Monday, November 30, 2020

What Do You Do When Books Everyone Else Loves are Dragging You Down?! And...Time for December Reads

 I am super annoyed. I've wanted to read Alix E. Harrow's The Once and Future Witches and Rebecca Roanhorse's Black Sun for MONTHS. I eagerly bought both of them, and started reading...

.......and starting and stopping

........and SQUIRREL!

....here it is, weeks later and I haven't even made it half-way through either of them. I'm beyond frustrated at my lack of focus and inability to be grabbed by either of these books. I know deep down I will love both of them, it's the getting there that is proving hard for me. I simply cannot concentrate long enough to settle in for a good, long page-turning read. I'll confess I had hopes with a four day weekend I would really make some progress. Unfortunately, I wasn't home much at all--as in only part of Friday and part of Saturday. Instead of reading, I put up my Christmas decorations and made the mistake of visiting Target, where I think everyone in my city was shopping. I quickly left after realizing no one was social distancing or even trying to--but at least everyone had masks on-mostly because Target enforces it. 

Anyhow, I did read the latest Jodi Picoult: The Book of Two Ways. While I was all in at the beginning, I quickly lost interest. I did push my way through to the end, but I was disappointed. Too much deep thought that quite honestly didn't hit the mark with me. So while I did read it, I'm not going to review it more than what I just did! I have a friend who read it and loved it, so my advice is to give it a shot and see what you think. What was a miss for me may hit a home run for you. 

I am not giving up on Harrow and Roanhorse. But I am tossing in the guilt-infused towel and I'm going to stop feeling bad that they are taking me some time to finish. I'll continue to peck away at both of them, confident that I will hit that sweet spot in both and spend a few late nights unable to put them down. 

So, onto December reads. My month where I unapologetically read mostly holiday feel-good books. Holiday books for me are like Christmas lights for others: they magically make me feel happier and more relaxed. While my Decembers are no longer driven by a crazy retail schedule, I do continue to keep my tradition of reading and relaxing at night with the tree lit up and a few candles burning my favorite cranberry and pine tree scents. 

I am still working on Surviving Savannah (as an e-book) and it reminds me how much I miss reading a lot of historical fiction. So that's still in the mix this month. I'm really pushing myself this month with the stack I've selected. I never learn my limits! Here's some of what I'm going to read in December:

Most of my choices are holiday titles I've purchased over the past month and kept hidden from view so I wouldn't be tempted. I've also grabbed Ree Drummond's latest Frontier Follies and the current YA pick from Reese Witherspoon's book group: A Cuban Girls Guide to Tea and Tomorrow. I've got a couple of Christmas mystery books, along with a few romances. So heck, that's a lot of reading for me this month. I best get moving. 

As the year winds down, I'm closing in on my reading challenge. This year I decided to lower my goal and I'm glad I did-it's been a humdinger of a year, wouldn't you agree? And while books are always my happy place, sometimes even they didn't quite work their magic. Sometimes I just had to sit in that unhappy, sad place. Sometimes (as in after the power came back on after 11 days in August!), I just have to watch Guy's Grocery Games on Food Network for hours and not do anything else. Now I'm hooked on the Great British Baking Show--all the old seasons showing on Netflix. I find it comforting to watch all those bakers. I hope 2021 has plenty of foodie fiction books coming my way. 

Stay safe, stay healthy, and take some time to enjoy whatever reads or audio books   give you joy. 

Here we go December!

The Bookalicious Babe

Friday, November 27, 2020

Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce


I've read Rachel Joyce's novels before, and I know I am always in for a quirky tale that hits me hard in the heart when I'm least expecting it. Her latest didn't disappoint, and I loved everything about it. 

It's 1950, and Margery Benson is in her late 40's, single, and teaching home economics in post World War 2 England. She has no family, and has settled into a pretty sad and lonely life. One particular day, a student draws a picture of Margery, and once Margery sees the drawing, she loses it. She snaps, walking out of the school, quitting her job, and going home. She decides to leave it all behind and pursue her one dream-a dream from childhood that she stuffed deep down and decided would never happen. Her dream? to travel to New Caledonia in pursuit of the legendary golden beetle. Does it exist? Who knows? But Margery is determined to find it. She advertises for a companion to help her in her quest, and lively, quirky Enid Pretty is her last hope to pull off her adventure. 

Enid isn't exactly what you'd want on a trip to New Caledonia-a place that's full of jungles, rain forests, mountains, and all sorts of danger. Even Margery isn't in the best shape to undergo an arduous trip, but her mind is set and she's not going to give up. As Enid and Margery travel by ship to their destination, they get to know each other and a friendship slowly forms in between a whole lot of rocky situations. Just who is Enid Pretty? What is she running from? 

Margery is delightful, and you can't help but admire her persistence in what looks like a completely foolish endeavor. Enid is a bit of a mystery, and she's so different than Margery you wonder how they could ever become friends, let alone go on an adventure that is both thrilling and dangerous. Yet Enid's story slowly unfolds, and you see how alike both women really are, and how both have dreams that neither is willing to let go. This is a travel tale, an adventure, a story of two women who become dear friends, and a tale of pursuing dreams. It's never too late! 

I so hope this becomes a limited series somewhere on TV. I would recommend this novel to book groups, and pretty much anyone else! I'll be passing my copy onto friends for sure. The author has some extras at the end of the book that you're sure to enjoy. Definitely one of my favorite novels of 2020. I've left a lot for you to discover as you read it--I can't give away all the good stuff! 

Rating: 5/6 for an unlikely adventure and friendship between two women who seem very different but are actually quite a lot alike. I'll confess I got a bit teary-eyed a few times and it left me thinking about Margery and Enid for quite some time. 

Available in paperback, audio, and e-book. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

A Solitude of Wolverines by Alice Henderson


I enjoy reading thrillers, but I definitely can't read too many in a row before I get a bit burned out and need to read something completely different. This thriller, however, is so completely different than what I've been reading lately--I was hooked from the cover and it didn't disappoint. 

Alex Carter is a biologist who travels around from job to job studying wildlife in their habitat and advocating for the preservation of their land-often coming up against greed, corporate agencies, and  even private landowners who want to make a buck. 
Her latest job takes her to Montana, where she is looking for wolverines on a wildlife sanctuary that used to be a working ski lodge. Now, thousands of acres are safe from development, but oh boy the townspeople nearby do not like the sanctuary and they certainly don't like Alex. Staying at the lodge by herself, she spends her days setting hair traps and cameras around the mountains to try and find out if wolverines are actually using the area to survive and produce offspring. Yet between the nasty towns folk, threatening notes on her windshield, and feeling like she's being watched, Alex begins to realize something is really wrong. Checking her trail cameras, she sees photos of a man wandering the area, barefoot and in trouble. When she approaches the sheriff with her concerns, his cold shoulder makes Alex realize she's not going to get much help or support from him or anyone else around. 

Things start to heat up, and Alex begins to uncover a whole lot of underhanded, dangerous things taking place all around her. She's in danger, but from whom? And why? 

Oh, this was such a good thriller. The added bonus of Alex's wildlife work made this so interesting. It really brought the wilderness to life. Her smarts and ability to take care of herself out in the wild, her ability to stay cool and calm were all refreshing to read. Alex is no slouch! The opening chapter is also a whiz bang start, too, but I don't want to give anything away. Let's just say the beginning and the end come full circle for Alex, and leave room for more adventures to come and mysteries to solve. 

This is definitely a must read for anyone who loves the great outdoors, hiking, camping, and nature in general. A thriller that builds anticipation and doesn't let up. 

Rating: 5/6 for a fascinating look at wildlife biology, the ongoing battle between preserving wildlife habitats and encroaching humanity, and one heck of an action packed thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. So. Good. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab


This is another book I've been anticipating for quite some time, thanks to buzz on Twitter and the book world. It took me a bit to finally pick up the book and plunge into it, though, but I was immediately captivated by Addie's story.

Addie LaRue is 23 in the summer of 1714, living in the small French village of Villon. She's pretty much lived her whole life there, not venturing much past the village boundaries. Yet Addie is burning with the desire to see the world; live a life much bigger than what awaits her in Villon. She has arrived at a point in her life where choice has been taken away: she is set to be married at sunset to a local man she does not love. Addie knows her life will become dreary, filled with unending tasks and bearing children until she simply grows old and dies. A life that is not at all what she wants. In a bid to escape the inevitable, she runs to the woods on the way to the chapel, and begs the gods and goddesses for a new life-she will do anything  to escape life in Villon. 

And someone does appear-a very dark god, indeed. The devil himself, to make a bargain with Addie: she will have the freedom she craves, but at a price: her soul in return, when she is weary of life. Addie agrees, but soon finds out the bargain is a curse, and a cruel one, at that. Not only is she immortal, but her desire to be free means no one remembers her; she cannot tell people her name, and she has no way to leave a memory of herself behind. She is doomed to wander the earth every day, unable to have a home, a lasting love, or even simply being remembered by anyone who crosses her path. Within minutes, she is forgotten. 

Most of the first half of the novel chronicles Addie's rough beginnings in her new life as she discovers she can be injured, can be voraciously hungry; even freeze at night-but it won't kill her. She can speak to a person, and that person walks away and returns with no memory of who Addie is or what she wants. Addie learns to live by her wits, stealing food and clothing, wandering cities and figuring out the game that will keep her sane. And Luc, the devil who made the deal, visits her every so often to remind her she only has to say she's done and it will all be over. Yet Addie is determined to never give in to Luc, and continues to learn, evolve, and wander the world. 

Part of the story is also set in 2014; Addie lives in New York. She looks exactly the same, and now over three hundred years old, she's pretty wise, but also still desperately lonely. Until she meets Henry. Henry remembers her. He's the first person to remember her in over 300 years. How is this possible? Has Addie finally found someone who will never forget her?

There's much more to the story, and a heartbreaker of an ending, for sure. Addie's beginnings are very interesting, as she navigates the streets of Paris and other cities, surviving by her wits, learning skills along the way. Her pain from time after time of spending the night with someone, only to be met with confusion and shame the next morning, is devastating. Yet with Henry, she has a chance, finally at happiness. Or will fate be cruel once again?

I did like the characters; Addie is especially tough and complex, as would anyone who is immortal and utterly dependent on themselves. It is interesting to think about being alone while in the midst of a pandemic. We are all forced to spend less time with friends and family; often spending whole days alone with no personal contact. I cannot imagine going through hundreds of years that same way. The mixture of art and literature, and the ways Addie finds loopholes in her curse to leave some trace of herself behind are interesting, and frame the beginning of each section of the book. 

I can't give away the end, and it may satisfy or disappoint you--definitely something to discuss! Addie is a character you won't soon forget; after all, that's what she wants--and she succeeded with this reader. 

Rating: 4/6 for a powerful novel about time, love, memory, and the traces we leave behind. How do you leave a legacy when no one remembers you? 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman


This mystery has been on my book radar for a few weeks. I keep seeing it all over social media, and kept seeing it coming in and out of the library. I had a chance to grab a copy from my library, and settled down this week to read it and was charmed from the first page. 

The Thursday Murder Club is a group of retirees living at Coopers Chase, a retirement village in the Kent countryside. It's a fairly well set up place, with plenty to do and all sorts of interesting folks. The drinks flow freely and there's gossip aplenty. Converted from a nunnery, it is a stunning spot to retire to and relax in the countryside. Ron, Joyce, Elizabeth and Ibrahim get together on Thursdays to discuss old murder cases. Elizabeth's good friend Penny, a retired detective, lives at Coopers Chase with her husband John. Only thing is that Penny is in a coma, and she's the one who kept all the files of cases she worked on years before. Elizabeth is one interesting woman with a mysterious past and superb detective skills. Joyce is a retired nurse, Ibrahim a retired counselor, and Ron is, well, a retired troublemaker. 

What begins as a look at an old murder case quickly takes off when a local developer is found dead in his kitchen. That developer had a business interest in Coopers Chase, and the man who also owned Cooper's Chase-Ian Ventham, is ready to double cross him and cost him millions. Now he's dead, and Ian is the number one suspect. But did he do it?

What begins as a seemingly simple murder mystery unravels into a much more complicated tale that involves land deals, nuns, drugs, and some of the people at Coopers Chase who have some pretty big secrets to hide. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the characters-their wit, sense of humor, and relationships kept a smile on my face while I read. These senior citizens are not ready to sit back and take it easy-they are sharp, witty, and ready to use whatever they have to get the answers they need. Detectives are no match for them!

I really enjoyed this mystery, and I could see this as a tv series very easily. Anytime a mystery features a band of rabble-rousing senior citizens, sign me up! I'm ready to climb aboard. 

Rating: 5/6 for a multi-layered mystery that seems fairly straightforward at first, but keeps unraveling into something much bigger. A cast of characters who are delightful, and enough action to keep the story from bogging down. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly


I needed to escape from my October reading for a bit and found the perfect book to do just that. This novel will be out in January, 2021 so if you're a fan of Julia Kelly you'll have a few months to wait. 

I'm one of those people who love all things gardening-especially flower gardens. I am, however, not one to be out in a garden working on it every chance I get. I love the results, but not so much all the work to get there. I used to have a lot of flowers in my yard, but I've scaled back massively the past few years because I don't have the time, and I've realized that whomever follows me in my house may not want a lot of flower beds around. I still have perennials, but I've gone to simple, easy to care for summer flowers and plants in pots. I still have a wish for a forever home with a field of wildflowers somewhere on the property. My partner has agreed on this, so hopefully in the future I'll have that gardening wish come true. 

This novel has quite a few characters-five women-that each have a tale, and three different time periods. It may sound complicated, but it's really easy to follow. 1907 is Venetia Smith, a woman who is one of the few female gardening experts in England making a name for herself. She's been hired to create a huge garden for a newly wealthy couple at their estate Highbury House. Her reputation is on the line, both professionally and personally. She must walk a fine line between pleasing her employers and creating a stunning garden with her knowledge and experience. 

1944: Britain is in the middle of World War 2, and Highbury House is now a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers  Diana Symonds is the widow who owns the home, living there with her son Robin and spending time in the run down gardens when it is all too much. Her cook, Stella, has lived in the area all her life, and all she wants to do is leave to work and travel. She feels trapped, especially since her sister has brought her young son to Stella to stay in the country, away from London. Stella is not at all the motherly type, and has a hard time connecting to her nephew. And there is Beth, who is a land girl for the British Government. She has come to the country to help out on a farm, doing whatever needs done to produce food and keep the farming community running. An unlikely trio of women, but somehow they all connect and rely on each other. 

2021: Emma Lovett has been hired by the current owners of Highbury House to recreate the gardens Venetia Smith created in 1907. With not much to go on but rough outlines of garden "rooms" in the lawn, a few notes and a few photos, Emma has her work cut out for her. She also has to decide if keeping her small business going is worth the hard work. Emma admires Venetia's work, and uncovers unknown facts about Venetia and Highbury House while working on the garden. 

All three stories connect neatly and I had no trouble going back and forth between each time period. The garden descriptions were fascinating and interesting, I only wish I had a visual while reading! It's hard for me to say which part of the plot I enjoyed the most; each story was compelling and had a few surprise elements. 

All in all, a satisfactory historical fiction novel about love, family, gardening, choices, and finding your happiness in the midst of the worst circumstances. I did also appreciate the focus on the gardening angle, especially during the World War 2 portions of the novel. I'm a bit weary of war novels, and while it did figure prominently in this novel, it was more about the war at home and how women were discovering their strengths and talents to create new lives. 

Rating: 4/6 for a solid historical novel about gardens, England, women who rise to challenges, and the continuing history of a home that saw much love and sorrow. 

This novel will be out in hardcover in January, 2021 in the United States.