Friday, August 30, 2019

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Another novel that involves books, bookstores, literary references, and quirky characters. They are my reset kind of novel, when I need a mental break from the daily "stuff" and pure escapism. My partner finds that in movies, I prefer books. 

Nina is a 29 year old women who lives with her cat Phil, works in a bookstore, and is so organized it makes my teeth hurt. Plus, I'm a little envious of the organization, I've got to admit. But Nina is a little too organized, and her mind is running a million miles a minute. She's on a trivia team, and her head is stuffed with bits of facts about everything. Life is pretty good for Nina, until she finds out that the man who was her father has died, and she's in his will. 

This man was someone Nina never knew. Her mother, a world traveling photographer, had a quick fling, found out the man was married, and that was that. Except Nina arrived 9 months later. She had an unusual childhood-she was raised by a nanny while her mother roamed around the world, checking in but really leaving Nina to be raised by her beloved Lou. Lots of things contributed to grown-up Nina's love of being alone, anxiety, need for order, and overwhelming love of books and reading. 

Now, she finds out she's got a family she never knew about, and darn it all, that cute guy Tom on an opposing trivia team is giving her a look that's hard to resist. So much potential change is giving Nina a bit of anxiety. Just how much can she handle? Is she ready to open up her heart, and her life, or will she let her safe life continue the way it is?

Nina's internal dialogue is witty, and her quips with Tom are sweet. And what really got my heart was the fact that Nina loves books--absolutely loves them, and Tom doesn't really read much at all. That's my fate in life, too. Books are a HUGE part of my life, and by golly I love a man who hasn't read a book since high school. And yet, he gets me and my book obsession. Phew. I think if we both were avid readers, we'd probably never talk about anything else but books, so it's good we've got lots of other stuff to talk about. And he remains impressed when I randomly spit out bits of information and facts that "I read somewhere". 

I just realized Abbi Waxman also wrote The Garden of Small Beginnings , which I bought a few years ago, and still sits on my bookcase, unread. I'll be sure to read it now. I thoroughly enjoyed Nina's tale, and had moments of chuckling out loud while reading. Of course it had a satisfying ending, and I didn't expect anything else. 

Rating: 4/6 for a fun, lovely little tale about books, reading, trivia, romance, and finding your tribe. Conquering anxiety even when it wants to pull you down. Knowing that all those little baby steps can lead to some place wonderful, if you can just be brave enough to try. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton

As if I didn't have enough to read this month, I had to add this tale, mostly because my hold came up at the library. I finished it just in the nick of time, as it's due back tomorrow, and I know there are plenty of folks waiting to read it--and hopefully love it just as I do. It's a novel that grows and grows on you after you've finished it and have spent some time ruminating on the big themes, and the lovable animals that populate the pages. 

At first, I chuckled as I was introduced to S.T. (short for Shit Turd), the domesticated crow who lives with Big Jim and his bloodhound, Dennis. Something odd is happening to Big Jim--his eyeball just falls out one day, and then it all rapidly goes downhill from there. Trapped at home with Big Jim as he descends into a ravening, decaying mess, S.T. realizes really quickly that it's time to leave and venture out into the great unknown--also known as Seattle. Taking Dennis, they set off to discover that what's happening at home is actually a small part of a really big apocalyptic crisis. Humanity is attacked by a virus (I won't tell you what causes it, but you betcha Mother Nature is pissed) and people are turning into ravening zombies that slowly decay into blobs of...ugh...stuff. Nature is taking over, and animals are roaming around. S.T. and Dennis realize there are many domesticated animals that are trapped in their homes, unable to get out, and doomed to die of starvation, so their mission is to rescue as many as possible. 

S.T., domesticated to the point that he feels almost human (or Mofo, as he refers to humans), almost forgets his bird-ness when he needs it the most. His relationship with Dennis was one of my favorite highlights of the novel. There's so much more to this tale than a misfit duo trying to survive in an apocalyptic world. S.T. discovers a much bigger connection to his fellow crows, nature, and the ebb and flow of Mother Earth as he slowly starts to let go of his 'Mofo-ness' and isolation. It's a cautionary tale of losing our connection to nature, and our place in the great chain of life. I know you'll come to love S.T. and Dennis as much as I did, along with the supporting characters: dogs and cats of every kind, elephants, murders of crows, and one bad-ass bald eagle. 

Rating: 5/6 for a surprisingly wonderful novel that will have you laughing, weeping, on the edge of your seat, and cheering on a rag-tag bunch of animals battling to survive a crazy, crazy world. This one will stay with me for quite some time. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In my desire to read so many books this month, I soon found myself in a book glut. I think I had six books going all at once, and I wasn't making headway on any of them. Argh! 

But, I'm seeing a bit of light, and I sat down and finished this novel yesterday after mowing, yard work, and putting up a video on my Bookalicious Babe Facebook page. Now I'm still a bit in the weeds, with less than a week to go before September hits, but I'm going to do my best to power through my remaining August books. If only I could get by on 4 hours of sleep each night, I'd be caught up and reaching for more books. 

So. Back to this novel, which I first saw a few months ago and became intrigued because it was so very different than my usual reads. I don't expand my reading universe nearly enough to include more diverse unique authors, cultures, and settings, and shame on me. But this novel, oh, it had me at first glance. Mayan mythology and 1920's Mexico? A heroine who is one tough cookie, even though she's had a lousy life? I couldn't wait to read it. So I began it along with all of my other books, and it took me a few weeks to finish it. But that wasn't because I didn't like it--I loved it. 

Casiopea Tun lives in her grandfather's large house, along with her jackass of a cousin Martin, her mother, and other family members. Her mother returned to her father's house after her husband died, and she had no where else to go. Casiopea's father was of a lower class, and that's reason for treating her mother poorly, and Casiopea as a lowly servant. She's eighteen, and dreams of someday leaving the small town of Uukumil and exploring the world. A conservative town run by the Catholic church, women are expected to cover their hair and faces, be modest in everything, and obey the men. Grandfather spends most of his time in his bedroom, being demanding, cruel, and just an all around jerk. 

Casiopea is punished and had to stay home while the rest of the family goes away to the hot springs for a few days, and she's not happy about it. She's in her grandfather's bedroom when she notices the box he has sitting at the end of his bed. He forbids anyone to touch it, and he wears the key around his neck at all times. Except when he goes to the hot springs. Curiosity gets the best of her, and she finds the key and unlocks the box. 

Inside are bones, which kapow! soon form a grown man-a really good looking man. He is Hun-Kame, the God of the Dead, and he's been locked in the box for centuries by his brother, Vucub-Kame, who has taken over the underworld, known as Xibalba. **By the way, I've completely made up pronunciations in my head for all of these Mayan names, and I'm pretty sure they're nothing like the actual, correct pronunciations** Hun-Kame is missing a few body parts: an eye, an ear, a finger, and a very important jade necklace. Casiopea is now his partner as they travel across Mexico to recover all of the parts of his body, helping him restore himself to his rightful place as the Supreme Ruler of Xibalba. Casiopea has little choice in the matter, because she carries a shard of Hun-Kame's bone embedded in her hand, and he literally draws life from her in order to function in the Middleworld (Earth). She's dying, slowly, and he's becoming more human the longer he stays in the Middleworld and relies on her to sustain him. If he completes his quest and takes back his kingdom, Casiopea gets whatever her heart desires, and her life back. 

I loved learning about Mayan mythology, and a similar theme I've seen in other mythology based stories also popped up here: the old Gods are losing their power as people move farther away from old beliefs and closer to modern technology. If no one believes in you, how do you continue to exist?

There's a deadly game between the two brothers, and Casiopea is stuck in the middle. I enjoyed watching her become a stronger woman as she traveled with Hun-Kame and gee, fell hard for the handsome god. Who wouldn't? And Hun-Kame...he is awesomely God-like, but as he travels with Casiopea, he becomes more human. The quest makes up most of the plot, and I settled in for a fantastic tale, getting slightly anxious as they neared the final showdown with Vucub-Kame. Who would come out the winner, and what would that mean for humanity? 

Ah, this was a great story. A magical tale, full of demons, witches, fantastical creatures, powerful Gods, and an underworld that is straight up kind of crazy/stuff of nightmares. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who loves mythology. 

Rating: 5/6 for a tale of magic, mischief, quests, and what it means to be human. I had a hard time putting it down and was immediately engrossed in Casiopea's journey through Mexico and beyond. Ah! good stuff. Mexican folklore brought to life. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins

Well, this book was charming for me. A quick read that hopefully is the beginning of a series of tales about the people in Dove Pond, North Carolina. 

Karen Hawkins is a romance author, and when I first saw this book, I knew her name was familiar to me-probably because I shelved her romances for years while I worked at B&N! But, fear not. Yes there is some romance in this novel, but it most definitely isn't a romance novel. More of a feel good, Sweet Home Alabama-Reece Witherspoon-ish kind of novel. Yes, it could find a place on the Hallmark Channel. That being said, I'm not a huge fan of Hallmark movies, in that they just are a little too perfect. The folks in Dove Pond, and the two lead female characters, most definitely aren't perfect. 

Sarah Dove comes from a long line of women who have special talents. Sarah's talent is one that I think every book lover would wish for themselves: the books talk to her and tell her who they should go to next. Sarah hears them, loud and clear, and they can be kind of nagging, too. But she gives those books to folks, and by golly somehow they do end up needing whatever is in that book. She's the town librarian, and she knows, thanks to a cranky old history of Dove Pond, that she's going to be responsible for saving the town. Dove Pond, like a lot of small towns, is slowly dying: people are moving away, businesses are closing. 

Grace arrives in town with her niece Daisy and her foster mom, Mama G. She's left a high powered job to bring Mama G back to the small town she grew up in, and as Mama G's Alzheimer's progresses, it's the best place to take care of her. Daisy is a little girl full of anger and grief, after Grace's sister and Daisy's mother, Hannah died recently from a drug overdose. So much grief to carry, and Grace is full of it, and feels the pressure of taking care of Mama G and trying to be a mother to her niece. And start all over in a small town. She's determined that she'll only be in Dove Pond for a year, and then she's moving back to Charlotte and her old life. She's got a job as the town clerk, and it's pretty horrible. The Mayor fishes all the time, and is terribly irresponsible. Grace isn't out to make friends, and Sarah--oh, she wants to be Grace's friend. 

Grace is going to save the town--this is what the old history book of the town tells Sarah. A little put off that she's not going to be the town savior, Sarah eventually realizes that it will take both her and Grace to do it together. Sarah has to convince Grace to care enough about the town to stay and save it. 

There are romantic interests for both ladies, and the folks of Dove Pond are a cast of characters that really flesh out the story and make Dove Pond feel like it really exists outside of this novel. There is a lot left open at the end of the book, so yes, there will be more to come. It was a fast read, and a gentle one, at that. Anyone who has dealt or is dealing with a parent suffering from memory loss, and declining in health, will feel Grace's anguish. But lucky for Grace, she has a whole town holding her up. If only every caregiver could experience that gift. 

Rating:  3/6 for a quick read introducing the people of Dove Pond, the magical Dove sisters, and the power of community to heal and help. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

How do you navigate life after your husband dies on the same day you were packing up to finally leave him? And the emotional turmoil you're in isn't grief, but guilt because you didn't love him, and everyone thinks  you're in deep mourning. 

That is Eveleth "Evvie" Drake's world, a year after her husband, a beloved local doctor, dies in a car accident. She's rattling around in a big house, hasn't worked much, and is stuck. Saturday morning breakfasts with her best friend Andy keep folks in the small seaside town of Calcasset, Maine gossiping about their  relationship (it really is platonic). 

Evvie's world gets a change when Andy's childhood friend, ex-baseball pitching star Dean arrives, looking for a place to get away for a year or so after a humiliating season of losing his pitching arm. He's left baseball and needs a place to just get his life together, away from the journalists, away from fans who think he lost it completely and didn't try hard enough to get his pitching mojo back. Evvie's house has an apartment, and Dean moves in, and their friendship begins, little by little, inch by inch. 

This is a quiet novel, full of good people, all just trying to find what makes them happy and content. It's a novel about pausing and realizing you have to work through some junk and come out the other side, or you'll never get to that place of peace and contentment. For Evvie, it's all about coming to grips with her unhappy marriage, and the emotional abuse she endured for years from a man that could do no wrong and was beloved by his hometown. For Dean, it's about accepting that his pitching arm just doesn't work anymore, and the one thing he lived for, and excelled at, is gone-so what does he do now? For Andy, it's about finding someone to love after a tough divorce-someone willing to love his two little girls as much as he does. Mostly, it's about friendship through easy times, and through those rough patches, and not being afraid to be happy. We've all had those moments of thinking "I'm so happy, something is going to ruin it". So you're afraid to be happy. But as Dean wisely says, bad things are going to happen, and being happy does not make bad things happen. But you live a happy life, and deal with the bad stuff knowing you're strong enough to do it. 

I started this novel a few weeks ago, and put it down as I continued my usual ritual of starting one book, picking up another, then another, then another. I finally circled back around and was able to hunker down and finish it. And I loved it. It's not a novel that has oodles of action, or big moments of drama. It's funny, sweet, and a little bit sad in parts, but it sneaks up on you. Evvie and Dean have a pretty wonderful friendship that turns into something even better, but as always, they have to work to find that happy ending. 

Rating: 5/6 for a novel that doesn't shout, but quietly reminds us that life is a journey, and it's a bit messy, and we don't have to have all the answers or be absolutely perfect. Dean, oh boy-you may find yourself with a bit of a crush on this guy. Evvie is a refreshing, honest, and funny character-you'll keep cheering her on her journey. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen

I've said it a million times, and I'll say it again: cover art sucks me in every time. The woman on this cover pulls off a look that I could have never, ever pulled off! It sets the tone for the story of Alice Weiss, a newcomer to New York City in 1965.  

Alice arrives in NYC from Youngstown, Ohio, old camera in hand, ready to dive into her love of photography. She hopes to find a job as a photographer, but quickly realizes her portfolio of photos is unimpressive in a city known for high fashion. An old family friend hooks Alice up with an interview for secretary to a new editor in chief at Cosmopolitan magazine: Helen Gurley Brown. 

Alice takes the job, since it's the only one she's been offered, and it's steady employment. The world she enters is pretty fast paced, and HGB is not your typical executive. As the new-and first-woman editor for Cosmopolitan, she's got quite a few different ideas about what a woman's magazine needs to be, and she's meeting a lot of resistance from corporate headquarters. She's tossing out all the old stories, photos, and concepts, and is determined to revamp Cosmo into a young, sexy, fun magazine for women like Alice: career oriented ladies who have boyfriends, casual sex, and want to enjoy it all. HGB is a giant bomb that lands right in the middle of a very conservative group of male executives. 

Alice sees it all, and quickly becomes indispensable to HGB as her secretary, arranging meetings, appointments, keeping track of it all, and guarding HGB's office door from unwanted visitors. It's a hectic time both in and out of the office. Someone is trying to sabotage HGB's first Cosmo issue...

Meanwhile, Alice is navigating her way through the city, camera in hand, hoping to sharpen her skills and not giving up on her dream to be a photographer. After all, her mother was a model in NYC and Alice has dreamt of living there all her life. Now she needs to make her dreams come true, but how?

A lot of this novel is about the first few months at Cosmo under HGB's leadership. She was a bit of an odd duck-very tiny physically, but an incredibly strong, tough woman when she had to be. Devoted to her husband, she leaned on him through it all, and he was her wise mentor. She was up against an established way of thinking about women, and determined to change that-especially after the raging success of her book Sex and the Single Girl, published in 1962. She rocked the boat--actually, she capsized the boat! 

I got into this story pretty quickly, and zipped through it. I spent a few early mornings reading before work because I couldn't put it down. Novels about women starting out on their own and finding their way always have a special appeal to me, and this was one of those novels. If you're at all a fan of Mad Men, you will enjoy Alice's story. 1965 was a year of big, big changes for Alice. 

I remember quite vividly the covers of Cosmopolitan magazine in the late 70's and early 1980's. The women were super glam, and the covers always had lines about sex, orgasms, and how to be that "it" girl. When I did venture to flip through the magazine, it was mostly ads for perfume, designer clothes, and makeup. I know without a doubt if I'd brought one home my Mom would have thrown it in the garbage. It was, without saying, "that" magazine for women. It was naughty, thrilling, and full of advice for young women living on their own, having flings, and living their lives full speed ahead. I was, however, not one of those women, and my babysitting money was barely enough to cover buying Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific shampoo and conditioner, much less oodles of makeup and clothes. 

I had to do some internet searching of Helen Gurley Brown, of course. She died in 2012. She ran Cosmopolitan for decades, until she was forced out. Her views, which were empowering for women in the 1960's didn't much change over the years, and eventually became outdated and out of touch with what was really going on in women's lives in the 80's, 90's. But when she was riding high at Cosmo, she was inspiring to a whole generation of young women. 

Rating: 4/6 for an engaging story about the beginning of Helen Gurley Brown's reign as Cosmopolitan's first female editor in chief, as seen from a young woman who serves as her secretary. Follow Alice's journey from newbie to the big city to a young woman confident in her choices and the new life she makes. 

Available in paperback, ebook and audio. 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Probably Not the Best Idea to Read A Book About Pie When I'm Trying to Eat Healthier... Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber

I'm not a huge fan of pies; I'd rather have a piece of cake. But, gosh darn it the pies in this novel sound completely delicious, along with all the other food (hello fried chicken and biscuits) that glides through the lives of the folks in Wicklow, Alabama. I am a lover of biscuits. Lord I love biscuits. But they are on the "think twice before I stuff my mouth" list as I attempt one more time to be more mindful of what I eat and why I eat it. Trying hard to eat more protein and less not-so-great-for-me carbs. Basically, lots of lean protein (greek yogurt, low fat cottage cheese, chicken breasts, lean beef) and lots of veggies. I've even said goodbye to my summer gin and tonic and am either not having a cocktail at all, or one that comes in at 100 calories instead of 200. And having one instead of two. I'm starting my third week, and I sorely miss pasta. Thankful my Bud is along for the ride, and willing to eat what I make, and willing to find alternatives to our higher calorie weekend cocktails. 

So yes I read a book that features food very prominently, and a lot of the action takes place in a cafe. It was a great summer read, however-just the kind of tale I like to read as a mental break when life gets a bit too busy or I'm avoiding household chores. 

Anna Kate Callow returns to the small town of Wicklow, Alabama to settle her Grandmother Zee's estate. That estate includes the Blackbird Cafe, a Wicklow favorite, and one that has an interesting legacy: a slice of Zee's pie will give you messages from deceased loved ones the night after you've eaten it. What folks don't know is that Anna Kate, her mother, her grandmother, and generations past all are gatekeepers for the blackbirds that sit in the mulberry trees behind the cafe. At night-midnight, in fact-the blackbirds sing sweetly. What they're singing are the messages from loved ones on the other side. And now it's up to Anna Kate to continue that legacy. Only problem is Anna Kate plans to return North, to continue her quest to become a doctor. She has to run the cafe for 90 days, per Zee's will, before she can put it up for sale. 

There's a whole lot more to the story, of course. Anna Kate's mother, Eden, left Wicklow before Anna Kate was born, under a cloud of grief and suspicion. Anna Kate's return to Wicklow is a surprise to many of the townsfolk, especially the Linden family. As it turns out, no one realized Eden had a daughter, and boy oh boy Anna Kate looks a lot like AJ Linden, who was tragically killed in a car accident with Eden at the wheel, all those years ago. AJ's mother, the overbearing Seelie Linden, despised Eden, and her grief at losing her son has kept Seelie from having any kind of good relationship with her daughter Natalie, who has returned to Wicklow to start over again. Natalie, harboring anger, guilt, and grief of her own, struggles to be even civil to her mother. She grew up with a mother who was cold, strict, and overbearing. 

Anna Kate is the key to a whole lot of healing that needs to take place in the town of Wicklow. Not just herself, but the Linden family, and the whole town have suffered over the years. But word of the blackbirds brings bird enthusiasts in to witness the astounding midnight singing, and that, along with Anna Kate's reopening of the cafe, may just be what Wicklow needs to thrive. But will Anna Kate stay? If she goes, what will happen to the mulberry trees, and the blackbirds? 

The big message of this book is about the toll grief can take on a person, and even a community. Grief may seem endless when you're in the throes of it (I speak from experience), and the pain can wear you down. But that is the price you pay for loving others, and loving them with all your heart. All those years of love are worth it. But you can't continue to live in the past. If anything, grief should empower you to live your life to the fullest, and embrace every day. 

Another theme is making choices for yourself, instead of doing what everyone else wants you to do, or expects you to do. When it all comes down to it, keeping promises to others that will keep you from what you love is a sure way to be miserable. Follow your heart. 

I enjoyed visiting the town of Wicklow. I like to think somewhere there's an actual place just like it, just down the road and around the bend. 

Rating:  4/6 for an enchanting little town, memorable characters, and a thoughtful look at living on when our loved ones leave.  

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

And Just Like That, It's August

Wow. Summer is flying by. Everyone is either taking vacation or getting back from one, but my vacation is nowhere to be found! I'd love to be anywhere beachy, tropical, and sun-kissed right now, but since that's not in the cards this year, I'm making do with a chilled drink and sitting under my big umbrella on my deck. And of course, books are on hand to take me far, far away, at least for a little while. 

I've got oodles of books this month. So many I can't possibly read, darn it. But I'm going to give it all I have to zip through them. Library books that have to be read, and a few new favorites I've been waiting for, and now simply must dive into--I'll see you on the other side of August when I come up for air! 

San Francisco, 1906. A young woman navigates the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that leveled the city. 

Jazz Age Mexico, Gods, and adventure. 

New York, 1965. Cosmopolitan Magazine, and experience of a young woman living and learning in the big city.

A woman decides to give life and love another chance. 

Small town Alabama, blackbirds, magic pie, and a family legacy. 

A descendant of magical women, a professor races to save her boyfriend.

The power of books to cure any ill.  Can't wait!!

A woman discovers she has a rather large family--and they are interrupting her reading time! 

A favorite author has a recent release. Another novel that features a classic New York landmark. 

WW 2 from one of my favorite authors 

An American Princess? Yep. Life with an American Royal family. 

Oh, I know it's a lot for me to read in August. If I had a few weeks off, heck I'd be in heaven! Stay tuned for reviews; I've got to get busy reading. 😍