Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Music of Bees by Eileen Garvin


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I love novels about bees. Of course, when I'm outside and a bee is around, I'm always nervous I'll be stung! However, I'm on Team Bee and will grow as many flowers as I can for them to thrive and survive. 

This book had me up and down a few times. It started slow--or maybe it was me reading other books and picking this one up every once in awhile and reading a few pages. I was having a hard time connecting, and then when I properly dove in and read a chunk, I thought "hmmm, okay this is interesting". 

Then I hit a high note on my reading, and it all clicked in and I absolutely loved it. Every bit of it. Bees for the win!

This is a novel about three people who are all a bit lost, and beekeeping brings them together to heal. Alice, Jake, and Harry would never have known each other even though they all lived in the same smallish town of Hood River, Oregon. A place of stunning beauty, where nature is overwhelmingly present. 

Jake is nineteen, and stuck at his parent's home after becoming paralyzed in a stupid accident his senior year. His father is a horrible jackass, and his mother quietly goes about her business. Jake is lost. He spends his days in his wheelchair, fixing his mohawk and pushing his wheelchair down roads to get away from the empty house. He feels his life is over. 

Alice is a recent widow who is overwhelmed by her grief. So much so that she goes out of her way to interact with as few people as possible. She lives outside of town on a small acreage and keeps bees. 

Harry, oh, poor Harry. He's wandered around the country and is now staying at his great Uncle's run down mobile home out in the woods. He has no job and walks everywhere. He struggles to make sense of where life has led him and choices he's made. 

Everything is set in motion one night as Alice is driving back from Portland after picking up her order of bees to start her season of beekeeping. She swerves to avoid hitting Jake, who is wheeling along on the side of the road. The two meet, and circumstances lead to Jake staying at Alice's house to help her with the bees. And that is where the story kicks in and Jake blossoms. 

Harry sees an ad in the local job listings for part-time work and applies. That job is at Alice's place, doing light construction and clean up. 

The relationship between the three starts off a bit slow, but eventually they are a powerhouse together--Jake finds his purpose in beekeeping, and has an almost mystical ability to understand the bees. Harry and Jake become friends and help each other be brave. Alice slowly begins to put aside her grief and regrets. A pesticide company that is known to decimate bee populations has come to town, and a fight is lit in Alice. She finds her purpose, too. 

This was a novel that surprised me and left me with so many feelings at the end! I felt like I'd been on a journey with these characters and was just thrilled at their healing and moving forward. It was a joy to finish this book. Not at all what I expected--I guess I thought it would be a lighter story and a fun read. It wasn't dark, but definitely touched on dark issues: suicidal thoughts, devastating grief, an abusive parent, overcoming physical limitations, mental health. However, these issues were presented in a thoughtful way that added to the story and understanding characters. 

The bees!! I learned a lot about bees, too. They are amazing, and yes, magical. You'll understand the music of the bees.

Rating: 5/6 for a wonderfully uplifting novel about the healing power of nature and our deep connection to all things wild and wonderful. A moving story of unlikely friendships and connections, and the unlimited potential in all of us. 

Available in hardcover ebook, and audio.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge


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I've got mixed feelings about Libertie. I was excited to read it and was looking for a good historical novel. It delivered in some ways, and fell flat in others. 

Libertie is about a young woman who is the daughter of a light skinned female doctor living near New York City in the mid-late 19th century. Libertie's mother often passes for white, but Libertie, on the other hand, is very dark-so much so that people comment on her skin often. Her mother's deepest wish is to have Libertie become a doctor and join in her practice. Libertie, for a long time, also believes in this dream, but as she grows older, her enthusiasm fades. 

Libertie witnesses her mother bring a man back to life after he's escape slavery by being drugged and put in a coffin. That episode leaves Ben Daisy mentally fragile, as does his inability to come to peace with his escape from slavery. 

Libertie sees first hand her mother's attempts to cure Ben--and they all fail. It sets in motion Libertie's growing awareness of her mother as a human capable of failure. Once her mother accepts white female patients, Libertie's views take another blow. These patients refuse to have Libertie touch them, and her mother doesn't stand up for her. Libertie is sent away to college to become a doctor, and there is where she finally realizes she does not want to follow in her mother's footsteps. 

This is where the book takes a shift. Libertie's college experience involves meeting The Graces, two young women who sing. Libertie befriends them, and decides music is her love, not medicine. Yet she's afraid to confess to her mother, and this leads to a big break between mother and daughter, and a life changing course for Libertie. 

This is a novel that is about relationships and the drive for freedom: freedom from slavery, freedom from society, freedom to be who you want to be. Libertie struggles to figure out not only who she wants to be, but where she wants to be. How much does the color of her skin define her choices? Will she ever be free from her mother's expectations and disappointments?

I found the first half of the novel very interesting and I dove right in; however the second half slowed considerably and took kind of a strange turn into Haiti. I got a little lost and it kind of dragged for me. But, I was still invested in Libertie's story, and while the ending may not be satisfactory for some readers, I thought it left  readers with the opportunity to finish Libertie's story for themselves. 

If you're looking for a novel big on self-reflection, relationships, and the black experience in post-Civil War America, this is for you. It is a coming of age story that will resonate with readers. 

Rating: 3/6 for a novel that examines the many ways women choose to be free. Mother-daughter relationships, marital relationships, expectations gone awry, and living with choices. 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Maggie Finds Her Muse by Dee Ernst


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After reading We Begin at the End I had to reach for something a little lighter to bring me out of my reading funk (funk as in dwelling on a haunting read). I also had my second vaccine shot, and was feeling a bit ick on Saturday. Maggie Finds Her Muse was the perfect antidote for both. 

Maggie is a successful romance novelist who is having trouble finishing her third in a trilogy novel and her deadline is looming. She just can't seem to find the inspiration to get writing. When her agent Lee suggest she come to Paris with Lee and his partner, she jumps at the chance. Maggie's broken up with her live in boyfriend--after he confesses her career is just not important to him, but he's willing to continue living in her cool condo and have her pay all the bills. A successful man, he's quite simply a jerk when it comes to his relationship with Maggie. 

Maggie's on the cusp of breakout success, if she can finish this novel. A potential cable deal is in the works, too, and if that happens, she can finally write full-time and buy her dream beach house. 

Off to Paris, Maggie falls deeply in love with the famous city immediately. Staying in Lee's apartment with Solange, Lee's housekeeper, she's feeling energized. And who is that man she finds lounging in the bath? Why it's Solange's son, Max. A French banker, he's stopped by to visit his mother before flying off on business. 

Maggie's daughter is living in France, and to Maggie's surprise, her ex-husband Alan has also arrived in France on a post-retirement trip. What started as a work trip is slowly becoming more of a vacation. Maggie finds her muse in Max. He's one good looking man, and they get along perfectly well. Writer's block no more! Maggie is churning out pages of her manuscript, all driven by Max's presence. It's some of her best work, for sure. Maggie looks to finish her manuscript before the deadline!

Now if only she can keep her hands off Max...

This was such a fun novel. It was refreshing to read about a romance between two people in their late 40's--still looking for love, but knowing now just what they wanted. Of course their love story doesn't run smoothly--there are some obstacles in the way-but happily ever after always comes after a bit of work. 

Scenes around Paris are divine; food, of course, is amazing. Maggie is a very likable character, as are all of the characters. You'll fly through this novel with a smile on your face. Pack it into your beach tote. 

Rating: 4/6 for a delightful armchair trip to Paris featuring a woman who knows what she wants and won't compromise, a charmingly stinky dog, and one hot Frenchman. Sometimes love arrives when you least expect it! 

Available in paperback, audio, and ebook. 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker


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Well this book took me a bit to get through to the end. Mostly because it broke my heart over and over and I had to read it in bits and pieces. 

I've heard so much about this book--tons of rave reviews, and even a few friends telling me about it. So I bought it last month and have been reading it since May 1st. Some books I can sail through; others take me a bit. This was a "take me a bit" kind of book. It's heavy. It's not a happy ever after. And even for the first 100 pages, I was wondering if I'd made a mistake and it wasn't a book for me. 

But I kept with it, and wow, what a powerful, haunting novel. It's a bit of a thriller, murder mystery, and a family drama all rolled into one. It reminded me of Jane Harper's novels-the desolate feeling I get when I read them. 

In a nutshell: Duchess and Robin Radley are two young kids who live with their mother, Star, in the small town of Cape Haven, California. They are dirt poor. Walker is the town Chief of Police, and he's a childhood friend of Star. He watches over her and the kids and tries to ease their burden as best he can. Vincent is, after 30 years, being released from prison for the murder of Star's younger sister, Sissy. He struck her with his car and drove off, unaware he'd killed Sissy. Vincent was only fifteen at the time. Now he's 45 and being released from prison, back to the town where he grew up. Star, Vincent, and Walker were fast friends and had a special bond. 

Duchess is a fierce 13 year old--she's sassy as hell, tough as nails, and protective of her mom and brother. But she is only a child, and it's exhausting to read about Duchess constantly working to keep Robin cared for, and food on the table. 

Vincent returns home, and shortly thereafter, tragedy strikes again with devastating shockwaves felt by Walker, Duchess, and Vincent. Nothing but tragedy in this novel, over and over. Just when you get slightly comfortable that Duchess will find some peace, wham! fate strikes. 

I can't tell you anymore. You'll have to read it yourself. It was such a good story; it will remain with me for a long time. I don't even know what else to say. Read it, if you can!

Rating: 5/6 for a haunting exploration of family, actions and consequences, love, and paying for past sins. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Friday, May 7, 2021

The Siren by Katherine St. John

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I looked at Katherine St. John's previous summer thriller The Lion's Den but I just never had my interest peaked enough to grab it and read it. Now that I've devoured her second novel, The Siren, I'm going to have to go back and read it. This is a novel that surprised me completely.

The cover certainly gives it a certain, shall we say, Jackie Collins vibe? So I was expecting something frothy and over the top. Instead, I got a novel about the underside of fame and a whole lot of surprises, all taking place on a jewel of a tropical island. 

Hollywood has come to the island of St. Genesius to film The Siren, a thriller of a movie that reunites ex-spouses Cole Power and Stella Rivers. Cole is a HUGE Hollywood power star, while Stella is seen as a has-been. A child star who became famous for her short marriage to Cole and her public meltdowns after, Stella is desperate for a job. 

Cole's son Jackson is the director of the film, but Cole holds the purse strings. Also on the island is Taylor, the producer, and Felicity Fox, Stella's new assistant. Each woman has a reason why this film is so very important to them, and as everyone gathers, you start to uncover the motives behind each of them. 

Let's make it clear: Cole is a major league asshole. A handsome leading man who has gotten away with an awful lot of awful things, he owns the island and knows just how to manipulate Stella and Taylor. 

As filming begins, you get to know each of the ladies, and you slowly start to put the pieces together. As a hurricane threatens to disrupt filming, things really start to heat up, and wow! the action really kicks in. I found myself so immersed in the last 1/4 of the book that I completely lost track of time and realized it was much later than I thought when I finished the book. It's definitely one of those "What?! What?!" kind of books--I was talking to myself a lot! 

I've been reading a lot of what could be termed "domestic thrillers" but this is definitely not a domestic thriller. I'm not sure what exactly I'd call it. Dang it was good! I'd take this on a vacation without hesitation. And now I'm heading to the bookstore to buy her first novel. There is drug use and rape (off scene) in the novel, so be aware of that if you are sensitive to those topics. 

This is definitely one of those books that I had no idea what to expect and was blown away by it and so surprised in a very good way. A huge thanks to Grand Central Publishing for sending me an ARC. This novel just was released in hardcover on May 4th, so run out and grab it!

Rating: 5/6 for a novel about Hollywood, dirty secrets, and a reckoning that is long overdue. In a bigger sense, it's also about hiding your true self, the evils of social media, and survival. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, May 3, 2021

Finding Freedom: A Cook's Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch by Erin French


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I'll admit I'm a little bit obsessed with Erin French and The Lost Kitchen. I first saw the show streaming on Discovery Plus but didn't pay any attention to it; then somehow I read a review of it and decided it might be worth checking out. 

Well I checked out the show, alright, and binged watched all eight episodes over a few weekends (yes, that is binge-watching in my world). I was captivated by Erin's Lost Kitchen and her life in Maine. So of course I quickly found out she had a memoir coming out in April, and I checked it out of the library. 

This woman has been through some stuff. BIG stuff. She's a prime example of what a parent does or does not do sticking with their child through adulthood. A father who showed no affection, no support. A mother whom she loved (and still does!), but who didn't stand up to her husband. Those two examples in her childhood lead her down a really dark path as a young woman, and it took a lot of guts and grit to get out of that hole. 

I don't want to talk too much about Erin's life struggles, because I think they are worth you reading about them, and seeing how easy it is to slip down into a deep, dark place. What I want to concentrate on is Erin's love of food. Her absolute adoration of it, and her desire to provide meaningful meals to people. Meals remembered years later for the emotional gift those meals gave to people. 

Erin is not a classically trained chef. She never went to school for cooking; she learned working in her father's diner, and also learned by instinct. She appreciates the bounty that surrounds her in Maine, and works with local farmers to bring the best of the best to her customers. What began as a dream has blossomed into The Lost Kitchen, a special place in an old mill in the very small town of Freedom, Maine. 

What makes The Lost Kitchen unique is that it is only open 4 nights a week, May through September. One sitting, one unforgettable meal. You can't make a reservation; hopeful diners send postcards in April, hoping to be picked to dine at The Lost Kitchen that season. Tens of thousands of postcards flood little Freedom, Maine each year, and what began as a small supper club for friends and family has become something unique, spectacular, and deeply personal to Erin and her crew. 

I actually got a bit sad while watching her show, realizing that I will probably never have the chance to dine at The Lost Kitchen. It's an experience people wait years for, and when they finally arrive, they know it's something unforgettable. The food, oh the food. Erin has a way with cooking and writing about food that will make your mouth water. Food rooted in family, childhood memories, and most of all, feelings. Some people have a gift, and Erin's gift is her magical way with food. There's nothing a cooking school could ever teach her that she doesn't already instinctually know.

I'll just say for those who may be sensitive to certain life experiences, this memoir contains prescription drug abuse, alcoholism, custody battles, divorce, and suicidal thoughts. But to read Erin's journey, warts and all, is uplifting and worth the read. 

I enjoy food memoirs so much but this one was extra special. Bravo Erin for sticking to your dreams and fighting you way through all the crap to find your bliss. 

Rating: 5/6 for a memoir about a woman's journey from a troubled past to a future of fulfillment and happiness with cooking. A powerful story! 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.


Saturday, May 1, 2021

May Reads: So Hard to Choose, So I Picked Too Many!

 I'm always happy at the end of the month, because I get to craft my next month's reading list. It's usually swirling around in my head for at least a week before, but when I sit down to write my blog post, something always pops in that I forgot about. 

May is going to be such a busy month I am pretty sure it will go by in a blink. Graduation parties (two nephews graduating high school), yard work, lots going on at my job. And I've been super slow in Spring cleaning and organizing. Even my gym has a packed schedule for May and I daresay a few of the upcoming big workouts we do in May will probably leave me hobbling around like a fool. I'm also getting my second vaccine shot, so I had to work that in between some things I absolutely have to do--just in case I have any of the 24 hour blahs people have been talking about. Fingers crossed I get through it with no side effects. 

My reading list is once again ambitious and it's simply because I can't decide what can wait until June. So we'll see how much I can get done. I hope all of them, because I want to dig into every book right now and all at once. 

Here's my list for May:

May promises to be an eventful month, and these books promise to be some great reading! You can click on the blurbs under the cover art of each book to order through Amazon. Happy May everyone! 

The Bookalicious Babe