Thursday, May 31, 2018

Summer Reading! YAY!!!

Oh Summer, I'm so glad you're hear.  Except for the sudden hike in humidity, temperatures (It was 97 degrees here on Sunday), and those damn gnats. Sitting on the deck? Yes! Sipping moscow mules while sitting on the deck? Yes!
Grilling? Yes! Summer reading?  YEESSSSSSS.

I am, as always, ambitious in the many books I want to finish this summer. Big surprise, right? I'm going to carve out time every day for reading. I try to do this 365 days a year, but I'm making a conscious effort starting today. I always tell myself "If you clean the bathroom, and do the dishes, you can read afterwards." Only problem is there's no one but me to hold myself to it, so of course half the time I just read anyway and leave the house a bit, ahem, messy. 

I posted a video on my Facebook page ( search @Bookaliciousbabe on FB) highlighting a few of the books I plan on reading and reviewing this summer.  Check it out! I welcome comments.  Just know I will video when I get the chance, and I am not the least bit worried if my hair is a mess and I look goofy.  But those books aren't the only ones I'm reading this summer.  Here are some of the books I mentioned in no particular order, as well as a few more on my list for Summer 2018:

There's my rough list.  There will be other books, of course. 

 What are you going to read this summer?
I'd love to know! 

I'll be posting random videos, giving quick reviews or talking about books I've discovered.  
They will appear on my Facebook page, and I'll attempt to load them here, too. 

Happy Summer!  Get reading!

The Bookalicious Babe

Sunday, May 27, 2018

White Sand, Blue Sea by Anita Hughes

I've read plenty of novels set in exotic locations, characters who live the lush life and think nothing of it.  Anita Hughes novels are all about that, and I've read three of her novels. I find myself rolling my eyes and being annoyed at the characters, the writing, and pretty much the whole story. Every. Single. Time. 

I picked White Sand, Blue Sea because I thought I'd give her another chance, and it looked like a fun read. I have a book group meeting in June that has the theme of "reading something that we consider a guilty pleasure".  A fun, frolicky, summer novel was perfect, and I knew Anita Hughes would write about a lifestyle that is completely foreign to me.  Fun stuff. 

Ugh. This took me way longer than it should have, and mostly because I was annoyed a lot of the time.  A quick recap:  Olivia Miller is almost 25; she's beautiful, in love, and her boyfriend will be proposing to her on her birthday.  She's in St. Bart's, staying with her mother and step-father in the family villa. They spend time there every summer and at Christmas. One day, there's a knock on the door.  It's Olivia's father, Sebastian, whom Olivia hasn't seen in 20 years.  A semi-famous artist, he's spent his whole adult life traveling the world, painting. Now he's come to help celebrate Olivia's 25th birthday.  Surprise!

Sebastian stirs up trouble, of course, when he questions Olivia's relatively boring, staid life. She only goes to the best restaurants in NYC and spends the weekends in the Hamptons. Poor Olivia. Her engagement to Finn may be in trouble if she follows her father's advice to travel and see the world before marriage.  Hadley, Olivia's mother, is furious at Sebastian for potentially ruining what was supposed to be a wonderful time at St. Bart's.  Present day and the past mingle at Hadley remembers key times in her marriage to Sebastian, as they traveled the world, living in guest houses, hotel suites, and wherever else hosts would put them up while Sebastian painted.  The marriage ended when Sebastian refused to return to the U.S. to settle down in New York City so Olivia could go to school. 

Here's what annoyed me about this novel. EVERYTHING.  Sebastian couldn't have a conversation without saying "this reminds me of the time I climbed a tree to save myself from a tiger", or "I spent three months in Tibet in a monastic retreat not speaking to anyone", or...well, you get my drift. I kept waiting for someone other than me to shriek "Shut up about your stupid travels!" 

And Olivia! She was so damn annoying. She's either slightly peeved she hasn't seen her father for 20 years, or defending him.  Here's a passage from the novel that I found stupefying: 

" I know I should be angry that he missed my whole childhood, but artists are wired differently," Olivia continued. "Can you imagine Cezanne getting a job in a factory, or Matisse working in La Bon Marche? They have to roam the world of where would they get the inspiration to paint?"

What?!  The whole novel was like this! My take on Olivia: very immature. Her excitement over her birthday seemed very childish to me, and not the way an adult would act at all. She came across as very shallow and dumb. 

So. I know I'm not usually so harsh on books I review, but this one was just too much.  This is escapism on a high level, if you can overlook the shallow characters. The only thing I got out of this was a desire to see St. Bart's sometime. Sounds like a beautiful place. 

Rating:  2/6 for poorly developed characters who didn't appreciate what they had, made excuses for bad behavior, and were just, ugh. If you want to read a pure fantasy summer read, this is it. But if you're like me, your eyes will roll. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Plaid and Plagiarism: The Highland Bookshop Mystery Series, Book 1 by Molly MacRae

I had high hopes for this mystery series, but unfortunately I was disappointed. 

Set in the Scottish town of Inversgail, four women have purchased the local bookstore Yon Bonnie Books, with additional plans to open a tea shop next door, and have rooms upstairs for overnight guests.  Janet and her daughter, Tallie, have moved from Illinois. Janet's tie to Inversgail is a vacation home she and her now ex-husband bought and used for years before their divorce. It will now be Janet's permanent home. Janet's friend Christine, and Tallie's friend Summer have also moved to Inversgail to help run the tea shop and bookstore.  It's a fresh start for all the women--but murder and mayhem quickly make an appearance. 

The local advice columnist and reporter is found murdered in the shed behind Janet's home. An unpleasant woman, Una is the local font of all gossip, and sticks her nose in everyone's business, while remaining secretive about hers. There are a number of suspects in Una's death. But who had the biggest motive?

I completely expected to fall in love with this series, the characters, the town, and, of course, the bookstore. I didn't.  The story felt clunky; the supporting cast of characters felt one dimensional; Janet--who I thought for sure I'd love, given her previous job as a librarian and lover of all things books--well, Janet and Christine, along with Tallie and Summer, felt wooden to me. I didn't get the vibe of a warm, long friendship with Janet and Christine. Usually when I read a cozy mystery, the author spends some time building up the characters, and the setting, inviting you in to stay awhile. I didn't get that from this mystery. I always felt like I was missing part of the story.  

There is a second book in the series: Scones and Scoundrels,which takes place four months after Plaid and Plagiarism.  I may read it, and see if I change my mind. The person I suspected as the murderer was correct; the motive behind Una's murder was the only interesting part of the plot. But otherwise, I felt like I had to wade through a lot of disjointed story before I got to the big reveal. 

Rating: 2/6 for a mystery that could have been so much more.  I felt completely disconnected to the four main characters; the town didn't feel very cozy, and overall, the mystery just wasn't that interesting. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: A DNF that I Finally Finished

May has been a month where I've skipped the fun and frothy books and instead dove straight into the tough reads. I can't lie; reading too many in a short time frame tends to bring me down. 

That is part of the reason why I tried reading Homegoing before, and just couldn't do it. I definitely believe in books not only reflecting your mood, but affecting your mood. Homegoing was a tough read for me; I picked it for my book group's May read because it would push me to read it. We meet on Tuesday, and I'm looking forward to the discussion we'll have about this thought provoking novel. 

Homegoing  is about eight generations of people who come from two half-sisters who don't realize the other exists. One sister, Effia, stays in Ghana and is married to a white British officer there to help with the slave trade in the late 1700's--when British interests in acquiring and selling slaves was huge. Unbeknownst to Effia for most of her young life, she has a half-sister, Esi, who was also raised in Ghana, but in a different village and a different tribe. The cruelty of slavery and tribal affiliations begin early with Effia and Esi, as Esi is captured by raiders and sent to the dungeons at the Castle, the very place where Effia is living with her British husband. Esi is shipped off to the United States, to become a slave and begin the chain of events that will shape her descendants into the 20th century. 

Effia doesn't have it all good, either. Despised by her step-mother, caught between two worlds, unhappy with her life, her descendants remain in Ghana for generations, until Yaw, disfigured by an accident as a baby, moves to the United States to teach. Finally, the two branches meet in San Francisco as Yaw's daughter Marjorie and Esi's great-great-great-great-great (I think?!) grandson Marcus travel back to Ghana in a very moving final chapter. 

There are so many stories, and each is heartbreaking. No one in this novel has a happy life. The issue of slavery is so prevalent for both sides that it is soaked into the fiber of their being. Seeing the chain of generations, and reading their stories, it is very clear why, even today, events that took place hundreds of years ago keep thundering through our lives and our nation.  The women in this novel are extraordinary; fierce, strong, and survivors of enormously horrible situations. Sprinkled through the generations, there are also men who stand out. 

The story that I most connected to was H's story. Born into slavery (his mother's story is so sad I can't even think about it!), freed after the Civil War, and sent to work in coal mines as punishment for not being able to pay bail, H is such a strong character through every trial that comes his way. His journey was probably my favorite part of the novel. So, so good. 

Homegoing is a very emotional novel, and that is what makes it hard to read quickly, or in one sitting. You have to sit with it, think about each generation as they tell their story, and follow the chain of history down through the generations. Family history, world history, magic, spiritual belief, ancestor respect-all are a part of this novel, along with the all too often whims of fate.  People sometimes don't understand how something that happened 200 years ago can affect our present day; this novel shows that very thing over and over again, and for that, this is a novel that everyone should read. High schoolers and college age students should read this and discuss it together. 

I am very glad I returned to this DNF and finished it. Not many books have the power to deeply move me; Yaa Gyasi's astounding novel joins that list. 

Rating:  5/6 for a novel that is not an easy read-not because of writing style, or plot, but because of the powerful characters who live, love, dream, and survive tragedy after tragedy through the generations. I highly recommend this for book groups, high school and college students, and anyone interested in history. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Hardscrabble by Sandra Dallas

After reading In Cold Blood and The Hazel Wood, I needed something a little lighter! Enter Sandra Dallas' Hardscrabble, a children's novel about homesteading in 1910 Colorado.  Sandra is one of my favorite authors, and her new adult novel, The Patchwork Bride, is due out in early June.  I simply can't wait!

Here's what I love about Sandra Dallas.  She writes about pioneers, homesteaders, and folks who lived hard lives in the settling of the West and Mid-West. Her main characters are always women, and they're women you would love to know. Strong, loyal, hardworking women who just want the best life they can manage--often times, at the end of a long, rough road.  

Hardscrabble is no different, but it's softened for a younger audience. It centers on the Martin family, who travel to Mingo, Colorado after their farm fails in Iowa.  Belle, her mother and six siblings meet her father at the train station, and soon approach their new home: a sod house.  It's a long way from the beautiful farmhouse they left in Iowa, but they're starting over on a homestead. Neighbors include Lizzie, a single woman living on her own claim, determined to prove up and have her own farm. Two characters from Dallas' adult novel The Diary of Mattie Spencer also live nearby, and I was happy to see them all these years later, thriving and enjoying the rewards of their hard work.  

The novel moves through nearly a year on the homestead, and of course life is not easy, and filled with bad weather, threats to crops, and tragedy. It's nothing we haven't read about in other novels set in the homesteading years of the United States, but Dallas writes from Belle's viewpoint, and that makes it all simply told, with a bit of sass and humor thrown in-just as a young girl would be today.  Certainly fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder will eat this one up.  

This was a quick read, but a lovely, quiet one. It helped reset my internal reading clock a bit.  If I read too many dark themed novels in a row, I get bummed out.  While not everything is smooth sailing for the Martin family, the obvious love in the family, the cheerful attitudes, and the strong presence of Beck Martin, their father, help keep things moving along and light even in sad times. Lizzie's presence as a strong woman on her own, fixing wagons, planting crops, baking, and raising chickens is a bright spot, and a glimpse at the changing world in 1910.  She doesn't want to get married and have to give up her homestead before it's proven to be hers, and she can own it free and clear. 

All in all, a delightful, quick read on one of my favorite subjects: pioneering.  

Rating:  4/6 for a sweet story about the Martin family starting all over again in Mingo, Colorado in 1910. Good times and bad make this a novel about sticking together, working through problems, and loving each other. 

Available in hardcover and ebook. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

After reading In Cold Blood, I wanted something completely different; something "fairy tale-ish".  Well, I got fairy tales, just not the light, fluffy tales I was looking for to brighten my reading mood.

I bought this book a few months ago after hearing the buzz about it. The cover, of course, was a big push towards picking up the book.  The cover art is great. I can pick out parts of the story looking at that cover. I am, however, still a bit puzzled as to what exactly I read, and my slight feelings of disappointment/perplextion haven't lessened in the hours since I turned the last page.

Short synopsis: Alice and her mother, Ella, have never stayed in one place for long, in all her seventeen years. Constantly on the move, it seems that bad luck follows them everywhere they go. Finally settling in New York City, Ella does the unthinkable: she gets married. Alice's grandmother, the famous, reclusive author of a book of dark fairy tales, has died, and Ella thinks they are finally free.

But they aren't. Ella is kidnapped--by creatures who populate those dark fairy tales. Those tales aren't tales at all, but in actuality, a place called the Hinterland, and the Hazel Wood is the estate where Alice's grandmother secluded herself and raised Ella. Ella's warning words of never going to the Hazel Wood are ignored by Alice, who sees it as the only chance to find her mother. Alone in the world, she takes a chance and befriends a fellow student, Ellery Finch, who has not only has read the fairy tales, but is an avid fan. As Alice and Ellery realize the Hinterland is bleeding into modern day New York City, the two worlds become more and more entangled, and the line between what is real and what is fairy tale is blurred. 

Alice is a tough character; she's rude, distrustful, and pretty angry. I would be, too, if I never had the chance to settle and have a normal life. Part of her anger stems from feeling rejected by the grandmother she never met, and now never will. The bad luck that seems to follow Alice and her mother is never ending. Ella's unwillingness to discuss her mother, the fairy tales, or the Hazel Wood have left Alice with a lot of dead ends and unanswered questions that can only be answered if she finds Hazel Wood. Is it a real place, or a fairy tale place? Are the fairy tales: dark, cruel, and, quite frankly, murderous, real? 

I was pretty interested in this tale for about 3/4 of the novel. The sense of always being watched; seeing odd ball characters, strange portents that come out of nowhere; these kept me reading. I loved the building of tension, and the wondering, along with Alice of just what the hell was going on. But once Alice arrives at the Hazel Wood, it seemed like a mishmash of absolute nonsense and wild feverish imaginings. I felt like I was wading through, looking for anything to make sense. I couldn't figure out if the Hinterland was trying to kill Alice, or welcome her. And Ellery, well, you'll just have to visit the Hinterland to see where his story goes. 

It's a good book, but I felt it was disjointed, and maybe the author wanted the reader to feel all topsy-turvy and confused. I myself am not a fan of that-especially when I leave the fun house and am still wondering just what the heck that was all about. 

Rating:  2/6 for a novel about very dark fairy tales, and what happens when you mess with them. Also a novel about a young girl who has to grow up, become stronger than she imagines she can be, and finding her place in the world.

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Reading a Classic: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

I've realized for me, reading classics pretty much came to a halt after college. So many new titles to read, I just didn't have time for "the old stuff". Twenty-four years later, I still don't read classics. Shame on me. While high school was full of the usual suspects: The Scarlet Letter, Huck Finn, Pride & Prejudice, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451; college added a few: Frankenstein, Beloved...it seemed to be more of a movement away from older classics and a move towards new writers and what at the time weren't classics, but now after 20 odd years, are classics. I just didn't get to read everything I should have, and would have liked to read. 

I hope to change that going forward, and make more of an effort to look back at what I've missed and add a classic into my reading choices every once in awhile. In Cold Blood is in this month's read simply because I had to read a novel that was written the year I was born for a book group.  It was a toss up between this and Valley of the Dolls.  I did buy both, and I plan on reading VOD this summer. I was born in the middle of the 1960's; when Vietnam was raging, the Beatles were famous, and people were either protesting or, like my parents, raising kids and living a very middle class life in the burbs. I don't remember any of it, and only vaguely recall Nixon as President. I was busy playing outside and looking at National Geographic magazines at  home (I think pretty much every middle-class family had a subscription to Nat Geo!).  Loved the pictures, couldn't read just yet. 

So onto In Cold Blood. It's a book I handled hundreds of times while I worked at the bookstore; shelving it, putting it on summer reading tables; finding it for customers. I knew the basic story, but it was always "one day I'll get to it". Never intrigued enough to actually read it. 

My first night starting the book, I was hearing Truman Capote in my head. As I got closer to the night of the murders, I put it down and went to bed. Up again in the wee hours of the morning, I had to search the internet and find more about the Clutter family and why Capote wrote the novel. It is, after all, a true crime story; so why not a non-fiction book?  Simply because, while it is based on a true incident, there are enough speculative conversations and what is clearly a fictional scene at the end to make it fiction.  So if you're looking for this book in a bookstore, or in a library, it will be in fiction. 

What I found in my short spurt of research made the book that much more interesting to me.  Capote spent years on this, interviewing everyone in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas; interviewing the two suspects: Richard "Dick" Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, and even spending time in the Clutter home. It became an obsession for him, and caused a sensation when it was published.  

Here are the bones of the story: On November 15, 1959, the Clutter family: Herb, his wife Bonnie, and his teenage children Nancy and Kenyon were bound, gagged, and brutally shot to death in their home. Herb, a rancher, had not only been shot, but his throat slit. An outstanding community member, Herb had no enemies and no one could figure out why anyone would harm the Clutter family. The phone line had been cut, and it looked like robbery was the motive. Everyone in Holcomb knew Herb never had cash on him; he paid for everything with checks. A prosperous rancher, he put everything back in to the ranch, and lived simply. 

The only clues left were bootprints-one in Herb's blood. Police had little to go on, and it looked like this might end up being an unsolvable murder. It's hard to remember this was a time before the advances in forensics we have today, so I had to cringe when folks burned the blood stained mattresses and couch ONE DAY AFTER THE MURDERS. What?!

Dick and Perry, however, take up most of the novel. Leaving Holcomb, they end up driving to Mexico, and then wind their way back through Miami, Kansas, and Las Vegas in the six weeks after the murders. The two of them are ex-cons, out on parole. You don't know what exactly happened that night until both men are arrested in Las Vegas, and Perry confesses on the ride back to Kansas. Four people murdered, for $40, a radio, and binoculars. But who did the shooting? Perry confesses to killing Herb and Kenyon, but claims Dick shot Nancy and Bonnie. They had heard about the Clutter ranch, and that Herb kept $10,000 in a safe at home, and decided they were going to rob it, and leave no witnesses. They came prepared to kill. The complete lack of emotion and regret is astounding. Yet while reading about these two criminals, I was struck by Capote's attempts to make them pitiful and sympathetic. They became the focus of the novel, and the Clutters, I felt, were quickly relegated to the background.  We never get to know the Clutter family much at all; and for that reason, I can see why the two surviving Clutter daughters (neither lived at home) were so upset by this work, and to this day, have not granted interviews and do not discuss their family tragedy. 

Capote's writing is, however, masterful. His spare, unemotional writing reflects the coldness of the murderers, and the Kansas winter; wind sweeping over the plains, and cold, quiet nights. He sees the unwinding of a small town, as people move away, become less trustful, and absorb the enormity of the murders. 

I'm interesting in watching the movie Capote, which takes place during the In Cold Blood years. There is a new documentary about the Clutter murders, produced in 2017 called Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders.  I haven't been able to find it to watch it, but I will! 

So, what did I really think of this novel? It took me over a week to read it, because I was filled with dread in the first 25 pages.  I just didn't want to read about the murders. I put it down, then picked it up again and read it through. Dick and Perry are cold blooded, unfeeling killers, and no bad childhood or mental diagnosis will ever make me feel differently about them. It was an interesting crime novel, and I'm glad I read it. I loved Capote's writing style, and now I understand just what lies in between the covers of a book I've held in my hands so many times.  I think it would make a good book group discussion, and I'm sure it has, many times. For crime fiction or non-fiction crime fans, this is considered the first fictional non-fiction crime novel, and set a standard for the genre. 

Rating:  4/6 for the suspense of the novel, and the writing of Truman Capote. I felt the Clutter family were mostly ignored, and Capote's obsession with the two killers was foremost in the novel. I'm not telling you how the two were finally caught and arrested. Read it and see. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio.