Thursday, August 31, 2023

August Read: The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff

 I finished this novel a week ago and had to take some time to deal with all the book emotions it gave me. It's one of my top ten books of 2023. 

I haven't read any Lauren Groff books before this and from what I understand this one is a bit different from her previous novels. The buzz around this novel is accurate and if you're going to read any book this year, make it this one. 

Two things you'll notice pretty quickly: there is no dialogue, and you don't know the narrator's name. In fact, you finally find out the narrator's name towards the very end, and that in itself is a heartbreak. 

This short (less than 300 pages) novel centers around a young woman who has fled from a colonial settlement in America in the dead of winter. Carrying only a knife, a flint, a tin cup, leather gloves and a few blankets, she runs into the vast wilderness, bent on survival. She's leaving a terrible situation: there's no food, and people are either starving to death or dying of small pox. There's also another reason she's fleeing, but you don't know exactly what that is until the last bit of the book. 

The novel follows the narrator as she journeys far into the wilderness, struggling to survive. She's resourceful and smart, and given her limited resources, she's able to keep going when most of us would have just given up. During her journey she encounters wild animals, horrible weather, indigenous people, and one wild man who is so unsettling I was holding my breath reading that chapter.

Along the way, the narrator looks back over her short life and the journey that brought her to "the vaster wilds". Deserted as a baby, she was brought up in an orphanage in London until she was picked out at age four to be a servant in a wealthy household. There she encounters some stability, but also a few awful things. Her employer remarries a preacher man who is cloaked in handsomeness but is actually pretty awful. He decides they need to begin again in the new world.

I don't want to tell you any more, because I'll give too much away. Nature vs. man is a HUGE theme; the wonder this character finds in her surroundings even as she battles to survive. She has some pretty deep soul-searching moments, and a lot of those reflections apply to today's world. Man's determination to conquer the unknown, women feeling unsafe and powerless in a man's world; finding spirituality in nature. It's all there. 

This novel sent me on an emotional journey. The end is as it should be. I hope this novel wins all the awards. It is stunning. 

Rating: 6/6 for a short but powerful novel about survival, regrets, female power and our connection to nature, which can sustain or destroy us. 

This novel will be out on September 12th in the U.S. in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. A huge thank you to Riverhead Books (Penguin/Random House) for an ARC. 

Monday, August 28, 2023

Blog Tour for What Would Jane Austen Do? by Linda Corbett


I've read a few dark novels in the past couple of weeks so I definitely needed something refreshing to read, and What Would Jane Austen Do? was the perfect solution. 

Maddy Shaw is a huge Jane Austen fan and advice columnist for a magazine in London. She loves her job, and is crushed when she is fired by the new manager. Keeping her commitment to appear on a podcast, she gets into a war of words with mystery writer Cameron Massey over romance novels. He's nice to look at, but a bit of a crab.

Maddy finds out she's inherited the country home of her distant relative Nigel, who has a few stipulations for Maddy: she has to live in the home for twelve months before she can sell it. If she doesn't, the home goes to someone else in the village. 

Maddy, at loose ends and unable to afford living in London, decides to move to the country home and try a new life. And surprise! who lives nearby? Cameron Massey AKA Luke. He's having some remodeling done at his home, and needs a quiet place to write his next novel. Maddy has a huge home and needs some extra income. It doesn't hurt that Luke has an absolutely lovable dog who quickly captures Maddy's heart. 

This was a gentle romance, and if you love English contemporary romances, this will definitely be on your TBR list. Enemies to Lovers, starting over, and a bit of a family mystery concerning Nigel all keep the plot moving along. There's no explicit sex scenes so if you like your romance to build slowly with a  few bumps along the way, you'll enjoy this novel. 

I did enjoy the story of Nigel, who is a big part of the novel, even though his death is the catalyst for Maddy's move. A bit of family history and a lesson in not believing family stories passed down without doing some fact checking. 

Jane Austen quotes highlight every chapter, and Maddy's love for Jane Austen does shine through--she even challenges Luke to write a romance, since he thinks they are so easy to do. He finds differently, of course!

Thanks to Harper Collins for a chance to read this novel. A perfectly lovely contemporary romance that takes you to the English countryside. The book is available on Kindle and in paperback.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

August Read: The September House by Carissa Orlando


I haven't read a knock down, in-your-face horror novel in a very long time. Wowza. Horror fans will inhale this novel and come out the other side with a few choice words. I read it over the space of the weekend in between cooking and running errands. Thankful for a steaming hot day today that--oh darn--kept me inside reading. I'm not one for always reading horror novels, but when it comes to haunted houses, I am in it! 

September House is about a beautiful Victorian home where married couple Hal and Margaret live. Finally, they have the home of their dreams. Doesn't matter the basement is creepy and smelly, and they got it super cheap. 

Now it's been a few years, and it's September again. The month where the moans start softly, then build to piercing screams. Where blood begins to drip down the walls, slowly oozing all the way down the stairs. And there's the pranksters, all the little children who clearly died horrible deaths, hanging around the house, pointing at the basement. I can't stress enough--if you are squeamish, pass this novel by. If you, like myself, have the ability to see the dark humor in all of this, you'll be able to wince, but keep on reading. 

It seems Hal and Margaret have a haunted house. Sure, it's nice to have a housekeeper (Fredricka) who makes you tea and cooks you supper--don't mind the horrible ax wound she has on her face. And in September, well, Fredricka goes on a bender and moves things all around the house. Once September ends, things quiet down. But no way do you go in the basement. Master Vale lives there. 

Hal is done. He can't take anymore, and leaves. Margaret--well, she's lived with Hal and rules their whole marriage, so if she just follows the rules in the house, she'll be okay and get through another September. After all, it's her house and she's not leaving. 

Katherine, Hal and Margaret's adult daughter, is concerned her Dad is gone and won't respond to phone calls and seems to have disappeared. Katherine decides she's going to come to the home (she's never been) and get to the bottom of her father's disappearance. Margaret is distressed--after all, it is September. How will she manage cleaning up the blood, and how will Katherine sleep with all the screaming every night? Not to mention the pranksters...

Dang, this was one heck of a novel. If you're squeamish, avoid this novel. If you like very dark humor mixed in with a heck of a haunted house and a really nasty evil presence, step right up! The end is AMAZING. 

There's also other stuff that's brought to light, along with the escalation of concern over Hal's disappearance and Katherine's concern for her mother's mental health. There's backstory about Margaret's marriage and Katherine's childhood that frames the story, and certainly fleshes out Margaret's character and the choices she makes. It also sets up the last thirty or so pages, where you're breathlessly turning the pages and cheering Margaret on as she battles Master Vale. It's a bloody, brutal fight. 

This novel will be out in the U.S. on September 5th in hardcover, audiobook, and e-book. Thanks to Edelweiss and Berkley for a chance to read before publication. It will definitely go on my Best of 2023 list!

Rating: 5/6 for one hell of a paranormal/haunting/horror novel that builds in tension and explodes in action the last 1/4th of the novel. Fall readers who like a spooky read will grab this up. Warning: harm to children and violence make up a large part of this horror novel. Dark humor--yes, there is plenty. 

Saturday, August 19, 2023

August Read: The Witch of Wild Things by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland


I'm not going to lie: I've been in a whirl of new books lately. As in, trying to read a whole lot of ARCS, library books, and um...the bags of books I bought over the past few weeks. I had a book frenzy moment and now, in the aftermath, I'm trying to catch up. 

I gulped this novel down in just a few days (in between working and reading another book). If nothing else puts me in the mood for Fall, this book certainly did, and that's part of what made me enjoy it so much. 

Set in Virginia, this novel is about three sisters and their Aunt. The Flores sisters: Sage, Teal, and Sky all have gifts: Sage is the "plant whisperer"; Teal can summon up a thunderstorm or the sunniest of days, depending on her mood; and Sky has the gift of communicating with animals. It's been eight years since Sage was home, but now she's returning after losing her job. Returning home to her Aunt Nadia's house also means living with Teal and facing the grief from losing Sky eight years before. Only Sky is still around, haunting Sage every time she cries. Sky doesn't know why she's sticking around. 

Sage returns to her previous job at the Cranberry Rose Company, growing herbs and nurturing plants as only she can do. And unfortunately for her, Tennessee Reyes also works there--the very object of her love years ago in their teen years. Dang it all if he isn't even more handsome as a grown man! Tennessee sure likes the look of Sage, and has no idea all those years ago his AOL messenger pal was Sage. 

Sage has her work cut out for her: dealing with her feelings for Tennessee, trying to connect with her sister Teal, and figuring out why exactly Sky keeps hanging around, acting very un-ghostly. It's a homecoming that is an opportunity for healing, growth, and a happily ever after, if only Sage can hang on and see it all through. 

I loved Sage's gift with plants and Mother Earth. The best gift to have, in my opinion! I'll say Sky's story is a bit odd, and did throw me for a loop. Just keep reading and let the magic of the novel make you a believer. Teal is a pill and dang she is frosty as hell. Themes in the novel are embracing your gifts, not letting men push you around, and, of course, family. There's a couple of steamy sex scenes but otherwise it's pretty mild. 

Thanks to Edelweiss and Penguin Publishing Group for the ARC. This paperback will be out in the U.S. on September 12th. Also will be available as an e-book. Cover art is fantastic! 

Rating: 5/6 for an entertaining novel about a family of witches who struggle with everyday problems just like the rest of us. A magical novel about finding love again, healing old wounds, and accepting your own badass self. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

August Read from the Shelves: I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy


I've been dilly-dallying between four books the past few weeks and not finishing any of them. When that happens I do what's probably counterintuitive and pick up a whole different book and read it. I've had this memoir in my stacks for a few months and decided to dive in and reset my reading mojo.

Whoa. Lots and lots of some pretty hard stuff in this memoir. Not a read for people who may have experienced physical or mental abuse; eating disorders, or alcohol abuse. I've read a few interviews with Jennette and she said she decided on this title because she wanted it to grab people's attention, and also because she knew her three brothers would immediately get it and understand. I think it's safe to say there are plenty of other people who also get it and understand. 

Jennette McCurdy's acting career wasn't something I was aware of; I was long grown up and not watching Nickelodeon when she was on iCarly. To think of her years on that show, and how miserable she was, is heartbreaking. This kid went through some stuff.

Jennette's mother decided when Jennette was six years old that she should become an actress. Mostly because that's what her mom always wanted to be. Jennette wanted to make her mom happy, because she mostly wasn't-so she said "sure". Dragging Jennette around to auditions, being a pushy stage mom, using her past breast cancer diagnosis to illicit sympathy and open doors eventually got Jennette a starring role on what was to become a very popular kid's show: iCarly. 

What people may not have known was Jennette's home life was a disaster. Her mother constantly worked to keep her children (Jennette has three older brothers) dependent on her and always cried that she didn't want them to grow up. Jennette's dismay at puberty had her mom sharing her "calorie restriction" methods on an eleven year old who developed full blown anorexia, followed by years of bulimia and a dysfunctional relationship with food. This woman was the worst mother. So awful. What's sad is Jennette believed everything her mom said, and worked so hard to not disappoint her mom. This kid was completely lost, naive, and had no chance to figure out who she was, as long as her mother was in control. 

Jennette's mother died from cancer when Jennette was 21. She's free, you think. But no, years of terrible harm to herself required extensive therapy, and a lot of ups and downs. It speaks to Jennette's incredible strength that she's come out whole on the other side. Not only as a child of abuse, but a child actor in a terrible industry that isn't kind at all. 

Jennette's writing is spot on--she's got talent, and I hope she continues to thrive. This was a powerful memoir and I'm so glad I read it, even when it became uncomfortable. 

Rating: 5/6 for a moving, powerful memoir about a young woman's traumatic childhood and her struggle to find her voice. If you have a chance to watch one of her interviews about this book, please watch! 

Available in hardcover, ebook and audio.