made villages such a solid foundation of our collective British yearning for the old days.  Because yes, even those of us who have grown up elsewhere all have that tiny bit of longing for that romanticized village with the bakery, the friendly postman, the police officer on the bike; the crusty old military man who lives in the large house on the hill and dreams about the good old days. The mysterious woods, the wildflowers, the batty old ladies who drink their tea every day at the same time, on the dot.  It is a way of life that is gone, mostly, in today's world; but these delightful stories give us back a piece of it.  

This book was first published back in 2009; the stories were all separately published over the years in magazines, and finally in 2016 Penguin/Random House put them all together again with a new cover.  A definite must read for any Anglophile or short story fan.  I'm not one to read short stories, but I found these captured my attention quickly and with the overall theme of one village tying everything together, they seemed less like short stories and more like a novel to me. 

Rating:  8/10 for a lovely collection of stories about the people and goings-on in the fictional village of Notwithstanding.  Easy to read one chapter (story), then put down and pick up again without feeling lost.  A magical, time-warp feel to this one.  

Available in paperback and e-book.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Bonjour Kale: A Memoir of Paris, Love, and Recipes by Kristen Beddard

My first read of 2017 was about Paris and kale.  Yes, you read it correctly.  Sounds a bit strange, but actually it was an interesting read about moving to a completely brand new environment and having a bit of a rough time adjusting.  Paris may appear to be a dream, but it can often times prove to be a difficult place to make a new home. 

Kristen Beddard was living in New York City, happily single, when she met Philip at work.  They dated, fell in love, and got married with the realization that Philip's job was sending him to Paris for long periods of time and the best plan was to move to Paris and live there for the next five years.  Kristen had been to Paris years earlier, and loved it.  She was excited to go, and read heaps of blogs about Americans living in Paris.  She thought she was prepared, and was headed to a lovely life, complete with ballet flats, red lipstick and, hopefully, a job teaching in English.

She was, sadly, wrong on all counts.  And to top it all off, she quickly realized one of her most beloved foods was nowhere to be found in Paris:  kale.  Yes, kale.  Kristen grew up eating it, and never had a problem finding it in the United States.  But for some reason, all of the farmer's markets, and all of the stores she visited had no idea what she was talking about.  Her frustration led her to create a blog called The Kale Project, with her desire to bring kale back to France. This all happened at a time when the French were at the cusp of a new food revolution, and kale was a part of it.  If only Kristen could convince enough farmers to grow and sell it.  

There is more to this story.  Kristen's young marriage is under a bit of strain because of her frustration at living in Paris.  One of the main points in this memoir made it, for me, a refreshing read:  that it is not easy, and often very difficult, to move to another country.  Struggling to learn French, learning the intricate dance of grocery shopping, conversing with vendors, and the tricky bits of French government added to Kristen's stress, and that caused some growing pains in her marriage.  Happily, Kristen's husband is pretty supportive and understanding of her struggles.  He too finds himself underestimating life in France. 

 Kale, for Kristen, is more than just a vegetable.  It reminds her of her home, of her childhood, and is her favorite vegetable.  Each chapter has recipes for different kale dishes.  Some are strictly vegetarian, others can be made with meat.  I had no idea just how many different varieties of kale there are, and that every other country in Europe regularly grows and eats kale.  Everyone but France.  Until Kristen and the Kale Project came along. She is a perfect example of taking what you love and making something wonderful out of it just through sheer passion.

I have read many memoirs about living in Paris, and I think this was the first authentically honest one I've read.  The people Kristen meets along her journey are kind, rude, indifferent, charming, friendly, and a lot of times difficult to understand. Many colorful characters form the backdrop to Kristen's Paris.  You can check out her blog by clicking on The Kale Project.  

Rating:  7/10 for a new look at moving to and living in Paris, and how a passion for something can lead each of us in a surprising direction.

Available in paperback and e-book.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Bookalicious Babe's Upcoming Reads for January, 2017 (Is it really 2017?!)

The new year always gets me revved up to read.  A whole year ahead for me to discover, explore, and digest the books that make their way into my world.  I'm hoping to bounce back into my reading groove and have challenged myself to read 100 books this year.  I know people have read 150, 200, 225 in a year;  that's a pretty lofty goal for me, even reading 3 or 4 at a time.  Life sometimes keeps me from reading as much as I'd like, and keeping my blog does take up some time each week.  So far there are no weddings planned for 2017, no big trips to take, nothing on the horizon to interrupt the flow of my reading mojo.  I am hoping to retrain myself to sit still long enough to read large chunks at a time.  I'm certain I can easily meet my goal of 100 books, and hope to exceed my expectations!

Too many years of having too much to do has left me with a habit of only reading 20 or so pages at a time, then feeling the urge to get up and do something else, then sit down again.  And of course reading at night just makes me sleepy.  With better healthy habits and regular exercise I will have the energy to get more done during the day and have plenty of reading time each week.  It's important for me to give reading a prominent place in my weekly activities; after all it is the thing that calms me down, de-stresses me, and fires up my imagination.  

Here's my planned reading list for January.  It's a mix that seems a perfect introduction to 2017.  Do you set reading goals for yourself each year? 

Hawaiians diagnosed with leprosy are forced to live in isolation.

A collection of stories about the inhabitants of a small English village.
The latest from Shusterman about teens who must play the role of Death.
Victorian England and spiritualism.

Non-fiction about an American in Paris and her quest for kale.
A romance that takes place in Italy.  Yes!