Thursday, April 30, 2020

May Reads: Throwing Out the Rule Book

Hello All!  I can't believe tomorrow is May. I think we can all agree March was never-ending, and April went by so quickly I'm shocked. As always in times of stress for myself, I turn to books. It's usually a sure bet for me. But I learned one thing in the past 6 weeks: I cannot make myself read whatever comes my way. There have been times in my life where I definitely avoided certain books, or put a book down and never returned to it because I was reading it when something significant happened. I'm afraid that's already happened to me in the past month. 

One such book was my much anticipated read of Alma Katsu's The Deep. Oh, I couldn't wait to dig into it. But dammit all, I tried for weeks to read it and I just couldn't do it. I am so bummed. It was not my only book casualty of the past few months. I spent a few sleepless nights pondering the irony of not being able to focus long enough to read when it was usually the only thing that kept me on a even keel when I was feeling a bit low or anxious. I'm not a super anxious person, but certainly we can all get the anxiety that has filtered into our brains and emotions. I'm still trying to grasp the fact that I am anxious with the unknown, and thinking of all the things I looked forward to in the next year that just aren't going to happen. I guess it's grief, when all is said and done. I am thankful my close family and friends remain healthy, but I do know people who have been affected by the pandemic. I have a niece who just finished her degree in December. She's a new nurse who just started her first big job in critical care in February. I have a brother-in-law who lost his brother to Covid-19. I have friends who are unemployed. But we carry on, right? It will get better. Of that I am sure. I count my blessings. 

So one of my sleepless nights gave me a revelation: I'm going to read whatever the heck I want. Whatever sounds good, whatever keeps my attention. I'm tossing out my goals of reading certain books and hitting a certain number. I just don't care. I predict my summer will be full of reads about faraway places, romance, friendships, probably a few mysteries in quaint little towns, and who knows what else. I'll be returning to my back deck to do some videos and talk about what I'm reading, and whatever comes to mind. 

Here are a few titles I hope to finish this month:

This isn't out until August. However, I'm loving it as an ARC. For foodies and happily ever afters. 

Gothic! Sure. Sign me up. Family secrets, scary mansion. Brave woman. 

Love Phaedra Patrick's novels. This one is about love lost and found, a romantic bridge, and a message left behind. 

Twin sisters live very different lives and racial identities. What happens when two worlds collide?

Historical fiction set in China, 1937. Students must walk across the country with a priceless treasure: a collection of myths and legends they must keep safe from the invading Japanese. Chinese magic and mythology! 

Well. I hope this month's reading hits the right spot for me. I hope you are all safe, healthy, and taking care of yourself in whatever way you need to. I'm planning on time in my yard, planting lots of happy flowers, reading on my deck, and hopefully exploring some of the trails around my city on my bike. Finding a new sense of normal and taking one step forward at a time. 

Sending big hugs and lots of sunshine wherever you are--

The Bookalicious Babe

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate

This novel caught my eye when I read the short description on the dust jacket--post Civil War? Yep. Sign me up. I continue to be fascinated with the Civil War and the years after, when quite frankly, the U.S. was still a mess. This novel was even better than I had hoped. 

Dual storylines tell the stories of 1875 Hannie Gossett, former slave and now sharecropper at Goswood Plantation, and 1987 Benny Silva, first year English teacher at an impoverished school in Augustine, Louisiana. The same  place where Hannie's story begins. Little does Benny know it, but she will be instrumental in uncovering Hannie's story, long forgotten under the burden of poverty that haunts Augustine. 

Hannie knows her former master had a mistress, and a daughter: Juneau Jane. His wife knows, too, and is a cruel woman, along with her daughter Lavinia. Juneau Jane secretly travels to the plantation one night to find paperwork that will prove her father has given her land of her own. Lavinia knows about it, and when Juneau Jane can't find the paperwork in the library, Lavinia convinces her to travel to New Orleans to seek out a businessman who will help them find the papers. Unfortunately, Lavinia is up to no good, and Hannie disguises herself in order to drive the wagon that takes the young ladies to New Orleans. Once there, they fall into really big trouble, and it's up to Hannie to save the girls and get them safely out of harm's way. Their journey will take them to Texas in search of William Gossett, who left on a business trip months before and has not been heard of since. Will they find him? Will they safely make it back home? 

In 1987, Benny's struggling to contain her class, and is in despair she'll ever be able to reach her students. On a walk one day, she discovers the grand Goswood plantation house, sitting empty. It's maintained, but no one lives there. She spies a very full library inside and decides those books will help her reach her students. Nathan Gossett is the owner, but wants nothing to do with the home. He's also Benny's landlord, renting her a small home on the edge of the town's cemetery. As Benny explores the library, she digs deeper into the town's past, and the tangled history of slavery, war, and freedom. She also learns more about Nathan's family and the tangled web that keeps him from living at Goswood. 

So how does Hannie's story mesh with Benny's? I can't tell you--you have to read the book! I still can't decide which story was more compelling. Hannie's desire to find her family-all sold off years before, is the main driver of her mission in life. It's also what connects the past to the present, in many surprising ways. 

It took me a bit to get into this novel, but when I finally did wow--such a good story! There's an author note at the end, letting you know how Lisa Wingate came to write about the book of lost friends. It's pretty interesting, and a must read. 

Rating: 5/6. I highly recommend this novel for book clubs, history buffs, and anyone who loves a read packed with drama, plenty of interesting characters, and the enduring love of family. Hannie is one amazing character you won't soon forget. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Beach Read by Emily Henry

I finished a book! I'm still trying to find my pandemic comfort reading. I think it's trending towards lighter reads. If I can't focus on a book right away, I put it aside. Sunnier days ahead will send those books back to me and I'll happily read them then. 

So, Beach Read. Emily Henry is an author I haven't read before. She writes YA novels and I think this is her first adult novel. I was excited to read it because it looked like a rom-com and I was all in! This is, however, one of those novels where the cover does not match what's inside. For one thing, the two main characters (Gus and January) only actually sit on the beach near the very end of the novel. They aren't beach people, especially when the beach in on Lake Michigan and the water is cold. 

For another, I found this novel to be less rom-com and more a tale of two damaged people who are really struggling to come to terms with their pasts in order to move on. January is 29 and it's been a year since her father suddenly passed away. She's published three romances, and is on a deadline for her fourth. She's broke, and suffering from writer's block. She's traveled to North Bear Shores in Michigan to get her father's second home ready to sell (she needs the money!). She's also come to face the second home her father secretly had with another woman. January's unable to face the fact that her father was unfaithful to her mother for most of her life, and her happy childhood memories are crushed under her father's secret life. Happily ever after doesn't exist. 

Gus lives in the house next door to January. He's also a published author, and oh boy, January and Gus went to college together. January and Gus didn't get along at all. So of course sparks will fly, but the path to happiness is very rocky. They make a pact that January will write her idea of the great American novel, and Gus will write a novel that has a happy ending. Whomever gets published first wins. 

As their friendship grows, January's writing fire is lit! She's finally writing again. And she finds herself falling for Gus and preparing herself for heartbreak. For most of the novel you never quite know what Gus is thinking; he's pretty hard to read. But finally, you get a peek inside Gus and he's quite charming. But you're still not sure if happily ever after is in the cards for these two. You have to read to the end to find that out. 

This story wasn't what I expected when I picked this book up and began to read. I'm still trying to decide if I am disappointed or not. There was a lot of emotional baggage between Gus and January, and I felt it weighed the book down a bit. What I did take away was that we should be happy with now, and be satisfied with that--we aren't guaranteed happy all the time, and that's okay. Happy is also in the small moments that we think are just everyday, and that I can agree with and recognize. Those small, quiet moments are what we string together to make one big happy life. 

Rating: 3/6 for a novel that has me on the fence. There were parts of it I enjoyed very much, and other parts that felt really heavy. Gus will steal your heart and you'll find yourself cheering for him and January in their complicated path towards love. 

Available in the United States on May 19, 2020 in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

This book has been so patient with me. I bought it in 2017, and it has had a place of prominence on my bookcase. The bookcase that I walk past multiple times a day; the one just outside my kitchen. The bright cover always catches my eye, and I think "I've got to read that someday".  It took a pandemic, but here we are--it's read, and I'm so glad I waited until now to dive into it. 

I read Abbi's novel The Bookish Life of Nina Hill  last August (click on the title for my review) and loved Abbi's style of writing: a bit of snark, a bit of humor, and a whole lot of heart. Contemporary women's fiction that I really enjoy, and sometimes have a hard time finding just the right fit. Abbi's writing fits me perfectly. So when I realized this was the same author, I really wanted to read it--and I needed something a bit lighter, and something that had to do with gardening. 

Lilian Girvan is a single mother of two young girls: Annabel and Clare. Her husband died in a terrible car accident right in front of their house three years before. Lillian had a breakdown and was pretty out of it for a year. Her sister Rachel took care of the girls and kept things together until Lilian was home again. Now life is as normal as it can be; Lilian is a book illustrator, the girls are thriving, and Lilian is taking one day at a time. 

Lilian's latest illustrating assignment is a book about vegetables. Part of the job requires her to attend a local gardening class for six weeks. She talks Rachel into going along with her and the girls. This class will change their lives in ways they can't begin to imagine. 

Lilian has no intention of ever dating again. She's planning on being single for the rest of her life. She misses Dan, her husband, so much, and can't begin to imagine ever wanting anyone else. Besides, she's got her girls to raise.  Enter Edward, the man who is leading the gardening class.He's pretty cute. And smart. And charming. And gets along with Annabel and Clare. And likes Lilian a lot. 

All of the class participants are pretty wonderful characters, and Lilian forms friendships with all of them pretty quickly. It's a group of people brought together for a reason, and as the weeks go by, they lean on each other, support each other, and eat a lot of pizza. Life throws lots of changes at all of them as the garden grows and flourishes under their care and attention. 

Yes, this book was just what I needed. Absolutely enjoyed every bit of it. Abbi has a new book coming out: I Was Told It Would Get Easier in June and you betcha I'll be reading it--and not take three years to do it. 

Rating: 4/6 for a delightful read about moving on after losing someone you love; all the gifts of gardening, finding love, and opening up your heart. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Bear by Andrew Krivak

This novel has had me curious for months. I thought twice about reading it now, in the middle of all this state of unknowingness. After all, it is about a father and a daughter, the only two people left on the planet. But I decided to read it anyway, and once again book magic happened, just when I needed some in my life. 

It's a short novel, but packs a punch. Father and daughter live in a small home set deep in a vast forest. They are the only two humans left alive, many years after something happened that ended life for humans. Animals of every kind flourish, and nature has reclaimed everything for itself. Father and daughter live in harmony with the land; everything they have they receive from the trees, the plants, the river and the animals. Except for one precious pane of glass, and a few books, nothing really remains of civilization. Father has only known this life and just a handful of people--including daughter's mother, who died when daughter was a baby. He has taught daughter everything he knows in order to survive: making clothes and shoes, weapons for hunting and fishing, how to gather food and hunt. He has even taught her to read and write. Father has also shared with daughter stories of the forest and of the bears that pass down stories of the world through each generation. 

Father and daughter go on a journey to the ocean, to gather salt. Daughter finds herself suddenly alone, and must find her way home again. Will she survive? Amazingly, a bear comes to her aid when she needs it the most. Bears in this novel remind me of wise elders who take care of everything around them.   Daughter's journey home is pretty powerful. 

This is a novel about a world where civilization is gone, but it's not an apocalyptic novel. I found it incredibly peaceful. It is about living with nature, taking only what you need, honoring the wisdom of nature, and listening because nature is always talking, especially the trees. 

I loved it! Wow. This is perfect for those who love to read about nature, or people who spend a lot of time outside just taking it all in. It's also a great novel to read in the Spring, when everything is waking up, and we turn to gardening and growing. 

Rating: 5/6 for a novel that hit the spot for me this week. Beautifully written, quiet and powerful. Sit somewhere outside quiet and let the novel take you away. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Apparently I need to read a thriller about a wedding and a murder on an island to get into my reading groove. But it worked, and I discovered a new author I like. Win win. 

The Guest List is Lucy Foley's latest novel; her previous novel The Hunting Party (which I will read as soon as I can), which was published last year, got a lot of buzz. I received an advanced copy of The Guest List from Willian Morrow (HarperCollins) and wow am I glad I did--it was a quick read and full of twist and turns. 

Guests are gathering on a small island off the coast of Ireland for the wedding of digital magazine creator Jules and her devastatingly handsome fiancĂ©, Will Slater. He's a rising star in television with his survival series (think Bear Grylls). Jules picked this location to honor her Irish roots, and also because it will make good copy--and she got it at a bargain price. The first wedding to take place on this remote island, it's run by wedding planner Aoife and her partner Freddy. It could make her career, too. 

The story unfolds over two days; the day before the wedding, and the wedding day. Told through a host of characters: Aoife, Jules, Olivia, Jules' sister; Hannah, a guest at the wedding, and Johnno, the best man. The narration flips back and forth between all of these characters, and as you read, it becomes pretty obvious very quickly that all is not sun-shiny and grand for this wedding. 

Each character has a whole mess of issues, and in the course of two days they all come out one after another, to a final aha! moment. We start at the beginning, with a big storm, the lights going out in the reception tent, and a horrific scream. Boom. Then we go back and forth, between characters and the two days on the island. Some may find this hard to keep track of, but I didn't have an issue. It made the build up that much more of a bang. 

My only issue, after thinking about this for awhile, is that the person who is the ultimate baddie is so bad it's kind of hard to believe someone could get away with that much for so long. Until the wedding. 

You won't be able to put this down. I was up until past midnight finishing it because I just couldn't stop. It will be published in the U.S. on May 5th in hardcover.  

Rating: 5/6 for a fast paced thriller that kept me up way past my bedtime!!

Thank you William Morrow for the advanced copy.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

What Does a Person Read During a Pandemic? Anything That Makes Them Happy

Yes, we're all in this together, aren't we? And the one thing that always gives me comfort isn't working all that well for me: reading books. I find myself having a very hard time sitting still long enough to read more than a few pages, and when I'm reading, my mind is just racing. Getting through my TBR pile seems so darn insignificant right now. 

I hesitated to even write an April "What I'm Reading" post, but decided maybe it would help me focus a bit. So here are a few that I'm working on this month. I tend to reach for comforting reads--yes, some cozy mysteries, some romances, and historical fiction that grabs me. And sometimes I read about that thing that really worries me--in this case, the pandemic. I am that person who sits on a plane and thinks about it crashing, so I guess I'm also that person who wants to read novels about the world in a medical crisis. It's my way of saying "you don't scare me!" even when it does. 

So, here's what I'm working on in April:

Historical fiction about a home for wayward girls and two women who form a forever kind of friendship.

Contemporary fiction set in London about strangers brought together by a book left in a cafe. 

A father and daughter are the only two humans left on the earth, and a bear that leads the daughter home. 

Out in May, a thriller about a wedding and murder-on an island. 

Alma Katsu wrote The Hunger, which was a favorite book of mine a few years back. She returns with a supernatural historical tale about the Titanic and its sister ship, the Britannic, and a woman who keeps hearing the call of the ocean--and not in a good way.

I'll probably read a few other books during the month (fingers crossed!)--whenever I need something lighter. 

I hope you are all safe, healthy, and following social distancing. Please share what you're reading (or not) during this uneasy time in our lives. As the weather warms, I'll be starting book talks again from my back deck--watch for those on the Bookalicious Babe's Facebook page. 

Take care--

The Bookalicious Babe