Friday, January 31, 2020

February Reads, a DNF from January, and So Many Books, So Little Time! 📚📚📚📚📚📚

Well, I devoured a lot of books in January. It was a battle some nights to stay awake long enough to read more than a few pages. I will confess to a few weekends of spending most of my time happily reading instead of doing my weekend chore list. Hey, when the books call, I just have to stop and read. 

I tried, I really did, to read The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. I could not concentrate long enough to get through some of the slower bits. It goes back on my bookshelf with the expectation that I'll pick it up again someday and be able to dive back into it. 

February has an extra day--yay! But it always feels so short and I have a lot of books I want to get to this month. I keep looking at my TBR piles and have moments of "Maybe I should just give them all away and make space in my house" to "But I can't because I still want to read all of these!" And then I look on my bookcases and have similar feelings. Then I see the stacks in my bedroom and decide I need a mental break so I sit down and read until I feel better about the whole darn thing. 

And still, those stacks remain. 

February is African American History Month, and of course we've got Valentine's Day. It's also the month my partner and I celebrate the anniversary of our first date: 02/02/2002. He doesn't share my love of reading, but oh, he so gets why books are my life. I'm so very lucky he understands and loves to hear about my book world. He knows as long as I can bring a book with me, I'm happy to go wherever. 

So I have all the feels for February, and my book choices are some titles off my TBR piles and some new books that I've bought in the last month:

A novel that has been on my bookshelves for months. Reading for a book group.

An All Iowa reads pick for 2020. Hopefully the first of many children's novels for me this year. 

Favorite author Sandra Dallas is back with a tale of women who travel West to the gold mines of California in 1852.  

Bookshops, romance, Paris. Perfect for February! 

Another book off my TBR pile, from the publisher. It's the fourth in a series, but I'm diving in! Historical mystery. 

A modern twist on Henry the 8th and his wives. The darker side of love.

This novel is being released in early February. A publisher request for review that I can't wait to read. 

Well. I have my work cut out for me. But it's work I love, and my absolute favorite way to spend my down time is reading. I make time for reading every day, no matter what. It's not about racking up an impressive reading total, but my absolute wish to read all of the wonderful titles that are created by so many talented writers. I'm still trying to make peace with the knowledge that I can't ever read everything I want to read. As long as I have coffee, a comfy place to read, and some quiet time, I'll keep working my way through all the wonderful stories waiting for me. 

Happy Reading!  

Thursday, January 30, 2020

St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets by Annie England Noblin

My last read of January. I finished it at about 2:30 this morning, after falling asleep by 9 PM and then being WIDE awake in the middle of the night. Apparently I'd had enough sleep.  I suspect I'll be on the downslide by about 10 AM this morning. Just in time for my second round of coffee. 

This was a quick read, and I wasn't quite sure where it was headed as I was reading about Maeve and her new life in a small town. It felt like the author wasn't quite sure which themes she wanted to focus on and I just figured it would all shake out. After all was said and done, I was happy with where the author was going and satisfied with the whole shebang. 

Maeve has just lost her job as a sports journalist (and not a very good one, as she says), and her semi-famous baseball playing boyfriend has just humiliated her with a YouTube video of him smooching on another woman. Broke, she moves back in with her parents, and contemplates her mess of a life. Everything changes when she receives a call informing her that Annabelle, her birth mother, has died. 

Annabelle lived in the small town of Timber Creek, Washington, about four hours away from Maeve's life in Seattle. Maeve, at 36, never knew her birth mother and quite honestly has a big bag of complicated feelings about her. She decides to attend Annabelle's funeral, and that is the start of Maeve's new life. 

Yes, there is the ruggedly handsome and complicated Abel (I couldn't help but see Jason Momoa in this role); Alice, Annabelle's best friend and keeper of secrets; and the ladies of the St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets. They knit sweaters for cats and dogs, and Annabelle was a founding member of the group. Maeve finds out she's inherited Annabelle's house, car, and ragamuffin cat, and what was intended as a one day trip extends into Maeve deciding to stay in Timber Creek for a few weeks. After all, she's unemployed, and doesn't want to go back to living with her parents. She's also got to come to terms with her feeling about her birth mother. A major theme in this novel explores the  often complicated feelings carried around by those who are adopted. Maeve comes from a very happy upbringing, but still feels rejected and unwanted as an adult because she was given up by Annabelle as a newborn. Will she be able to find some peace and healing living in Annabelle's hometown? 

I enjoyed this novel, and realized I have Pupcakes, another novel by this author. Give me a contemporary tale that sprinkles in a few irresistible pets, small town life, and a cast of interesting characters and I'm all in. Humor, a bit of modern romance, and an underlying theme of finding and claiming your identity all came together to create an entertaining read. If you're a sucker for dog themed novels, Annie England Noblin has even more novels with equally adorable covers:

Rating: 3/6 for a quick, entertaining read about a woman's search for her past and a chance at creating a new future for herself. If you love novels featuring pets, check out this author. I plan on reading more!

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Welcome to the Pine Away Motel and Cabins by Katarina Bivald

Another novel that was high on my can't wait to read list. I picked it up from the bookstore and was a bit surprised at the length-419 pages. It's a hefty paperback. It wasn't a book that I could zip through, either. It took me a few weeks to dig in and finish it. I'm on the fence about it; I think I'm in the middle of loving it and not loving it. 

I think, upon reflection, that I was expecting more of a Fannie Flagg-esque story, and this was not at all a Fannie Flagg flavored story. It starts with the sudden death of Henny Broek. She's happily thinking of Michael, the love of her life. He's back in town, and she just spent the day with him. She absentmindedly steps onto the road and is hit by a truck. Instantly dead. Henny is only 33, and can't believe she's dead. 

The story unfolds as Henny hangs around, watching her friends and her family cope with her sudden death. Henny has no idea why she's still around, but decides after a few days that maybe she's supposed to help her friends figure a few things out. All of this takes place around the Pine Away Motel and Cabins, where Henny lived and worked alongside her childhood best friend MacKenzie. Henny's father is completely devastated by Henny's death, and withdraws from his quiet life in Pine Creek. A rumor around town sends him to stay at the motel, away from prying eyes. Henny tries to communicate with her friends, but they remain oblivious to her presence. She spends the next days and weeks hanging around the motel and the town of Pine Creek. Unfortunately for her, she isn't able to just show up, but has to walk or run to get where she's going. So far death isn't at all what she expected. She's stuck in Pine Creek. 

Henny's friends Michael, MacKenzie, and Camila have plenty of problems, and Henny is determined to try and fix them. There are pretty deep issues explored--family expectations, familial guilt, transgender and lesbian issues, and very deep conservative Christian attitudes that turn the town upside down. All of this slowly ramps up to a showdown that may spell the end of the Pine Away Motel and Cabins. Meanwhile, Henny is trying her best to heal a lot of wounds and help her friends find peace and happiness. 

It's an interesting book. It's kind of slow and it is quirky in places. For me, it was a reminder that those who have left us leave an irreplaceable place in our lives. Sometimes their death is the catalyst to making changes in our lives that help us find and embrace our best selves, if we are brave enough to do it. 

I think this would make a good book club title. There's plenty to discuss, and I'm sure everyone would have a favorite character. It's the kind of book that keeps unfolding the more you think about it. 

Rating: 3/6 for a look at life, death, and the meaning of it all. Interesting characters with a lot of problems, including Henny, who suddenly finds herself dead. A lot to discuss!

Available in paperback, large print, and ebook. 

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis

I can't even begin to describe this novel. It was definitely not what I expected when I picked it up at the library last week. I thought it was about a woman's survival in the wild after a plane crash. Well, that's a big part of it, but there's a lot more, and most of that had me scratching my head. 

It's September, 1986 and  seventy-two year old Cloris Waldrip and her husband are flying to a small cabin in the Montana mountains for a weekend getaway. They've traveled from Texas and this is the first vacation they've really had in years. 

They never make it to the cabin. The small plane they are in crashes in the Bitterroot Range, a particularly brutal wilderness in Montana. Cloris is the only survivor. What follows is Cloris' struggle to find her way out of the wilderness and to safety. With minimal tools to help her survive, she is sure to die before help arrives. Yet somehow, Cloris finds help in the wilderness, and with her own will to survive, you know that Cloris is going to make it. Her tale, told twenty years later from ninety-two year old Cloris' apartment in a retirement home in Vermont, is astounding and shows the power of fighting to survive in the worst of circumstances. 

The other side of this story involves Ranger Debra Lewis, who lives and works in the Bitterroot Range. She's a mess--so much of a mess that I had a permanent wince on my face whenever the story turned to her. She's a divorced raging alcoholic. Lewis has bottles of merlot everywhere, and she spends her days drinking wine out of a thermos while working out of the ranger office and driving the mountain roads. It's a lonesome job, and she's got no one. She hears about the plane crash, and even though the pilot and Mr. Waldrip are found dead, Lewis is convinced Mrs. Waldrip has survived and is out in the wilderness somewhere. She decides to pull together a ragtag team of people to start a search for Mrs. Waldrip. It quickly becomes an obsession. 

I've got to say this wasn't at all the novel I expected it to be. I thought it would be a tale of one woman's survival--a woman vs. nature kind of tale. It was that, for sure, but the rest of it was just downright weird. Ranger Lewis and her motley rescue crew are all damaged people with no hope of rescue. And honestly, Lewis' consumption of merlot kind of made me queasy after awhile-and I love wine! So many lost souls. Mrs. Waldrip is one amazing lady, who looks back at her life and ponders decisions she made. She's got plenty of time to reflect, and her aloneness is so very different from Lewis and crew. 

I would love to discuss this novel and talk it out with someone else who has read it. It left me unsettled and uneasy; maybe because the theme of loneliness is overwhelming, and there isn't really a happy ending, or even a peaceful ending for any of the characters. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel that is about human survival at the most basic level, and also survival when you are lost in the wilderness in your head. Very odd characters, but Mrs. Waldrip's epic adventure is amazing and keeps you reading. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Light Changes Everything by Nancy E. Turner

To say I was a little excited to read this book would be an understatement. I read Nancy Turner's first novel, These is My Words, waaaay back in the late 1990's, and absolutely fell in love with it. To this day, it remains one of my favorite novels. 

Most people re-read favorite novels over and over, but I don't. I like to preserve that experience of discovering a story that sticks with me the first time I read it, and I think that if I read it again, it will somehow change for me, and I don't want that. So I will continue to tell people about These is My Words, all based on my first and only read. 

However, Nancy Turner kept writing, and wrote Sarah's Quilt and The Star Garden, and My Name is Resolute, which continue the story of Sarah Prine, and then jump back to Sarah's ancestor, Resolute. Light Changes Everything tells the story of Mary Pearl Prine, Sarah's niece.  It's 1907, and Arizona is still a territory of the United States, and still a dangerous place to live. Mary Pearl is seventeen and wants to go to college. She's been accepted into Wheaton College in Illinois to study art and is excited to go. However, just as she's making preparations, in walks Aubrey Hanna, a rising lawyer who sees Mary Pearl and decides he must marry her. 

Mary Pearl is torn between marriage to an up and coming young man, and following her dream to attend college. She decides to leave for college quickly, sending Aubrey a letter stating that she does want to marry him, just not quite yet. 

Mary Pearl's life changes at Wheaton College. She's the young lady from the Wild West, and is at odds with the sophisticated students who attend her school. But, she finds the one thing that will change her life: photography. Slowly making friends and finding her way through school, she begins to settle into life away from Arizona and her parent's ranch. 

Alright. I'm not going to tell you any more. I'll give too much away. 

I zipped through this novel faster than I expected to; the story of Mary Pearl and her family is so skillfully written that I gulped it all down like a good cup of coffee. Sarah, one of my top female characters EVER, is featured here as wise counsel to her niece, still tough as nails and running her own ranch. The Prine family come to life, and through all their trials and troubles, you keep rooting for them. Life is still harsh and unforgiving in Arizona Territory. The matter of fact attitude of early settlers may seem cold sometimes, but only the tough survive and thrive. 

You don't have to read the previous novels by Nancy Turner to enjoy this one, however, if you haven't read These is My Words, I would suggest you do so because it is such a wonderful story. I did read Sarah's Quilt and The Star Garden, and while I did want to know more of Sarah's journey, I would have been happy to just stick with These is My Words. You decide. They are all wonderful books about a strong family, and the incredibly tough women who kept it all together and persevered no matter what. 

Rating: 5/6 for a much anticipated return to the Prine family. Mary Pearl follows in the footsteps of her courageous aunt Sarah as she navigates college, family expectations, and her own heart. 

Available in hardcover ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Read Off the Shelf: The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay

It's taken me a few weeks to read this novel. I think part of that stems from the writing. It is absolutely beautiful, and you want to linger over it. I haven't read anything like this in a very long time. I read a review that said this was written like a very long poem, and I'd have to say that is what this novel reminded me of--a poem. 

Poems are a big part of this tale of Ani, Mac, Roy, Iris, and Frank. Set in 1948 in the small Australian coastal town of Thirroul, Ani and Mac Lachlan and their ten year old daughter Isabel are pretty happy. Mac works for the railway, and Ani takes care of the house. They are deeply in love, and looking forward to celebrating Isabel's upcoming birthday. The war is finally over, and people just want to forget it ever happened. 

Things change suddenly for Ani when Mac is killed in a railway accident. It sends her reeling, and into a new life where she has to work and take care of herself and Isabel. Offered a job at the railway library, she's surrounded by books, which give her comfort in remembering the ways she and Mac connected through their love of books. As Ani slowly moves through her first year of widowhood, she becomes friends with Iris, Roy, and Frank. Roy, a former school teacher turned poet, has returned from the war battered and unable to write poetry. He is a lost soul, still stuck in the past and struggling to see the beauty in the world. Frank, a doctor, has returned from the war unable to take care of patients because of the guilt he felt in failing to save so many who survived the war, only to die soon after from starvation and the horrors of the concentration camps. 

As they all move through the year, they slowly start to heal, each in their own way. 

I can't say any more about what happens in this novel. You must discover that for yourself. I can say my heart took a hit at the end. This is a character driven novel--not much happens. It's a quiet look at life unfolding, grief, and the horrors of war. It's about rebuilding a life that has been shattered. The descriptions of the beach, the weather, the sea...everything, really. Just beautiful writing. I found myself longing for a beach and warm weather. 

Ah!  This is a novel that will leave you with a whole bunch of emotions. Some folks hated the end, others couldn't get to the end and gave up. I stuck through it, and it finally clicked and then I couldn't put it down. It was a good exercise in patience for me, when I try and read quickly to get through my books and onto the next. This one forces you to slow down and linger. 

I'm glad to have made a start plucking a book off my TBR pile. 

Rating: 3/6 for a novel that has quite possibly some of the most poetic writing I've had the pleasure of reading in quite some time. Grief, beginnings and endings, expectations, and living life day by day are big themes. Definitely a book that it worth the time to read. 

This novel is available in paperback, audio, and ebook. Published in 2016.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

Wow! This was such a good story. I'm a bit biased, because I have read every one of Simone St. James' novels. She just keeps getting better with each novel. 

This latest haunting thriller takes place in Fell, New York. A sleepy little town where the Sun Down Motel sits out on the edge, and a highway runs through to other towns along the way towards New York City. It's the kind of motel that is run down but still offers a place to stay when options are few. It's 1982, and young Vivian Delaney has left her mom's home to seek a new life in New York City. She ends up in Fell, and decides to stay for awhile. She answers an ad for a night clerk at the Sun Down Motel. It's a boring job, but easy work while she figures out what to do with her life. 

Except one night, Vivian discovers the motel is haunted. And not in a casual way--in a really big, scare the crap out of you way. Not only do the doors to the rooms open on their own, but lights go out (even the big motel sign out front), the smell of cigarette smoke is strong, footsteps are heard, and she sees not one, but two ghosts: that of a little boy who drowned in the now closed pool, and a pretty woman in a flowered dress who tells Vivian to RUN.

Vivian is freaked out, but keeps coming back. She's just got to get to the bottom of this mysterious woman's appearance, and her obvious anger. Vivian has started down the path of extreme danger, but her desire to uncover past wrongs can't be stopped. 

It's 2017. Carley Kirk arrives in Fell, New York. Her Aunt Vivian disappeared from Fell in November of 1982, and Carley has always been obsessed with this family tragedy. Carley's mother, Vivian's sister, has recently died, and she took any clues to Vivian's life with her to the grave. Carley decides to come to Fell and look for any trace of what happened to her Aunt. She even gets a job as the night office clerk at--you guessed it--the Sun Down Motel. 

Carley's not there long before she also discovers the horrific secrets of the Sun Down Motel. And as she starts to dig into the past, she realizes her Aunt was onto something terrible, something that put her in terrible danger. How does this have anything to do with the motel?

Wowza. This was soooo good. A truly creepy ghost tale, mystery, and thriller all wrapped into one amazing story. I don't want to give any more details, because it's definitely a story you have to read and uncover on your own. Vivian and Carley are certainly cut from the same cloth-young, smart, determined women who pursue the truth, even if it means they are put in danger. This wasn't a mystery that you are required to figure out-rather a mystery that you get to watch unfold as the pieces are put together by the characters, thirty-five years apart. All of the main players in this novel are compelling--yes, even the ghosts. 

I know I'll never look at a motel quite the same way again. 

This novel will be out in February, 2020 in the United States in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Rating: 5/6 for an excellent ghost story wrapped up in a thriller. Themes include revenge, justice, family secrets, and the damage done to people when they never have closure. Highly recommend this one. 

Monday, January 6, 2020

Grace is Gone by Emily Elgar

This novel actually arrived in my mail a few weeks ago, thanks to HarperCollins Publishers. It was a welcome surprise, and gave me the chance to read a new author that hit it out of the park with her first novel, If You Knew Her. Her second effort--wow, it really does sit with you for some time after you've finished it. 

The plot is fairly simple: Meg and Grace. Mother and daughter. Meg takes care of Grace full-time; Grace is almost eighteen and has lived most of her life as a very ill young girl. She's in a wheelchair, has a feeding tube in her stomach, and suffers from seizures, food issues, headaches... you name it. Meg has spent years taking Grace to doctors and specialists, getting her every bit of care she can find. Both Meg and Grace are beloved by the small town of Ashford, in Cornwall. Folks around there see Meg and Grace as their own, and are fiercely protective of them. 

The novel begins with the horrific murder of Meg, in her home, in her bed. Grace is missing. Jon, a journalist who wrote an article about the two women that riled up the town and made him a pariah, hears about the murder and can't help but drive over to see what is going on. His article questioned why Grace's father Simon wasn't allowed to see his daughter. Meg has told everyone that Simon is abusive and crazy, and pushed her down the stairs. Everyone in Ashford agrees with Meg, and Simon is never allowed to see Grace. Jon, reeling from the effects of the article on his marriage, still feels on edge about the article, and knows something just isn't right, but doesn't know what. 

Cara, the young woman who finds Meg, has known Meg and Grace for most of her life. She befriended Grace when they moved in next door, and even though Grace was a few years younger, Cara felt a bond with Grace. She was always amazed at the obviously close relationship between mother and daughter. Except in the last few years, Cara has gone away to school, and seen less and less of Grace. She's haunted by the idea of Grace being kidnapped and without her vital medications. Is she still alive? Who took her? Everyone believes her father Simon did it all, and there's a manhunt out for him. Meanwhile, the whole town gears up for a search effort, with their minds already made up that Simon must be the murderer. 

Cara and Jon meet, and between the two of them, they slowly start to pick up little clues, and the whole novel is the two of them putting the puzzle together. It's sharp observation, going over and over the little bits of information they do have, and following their instincts that lead them to resolving the disappearance of Grace, and the murder of Meg. It's quite the twist at the end.

It took me a bit to get into the story. Everyone, seriously, is a disaster. Jon's marriage is falling apart, he's sleep deprived, has to stay on the down low so no one recognizes him as "that reporter". Cara is traumatized by finding Meg and her guilt for not being there for Grace. Simon is nowhere to be found, but his story is one of a troubled man driven mad by grief. The whole town is under the spell of Meg and Grace, and ready to paint Simon guilty without any shred of evidence. 

I figured out really quickly what exactly was going on with Meg and Grace, but that's only part of the puzzle. It's a big part of the puzzle, but there's much more to it. Slowly, the story gathers steam and then races along towards a conclusion that will keep you thinking about all of it long after you've finished the book. I'm still putting it all together a day later. Definitely a good thriller!

This novel will be out  in the U.S. on Tuesday, January 7th, 2020 in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook. 

Rating: 4/6 for a thriller that seems fairly simple at first, but has many layers that will have you working along with Jon and Cara to figure it all out, and wow--an ending that packs a wallop. A big thanks to HarperCollins for the advanced reading copy.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown

I zipped through this novel in a day--my first of 2020. It read very quickly, and I had a hard time putting it down. 

Why was it so compelling? I'm not sure. It's a dual storyline, between two women: Nellie in 1956, and Alice in 2018. Both are living in the same home, and married. Nellie is married to a man who swept her off her feet, and she quickly realizes he's not a nice man. Not nice at all. He wants a wife who is pretty, looks perfect all the time, cooks, cleans, and has babies. He's not afraid to use some physical force to keep her in line. 

Alice is a modern woman, who recently left her job in New York City under a cloud--although she's kept that bit of information from her husband Nate. He thinks she quit. Nate wants to move out of the city and start a family in a home set in the suburbs. Alice, very reluctantly, agrees. She's a big city lady, and used to working a lot. Nate makes enough money that she can stay home and write her novel. Alice and Nate buy the home Nellie had lived in 60 years before, and even though it needs a lot of work to modernize it, Nate loves it. Alice, not so much. While rummaging around in some boxes in the basement, she finds an old cookbook that belonged to Nellie. It's safe to say Nellie's spirit inhabits the home, and Alice slowly begins to immerse herself in the role of a housewife who gardens, cooks (out of Nellie's cookbook), and yes, even starts smoking again. She claims it's all for research on her novel, but wow, she starts to take on a lot of Nellie's personality. 

The novel moves back and forth between the two women. I liked Nellie quite a bit. She's trapped in an abusive marriage with very few options. Her friendship with the woman next door is really the only thing that keeps her sane. That and her gardening; she loves to garden and is very good at it. She thinks about her choices and regrets marrying Richard. Her life looks grand from the outside, but inside it's deeply troubling. 

Alice. Sheesh. At first I liked her, but as the story moves along, I found myself annoyed with her. She lies, and keeps lying and makes a heck of a lot of bad choices. She doesn't want to have a child right away, and can't tell Nate how she feels. Instead she's sneaky, and that leads to big issues. She has never come clean to Nate about her job, and why she was fired. She's taken up smoking, but hides it from Nate. She's so unhappy, but instead of communicating that to her husband, she just gets more resentful and keeps adding lies upon lies. 

Both women resent their roles as "housewives". Nellie really just wants to be alone with her garden. I'm not quite sure what Alice wants. I found Nellie's story to be much more interesting. While I wasn't surprised at what happened, it was fun to watch it unfold, along with Alice's dramas. I felt sorry for Nate. He seemed completely lost and clueless. He also made a really dumb mistake, but he was genuinely confused as to who Alice was becoming. My gut tells me that Nellie's spirit was influencing Alice, but it's never stated in the novel. 

I guess you could take this as a novel about women fighting to be themselves in a marriage, figuring out who they are, and working towards that happiness. Or, like me, you could just read the novel as a clever tale of one woman's revenge on an abusive husband. I was dissatisfied with the ending, because Alice and Nate are kind of left hanging. I would have liked to know more about Nellie after 1956. 

I think this would make a good book club selection. Plenty of themes to talk about, and I'm sure readers will either really like Alice, or really dislike Alice. 

Rating: 4/6 for a tale of two women, living decades apart in the same house, and the false lives they lead. Not a thriller, but an interesting look at what is expected of women as wives and mothers, and the stress it can cause a woman to try and fit into those molds. 

Available in hardcover and ebook.