Tuesday, July 14, 2020

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - A Little Bit of Grace; Phoebe Fox


Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews. Each week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon.

Berkley - 2020

One

"My mother used to say that when she read me bedtime stories, my favorite time of the evening because I finally had her all to myself, I would stop her midway through and tell her what was going to happen to the characters whose lives she was spinning for me.  The stories I guessed correctly I had her read to me over and over.  The few that I couldn't I put in the back of the bookshelf never to come off it again."

I've been in a bit of a reading slump for about a week now, reading a chapter here and there but nothing has thrilled me. I liked the sound of this intro and so I hope it will be a winner.

What do you think. Read more or pass?

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Nothing to See Here; Kevin Wilson and Tomorrow There Will Be Sun; Dana Reinhardt



AUTHOR:  Kevin Wilson
PUBLISHER:  Harper Audio
PUB. YEAR: 2020
Setting: TN and GA
Format: audio
Rating - 4/5

Lilian and Madison first met as unlikely roommates at an exclusive boarding school. Lilian was an over achiever and scholarship student while Madison came from a wealthy family and a bit of a party girl.  Despite their differences, the two girls became fast friends.  However, when an incident that resulted in expulsion occurs, and Madison was the guilty one, it is Lilian that takes the fall for her friend, and is forced to leave school in light of the scandal.

While Madison's life moves along onward and upward, now a wealthy heiress with an older husband in line to be the next Secretary of State, Lilian is stuck. So when Lilian receives a surprise letter from Madison with an urgent offer for employment as a governess to her husband's twin 10 year old children Bessie and Roland, Lilian is more than surprised.

The mother of the children has died and the children are a bit of a challenge. When the kids are stressed, upset or angry, they heat up and can burst into flames.  Of course, their father wants to keep this information quiet so that it won't have a negative affect on his political agenda. So Lilian is in for a big challenge after having accepted the job.

I felt badly for these two children who had been treated as an after thought during their young life. When Lilian steps in you can tell early on that this is going to be a win-win for her and the children.

Funny and tender, and so many themes like: social classes, loneliness and the power of love. I enjoyed this story even though it was a bit predictable. A creative plot line, I loved how it combined humor and tenderness and that the children finally began to feel love and security. 



TITLE:  Tomorrow There Will Be Sun
AUTHOR:  Dana Reinhardt
PUBLISHER:  Pamela Dorman Books
PUB. YEAR: 2019
Setting: Mexico
Format: print
Rating - 2.5/5

Two families complete with teenagers decide to vacation together at a 5-star resort in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico. What could possibly go wrong?

Peter is celebrating his 50th birthday and he and Solly are also business partners. Before too long it seems like the two families have very little in common as they quickly begin to get on each others nerves.

The story covers a lot of people issues: marriage, children, aging and friendship. The writing is ofter both cynical and funny but, the lack of likable characters spoiled this one for me. Moral of the story for me: don't vacation with friends!  I actually read this one over a month ago but, felt uninspired to write anything about it until now.  Although I do like vacation themed books, this one wasn't a favorite.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

A Mother's Bragging Rights - Knitwear Designs - 2020



Some of my long time readers might recall me bragging a bit about my talented daughter's knitting and design skills. She and a friend have had three books published over the last decade and have gone on to design many many more patterns over the years.

Here are some of her latest hat designs created during the COVID crisis.  (I'm having a hard time picking a favorite).  

A few more from 2020





Tuesday, July 7, 2020

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Father Melancholy's Daughter; Gail Godwin




Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews. Each week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon.

William Morrow - 1971

Sept 13: Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr of Carthage, 258
--The Calendar of the Church Year

1 - MORNING

"Although I did not know it then, my life of unpremeditated childhood ended on Wednesday, September 13, 1972.  The weather that day in Romulus, Virginia was warm and sunny; the sky an unclouded Shenandoah blue.  I had been in first grade for three weeks.  The schoolwork I found easy, insultingly so.  It was the social side of things, the winning over of other children that was going to demand my subtler energies. I was, and was destined to remain, an only child, and was more practiced in the management of adults."

I've had this 1971, first edition on my shelf for many years and recall purchasing it used more than 10 years ago because it sounded good and I've enjoyed other books by this author. Finally, when looking for my next book, this one spoke to me. I like the first person narrator, a child already.

Read more of pass?

Sunday, July 5, 2020

This Little Family; Ines Bayard


AUTHOR:  Ines Bayard
PUBLISHER:  Other Press
PUB. YEAR: 2020
Setting: Paris
Format: ARC
Rating - 4.5/5

Did you ever read a book that gets darker and horrific with each new page yet, for some reason you just can't stop yourself from turning reading more? This is that kind of book.

The reader knows from that very first paragraph that this is not going to be a pleasant read:

"Little Thomas didn't have time to finish his stewed apple. His mother hadn't given him the slightest chance.  The speed at which the poison circulated through his blood simply meant he didn't suffer when he died.  Only Marie's body was still upright, securely wedged against the back of her chair, her head tipped back.  She must have struggled to ensure this was noticed.  Laurent had been served first.  Few people stumbling across these three ashen bodies could have imagined the warm laughter filling the room just moments before the tragedy occurred."

Yet, what drives a woman to this level of despair that she felt she had no choice but to poison herself, her husband and her young son?   Will any survive?

As the story unfolds, you learn what has happened to Marie. I can't say much more without giving spoilers, but, Marie has suffered in silence pretending all was well until she just couldn't go on another day.

I read this book, fewer than 275 pages, in just one sitting, I couldn't look away. The translation from the French was excellent.  The story drew me in and was such a compulsive read, however, it was so graphic that even someone like me who is not easily shocked found myself cringing at times. This is definitely not a book for everyone.

BEWARE: Dark, graphic, shocking and potential triggers for some readers.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Home Before Dark; Riley Sager


AUTHOR:  Riley Sager
PUBLISHER:  Dutton
PUB. YEAR: 2020
Setting: Vermont
Format: eGalley
Rating - 5/5

It there was ever was ever a twisty, edge of your seat thrill ride that even made me bite my nails a bit, this was it.

Baneberry Hall, a huge victorian estate with a dark past is located deep in the woods of Vermont.  Twenty five years earlier when Maggie was just 5 years old, her parents Ewan and Jess purchased the house and after just spending three weeks living in it, they fled in the middle of the night never to return.

The parents separated and Ewan subsequently wrote a hugely successful tell all book about Baneberry Hall. The non fiction book was called, The House of Horrors. Maggie believed the book was largely fabricated as she didn't recall any of the unearthly happenings reported in the book, many of which had involved her.  The house which she believed her father had sold years earlier remained vacant but, Maggie learns she has inherited the house as part of her deceased father's estate.

Maggie, now 30, renovates houses for a living, her plan is to return to Baneberry to renovate the Vermont "house of horrors" and list it for sale.  As Maggie settles in, almost immediately, strange and frightening things begin to occur and, the more that happens, the more she begins to realize what her father wrote about the house is now true.

I really loved this book; it's so well crafted. The style alternates between chapters written by her father in "The House of Horrors" and the present day as Maggie works on restoring the house and tries to uncover its dark past.  Home Before Dark is a creepy, page-turning delight. Read it!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family; Robert Kolker


AUTHOR:  Robert Kolker
PUBLISHER:  Doubleday
PUB. YEAR: 2020
Setting: Colorado
Format: eGalley 
Rating - 3.5/5

Hidden Valley Road is a well-written, yet often upsetting, story about one family devastated by mental illness.

Mimi and Don Galvin were married in 1945 and had (12) children. The first (10) were boys and the last (2) were girls. The family, at least in the 50s and 60s seemed to be an all American family. Don a driven man,  military service and then a successful businessman. He was a womanizer and rarely home but, wife Mimi, held down the fort overseeing things on the home front. Things changed in the 1970s when (6) of the couple's boys were diagnosed with schizophrenia. As the sons behavior and violence grew more out of control, they boys spent time in hospitals as their diagnosis was not well understood.  Their story became the subject of research by the National Institute of Health.

The author does a great job with research and interviews from medical professionals to family members. Everyone from Mimi to all of the adult siblings spoken often had different stories to report.  I was fascinated by the more technical aspects of this book regarding mental illness advances and breakthroughs.  I found it difficult to get through some of the details in which the young sisters were sexually abused by older brothers when they were as young as 5 years of age.  Some of the abuse was pretty specific.

I couldn't help from being a bit judgmental as I read. I didn't understand Mini's mindset. She had a husband who was rarely home, he was a womanizer and yet she bore (12) children with him. How do you fail to protect your other younger or more vulnerable children from the violent ones suffering from mental illness.  I definitely can't say that I'm happy I read this book. Not only was it upsetting at times it also felt repetitive as well.  Again, while the medical component was deep and informative, I would have preferred more editing and less detail about the harsh reality of the family dysfunction.
 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Sea of Lost Girls; Carol Goodman


AUTHOR:  Carol Goodman
PUBLISHER:  Harper Audo
PUB. YEAR: 2020
Setting: Maine
Format: audio/library download
Rating - 3.5/5

Tess Henshaw is a woman with secrets. She's married to Harmon, a professor at The Haywood Academy, an elite boarding school in Maine. Tess also works at the school.

As the story begins Tess receives a middle of the night call from her 17 year old troubled son from a previous marriage. Rudy is scared and asks his mother to meet him at their secret "safe space."  When the two connect, Rudy is soaking wet and has a dark stain on his sweatshirt.  Several hours later they learn that Lila, Rudy's girlfriend, has been found dead on the beach.

This is a story with more than one suspect and an unreliable narrator. Although the story kept me guessing, I thought there were too many characters, many women who had been taken advantage of by powerful men. As psychological thrillers go, this one was just okay. The audio version was narrated by Natalie Naudus, who did a good job.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - This Little Family; Ines Bayard



Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews. Each week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon.


This Little Family; Ines Bayard
Other Press - 2020
(review copy provided by the publisher)

"Little Thomas didn't have time to finish his stewed apple. His mother hadn't given him the slightest chance.  The speed at which the poison circulated through his blood simply meant he didn't suffer when he died.  Only Marie's body was still upright, securely wedged against the back of her chair, her head tipped back.  She must have struggled to ensure this was noticed.  Laurent had been served first.  Few people stumbling across these three ashen bodies could have imagined the warm laughter filling the room just moments before the tragedy occurred."

What do you think, pass or read more? 

 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Goodbye June


I said this in last month as well, I'm happy to say goodbye to yet another month. Thank goodness I'm a reader and my knee is lot's better, because that news on television is so damn depressing. I still can only walk about a mile right now without pain but I'll take it. 

Our state is still taking it slow with re openings. Some restaurants opened this week for indoor dining at 50% capacity to allow for social distancing. Are state's numbers continue to decline and, our libraries are still only doing curbside. I also have a feeling our senior center (and my yoga classes held there) will not be opening this year but, safety first! I dread the day when bars open indoors as that's when numbers most likely will spike again with people being careless. We don't plan to change our routine back to the old normal even though I am a homebody but, I'm starting to get very sick of spending so much time at home - (4) months now. I did get my first haircut in 4 months (3" off) and, it felt great. I was the first appointment and the only one in the salon except my stylist.  

June was my 12 year blogging anniversary - never expected to reach that milestone but, I finally gave myself permission to post just when I feel like it. Thank you to all of you who take the time to stop by now and then.

Outside…
We were officially in a drought last week but be got a few hours of steady rain yesterday and thunderstorms are in store for the next few days. Sunny now but looks like it's clouding up a bit. It's been hot and humid this past week. 
Watching…
I didn't watch much television last week, except for one movie: My Cousin Vinny  (perhaps my 10th time and still enjoy it). I want to watch The Hate U Give some time this week and would also like to read the book.
Exercise and other highlights…
Regular floor exercises everyday. Most are leg strengthening exercises but also some yoga..
To Do List…
  • Depends on the weather really and how fast I get moving.
  • Follow up doctor visit for my knee on Tuesday (last visit I suspect).
  • This week is the 6th birthday of our other granddaughter so plan to stop by to see her.
  • Recall for my car and that I've put off for 4 months, so having that done on Wednesday.
Retail Therapy...

Nothing.

JUNE Reads-  (11) Books  (57-YTD) - (2) NF, (9) fiction. Quite a few were just so so reads unfortunately.
  1. The New Husband; D.J. Palmer - 3.5/5 (audio/June)
  2. If it Bleeds; Stephen King - 4/5 (audio/June)
  3. A Week at the Shore; Barbara Delinsky - 4/5 (eGalley/June)
  4. Save Me the Plums: A food memoir  (NF) - 4.5/5 (audio/June)
  5. Girls of Summer; Nancy Thayer - 3.5/5 (eGalley/June)
  6. Death in Her Hands; Ottessa Moshfegh - 2.5/5 - (audio/June)
  7. A Good Marriage; Kimberly McCreight - 3.5/5 (eGalley/June)
  8. Malice Aforethought; Francis Iles 4.5/5 (print/June)
  9. Saint X; Alexis Schaitkin - 2.5/5 - (eBook/June)
  10. The Sea of Lost Girls; Carol Goodman - 3.5/5 (audio/June)
  11. Hidden Valley Road; Robert Kolker (NF) - 3.5/5 (eGalley/June)                                                                 
Fave Books of June
 

Reading Plans for July (so far)
  • Tomorrow There Will Be Sun; Dana Reinhardt (print - in progress)
  • Home Before Dark; Riley Sager (eGalley - really good need to finish today)
  • Murder of Roger Ackroyd; Agatha Christie (in progress audio)
How did your week go? What are you doing to stay sane in COVID times?
Any favorite reads in June?

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Malice Aforethought; Francis Iles


AUTHOR:  Francis Iles
PUBLISHER:  Dover Publications (2018)
PUB. YEAR: 1931 (original pub date)
Setting: Wyvern Cross England
Format: print/purchase
Rating - 4.5/5

Dr. Edmund Brickleigh had long been troubled by an inferiority complex. A short man and the son of a shopkeeper, when he meets and marries Julia, a woman 8 years older and of a higher social class, his insecurities live on.  The couple has been married for 10 years and neither appears happy in the relationship.  Julia is unattractive and very domineering.

As the story begins we learn that the doctor has been a bit of a run around throughout the marriage. Tired of being bossed around, it is at a tennis party that he decides he must kill his wife since every woman he has met seems better than Julia.  However, it is Madeleine, who makes he heart skip a beat.  Just thinking about Madeleine makes him realize that doing away with his wife is the only chance he has to win her heart and make her his next wife.  However, even a well-planned murder doesn't always work out as planned.

This was touted a one of the "Eight Perfect Murders" in Peter Swanson's latest novel.  Written originally in 1931, the story started out slow, but quickly picked up pace and hooked me.  The mystery is well-plotted, had me smiling at times and, the story had such a surprise ending as well, one that I could have never anticipated. Well worth reading if you like good old-fashioned murder mysteries. Such a nice change of pace.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Tomorrow There Will Be Sun; Dana Reinhardt


Welcome to
 First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews. Each week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon.

Pamela Dorman Books - 2019

SATURDAY

"A perfectly prepared margarita (rocks, salt, subtle with the triple sec, less so with the tequila) placed in your hand when you didn't even ask, with an itty-bitty half lime floating up top. something local grown just down the street where the patchy pavement gives way to dirt, which then surrenders to jungle, can almost take the edge off a day of truly shitty airport mishaps.  Let's not recount them. Airport mishaps are dull.  They're like dreams.  We convince ourselves that ours are potboilers, cliffhangers, whodunits.  They're not.  And yet, despite the entirely predictable debacle that was our direct flight from LAX to PVR, in business class no less because those were the only seats left for which we could use miles and so drained our entire account, we still managed to arrive at Villa Azul Paraiso before the Solomons."

What do you think - read more or pass?  

Monday, June 22, 2020

A Good Marriage; Kimberly McCreight


AUTHOR:  Kimberly McCreight
PUBLISHER:  Harper
PUB. YEAR: 2020
Setting: NY
Format: eGalley
Rating - 3.5/5

Lizzie Kitsakis is a lawyer at a prestigious law firm in NY and once was an underpaid federal prosecutor, but that was a job she enjoyed. She's married to Sam, he's smart, devoted (or so she thought) but, now she is beginning to see trouble in the relationship.

While working late one night Lizzie gets a call call from Zach Grayson, an old law school friend, now in prison at Rikers, accused of murdering his wife Amanda.  He want's Lizzies help in proving his innocence. 

This is a book with quite a few characters, most are wealthy people behaving badly with something to hide. Told mostly from the point of view of Lizzie and the deceased Amanda a week before she was killed, it's a dark, psychological thriller that kept me guessing. The story has multiple layers of deception to unravel. It's not just a story about one bad marriage but, a look at multiple marriages and their dirty little secrets.

This book started out very slow for me, I wasn't sure whether I'd like it but, after about 50 pages or so things became a bit more interesting.  Definitely not the best in psychological thrillers but, you still might want to try this one.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

2 somewhat disappointing reads from 2020



AUTHOR:  Ottessa Moshfegh
PUBLISHER:  Penguin Press
PUB. YEAR: 2020
SETTING: ?? cabin in the woods
Format: audio download (Ann Marie Lee, Narrator)
Rating - 2.5/5

As the story opens Vesta, a recent widow in her 70s, is taking a walk in the woods with her dog Charlie when she finds a note on the ground held in place by stones. The note read "Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn't me. Here is her dead body."

Vesta moved to a cabin in the woods on the lake after her husband died.  Since she is new to the area, and doesn't know anyone she finds herself obsessing over the note in the woods, imagining the life that Magda might have lived. As she ponders the life of Magda, we get some insight into Vesta's mindset and her unhappiness about how her own life has played out.

I've read several books by the this author which I really enjoyed but, this one was not one of them.  Told in a stream of consciousness style from the imaginings of a lonely old woman living an isolated life, I kept waiting for a revelation but, I ended up disappointed overall. I found that I couldn't even feel sorry for this lonely, isolated woman, if I was able to, I think my rating would have been a bit higher.



TITLE: Saint X
AUTHOR:  Alexis Schaitkin
PUBLISHER:  Celadon Books
PUB. YEAR: 2020
Setting: NY and Caribbean
Format: eBook purchase
Rating - 2.5/5

In 1990 a family from NY is vacationing on Saint X, a fictional 5 star resort in the Caribbean.  It's a vacation that ends in tragedy for their college freshman daughter, Allison.  Although there were (2) suspects in Allison's death, they were released when authorities decided there just wasn't enough evidence to hold the young men. As a result, the husband, wife and Claire, their 7 year old daughter, are forced to leave the island and attempt to rebuild their lives in NY.

This is not a story about one brilliant young woman's death but, how the younger sister is affected by the loss of the much older sister she had idolized.  Once the family returns home, the story fast forwards pretty quickly to Claire as a young woman who has now become obsessed with her sister's death and how her life has been affected.

As I read this story I immediately thought of the Natalee Holloway case (2005) who disappeared from Aruba on her senior high school trip and although she was never found, she has since been declared dead.

Although I was immediately drawn into this story, I had a problem with the writing style, quite often I found I never knew who was speaking. I also thought that the the ending was a disappointing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Home Before Dark; Riley Sager


Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews. Each week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon.

Home Before Dark; Riley Sager
Dutton - 2020

PROLOGUE

July 1

"DADDY, YOU NEED TO CHECK FOR GHOSTS."

I paused in the doorway of my daughter's bedroom, startled in the way that all parents get when their child says something confounding.  Since Maggie was five, I suppose I should have been used to it.  I wasn't. Especially with a request so unexpectedly odd.

"I do?"

"Yes, Maggie said, insistent. I don't want them in my room."

What do you think, pass or read more?

Friday, June 12, 2020

Girls of Summer; Nancy Thayer


AUTHOR:  Nancy Thayer
PUBLISHER:  Ballantine
PUB. YEAR: 2020
Setting: MA
Format: eGalley
Rating - 3.5/5

Lisa Hawley has been single for over twenty years. Her husband left her and their two young children, Juliet and Theo, for another woman.  Devoting her life to her young children who are now grown and out of the house, she runs a popular boutique on Nantucket and never thought much about dating.  Over the years she's neglected keeping up with maintenance on her big old house and when the ceiling begins to crumble, she has no choice but to get repairs started.  She calls Mack Whitney, and island contractor with a good reputation.  Mack is rugged, a handsome widower with an adult daughter; he's also ten years younger than Lisa.

Can you see where this story is headed? Yes, romance blooms on the island but, not just for Lisa and Mack.

I loved the beautiful island setting, a story of summer romance and second chances.  I enjoyed the beginning of this story but, it jumped twenty years so fast, I felt cheated. I wanted to read a bit more about her first marriage and children when they were young.  The story felt rushed and some of the characters undeveloped.  This was not a favorite for me by this author but, still a decent light, quick, summer read from my summer reading list.

NOTE: eGalley provided by the publisher in exchange for my unbiased review.

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir; Ruth Reichl


AUTHOR:  Ruth Reichl
PUBLISHER:  Random House Audio
PUB. YEAR: 2019
Setting: NY
Format: audio download
Rating - 4.5/5

Ruth Reichl was a food writer and restaurant critic for the NY Times and later became the editor & chief of Gourmet magazine; this is her gourmet memoir. What a delight this memoir was and the fact that the author reads the audio version made it all the more personal.  She definitely knows how to write in a manner that appeals to the readers senses.  

Her story is peppered with tantalizing recipes and, I now feel like I have to get my hands on the print version to perhaps try a few of the recipes she mentions.  What an interesting life Ruth Reichl has lived and, I loved that she reflects about her mother might have finally been proud of her since as a child, she never felt like she could please her mother who suffered from mental illness.  I also enjoyed the interesting behind the scenes tidbits about the publishing industry and how the food world has changed over the years.  Readers do not have to be a gourmet themselves to enjoy this memoir.

Audio book download was provided free of charge by the publisher in exchange for my unbiased review.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

A Week at the Shore; Barbara Delinsky



AUTHOR:  Barbara Delinsky
PUBLISHER:  St. Martin's Press
PUB. YEAR: 2020
Setting: Rhode Island
Format: eGalley
Rating - 4/5

Mallory Aldiss is a photographer and single mother to 13 year old Joy. Twenty years early she left Rhode Island and Bay Bluff's beach community when family scandal rocked her world. The scandal ruined her parents marriage and separated Mallory and her sisters. It also caused her to run from Jack Sabathian, a man she loved. Her younger sister and her father, who now suffers from dementia, still live in the beach community as does Jack. When Mallory receives a call from Jack saying that her father had threatened him with a gun, it is with reservation that she and her daughter return to RI to check on her father. By doing so she must confront the painful past which drove her away.

I haven't read this author in decades but, I was quickly pulled into the story: part mystery, part romance and dysfunctional family drama.  The story dragged a little at times, but the setting and mystery aspects kept my turning the pages.  This was one from my 2020 Summer Reading List and I was happy I read it