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.