Wednesday, March 28, 2018

April Reads: Debut Novels Abound!

A fresh, clean slate begins April reading--which I've started at the end of March.  After March's lackluster struggle to read, I'm pumped for April.  I start thinking about the next month's reads a few weeks in advance, and by the time I write my post, usually my choices have changed.  That was the case here.  I've got three titles that are debuts for the authors.  One, Louise Penny's Still Life, is her debut mystery novel in the Armand Ganache series.  Published in 2005, it's been around awhile, but it's new to me.  I've had so many people tell me to read this series, that I'm finally starting.  Just goes to show that any read is a new read if you haven't read it before.  I've got an ambitious list, but I honestly don't think I can wait any longer to read a few of these titles:

Reading for a book group where we have to read the debut novel of an author.  Gives me the excuse to finally read Louise Penny.

Another book group read.  I started it a long time ago, put it down, and didn't pick it back up.  This time, I'll finish it, and come at it with a fresh attitude. 

 This book has been so highly anticipated by so many people!  YA fantasy--a debut novel by Tomi Adeyemi.  Something completely different this month. 

Followers of my blog know I love Simone St. James.  This is her latest-in hardcover.  I bought it.  I expect to love this. Fingers crossed!

Short stories--and yes, Michael Andreasen's debut.  I've started this, and am captivated by his imagination.  I need to read more short story collections.  Publisher review.

I've always admired Maria Shriver.  A chance to review this for the publisher had me saying "yes".  A book about life and living it with an open heart and optimism.  I absolutely adore the cover.  

So I'm all over the place with my reads this month.  That's what makes it fun.  I may toss in a light novel to break up the month.  Spring has me wanting to read lighter novels to honor the time change and to celebrate (or mourn?) my release from self-induced hibernation.  Making plans to set up my front porch and back deck for optimal reading experiences as soon as warmer weather hits.  

Happy April!  What books are you reading this month?

Sunday, March 25, 2018

March is the Month of Reading Struggles-and a Review of The Philosopher's Flight by Tom Miller

Ever have one of those months where you can't wait to read books, and it turns into a complete drag?  March has been that month for me. This post is me tossing in the towel, admitting defeat, and moving on to other books. 😕

I was so excited to read this book.  I made it about 80 pages in, and just gave up.  A little too much philosophizing and not enough concrete story for me.  I am so bummed.  I read the end, and decided I still didn't want to wade through the rest of the story.  

The Philosopher's Flight by Tom Miller was another book I couldn't wait to read, and 50 pages in I was fully engaged and really enjoying the story of Robert Weekes, male philosopher in a world where women have all the power to fly--yes, fly using sigils to control their flights, and a history of rescuing injured soldiers during war and becoming famous around the world.  There is a group called the Trenchers, who think the philosophers are nothing but evil witches, and they routinely hunt down and murder philosophers, and fight to have them banned for good. 

 Robert wants to join the Rescue and Evacuation Department of the U.S. Sigilry Corps, but is up against tradition--only women are allowed entry into this prestigious, yet extremely dangerous Corps.  It's World War I, and the United States is just entering the war.  Young men and women still believe in the romanticism of war, and have no idea of the horrors war actually brings. Robert gains admittance to Radcliffe, one of a handful of men in the philosophy program.   The barriers he runs into are exactly what women have had to deal with over the centuries, and that is probably the best part of this novel.  It's a world where women have the power, and men don't. I did enjoy the characters--they were well formed, interesting people, all with backgrounds that would lend themselves to further exploration if this became a series. 

While I was enthralled with this novel, it only lasted about 100 pages.  Then I struggled mightily to keep going.  I skimmed the last 100 pages because I just didn't want to quit, but I had completely lost the drive to continue.  Why?!  There was a whole lot of inaction in the middle that bogged down the story.  I got a bit lost in the descriptions of certain actions Robert had to complete in his training, and the sigilry descriptions got a bit too much for me.  There is certainly a possibility that there is more to come, and I would be interested in reading more about Robert's life after Radcliffe.  Maybe by then I'd be able to enjoy his fantastic tale.  But as of now, ugh. Just couldn't say this was much fun for me.  

Rating:  3/6 for a novel with a lot of potential and a clever plot.  Too much down time in the middle made me lose interest that I just couldn't get back.  Available in hardcover and e-book. 

Not sure why March has been such a difficult book month for me.  I've got quite a few new books to read for April, and I hope to read a few that help me reset my reading groove.  I feel a big weight off my shoulders admitting defeat and admitting that yes, sometimes a book starts out so good, and sputters to a halt soon after, and there's nothing that will bring it around.  

I'll be posting my April reads this week, before Easter weekend.  I've got a few that I'm reading for book groups, and who knows what else I'll pick?

Happy reading everyone!  

Saturday, March 17, 2018

I Finally Read The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Oh, Kitchen House.  You've been on my TBR list for years and years.  You've been sitting on my bookshelf for so long your pages are yellowed.  Why it took me so long to finally read you, I don't know.  Maybe I was afraid you wouldn't live up to my expectations.  Maybe it finally took reading Kitchen House for a book group that did it.  So now, I've finally read you, and I am feeling very torn in my feelings about the book. What?!

Told in alternating chapters between Lavinia, a young Irish indentured servant, and Belle, the slave (and secret daughter) of the Captain, owner of Tall Oaks Plantation, The Kitchen House takes place in late 1790's Virginia.  Miss Martha, wife of the Captain, is a delicate creature, who is convinced that Belle is the captain's lover; her two children Marshall and Sally are spoiled plantation kids.  Things start to go sour when a tutor is hired to teach Marshall.  Poor Marshall.  It's obvious he's being sexually abused by the tutor, but as the story is told through the eyes of a slave and a young, naive girl, there are plenty of hints, but he's never caught.  That tutor destroys Marshall, and Marshall ends up becoming a horrible adult.  When Marshall takes his anger out on his sister Sally, the tragic consequence sends Miss Martha into labor with her third child, and sends her mentally over the edge.  She's never the same again.  That's just one of the many tragedies that visit the slaves and owners of Tall Oaks.  No one is safe from the hardships and sadness that seem to arrive like clockwork.  

At the heart of this novel is the treatment of slaves, and the fact that there are slaves.  Knowing there were decades to go before emancipation made this a bit harder for me to read.  Lavinia was a bit of a frustration for me, as well.  She's just a young child when she arrives at Tall Oaks, rescued from a ship after her parents, Irish immigrants both die onboard.  With no other family (her brother Cardigan is taken away by someone else), the Captain brings Lavinia home, to be an indentured house servant.  After recovering from her ordeal, she ends up staying most of the time in the kitchen house, which is where all the meals were prepared, and situated away from the main house for safety's sake.  There, she is drawn into the loving family of Mama and Papa, Uncle Jacob, Ben, and Belle.  It doesn't matter to her that they are slaves; they are the family she needs, and they love her and take care of her.  It takes Lavinia years to understand that she is treated differently because she's white and they are black, and considered property.  As the years pass, Lavinia doesn't ever seem to really understand the complex relations that swirl around the plantation.  I found her naiveté to be annoying, and I wanted her to be a strong, capable woman.  I never felt like she achieved that at all.  

Yes, there is so much that happens in this novel.  People finding happiness, even if only for a brief time; tragedy upon tragedy; folks giving up on life; children neglected in their youth growing into unpleasant adults.  There's even the sadistic overseer who always appears at the worst times.  It's a definite soap opera.  

So, I did like the story, but I felt there was so much crammed into it, that there was never a peaceful time for anyone.  Will, as a neighbor who helps run Tall Oaks at certain times, was the most decent man in the whole bunch.  Lavinia I found to be annoying the most as an adult, trapped in a terrible marriage, and also trapped by the few options she had--but instead of fighting hard, she caved.  I was hoping for a heroine who really met life head on.  Lavinia wasn't that person.  Belle, poor Belle.  She never got a break, and was never acknowledged publicly as the daughter of the Captain.  

I'll be discussing this novel next week with my book group, and I'm interested in what they will say about it.  I felt it was a little too soap opera-ish, with a weak main character in Lavinia.  There weren't any surprises at all in the plot; I felt like I had read this storyline before.  

Rating:  2/6 for a solid story that shows a lot of research; but I felt Lavinia's naiveté held her back, and the novel suffered for it.  Too much drama, and just outright crazy happenings. Every plantation life trope was in this novel. 

Available in paperback, large print, audio, and ebook. The paperback also has book group questions to help guide discussion, if you need them. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Flat Broke with Two Goats by Jennifer McGaha

I always enjoy reading memoirs about men and women who leave the city for the country and learn a lot about themselves in the mud, muck and hard work that living in the country can bring. I saw this memoir at Barnes and Noble and realized it had been awhile since I'd read a back to the farm memoir.  I just couldn't resist. 

Maybe it's because at this stage in my life I'm also rediscovering the joy of nature; walking in the woods, up and down hills, getting my clothes caught on thorny bushes, stepping in deer poop. All because of my love for my man. As I sit here at home, I can see my camouflage boots near the front door, in a plastic bag to keep all the gunk off the floor until I need them again. Definitely not boots to put on to go the the grocery store. 

What makes this memoir different from others I've read are the circumstances that bring Jennifer and David McGaha to a little cabin in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina.  After years of living in suburbia, enjoying their home, spending money on private school for their three children, David confesses to Jennifer that he hasn't paid taxes for years.  As an accountant with his own business, David knew better.  But the economic collapse of the late 2000's saw his client base drop dramatically, which directly impacted his income.  Not willing to let Jennifer know just how bad it was, he kept it to himself.  Jennifer, for her part, did nothing to be aware of the finances they shared as a married couple.  She worked part time, and enjoyed life without too many responsibilities.  She found out too late, and after David's confession, they lost their house and pretty much everything they had-including friendships.  Their marriage strained, David finds a cabin to rent, for a few hundred dollars a month.  It needs a lot of work, but it's a place to start over.  Reluctantly, Jennifer agrees to move to the cabin.  Angry with David, she's having a really hard time transitioning from suburbia to country life.  David, however, is thriving  with the manual labor it takes to keep the wood burning boiler running, continue to make improvements to the cabin, and working from home to rebuild his business.  

A lot of this memoir is about the strained relationship between Jennifer and David, and how they got to their present situation.  Jennifer tells a lot of stories about their early years, and also about her grandparents, who were Appalachian through and through.  As they decide to invest in chickens for eggs, and then take the big step to buy goats for making goat cheese and soap, Jennifer and David start to find peace in the shared work of cabin life.  Often times completely broke, with no money in the bank and a few dollars in their wallets, they make do with what they have, and find satisfaction in their surroundings and peace of the waterfall that faces their cabin.  Slowly, they begin to build their life again.  

I loved this memoir for a few things: this was about a couple who had it all, and lost it all.  They had to start over in their late 40's.  It was about a marriage that  was damaged, and required a lot of work to repair.  It didn't happen overnight.  It was about two people who realized having physical things wasn't important, and often times those "things" were just crutches to get them through the days.  Sitting on the porch at sunset, sipping a beer, with soup on the stove--that was happiness.  Being surrounded by nature, and appreciating the power and beauty of it; that was peaceful.  This stripping away of the noise of modern life gave Jennifer and David the opportunity to figure out what they wanted out of life, not what others expected or wanted them to do.  Pretty powerful.  

Rating:  4/6 for a memoir about starting over, accepting blame and being honest with yourself; and in doing so, finding your purpose.  Recipes included in each chapter all sounded really delicious, and if you're so inclined, you too can make your own goat milk soap in a crockpot.  

Available in paperback, audio, and ebook.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Another novel that has been on my to-be-read list for a very long time.  So much so that now it's out in paperback, and I fully expected to read it while it was in hardcover. Thankfully, Penguin/Random House reached out and asked me to review it as it came out in paperback with new cover art.  

What to say about this novel.  It's so much packed into one epic adventure, and would appeal to anyone with a science background, someone with a love for alternate worlds, or anyone who just wants to read about a man who reinvents himself into a better human being.  That ever elusive time travel question--if we could ever do it, should we?

I've got to admit, it took me a few weeks to read this novel. I had a hard time getting into the first part, where Tom Barren talks about life in a 2016 that is vastly different in terms of technology, but people are pretty much the same.  Tom is a bit of a loser, and not because he didn't ever have chances to make something of his life.  He blames his father, a brilliant scientist, on most of his feelings of worthlessness, and the death of his mother in a crazy accident sets in motion changes that will literally change Tom's world.  Our world.  The future. 

Basically, Tom's father Victor creates a time machine, and Tom is a back up to the number one chrononaut, Penelope.  She's being trained to go back to July 11, 1965, to the exact moment Lionel Goettreider creates a source of energy that ends up changing the world.  A world that Tom lives in, where energy is clean and plentiful, there is no war, everyone has plenty of everything, and everything revolves around being entertained. It's a world where Kurt Vonnegut is embraced as a beloved philosopher. A world where clothing trends are minutes long, not months long. It's a world where books don't exist, because stories are created with your desires, fears, and the outcomes you want--they become personal to each person.  Ugh.  I can't imagine how horrible that would be!  

Tom being Tom, he mucks up the unveiling of the time travel machine big time, and finds himself in 2016, but our 2016.  It's more of a parallel time than going back in time.  He has the same parents, but this time his father is a professor of physics who takes a back seat to Tom's mother, a professor of literature who has become well known in academia.  And he has a sister, Greta, that didn't exist in his 2016.  And Penelope, the woman he fell for, is actually Penny, who owns a bookstore and is kind of like his Penelope, but in all the best ways nothing like Penelope. Follow me?  All of this hinges on what happens the moment Lionel flips the switch on his engine in a laboratory in San Francisco in 1965.  

There's a lot of complex science "stuff" in this novel, and I valiantly tried to follow, but without success.  Enough to understand, and enough to know my brother Dan the scientist would get a kick out of this story. Tom's evolution from a ne'er-do-well to a man who has to make the right choices and save the world is an entertaining one, and I enjoyed reading his journey, and I really loved the supporting characters:  Penny, Victor, Greta, Lionel.  And I'm happy to say I loved the ending, because after all that adventure, Tom deserved a happy conclusion. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.  It's not something I would normally read, and I think if I hadn't had the chance to read the paperback, it would have remained on my TBR list for a long time.  I owe a big thanks to Penguin/Random House for sending me a review copy, and changing the trajectory of my reading this year.  I'm fascinated by time travel, and all the ripple effects that could happen if it ever does (or maybe it does?) exist and become something we can actually do. If we could change the past, should we? 

Rating:  4/6 for a delightfully complex novel about time travel, love, family, choices, and finding yourself. Anyone with a science background or a love of science would enjoy this, and I imagine a group of time travel fans having an endless discussion about the possibility of time travel after reading this novel. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio.