Monday, December 31, 2018

January Reads and Setting a 2019 Goal: Clear the Bookshelves Because They are Out of Control

Here it is...the last day of 2018. I'm going to spend the evening with my boyfriend at his house, watching a remake of Overboard (I have a deep fondness for the original with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell), sipping Prosecco, and nibbling on roasted shrimp dripping in garlic and butter. There may also be a chocolate pie for dessert, too. And bread, because why not end the year right?

I've already signed up for the Beat the Backlist Challenge with NovelKnight (you can, too!) as a tool to help me read from my bookcases and if I'm lucky, the boxes of books I have in my basement. I always start out ambitious and then life says "Oh no, hang on. Here's a few other things you need to do first" and then I hit a snag that slows down my reading. The only thing I really enjoy about January is having plenty of time to be home at night and on the weekends to read and chill out. I most definitely become a hermit until around March. However, I remain optimistic that I will go forth and read like mad for the next few months. 

This month I've got a few new books to read, and a few that I've had for a few months that I've plucked from a stack in my bedroom. It's an interesting mix. I'm hoping to dive back into historical fiction again this year--it's my favorite genre and I noticed I didn't read a whole lot of it last year. Luckily, most of what I'm aiming to read this month fits into my backlist challenge and are books I've got at home--double yay for me. Here's what's in store for January:

This is for a January book club: The Scarlett Letter set in the future.

Found this at B&N earlier in December and thought it looked interesting. I can't wait to read this one. 

I've been waiting for this for a few months! Just bought it the other day. Dual timeline; Queen (Princess) Elizabeth's wedding gown and 1947 London. 

I'm reading the first in the series; three kids search for the Grail in a battle with the dark.

I'll probably have a few others that will pop in for reviews, but for now, I'm starting off with these. I'm excited for a new year in books and hope to have a good balance of new and backlist titles each month. 

Have a wonderful New Year's 2019! 

The Bookalicious Babe

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Top Ten Favorite Reads of 2018: It's Been an Interesting Year

I looked over my list of read books for 2018 and I have to say, I was underwhelmed. All I kept seeing were the ghosts of books I should have read, and didn't get to for one reason or another. Or all the books I started, and didn't finish. Of course, I should be happy and thrilled I read more this year, and I certainly am; I just think my reading choices weren't always the best. I did read more graphic novels, and I'm grateful for diving into that genre. I hope to read more of them in 2019. Non-fiction took a hit for me this year; I just didn't get to read all that much--another goal for 2019. SciFi/Fantasy--where are you?! Just a few made my reading list this year, darn it. I read a lot of novels that were darker than my usual taste. I didn't read much at all of what made the bestseller lists, even though I have quite a few on my shelves at home. 

I guess my reading list reflects the mood I was in for most of the year: avoiding politics, news, and dealing with the increasingly frail health of family members. I thought I was reading to escape and relax, but it looks like I was reading books that reflected my less than sunny state of mind. Three book groups also added to my reading choices: one with a monthly theme, one that's a free for all (my favorite!), and one where we've been reading from library book club kits. I'm glad they all pushed me to read outside my comfort zone. I have to say this year's reading list was not at all what I expected when I began in January of 2018. I'm setting my Goodreads Challenge for 2019 at 100 books again. It's a good goal for me; keeps me on my toes but is doable if I read a few books every week. I have no idea what 2019 will bring for me, but I certainly hope it is a bright, happy year, and that my reading reflects a happier state of mind!

Without further ado, here's my list of Top Ten Reads for 2018:

It came late in the year, but Eileen was so unusual it made my Top 10. Bizarre, at times down right gross, you'll be as sucked into the story as I was--step out of your comfort zone and read it!

9.  Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

A huge novel about the trials of a Korean family living in Japan. A study in culture, politics, and family traditions. 

I've read a lot of Heather's novels, and this was her best. A deaf woman finds a dead body and can't rest until she discovers the who, what, and why. 

I finally read Louise Penny, and I love her writing! Want a start to a great mystery series? Pick this up!

Probably the biggest buzzed about book this year; a YA novel that will wrap you up and introduce you to an amazing world full of magic, myth, and loyalty. 

I've read all of Fiona's novels, and I'm a big fan. A beautiful cover, a compelling story about an art school tucked away in the Grand Central Terminal, and the fight to save the terminal from destruction. Dual storylines will keep you engaged!

Ah, Simone St. James. She never lets me down, and this was by far my favorite of her novels. A woman reporter is still obsessed with her sister's murder years later; a group of girls living at the school 50 years before experience the terror of a spirit that walks the halls.  A dual storyline, all based around a girl's school that holds a haunting secret. 

I read some non-fiction this year, just not a lot. I adored this book and Susan Orlean's love of libraries shines through. If you know nothing about libraries, pick it up--you'll be amazed!

Oh, this almost made my #1 spot. Jane Harper is an Australian author who writes a crime novel that will leave you parched, emotionally drained, and amazed at her gift of writing. She's one to watch! 

And my number one favorite read of 2018:

This. novel. Holy moses! It takes the story of the Donner Party Tragedy and turns it into a novel of terror that will leave you unsettled, locking your doors, and Googling everything you can find about the Donner Party. Sooooo good. 

You can read all the reviews of my top ten by clicking on the titles.  The top three were tough, but The Hunger won out in the end. A reimagining of the Donner Expedition that was like nothing I expected; creepy as heck, and flat out nail-biting.

Here's to a great reading year!  What are your top reads of 2018?  Share with me! I'd love to know what everyone is reading.  

Happy New Year everyone!

The Bookalicious Babe

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Daughters of the Lake by Wendy Webb

I've read a few of Wendy Webb's novels, and they fit right into one of my favorite genres: modern gothic. Wendy writes what I like to think of as Midwestern Modern Gothic; novels set in the United States Midwest. Carol Goodman is another author who writes modern gothic. I can't go wrong with either of these authors. 

Daughters of the Lake takes place along Lake Superior, with dual timelines of the early 1900's and the twenty-teens. Great Bay is a small town on the shores of Lake Superior, and one morning a woman's body floats to shore. She's dressed in a white nightgown, and looks like she's peacefully sleeping. But she's dead, and nestled near her side is a small baby, also dead. 

Kate's father Fred discovers the body, and when Kate sees the woman, she's visibly shocked. Her reaction peaks the interest of the local authorities, who think Kate may know more about the mysterious woman than she's letting on. 

Kate herself has just come to stay with her parents after discovering her husband's been having an affair with a co-worker. She's left her job, and her husband, and is still reeling from his betrayal. And then there are the weird dreams, where she's someone else, living as a happily married woman. A woman who looks exactly like the body on the shore...

The story moves back and forth between Addie and Jess, living in the early 1900's in Great Bay, and Kate, who travels from Great Bay to Wharton, another small tourist town on Lake Superior. Her family's B&B is run by her cousin; both are descendants of the man who built the great house, Harrison Connor. Kate's grandmother, Hadley, was his only child. Kate's cousin Simon invites her to stay at the B&B for awhile to figure out what she's going to do next to start over. They're both curious to explore the third floor, which was a ballroom but is now unused and full of old boxes and family mementos. 

Addie's story is pretty interesting. Born in the lake, she has an affinity for the water, as her mother and grandmother have; the lake is always welcoming and the place to go when they need to escape and recharge. The spirit of the lake is alive and always watching...

Both stories kept me interested in finding out what exactly happens to Addie, and how she ends up appearing in the lake 100 years after she's died. You have to just go with it, and accept that the lake has protected her body all this time, and released it now for a reason. That reason is Kate. The police investigation, and suspicion on Kate is pretty flimsy, but it spurs the plot forward. It gets Kate moving in the direction of solving the mystery, and meeting the handsome Detective Nick Stone.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read. There's just not enough fiction written about the Great Lakes, the beauty and sheer wonder of them. And, of course, the magic. So just read this novel for the fun of it, and interesting legend that is the Daughters of the Lake. 

Rating: 4/6 for an interesting plot, even though some of the devices to move it along were kind of flimsy. But I didn't mind, because I found the storyline interesting and hard to put down. Lake Superior is a major character in this novel, and it will make you yearn for some quiet contemplation on the shore of a lovely lake. If you like light modern gothic mysteries with a Midwest flavor, I recommend Wendy Webb's novels. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio.

Friday, December 21, 2018

A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg

I decided to deviate from my planned holiday reads and picked up Fannie Flagg's A Redbird Christmas after spotting it at the library and realizing it was time to finally read it. I've spent many Christmas retail years putting this book on endcap displays and holiday book tables, but never planned on reading it. I guess I had to wait for the right time. 

The holidays can be a really tough time for many folks. It seems like loss is amplified, surrounded by what should be a cheerful, exciting time of the year. I've had two family members pass on during this time: one at the beginning of the season, and one just after Christmas. It's now become a bittersweet time of year for me. I love the music, the lights, the excitement, but it's become more of a reflection and remembering of what Christmas was for me as a kid and young adult. Now it's a chance to reconnect with friends, even if only for a few hours. It's a time to be home, spending quiet time reading or just chilling out. I suppose all of that is normal as we grow older, and think about making our own Christmas traditions. 

I've read a few Fannie Flagg novels, and they always find me at the right time. There's something about her gentle humor, endearing characters, and storytelling that puts a smile on my face. This novel was no different. Published in 2004, A Redbird Christmas has become a modern holiday classic. It's the story of Oswald  Campbell, a middle-aged man who is a recovering alcoholic living a rather lonely life in Chicago. A visit to his doctor gives him bad news: if he stays in Chicago, he'll probably die of pneumonia within a few months. Years of trouble with his lungs have made living in the cold winters of Chicago deadly. 

Oswald's doctor recommends a place his father, also a doctor, sent his patients years ago: a small town in Alabama called Lost River, where folks can stay and rest in the warmth of a southern winter. Oswald's got nothing to lose, so he packs up his meager possessions and travels to Lost River, not knowing what to expect. 

What follows once Oswald arrives is a perfect Christmas tale about neighbors becoming family, a funny little redbird called Jack, and the kindness of strangers. Oswald finds himself in a place that is unlike anywhere else he's ever been, and just what he needs. A little girl named Patsy becomes part of Lost River's community, and her friendship with Jack, the redbird that lives at the general store, is the main storyline of the novel. Lost River is a small town full of quirky, kind folks who take care of each other and gently stay in each other's business. I kept thinking I had overlooked when this novel takes place, but I realize it's never mentioned. I like to think it's somewhere in the 1960's or 1970's, but I'm not sure. It didn't bother me, and I actually preferred the story without a specific era--it added to the sense that Lost River was timeless. 

Jack, the redbird, figures prominently in this novel, and I didn't realize until the end that I understood cardinals are seen as a message from our loved ones on the other side. I knew this, but didn't make the connection until the very end. And considering that this holiday season is a little more bittersweet and sad than it usually is, well, I think my redbird visit came from a book this year. I've always believed books come into your life when you need a certain message, and this one has come in loud and clear for me. 

Now if I see a cardinal at all in the next week, I just may freak out! But in a good way. 

Rating:  4/6 for a gentle, sweet tale of finding family, finding a new beginning out of an ending, and enjoying the simple joys of life. This is a perfect gift for readers who enjoy short tales, Southern locales, and characters who worm their way into your heart. 

Available in paperback, audio, and ebook. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Taking a Break from Holiday Novels: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

When someone hands you a book and asks you to read it so they can discuss it, you read the book so you can discuss it. This was a novel that had me at turns disturbed, disgusted, intrigued, and reluctantly cheering Eileen on towards a better life. 

Taking place in 1964, and told from a much older Eileen's lens, this is one weird ride. Even when I was completely grossed out, I kept reading--the writing is just that good. Tiny little details that keep you compulsively turning the pages. Are you intrigued yet?

Eileen is twenty-four, and living at home with her alcoholic father. The home is completely filthy; neither has cleaned the house since Eileen's mother died years before. Her father is such an alcoholic that he sits in front of the open oven for warmth, drinking bottles of gin all day, every day. He's a retired cop who still has some odd kind of respect from the hometown police force--a polite, turn your head away respect. He's gotten into so much trouble in his drunken wanderings that Eileen now keeps all his shoes locked in the trunk of her car so he can't leave the house. Eileen herself is a piece of work. A young woman who is so disgusted with her physical appearance, her life, and pretty much everything; she's such a wreck that it's a bit of a shock. She sleeps in an unheated attic on a fold out cot, and wears her dead mother's too big clothes to her job as an office worker in a boy's prison. Personal hygiene is out the window. As she says, she likes to "stew in her own filth." Ew. 

Christmas is just around the corner, and we know that Eileen's life is going to radically change on Christmas Eve. We know this because older, wiser Eileen keeps telling us, so the build up to what will happen starts pretty early in the novel. You are at times repulsed by Eileen, and equally intrigued, and see glimpses of who she could have been, if only her upbringing had been a little different; if only her parents had cared about their child. This is a study of a person profoundly damaged by their negligent parents--and for that, you can't help but hope Eileen finds a way out. 

You may wonder why the heck anyone would want to read this novel. I've got to say, it will grab you and you won't be able to put it down. Once you get past Eileen's very strong defenses, and start to see more of who she is, you become invested in her escape from her terrible, empty life. You see glimpses of an Eileen that is witty, sharp, and so desperately wants someone to love her. 

Read it. It's quite the change from my reads so far this month, but a good one. I recommend it as a great way to bust out of your routine book type--take a chance and read something really different. 

Rating:  4/6 for a fascinating novel about a young woman who aches to break out of her life and make something of herself, but had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get there. Brilliant writing. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Christmas Camp by Karen Schaler

I had my doubts about this one when I started reading it. It's so much like a Hallmark Christmas story that I thought surely the "soon to be a major tv movie" blurb on the cover meant for sure it was on Hallmark. But it's not. I've checked Karen Schaler's website and scoured the internet and while it is going to be a TV movie, there's no date and no telling which network will air it. And interestingly enough, the movie was written and produced, then the novel was written--just in time for a holiday release in bookstores. 

I ended up enjoying this novel for a few different reasons. At first, I wasn't connecting much with Haley Hanson, the main character. She's risen in the advertising world, and now is just one step away from becoming partner in her Boston advertising agency. She works round the clock, and has been very successful. Her Christmas holiday involves taking her parents to the Caribbean for a week of no Christmas, just sun, sand, and beach. That's been their tradition for years. Getting promoted at work means Haley can help her parents financially; their large Victorian home needs a lot of work to turn it into a B&B and it seems to be a never-ending money pit. 

Haley's chance at getting that promotion rests on a new ad campaign for Tyler Toys, but one other employee has been tapped to produce a prospective ad campaign for it. Haley's boss reluctantly agrees to give her a shot, but only if she spends a week at Christmas Camp, in order to rediscover her Christmas spirit. 

Reluctantly, Haley travels to Christmas Camp, which is a lovely Inn run by Ben. A group of people attend a week of camp, where each day they focus on finding their lost Christmas spirit. Haley plans on working every moment she can, completing camp early, and heading back to Boston to create her ad campaign. She's in for a rude awakening, however. Phones and computers are taken away each day and only given back at night, so clients can focus on camp. She's stuck in a bedroom where angels are the theme, and the Christmas Camp dog Max follows her everywhere, and demands she take him for early morning walks. 

There's Jeff, the son of the owner. He's also from Boston; an architect who wants his father to sell Christmas Camp and move to Boston. He's a cutie, and there's a definite spark between Haley and Jeff--but neither has the time for a relationship. 

Will Haley's week at Christmas Camp reset her spirit and attitude? Will she win the ad campaign, and make partner? She's a bit of a scrooge, but slowly, very slowly, things change. You get to understand that Haley isn't anti-Christmas for any bad reasons, but simply because her parents were poor, and as a child, they didn't have Christmas. They made do, and Haley made sure she didn't show her disappointment or sadness at their lack of Christmas so her parents wouldn't feel any worse than they already did. I have to say, finding this out about Haley made her much more of a likable character. She simply didn't know what it was like to have a full-blown Christmas. Taking her parents to the Caribbean every year was a way to protect them from the memories of past Christmases where they didn't have much and still, after all those years, felt bad about it. 

There is a little bit of a surprise twist at the end, and I was happy with the ending. It was a better story than I expected, and captured the magic of the season without becoming too darn cheesy. I'll probably watch the tv movie when it finally shows up! 

Rating: 4/6 for a quick read that helps remind us of all the fun traditions we create to celebrate a special time of year. In our busy world, we need to shut off the electronics and concentrate on baking cookies, snowball fights, and spending time with loved ones face to face. An enjoyable read that will put you in the holiday spirit!

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky by Holly Martin

Still on my holiday reading groove! I have to admit I've begun reading a few non-holiday novels just to balance out the sweet. I found this author at my local Barnes & Noble and I must confess I immediately bought every book of hers they had on the shelf, and ordered a few more. I know most of her novels are available as ebooks, but since my e-reader is out of commission, that's not an option. 

Holly Martin is a British author, in the genre of Jenny Colgan chick-lit type novels. I was astounded at everything she's written! Needless to say, she doesn't just cover the Christmas season, but you've got a chance to enjoy her novels all year round. Check out her extensive title list on Goodreads. Some are available in paperback in the U.S., but many more are available as ebooks. 

Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky is a full on holiday experience. Set on Juniper Island, a island north of Scotland, the folks of that tiny island have partnered with the owner of the Stardust Lake Hotel to create a winter wonderland for tourists. They're pretty isolated, so it's either create a place where they can earn a living and live, or move off the island and away from their homes. Piper Chesterfield is on her way to the island to review Stardust Lake Hotel. She's a traveling hotel reviewer and hasn't had a place to call home in years. After this assignment, she's taking a 6 month break, renting an apartment in London, and figuring out where she wants life to take her. Traveling non-stop, living out of a suitcase has become weary, and she needs a change. 

Everything about Juniper Island and the hotel is magical. Most importantly, to Piper's surprise, the owner of the hotel is none other than her teenage love, Gabe Whitaker. They haven't seen each other for twelve years, after the tragic accident that changed both of their lives and drove them apart. Shocked to see each other, the spark is still there, but now Gabe has a little girl-Wren-and the heartbreak Piper caused is battling with his desire to begin a new relationship with Piper. And there's the sticky situation of Gabe not knowing Piper is there to review his hotel...

Juniper Island and the hotel are places I'd like to go, if they existed. A winter wonderland full of wild ponies, epic scenery, ocean views, and igloos designed for overnight guests to experience the Northern Lights from a warm, cozy bed; a town with shops, friendly people, and everything decorated for the Christmas season. It's hard not to want to stay there; even in the warm months, it remains a popular tourist destination. This is Gabe's big project, and while he owns other hotels in big cities, this is closest to his heart. Will his rekindled love for Piper win out over years of distrust, hurt, and angst?

You'll meet a supporting cast of characters that will round out the whole experience of Juniper Island, and I certainly had a very clear vision in my head of everyone and everything. Some of Gabe and Piper's angst got a little old for me, but other than that, it was a fun novel to read, and I can't wait to read more of Holly's novels in 2019. Maybe I'll squeeze another one in before the end of 2018--who knows?

Rating:  3/6 for a magical setting, where the author thought of every detail, but leaves enough to your imagination to help you create your own Juniper Island. Cast of characters are solid; romance is steamy, and it's a fun read for December. 

Available in paperback and ebook.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Holiday Read: One Day in December by Josie Silver

There's nothing quite like a holiday romance set in London. This novel is sure to be a must-read for anyone who loves the movie Love, Actually. 

I had a chance to spend Sunday at home, Christmas tree lights twinkling, snowflakes slowly drifting in the air outside. Perfect day to stay home and read, and that's exactly what I did!

Laurie is on a crowded bus, on her way home to her flat after a long day working as a hotel receptionist. At a bus stop, she sees a handsome young man sitting, reading a book. Somehow, someway, he sees her, and BAM! It's love at first sight. Does she get off the bus, or does he get on the bus? 

NEITHER. Off the bus goes, and Laurie spends the next year looking for "bus boy", along with her best friend Sarah in every bar and every place she goes. Finally, after a year, she's given up ever finding him. At their annual holiday bash for friends, Sarah finally introduces Laurie to her new boyfriend. Yep. It's bus boy. Jack is his name, and he's in radio. Stunned, Laurie pretends she's never seen him before. Devastated, she keeps her mouth shut, since it's obvious her best friend is completely bonkers over Jack. Jack also recognizes Laurie, but pretends, too. Neither acknowledges that special, life-changing glance. Poor Laurie. 

The novel moves over the next ten years, as Jack and Sarah, and Laurie form a close friendship. Laurie still yearns for Jack, but knows it will never, ever happen. She makes a big change in her life, and meets a man who sweeps her off her feet, is easy to fall in love with, and wants to build a life together. 

Meanwhile, Jack and Sarah's relationship has highs and lows, and it's hard to dislike Sarah at all, she's such a gem of a friend. Jack is a good guy, too, but has some issues. And the backdrop to all of this is the quiet yearning of unrequited love between Jack and Laurie. Will they ever get together, of will they both be the one that got away? Do you take the person who's 90% of what you want, or do you keep looking for that 100% person?

This was a great holiday read. It spans ten years, but I think that's necessary, in order to see each of the characters grow from college graduates into their 30's; loving, losing, and experiencing those growing pains we all have as we grow up and figure out what makes us happy. There is some heartbreak, for sure, and some pretty tense moments, but I don't want to give them away so you'll have to read to find out. 

This would make a great gift for anyone who loves British rom-coms, holiday novels, and contemporary love stories. It's reminiscent of Jojo Moyes and reads quickly. I enjoyed reading from Jack's perspective, and Laurie's, too. 

Rating:  4/6 for a really good read. I was pleasantly surprised at the serious issues addressed, the solid friendship between Laurie and Sarah, and that dangling carrot of Jack and Laurie--will they have a happy ending? Oh--and the wine. These ladies love to drink wine!! Have a glass or two and enjoy this book. 🍷🍷🍷

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses by Jenny Hale

Well, here's number 2 of my holiday reads, and the cheese factor on this one was pretty high. 

Abby is a single mom who has a natural talent for interior decorating, but chose the practical career of nursing to be able to provide a steady income for herself and her son Max. Caring for an elderly woman as a private nurse, she's given the chance of a lifetime: decorating a mansion for millionaire Nick Sinclair, the grandson of her client. Nick's rich, a workaholic, and very alone in his sparsely filled home. His family is coming to his home for Christmas, so he's got to have it decorated ASAP. Based on his grandmother's recommendation, he gives Abby the job, his credit card, and the opportunity to do whatever she wants to his home. He also pays her a tidy sum, one that will help her provide for her ailing Grandfather and provide a Christmas for her son that she's never been able to do. 

Of course Nick is handsome, and plays a mean piano. He also writes his own compositions, but never shares his passion, and instead focuses on keeping his late father's business growing and prospering.  He's a guy with tons of money who has no one to spend it on. One thing I thought was weird was his nonchalance in spending huge sums of money on whatever, but then telling Abby that he couldn't just stop working so hard because he had to make a lot of money. Huh? How about not tossing money around?! 

Anyway, Abby is beautiful, talented, and able to break through Nick's busy work world to slowly get him to realize there's more to life than working. They both fall for each other, but Nick's determined to move to New York (they live in Richmond, VA) and sell his home after Christmas. Can they have a future together? How will this all work out?

It is a very Cinderella-like story, for sure. There's no hot sex; it's full of longing looks and "Oh darn I'm falling in love" moments.  It is a Hallmark movie, for sure. But, if you're looking for a feel-good holiday tale, with a happy ending, this is the one for you. The issues facing Abby and Nick didn't even give me a moment's angst that they wouldn't be worked out. No emotional rollercoaster here, just a steady story that's really a modern fairy-tale with a happy ending.

Rating:  3/6 for a holiday romance that is picture perfect in every way. Suitable for fans of Debbie Macomber or folks who adore Hallmark holiday movies. 

Available in paperback and ebook.   

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Holiday Picture Books: I Want Them All!

I was looking for a picture book to buy for my little nephew Elliott's first birthday, and I gravitated towards the holiday picture books, naturally. I love to read holiday picture books; there's something about them that brings back memories of past Christmas anticipation and looking at our Christmas tree all lit up and sparking at night. I did pick out one book for Elliott, but I also spent some time reading a few others.  

This is a classic, and the message is wonderful. A too-tall Christmas tree is trimmed, and each succeeding new tree is trimmed, all the way down to the smallest recipient.

Why won't the fox eat this tasty gingerbread boy?  Why is he such a tough cookie?  Funny illustrations, and a sweet surprise.

Jan Brett's illustrations never cease to amaze me. You can't help but linger over each page. Who is the mysterious Santa who is leaving presents for the animals? Can you guess?

Elliott got The Animal's Santa for his birthday gift. He's a budding book lover, and I hope this picture book becomes a favorite one for him every Christmas. 

Elliott enjoying his birthday cake

Monday, November 26, 2018

Mutts and Mistletoe by Natalie Cox

Holiday reads have begun!  If you follow the Bookalicious Babe on Facebook, you've seen my previews of some of the holiday books I'll be reading this month. Who can resist dogs on a book cover? Not me. This may be my favorite holiday book cover.

Charlie lives in London, and just broke up with her cheating boyfriend. She plans on spending the week of Christmas hunkered down in her apartment watching her favorite movies and drinking wine. Her plans are drastically changed when a neighbor has a gas explosion; Charlie's apartment is damaged, and she has a concussion. Jez, Charlie's cousin, arrives to whisk her away to the countryside, to stay at Cozy Canine Cottages for a few days, watching over Charlie while she mends. 

Charlie is not a fan of dogs. Or the countryside. And horrors, Jez doesn't have a T.V. Jez's long distance budding relationship with a scientist stationed in Lapland revs up with an opportunity to spend two weeks together. When help to run the doggy daycare falls through, Jez begs Charlie to do it. With just a few dogs to take care of, it will be a snap. Charlie gives in, and decides to stay and be in charge. After all, how hard can it be? Dogs just eat, sleep, and poop, right?

Charlie is charmingly awkward. She's got no clothes with her, so she has to continuously raid her cousin's closet. She's ordered a TV to be delivered so she can watch her planned movies, and stocked the kitchen with frozen pizza and chardonnay. But there is that pesky problem of annoying the local vet Cal (who Charlie calls Bovine Cal), who has blazing blue eyes and really sexy forearms. Charlie just can't seem to get anything right with Cal, who appears randomly at Cozy Canine Cottages and always seems to catch Charlie at her worst moments. 

Jez flies off, and after only one day alone with the dogs Charlie's already taking on more than she should, with sometimes disastrous results. But she's also figuring out that her London life isn't so grand and maybe, just maybe, dogs aren't so bad to be around. 

The dogs in this novel are darling, and all with distinct personalities. I don't want to tell you about them, because I want you to have the delight of discovering these dogs and let them worm their way into your heart like they did mine. I'm a dog lover, and even though I haven't had a dog since my teen years, I hope some day to have one again.  

This is a delightful quick read, with a cast of characters that are charming, and a setting that is not your typical Christmas setting. Sometimes it takes removing yourself from the usual to reveal what really makes you happy. Charlie, Cal, and the doggies of Cozy Canine Cottage get a thumbs up from me!

Rating: 4/6 for a charming holiday novel about being out of your element and finding that's exactly where you want to be. Full of quirky, sweet dogs with personalities ready to melt your heart.You don't have to be a dog lover to enjoy this holiday novel. 

Available in paperback and ebook

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

I have spent the last week furiously reading Pachinko for two book groups that meet on Tuesday. It's a big chunk of a novel; clocking in at almost 500 pages. I've finally finished it this Sunday morning, and even though I haven't given myself a lot of time to process it, I'm writing my review with my first impressions. 

First of all, I find the cover to be absolutely stunning. Every time I look at it, I find myself taken aback by the beauty of it. I see Sunja and her sons, and my heart breaks for all they will go through. This is definitely a book worthy of discussion, and I can't wait to talk about it on Tuesday with my book groups. 

In a nutshell, this novel is about four generations of Koreans living in Japan during the 1920's-through 1990. I confess to be completely ignorant of the Korean-Japanese tension, and totally in the dark about the discrimination and awful treatment of Koreans who were forced to flee Korea and settle in Japan as political conflicts, World War 2, and the division of Korea into North and South took place. The novel starts in Korea, in the small fishing  village of Yeongdo and the family of Hoonie, his wife Yangjin, and their only child, Sunja. Japan has annexed Korea, and the economy is terrible. Hoonie dies, leaving Yangjin and teenaged Sunja to run a boardinghouse to makes ends meet. Hard working women; so hard working I feel a bit ashamed at how easy my day to day life is, and how blessed I am to have enough food to eat, clothes to wear, and the money to pay for lights, water, and heat. 

Sonja meets wealthy businessman Hansu while going to market one day. He's drawn to her, and they begin a friendship that leads to an affair. Sunja is very young (15), and finds herself pregnant. Hansu is married to a wealthy Japanese woman, and cannot and will not marry Sunja. He is very pleased she's pregnant, hoping for a boy after having three daughters with his wife. Sunja rejects his offer of being his "Korean wife", and sends him away. Being young, and pregnant, Sunja has very few options, and her condition will bring shame to her family name and her mother. Isak, a young man who is staying at their boardinghouse, decides to marry Sunja and take on the responsibility of being husband and father to her unborn child. Isak is on his way to Japan to work as a pastor at a church. His health is very poor, but his desire to help Sunja overrides  everything. 

Isak and Sunja arrive in Japan and are stunned at the treatment of Koreans living there. Subjected to harassment, living in slums and extremely filthy conditions, Koreans are seen as dirt. Isak and Sunja, living with Yoseb and Kyunghee (Isak's brother and sis-in-law), struggle to make ends meet and strive to survive daily life. Life takes turns that are tragic and heartbreaking, and as the years go by, the family stays together and endures strife that strengthens them rather than tears them down. 

Hansu is still around, however. He is powerful, and rich, and keeps tabs on Sunja and Noa, his son. I found Hansu to be a very compelling character. A man who is torn between two families, trying to do what is right, and still, after all those years, loves Sunja and won't give up. The relationship between Sunja and Hansu was one of the best parts of this novel. 

There's so much more to this generational saga. I am so grateful for reading this novel, and learning about the Korean-Japanese strife that continues on today. I had no idea. Family, identity, self-worth, hard work, sacrifice, national identity, and love are all huge themes that run throughout the pages of this novel. It's definitely an epic, multi-generational novel that will leave you breathless when you finish the last page. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook. 

Rating: 5/6 for a look at a corner of the world and a history that I was not familiar with at all. The layers of history, emotion, and political strife that echo through generations of family are hard-hitting and incredibly moving. Sunja is one of the most memorable characters I've come across this year. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Bartered Brides: An Elemental Masters Novel by Mercedes Lackey

I have always been a fan of fantasy novels. I remember a high school English assignment where I had to create a make believe world (including drawings) and how much I loved doing that. My earliest reading memories were of books that involved some element of magic and fantasy-John Bellairs! and Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series are two of my favorites. This was years and years before Harry Potter, but even then, writers understood kids needed that element of magic and fantasy in their stories.

I'm still a big fan of fantasy but I don't put it at the top of my reading list, and for that I'm annoyed with myself. One series I do enjoy is Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series. There are thirteen novels in the series and I haven't read them all (some sit on my bookcase...) but I've read enough that I always look forward to reading the next. She mixes late Victorian England, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, along with elemental masters. Elemental masters are people who are gifted with the power of one of the four elements: fire, air, earth, water. They serve to protect England from evil. And as we know, power corrupts, and some folks who are elemental masters are not so pleasant.

In this novel, Sherlock is dead. Not really, but only his closest friends know he's alive, actively working to shut down the evil Moriarty's vast network of minions before they can harm anyone else. Moriarty is dead, thanks to Sherlock, but of course when you're that evil, it takes a bit more to really be dead. Enter Spencer, a fellow who is an elemental master of spirits. This kind of elemental master is very rare; he can command spirits, trap them, and have them do his bidding. He can move between this world and the spirit world with ease. What he's planning is horrific: to bring Moriarty back by taking over the body of a young wealthy man. To do so, Spencer must gather enough power to make this leap possible. How to do that? By trapping the spirits of young women who are bound to him. Their anguish fuels the talisman needed to bring Moriarty back. 

Spencer is pretty awful. He finds young, poor women, promises to marry them, and takes care of them. Once they're married (by a total faker), he ends up decapitating them and keeping their heads. All this is designed to trap their spirits, and their misery in the spirit world fuels Spencer's powers. 

Headless bodies are showing up in the Thames, and no one can figure out who they are, and where they are coming from. It seems like a hopeless case, and without Sherlock around to look at the clues, the police are stumped. Nan and Sarah, two cohorts of Sherlock and Watson, and elementals in their own right, work to figure out what is going on; completely unaware that Moriarty is not completely gone--and plotting to come back and create havoc. 

I love Mercedes Lackey's Elemental series. Her use of magic using the elements, along with fairies and other creatures always peaks my interest. I'm still that kid who thinks that fairies live in the backyard, I guess. I appreciate the logic of Sherlock Holmes, and wow-who knew Watson was a Water Elemental Master?

This would be a great series to start for a middle school or high school reader who loves fantasy. There really isn't any graphic violence--most is done "off-screen" and good triumphs over evil after some great battles. 

Rating:  4/6 for a twist in the Sherlock-Moriarty battle, with a satisfactory ending and a new beginning for one of the characters. 

Available in hardcover and ebook. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Susan Orleans' The Library Book; a peek into the Central Library of the Los Angeles public library system, and the fire that devastated it in 1986. I was charmed and completely engaged in reading this ode to libraries, librarians, and the special, magical space libraries have in our culture. 

Susan Orleans brings her childhood memories of visiting her public library with her mother to the forefront, and that spark is reignited when she herself brings her son to a branch of the Central Library in Los Angeles. It's been a few years, but she immediately reconnects to her sense of wonderment and downright love of public libraries. That, and her interest in learning more about the mysterious 1986 fire set her off on her latest book project. 

 This fire that destroyed 400,000 books and damaged hundreds of thousands more; this fire that destroyed irreplaceable collections of early Los Angeles history; this fire that sent librarians into deep depressions as they processed their grief-yes, their grief--it was a major unsolved crime; was it ever solved?

 It's not just the fire that Susan Orleans examines, although it is a major player in this book. We get the best history of libraries in Los Angeles; full of quirky characters, odd balls, tough ladies working in what was considered a man's world (yes, libraries didn't even allow women to enter for quite some time!), and a history of early Los Angeles--this was by far my favorite part of the book. The sheer size of the Central library--along with the dozens of branches spread throughout Los Angeles--it boggles my mind how many people are required to run it every day, the sheer size of the collections, and the constant stream of patrons waiting to enter when the doors open at 10 AM.

Anyone who thinks libraries are not important today are simply clueless. Libraries are constantly changing to meet the demands of the public; they remain one of the few places around that welcome all-the homeless, the rich, the middle class, the poor, the illiterate, the well-educated. Those people who have nowhere else to go-libraries are a place to feel safe. And who wouldn't feel safe, surrounded by all those wonderful minds in all those books and materials just waiting to be picked up and examined? And it's all free. And there are people there who will help you with whatever information or resources you need. 

I loved reading the history of libraries in Los Angeles. I'm always interested in early LA and California, and this book offers a unique slice of it. It's a glimpse of the development of a library system that started from a very small space with a few books to a massive, sprawling system that serves millions of people, and all the challenges that were overcome in between. What's most interesting are the different talents each city librarian brought to the job over the first 100+ years of the LA library system. There is always work to be done. 

If you're a lover of books, or a librarian, buy this book. The inside covers make it look like a library book. You'll be fascinated by Harry Peak, the man who was suspected of starting the fire at Central Library. You'll be interested in what unfolds, and if he actually did it. He's just another quirky character in the life of the library. Most importantly, I hope, for you-that this will stir that desire to explore, read, and imagine that sometimes gets lost in our day to day world. Sit down and read a book. Wander the library stacks. Check out the website of your local library. Attend a program. It's all there, waiting for you. 

Rating: 5/6 for an engaging, delightful read about a horrible fire that could have ended the life of one library, but instead brought together a community to restore what was lost. Also a history of the Los Angeles library system-trust me, it's pretty interesting! 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

November Reads: Where I Double Down and Read Like a Crazy Book Lady

October, you wore me out. Seriously. Does it sound weird that the only "relaxing" thing I did all month was spend a few hours in my back yard picking up branches and cutting down plants? October was a whirlwind, and between a busy schedule and the encroaching darkness (time falls back this Sunday!) I am in need of some home alone time with my books. My plan for November is to go to work, fulfill my social obligations (which I've limited), work out, and otherwise be home. Reading while burning my 'Fall Day' candle, curled up under my comfy couch blanket.

It's an ambitious read list this month, and by the looks of my book choices, I'll be traveling the world a bit, too. Always good to break away from my usual reads and delve into different genres, authors, and settings. So here's what's on my list for November reads:

Reading this for two book groups. A novel set in Korea, about generations of a Korean family. Lots of great reviews; I'm anxious to dive in. It will take me some time to read it, but I have a deadline of November 20th to finish it for discussion.

I won a copy of this novel! Wahoo! Colombia in the 1990's... not my usual read.  
The latest in the Elementals Series by Mercedes Lackey. I love this series, and I miss reading my Sci-Fi/Fantasy. A welcome palate cleanser for my historical fiction reads. 

An ARC I received that looks like a remake of A Roman Holiday. Should be a fun, light read. 

I'm reading this now. About the 1986 fire at the Central Los Angeles Library that decimated the collection. Who did it, and why? 
Of course you know I'll be reading other books, too. They flit in and out and sometimes demand I stop what I'm reading and read them first. It happens on a regular basis...well, actually, weekly. 

November is my dedicated month to reading as much as I can, whenever I can. My top ten list is coming up at the end of December...can't wait to see what I pick at my favorite read of 2018. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Winters by Lisa Gabriele

This novel fits into my Halloween reads perfectly: it involves mind tricks, ghosts, and a complicated family dynamic that leads the heroine down a dark path.

The Winters is a thriller that starts off quietly enough: you get foreshadowing from the opening pages; you know something has gone terribly wrong. But then you're introduced to our heroine, who remains nameless throughout the novel. At first I thought I had just missed her name, but no, it never comes up. Hmmmm....

Meeting on the Cayman Islands where she works a drudge of a job for a horrible boss, Mrs. Winters-to-be meets Senator Max Winter, and they quickly fall in love. She's not at all what his first wife, Rebekah, was, and she becomes obsessed with Rebekah. Tall, blonde, beautiful, classy; killed in a car accident on the grounds of Asherley estate, Max's family Long Island mansion. There's Dani, Max's teenage stepdaughter, who is still grieving the death of her mother, and is a handful. She's angry, bitter, and does not like Max's new fiancee. Dani goes to a lot of trouble to make the future Mrs. Winters miserable. 

As our heroine struggles to fit in at Asherley, you sense something just isn't right, and maybe Max isn't the perfect, debonair man she first met. But what is it?! Do we believe Dani, or Max? 

Oh--the last pages are a real kicker. It's like being in a boat, gently riding the waves, and then BAM! Here comes a big one, and it rocks the boat violently. You  feel for Mrs. Winters, because she really is trying to grapple with a new life, a new husband, and the ghost of Rebekah. Will she figure things out in time to save herself? 

This was a great thriller and a big thank you to Viking for sending me an an advanced copy. It takes the domestic thriller and turns it up a notch. It has a modern gothic feel to it that I appreciated and it almost lent a timelessness to it, even though it is firmly set in contemporary Long Island. For those who enjoy thrillers, pick this one up! 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel that leads you down the path, and you know something is wrong...but wow it all happens quickly and you read with baited breath. A very good thriller!

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

The World of Lore: Dreadful Places by Aaron Mahnke

I haven't listened to podcasts since I stopped commuting 100 miles a day a year ago.Let me tell you, those podcasts and audio books kept me company on early mornings and afternoons when I was sleepy and in danger of nodding off. Oftentimes I couldn't wait to get in the car to start listening again!

Lore is a podcast that I haven't listened to, and I probably would if I was in the habit of listening to podcasts at home. I prefer music when I'm working in the yard, and my commute is now less than 10 minutes. So I'm glad Aaron Mahnke decided to put his podcasts stories into book form. Dreadful Places is the third book; Monstrous Creatures and Wicked Mortals are also available in hardcover. I dove right into Dreadful Places, because it's Halloween Eve Eve and I love my spooky stories. 

Full of myths, folklore, and some tragically true tales, this book is a fun (yes, fun for me), easy read told in a conversational style. You can read a few pages, put it down, and return to it very easily. Tales from around the world, but mostly set in the U.S. reveal some of the spooky and haunted places that send chills up our spines. Some, like Leap Castle in Ireland, have been haunted for centuries. Others, like the Queen Mary in California, have echoes of World War 2 and tragic accidents from the 1960's to keep guests quaking in their shoes. There's a little bit of everything in this book, and it keeps you engaged and turning the pages. I enjoyed the black and white illustrations-just enough to give me an Edward Gorey vibe. 

It's always interesting to read legends and ghost stories that have been handed down over time. How much is real, and how much has been added and embellished by all those storytellers? Aaron Mahnke does attempt to demystify some of the tales, and others...well, you're left to wonder. 

Fun stuff!  There's also a show on Amazon Prime called Lore, for those who want to watch. It recreates some of the podcast stories so you'll be able to watch and then have colorful nightmares. 

This is exactly the kind of book I would have inhaled as a middle schooler. There's nothing overly graphic or horrible about the tales, just good old-fashioned spooky stories.  For fans of folktales, mythology, and local history. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, audio, and if you like to listen to podcasts, it's available through iTunes. Lore the show is available through Amazon Prime. 

Rating: 4/6 for a perfect pre-Halloween read-a mix of spooky tales that ask the question: what's true?