Thursday, November 23, 2017

Review: Devil's Bride by Stephanie Laurens

Stephanie Laurens is one of the biggest names in historical romance, having been prolific for years. She's an "auto-buy" author for many romance fans with at least nine series so far. By far the longest of her series are the Cynster books about the Bar Cynster family. Arguably (there is a prequel written long after the original novel of the bunch) the first book in that series, published way back in 1998, is Devil's Bride about the 6th Duke of St. Ives and his chosen bride.

Sylvester, known to all and sundry as Devil, is the 6th Duke, head of this large and intimidating family. Honoria Prudence Anstruther-Wetherby is a finishing governess on her way to her latest post when, in advance of a coming storm, she stumbles across a young man who has been shot and is bleeding out. No shrinking violet, Honoria tries to stem the tide of blood but cannot do anything else for him until a dark, imposing man on horseback arrives and helps her get the injured man to a woodsman's cottage. The two spend the night in the cottage with the dying man, thoroughly compromising Honoria. In the morning, she learns that her companion throughout the night was Devil Cynster and the dead man, his young cousin Tolly. Devil is determined to marry the lovely governess but she has no intention of marrying him, coming as she does from a family that is his own family's equal. She dreams of traveling the world, seeing Egypt, and remaining free of any marital or maternal ties. But Devil is used to getting what he wants. She stays at his family home throughout the ensuing funeral, meeting and being seamlessly folded into the Cynster family so skillfully she cannot object mostly because she wants to find who murdered Tolly almost as much as the rest of the Cynster men. None of the other women know that he was murdered and Devil doesn't want Honoria anywhere close to the quiet investigation he and the others are conducting so, of course, she inserts herself as often as possible.

Devil is an autocratic and arrogant character. He never doubts that Honoria will eventually cave to his wishes and marry him. And in fact he generally does have the upper hand and plays her so that she has no choice but to fall in with what he wants. But if he is strong-willed and single-minded, so is she, and she fights for the information she wants from him even as she gives ground in other ways. The narration moves back and forth from Honoria to Devil so that the reader sees each move in this game from both perspectives. The sex scenes between these two not quite combatants, not quite lovers are incredibly steamy and if Devil's restraint in the bedroom, waiting for Honoria to agree to marriage, is a little unrealistic, the unfulfilled, or perhaps more accurately unconsummated, desire arcing between them does heighten the sexual tension as the story goes on. As this is the introduction to the Cynster clan, there is an enormous character list in this book and none of the secondary characters are all that well differentiated from the others, with the notable exception of the Dowager Duchess. Laurens introduces each of the family members with a light hand, perhaps in anticipation of them having their own books in the series, which they eventually do. The murderer is never in question in the book, requiring little in the way of uncovering plot lines for the reader. (The characters, on the other hand, are frustratingly blind to the truth right in front of them.) Without much of a mystery, the second half of the book is chock full of extended sex scenes, Devil demanding Honoria agree to what they clearly both want, and her silence on the matter, followed by more hot, sexy times, renewed demands, and more silence (repeat at will). There's a certain something about the book which makes it definitely feel of its time, perhaps the very alpha male hero or maybe the heroine who gives up long cherished dreams without a backwards glance once her hormones fire up, but I am willing to try another Cynster novel the next time I get the urge to read an historical romance and see how I like the rest of the family.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

Chance Developments by Alexander McCall Smith.

The book is being released by Anchor on November 28, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: Inspired by antique photographs, these five stunning short stories capture the surprising intersections of love and friendship that alter life's journeys. In “Angels in Italy,” childhood friends, separated by circumstance, learn the enduring power of a first love. “Sister Flora's First Day of Freedom” introduces us to a young nun who makes a difficult decision to leave the sisterhood and finds delightful new riches in the big city of Edinburgh. The enchanting “Dear Ventriloquist” tells of a mishap at a Canadian circus that sparks unexpected magic between a gifted puppeteer and a dapper lion tamer. Changing a tire changes the life of a young Irish teacher in “The Woman with the Beautiful Car,” and a young New Zealander learns what matters in life from his grandfather, a WWII veteran, in “He Wanted to Believe in Tenderness.” These charming and poignant stories are a testament to the power of human connection and brim with a grace and humor that could only come from the pen of Alexander McCall Smith.

Review: To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic

I had to read Leanne Dunic's slender book, To Love the Coming End, twice to get some sense of the tale contained within what others have called lyric prose. This was certainly not a traditional prose narrative, but rather a fragmentary collection of short meditations with a tenuous story running through them.

The unnamed narrator, an author, traveling to and remembering Japan, Singapore, and British Columbia, writes of loss and her missing or absent lover. She weaves heat, place, and the geological disaster of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in with this self-defining emptiness, this unrelenting void and explicitly draws the reader to the number eleven, not only as a date and a whole number itself but also as a figure of two ones, two people standing together and yet parallel, never coming together, separating in fact. There is a sense here of both connection to the natural world and a dislocation, a loneliness, and a sorrow of incompleteness as well. The language is confounding, hiding as much as it reveals. I had a difficult time connecting with the book. Many of the short, almost prose poems, felt like simply window dressing, a building of atmosphere for what, in the end, was a quite modest and even pedestrian story. Those who enjoy experimental prose/poetry will certainly enjoy this far more than I did, probably find more meaning in it, and can feel quite confident in their intellect surpassing mine as I've clearly struggled with this. Maybe on reads three or four I'd come to a better appreciation but I don't really want to try and tease out any additional meaning and that probably says it all.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday, November 20, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Royally Wed by Teri Wilson
The Paris Secret by Karen Swan
Shelter by Jung Yun

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love by Per J. Andersson
The New York Time Footsteps by various authors
Books for Living by Will Schwalbe

Reviews posted this week:

Royally Wed by Teri Wilson
Kiss of the Highlander by Karen Marie Moning
The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Inhabited by Charlie Quimby
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain
The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
You and I and Someone Else by Anna Schachner
Meantime by Katharine Noel
The Portrait by Antoine Laurain
So Much Blue by Perceval Everett
The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel Davis Huber
Mothers and Other Strangers by Gina Sorell
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell
How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
Between Them by Richard Ford
Kinship of Clover by Ellen Meeropol
The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman
The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker
Morningstar by Ann Hood
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Song of Two Worlds by Alan Lightman
The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell
The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig
A Season of Ruin by Anna Bradley
Incontinent on the Continent by Jane Christmas
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar
Sourdough by Robin Sloane
A Paris All Your Own edited by Eleanor Brown
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
Living the Dream by Lauren Berry
Lawyer for the Dog by Lee Robinson
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Beginner's Guide to a Head-On Collision by Sebastian Matthews
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
Emily Goes to Exeter by M.C. Beaton
The Book Jumper by Mechthild Glaser
From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty
Devil's Bride by Stephanie Laurens
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Shelter by Jung Yun

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrival:

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones came from Algonquin and LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Jones' Silver Sparrow was a beautiful book so I'm looking forward to this novel about a newly married couple whose lives are torn apart by a wrongful conviction that takes years to be overturned.

If you want to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Salon: Snapshots from a childhood in books

Recently I was asked to provide the title of a "lifetime" book that had the greatest impact on me and a brief explanation of that impact. Now if you're a lifetime reader, and I assume that most of you are, the list of books that you could use for this is not a short one. So the question then becomes, which one to use. Will you be judged for answering with less than an acknowledged classic? When I was in graduate school, a well-known professor asked each of us to tell the class about a book that had made us a reader. (Notice she didn't say "the" book, but "a" book. She was clearly a reader herself.) When it was my turn and I said that James A. Michener's Hawaii was a seminal work in my reading life, it was hard not to notice all of the (barely disguised) snorts of derision. And yes, it was clearly different than the rest of the canonical (and the more obtuse and confounding the better) works everyone else had cited but it was in fact a major influence on my reading. Should I have lied?* Even then I knew I shouldn't. Everyone has books, high brow and low that have shaped them but the impulse is surely to always go with the high brow, right? If you can overcome that gut reaction (and maybe you choose a high brow work anyway because it feels right to you), which part of your life should the book come from? Is there one that had a slightly bigger impact than the others on the list? Should you just choose the book whose impact you can most easily articulate? I considered many. Here are just a small sampling.

The Berenstain's B Book by Stan and Jan Berenstain was the first book I ever read by myself. I still remember the feeling of exhilaration of knowing I'd read it myself, running down to tell my mom, who was on the phone in the kitchen (I can still see her twirling the phone cord as she chatted to whomever was on the other end of the line), and insisting on reading it to her right that very moment. Even at that young age, I knew I had unlocked something special.

Socks by Beverly Cleary was the book I checked out of the school library again and again. Despite the fact that this was classed as a "third grade" book, I, a mere kindergartner, had special permission to check it out. I loved this story of the grey kitten with white socks so much I don't know if anyone else ever got the chance to check that book out that year. I can still see the cover of this much loved tale (which doesn't match anything I can find online, interestingly enough) and I wish there was a way for me to get my hands on the certainly long since destroyed library due date check out card I signed over and over again that year.

One of the oldest books I have on my shelf is Jane Eyre. I don't mean oldest in terms of first edition or publishing date but just in terms of which book I personally have owned the longest. My copy came from Scholastic books when I was in elementary school. And no, it's not an abridged version. I adored getting the newsletters that came home from school every month and I went through my copy very carefully, circling the books I really wanted. My parents were always very generous with books but even they had to draw the line somewhere and I remember being told that I had to narrow my choices down; I might or might not have circled close to everything in those pages. It was hard to do but obviously Jane Eyre made my final cut. I loved the book but I think I ordered it as much because it was long as for the story. (Side note: I loved the Scholastic newsletters when my kids were of an age to get them too and ordered not only what they were interested in but books I thought they should want to read because I would have wanted to read them if they existed when I was their ages.)

Like so many girls my age, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume was a revelation and as an adult, I wish I had never done those "I must, I must, I must increase my bust" exercises (if you read it, you know what I'm talking about). But what I remember most is not its matter of fact handling of puberty and the emotional aspect of it that felt so very universal, but instead I remember talking about the book with my best friend Jenni, who lived two doors down. I'm pretty sure we were discussing it in lowered voices (who knows why, as it wasn't a patch on Forever, which I read not long afterwards, for forbidden topics) when my younger sister, clearly overhearing us, wanted to know what a period was. I told her to go ask mom, never dreaming that she'd ask my mother such an embarrassing question. This was probably the last time I underestimated my sister.  Her question earned me an our bodies ourselves talk about puberty and getting your period from my mother. Thank heavens mom (and Suzanne) never knew about Forever!

The World According to Garp by John Irving is the only book I ever hid from my parents. It was on their bookshelves and I have no idea exactly how I came across it since there was no dust jacket to tease me with the contents. (My dad has a thing about using the dust jacket as a bookmark and then throwing it away when he's finished with the book. Please direct all horrified hate mail his way and not to me as I already know this is a heinous crime against literature.) I don't remember how old I was but since I remember the room I read it in, I had to be somewhere between 9 and 14 when I read it. My mom did discover me reading it one day and took it away, replacing it with Henry James' Portrait of a Lady, and telling me that I was a little young for Garp. Since she just put it back on the shelf, I just took up reading it where I'd left off whenever I was home alone. (Sorry mom!) Maybe they were right to think I was too young to read it because to this day, more than a few decades since, I remember the sexy bits quite clearly.

But which book did I actually choose to highlight as the book that had a lifetime impact on me? Well, it was Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman. I pulled this off the shelf at my grandparents' house when I was probably a pre-teen and once I finished it, I sat up late into the night for weeks and not only imagined myself as the main character, sobbing at all the tragedy in my imagined life, but I kept the story going in my head long past what the authors had written. I've never actually been brave enough to read the sequel that was written not too many years ago because I still cherish the memory of my childhood visceral response so much.

Everyone should have these books, or ones like them in their lives. What books made you the reader you are?



*For those who need to know if the professor was one of those snorting with derision, she was not. In fact, she lectured the class on snobbery and informed everyone that it was best sellers like this that made it possible for other, less commercially viable, books to be published. She also mentioned that Michener himself funded a poetry prize that wouldn't have been possible if his books hadn't been wildly popular. I did not know this when I offered up Hawaii but it made me happy and my fellow students were properly chagrined at the news.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Review: The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

When it came out in the news a couple of years ago that there was a perfectly preserved apartment in Paris that had been closed up and untouched since WWII, it was such an intriguing piece of news. Why would someone walk away from their apartment, never to return? What was in this unexpected time capsule? Were the people dead and gone, victims of the war? Were they still alive but unable to face the memories of the place? The truth could have been anything. The romance of it was in imagining the story behind all of it. If in fact, the real story did come out, it wasn't covered in the news anywhere near as completely as the discovery itself was. Karen Swan imagined her own back story for an apartment like this, complete with a fabulously wealthy family, war crimes, amazing art treasures, and closely held secrets in her newest novel, The Paris Secret.

When the Vermeils, a wealthy and high profile French family, discover that they own an apartment in Paris that hasn't been opened since 1943, they call in a discreet fine arts agency to examine, catalog, and potentially sell whatever might be inside. A codicil to Mr. Vermeil's late father's will forbids Jacques and his wife from going into the apartment themselves until after both the late Francois' and his still very much alive wife's deaths. Flora Sykes is the fine arts agent assigned to the strange and intriguing find, made even more exciting when the apartment turns out to be filled with valuable art. It falls to Flora to trace the provenance on everything they discover, including a long lost Renoir and smaller pieces by other famous artists. As Flora chases down the history of the pieces, she is also dealing with a devastating family situation at home in England. The urgency and discretion required by both situations are overwhelming; luckily Flora is a professional. Although she cannot or will not share everything that is going on in her life, she does have some good friends in Paris to lean on for support. They come in particularly handy when she clashes repeatedly with the spoiled, angry, obnoxious, and badly behaved in every sense of the word, adult children of Jacques and Lilian, Xavier and Natascha. But if playboy, partier Xavier is truly so unpleasant, why is Flora so pulled to him?

Of course, the family is, or should be, of little consequence to her; she is working on the amazing art. Unfortunately she can get no further on the provenance of the art treasures than that they were last known to be sold to a notorious Nazi collaborator, a fact that renders them close to worthless despite their authenticity. Dogged in her determination to find the proof that the Vermeil family came to own these pieces honestly and not simply because desperate Jewish families sold the only things they had of any worth in an attempt to escape Hitler's genocide, Flora digs deep, uncovering secrets that the will's codicil was meant to forever hide, changing and then changing again the Vermeil family's knowledge of itself.

Anyone who knows the art world will immediately see the difficulty in finding a long abandoned stash of valuable art in Europe and have certain expectations regarding the plot of the novel. Swan has done a good job leading even the non-art savvy to the same conclusions and then to twist the plot a hair's breadth, writing a very different story than the one the reader expects. But that's not the end of her slight of hand as she is clearly a master of the unexpected. The family crisis that consumes Flora is very slowly revealed and its importance seems to be only in adding to Flora's stress level until it too is takes on rather more weight in the narrative. While Flora is well fleshed out, some of her motivations or actions are given a tad bit of a short shrift, and despite being an expert at her job and therefore used to dealing with impossibly large sums of money and the people who have it, she is strangely uncertain and occasionally even timid in most of the dealings highlighted in the book. The secondary characters do change the direction of the plot on several occasions but, for the most part, they remain fairly unrealized beyond these plot diversionary roles. The romantic connection is background rather than the main focus of the novel although it grows in importance as the story progresses. There are a few hiccups in the plot such as why, if the family has never stepped foot in the apartment or have any knowledge of what's inside, do they immediately call a fine arts dealer to inventory the contents and why is it so easy for serious and real trust issues to be overcome in the end (over a mere half page) simply by declaring "love"? Over all though, this is an engaging imagining of the story behind an abandoned apartment and an interesting look into the world of fine art and the detective work required to verify and trace it. Readers who love uncovering deeply buried secrets, those who want a small glimpse into the rarefied world of the super rich, and those with an interest in art will find this a worthwhile read.

For more information about Karen Swan and the book, check out her publisher author page or like her on Facebook or Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

Left to Chance by Amy Sue Nathan.

The book is being released by St. Martin's Griffin on November 21, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: No one knows why Teddi Lerner left her hometown, but everyone knows why she’s back.

Twelve-year-old Shayna― talented, persistent, and adorable―persuaded "Aunt Tee" to return to Chance, Ohio, to photograph her father’s wedding. Even though it's been six years since Shay's mother, Celia, died, Teddi can hardly bear the thought of her best friend's husband marrying someone else. But Teddi’s bond with Shay is stronger than the hurt.

Teddi knows it’s time to face the consequences of her hasty retreat from family, friends, and, her old flame, but when she looks through her viewfinder, nothing in her small town looks the same. That’s when she truly sees the hurt she's caused and―maybe―how to fix it.

After the man she once loved accuses Teddi of forgetting Celia, Teddi finally admits why she ran away, and the guilt she’s carried with her. As Teddi relinquishes the distance that kept her safe, she’ll discover surprising truths about the people she left behind, and herself. And she'll finally see what she overlooked all along.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: Kiss of the Highlander by Karen Marie Moning

After I blazed through the Outlander quartet twenty years ago (and yes, I know there are 4 more than that now as well as another two planned), I added a lot of Scotland set books to my collection. In fact, I probably added Karen Marie Moning's The Kiss of the Highlander specifically because the jacket copy on my mass market paperback sounds an awful lot like Outlander. There's time travel and romance and danger, a more modern heroine and an historical hero. In fact, while these elements are all there, this is a significantly different book than Outlander, more firmly in the romance genre and with the addition of magic and druids.

Gwen Cassidy's life is pretty dull. She works for an insurance company processing claims and she has no personal life to speak of. The tour around Scotland that she's signed up for is populated by senior citizens instead of potential love interests. She's never going to lose her virginity at this rate. When she heads into the Highland hills to have some time to be alone and think, she ends up falling into a hidden cave, landing smack dab on top of a braw, sleeping Highlander. When Drustan awakens, he tells her that he is The MacKeltar, that he's from 500 years in the past, and that he needs to get back to his own century to save his clan. She thinks it's possible he's a mental patient but she agrees to help him get back to his castle, thinking that she can then give over care of this strange but compelling man to his family. As she sees his reaction to the 20th century along the way to his castle, she starts to wonder if he is indeed telling the truth and, of course, to fall for him as he is falling for her in return.  When she sees who he really is and what he is capable of, history, the present, and everything around them will change for the two of them.

Gwen as the heroine is an interesting character. She is incredibly smart (a gifted physicist) but she's also rather pitiful and not great interpersonally thanks to her late, unfeeling parents who only valued her for her potential contributions to science. Drustan is very much a stereotypical sixteenth century hero. He's ridiculously chauvinistic, even when at the mercy of Gwen's time period and her continued goodwill. Of course, he is also chiseled and delicious looking so despite his overbearing high-handedness, Gwen's hormones cannot wait to tango with him. Her intelligence challenges him, something that he quickly learns to appreciate in the present day but that his past persona really struggles with, keeping them apart despite their white hot lust for each other. The plot is quite involved given the time travel aspect but everything is explained quite well and easily enough so that each part of the story is as believable as something predicated on magic and time travel can be. The ending was amazing and incredibly inventive and although there are more books in the series (and three prior to this one as well), this felt complete in its primary plot line. If you are a historical romance reader, a fan of sexy time travel, want to read an inversion of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, or just like the idea of a man in a plaid, this will absolutely be your guilty pleasure and I'm happy to say that although this was published in 2001, it holds up just fine in 2017.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: Royally Wed by Teri Wilson

I was 10 when Charles and Diana married in what was billed as a fairy tale wedding. We were awake at a ridiculous hour gathered around a television set holding plates from high tea in our laps as we watched the prince marry his princess. Leaving aside that this was real life and not a fairy tale, as future years would surely prove, it was a magical event and one I remember fondly. Thirty years later, while wearing a plastic tiara and noshing on delicate British snacks, I sat with friends and watched William and Catherine marry. Another stately, beautiful, and yes, magical royal wedding. Although I was in good company for both of these events, I do admit that even on a regular day, I have a bit of a soft spot for the British royals so I was more than happy to get my hands on Teri Wilson's Royally Wed, a short contemporary romance about a royal wedding, a princess, a Duke who may be hiding something, a gorgeous American, blackmail, and infidelity.

Asher Reed is having a bit of a rough time of it. A professional cellist, he has been invited to play a difficult solo at the wedding of the century after Yo-Yo Ma falls ill and has to cancel. The problem is that as a last minute substitution, he has no hotel room and hasn't practiced at all. The Queen installs him in Buckingham Palace, in The Blue Room, a room in Princess Amelia's suite of rooms and he is given access to St. Paul's after hours his first evening in London. He is affected by the gorgeous cathedral and the famous buried there, playing a hauntingly beautiful piece. It's the first piece he's played since his former fiancee dumped him for his mentor and Maestro.  That both his former fiancee and his Maestro are also in London to perform for the wedding is not making things easy for him.  Princess Amelia is also in St. Paul's, weeping over her upcoming marriage, not exactly the picture of a bride in love and eager for her wedding. And she's not that bride; this wedding is an arranged one to the father of Amelia's best friend. She isn't overjoyed to be marrying Duke Holden but she is trying desperately to live down the nickname of Princess Naughty and do what her family needs her to do. But she and Asher have an instant attraction and their close proximity and an incorrigible corgi named Willow conspire to throw them together, fanning the flames of desire in the mere 10 days before the wedding.

While this is the third book in the series, it easily stands on its own. Princess Amelia is both a sad and an appealing main character. She is clearly torn between her duty to her family and what she really wants, even before Asher enters the picture. For having a reputation as a bit of a bad girl, she is surprisingly naive about what marriage will require of her (yes, you'll have to kiss your husband and sleep with him too!) but when she is with Asher, she doesn't seem to be that completely innocent naif which makes for a bit of a strange dichotomy in her character. Wilson has done a nice job drawing the princess as having both a public and a private persona as well as how lonely it must be to have to be on guard all the time. Asher is a character to sympathize with, torn apart by circumstance, cheated on by his fiancee and the man who meant the world to him, now feeling as if his music has left him, unable to work through stage fright and play to his potential, and falling for a princess set to marry another man in mere days. The only other characters who are in the book for any meaningful span of time are Willow the corgi and James, seemingly the only attendant in the entirety of Buckingham Palace. This makes the book fly past at break neck speed, with only one real plot line. There are some fun nods to Charles and Diana's wedding and relationship that even casual royal watchers should pick up on sprinkled in the book (and in fact one of them makes for a rather pivotal plot point). Anglophiles, contemporary romance fans, and little girls who wanted to grow up to be princesses will enjoy this light and easy tale and may want to search out Royal Wedding with Fred Astaire and Jane Powell, the movie that served as inspiration for this breezy, quick read.

Thanks to Melissa at Pocket Books for sending me a copy of this book to review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Book Jumper by Mechthild Glaser
From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty
Devil's Bride by Stephanie Laurens
Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
The New York Time Footsteps by various authors
The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

Reviews posted this week:

The Little French Bistro by Nina George
Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly
Plaid and Plagiarism by Molly MacRae

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Inhabited by Charlie Quimby
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain
The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
You and I and Someone Else by Anna Schachner
Meantime by Katharine Noel
The Portrait by Antoine Laurain
So Much Blue by Perceval Everett
The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel Davis Huber
Mothers and Other Strangers by Gina Sorell
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell
How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
Between Them by Richard Ford
Kinship of Clover by Ellen Meeropol
The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman
The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker
Morningstar by Ann Hood
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Song of Two Worlds by Alan Lightman
The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell
The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig
A Season of Ruin by Anna Bradley
Incontinent on the Continent by Jane Christmas
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar
Sourdough by Robin Sloane
A Paris All Your Own edited by Eleanor Brown
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
Living the Dream by Lauren Berry
Lawyer for the Dog by Lee Robinson
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Beginner's Guide to a Head-On Collision by Sebastian Matthews
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
Kiss of the Highlander by Karen Marie Moning
Emily Goes to Exeter by M.C. Beaton
The Book Jumper by Mechthild Glaser
From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty
Devil's Bride by Stephanie Laurens
Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: Plaid and Plagiarism by Molly MacRae

I have a wee bit of a fascination with Scotland and I've been trying hard to broaden my horizons with my reading lately so Molly MacRae's Plaid and Plagiarism, a Scottish Highlands set cozy mystery (a genre I rarely read) where the amateur sleuths have bought a bookshop should be a perfect way to ease into something not in my usual way of things, right? It certainly should have so I'm left wondering if it was the book or if it was me or some unfortunate combination of the two since the bones and the desire were there (so appropriate a phrase given a mystery, no?).

American Janet Marsh, her best friend Christine, Janet's daughter Tallie, and Tallie's college roommate Summer, have bought a Scottish bookshop called Yon Bonnie Books and are embarking on second careers as book sellers in the quaint Highlands town, Inversgail, where Christine grew up. Janet and her family used to spend summers in Inversgail and Janet ended up with the cottage they summered in after her divorce from her ex, The Rat. The four women, who used to be a librarian, a social worker, a reporter, and a lawyer respectively, plan to learn the book selling business from the former owners Kenneth and Pamela. They are also renovating the upstairs as a B and B and next door as a tea shop. When they first arrive, Janet, who is truly the main character and who the narrative focus is mostly on, discovers that she and Tallie cannot move into her cottage because it has been vandalized. The realtor is convinced that the local agony aunt, Una Graham, who wants desperately to be an investigative reporter, is behind the vandalism. But then Una's body, a sickle in her neck, turns up in the ugly shed at the back of Janet's garden. Secrets come to light showing that almost everyone in town had a reason to dislike Una so figuring out who disliked her enough to actually kill her won't be easy. As Una's body is found at Janet's and as the bookshop is also involved, the four new owners team up to try and discover the murderer at the same time they are trying to get ready for the local Inversgail Literary Festival and navigate the tensions in the local literary community.

As the first in a new series, MacRae introduced a lot of characters here in addition to her four bookshop owners. Creating so many characters and trying to give them each enough of a backstory that she wasn't just introducing names with no identifying characteristics, she also had to add plot thread after plot thread. This might have worked better with fewer secondary characters, waiting to introduce some of the locals later on in the series. As it was, there were too many characters and not enough fleshing out of those most important to this first book. The narrative pacing was uneven, slow and drawn out in the beginning and too quick in the end. The constant rehashing of what each of the four women knew took away from the story and could easily have been skipped. Their sleuthing was rather scattershot, making it surprising that they figured out who the murderer was (although on the plus side, the who of it was a surprise to the reader). In fact the plot, the characters, and the book as a whole could have used a lot of tightening up. I really did want to like this but found myself easily distracted from the story and had a hard time settling back down into it each time I picked it up. If you are a cozy mystery reader and are used to the long build up in the first of a series, you might appreciate this one enough to pick up the second. For me though, I just don't think I'm cut out for the slow start, or maybe mysteries are never going to be my thing.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review: Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly

OK, a little bit of real talk here. $23.00 for a slender, little, less than 100 pages of text, hard cover book of "micro-memoirs"? What insanity is this? Surely this is a ridiculous price for something so physically insubstantial, right? I mean, the book, even with the bulk of the hard cover, is but the size of a paperback and with those few pages, well... And yet in my usual inimitable fashion, I ignored the price and bought it anyway. I can say that it was worth every penny. I read aloud from it to people I was with the weekend I bought it and raved with an unseemly enthusiasm, even to people who clearly wished me to stuff a sock in it already. Mississippi state poet laureate Beth Ann Fennelly's Heating and Cooling, a collection of "micro-memoirs," tiny memoirs akin to short stories or flash fiction, is funny and thoughtful, real and subtle, surprising and economical. She shares insights into her life in childhood and as an adult, into her marriage, into her parenting, and into memory, and she manages to do it in fewer words than I'm likely to use in this review.

Each micro-memoir is a short, tiny jewel, self-contained and complete within itself but a vital part of the whole. The book is not arranged chronologically and each piece runs from one sentence to no more than five pages. Fennelly's prose is spare and succinct and each word and idea are carefully considered with perfect turns of phrase. The book is deceptively simple, each instance building on the previous one, until the full impact of the memoir hits you. Some of the pieces are delightful, full of joy and love, and some are disturbing, telling of terrible, hidden things. My personal favorite will have me checking page 50 in all of my books for a long time to come. Bit by glorious bit each brief part reveals something more about Fennelly and about the experiences in life that have made her who she is. I couldn't stop turning the pages even as I willed myself to slow down and savor the writing. In the blink of an eye I'd come to the end of this magnificent, intimate book wishing that Fennelly lived next door to me so we could be friends. Read it. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Review: The Little French Bistro by Nina George

There's something so charming about the idea of moving to a small Breton village by the sea and starting a new life, right? If a person could be happy anywhere surely this would be the place. And if a person came to it unhappy with life, sad to her very soul, this would, without a doubt, be the perfect place of healing. Nina George's newest novel, The Little French Bistro, is set in one such place in Brittany.

Marianne Lanz is in her sixties but sounds older because she is tired and beaten down. She's trapped in a loveless marriage with a controlling husband and on a trip to Paris, she decides that she's through with life and determines to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge into the Seine. Rescued by a bystander, she is taken to the hospital where her husband roundly chastises her for her seemingly impetuous and, to him, deeply embarrassing attempt before leaving her there so he can catch the bus back to Germany. She can find her own way home. Instead, inspired by a lovely, small, hand painted tile she finds by the nurses' station, Marianne runs away from the hospital, heading to the Port de Kerdruc depicted on the tile, thinking that it would be a beautiful place to die. Once again she survives her attempt.  Fished out of the water by a local fisherman and accepted by the local people despite an initial wariness, she settles in to make her home in this quaint and picturesque town. Kerdruc would be a beautiful place to die but Marianne quickly finds that it's an even more beautiful place to live.

This is very much a novel about second chances. Marianne finds the strength to stand up to her bully of a husband, emerging from lifelong oppression and carving out her own life in a new and welcoming place. In this she is inspirational but in presentation, this is more like a fairy tale than real life. And that's fine if that's what you want to read but the story brings up some very dark issues that shouldn't be so easily solved. Marianne is the character whose journey of discovery and starting over is the most obvious but each of the friends she makes in Kerdruc has a problem to solve or a situation to change so that they too can embrace life and reach for love. The secondary characters are all amiable and winsome and their kindness is clearly the most important thing in helping Marianne to heal but sometimes they blur together, not being quite as differentiated as they should be. The story is ultimately simple and life-affirming. Those readers looking for a warm, feel-good novel writ in soft focus will find this delightful and hopeful despite the darker undertones.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

The Temptation to be Happy by Lorenzo Marone.

The book is being released by Oneworld Publications on November 14, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: Cesare is 77 years old, a widower and cynical troublemaker, a man who has always had trouble caring for others and has given up trying. Aside from an intermittent fling with a mature nurse called Rossana, who moonlights as a sex worker, he prefers to live his own life, avoiding contact with his neighbors and even his own children wherever possible. Until one day, the enigmatic Emma moves into the neighboring flat.

Emma is ​​married to a strange and sinister man. A man that seems so different from Emma. As Cesare investigates, and starts to uncover the truth of their relationship, he begins to rediscover an appetite for life, and soon he finds himself risking everything for a future he had never thought possible.

Monday, November 6, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Welcome Home Diner by Peggy Lampman
A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
Kiss of the Highlander by Karen Marie Moning
Emily Goes to Exeter by M.C. Beaton

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
The New York Time Footsteps by various authors

Reviews posted this week:

The It Girls by Karen Harper
The Welcome Home Diner by Celeste Ng
Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Inhabited by Charlie Quimby
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain
The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
You and I and Someone Else by Anna Schachner
Meantime by Katharine Noel
The Portrait by Antoine Laurain
So Much Blue by Perceval Everett
The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel Davis Huber
Mothers and Other Strangers by Gina Sorell
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell
How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
Between Them by Richard Ford
Kinship of Clover by Ellen Meeropol
The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman
The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker
Morningstar by Ann Hood
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Song of Two Worlds by Alan Lightman
The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell
The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig
A Season of Ruin by Anna Bradley
Incontinent on the Continent by Jane Christmas
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar
The Little French Bistro by Nina George
Sourdough by Robin Sloane
A Paris All Your Own edited by Eleanor Brown
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
Living the Dream by Lauren Berry
Lawyer for the Dog by Lee Robinson
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Plaid and Plagiarism by Molly MacRae
Beginner's Guide to a Head-On Collision by Sebastian Matthews
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
Kiss of the Highlander by Karen Marie Moning
Emily Goes to Exeter by M.C. Beaton

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrivals

Transit by Rachel Cusk came from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

I am intrigued by any book that uproots a family (mother and two children) and causes them to have to examine what it means to live and be alive.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney came from St. Martin's Press.

I enjoy books where the main character takes a wander, not only giving the reader the present day but reminiscing about the history of place and time as well as jaunting through their own personal past and memories so I am really looking forward to this one.

If you want to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Review: Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

Book clubs are supposed to push you outside of your comfort zone so I occasionally suggest books to my book club that will do just that for me. In the case of Mo Daviau's Every Anxious Wave, I am neither a big music person nor a time travel reader so this was meant to stretch me in a couple of ways while still having enough familiar things in it to still keep me reading. (Do I know how to choose books outside my bubble or what?) And my book club, which is made up of people who are pretty like minded, agreed to go down this path with me.

Karl Bender is the former guitarist for the 90s indie rock band Axis and now owns a bar in Chicago. He is jaded and cynical but he does manage to have one friend, Wayne, a computer scientist. When Karl accidentally stumbles into a wormhole in the back of his closet, he tells Wayne about it and Wayne figures out a way to harness the energy of the wormhole. The two set up a business sending people back in time to see epic concerts they missed or ones they want to revisit. And that might have been all that happened with this odd portal until Karl sends Wayne to 980 Mannahatta instead of 1980 Manhattan. One typo and he's sent his best and only friend to a place where there's no power source to tap into to bring him back. Luckily Wayne can still communicate with the present via text and he suggests that Karl find an expert to help bring him back. So Karl looks through the Northwestern website and chooses astrophysics PhD student Lena Geduldig, mainly because she doesn't look like a stereotypical astrophysicist with her blue streaked hair and her band t-shirt. Karl might have lost Wayne but now he's got Lena and she comes with a freight train of her own baggage. Yet when these two people meet and start traveling to concerts together (leaving the issue of retrieving Wayne aside for the moment), they fall into a relationship. Eventually, like Wayne's desire to meddle in the past to save John Lennon's life, the impulse that landed him in 980, Lena wants to go back in time and change things about her own past, jeopardizing what she and Karl have and leading to the question whether we can or should right past wrongs if we have the chance.

Karl narrates the entire novel so that the reader is spared highly technical and detailed explanations of how the time travel portal works and how first Wayne and then Lena have harnessed its power. Asking the reader to simply suspend disbelief might be fine except that once time moves forward and backwards and spirals around itself, it can and does get confusing without any sort of grounding to explain it. in fact, I'm still not entirely certain where in the timeline we are at the end of the book. Neither Karl nor Lena are particularly appealing characters and their chemistry as a couple, at all points in the novel, is mostly missing or terrifically one-sided which makes it hard to root for Karl as he attempts to recapture a love that wasn't all that believable in the first place. I'm pretty certain I missed most of the music, band, and pop culture references. For those who catch the name drops and references, I suspect the story would be a more nostalgic, quirky romp than it was for me. The second half of the novel is much darker than the first half and deals with much weightier issues like rape, loss, fat acceptance, love, and belonging. I really wanted to thoroughly enjoy this book, to prove to myself that my little reading bubble could easily expand if I was intrigued enough with the underlying themes but it didn't click with me as much as I'd hoped. Maybe it's because of my usual reading preferences. Or maybe not. If you don't mind your characters on the emo side, you are an indie music geek, and you aren't too fussed by time travel that just is, you might really enjoy this book in ways I just couldn't.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Review: The Welcome Home Diner by Peggy Lampman

When we lived in suburban Detroit, I organized an annual service day for my alma mater. One year we joined an organization that planted trees in the inner city. As we dug holes and planted new trees to replace those dead from disease, several people came out of their homes and questioned us about what we were doing. Most were suspicious of our motives and some wanted us to stop, at least until we mentioned that the minister of a local church had volunteered to water all the trees in hopes of helping them root and survive. It was a reaction I'd never expected to encounter. After all, we were just trying to help make their neighborhood more beautiful and replace what they had lost long ago. Trees couldn't possibly be political, could they? We moved away from Detroit in 2008 as the housing bubble was bursting in a spectacular way all across the US and so I don't know whether our trees survived or even whether the inhabitants of the neighborhood itself are still there or if they were among those so hard hit that their homes were torn down and they were displaced. What wasn't lost on me though was the idea that what one person sees as a gift of good can be seen otherwise by the people on the receiving end. This is just one of the issues addressed in Peggy Lampman's newest novel, The Welcome Home Diner but one that resonated with me for sure.

Addie and Sam Jaworski are cousins who have bought both a home and a diner in a depressed area of Detroit. They've realized their dream of refurbishing the diner and opening a restaurant focused on the cuisine that means the most to them, the foods they learned to make in childhood with their Polish Babcia and the comforting soul food of their diverse, local staff. They have a kitchen garden behind the diner to supply many of their vegetables and they use local artisans and purveyors for the rest of their supplies. Despite their outreach to the neighborhood and even as they become more successful professionally, they are avoided by the neighbors and patronized mainly by suburban hipsters, a point which continually nags at them, and which runs counter to their vision. Initially things seem to be mostly going well personally and improving professionally for the two women but there start to be cracks in their lives. Addie's boyfriend can't commit to marriage and family, two things she wants more than anything, and Sam's boyfriend has plans that could change everything for the two cousins. A troll has started posting negative and untrue comments about the diner and they are faced with threats by a shady linen company. And the cousins, who not only work together but have bought a fixer upper home together, have a relationship damaging fight. Only the community they have created around them can buoy them up and get them through all of these difficulties and more.

The narrative flips from Addie to Sam so that each woman has a voice for the reader and so that her internal thoughts and pressures can help explain all of the decisions, good and bad that she makes. Occasionally it is difficult to determine who the focus is on, especially when the character in question is ruminating over a problem both women share. Sam and Addie, although growing up under very different circumstances, both need to discover their own self-worth over the course of the novel. They are so focused on the stresses of running the diner and of their respective love lives that they either don't know or they lose sight of their own identity and truth. Their fumbling makes them feel terribly real and familiar. The secondary characters are generally a delightful bunch (although there are one or two who are more irritating and problematic than delightful). Like the city itself resurfacing from the economic disasters of the past, the secondary characters, and in many ways, Sam and Addie too, are looking for a second chance, a personal revitalization if you will. The stresses of owning a small restaurant and the difficulty of having it truly be a welcome home in the midst of a neighborhood that views them with suspicion is very well depicted here. Addie and Sam do want to be good community partners but it's not as easy and immediately appreciated as they had assumed. The novel is full of weighty plot lines, many of which are quite secondary. Lampman takes on a veritable cornucopia of issues in this novel: gentrification, sex trafficking, family, both created and chosen, race, the farm to table movement, rehabilitating convicts, second chances, and forgiveness. There is a clear love of food here with delectable passages about cooking and ingredients that will make any reader's mouth water and there are recipes at the end for any cooks looking to make their own Polish soul food fusions. There's a lot to think about in the pages of the novel and readers of women's fiction as well as foodies and those interested in the rebirth of Detroit will certainly enjoy the book.

For more information about Peggy Lampman and the book, check out her website and blog or like her on Facebook or Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the author for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Review: The It Girls by Karen Harper

Although we may think that our time has a strange and unprecedented obsession with the people we’ve made famous, we are actually just following in the footsteps of previous decades and centuries. Every age has had its celebrities and its obsessions. Karen Harper’s newest novel, The It Girls, explores two famous women, real life sisters, who were the epitome of that indefinable “it.”

Lucy and Nellie Sutherland wanted nothing so much as to be as famous as their own celebrity crush, Lillie Langtry. Lucy wanted to design clothing and Nellie wanted to be a celebrated author. In this process of achieving their goals, each of these determined women weathered unhappy marriages, hardship, poverty, and obsessive critical attention that wasn’t always positive. Lucy was the designer behind the romantic, floaty, and highly coveted designs under the label Lucile and Nellie became Elinor Glyn, the author behind quite scandalous, very popular romantic fiction. Both sisters were clearly creative, driven to succeed, and quite good at marketing themselves and their brands. In their early years they assisted each other but as they each became more successful, there was a widening streak of jealousy over the other’s success that changed and harmed their relationship periodically.

The lives and accomplishments of Lucile, Lady Duff-Gordon, and Elinor Glyn were fascinating but they might have been better served by having separate books about them. Although they were sisters, their relationship to each other did not seem to be the focus of the book, instead it centered on their rise to fame and the obstacles they overcame to live celebrated lives. The beginning of the book with the two as teenagers in Jersey is rather awkward as they have a conversation with each other recounting their early years. Since they both already know their own history, it is a strange choice to give the reader their backstory this way. And after the women’s younger years, their lives diverge quite a bit, the bulk of their contact being at a distance. They do come together to support each other in hardship but mostly their stories are very separate. The narrative jumps back and forth between the sisters, sometimes at concurrent points but sometimes in different years or months. These switches back and forth aren’t as seamless as might be hoped, perhaps because the parallels in the sisters’ lives aren’t terribly clear. Despite the coming together at the end, which had a completely different feel than the preceding story, this felt more like two books living uneasily together under one cover. Even so it might spark readers to find more on Elinor and Lucile, two women who lived interesting public lives in spite of the challenges in their personal lives.

For more information about Karen Harper and the book, check out her website or like her on Facebook. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
The It Girls by Karen Harper
Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Metis Beach by Claudine Bourbonnais
Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Reviews posted this week:

Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Last Things by Marissa Moss
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Civilianized by Michael Anthony
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
In the Woods of Memory by Shun Medoruma
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Inhabited by Charlie Quimby
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain
The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
You and I and Someone Else by Anna Schachner
Meantime by Katharine Noel
The Portrait by Antoine Laurain
So Much Blue by Perceval Everett
The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel Davis Huber
Mothers and Other Strangers by Gina Sorell
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell
How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
Between Them by Richard Ford
Kinship of Clover by Ellen Meeropol
The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman
The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker
Morningstar by Ann Hood
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Song of Two Worlds by Alan Lightman
The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell
The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig
A Season of Ruin by Anna Bradley
Incontinent on the Continent by Jane Christmas
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar
The Little French Bistro by Nina George
Sourdough by Robin Sloane
A Paris All Your Own edited by Eleanor Brown
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
Living the Dream by Lauren Berry
Lawyer for the Dog by Lee Robinson
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Plaid and Plagiarism by Molly MacRae
Beginner's Guide to a Head-On Collision by Sebastian Matthews
Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
The It Girls by Karen Harper
Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrival:

From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty came from W. W. Norton.

It might sound macabre (although I don't think so), but this book about the way people around the world care for their dead sounds simply fascinating to me!

If you want to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

L'Appart by David Lebovitz.

The book is being released by Crown on November 1, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: Bestselling author and world-renowned chef David Lebovitz continues to mine the rich subject of his evolving ex-Pat life in Paris, using his perplexing experiences in apartment renovation as a launching point for stories about French culture, food, and what it means to revamp one's life. Includes dozens of new recipes.

When David Lebovitz began the project of updating his apartment in his adopted home city, he never imagined he would encounter so much inexplicable red tape while contending with the famously inconsistent European work ethic and hours. Lebovitz maintains his distinctive sense of humor with the help of his partner Romain, peppering this renovation story with recipes from his Paris kitchen. In the midst of it all, he reveals the adventure that accompanies carving out a place for yourself in a foreign country—under baffling conditions—while never losing sight of the magic that inspired him to move to the City of Light many years ago, and to truly make his home there.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Review: The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

"Good fences make good neighbors," while often true, isn't particularly the case in Yewande Omotoso's novel, The Woman Next Door. Not even a fence can make the two neighbors, one black and one white, like each other, get along with each other politely, or even just tolerate each other when they pass in the street or encounter each other at neighborhood meetings. In fact, Marion and Hortensia, two women with what should be quite a lot in common, loathe each other and delight in making the other uncomfortable or angry in their well-off suburban Cape Town neighborhood. Both are highly educated and were quite well respected in their chosen fields (textile design for Hortensia and architecture for Marion). Each had a less than ideal marriage and shortly after the opening of the novel with the death of Hortensia's husband, both are widows. In their eighties now, having been neighbors and enemies for years, each of them holds tightly onto her rancor towards the other one. These two irascible women delight in sniping at each other without really knowing each other more than superficially. But when an accident happens and a legal threat to their homes surfaces, Hortensia and Marion are forced into a grudging cooperation.

Compared by many to Grumpy Old Men, this is actually something entirely different. Yes, the two main characters are cantankerous and competitive but they also have the weight of South African history underpinning their sometimes hilarious and sometimes bitter and mean hostilities. Their personal stories wrap around the greater political history of apartheid, slavery, and race in general. Omotoso keeps a light hand on the history, politics, and issues though so as not to make the characters simply foils for past injustice. Hortensia and Marion feel real in their own right with their flaws, occasional nastiness, veiled insecurities, disappointments, and personal problems. It is the women and their relationships, warts and all, that drives the narrative here. There is some humor but in general the novel is more serious than not, taking on race, women's rights, marriage, motherhood (or not), jealousy, aging, and more. I found this to be a worthwhile and enjoyable read if not entirely what I expected.

Of note: this book is one of the Women's National Book Association's Great Group Reads for 2017-2018.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Review: Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman

Family can be a mixed blessing, especially around the holidays. The things that we love and hate come into high definition during days like Thanksgiving, with its lofty expectations of family harmony and togetherness. And in fact, the expectations can be impossible to meet, especially when people come to the feast with the burden of past baggage or secrets weighing them down. Joshua Max Feldman's new novel, Start Without Me, tells the tale of two strangers, their two different Thanksgivings, and how they come together in their despair as they struggle with where they are in life.

Adam, a former musician who is struggling to maintain his hold on sobriety, is home for Thanksgiving for the first time in years but he is spooked by the thought of his whole family around him and when he accidentally breaks the coffee pot before anyone else wakes up, he flees the house and heads for the airport to go home, away from all the disappointment he exudes like a cloud. Marissa is a flight attendant, lingering in the airline's day room rather than get on the road to spend her short layover at her wealthy in-laws' home. Her in-laws have never really liked her, the poor daughter of an alcoholic mother.  The fact that her marriage is faltering and she's pregnant from an uncharacteristic one night stand with her old high school boyfriend, ratchets up her dread of the coming ordeal. Procrastinating just a bit longer, she stops for coffee in the airport hotel's restaurant, which is where she meets Adam. They are two tired, worn out strays who recognize the despair and loneliness in each other and connect despite the incredible unlikeliness of that connection. As they meet up over and over again during the course of the day, each trying to work through their emotional pain, to confront the demons haunting them, and to keep the weight of their pasts and past mistakes from drowning them, they are slowly moving towards an understanding and acceptance of their separate futures.

Neither Adam nor Marissa are particularly likable characters. They are sad and flawed and their respective weaknesses are on display throughout the entire novel. They desperately need to find the small kindnesses each offers the other because they cannot, or won't, find kindness from others around them. There is no grace for the ordinary traumas of their lives. A pervading feeling of disappointment threads through the novel and Adam and Marissa are clearly worn down and defeated themselves. The story is quite slow moving, mostly character driven, and split into two clear halves. The first half is slightly less serious than the second, at least in part because Adam and Marissa's painful histories, the unhapppiness and choices that formed them gradually comes out and because the reader sees each of them interact with family, confirming for the reader what each has said about their chances for a decent holiday, all in the second half. Adam's sister is (understandably) angry and frustrated and unforgiving with him while Marissa's in-laws are (not understandably) as hateful and dismissive of her as she thinks. While the novel feels authentic and realistic, it is also painful and depressing and the slightest glimmer of hope in the end isn't enough to make the reader feel as if these two characters can overcome everything stacked against them. This is not a happy families holiday story. It is not a romantic tale of serendipitous meeting. It is the tough and doleful tale of two damaged human beings who cross paths briefly amid the somber wreckage of the holiday, perhaps each other's lifeline or perhaps just a chance meeting.

For more information about Joshua Max Feldman and the book, check out his website, like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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