Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Libertie

Libertie
Title:
  Libertie
Author:  Kaitlyn Greenidge
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2021. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1616207019 / 978-1616207014

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I saw my mother raise a man from the dead."

Favorite Quote:  "I do not know what I am or what I will have become by then. I am not sure I ever knew myself. I used to think this was a failing. Something to hide from. How could I be a righteous woman, to serve the world as you did, if I did not know myself? But that seems like sos little of a concern, now. I may not know myself, but I know the loneliness of love. I know that the world is too big to be knowable."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Review

Libertie - the character and the story - are not what I expect. The book description speaks of a coming of age a story, a journey of self-discovery, and a journey of what it means to be a black woman in the 1860s. In the United States, that is the time of the Civil War, slavery, escape, and the fight for freedom.

Libertie Sampson is a young woman at the time. She was named by her father for "his longing. As a girl, I did not realize what a great burden this was to bear. I was only grateful." She lives with her mother, who is independent, strong, a voice in the community, and a  doctor. The opening sentence of the book speak to her role and the times. The good doctor helped black people escape to a better life; one of the methods was to medicate them such that they appeared virtually dead and to transport them in coffins! This is the opening scene of the book.

The beginning of the book sets up for a powerful, emotional story of the times and of history. The fact that the book description states that it is "inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the United States" lends itself to that image. I imagine that reference is to Libertie's mother. Unfortunately, this book is not her story although that is a story I wish to read. I want to know her story because she is Black, a woman, a doctor, and a single mother at a time when any one of those individually presents a challenge. All together, I cannot imagine. I want to know her story because of the quiet strength she displays and the strength she tries to pass on to Libertie. I want to know her story because I want to know all she has survived

This is, however, Libertie's story and her elusive search for freedom and independence. Unfortunately, this tale and this characters has a negative tone from beginning to end. I suppose finding her name a burden in the opening paragraphs of the book should have been an indication. Libertie's search for independence throughout the book seems to lead away and be structured as an escape from something rather than a move towards. Each steps seems to be an escape from what comes before. School from her mother's house. Marriage from school and her mother's expectations. Haiti from the United States. And more. At every turn.

At each turn, Libertie finds that what she escapes too is not quite what she envisions and does not provide her with what she seeks. At each turn, her vision of her situation focuses on what it is not rather than what it is. Her independence and happiness remain elusive. Much of the book conveys that negative tone, making it challenging to invest in Libertie as a character or to cheer for her happy ending. Even the ending leaves me doubtful that the next turn in Libertie's life will bring her what she seeks.

About the Author

Kaitlyn Greenidge's debut novel is We Love You, Charlie Freeman (Algonquin Books), one of the New York Times Critics' Top 10 Books of 2016. Her writing has appeared in the Vogue, Glamour, the Wall Street Journal, Elle, Buzzfeed, Transition Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Believer, American Short Fiction and other places. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Whiting Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University and the Guggenheim Foundation. She is currently Features Director at Harper’s Bazaar as well as a contributing writer for The New York Times. Her second novel, Libertie, is published by Algonquin Books and out now.

About the Book

Coming of age as a freeborn Black girl in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson is all too aware that her purposeful mother, a practicing physician, has a vision for their future together: Libertie is to go to medical school and practice alongside her. But Libertie, drawn more to music than science, feels stifled by her mother’s choices and is hungry for something else—is there really only one way to have an autonomous life? And she is constantly reminded that, unlike her mother, who can pass, Libertie has skin that is too dark. When a young man from Haiti proposes to Libertie and promises she will be his equal on the island, she accepts, only to discover that she is still subordinate to him and all men. As she tries to parse what freedom actually means for a Black woman, Libertie struggles with where she might find it—for herself and for generations to come.

Inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the United States and rich with historical detail, Kaitlyn Greenidge’s new and immersive novel will resonate with readers eager to understand our present through a deep, moving, and lyrical dive into our complicated past. 


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Golden Girl

Golden Girl
Title:
  Golden Girl
Author:  Elin Hilderbrand
Publication Information:  Little, Brown and Company. 2021. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0316420085 / 978-0316420082

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "She receives a message from the front office: a new soul is about to join them, and this soul has been assigned to Martha."

Favorite Quote:  "Nothing in this world feels as good as hope."

In the opening pages of this book, Vivi Howe dies in a hit and run accident. She leaves behind three children, an ex-husband, an upcoming book, and the secrets of a lifetime. A sudden death brings to light all the things left unresolved. Things we think we are going to have time for. Things we think we can get to later. Except that the later is not to be. It also brings to light what priorities were and perhaps what they should have been.

When one of the things left undone is a will, it brings to bear so many more issues. There is a career, wealth, a house, children, alimony for the ex-husband, royalties on books, but no will. I find that challenging to follow, but perhaps. It's a niggling point, but one that can be overlooked in the story.

The plot of this book is itself contrived. Vivi dies, but there is a place in the beyond. She has an assigned guardian. She has a room from which she can watch what happens among the living. Beyond that, she has three "nudges." That's kind of like three wishes. She has the ability, not to completely change things but to "nudge" someone or something in the direction she chooses. She cannot, however, nudge the outcome of that. Where will she use the nudges? 

The beautiful Nantucket summer setting brings forth the idea of a summer beach read. This book avails itself of that setting but then turns from the summer beach read into an attempt to tackle issues plucked from the headlines. Left among the living are Vivi's three children, her children's father, and someone from Vivi's past. Among the living is also the investigation of the culprit behind the hit and run. First and foremost, the chief suspect in the hit and run is a person of color - perhaps the only person of color on Nantucket. Then, there is the daughter who is propositioned at the restaurant at which she works. Is she believed? Is she not believed? There are the wealthy and the not. There are the teenagers with secrets and angst of their own. It's a quick read that tries to do a bit too much.

As you might expect in an Elin Hilderbrand book, by the end, resolutions are reached. Perhaps, most importantly, the children (some of whom are adults) find a way to cope with the loss of their mother. "We honor Mom by offering forgiveness. You know how she treats the characters in her books? She gives them flaws, she portrays them doing horrible things - but the reader loves them anyway. Because Mom loves them. Because they're human."

While not quite a lighthearted summer beach read, the book is a quick, entertaining while it lasts, and leaves the lesson of forgiveness which is always important to remember.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

The Boardwalk Bookshop

The Boardwalk Bookshop
Title:
  The Boardwalk Bookshop
Author:  Susan Mallery
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2022. 432 pages.
ISBN:  0778333299 / 978-0778333296

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I thought there'd be more sex."

Favorite Quote:  "Crap happens all the time. You can't avoid it, but you can develop skills to deal with it. Bad things are in your future... I can't tell you what or when, but they're going to happen. The secret isn't to avoid the. The secret is to be strong enough to survive them... I'm suggesting there are ways to strengthen  your sense of self and to add to your emotional tool kit, if you will, so that when the bad stuff happens, you can cope."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Review

I have to admit. I choose to read this book based simply on the title. The summer, the beach, and a bookshop ... a perfect combination. The fact that it's from Susan Mallery who writes lovely escapist beach reads is an added bonus. This book ticks all the boxes.

Strangers whose paths cross become friends. Friends turn into the family you choose. Bree, Ashley, and Mikki all happen to meet when all three are looking at a property on the beach for their respective businesses. Bree owns a bookstore. Ashley owns and runs a bakery. Mikki has a gift shop. Individually, none of them needs the size of the space, and none of them can afford it on their own. So, these three strangers join forces and decide to colocate their businesses. Three women supporting each other and building each other up, three business owners, three entrepreneurs, three friends. A lovely setup for a story.

In their personal lives, each suffers her own challenges. Bree bears the scars of childhood neglect and a marriage that was based on anything but love. Ashley wonder if the man she thinks is the love of her wants the same things that she does and how far she is willing to compromise. Mikki is divorced but contemplating where her future lies. Tied in are relationships with parents, in-laws, and children.

The book has its share of romance and physical descriptions. Fortunately, the focus stays on the story and the growth of these three women through their individual challenges and in their friendship.

As in other Susan Mallery books, some of the situations are exaggerated. Some of the characters are a little too perfect. Yet, enough of the characters and the events are relatable and ring true. The characters of the three women ring true and keep me engaged through the story even though I know exactly where it is going to end. That is part of what makes it a perfect summer beach reach. I know what to expect, and it delivers.

Also, as with other Susan Mallery books, in the middle of the romance and lightheartedness, the book deals with serious issues. Emotional abuse of a child is perhaps the most significant one in this book. It presents the issue through the lens of an adult who grows up as a neglected child - one who at best is ignored and at worst repeatedly told that her birth was an unexpected surprise and that her presence is an intrusion to her parents' lives. She grows up feeling unlovable and incapable of love. She repeats the patterns of her childhood as an adult. She shuts down emotionally, preferring the lack of feeling to the possible chance of being betrayed again. What I appreciate about this book is that there is no instant solution - through the right guy or the right friends. It depicts the help of professionals and specifically states the work and time that must go into healing. At the same time, it does emphasize the role family and friends can play - for staging an intervention to being there to taking the time to understand and love, flaws and all. This, for me, is the lasting image of this book.

About the Author 

SUSAN MALLERY is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of novels about the relationships that define women's lives—family, friendship and romance. Library Journal says, “Mallery is the master of blending emotionally believable characters in realistic situations," and readers seem to agree—forty million copies of her books have been sold worldwide. Her warm, humorous stories make the world a happier place to live.

Susan grew up in California and now lives in Seattle with her husband. She's passionate about animal welfare, especially that of the two Ragdoll cats and adorable poodle who think of her as Mom.

About the Book

With her unique brand of witty, emotional storytelling, Susan Mallery's latest is a heartfelt tale of friendship between three women brought together by chance who open a bookshop together on the boardwalk of the California beaches and ultimately become one another's family. Fans of Elin Hilderbrand, Robyn Carr and Susan Wiggs will love The Boardwalk Bookshop!

Brought together by chance, Bree, Mikki, and Ashley become fast friends and open up a beachfront bookshop together, bringing together their three different businesses. To celebrate, each Friday at sunset they pop open champagne on the beach and enjoy the sunset together. Little did they know that that chance meeting and this simple ritual would make them one another’s family.

Bree owns the bookshop. Funny that she can’t stand authors. They’re far too demanding. But when NYT bestselling author Harding Burton, the memoirist who wrote about being paralyzed as a teenager and how he fought his way back, comes in, Bree never expected to actually like him. But anything beyond casual sex is out of the question for her. She trusts no one—a brutal first marriage and a painful childhood taught her well. Still as much as she wants to walk away, she can’t quite do it…

Ashley, Harding’s brother, owns the muffin shop and she has her own problems. She’s been happily in love with her boyfriend, Seth, for eight years. He’s thoughtful, supportive, kind, generous…but he hasn’t proposed and, she can’t hold it in any longer. When he announces that marriage isn’t for him, she’s shocked. And as much as she wishes this was enough, the truth is that she wants to be married. But what now?

And Mikki, the gift shop owner, is getting a second chance. She married her high school sweetheart, but three kids and completely different interests made them drift apart until they divorced a few years ago. They’re still close for the kids, but when someone new enters her life, he makes her feel appreciated and alive. Suddenly Mikki’s ex is making her dinner and asking her advice and Mikki must choose between the man she loved and let go of—and a chance for a brand new beginning.

Q&A with Susan Mallery
What are your Favorite: food, beverage, pet, place visited, place you would like to visit, car, etc?
  • Favorite food: Chocolate and bread are tied for first place.
  • Favorite beverage: wine—I’m a big fan of Washington wines, which is why I wrote The Vineyard at Painted Moon, a book that came out in 2021.
  • Favorite pet: A mom isn’t supposed to have favorites, but I’ll confess just to you—Alex, my cat, is my guy. He always wants to be close to me, and I love that, too. You’ll often see him when I do virtual events, usually demanding dinner and affection, in that order. I do love my dog Kelli, too, but she’s more into her daddy than she is me.
  • Favorite place visited: My husband and I enjoy cruises. We’ve visited so many wonderful places, but one country whose beauty surprised me was Estonia. It’s filled with historical character and charm, and the people are warm and delightful.
  • I also love visiting my hometown, Los Angeles. That’s why I set The Boardwalk Bookshop in LA, so I could spend a few months in California—in my imagination, that is.
  • Place I would like to visit: Our next cruise will be to the British Isles, and I’m very excited. I’ll share pictures on Facebook and Instagram. I’m @susanmallery in both places, if you’d like to travel there vicariously.
  • Favorite car: My husband’s a total car guy. I’m mostly indifferent, though there are features I love. Heated seats are very nice, but a heated steering wheel is true luxury. When I need to know what kind of car a character would drive, I describe the character to Mr. Mallery and let him decide.
Tell us about your latest book, who is the main character(s) and what can we expect when we pick it up?
The Boardwalk Bookshop is about three strangers—Bree, Mikki and Ashley—who lease a beachfront retail location together and the friendship that blossoms among them. Bree owns the bookshop, Mikki the gift shop, and Ashley the bakery. I wanted to explore the transformative power of friendship. Because they have one another, these women are empowered with the strength and courage to change their lives. The Boardwalk Bookshop is an emotional, uplifting story that you’ll finish with a happy sigh. And I hope it will inspire you to strengthen your own bonds of friendship.

Bree is one of the most wounded characters I’ve ever written—hurt by neglectful parents when she was young, and by repeating that pattern with the man she married. Now widowed, she’s determined to protect herself at all costs. Then Ashley’s brother comes to her bookshop, a motivational author and adventurer who has inspired the world with his story. . . and teaches her that loneliness is a choice she doesn’t have to make. If only she can find the courage to risk her heart again.

Mikki is kind of rocking her divorce, or so she thinks. She and her ex have remained friends, and the whole family still celebrates holidays together. But when she starts dating again and meets a guy with real potential, things get messy fast. Mikki is one of those women who goes into mom mode for anyone in need of nurturing. She also has a wicked sense of humor and a very special, secret relationship that I know will make readers laugh. And maybe blush.

The youngest of the three friends, Ashley is deeply in love with the guy of her dreams. And he loves her, too! Finally, she found The One. Except she’s about to discover that Seth doesn’t believe in marriage. He believes that love is stronger when people make a choice every day to stay together. Can she be happy with him forever, even if she never becomes his wife?

Which of the characters in The Boardwalk Bookshop would you want to have a drink/coffee and a chat with?
I love them all, but if I have to choose, I’ll go with Bree. She’s the most complicated and the most snarky, and I find snarky, complicated women endlessly amusing. Plus, she owns a bookshop! Hello!

Buy Links

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/the-boardwalk-bookshop-9780778333296/9780778333296
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0778386082?ie=UTF8&tag=wwwsusanmalle-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0778386082
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-boardwalk-bookshop-susan-mallery/1140127614?ean=9780778386087
Books-a-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Boardwalk-Bookshop/Susan-Mallery/9780778386087?id=8318065423495
Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09FFGG6YS?ie=UTF8&tag=wwwsusanmalle-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B09FFGG6YS
Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-boardwalk-bookshop-susan-mallery/1140127614?ean=9780369718433
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Susan_Mallery_The_Boardwalk_Bookshop?id=KBZBEAAAQBAJ
Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-boardwalk-bookshop/id1584336225
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-boardwalk-bookshop
Walmart: https://www.walmart.com/ip/The-Boardwalk-Bookshop-Paperback-9780778386087/560857236
Target: https://www.target.com/p/the-boardwalk-bookshop-by-susan-mallery/-/A-84881665?preselect=84397825

Social Links

Twitter: @susanmallery
Facebook: @susanmallery
Instagram: @susanmallery
Author website: https://www.susanmallery.com/


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

China

Title:
  China
Author:  Edward Rutherfurd
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2021. 800 pages.
ISBN:  0385538936 / 978-0385538930

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "At first he did not hear the voice behind him."

Favorite Quote:  "Put another way, if we want things to stay the same, we must change."

An Edward Rutherfurd book is a commitment - this one at 800 pages, but one that is usually worth the time for a fan of historical fiction. The books depict history as a story (which it is!) and cover in depth the titled place. This one does and doesn't.

Some of Edward Rutherfurd other books trace the history of a place somewhat like James Michener from the beginning to current times. This one does not. For its length, this actually covers a relatively short period of time in Chinese history. China has a history going back thousands of years. This book begins only in the early 1800s in the years leading up to the First Opium Wars. It also stops at somewhat the beginning of Mao's Cultural Revolution, shortening the time period even more.

This time period in history naturally lends itself to a comparisons to today's drug cartels and drug wars. The history of the opium "business" is presented as is the lack of concern for the individual or social impact of the drug use. To those involved, it is simple a "trade", perhaps one they have invested their lives in. The fact this disparity continues in different contexts today is a disturbing. Simply a "trade" with life and world altering implications.

Based on the timing, a significant portion of the book is the perspective of the British and Americans who find themselves in China at this time - the government officials, the merchants, the pirates, the military, the missionaries, and more. Their perspective, while fascinating, brings a different outlook and vision of the culture and people of China. For parts of the book, it feels the "China" in the this book is missing with this outsider's perspective. It also feels that the story being told is some of the outside stereotypes and the elitism of the colonialists. It does not necessarily depict the majesty - inventions, art, poetry, and so much more - that his part of Chinese history.

At the beginning, the shifting perspectives cause the story to scatter a bit as it is unclear how the characters relate or how the story will come together. Story lines end and pick up, making it at times challenging to follow a thread. Some of them go into detailed descriptions which I find less engaging - particularly those of arms and battles. As expected, some perspectives are more interesting than others. For me, unequivocally, the Chinese perspectives are the ones that draw me in for that is why I chose to read a book titled China!

Despite all of this, ultimately the story and the characters all do come together into a cohesive image. It's like looking at a painting up close and seeing the individual brush strokes and then slowly - very slowly - backing up until the brush strokes disappear into an overall image. It is not the epic image of China I expect, but nevertheless a look at a point in Chinese history.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Beach House Summer

Beach House Summer
Title:
  Beach House Summer
Author:  Sarah Morgan
Publication Information:  HQN. 2022. 384 pages.
ISBN:  133542752X / 978-1335427526

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and The HTP Books Summer 2022 Beach Reads Blog Tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "She slid into his car, hoping this wasn't a mistake."

Favorite Quote:  "There are plenty of people out there who will make you think you're not good enough. That you should think small. Play it safe. Be less than you're capable of being. The important thing is not to believe them. If there's something you badly want to do, if you have a dream, you owe it to yourself to give it a try."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Review

This is a feel good book that begins sadly with an accident and a violent death. It leads to discoveries of infidelity and abandonment. It leads to the past and what was believed and what actually happened. Ultimately, it leads to the ultimate questions of is forgiveness possible and is it possible to go home again? "... but sometimes when bad things happen it's a wakeup call. You realize what's important. What you turned your back on. You want home."

Joanna left her home town years and years ago and, along with it, her best friend and her love. Why? The reason and the reason believed by others are different. Yet, the connection remains for Joanna's inheritance remains. In the world of the rich, the inheritance, of course, is a secluded house on the ocean with its own private beach. At one time, it was run down. Wealth enabled Joanna to completely redo it, but she has never been back to the small town where everyone knew her. Yet, now, it calls to her as a haven.

Her life, since leaving, has been all about Cliff her husband and then ex-husband who also happens to be a celebrity chef. He was the celebrity. Joanna ran the entire business that made and kept him a celebrity. Even when the marriage broke up, the partnership remained.

Now, he has died under dubious circumstances. A woman - a pregnant woman - was in the car with him. Who is she? Joanna knows the truth behind Ashley.

Looking to escape the press, Joanna decides to run to her beach house. Much to Ashley's surprise, Joanna takes her as well. So blossoms an unlikely friendship between two women who, in many ways, could not be more different, but who find that they both share a common core of strength. Their differences indeed are good for both as pushed out of their comfort zones and forced to demand more of life. Everyone needs a friend like that in life.

This friendship begins in a hospital but takes root in the small hometown that Joanna thought she had left far behind. In that small town wait people - Joanna's best friend and Joanna's childhood love. In that small town is also an entire community.

This is where the beach read kicks into how life ideally should be. The town closes ranks around its own. Joanna and Ashley find a way to reconcile with the past even though anger and worse would have been understandable. Misunderstandings years long are cleared in one conversation. Joanna discovers it is possible to go home again.

Completely believable. Of course not. However, this is a world I would like to believe in, and the way of friendship, love, and community that we would all like to believe possible. The characters and the situations could be real (okay, maybe not the super rich beach house vibe!). That means that the outcome could possibly also be real. We need more of that in the world today. A beautiful oceanside setting, a suspension of reality because life does not work out that easily, and a belief in the happily ever after - a perfect summer beach read.

About the Author

Sarah Morgan is a USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author of contemporary romance and women's fiction. She has sold more than 21 million copies of her books and her trademark humour and warmth have gained her fans across the globe. Sarah lives with her family near London, England, where the rain frequently keeps her trapped in her office. Visit her at www.sarahmorgan.com

About the Book

USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan returns with the ultimate beach read, as one woman forges the most unlikely friendship of all, and embarks on a summer of confrotning her past in order to build the future she wants...

When Joanna Whitman's ex-husband, one of California's most beloved celebrity chefs, dies in a car accident, she doesn't know what to feel. Their dysfunctional marriage held more secrets than she cares to remember, but when she discovers a young woman was with him in the crash--who's now in hospital, on her own, and pregnant --Joanna sees red. How dare he ruin yet another woman's life? More than anyone, Joanna knows the brutal spotlight this girl is going to find herself in...unless she can find a way for them both to disappear?

Ashley can't believe it when Joanna shows up in her hospital room and offers to spirit them both away for the summer to her secluded beach house on the Californian coast. Joanna should be hating her, not helping her. But orphaned and pregnant, Ashley can't turn Joanna down. Even though she knows that if Joanna ever discovers the real truth of why Ashley was in her ex's car, their tentative bond would never hold.

Together, they escape to the beach house, nestled high above the sleepy Californian town where Joanna grew up, and left without a backward glance. Joanna's only goal for the summer is privacy, but her return creates waves in the community, not least for the best friend she left behind. Both Joanna and Ashley are hiding secrets, but as they fall under the spell of their summer home - and draw on each other's courage - these unlikely friends realise that to seize the futures they want, they must step out of the shadows and into the sunshine.

Q&A With Sarah Morgan

1) I love the title and synopsis. Where did the inspiration for the book come from?
I’m fascinated by the idea of celebrity, and how it must feel to live in the spotlight. I was pondering on how much I’d hate that when I came up with the character of Joanna, who is an ‘accidental’ celebrity by virtue of her marriage to a high profile celebrity chef who both relishes and relies on media attention. Joanna didn’t just marry him, she married the lifestyle he’d chosen and she was never comfortable with it. As I was writing, I reflected a lot on how someone lives a private life, and how they keep secrets, if their every move is conducted under a spotlight. Those were some of the issues I wanted to explore. It was a fun book to write!

2) What was the best part about writing this book and why?
So many things. I enjoyed exploring the dynamics between the characters who are all quite different, and also being able to give Joanna a second chance at love (I’m a big believer in second chances!). But I confess that one of the best parts of writing this book was the setting. It takes me around six months to write a book, and during that time I’m immersed in the place as well as the people. Beach House Summer is set on the coast of California, which gave me the excuse to research beautiful beach houses. I was transported, and I hope the reader will feel that way too.

3) What was the most difficult part about writing this book and why?
Giving my characters a hard time - in particular subjecting poor Joanna to all the media attention, which she hated and found distressing. I felt so cruel! But writers sometimes have to be cruel to their characters, it’s part of the job, and a story where the characters are all happy in their lives and have no challenges to face would end on page one. But even knowing that, it’s always difficult when you’ve grown to love the people you’ve created. I remind myself that no matter how many obstacles I throw their way, I always, always give them a happy ending. That makes the whole thing easier.

4) Who is your favourite character and why?
That’s a tough question. I love all the characters, but in particular I enjoyed exploring the way that Joanna and Ashley interact, and how they gradually support each other and change over time. I find multigenerational friendships to be intriguing and interesting to write. With Joanna and Ashley, their age difference doesn’t stop them learning from each other and that part was such fun to write.

5) I have your books Sleigh Bells in the Snow, A Wedding in December and a Christmas Escape. Do you prefer writing books set in summer or winter and why? Which is easier or more challenging and why?
I love writing books set in winter and have done so almost every year since I’ve been published, but I wouldn’t want to only write Christmas books. It takes me around six months to write a novel, and by the time I’ve finished I’m ready to move on to a new set of characters, a new set of problems, and a new season! Each comes with its own set of challenges, but I enjoy writing both. In the end, whatever the season and whatever the setting, I aim to deliver and emotional story that will keep readers turning the pages.

6) The characters, plots and settings in your books are so memorable. What are your top tips for creating great characters, plots and settings, especially seasonal (summer, winter) settings?
The most important element is always the story itself. When you’re writing commercial fiction, you want to make your reader feel something. It’s important to create unique characters, with their own strengths and flaws, and to give them a problem or a dilemma that will keep the reader turning the pages. Sometimes you can turn the seasonal element to your advantage, and whenever possible I make sure that the season and the setting is integral to the plot. With a Christmas book, I try and give the reader all the magic of a cosy, snowy winter without any of the reality (freezing fingers and toes, scraping ice from the car etc). With my next book, Snowed in For Christmas, the season plays a big part in bringing the characters together, not just the weather but also the seasonal tradition of family gatherings. With summer books I want readers to feel as if they’ve had their own summer escape. If it’s a beach book (like Beach House Summer!) then I want them to feel the sand under their toes and the sun on their face.

7) Can you give some advice for those writing in the same genre as you?
Write the story that you’re passionate about. If you’re excited to write it, then there’s a good chance someone will be excited to read it. Create characters you really care about and give them a conflict that will keep a reader turning the pages. If you are rooting for that character, then the chances are the reader will be too.

8) Do you have plans for any other novels? When will they be released?
My next Christmas novel is called Snowed in For Christmas, and it will be out in September in the US and Canada. I had so much fun with this book and it includes all the elements I love including in my writing - family dynamics, friendship and romance. I laughed aloud when I wrote it, and I hope it will make readers smile when they read it.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

On a Quiet Street

On a Quiet Street
Title:
  On a Quiet Street
Author:  Seraphina Nova Glass
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2022. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1525899759 / 978-1525899751

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the HTP Summer 2022 mystery thriller blog tour program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Nothing ever happens in Brighton Hills."

Favorite Quote:  "We clearly don't know the same people, and if these two think this is just what a friend does, I wish I could stay here forever and be their friend. They're very lucky."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Review

A lot happens on this supposedly quiet street in a quiet suburb in Oregon. At least, it does in the three neighboring houses that are the focus of this story. It makes me think of the old adage that you never know what happens behind the closed doors of a home. Each family has its pubic persona. What lies behind that public persona can remain forever unknown.

Paige and Grant - At the moment, Paige lives alone in the house. Grant has moved out. Their son Caleb was killed in a hit and run on their own street. The case has never been solved. Grief and anger permeate the house. Paige constantly searches for an answer to who and why?

Cora and Finn - Cora and Finn have been married since their twenties. They are parents to teenage Mia. The glossy surface has cracks. Cora believes Finn is cheating on her. It would not be the first time. The relationship between Cora and Mia is strained, perhaps due to normal teenage angst or perhaps due to something more.

Georgia and Lucas - Georgia is the newcomer to the block, moving in when she marries Lucas, who is a judge and a well-respected member of the local judicial community. They are parents to baby Avery. Georgia never leaves the house and makes to effort to connect with anyone on the block. Shyness? Anxiety? Phobia? Something more?

From these three couples stem all kinds of family and marital issues - death, grief, loss, infidelity, prenuptial agreements, parenting, deception, abuse, and more. Gaslighting plays a major role in some of these relationships; the book depicts the power that abuse of that nature can have and the damage it can cause. Yet, to the book's credit, not all the male characters are depicted as villainous. There is a balance even though the ones who are villainous are completely so.

The book tells the story in alternating chapters from the perspective of the three women. Towards the beginning, I sometimes find myself losing the thread of the story trying to keep them straight. Towards the beginning, the characters themselves are not particularly likable.

Slowly through, details emerge, and the three women and the three families becomes distinct. Their actions are still not always likable but become more understandable. Paige is a daring detective and a grief stricken women whose grief manifests in anger. Cora seeks to do good and to help; her powers of observation and her suspicious nature serve her well. Georgia is not who or what she appears to be; she is also a mother who will tolerate almost anything and do almost anything to protect her baby. 

Then, the story turns again. No spoilers, but I do not see that turn coming. Yet, when it comes, it fits and it makes sense. The book builds to a dramatic conclusion centered around the powerful concept of women standing up for themselves and for each other. Some of the plans these women come up with are over the top, but that keeps me turning pages from beginning to end.

About the Author

Seraphina Nova Glass is a professor and playwright-in-residence at the University of Texas, Arlington, where she teaches film studies and playwriting. She holds an MFA in playwriting from Smith College, and she's also a screenwriter and award-winning playwright. Seraphina has traveled the world using theatre and film as a teaching tool, living in South Africa, Guam and Kenya as a volunteer teacher, AIDS relief worker, and documentary filmmaker.

About the Book

A simple arrangement. A web of deceit with shocking consequences.

Welcome to Brighton Hills: an exclusive, gated community set against the stunning backdrop of the Oregon coast. Home to doctors, lawyers, judges--all the most upstanding members of society. Nothing ever goes wrong here. Right?

Cora's husband, Finn, is a cheater. She knows it; she just needs to prove it. She's tired of being the nagging, suspicious wife who analyzes her husband's every move. She needs to catch him in the act. And what better way to do that than to set him up for a fall?

Paige has nothing to lose. After she lost her only child in a hit-and-run last year, her life fell apart: her marriage has imploded, she finds herself screaming at baristas and mail carriers, and she's so convinced Caleb's death wasn't an accident that she's secretly spying on all everyone in Brighton Hills so she can find the murderer. So it's easy for her to entrap Finn and prove what kind of man he really is.

But Paige and Cora are about to discover far more than a cheating husband. What starts as a little agreement between friends sets into motion a series of events neither of them could have ever predicted, and that exposes the deep fault lines in Brighton Hills. Especially concerning their mysterious new neighbor, Georgia, a beautiful recluse who has deep, dark secrets of her own...

Excerpt

Excerpted from On A Quiet Street by Seraphina Nova Glass, Copyright © 2022 by Seraphina Nova Glass. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

ONE
Paige

Paige stands, watering her marigolds in the front yard and marvels at how ugly they are. The sweet-potato-orange flowers remind her of a couch from the 1970s, and she suddenly hates them. She crouches down, ready to rip them from their roots, wondering why she ever planted such an ugly thing next to her pristine Russian sage, and then the memory steals her breath. The church Mother’s Day picnic when Caleb was in the sixth grade. Some moron had let the potato salad sit too long in the sun, and Caleb got food poisoning. All the kids got to pick a flower plant to give to their moms, and even though Caleb was puking mayonnaise, he insisted on going over to pick his flower to give her. He was so proud to hand it to her in its little plastic pot, and she said they’d plant it in the yard and they’d always have his special marigolds to look at. How could she have forgotten?

She feels tears rise in her throat but swallows them down. Her dachshund, Christopher, waddles over and noses her arm: he always senses when she’s going to cry, which is almost all the time since Caleb died. She kisses his head and looks at her now-beautiful marigolds. She’s interrupted by the kid who de-livers the newspaper as he rides his bike into the cul-de-sac and tosses a rolled-up paper, hitting little Christopher on his back.

“Are you a fucking psychopath?” Paige screams, jumping to her feet and hurling the paper back at the kid, which hits him in the head and knocks him off his bike.

“What the hell is wrong with you, lady?” he yells back, scrambling to gather himself and pick up his bike.

“What’s wrong with me? You tried to kill my dog. Why don’t you watch what the fuck you’re doing?”

His face contorts, and he tries to pedal away, but Paige grabs the garden hose and sprays him down until he’s out of reach. “Little monster!” she yells after him.

Thirty minutes later, the police ring her doorbell, but Paige doesn’t answer. She sits in the back garden, drinking coffee out of a lopsided clay mug with the word Mom carved into it by little fingers. She strokes Christopher’s head and examines the ivy climbing up the brick of the garage and wonders if it’s bad for the foundation. When she hears the ring again, she hollers at them.

“I’m not getting up for you people. If you need to talk to me, I’m back here.” She enjoys making them squeeze around the side of the house and hopes they rub up against the poi-son oak on their way.

“Morning, Mrs. Moretti,” one of the officers says. It’s the girl cop, Hernandez. Then the white guy chimes in. She hates him. Miller. Of course they sent Miller with his creepy mustache. He looks more like a child molester than a cop, she thinks. How does anyone take him seriously?

“We received a complaint,” he says.

“Oh, ya did, did ya? You guys actually looking into cases these days? Actually following up on shit?” Paige says, still petting the dog and not looking at them.

“You assaulted a fifteen-year-old? Come on.”

“Oh, I did no such thing,” she snaps.

Hernandez sits across from Paige. “You wanna tell us what d id happen, then?”

“Are you planning on arresting me if I don’t?” she asks, and the two officers give each other a silent look she can’t read.

“His parents don’t want to press charges so…”

Paige doesn’t say anything. They don’t have to tell her it’s because they pity her.

“But, Paige,” Miller says, “we can’t keep coming out here for this sort of thing.”

“Good,” Paige says firmly. “Maybe it will free you up to do your real job and find out who killed my son.” Hernandez stands.

“Again, you know we aren’t the detectives on the—” But before Hernandez can finish, Paige interrupts, not wanting to hear the excuses.

“And maybe go charge the idiot kid for trying to kill my dog. How about that?”

Paige stands and goes inside, not waiting for a response. She hears them mumble something to one another and make their way out. She can’t restrain herself or force herself to be kind. She used to be kind, but now, it’s as though her brain has been rewired. Defensiveness inhabits the place where empathy used to live. The uniforms of the cops trigger her, too; it reminds her of that night, the red, flashing lights a nightmarish strobe from a movie scene. A horror movie, not real life. It can’t be her real life. She still can’t accept that.

The uniforms spoke, saying condescending things, pulling her away, calling her ma’am, and asking stupid questions. Now, when she sees them, it brings up regrets. She doesn’t know why this happens, but the uniforms bring her back to that night, and it makes her long for the chance to do all the things she never did with Caleb and mourn over the times they did have. It forces fragments of memories to materialize, like when he was six, he wanted a My Little Pony named Star Prancer. It was pink with purple flowers in its mane, and she didn’t let him have it because she thought she was protecting him from being made fun of at school. Now, the memory fills her with self-reproach.

She tries not to think about the time she fell asleep on the couch watching Rugrats with him when he was just a toddler and woke up to his screaming because he’d fallen off the couch and hit his head on the coffee table. He was okay, but it could have been worse. He could have put his finger in an outlet, pushed on the window screen and fallen to his death from the second floor, drunk the bleach under the sink! When this memory comes, she has to quickly stand up and busy herself, push out a heavy breath, and shake off the shame it brings. He could have died from her negligence that afternoon. She never told Grant. She told Cora once, who said every parent has a moment like that, it’s life. People fall asleep. But Paige has never forgiven herself. She loved Caleb more than life, and now the doubt and little moments of regret push into her thoughts and render her miserable and anxious all the time.

She didn’t stay home like Cora, she practically lived at the restaurant. She ran it for years. Caleb grew up doing his homework in the kitchen break room and helping wipe down tables and hand out menus. He seemed to love it. He didn’t watch TV all afternoon after school, he talked to new people, learned skills. But did she only tell herself that to alleviate the guilt? Would he have thrived more if he had had a more nor mal day-to-day? When he clung to her leg that first day of preschool, should she have forced him to go? Should he have let him change his college major so many times? Had he been happy? Had she done right by him?

And why was there a gun at the scene? Was he in trouble, and she didn’t know? Did he have friends she didn’t know about? He’d told her everything, she thought. They were close. Weren’t they?

As she approaches the kitchen window to put her mug down, she sees Grant pulling up outside. She can see him shaking his head at the sight of the cops before he even gets out of the car.

He doesn’t mention the police when he comes in. He silently pours himself a cup of coffee and finds Paige back out in the garden, where she has scurried to upon seeing him. He hands her a copy of the Times after removing the crossword puzzle for himself and then peers at it over his glasses.

He doesn’t speak until Christopher comes to greet him, and then he says, “Who wants a pocket cookie?” and takes a small dog biscuit from his shirt pocket and smiles down at little Christopher, who devours it.

This is how it’s been for the many months since Grant and Paige suffered insurmountable loss. It might be possible to get through it to the other side, but maybe not together, Paige said to Grant one night after one of many arguments about how they should cope. Grant wanted to sit in his old, leather recliner in the downstairs family room and stare into the wood-burning fireplace, Christopher at his feet, drinking a scotch and absorbing the quiet and stillness.

Paige, on the other hand, wanted to scream at everyone she met. She wanted to abuse the police for not finding who was responsible for the hit-and-run. She wanted to spend her days posting flyers offering a reward to anyone with information, even though she knew only eight percent of hit-and-runs are ever solved. When the world didn’t respond the way she needed, she stopped helping run the small restaurant they owned so she could just hole up at home and shout at Jeopardy! and paper boys. She needed to take up space and be loud. They each couldn’t stand how the other was mourning, so finally, Grant moved into the small apartment above their little Italian place, Moretti’s, and gave Paige the space she needed to take up.

Now—almost a year since the tragic day—Grant still comes over every Sunday to make sure the take-out boxes are picked up and the trash is taken out, that she’s taking care of herself and the house isn’t falling apart. And to kiss her on the cheek before he leaves and tell her he loves her. He doesn’t make observations or suggestions, just benign comments about the recent news headlines or the new baked mostaccioli special at the restaurant.

She sees him spot the pair of binoculars on the small table next to her Adirondack chair. She doesn’t need to lie and say she’s bird-watching or some nonsense. He knows she thinks one of the neighbors killed her son. She’s sure of it. It’s a gated community, and very few people come in and out who don’t live here. Especially that late at night. The entrance camera was conveniently disabled that night, so that makes her think it wasn’t an accident but planned. There was a gun next to Caleb’s body, but it wasn’t fired, and there was no gunshot wound. Something was very wrong with this scenario, and if the po-lice won’t prove homicide, she’s going to uncover which of her bastard neighbors had a motive.

She has repeated all of this to Grant a thousand times, and he used to implore her to try to focus on work or take a vacation—anything but obsess—and to warn her that she was destroying her health and their relationship, but he stopped responding to this sort of conspiracy-theory talk months ago.

“What’s the latest?” is all he asks, looking away from the binoculars and back to his crossword. She gives a dismissive wave of her hand, a sort of I know you don’t really want to hear about it gesture. Then, after a few moments, she says, “Danny Howell at 6758. He hasn’t driven his Mercedes in months.” She gives Grant a triumphant look, but he doesn’t appear to be following.

“Okay,” he says, filling in the word ostrich.

“So I broke into his garage to see what the deal was, and there’s a dent in his bumper.”

“You broke in?” he asks, concerned. She knows the How-ells have five vehicles, and the dent could be from a myriad of causes over the last year, but she won’t let it go.

“Yes, and it’s a good thing I did. I’m gonna go back and take photos. See if the police can tell if it looks like he might have hit a person.” She knows there is a sad desperation in her voice as she works herself up. “You think they can tell that? Like if the dent were a pole from a drive-through, they could see paint or the scratches or something, right? I bet they can tell.”

“It’s worth a shot,” he says, and she knows what he wants to say, also knows he won’t waste words telling her not to break into the garage a second time for photos. He changes the subject.

“I’m looking for someone to help out at the restaurant a few days a week—mostly just a piano player for the dinner crowd—but I could use a little bookkeeping and scheduling, too,” he says, and Paige knows it’s a soft attempt to distract her, but she doesn’t bite.

“Oh, well, good luck. I hope you find someone,” she says, and they stare off into the backyard trees.

“The ivy is looking robust,” he comments after a few minutes of silence.

“You think it’s hurting the foundation?” she asks.

“Nah,” he says, and he reaches over and places his hand over hers on the arm of her chair for a few moments before getting up to go. On his way out, he kisses her on the cheek, tells her he loves her. Then he loads the dishwasher and takes out the trash before heading to his car. She watches him reluctantly leaving, knowing that he wishes he could stay, that things were different.

When Paige hears the sound of Grant’s motor fade as he turns out of the front gate, she imagines herself calling him on his cell and telling him to come back and pick her up, that she’ll come to Moretti’s with him and do all the scheduling and books, that she’ll learn to play the piano just so she can make him happy. And, after all the patrons leave for the night, they’ll share bottles of Chianti on checkered tablecloths in a dimly lit back booth. They’ll eat linguini and clams and have a Lady and the Tramp moment, and they will be happy again.

Paige does not do this. She goes into the living room and closes the drapes Grant opened, blocking out the sunlight, then she crawls under a bunched-up duvet on the couch that smells like sour milk, and she begs for sleep.

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Saturday, May 14, 2022

Olive the Lionheart

Title:  Olive the Lionheart:  Lost Love, Imperial Spies, and One Woman's Journey into the Heart of Africa
Author:  Brad Ricca
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2020. 400 pages.
ISBN:  1250207010 / 978-1250207012

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Olive was dreaming."

Favorite Quote:  "Olive had not yet arrived at her destination. Yet already she had seen monsters."

A waterfall in the heart of Africa is named after Olive MacLeod. Olive Macleod was an explorer. She did not start off as such. She was born in 1880 in Ireland to an affluent family. A chance meeting with Lieutenant Boyd Alexander led to a relationship and promises of marriage. Boyd Alexander was an African explorer. Soon after their meeting, he returned to Africa with promises to return. The relationship continued through letters. Then, news came that he had died - been murdered - in Africa. Grief drove Olive Macleod to journey to Africa to visit his grave.

What a journey it was! She and her group travelled across the ocean. On land, they travelled about 3,000 miles via foot, horseback, and litters through areas that had never been visited by a white woman. The impact of that exploration went far beyond Olive Macleod's personal journey. The French who had authority over the region applauded her courage by naming one of the region's waterfalls for her.

This is the journey that this book attempts to capture. As the introduction itself describes, "It is a narrative based on factual sources:  a book, diaries, journals, letters, phones and drawings, and other first person accounts." Olive Macleod's story is one of courage, danger, perseverance, and discovery. For teaching me this history which I may never have encountered, I applaud and love the book.

That being said, the telling of the story leaves me a bit baffled. For me, it does not capture the very real adventure and the drama that must have been this journey. The book travels back and forth through time It tells of the journey. It also tells of the time that Olive Macleod and Boyd Alexander met and their very brief in-person courtship. It then continues interspersing with the travels letters that Olive Macleod and Boyd Alexander wrote to each other. As a result, it seems to me to focus more on the emotional reason for Olive Macleod's journey rather than the journey itself. I do wonder if this is because the story is that of a female explorer? If the genders were reversed, would the story still have been told in the same way?

In the same way, the telling of the story does not for me capture the wonder and grandeur of the setting or the cultures the Olive Macleod must have encountered. For a book about an explorer, I cannot picture what they saw. The discussion of the surroundings often occurred in the difficulties of traveling them. The discussion of the wildlife came in the context of hunts. The discussion of the cultures and people encountered showed the elitist and superior attitudes of the explorers towards the "natives."

From the history, Olive Macleod sounds like a courageous, formidable woman. I love the premise of telling her story and the story of the lands she travelled. I just wish I had seen more of that than the romance. I was hoping for the story of an explorer and of the exploration. I got the story of the romance. Nevertheless, I am glad to have discovered the history of Olive Macleod.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.