Monday, November 30, 2020

Around the Sun

  Around the Sun
Author:  Eric Michael Bovim
Publication Information:  Epigraph Publishing. 2020. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1951937384 / 978-1951937386

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

Opening Sentence:  "It was a quiet line that stretched across the threshold from the airbridge into the fuselage world, business travelers, mainly, eyes fixed into screens and sipping away their liters of glacial water, an idling American engine."

Favorite Quote:  "We are never where we are. It was something she said whenever she saw me on the phone making dinner or reading an email if we were already in a conversation, when my attention was subdivided amount apps and browsers and inboxes and people."

Mark White is a thirty-some year old successful entrepreneur. He has a wife and a son. He flies around the world on business trips. "This was my fifth business trip in two months. If I was not on the phone I was in a meeting and if I was not in a meeting or on the phone I was on a business trip. Whatever was left I called home." In other words, he takes a lot for granted and creates priorities around what he does not take for granted. His love for his family is real, but the choices he makes do not always reflect that love.

The premise of the book is that in the midst of this success, Mark White's wife dies suddenly in an accident. The story of the book is about how Mark copes (or doesn't cope) with his grief and what changes come about in his life as a result of his wife's death. Some of the changes are the result of the staggering grief, and some of the changes are the result of choices and new priorities.

The ending of this book and the redemption found is not really a surprise. I wish the book had perhaps gone somewhere different. This book is more about the journey through the grief to get there. It's the "how" we change in the face of such dire circumstances.

The premise of the book is heart breaking. Unfortunately, I find the telling of the story pull away from that heartbreak for a couple of reasons. First, much time, particularly at the beginning of the book, is spent on Mark's business relationships and deals. While interesting, these details do not go toward the main idea of the book. They emphasize the reasons for this success, delineate his priorities, and accentuate his fall from that success but do not speak to the personal grief that he is going through.

The second reason is the writing style with its very wordy descriptions makes this seem almost as a stream of consciousness expression so focused on the details that the main idea seems to get lost:
  • "A waiter brought menus and waters with less and it seemed utterly ridiculous that, only an hour ago, we'd been trying to beat back a media wildfire for twenty-first-century tech scions, and now we were commiserating beneath color lithographs of nineteenth-century locomotives and wall sconces mounted on elk tusks."
  • "I felt the plane rolling back from the gate; I pushed the LAND button and he came upright and I told him to look outside and watch the man in the neon vest motioning the great vessel backwards and left, and then we heard the engines flush, a low grade hum in the cabin, and I buckled his seatbelt and they played the CEO video, again I watched Athens, London, Vienna, unreal, and he was scissoring his legs in his seat, eating cashews and sucking the soda off the ice cubes, and I looked at the cover of El Pais and began sounding out common expressions in my head so that I could impress him with my sapling Spanish when we landed in Barcelona, where they spoke Catalan."
Whew! I am tired after these long descriptions that cover so much ground in very, very long sentences. I find myself need to take a break, reread, and readjust to where the story is. The bigger point is lost in the middle of all those words. Perhaps, that hyper-focus on details is a manifestation of grief and a need for grounding in facts. Unfortunately, it makes for challenging reading.

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

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Instant Pot Miracle Vegetarian Cookbook

  Instant Pot Miracle Vegetarian Cookbook
Author:  Urvashi Pitre
Publication Information:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2020. 256 pages.
ISBN:  0358379334 / 978-0358379331

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

Opening Sentence:  "I have been cooking with pressure cookers for over thirty-five years."

Favorite Quote:  "Make each recipe once as written and then feel to experiment."

Instant Pot Miracle Vegetarian Cookbook is the latest cookbook offering from Dr. Urvashi Pitre. She is the recipe creator for a popular blog. Her background is in experimental psychology. Her cooking style pulls upon the fact that she lost 80 pounds on a low carb, keto diet that also restricted calories.

Her recipes sometimes focus on keto ingredients and sometimes highlight the tools such as a pressure cooker or an air fryer. As the title of this book indicates, this one focuses on vegetarian cooking in an instant pot.

The introduction provides the following qualifications:
  • "There are no pseudo meats or meat substitutes." I appreciate that as I am not a fan of pseudo meats. 
  • "Tofu is only used in three recipes where you would traditionally find it."
  • "I use whole, unprocessed ingredients as much as possible." I appreciate this as well.
So far, I am completely on board. The book includes about a 100 recipes, some of which may be found on her blog. That becomes a question of economics. I, for one, love cookbooks and browsing cookings. So, I make the investment realizing that the recipes may be available elsewhere.

The introduction also indicates the target audience for the book with assurance that the recipes are simple enough for a fourteen-year-old and the stipulation that the reader may not be familiar with the ingredients or cuisines featured in the book. I am not fourteen and am quite familiar with cooking dishes from around the world. More and more, cooking is global with ingredients becoming readily available. So, that characterization sets a tone and target audience for the book.

The book is organized into sections
  • Vegetables
  • Lentils, beans, and legumes
  • Rice and grains
  • Eggs and cheese (so clearly vegetarian not vegan)
  • Desserts and Drinks
  • Sauces & spice mixes
It's interesting to see the main section of a vegetarian cookbook be vegetables. What else would it be? I expected perhaps an organizations around meals or main dishes versus accompaniments. For example, the recipe for braised cabbage pasta follows one for sweet-and-spicy glazed brussel sprouts. I would see one as a main dish and one perhaps as a side. That distinction would increase the usability of the book. The recipes themselves and a listing at the back provide information on categorizations such as egg-free, nut-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, low carb, cooking time, and number of ingredients. The book also indicates an index which is not present in the version of the book I have. The table of contents and the lists in the electronic version of the book that I have are also not hyperlinked which would improve usage (but that could be just an issue with the advance reader's version).

The individual recipes are mostly formatted to fit on a single page which makes for easier use. They are also clearly laid out as to categorization, servings, pressure cooker settings, ingredient lists, and instructions. Given Dr. Ptire's background, I do expect to see nutritional information which is not provided.

The color pictures are appetizing, and the individual recipes tried work.  I look forward to trying more, but I do find it amusing the the book specifically points out, "... if a recipe doesn't work for you, it's unlikely to be the recipe and more likely to be be something that you could do differently." Interesting approach again setting a tone and a target audience!

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

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Paris Hours

Title:  The Paris Hours
Author:  Alex George
Publication Information:  Flatiron Books. 2020. 272 pages.
ISBN:  125030718X / 978-1250307187

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

Opening Sentence:  "The Armenian works by the light of a single candle."

Favorite Quote:  "'Never underestimate your memories, monsieur,' she tells him. 'They can be ferocious if left unguarded.'"

One day in 1927 in the city of Paris. One day. Four lives. Some connected. Some not. Some tangentially connected. Some connected in ways not revealed until the very end. Camille is a wife and a mother who hides a life altering secret. Jean-Paul mourns a wife and a child. Guillaume needs escape. Souren is a refugee who cannot outrun the images of his past.

The book traverses between their four stories through the course of one day, a day with a dramatic conclusion. This book is more like reading four interconnected novellas. The fact that there are four stories introduces a lot of characters. The fact that the book goes jumps from one to the other chapter to chapter at times makes the book very challenging to follow especially since some the characters do connect. 

The individual characters and their tales are engaging. Two are particularly heartbreaking. The jumps from character to character draw me away from the emotion of any given story.

Camille's story is the base as she is depicted as the maid of Marcel Proust. Marcel Proust had a real maid named CĂ©leste Albaret, who was known to be completely and absolutely devoted to him. The history goes that upon her employer's request, she burned all of his notebooks documenting his unpublished works. Camille's story in this book picks up on the idea of what might have happened if not all the notebooks were burned. However, the story is not that of a found literary gem but rather Camille's fear that the notebook reveals her story. The author's note does clearly state that this book is pure fiction based on just that kernel of an idea.

The book does, however, use a number of historical figures - Marcel Proust, Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. However, the book in no way claims or purports to be historical fiction. As such, the use of the historical figures as integral characters in the story appear more name dropping than anything else. At times, it leaves me wondering why this story about "ordinary" people brings in the big names.

The dramatic ending to the book does bring all the stories to the same point at the same time. However, not all the stories reach a conclusion. One story introduces a tragic element that is not brought out previously. Two of the stories connect in a dramatic way, but the connection is left hanging at the end.

So, I wanted to love this book. However, it uses historical figures but is not historical fiction. It tells intermingled stories that do not completely connect and come together. I am not sure I quite understand. My favorite thought of the book is perhaps the start of the author's note. "One of the joys of writing [in my case, reading] novels is all the travel. Not actual travel, mind you, but the journeys you get to take in your imagination." That is an idea I whole heartedly agree with. Unfortunately, I wish the path of this book and story had been clearer.

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

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The New Husband

Title:  The New Husband
Author:  DJ Palmer
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2020. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1250107490 / 978-1250107497

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

Opening Sentence:  "It was a chilly predawn morning when Anthony Strauss eased Sweet Caroline, his seventeen-foot Boston Whaler, from the trailer into water so dark it was indistinguishable from the sky."

Favorite Quote:  "Judging others is easy. It makes us feel superior. But it doesn't help women like Allison, or my father, or my mother, or me, or anyone who is 'different.' It hurts. So what to do? It's simple. Don't rush to judgment. Have humility. Show empathy. Ask: what can I do to help?"

Let me begin at the ending. I loved the ending. If you choose to read this book, make sure that you do not skip the epilogue. Not only does it being the story all together, it also spells out whose story this is. It also highlights the lesson of the book. I find myself reading throughout the book thinking about how certain characters do not see what seems so obvious to me. The ending makes it clear that this is somewhat the point of the book. Sometimes, the emotional and mental place we find ourselves in can prevent us from seeing what is in front of us.

Nina Garrity is the wife. Her husband Greg goes on a fishing trip one day and disappears. Nina discovers that there is much she does not know about her husband. Eventually, she presumes that he is dead. Her son Connor follows her belief. Her daughter Maggie though firmly believes that her father will return.

Then, there is Simon. Simon is there when Nina needs a friend. He seems to know her, some days even better than Greg did. He takes care of her and offers much more than comfort. To stay in town when Nina's finances cannot support it, they buy a house together. They do not marry, but Simon is de facto the new husband. Connor sees Simon as a friend, but Maggie does not. Nina tries to be the bridge, holding everything together.

This book is not a mystery in that it is clear who the villain of the book is. Early on, it is also made clear what happens to Greg. The "thriller" aspect of the book evolves as the reader sees exactly how far the villain will go to attain his goal. Truly, though, this book is about the angst and the seeming contradictions of being in a abusive relationship.

Nina is a social worker. After Greg's disappearance, she is easily able to get back into a paying job in the industry. She knows the language, implications, and legalities of situations of abuse. She is a fierce mother, on the one hand calling out her children's behavior and on the other seeking to protect them. Yet, at the same time, she cannot seeing the controlling, manipulative behaviors in Simon. She does not question how Simon appears to know her every like and dislike.

It takes me a while to figure out that this book is really Maggie's story much more so than it is Nina's although it is told from both perspectives. Maggie is a teenager, who has had her own issues with bullies in school. Given the age of the character, the book does at times have a young adult feel which belies both the title and the cover of the book. Her dislike and distrust of Simon are also never completely explained. Why is she the only one? Why does her one friend believe her but not her mother or for the most part her older brother?

If I trust the explanation of the epilogue, I believe it. If I don't, then I wonder. Thankfully, I have neither the knowledge or experience to assess. So, in the interest of a good read, I choose to follow the logic of the epilogue.

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

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Sin Eater

Title:  Sin Eater
Author:  Megan Campisi
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2020. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1982124105 / 978-1982124106

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

Opening Sentence:  "Salt for pride."

Favorite Quote:  "There's a certain comfort in rules. You know if you're good or if you're bad. And even if you're bad, you know where you fit. You belong. But I don't want other folks' rules to say if I belong anymore. I want to say for myself."

"The Sin Eater walks among us, unseen, unheard
Sins of our flesh become sins of Hers
Following Her to the grave, unseen, unheard
The Sin Eater Walks Among Us."

The history of sin eaters can be found in different cultures around the world, in particular amongst the Welsh counties in England. Some historians have gone as far as to say that the concept is embedded in Christian culture as Jesus Christ offered his own life for the sins of humanity. However, I am here to talk about a  story not discuss religious beliefs.

The concept of a sin eater in Welsh culture was that of a woman who ate certain ritual foods upon the funeral of an individual. Each sin was represented by a specific food. The foods found upon a coffin revealed secrets that individual may have held during life. The actual sin eater was a pariah and shunned by society although she was the first to be called upon an impending death for a recitation of sins and then upon the death for the ritual eating.

This book centers on fourteen year old Meg, who receives the sentence of being a sin eater for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread. (Les Miserables is brought to mind by that crime!) The plot entangles Meg into royal intrigue with influential people conniving and plotting for political gain.

The book makes a myriad of comments on sins and sinners which provides food for thought:
  • "It's always women who eat sins, since it was Eve who first ate a sin:  the Forbidden Fruit."
  • "I understand why sin eaters were made. Carrying such feelings is too much for one little heart, too much for one body. There must be some hope of shedding regret, grief, sorrow, sloughing them off like a skin and going into death free and light. Else we'd never be able to live."
  • "With how you came into the world and what you've seen lately you should know, the more you live, the more the sinner and the saint can't be pulled apart. All of us just getting by."
  • "Don't I know by now that folks see their sins in the way they choose? There's always a reason as to why selfishness is not really selfish and crimes are honest and waiting safely by while somefolk else is killed is really the more courageous choice. I've always had an answer for why I'm a godly girl despite my sins."
The mystery of what is happening in the royal household keeps the book moving at a fast pace. The conclusion, when it comes, seems logical. What the conclusion turns out to be is not a surprise. The surprise is the who.

What makes this story and keeps me turning pages until the end is the character of May herself - a fourteen year old who is on her own relegated to a fate out of her control. Yet, she manages with courage and resilience, and that makes for an engaging fictional heroine. In the midst of the sadness that surrounds her, she manages to also find a family in her own way. The concept and the fact of this oddity of history is the most fascinating aspect of the book. As Atlas Obscura calls it, being a sin eater was "the worst freelance gig in history."

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Forgotten Sister

The Forgotten Sister
  The Forgotten Sister
Author:  Nicola Cornick
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2020. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1525809954 / 978-1525809958

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and through the Fall 2020 historical fiction blog tour from Harlequin Trade Publishing free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "They came for me one night in the winter of 1752 when the ice was on the pond and the trees bowed under the weight of the hoar frost."

Favorite Quote:  "Yet in the end it is your kindness that heals me. Kindness cannot alter the past but it can change the future. It can bring peace."

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


Amy Robsart is a historical figure from Elizabethan England. Her "claim to fame" unfortunately was her unhappy marriage and her death. She was the wife of Robert Dudley, a favorite of Elizabeth I. Amy died from a fall down a flight of stairs. The circumstances surrounding the fall were never clarified. It remains undetermined whether the death was an accident or a results of more nefarious decisions.

The book begins with a prologue from 1752. It is unclear how it ties into the story until the very end, but then it encapsulates the story and brings it to closure. The rest of the book goes between 1549 and 2020. In 1549, there are Amy, Anna, Robert, Elizabeth, Arthur, and Johnny. In 2020, there are Amelie, Anna, Dudley, Lizzie, Arthur, and Johnny. In 1549, there are court intrigues and the rise and fall of fortunes as the struggle for power continues and the control of the throne shifts. In 2020, there are celebrity lifestyles and a death which calls into question life choices. in 1549, the story centers around Amy. In 2020, it is Lizzie.

Both Amy and Lizzie's stories are also the stories of women in their own way finding their own voices and taking (or attempting to take) charge of the direction of their lives. Considering that history tells us Amy dies under suspicious circumstances tells you the conclusion of her story. Where Lizzie's story end is much more open for question as is the question of how their stories relate.

The book gives a lot of clues as to that connection - the prologue, the title of the book, the character names in the two time periods. In other words, the mystery turns out to not be such a mystery. However, in this case, it does not distract from the discovery of the mystery or the enjoyment of the book.

The magical realism in this book stems from extrasensory abilities in people. Psychometry is the supposed ability to learn about an event, a person, or other history from touching an inanimate object. Science disagrees about whether or not psychometry actually exists. This, telepathy, a ghost boy, and even time travel are foundational to this story. I choose to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride. I also do respond to the emotional use of psychometry. The thought of touching an object of a loved one who has passed away and conjuring up a scenario as if they were still there is an appealing one. Which one of us would not relish that possibility if only for a moment!

This book picks up on the history of Amy Robsart's death and develops an entire two timeline story that incorporates history, love stories, sibling rivalries, celebrity lifestyles, mysterious deaths, and magical realism. This book is unusual in two timeline stories in that I find myself equally engaged in both stories. Usually, one takes precedence, but this book finds that unique balance. The title of the book, I realize at the end, is a spoiler, but the book itself is a fast paced page turner that keeps me engaged until the very end.

About the Book

In the tradition of the spellbinding historical novels of Philippa Gregory and Kate Morton comes a stunning story based on a real-life Tudor mystery, of a curse that echoes through the centuries and shapes two women’s destinies…

1560: Amy Robsart is trapped in a loveless marriage to Robert Dudley, a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Surrounded by enemies and with nowhere left to turn, Amy hatches a desperate scheme to escape—one with devastating consequences that will echo through the centuries…

Present Day: When Lizzie Kingdom is forced to withdraw from the public eye in a blaze of scandal, it seems her life is over. But she’s about to encounter a young man, Johnny Robsart, whose fate will interlace with hers in the most unexpected of ways. For Johnny is certain that Lizzie is linked to a terrible secret dating back to Tudor times. If Lizzie is brave enough to go in search of the truth, then what she discovers will change the course of their lives forever.

About the Author

USA Today bestselling author Nicola Cornick has written over thirty historical romances for Harlequin and HQN Books. She has been nominated twice for a RWA RITA Award and twice for the UK RNA Award. She works as a historian and guide in a seventeenth century house. In 2006 she was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Ruskin College, Oxford, where she wrote her dissertation on heroes.


Copyright © Nicola Cornick.


Amy Robsart, Cumnor Village

They came for me one night in the winter of 1752 when the ice was on the pond and the trees bowed under the weight of the hoar frost. There were nine priests out of Oxford, garbed all in white with tapers in hand. Some looked fearful, others burned with a righteous fervour because they thought they were doing the Lord’s work. All of them looked cold, huddled within their cassocks, the one out ahead gripping the golden crucifix as though it were all that stood between him and the devil himself.

The villagers came out to watch for a while, standing around in uneasy groups, their breath like smoke on the night air, then the lure of the warm alehouse called them back and they went eagerly, talking of uneasy ghosts and the folly of the holy men in thinking they could trap my spirit.

The hunt was long. I ran through the lost passageways of Cumnor Hall with the priests snapping at my heels and in the end, exhausted and vanquished, my ghost sank into the dark pool. They said their prayers over me and returned to their cloisters and believed the haunting to be at an end.

Yet an unquiet ghost is not so easily laid to rest. They had trapped my wandering spirit but I was not at peace. When the truth is concealed the pattern will repeat. The first victim was Amyas Latimer, the poor boy who fell to his death from the tower of the church where my body was buried. Then there was the little serving girl, Amethyst Green, who tumbled from the roof of Oakhangar Hall. Soon there will be another. If no one prevents it, I know there will be a fourth death and a fifth, and on into an endless future, the same pattern, yet different each time, a shifting magic lantern projecting the horror of that day centuries ago.

There is only one hope.

I sense her presence beside me through the dark. Each time it happens she is there too, in a different guise, like me. She is my nemesis, the arch-enemy. Yet she is the only one who can free me and break this curse. In the end it all depends on her and in freeing my spirit I sense she will also free her own.


I met her only a handful of times in my life. She was little but she was fierce, always, fierce enough to survive against the odds, a fighter, clever, ruthless, destined always to be alone. We could never have been friends yet we are locked together in this endless dance through time.

I possessed the one thing she wanted and could not have and in my dying I denied it to her forever. For a little while I thought that would be enough to satisfy me. Yet revenge sours and diminishes through the years. All I wish now is to be released from my pain and to ensure this can never happen again.

Elizabeth, my enemy, you are the only one who can help me now but to do that you must change, you must see that the truth needs to be told. Open your eyes. Find the light.

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

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Red Lotus

Title:  The Red Lotus
Author:  Chris Bohjalian
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2020. 400 pages.
ISBN:  0385544804 / 978-0385544801

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

Opening Sentence:  "The opposite of a hospice?"

Favorite Quote:  "But he felt a deep, numinous stitch within him as he recalled the deaths he had seen and the one he'd never get over, and the sad truth that no matter how many or how few people are with you at the end, you really do die alone."

Alexis works in an Emergency Department in New York City. That is, in fact, where she meets Austin. He comes in with a bullet wound, which is deemed a random act of a drunk individual in a bar. But was it? The story reveals that Austin may not be who or what he seems to be on the surface. At the beginning, though, he seems to be Alexis's dream and their meeting seems meant to be.

Months later, the two go on a tour of Vietnam around the Hoi An area. It is a bike tour for Austin who is an avid bicyclist. It is a bike tour in Vietnam so he can pay homage to the places his father and uncle fought in the war. During the course of the tour, Austin disappears.

Then, the mystery begins. Who was Austin? What really brought him to Vietnam? The story itself returns to New York with Alexis. Unwittingly, Alexis steps into the middle of a global thriller involving scientific research, its uses to save lives, and its potential uses for far more dangerous and lethal purposes.

Interestingly, the book title makes its way into the book in two diametrically opposite ways. One is a nod to Vietnamese belief about the red lotus:

"'My grandmother won't eat them.'
'Lotus flowers.'
'She thinks they're sacred. Especially the red lotus ... The heart. They heart a broken heart - but not medicinally. Spiritually.'"

The other is a nickname given to a lab conducting research into disease transmission and the ability to use certain rats as carriers. "They'd christened that one the red lotus, because their transgenic label rats had genes from their Vietnamese counterparts."

The book has a limited number of characters. The "who" of the good guys and the bad guys in the story is made clear early on. The "what" of the enterprise is not a surprise. The "why" of course is money. Even the "how" is easily guessed as the only clue found at the site of Austin's disappearance is a energy gel pack found in the road. The book hold true to its reference to "Occam's razor:  the most likely explanation is probably the correct explanation."

This book came out before the intensity of COVID pandemic became a reality. Reading it at this point through the lens of an actual global pandemic seems prescient. The mystery of this book is not really a mystery. It is more about following Alexis on her journey as she discovers who Austin was and what happened to him. Unfortunately, she is not always a character that I invest in or begin to care about. My favorite character of the book is the private detective for his story has the emotion that seems to be lacking in Alexis's story.

The information about how a contagion might be developed and spread is frighteningly fascinating. The details about rats, I could do without! At the same time, a book about a possible fictional pandemic becomes an escape from the real one.

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