Wednesday, February 26, 2020

March Reading from the Stacks and a Few DNF's from February

I've got a few days left in February, but I'm pretty sure I won't be finishing two of the books I've worked on all month: The Woman in the Veil and  The Parker Inheritance. I've picked them up numerous times but just can't seem to finish either one without getting distracted. I'll probably finish both of them at a later date. 

Today is DAY ONE of my self-imposed ban on buying books for 40 days. I'll admit it's going to be hard, because there are a few titles coming out in March that I really, really want. Come Easter Sunday, I'll be a the store, buying some books-- have no doubt about that. Meanwhile, wish me luck. I'm interested to see how I manage this and just what I'll be able to read from my stacks at home. It's a great chance to discover books I've been wanting to read, but forgot about after I stacked a few other books on top of them. It will be a month of discovery. 

Tonight, I'm looking through my stacks, deciding what to read in March. I quickly realized I have almost too many choices! It's hard to narrow it down. Here's what I hope to read and review this month: 

I've had this for a few years--set in 1654 Amsterdam, involving a young housekeeper and Rembrandt himself! The cover caught my eye and that's why I bought it in, uh, 2017. 

Another book from the stacks. I've had my eye on this series for quite some time and decided to finally start it. A woman doesn't realize her father is the famed Sherlock Holmes--and she's inherited his keen sense of deduction.

Oh, you betcha this one is on my list. Controversial seems to be an understatement. 

A read for publisher review about "a thriller set in the future where the Earth has stopped spinning".  A scientist holds the key to saving the Earth. Yay Scientists! 

A modern gothic thriller about a young woman, an elite school, and some ghostly happenings. A debut novel out in May, 2020.

I've got a whole lot of interesting reading coming up for March, and I can't wait to get started. I'm finishing up a really good novel called The Chill and I'll be reviewing that in the next few days. 

Happy reading everyone!  

The Bookalicious Babe

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

No Book Buying for 40 Days: Testing My Resolve and Will Power

I spent a recent Saturday morning gearing myself up to sort through the stacks of books I have at home. For weeks I've stared at them, added to them, and thought I should probably look through them. But then I would ignore that, or put it off. I'm really good at procrastination when it comes to looking at my TBR piles and deciding what to do with them. 

I managed about a full 10 minutes of shifting through them before I became overwhelmed, re-stacked everything, and left my books alone. 

Well heck. This isn't going to work, I thought. I can't even casually look through my books without feeling stressed. I realized Lent is coming up, and while I am a very lapsed Catholic, I decided it would be a good chance to test my desire to read through my TBR piles. Once I found out Lent begins fairly soon (February 26), I really felt strongly that this was my chance to break my habit of adding to my TBR pile without also reading from my TBR pile. And once I've read the book, it either goes to friends to read, family to keep and read, or is donated. Only super special "must keep" books will stay with me. 

Yes, I know Lent is all about giving up something that would be hard to give up for 40 days. Let me tell you, I've spent decades buying books whenever it suited me to do so; sometimes buying 5 books a week. Usually I last about 2 weeks tops before I buy something at the bookstore. Even using the library, I still buy books. Mostly because that's what libraries do for a lot of us--we see something there, read it, and decide we want a copy for our shelves at home. 

My goal over those 40 days starting February 26th is to read books I check out from the library and read books from my piles at home. It's going to be a random mishmash of stuff, for sure. But I can't buy any books for those 40 days. I'm already feeling the pain. 

I'll keep you updated on how I'm doing, of course. 40 days isn't very long, but it's long enough for me to feel overly dramatic about it:


Saturday, February 22, 2020

Wife After Wife by Olivia Hayfield

I've always been fascinated by the saga of Henry VIII and his six wives, so it was a no brainer when I saw this novel. It's Henry VIII and his wives set in modern times. How would it all play out in our modern society?

Olivia Hayfield delivers an absolute Dynasty-drenched saga which begins in the 1980's and takes us up to 2018. Harry Rose is a young twenty-two year old man married to Katie, and expecting his first child. It's 1985, and he is working to take the reins of the family business Rose Corp, begun by his father. He's stunningly handsome, charismatic, and grieving the loss, in a short span of time, of his brother Arthur, his mother, and his father. More sadness is on the way when their first child is stillborn. 

From 1985 the story moves forward, as Harry begins his reign as Rose Corp's CEO, and welcomes his daughter Maria with Katie. Of course Harry, with his intense good looks, is irresistible to the women who cross his path. He loves Katie, but just can't help himself. Katie, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly depressed over losing more pregnancies, and turns towards her faith to cope. 

Oh, the parade of women through Harry's life! Merry, his long-time mistress and sister of Ana Lyebon, who becomes his second wife after years of waiting to divorce Katie. Merry plays a big part in Harry's life.

 Ana is a very interesting character. She kept away from Harry for a long time, just not interested in him, and was also engaged to another man. But Harry's determination to have her wore her down, and they become the power couple of London society. She's beautiful, brilliant, talented, and stands up to Harry. She calls him out. 

What I thoroughly enjoyed about this retelling of Henry VIII and his wives was knowing the history of what really happened way back when. We didn't guillotine wives in the 1990's; what would happen to Ana, and Caitlyn, Harry's fifth wife? How would the story change--would they survive this time around?

And Harry: what would become of him, as he bounces from relationship to relationship, all the while becoming more of a force as CEO of Rose Corp. His empire is growing and expanding every year, taking advantage of new technology and the public's appetite for more and more entertainment. In this life, is Harry doomed as Henry VIII was with ill health, mental issues, and a raging temper? Do his relationships with his children improve this time around?

You'll have to read it to find out. 

The author added a list of characters to the book, which helped so much keeping track of who was who in this life and in the Tudor life. There are tons of cultural references (even Princess Diana shows up a few times) and of course references to Henry VIII's world pop up every once in awhile. Ana's visit to the Tower of London for a business photo shoot is really interesting...

Yes, the author does change a few things, and tinkers with the modern retelling of a saga that has fascinated historians and lovers of everything Tudor for years. But that's okay. It's interesting to read an updated version of all of that mess; the sorrow, the machinations, the lost lives. I loved my dip back into 1980's & 90's London, and I simply couldn't put this one down. I found myself reading every chance I had--I guess Henry's still got it!

Rating: 5/6 for a full-on family saga that spans the 1980's, 90's, and the early 21st century. A retelling of the Tudor soap opera with a modern spin. A chance at redemption for Henry (Harry Rose) and a thrilling update to his wives-they are strong, and they don't take any crap from Harry even while they each love him fiercely. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. I'm happy to say Olivia Hayfield is writing a sequel, which will focus on Eliza (Queen Elizabeth)! I'll be devouring that, too.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Read Off the TBR Pile: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

This is a novel I've been wanting to read for quite some time. February is African American History Month, and I felt this was the perfect time to read it. I finished last night, and had to take some time to digest, because it's a book that left me gobsmacked. 

First of all, Colson Whitehead is an amazing writer. Amazing. This was a novel that grabbed me and occasionally let me come up for air. I  read it in chunks, because some of it was brutal, and left me feeling a bit sick and horrified. 

Cora is a young slave working the cotton fields at the Randall plantation in Georgia. Two brothers own two parts of the plantation, and while she is under the ownership of the less brutal brother, it is still a harsh life. Her mother Martha had run away when Cora was very small, and the famous slave catcher Ridgeway had failed to bring her back to the plantation. Ridgeway just could never let that go, and that plays a big part in Cora's journey throughout the novel. Cora herself is at turns angry and bitter at her mother for leaving her, and desperately missing her mother. 

Cora's owner dies, and his brother Terrance takes ownership of the whole plantation. Terrance is quite possibly the most sadistic and horrible character in the novel. He has his eye on Cora, and she is terrified of what's to come. Caesar, a fellow slave, decides to run, and asks Cora to go with him. The two run away and so begins Cora's amazing flight to freedom. 

The underground railroad is stunning; it's an actual railroad, complete with trains and tracks. Cora travels from Georgia to South Carolina and beyond. At each stop she thinks she's found a safe place. The people who help along the way are all part of a huge network of folks who risk their lives to keep the railroad moving. Some of them pay a harsh price. 

I can't tell you more, because if you haven't read it, you should and discover Cora's journey for yourself. While some reviewers expressed disappointment in not getting to know Cora on a deeper level, I didn't find that to be true. The brutality she experiences is told in a matter of fact way which makes it that much more awful. This was every day life. I was reminded at times of witch hunts--people taking the opportunity to turn others in on suspicion in order to get even for imagined slights. I was reminded of World War 2, when people took great risks to hide Jews and help them get to safety. I was reminded of those people who were so afraid for their own safety that they willingly, and sometimes gleefully betrayed others in order to survive. Time and again, Whitehead reminds us that the machine of the South was relentless, asking for more and more human flesh to keep it churning, greedy for more cotton, more money. 

The "magical realism" of the railroad and some of Cora's experiences portray a world gone mad and out of control. Time and again, Cora meets and loses someone; she must continue on this journey alone. Ridgeway has not given up on finding Cora and bringing her back to the plantation. He's obsessed with her, and will not let Martha's daughter escape. 

Will Cora make it to freedom? Is it worth the sacrifices and loss she must suffer?   Will she ever find Martha?

This is a novel that will stick with me for a long time. I feel emotionally exhausted. Worthy of all the accolades, and definitely one of the best books I've read in a very, very long time. 

Rating: 6/6 for a Pulitzer prize winning novel that is astonishing in the brutal portrayal of slavery and a flight to freedom. A cast of unforgettable characters and excellent writing make this truly an epic read. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio.  

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Westering Women by Sandra Dallas

Sandra Dallas knocked it out of the park again with her latest novel about women pioneers, Westering Women. I've had the pleasure of meeting Sandra, and I've read pretty much all of her novels over the years. I'm never disappointed. 

One of my favorite history subjects is pioneering women. I've always been fascinated by these incredible women, who gave up everything they knew and loved to follow their husbands out West to start new lives. Imagine walking from St. Louis to California. In a dress. No A/C, no iced coffee, no comforting hotel to sleep in at night. Maybe giving birth while out in the middle of nowhere. Losing children and husbands to cholera, accidents, drowning. When I think of these women, I can't help but admire their tenacity, strength of mind, and downright badassery. I wonder if I would have been able to do what they did; if I had the hardcore toughness, and grace, to make it West and start a new life. This is what Sandra's novel had me thinking about every time I sat down to read Westering Women. 

It was pretty easy to slip right into Maggie Hale's story, which starts in Chicago. She's fleeing a horribly abusive husband with her small daughter, Clara. She sees an advertisement for women to travel West as potential brides for miners in California. It's her only chance to get out of Chicago before she's arrested for her husband's murder. A seamstress, she's been working hard to keep herself and Clara going, but money is running out, and after defending herself and Clara from the latest abuse of her husband, she fears she will pay the ultimate price. 

Maggie meets Mary at the church where they gather to apply to go West. Mary is one tough woman. Standing tall and broad, she works on the farm she shares with her brother and his wife. She's treated badly by both, and does the work of two without much reward. She's ready to travel West and start anew. 

Maggie and Mary are two of the main characters, but there's also a host of other folks who round out the wagon train: William and Joseph, both reverends who have organized the wagon train; Caroline, Joseph's wife and William's sister, who shows compassion and love to all she meets; Penn, a runaway from an abusive man and his brothers; Winny, a servant who wants to find her brother in California, and Bessie, the rich widow who is sponsoring the trip and also going West to start over again. There are more characters, and you'll get to know them all. 

The women endure many hardships, challenges, and tragedies. It may seem like a lot, but in reality, this was life on the trail. Most of the men in the novel aren't the best characters. Penn and Maggie are always looking over their shoulders, afraid they will be caught. But as the weeks go by, the women learn to defend themselves, perform the hard labor required to keep the wagons moving forward, and find strength they never knew they had. The trail hardens them in all the best ways. William and Joseph also change for the better, as they face the reality and responsibility of their journey. 

Most of all, this novel is about friendship and sisterhood, and the ties that bind women together. It's about working as a team even when it's hard or when it doesn't benefit you. It's about supporting, celebrating, and comforting those on the journey with you. This is always a theme in Sandra's novels, and I can't think of a better over-arching theme to weave into every story she creates. 

Fans of Nancy Turner's These is My Words--if you haven't read Sandra's novels, I would highly recommend you do. I can't get enough of them. 

Rating: 5/6 for another wonderful story about women who keep moving forward through strife, heartbreak, and pain. The characters are endearing, the story moves swiftly, and it is hard to put down! 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin

I'm a sucker for novels about bookshops. Add in Paris and a few love stories, and this was the book to read leading up to Valentine's Day. 

The Little Bookshop on the Seine was a fun read--the perfect kind to take you away from the cold nights and gloomy days of a Midwest winter. Sarah Smith is a young bookshop owner in the charming town of Ashford. She's absolutely in love with books and reading, and spends all of her days and nights wrapped in her bookish life. 

And that's the problem. Business has been slow, and she's a bit worried. She's been corresponding with Sophie, a bookshop  owner in Paris. They've got a firm friendship, and one day Sophie calls Sarah with a proposition: they swap shops for six months. Sophie wants to escape a heartbreak, and Sarah needs some adventure. 

Lickety-split, Sarah is arriving in Paris, and steps into the bookshop with all sorts of rose-colored ideas of what life will be like managing the bookshop for the next six months. 

She's wrong. Really wrong. Sophie's bookshop, called Once Upon a Time, is a big tourist draw, and is constantly busy. It's in a decrepit old building that has plenty of issues, and has floors of books every which way. A staff that doesn't much care for Sarah's attempts at organization, and a heck of a lot of paperwork soon have Sarah exhausted, near tears, and wondering if she made a mistake. 

To top all that off, her hunky boyfriend Ridge is playing phone tag with her as he travels around as a freelance journalist. Their love is pretty strong, but can it survive her living in Paris for six months, and him flying around the world? Sarah's so caught up in the bookshop she's not able to even see Paris. 

Most of the book is about Sarah's hard adjustments to managing the bookshop and speaking up. Her relationship with Ridge is teetering, and she's heartbroken that the man she loves may be putting his career before their relationship. But, just as it seems all is falling apart, Sarah slowly begins to find her feet, make some hard business decisions, and find friendships that lead her to exploring and falling in love with Paris. And her relationship with Ridge? Well, she hasn't given up hope completely. 

The cast of characters at the bookshop slowly became more fleshed out as the story moved along. I especially enjoyed her friendship with Oceane, a beautiful and sophisticated coworker,  and Luis, the famous author who comes in every day to write upstairs in solitude. 

It's a definite "take me away" kind of story. Sarah is a bit too wide-eyed at the beginning, and goes from someone who never flew on a plane to someone who's pretty darn comfortable wandering the streets of Paris on her own. She seems to find herself pretty darn quickly once she lands in Paris. All in all, it was a fun read with a few threads of romance to keep everything percolating along. 

Only one thing really had me a bit perplexed: it seemed as though I was dropped in the middle of Sarah and Ridge's romance. I felt like I missed something, because they were already a couple when the book started. There is a first novel, but it looks like it's only available as an ebook in the U.S. 

However! There was a bonus story at the end of this book that is all about the beginning of their love story. Aha! But darn it- it looks like this is only included in the paperback version of the novel, and not the hardcover. 

I needed a romantic novel and this certainly fit the bill. I hope to read more of Rebecca Raisin's novels. Fans of Jenny Colgan will enjoy this one. Who can resist a bookstore in Paris? Not me! 

Rating: 3/6 for an entertaining romantic novel about the magic of bookshops, Paris, love, and friendships both old and new. Sometimes adventure brings out the best part of you--so get going! 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook and audio book. 

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare

Thanks to Penguin Random House for a review copy of this book. It's one of those books I probably would have missed completely otherwise, and I'm so glad I got to meet Adunni. She's an unforgettable character. 

Adunni is fourteen, and living in a small village in Nigeria. Her mother has died, leaving Adunni with her waste of a father and her two brothers. She had been going to school at the wish of her mother, and she loves it. She knows education is the way out. Unfortunately, her father doesn't feel the same way, and makes her leave school. He sells her to an older man in another village for the money to pay rent and for food. Adunni is crushed. She doesn't have a choice, so she ends up the third wife of this man who only cares about getting her pregnant and having a son. 

Adunni faces so many trials, and so many hard choices. She's constantly treated as a commodity and never as the bright young woman she really is. She's never heard. Adunni's dream is to continue her education, become a teacher, and help other young girls become successful and have more choices. But other people are in control of Adunni's life for most of the novel, as she flees her marriage and ends up in Lagos working as a house servant for a very wealthy woman. Adunni is treated horribly; only fed once a day, made to clean a mansion top to bottom every day, and beaten regularly for absolutely no reason. She's also under threat of rape by her Madam's leacherous husband, Big Daddy. The only hope Adunni has is in securing a scholarship for a school that will provide a free education, a place to live, food and clothing for her. That hope rests with a friendship Adunni forms with a young wife who recognizes the potential in Adunni and secretly works with her to write the essay that will secure the scholarship. 

The rhythm of Adunni's thoughts and speech took a little bit to get used to, but once I was in, it wasn't hard at all to move through the story. Adunni is such a strong young woman. She's so innocent, but keeps believing life will get better even when things look grim. By the end of Adunni's tale, I was so darn proud of her absolute belief in herself, and never giving up on her dream. All she wants is to walk in a room and "...people will hear me even before I open my mouth to be speaking." She wants her louding voice. 

A big thanks to Penguin Random House for the opportunity to discover the story of Adunni. Author Abi Dare has created a remarkable, strong, unforgettable character in her first novel. You won't soon forget Adunni--a  courageous young woman who keeps believing even in the darkest moments. 

Rating: 5/6 for a powerful novel about hope, courage, the rights of women, and the belief in pursuing a dream. 

Available in hard cover, ebook, and audio book.