Sunday, May 29, 2022

Summer Reading 2022: The Change by Kirsten Miller


This novel is definitely going in my top ten for 2022. I picked it as one of my Book of the Month selections for May and I'll just keep patting myself on the back the rest of the year. I was up reading this book at 3 AM last week because I couldn't stop thinking about it. 

Three women live in the Long Island town of Mattuck, New York. Harriett is an executive in advertising; Jo owns Furious Fitness, and Nessa is a widow who's two daughters have just left for college. Three women who don't seem to have anything in common on the surface. 

They all have something in common: the change. We know it as menopause, and those of us who have experienced it know it brings all sorts of interesting physical changes. Pretty much anything that goes haywire with your body once you hit 40 can be attributed to pre-menopause or full blown menopause. It does a number on your body. 

Harriett, Jo, and Nessa are at the age where change is happening, but not in the way you may think. For Harriett, it's finding her calling with gardening, growing herbs, plants, and all sorts of interesting things in her garden. Using those plants to help or punish others. She's so in tune with nature she just stops wearing clothes around her yard--which is safely hidden by  rose bushes that have grown big and thorny and impenetrable. 

Nessa hears the voices again, after decades of not tuning in. Her gift has been handed down in her family: she can hear and see the dead. One voice is very, very loud. 

Jo, after years of battling with her period, her body, and the patriarchy bullshit she dealt with at work, turns that rage into immense strength. She can feel it bubbling up under her skin, and the sweat pours off of her. Running miles each day just to work off the energy. 

All three women come together in Mattuck to stop a serial killer. Young women are disappearing, and the three women follow Nessa's pull towards a local beach. In the brush along the road by the beach, they find a bag, and inside, a dead girl. That's the tip of it all, and wow the book takes off after that.

This is an all-out war between corrupt men and the women who aren't going to take it anymore. The exclusive gated community near Mattuck that houses billionaires during the summer is the bullseye for corruption and may very well be where the serial killer lurks. There's danger everywhere for the women, and their very lives may be in danger as they begin poking around. 

What I loved about this novel was the "F**k around and find out" attitude the trio give-especially Harriett and Jo. Nessa is a little more timid, but is compelled to keep moving forward. Harriett is my favorite of the three--she's just magnificent. Jo's hot flashes are so intense she can literally start fires with a touch of her hand. Her simmering rage is certainly understandable. After decades of having to put up with men who treat them as less than, the women have come into their own with a roar!

Oh, I hope someone buys the rights to this novel and turns it into a movie. I'd see it in a second. I absolutely love Kirsten Miller's take on menopause and aging women who certainly are not done with achieving their potential--heck, even finding new potential. Menopause isn't the end, but the glorious beginning. 

Put this on your summer read list. I raced through it, and carried it with me to work to read at lunch, and even was up late the other night at my partner's house, reading while he peacefully slept in the other room. I couldn't wait to finish it. And oh, it's got a heck of an ending. 

Rating: 6/6--yes! A book that grabbed me from the beginning and kept me smirking, giggling, and heck yes, a bit pissed off until the end. But oh, do the punishments fit the crimes. Hell hath no fury...

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 


Saturday, May 21, 2022

Back to the Prairie by Melissa Gilbert


As soon as I as Melissa Gilbert had written another memoir, I just had to read it. I did gulp it down in one weekend (which is something I haven't done in a long, long time). 

I grew up a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House in the Big Woods is my favorite book) and of course my family always watched the TV show every week. Then Melissa Gilbert dated Rob Lowe and wow I thought she was pretty fantastic outside of her role as LIW. She was part of the cool, young, rising stars set of the early 1980's. 

Then darn it all, she married Bruce Boxleitner, who I had a huge crush on in the 80's. Dang. I read her first memoir, Prairie Tale, and loved it. I thought she had managed to have a pretty sweet life. 

I was wrong. She ended up divorcing Bruce after many years of marriage, and found herself in her forties divorced, financially strapped, and so tired of living the Hollywood life. And then...she met Timothy Busfield. You know, the actor from Thirtysomething and one of the geeks from Revenge of the Nerds. That guy. The universe  works in weird ways, and they came together at the best time in their lives. Finding so much in common, and, yes, life goals to still achieve, they ended up in Michigan, and finally, upstate New York. That's where most of this memoir takes place. 

Melissa and Tim start over, and the pandemic gave them the chance to really dive into living a simple life on fourteen acres of woods in a small ramshackle home they refurbished. Melissa is definitely a city woman, but found herself embracing country life-and also discovering she's pretty darn handy at home maintenance, gardening, and raising chickens. She found fulfillment and a place to land. 

Now in her late 50's, Melissa's tale is about starting over and discovering that there's always a chance to find your happily ever after. Every mistake you make leads to your best life. She also says she finally learned she's "earned the right to her opinions". As someone in my 50's as well, I will say there's something almost magical about this age. You do let go of so much stuff, grow into who you really are, and start putting yourself first. I guess that's the trade off for hot flashes! 

Fair warning Melissa is very clear on her political views so if you're a Trump fan who can't bear to hear any criticism, don't read this book. 

Otherwise, enjoy Melissa's memoir. It's a fast read, and her voice is very strong. Her energy is apparent and I found myself hearing her voice as I read (I did not listen to the audio).  She's survived a lot of heartbreak, childhood issues, and boy oh boy, back and neck pain. I had no idea she had such such painful medical issues. 

Rating: 4/6 for an uplifting memoir about embracing life, opportunities, and always learning something new. Love and family are the center we always return to and the  foundation from which we grow. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Little Souls by Sandra Dallas


If you've been following my blog for a long time, you know I'm a big Sandra Dallas fan. I was thrilled to finally sit down and read her new book. Reading a novel by Sandra Dallas always feels comforting to me, and this novel was no different. 

Set in Denver during the Spanish Flu Pandemic and last days of World War One, this novel is about two sisters, Lutie and Helen. With their parents dead, both sisters moved from Cedar Rapids, Iowa (always an Iowa connection in Dallas' novels!) to Denver to start fresh. Helen is a nurse and works long hours tending to flu patients. Lutie works for a department store drawing advertisements. They own a home and rent the basement out. 

The basement residents are a couple and their young daughter Dorothy. Unfortunately, Dorothy's father is a mean, nasty man-a drunk and an abuser. When Dorothy's mother ends up a victim of the flu, Helen and Lutie take her in and decide they will raise her as their sister. It's obvious her father could care less about her, and besides, he's gone for days at a time. 

Until one day Lutie comes home and finds Mr. Streeter (Dorothy's father) dead on the kitchen floor; Helen standing over him with an ice pick. Helen confesses to killing him after finding him attacking Dorothy. Afraid to call the police, Lutie and Helen's beau Gil dispose of the body and pray he'll be mistaken for a flu victim. After all, people were dying in the streets, and so many were dying it was assumed any body left outside was a flu victim. 

With that terrible secret to bear, Lutie, Helen, and Dorothy attempt to keep moving on, but bad times just aren't through with them just yet. I don't want to say what else happens, because it would spoil the whole novel. But if you've read any of Sandra Dallas' novels before, you know there are some twists and turns, some unexpected sorrows, and always sunshine after the rain. Sandra has a talent for writing a good, solid story, with women as the central characters. This story, just like her others, is about everyday people living through extraordinary times; doing their best to survive, find happiness, and have a fulfilling life. 

I loved Lutie and Helen, and their relationship with Dorothy. There are some dark, cruel things that are explained to shed light on character behaviors, but not graphically at all and tastefully done. All in all, a quick read, and a welcome return from one of my favorite authors. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel set in troubling times; about people who form a family, love each other through hard times, and find ways to heal old wounds. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Blog Tour: Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner


I've got another gem of a read for you! I read The Jane Austen Society  almost exactly a year ago, and now author Natalie Jenner is back with an equally charming novel about three women who decide they're going to change the rules at their beloved bookshop. 

It's 1950's London; World War 2 is over but England is still in recovery. Not only are supplies still a bit short, but the women who took over while the men fought are getting a rude awakening: the men are back. Men have taken back their jobs, and ladies who were used to capably handling life, work, and family are finding themselves stuck back in roles they have outgrown and no longer want. 

Bloomsbury Books is a long established bookshop in London, run by men who have--yes--51 rules on how to work. They are a stuffy bunch, and Vivien and Grace are stifled by the rules and unable to see any of their ideas for improving the shop move forward. Evie soon joins the women at the shop (you'll recognize her from The Jane Austen Society) and together the three women become friends. The shop has been slowly declining in sales--mostly because the men refuse to update the inventory and cater to tourists who visit. 

I loved each of the women: Vivien is a real go-getter; a talented writer who keeps little notebooks nearby and is constantly filling them up--but has nowhere to go with her talent. Grace is a married woman who has a less than ideal domestic life and feels trapped, but longs for more freedom. Evie, of course, brings her talents and interest in cataloging books and bringing long-lost female novelists to light. 

The men who work at Bloomsbury Books are also interesting, and have stories to tell: Alec, Vivien's nemesis, who takes over as general manager and realizes it's not where his passions lie; Mr. Dutton, who has to take a leave of absence from the bookshop and has a big secret of his own. He's also the author of all those rules--archaic and impossible to follow. 

There's finally the quiet Ashwin Ramaswamy, who works in the basement of the bookshop. Evie connects with Ash and their friendship may just deepen into something more. However, Ash feels very unwelcome in London and may return to India. I found myself rooting for these two! 

Mr. Dutton's leave of absence from Bloomsbury opens the door to the women taking control and making changes to the bookshop. They make some impressive friends with authors, wives of publishers, and wealthy American women. A plan is hatched--but will the ladies succeed? 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Any plot that involves a bookshop has my interest. I loved the setting, the different interests in the book world that propelled each of the women to work for their dreams; the friendships that developed, and also the romances that were waiting for each of them, too. This was a novel about women empowering themselves, finding their voices, and using their smarts to get what they wanted. The men thought they were in control, but they were not!

A big thank you to St. Martin's Press, Laurel from Austen Prose PR, and author Natalie Jenner for a chance to be a part of this blog tour. Bloomsbury Girls will be out in the U.S. on Tuesday, May 17th in hardcover, audio, and e-book. 

Rating: 5/6 for a terrific novel about female friendship, women navigating post-World War 2 life, and a bookshop that becomes the catalyst for BIG life changes. 

Monday, May 9, 2022

The Fervor by Alma Katsu


This is such a stunning cover! Props to the designer of it--there's so much to see the more you look. It gives some hints as to the plot of The Fervor. Once again, Alma Katsu creates historical fiction with a tinge of horror that just might keep you up at night. It's also a commentary on today's America. 

It's World War 2, and America has taken Japanese Americans from their homes and moved them to internment camps, all in the name of protecting America from the enemy. Meiko Briggs and her daughter Aiko are in one such camp, tucked away in a remote area of Idaho. It doesn't matter that Meiko is married to a white American man who is an air force pilot fighting in the Pacific--she's Japanese, so she can't be trusted. 

The camp is, well, what it is; however things have been fairly stable, until a deadly disease starts making the rounds. It's a really odd disease-people fall into uncontrollable rages, capable of violence. What starts out as a seemingly natural cold is clearly not that. At first it's the Japanese in the internment camps, but it quickly spreads to guards and other workers at the camp. Suddenly Army officials are coming to the camp, doing their best to contain the outbreak and keep it from spreading to nearby towns. 

Could this be something from the mysterious balloon-like objects people are finding in the woods all over Oregon, Washington, and Idaho? Is it the work of the Japanese Government? Lots of people think so, and the anger against Japanese Americans grows even more into a dangerous angry mob mentality. 

Aiko, however, draws all sorts of Japanese demons and creatures, and tells her mother they are afoot--and there are reports of men seeing a Japanese woman in random, out of the way places, holding a baby. Is she part of Japanese mythology? Has evil come to roost? And oh--the spiders! EEK

There are more characters on the outside of the camp--there's Archie, a young minister who loses his pregnant wife in a horrible accident, and Fran, a young investigative reporter who senses a story is being buried by the government. Archie is also tied to Meiko-she's the wife of his best friend, Jamie. Archie betrayed Jamie's trust and sent Meiko to the internment camp. 

Lots of complex ties here, and even the government involvement is a twisty mess. It's an interesting mix of hysteria, aggression against people who aren't white, and a whole lot of false information whipping people up into a frenzy. Sound familiar?

These lines from the novel are pretty spot on: "The fervor would ebb and flow, but it would never fully die. It had been there since long before the first explosion. She knew someday, the fervor would be back. And when it came, they'd be no readier for it than they were today." 

This is a really interesting blend of Japanese mythology, history, and bizarre weapons of war. Alma Katsu talked to family members who were forced into internment camps during World War 2, and in her afterword speaks about the violence Asian Americans have experienced since the 1800's. It's nothing new, and sadly, something that never seems to stop. 

You'll find yourself being a little more cautious around spiders after reading this novel. A novel that will keep your interest, and maybe have you digging into U.S. history. Sadly, history does repeat itself over and over. 

Rating: 4/6 for a blend of mythology, supernatural, warfare, and hysteria, along with a dark period in U.S. history. Alma Katsu skillfully weaves all of these together in a story that keeps you guessing and brushing imaginary spiders off your face. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Blog Tour: The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray


I'm part of the blog tour for Claudia Gray's The Murder of Mr. Wickham and I will say if you are any kind of Jane Austen fan, you must pick this up! 

I'll confess years after I first read Pride and Prejudice I will still occasionally think "I wonder what Darcy and Elizabeth are doing?" Yes. I know. This murder mystery will answer that question. Bonus: all of Jane Austen's couples from her novels are all together, in one place, for a mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end. 

Emma and Mr. Knightley, happily married, are having a house party, and they've invited a lovely group of folks: Elizabeth, Darcy and their son Jonathan, Colonel Brandon and Marianne, Fanny and Edmund, Captain and Anne Wentworth, and Juliet Tilney, the young daughter (and potential match for Jonathan) of Catherine and Henry of Northanger Abbey. It is to be a delightful party, except the weather has turned foul and rain just keeps pouring down. 

The party has barely settled in when Wickham shows up, an unwanted and unplanned guest. Why is he here? He's loathed by all, even those who don't have, at first glance, much of an acquaintance with him. He sets everyone on edge, and due to the weather, he can't leave. His latest money scheme has left many people on edge, stressed, and angry.

Sure enough, as the title indicates, Wickham is found dead late one night by Juliet. He's clearly the victim of foul play, and with so many people and so many motives to murder him, just who could have done it, and why? Juliet and Jonathan decide together they will figure it out. The magistrate is called, and the questioning begins. 

The mystery really took off at this point, and I certainly had no idea who could have been the killer. Wickham had long-reaching plans and schemes that come to light and will keep you guessing as to who had the best motive and opportunity to silence him. 

It's also quite fun to see the lives of favorite characters after their original stories have ended. Gray cleverly weaves all of the characters together so that it makes complete sense that they would all know each other and gather together for a country house party. This was a happy visit to the world of Austen, wrapped up in a whodunnit that will surprise you. A satisfying ending will have you sighing as you turn the last page. 

A big thank you to Austenprose PR for an advanced copy of the book to read and review. The book will be available in the US on May 3, 2022. It is available in trade paperback and ebook. Also thanks to Vintage/Random House. 

Publisher's Weekly has a great interview with author Claudia Gray and her inspiration for The Murder of Mr. Wickham. Click on this link to read the article. 

Rating: 5/6 for a mystery that has you putting your sleuthing cap on and pouring over clues. The gathering of Austen characters together, under one roof, is delightful and well written. Very well done, Claudia Gray!