Tuesday, June 18, 2019

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - As We Are Now; May Sarton

On Tuesday, Vicki, ( I’d Rather Be At The Beach hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where  readers post the opening paragraph (or 2 ) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read. 

As We Are Now; May Sarton
WW Norton - 1973

"I am not mad, only old.  I make this statement to give me courage.  To give you an idea what I mean by courage, suffice it to say that it has taken two weeks for me to obtain this notebook and a pen.  I am in a concentration camp for the old, a place where people dump their parents or relatives exactly as though it were an ash can.

My brother, John, brought me here two weeks ago. Of course I knew from the beginning that living with him would never work.  I had to close my own house after the heart attack (the stairs were too much for me).  John is four years older than I am and married to a much younger woman after Elizabeth, his first wife, died.  Ginny never liked me.  I make her feel inferior and I cannot help it.  John is a reader and always has been. So am I.  John is interested in politics. So am I. Ginny's only interests appear to be malicious gossip, bridge, and trying out new recipes. Unfortunately she is not a born cook.  I find the above paragraph extremely boing and it has been a very great effort to set it down.  No one wants to look hard at disagreeable things. I am not alone in that."

I learned about this book after JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing blogged about it.  I love the writing even though the story seems like a rather sad one.

Read more or pass?

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Mother-in-Law; Sally Hepworth

TITLE: The Mother-in-Law
AUTHOR:  Sally Hepworth

PUBLISHER:  St. Martin's Press - Macmillan Audio
PUB. YEAR: 2019
SETTING: Australia
FORMAT:  - audio (9+ hours)
RATING - 4/5

Diana Goodwin is the "mother-in-law" in this domestic thriller. She's rich, strong, confident, cold-hearted and aloof.  When she dies shortly after her husband, suicide is initially suspected but, the coroner's report indicates that foul play might have been involved.  Did Diana take her own life or was someone else involved?

Lucy had always longed for a special relationship with her mother-in-law. Her own mother died when she was very young.  Unfortunately, her 10 year relationship with Diana has been a struggle to say the least ever since she married Diana's son, Ollie.

Ollie loves his wife and his mother and realizes his mother can be difficult. Even his sister, Nettie and her husband Patrick have had their share of run-ins with Diana.

True, Diana just wasn't a warm and fuzzy individual and, yes, there were plenty of instances where one might want revenge, but, there is more to Diana than meets the eye. The story began with the police at Ollie and Lucy's door telling them Diana has died and that they think it might have been a suicide. She did have cancer but they were not expecting her to pass so quickly. I thought the story moved along at a nice pace and it wasn't at all predictable.  I like complex family dramas and this one made me wonder who really may have wanted Diana out the picture the most.  A well-crafted characters and story. I was happy I tried this one and will try other books by this author in the future. The audio was very good as well.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Mama's Last Hug; Frans de Waal

AUTHOR:  Frans de Waal
PUB. YEAR: 2019
SETTING:  Netherlands
FORMAT:  - print/library
RATING - 4.5/5

For some 40 years the author has studied animal behavior and emotions. In his latest book, Mama's Last Hug were are introduced to a Mama, a 59 year old matriarch chimp who was dying. Mama and biologist Jan van Hooff had formed a bond over the years so he decided to visit her for one last time before her death. Mama's keen facial recognition and happiness at seeing Jan's face resulted in smiles, and her patting his neck repeatedly in a hug, much as we'd see in human to human interactions.  The interaction between Mama and Jan were filmed and went viral evidencing that humans are not the only ones capable of expressing emotion.

After Mama's death, her adopted daughter Geisha stood vigil and would not leave Mama even for food, demonstrating the animals are also capable of grieving.  Grieving in animals does require an attachment so when a pet dies, others animals may not appear to miss the deceased unless they were bonded. This is true of cats, dogs and even elephants as well.

Another chimp has lost her babies several times over due to insufficient lactation. When her babies, failing to thrive, had died, the chimp went into a severe depression, screaming, refusing food and rubbing eyes with its fists.

There was such a wealth of information in this book. Well researched, moving and even funny at times; there are even some illustrations throughout the book.  The subjects researched were not just chimps and bonobos but, birds, rats, dogs, horses and elephants as well.  I was fascinated by this book and found myself reading it very slowing, so that this one would stick with me for sometime. Animal lovers should give this one a try.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls; T. Kira Madden

Each Tuesday, Vicki, from I’d Rather Be At The Beach hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where  readers post the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read. 

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls: a memoir; T. Kira Madden
Bloomsbury Publishing - 2019

PART 1 - The Feels of Love

Uncle Nuke

"My mother rescued a mannequin from the J.C. Penney dump when I was two years old.  He was a full-bodied jewelry mannequin: fancy, distinguished.  Those were the the words she used.  Her father, my grandfather, worked the counter day and night, slinked antique chains and strands of jade across velvet placemats, and felt the mannequin did no work for his numbers; he's pau--done.  Grandfather said this with both elbows bent, a chopping motion.  The mannequin would have to go."

I love a good memoir and this one is getting excellent reviews - what do you think? Would you read more?

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Ditch; Herman Koch

TITLE: The Ditch
AUTHOR:  Herman Koch

PUB. YEAR: 2019
SETTING:  Amsterdam
FORMAT:  - eGalley
RATING - 3/5

I really enjoyed the darker nature of the last (3) books by Herman Koch: The Dinner, Summer House with Swimming Pool and Dear Mr. M, so I couldn't wait to try this new novel.  Unfortunately, it was a bit of a slog for me.

Robert Walter is the 60 year old mayor of Amsterdam. Married to Sylvia, the couple has one daughter, Diana.  The story begins with a party on New Years where Robert notices his wife smiling and laughing with an alderman.  He notices him whisper something in her ear and from that point on he is convinced the two are having an affair.

The more he he obsesses about it, the more jealous he becomes and his anxiety and paranoia intensifies.  Even a vacation to Paris with his wife doesn't convince him that he's imagining the whole affair.  He decides to spend more time at home observing his wife and daughter and listening for clues. Robert is very secretive when it comes to specifics about Sylvia and Diana. Along with the whole affair suspicions, there's a minor story but a serious subject with the mayor's parents contemplating suicide. In addition, there is talk about Dutch politics and the environment including minute details about their recycling program.

I really wanted to like this novel. There is a good amount of subtle humor which I enjoyed and, it has an ending I wasn't anticipating as well but, overall the story just failed to engage me.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors & the Company That Addicted America; Beth Macy

AUTHOR:  Beth Macy
PUBLISHER:  Hachette Audio
PUB. YEAR: 2018
FORMAT:  - Audio - 10+ hrs.
RATING - 5/5

Dopesick is a well-researched and in-depth look at the current opioid crisis in America and how it all began. 

The author tells of the corporate greed at the hands of Purdue Pharma who first released Oxycontin in 1996 as a slow-released pain reliever , a drug which came in several doses and was said to be less addictive than other pain blockers on the market but, nothing could have been farther from the truth.  The company spent over 4 billion dollars in one year on marketing and offered all sorts of perks to sales reps and doctors for pushing their product. Doctors began prescribing it not just for intolerable pain and cancer but for things like arthritis, wrist pain, back pain and more.  The drug, highly addictive after less than a weeks use, it wasn't long before abusers learned to crush it, snort and even inject it.  Fifteen years later once doctors drastically cut back on prescribing the drug and blackmarkets prices skyrocketed, many users turned to the less expensive and more potent heroin.

There are so many aspects of the opioid crisis covered in this book that I found fascinating. Stories of drug runners, tragic stories from users as well as stories from the grieving families.  The audio is read by the author who did a fantastic job.  There is just so much information revealed on a very tough subject. Highly recommended.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Night Visitors, Carol Goodman

TITLE: The Night Visitors
AUTHOR:  Carol Goodman

PUBLISHER:  William Morrow
PUB. YEAR: 2019
SETTING:  Upstate New York
FORMAT:  - print/library ( 320 pp)
RATING - 4/5

The Night Visitors starts out like a story many of us have read before. Alice is a young woman who seems to be fleeing an abusive relationship.  She and 10 year/old Oren board a bus from an affluent New Jersey community and are headed for upstate New York.  Alice has contacted an agency for victims of abuse and has arranged to have someone meet her and Oren when they get off the bus and take them to a safe house.

Mattie is the 50-something social worker who meets the pair but she immediately sees something in Oren that reminds her of Caleb, her little brother who died over 30 years earlier when he was about 10.  Instead of transporting them to the shelter run by nuns, she takes them to her old, run-down Victorian home since a storm is looming.  It is here that it becomes clear each women has been hiding secrets which are slowly revealed.

The old Victorian home and looming storm make this not only a very dark story but also a very atmospheric one with even a few elements of the supernatural.  Told through the POVS of both Alice and Mattie, this was a page turner and, despite a few unrealistic twists and the mention of using pay phones today (haven't they been removed everywhere?) this one was still a fun read.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Secretary; Renee Knight

TITLE: The Secretary
AUTHOR:  Renee Knight

PUB. YEAR: 2019
FORMAT:  - ARC (288pp)
RATING - 4/5

This book had been on my radar for a few months and, it turned out to be a story that was much different from what I was expecting.

Christina Butcher is the personal assistant and "the Secretary" to Mina Appleton, a woman who controls a large supermarket chain.  Christina's family was struggling financially, and she felt that this job would help her husband and daughter longterm.  She was offered a significant salary and she's grateful for the opportunity to work for Mina.

Mina more or less inherits her position from her father, a man who was well respected by all his customers and the other business associates he dealt with over the years. Mina, promises to follow in her father's footsteps, but she is nothing like him.  In fact Mina comes across as a power hungry, pathological liar and someone who will stop at nothing when it comes to retaining power, control and making money and, that means expecting Christina to carry out her orders. Soon, however, Mina just may get what she well deserves or will she?

Part psychological thriller, part courtroom drama, this story was quite a surprise - much darker than I was expecting. I liked the Christina character to a certain degree,  even though she sacrifices everything. She knows all of Mina's secrets, indiscretions and all about her unethical business practices. Christina's a quiet observer with a good memory as well. She quietly went about her business.  I didn't care for the Mina character but, she was, for the most part, a believable character.

Although this story was slow at times, the ending was very unexpected and helped me to bump up my overall rating a bit. I felt that there is plenty to discuss for bookclubs here.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Ditch; Herman Koch

Each Tuesday, Vicki, from I’d Rather Be At The Beach hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where  readers post the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read. 

The Ditch; Herman Koch
Hogarth - 2019


"Let me call her sylvia. that's not her real name--her real name would only confuse things.  People make all kinds of assumptions when it comes to names, especially when a name isn't from around here, when they don't have a clue about how to pronounce it, let alone spell it.  So let's just say that it's not a Dutch name. My wife is not from Holland. Where she is from is something I'd rather leave up in the air for the time being.  Those in our immediate surroundings, of course, know where she's from.  And people who read the newspaper and watch the news with any regularity can't really have missed it either.  But most people have a bad memory. They may have heard it once, then forgotten."

I've read every dark novel by this author; this one will be released in the US on June 11th, what do you think? Read more or pass?

Friday, May 31, 2019

May Books in Review

May was a very good reading month for me.  I read (16) books and posted short reviews for them as well.  (65 books YTD.

I had one DNF in May - Come With Me; Helen Schulman (just wasn't working for me)

 In May my armchair travels kept me mostly here in the USA with the exception of a brief stint in Italy, Ireland and Canada. The US states visited were: (3) trips to Massachusetts, (3) trips to New York, Illinois, California, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington.

I really enjoyed my May picks overall. I had (2) 5-star reads in May and several in the 4 to 4.5 star range as well.

What I Read
  1. Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting; Anna Quindlen - 4.5/5 (eGalley-May)
  2. The River; Peter Heller - 4.5/5 (library/May)
  3. Here's to Us; Elin Hilderbrand - 3/5 (audio/library-May)
  4. Henry, Himself; Stewart O'Nan - 4.5/5 (print/library-May)
  5. Miracle Creek; Angie Kim - 4.5/5 (audio download/library-May)
  6. The Wartime Sisters; Lynda Cohen Loigman - 5/5 (ARC/Audio Combo-May)
  7. A Stone for Danny Fisher; Harold Robbins - 5/5 (audible-May)
  8. Normal People; Sally Rooney - 4/5 - (eGalley-May)
  9. Daisy Jones and the Six; Taylor Jenkins Reid - 4/5 (audio-May)
  10. The Girl He Used to Know; Tracey Garvis Graves - 4.5/5 (print/library-May)
  11. Women in Sunlight; Frances Mayes - 3.5/5 (ebook-book group read-May)
  12. Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay & a Mother's Will to Survive; Stephanie Land - 1/5 (audio/library-May)
  13. Herstory: 50 Women & Girls Who Shook Up the World; Katherine Halligan - 4.5/5 (audio & print-library - May)
  14. Never Love a Stranger; Harold Robbins - 4/5 (audible - May)
  15. The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls; Anissa Gray - 3.5/5( print & audio-May)
  16. Before She Knew Him; Peter Swanson - 4.5/5 - (audio & print/-May)

Fiction - 13  NF - 3 - DNF - 1

Audios -  10
eBooks  - 1
print     - 5
ARCS/Review Books - 4
audio/eBook Combos - 4
Borrowed from Library - 8
Off my Shelves - 8
June Plans
(so far)

  • The Last Resort; Marissa Stapley - The Harmony Resort promises hope for struggling marriages. Run by celebrity power couple Drs. Miles and Grace Markell, the “last resort” offers a chance for partners to repair their relationships in a luxurious setting on the gorgeous Mayan Riviera.
  • The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted; Robert Hillman - A tender and wise novel about love, family, and forgiveness in 1960s Australia, in which a lonely farmer finds his world turned upside down by a vibrant woman determined to open the first bookstore his town has ever seen--and to leave her haunting memories of the Holocaust far behind.
  • The Secretary; Renee Knight - A novel of psychological suspense about the intricate power struggle between a prominent female executive and her faithful personal assistant—and its explosive consequences.
  • The Ditch; Herman Koch - The bracing and inventive new novel of suspicions and secrecy from Herman Koch, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dinner
  • The Mother-in-Law; Sally Hepworth - A twisty, compelling new novel about one woman's complicated relationship with her mother-in-law that ends in death.
  • What Alice Forgot; Lianne Moriarty - “Funny and knowing...[about] what we choose to remember, and fight to forget.”—O Magazine
  • Hope everyone had a great month!

    Thursday, May 30, 2019

    The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls; Anissa Gray

    AUTHOR:  Anissa Gray
    PUBLISHER:  Berkley
    PUB. YEAR: 2019
    SETTING:  Michigan
    FORMAT:  - (print: 300 pp)
    RATING - 3.5/5

    The Butler sisters have not had an easy life but, no one is prepared for what has just happened.  Althea and her husband Proctor are well know and respected in the town but now, Althea, the oldest sister, has been sentenced to prison time for charity fraud and food stamp fraud.  They have twin daughters who are teens. The other Butler sisters, Lillian and Viola must step in to care for Althea and Poctor's girls, but no one is exactly sure how the arrest and sentencing even came about.

    This is a deep story which focuses on black identity and childhood traumas.  Some of the characters are very complex, others not so much. Each of the women in the story seems "hungry" for something that has left them with an emotional void in their lives.  Told in both the present and in flashbacks, I started this one on audio  but, found I was having trouble with the slang and keeping the POVs straight so I grabbed the print version from  the library which made things a bit easier.

     An important topic but probably not a book that everyone will enjoy.

    Before She Knew Him; Peter Swanson

    AUTHOR:  Peter Swanson
    PUBLISHER:  William Morrow/Harper Audio
    PUB. YEAR: 2019
    SETTING:  Massachusetts
    FORMAT:  - Audio - 10 hr (print: 320 pp)
    RATING - 4.5/5

    Hen (Henrietta) and her husband Lloyd have just moved to a new home outside of Boston, MA,  Hen is a children's book illustrator who has suffered from bi-polar disorder over the years.  When their new neighbors Matthew and Mira invite them over to welcome them, Hen can't help but notice a sports trophy on their mantle that looks exactly like the one that had gone missing two years earlier when a young man was murdered.  Although that murder was never solved, Hen was obsessed with the case at the time. Now Hen has a new obsession, could her new neighbor Matthew, a college professor,  have been involved in the unsolved murder, or is this beginning of another manic spiral for Hen?  

    I really enjoyed this psychological thriller. It had interesting characters, a great back story that wasn't overly bogged down in detail and short chapters with hooks that made you want to keep reading.  A few things seemed a bit far-fetched but, not enough to spoil this one for me.  I liked that the author used real names of places and towns with just a letter change here or there).  This one was a combo print and audio read for me. The narrators; Sophie Amoss and Graham Halstead did a great job.

     If you enjoy twisty, and a bit creepy stories that will keep you wondering, be sure to read this one.

    Tuesday, May 28, 2019

    First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Mama's Last Hug; Frans De Waal

    Each Tuesday, Vicki, from I’d Rather Be At The Beach hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where  readers post the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read. 

    W.W. Norton and Company - 2019


    Mama's Last Hug
    An Ape Matriarch's Farewell

    "One month before Mama turned fifty-nine and two months before Jan van Hooff's eightieth birthday, these two elderly hominids had an emotional reunion.  Mama, emaciated and near death, was among the world's oldest zoo chimpanzees. Jan with his white hair standing out against a bright red rain jacket, is the biology professor who supervised my dissertation long ago.  The two of them had known each other for over forty years."

    I love animals and this seemed right up my alley.  Does it interest you?

    Monday, May 27, 2019

    Never Love a Stranger; Harold Robbins

    AUTHOR:  Harold Robbins
    PUBLISHER:  Audible Studios/Brillance Audio
    PUB. YEAR: ( 1948 - original pub) (2015-audio)
    SETTING:  NY (mostly)
    FORMAT:  - Audio - almost 15 hours
    RATING - 4/5

    Earlier this month my husband and I listened to Harold Robbin's A Stone for Danny Fisher. a first Robbin's book for me, and was I impressed. For years my husband raved about this author and Danny Fisher was his favorite book.  Our next selection was Robbin's debut novel, Never Love a Stranger (1948).  This was an enjoyable listen (read by Will Patton) but, the story was not quite as good as Danny Fisher.

    Set in the 1920's and 30s, Francis (Frankie) Kane was an orphan whose single mother died in childbirth. He grows up in a Catholic orphanage in New York.  When it's discovered he has aunt and uncle they take Frankie in and are very kind to him. However, when health problems affect his uncle, they are forced to move to Arizona and are not allowed to take Frankie out of the state of New York, so back to the orphanage he goes -- until it is discovered that he is Jewish feels forced out, by then he is a teen.  

    Out on his own, confused and feeling rejected by the world at large, the young Frankie quickly toughens up and does what it takes to survive. On the streets he meets Silk Fennelli, the boss of all the numbers rackets and other shakedown scams around the city.  Silk sees Frankie as an honest young man and someone who needs money. Silk begins to test him within his organization of crime.

    Told mostly through first person flashbacks, it was  easy to see how Frankie fell into the life of crime. He was a sympathetic character overall. As is true of most of Robbin's books: crime, beautiful women and to a lesser degree sex seem to be his signature trademarks, this one was no exception. This story was very detailed, which enables the reader to get a better feel for the characters.  We enjoyed this story but felt it wasn't perfect, as some questions remained once we got to the end.  I will admit that the ending Robbins chose brought a tear to my eyes.  Next up for our Harold Robbin's audio will be: Memories of Another Day (1979).

    Have you ever tried this author?

    Herstory: 50 Woman & Girls Who Shook Up the World; Katherine Halligan

    TITLE: Herstory: 50 Women & Girls Who Shook Up the World
    AUTHOR:  Katherine Halligan (Illust. Sarah Walsh)
    PUBLISHER:  Simon & Schuster Young Readers - Dreamscape Audio
    PUB. YEAR: 2018
    SETTING:  n/a
    FORMAT:  - audio and print
    RATING - 4.5/5

    With (3) young granddaughters (ages 5-7), I'm always searching for books that emphasize the fact that girls can be anything they want to be. Dream, work hard and achieve.  When I saw a review of this book somewhere I wanted to try it and, overall, I'd say this book was a hit. This book is targeted at the 8+ age group (grades 3 & 4).

    Herstory is an inspiring book which looks at 50 girls and women from around the world who left a mark on history.   From artists, social leaders, activists, writers, scientists and visionaries, some of the featured included: Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Joan of Arc, Frida Khalo, Helen Keller, Beatrix Potter, Emily Bronte, Rachel Carson, Mother Teresa, Billie Holiday, Maya Angelo, Coco Channel, Malala Yousatazai, Florence Nightengale, Georgia O'Keefe, Marie Curie,  Anne Frank, Eva Peron and many more.

    Nicely done book empowering young girls to dream big.

    I listened to the audio of this one which was very good but, after looking at the nicely illustrated print version, I'll be getting copies for the young granddaughters now.

    Friday, May 24, 2019

    My Summer Reading Picks for 2019

    Every May I can't resist making a list of books that I envision myself reading outdoors: deck, beach, park etc.  Between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day (May 24th and September 2nd) these are (10) books that caught my eye - (a few are ARCS that I want to catch up on) I hope I can stick to this list and read them all.  Have you read any of these? Have you decided on any summer books you know you must read?

    1. Restoration Heights; Wil Medearis - A debut novel about a young artist, a missing woman, and the tendrils of wealth and power that link the art scene in Brooklyn to Manhattan’s elite, for fans of Jonathan Lethem and Richard Price
    2. Drawing Home; Jamie Brenner - An unexpected inheritance, a promise broken, and four lives changed forever: discover "the gold standard of summertime escapism" from USA Today bestselling author Jamie Brenner (Elin Hilderbrand).
    3. The Last Resort; Marissa Stapley - The Harmony Resort promises hope for struggling marriages. Run by celebrity power couple Drs. Miles and Grace Markell, the “last resort” offers a chance for partners to repair their relationships in a luxurious setting on the gorgeous Mayan Riviera.
    4. The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted; Robert Hillman - A tender and wise novel about love, family, and forgiveness in 1960s Australia, in which a lonely farmer finds his world turned upside down by a vibrant woman determined to open the first bookstore his town has ever seen--and to leave her haunting memories of the Holocaust far behind.
    5. The Secretary; Renee Knight - A novel of psychological suspense about the intricate power struggle between a prominent female executive and her faithful personal assistant—and its explosive consequences.
    6. If She Wakes; Michael Koryta - "an edgy suspense story...that brilliantly plays on the primal fear of being buried alive."―Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review
    7. Man of the Year; Caroline Louise Walker - Beware the Man of the Year. You may praise him, resent him, even want to be him: but beneath the elegant trappings that define him, danger looms. Caroline Louise Walker’s stunning debut novel, for fans of Herman Koch’s The Dinnerand Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door, delves into the increasingly paranoid mind of a man whose life as the most upstanding of citizens hides a relentlessly dark heart.
    8. The Ditch; Herman Koch - The bracing and inventive new novel of suspicions and secrecy from Herman Koch, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dinner
    9. Summer of 69; Elin Hilderbrand - Four siblings experience the drama, intrigue, and upheaval of a summer when everything changedin New York Timesbestselling author Elin Hilderbrand's first historical novel 
    10. The Turn of the Key; Ruth Ware -“Truly terrifying! Ware perfects her ability to craft atmosphere and sustain tension with each novel.” Kirkus Reviews

    Thursday, May 23, 2019

    Women in Sunlight; Frances Mayes and Maid; Stephanie Land

    AUTHOR:  Frances Mayes
    PUBLISHER:  Crown
    PUB. YEAR: 2018
    SETTING:  Italy
    FORMAT:  - eBook
    RATING - 3.5/5

    Our book group selection for May, Women in Sunlightis a story about (3) older American women who rent a villa in the Tuscan village of San Rocco for one year. Each woman is trying to figure out the next phase of their life: Camille, 69, gave up her art career for marriage and children; she's now a widow. Susan, 64, adventurous, successful realtor, now a widow as well and Julia, 59, with a cheating spouse and daughter suffering from addiction issues.

    Kit Raine is a young American writer, trying to write a biography about her mentor and friend, Margaret Merrill. The arrival of the (3) American women, whose large villa is near hers, finds Kit easily distracted from her writing task as she begins to help the women navigate life in Tuscany.

    There was plenty to discuss with this book: female friendships, later life self-realization, plenty of talk of food, wine, art, history, books and tourist attractions.  Several of us, including myself, were not fans of the writing style, it just didn't flow well and was tough to follow at times.  A few of us did not like the Margaret story line and thought it was unnecessary and that the (448 pp) book could have benefited from a good editor.  All of us thought it would be fun to try living like these women did.  Of course, none of the women had money issues and were free to travel and spend money freely however they chose.  It was amazing, almost too perfect, how well things worked out for these women spending a year together even though they really didn't have a long friendship previously. Of course, each of the women ends up pretty much  happier than ever in the end.  If you like armchair travel and want to feel a bit envious in the end, try this book.

    AUTHOR:  Stephanie Land
    PUBLISHER:  Hachette Audio
    PUB. YEAR: 2019
    SETTING:  Pacific Northwest and Montana mostly
    FORMAT:  - audio/library
    RATING - terrible - 1/5

    This memoir and audio book, read by the author, was a huge disappointment to me. The description felt like a big misrepresentation to me:


    Evicted meets Nickel and Dimed in Stephanie Land's memoir about working as a maid, a beautiful and gritty exploration of poverty in America. Includes a foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich. 

    At 28, Stephanie Land's plans of breaking free from the roots of her hometown in the Pacific Northwest to chase her dreams of attending a university and becoming a writer, were cut short when a summer fling turned into an unexpected pregnancy. She turned to housekeeping to make ends meet, and with a tenacious grip on her dream to provide her daughter the very best life possible, Stephanie worked days and took classes online to earn a college degree, and began to write relentlessly. 

    She wrote the true stories that weren't being told: the stories of overworked and underpaid Americans. Of living on food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) coupons to eat. Of the government programs that provided her housing, but that doubled as halfway houses. The aloof government employees who called her lucky for receiving assistance while she didn't feel lucky at all. She wrote to remember the fight, to eventually cut through the deep-rooted stigmas of the working poor. 

    Maid explores the underbelly of upper-middle class America and the reality of what it's like to be in service to them. "I'd become a nameless ghost," Stephanie writes about her relationship with her clients, many of whom do not know her from any other cleaner, but who she learns plenty about. As she begins to discover more about her clients' lives-their sadness and love, too-she begins to find hope in her own path. 

    Her compassionate, unflinching writing as a journalist gives voice to the "servant" worker, and those pursuing the American Dream from below the poverty line. Maid is Stephanie's story, but it's not her alone. It is an inspiring testament to the strength, determination, and ultimate triumph of the human spirit.

    The book is nothing like Evicted or Nickeled and Dimed! The author, IMO, the author failed to take responsibility for her life choices. She came across as irresponsible, whiny, and, unappreciative and entitled at times.  When she fell on hard times, she was able to navigate her way around all the services available to her: temporary housing, housing subsidies, food assistance, childcare services and more but still complained about not being able to get organic milk and organic food with her allotments. She uses Go Fund Me for her own benefit, yet when she receives a tax refund instead of trying to plan for the future she buys herself a diamond ring and later finds a way to travel to Europe.  In addition, at times it didn't seem like she had her young daughter's best interest at heart. She takes vacations without her sick daughter, sometimes ended up in abusive situations. When she talks about her jobs as a "maid" she seemed to give cleaning people a bad name. She admits to looking in drawers, medicine cabinets and disparages her clients along the way.

    Can't recommend this one!

    Wednesday, May 22, 2019

    The Girl He Used to Know; Tracey Garvis Graves

    AUTHOR:  Tracey Garvis Graves
    PUBLISHER:  St. Martin's Press
    PUB. YEAR: 2019
    SETTING:  Illinois
    FORMAT:  - library print (291pp)
    RATING - 4.5/5

    Second chance romance stories are not the kind of story that normally appeals to me but, this one was a winner. I sat down, it pulled me in and, I read it in one sitting.

    Annika Rose is a quirky young woman who has always struggle to fit in.  It's evident that she is somewhere on the autism spectrum: loud noises, strong smells, uncomfortable clothes, debilitating shyness and social situations are things she finds hard to deal with.  

    Annika - "simply preferred the company of animals over most humans, the soulful look in their eyes as they learned to trust me sustained me more than any social situation ever would."

    In 1991 Annika attended the University of Illinois and with encouragement from her friend Janice, she decided to join the chess club, something she was good at.  Her father taught her to play at age 7 to help her build confidence and deal with her shyness.  It's there, playing chess, where she meets Jonathan, a kind-hearted guy who patient enough to bring Annika out of her shell.  After college they go their separate ways, he off to NYC with a job on Wall Street and she in her dream job as a librarian at the Harold Washington Library.

    Annika - "If there was one thing I loved almost as much as animals, it was books.  Reading transported me to exotic locales, fascinating periods in history and worlds that were vastly different from my own."

    Now in 2001 (where the story begins) the two run into each other at a grocery store. She's living the safe, comfortable life as a librarian she wanted and Jonathan is back in Illinois. He was injured in the 9/11 attacks in NYC, now newly divorced and looking for a fresh start.

    Even though it's easy to see where this story was headed, it was such an endearing read and I couldn't wait to see it play out. I liked the back and forth backstory from their college days to 2001 when they reconnected.  The first person POV worked well, making it easy feel for Annika, her social struggles and encounters with being teased and bullied. If you are in the mood for a feel-good read, be sure to try this one.

    The (2) quotes I shared  reminded me of why I love animals and books so much.