Sunday, June 27, 2021

Blush by Jamie Brenner


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I spotted this novel a few months ago as I was ordering books for my library and thought "Hmmm" this may be an interesting read. 

I was correct.

 I will confess to drinking a glass of wine Friday night as I was reading the last 50 pages, but it wasn't a rose. I kid you not, if you're not a wine drinker, this novel will certainly tempt you to try a few. If you are a wine drinker, just settle back, pop the cork, and pour yourself a glass while you enjoy this novel about a family winery, 80's glam novels, and cheese. Yes, cheese. You'll want some cheese and crackers, too. 

The Hollander Estates Winery has been a hot spot for parties, day trips, and a big tourist attraction on the North Fork of Long Island for decades. What were once potato fields is now a gorgeous winery, complete with an equally gorgeous home to the Hollander duo of Leonard and Vivian. Newly married, the couple created the winery through years of hard work and effort. Their son Asher--who does not want to work at the winery, helps runs it. Their daughter Leah Hollander Bailey runs a successful cheese shop in New York City. Leah was, sadly, not given the chance to help run the winery with her father. He is not about to have a woman make the big decisions. Leah's cheese shop is not her passion and now her lease is up and she's got to make a decision to find another location or close shop. 

Leah, Steve (her husband), and Sadie her college age daughter arrive at the winery for a week of rest and relaxation. Instead, they hear the news that Leonard must sell the winery--the whole kit and caboodle, due to big losses. Vivian is beyond bereft--she had no idea. Again, Leonard not sharing. Leah wants to do whatever she can to save the winery, even if it means angering her father by pushing the idea of creating a Hollander Rose--the one thing Leonard refuses to do. 

Oh, there's a whole lot going on here! Sadie is in a college thesis crisis; Steve wants to move the cheese shop and is not happy Leah keeps putting off returning to NYC; Vivian is crushed she will lose her home. Asher just doesn't seem to care, and his much younger girlfriend rubs Vivian the wrong way. 

Enter Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, and a few other big authors from the 1980's when glamorous women's fiction was all the rage. Sadie begins reading it, Leah follows (remembering how she would sneak the books as a kid), and some of that magic 80's tough heroine fiction rubs off. The show isn't over, not by a long shot. 

I so enjoyed this novel that I'm probably going to read Jamie Brenner's other novels, too. I didn't read Jackie Collins or Judith Krantz back in my teen years, but I was certainly aware of them--and can't forget those glam covers, either. It's pretty interesting how the characters they wrote about influence these women of 2021. Some call it trash fiction, but really, if it speaks to you, entertains, and years later still makes an impact, why would you call it trash? Sounds like darn good storytelling to me. 

This would make a great book club choice--head out to a winery with your friends to sip, nibble, and discuss. There is a lot to talk about! Probably enough for at least one bottle of wine...

Rating: 4/6 for a swiftly moving family novel with plenty of strong women who are just not going to take being in the back seat anymore. Plenty of information about how a winery operates, the magic of growing grapes, and oh, plenty of drama, too. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

How Lucky by Will Leitch


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I saw this last month in my BOTM selections and decided to take a chance. After finishing it, I think this is a novel that is a "word of mouth" kind of novel. It's touching, funny, suspenseful, and has an incredible main character. 

Daniel is twenty-six and lives by himself in Athens, Georgia. He is wheelchair bound with SMA (spinal muscular atrophy); a degenerative neuromuscular disorder. It will kill him at a young age. The fact that he's made it to twenty-six is a testament to his strength, support, and just good luck. 

Daniels spends his days as an online customer service rep for a regional airline. He's limited to just using his left hand to work his iPad, but he makes it work and has adapted as he has slowly lost his ability to speak and the use of his right hand and arms. He's got his friend Travis who visits weekly and helps take care of him and treats him as a normal person; Marjani is his caregiver who comes every morning to get him dressed, fed, and in his chair. He has two helpers who come in the middle of the night to turn him in his bed so he doesn't choke. 

I know. It sounds horrible. But Daniel is not a pity party at all. He's always looking on the bright side, and grateful for everyday he wakes up. 

One morning, Daniel is sitting on his front porch, and observes a young Chinese college student walking along the street. She's been regularly doing this, and Daniel knows her schedule. This one day, a car approaches and stops. She bends down, smiles, then gets in the car. Strange, thought Daniel. 

He was right. Ai-Chin has disappeared, and across the college campus, alarms are raised and search parties are formed. A hotline is set up with the police. No one knows what happened. Except Daniel. 

He enlists Travis' help, but the police are slow to respond, and just being in Daniel's company makes them very uncomfortable. What could Daniel possibly know to help them? 

Daniel persists and posts online--and he gets a response that sends this tale off in another direction. Is he playing with fire? Is he in danger?

The kidnapping is just part of the story. Daniel's life and how he lives it is another. He always says he is lucky. Lucky to have lived. He also says he is lucky because he knows he'll die before he will have to experience losing loved ones, and he won't have to grieve. He'll go first.  Oh, that got me in the heart. He's a funny, thoughtful, smart character. 

I'd recommend this novel for anyone who is looking for disability focused characters and plot. It's also just a good story; one that will keep you engaged as Daniel races to help find Ai-Chin, and puts himself in danger doing so. He's no scaredy cat! 

Rating: 5/6 for a strong central character who sees no limits in his life; a twist at the end, and a loveable cast of characters. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Last Summer at the Golden Hotel by Elyssa Friedland

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    Oh, I've been in a bit of a reading slump the past few weeks. I have oodles of books here at home, but I just can't seem to sit still long enough to make a dent in any of them. So frustrating! 

I picked this novel from June's BOTM choices because it looked fun. You know sometimes you get in a slump and keep reading the same type of book over and over, and you just don't realize it. Well, that was me. Reading Last Summer at the Golden Hotel kicked me out of my routine and it was the perfect summer book for me. 

Nostalgia is HUGE in this novel about two families: the Goldmans and the Weingolds. Benny and Louise Goldman, and Amos and Fanny Weingold owned the famous Golden Hotel in the Catskills of New York State. For sixty years, it was a classic summer getaway for Jewish families living in the big city. A week or two spent at the Golden Hotel meant plenty of time for swimming, dancing, endless food, class A entertainment, and plenty of gossip. The Golden was a family tradition for thousands of people over the decades-something very special. 

Now, however, the Catskills are no longer a big draw, and the Golden Hotel is the last remaining resort. Others went out of business or were bought out and turned into casinos or golf courses. The Golden is teetering on the brink of closing. Guest counts are way down; the place needs serious renovation, and now a company wants to buy it and turn it into a casino. Brian Weingold has struggled to keep it afloat, but now must call in both families to spend one last week at the Golden and decide if they want to keep it or sell it. Amos and Fanny, and Louise arrive. Sadly, Benny died a few years before. Louise's daughter Aimee arrives with two of her adult children. Her husband, a doctor, is in serious trouble with the law, and Aimee came to the Golden to get away and figure out what to do with her troubled marriage. Amos and Fanny's grandchildren Phoebe and Michael arrive as well. Phoebe is an Instagram influencer, and Michael has a secret he is afraid to share with his family. Peter, Brian's twin, stayed home with his wife. Peter is a super successful lawyer who is only concerned about making money. 

Aimee, Brian, and Peter grew up at the Golden. They have so many memories, just being there brings back so many wonderful memories. It may be run down, but the Golden still has some magic. Will the family decide to sell or to keep it, and try to bring it back to life? Over the course of one week, you'll get to know both families and understand the dynamics between the two. The staff who work at the Golden are a treat, and you can't turn a page without grinning. This novel is truly a nostalgic read--even for those of us who have never been to the Catskills. 

I so enjoyed reading this book. It was delightful, even if a bit sad in parts. If anything, it is a gentle reminder of days gone by full of happy memories and people we love who have passed on. It's also a reminder that in our busy world, sometimes the best vacation is to unplug and return to simple pleasures in life, spent with the people who matter the most to us. 

Rating: 5/6 for an absolutely satisfying read about days gone by, the intrusion of today's high speed world, and reconnecting to family and what is important. A part of Americana that has slowly faded away, but remains a golden memory. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse G. Sutanto


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Well, i spent some time this weekend creating an impromptu video where I talked about a whole lot (no shelf control, folks) of books I wanted to read for the summer. However, it was too darn long to load into a post and I finally gave up posting it on Facebook after what felt like a zillion tries. 

So, I'm a bit late posting and I'm going to try another, shorter video and get that up Friday. 

Meanwhile, I have been reading a few books, and I finally finished this novel that's a bit romance, a bit screwball comedy, and well, a slight murder mystery. 

Meddelin Chan has three aunts and a mom who run a successful wedding company. They do it all: flowers, cake, makeup & hair, and Meddy is the photographer. Their biggest wedding is coming up: two wealthy families joining together on a posh island hotel resort. It's huge for Meddy and her family, and they can't screw it up. 

Meddy's mother sets her up on a blind date, and things go terribly, terribly wrong. As in dead body wrong the morning they are to leave for the wedding. What's a girl to do? Call her aunts! And what's wonderful about Meddy's aunts and her mom is that they believe her without question, and throw themselves into solving the pickle Meddy has created (accidentally). 

At the hotel resort, Meddy runs into Nathan, now part-owner of the luxury hotel. He is Meddy's true love, and she broke up with him in college because she couldn't leave her family in California. The heat is still there between the two, and Nathan makes it clear he's missed Meddy and still has feelings for her. Now, to just explain about the dead body in the cooler...

It really is a screwball comedy in that we have a group of women preparing for a major wedding, dragging a cooler around with a body in it-trying to hide it but constantly being interrupted and having to change course. Toss in a developing second plot involving the maid of honor, theft, and a whole fleet of really, really hungover groomsmen, and this wedding will take a miracle to pull off! 

I wasn't sure what to expect and actually enjoyed this novel very much. I wouldn't say it's a mystery, nor a straight romance, either. Kind of a little bit of both, with plenty of Chinese-Indonesian culture and family dynamics. Will Meddy have a happy ending? Happy news! This novel has been optioned for a Netflix movie!

Rating: 3/6 for a fun read about a wedding where everything that can go wrong, goes wrong-and how having a meddling ma in your romantic life can lead to a really, really bad blind date. Enjoyable, full of loveable characters and a demonstration of what families will do for each other in times of crisis. 

Available in hardcover, trade paperback, audio, and ebook. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The Break-Up Book Club by Wendy Wax

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I had to start my summer reading in May when I purchased this novel and couldn't be disciplined enough to wait for June. 

I've read a number of Wendy Wax novels and am never disappointed. Her latest, The Break-Up Book Club was the perfect read to finish up on a holiday weekend and darn it all, gave me a few book recommendations, too. 

There are quite a few characters telling their stories in alternating chapters: Jazmine, Judith, Erin, and Sara are the main characters. There's also Dorothy and Meena, and Annell.  It may seem like a lot of characters to keep straight, but it's really pretty easy. Annell owns the Between the Covers bookstore where their monthly book club meets. It sounds like a dream place (for me, it certainly is!) and the book club sounds pretty wonderful, too. It is the landing space for all of these women who live around Atlanta, Georgia and at first don't have much in common except this book shop and book club. However, friendships form and the book club becomes a support group, too--in the best possible way. 

Jazmine is a sports agent, and wildly successful, too. Judith is in a long marriage and has found out her husband is bored but sticking with the marriage because it's comfortable. Erin is engaged to her childhood sweetheart, who has been signed to the Atlanta Braves baseball team and is having second thoughts about marriage to Erin. 

Sara, oh, poor Sara. She's married, but her husband has taken an out of town job that keeps him away for weeks at a time. His mother Dorothy lives with Sara after having surgery. They have a frosty relationship. When Sara finds out the truth about her husband, it flips her life in ways she never imagined. And it changes her relationship with Dorothy, too. 

Each chapter is told in the alternating voices of Jazmine, Erin, Sara, and Judith. Over the course of many months, the women all experience highs and lows as their lives change and they empower themselves to take control of their happiness. There are some sad moments, but a whole lot of happy moments, too. The monthly book club meetings keep everyone connected and the friendships formed are what help each women navigate big life changes. 

If you're like me, you'll also take note of the books they read and add a few to your TBR list. I've been part of book clubs for over 20 years, and it's always fun to pick out reads and get together to discuss. And yes, books help bring people together. That's just part of their magic. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this read and just as a warning if you read the author note at the beginning you may get a little weepy. My heart goes out to Wendy Wax. Bless her. 

Add this to your summer read list! I find novels about books, libraries, bookstores and book clubs irresistible. I'd love to craft a post about all the titles I've read that fit this particular sub-genre. Add that to my summer to-do list!

Rating: 4/6 for an enjoyable novel about friendship, a book club, and women coming into their own power. I gulped it down!