Tuesday, January 11, 2022

My Darling Husband

My Darling Husband
  My Darling Husband
Author:  Kimberly Belle
Publication Information:  Park Row. 2022. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0778312119 / 978-0778312116

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the HTP BOOK Fall 2021 Mystery & Thriller tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Juanita Moore:  Mr. Lasky, thank you for speaking with me today and sharing your story with Channel 7 Action News."

Favorite Quote:  "What's that old saying? The higher your star, the farther it is to fall. That's not an excuse, but I hope it's an explanation."

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


The "darling" husband is Cam Lasky - chef, restaurant owner, entrepreneur, husband, father, and perhaps much more and perhaps, as the author's interview states, "not so darling after all." The loving wife is Jade - designer, wife, mother, and someone who put her own dreams and ambitions aside to support those of her husband. The children are nine year Beatrix and four year old Baxter. Nine year old Beatrix is stubborn, mature for her age, and a violin prodigy. Baxter is a precocious four.

The Lasky family lives in a mansion, drives expensive cars, and Jade is dripping in diamonds. Cam Lasky is a celebrity as Atlanta's Steak King, with his five restaurants and perhaps a sixth on the way. They are definitely one of Atlanta's power couples - loving marriage, children, success, and wealth visible to the world. However, perhaps all that glitters is not gold. Debt and a whole litany of disgruntled former employees plague Cam. Does Jade know?

The book begins with two dramatic events. Jade feels as if she is being followed. Cam is dealing with a major, destructive fire at his flagship restaurant. Then, it gets worse. Jade arrives home, only to be overtaken by an intruder. Now, Jade and the kids are locked in the house with a kidnapper. With Cam making enemies of so many people, there are many candidates for who might be responsible for the fire and who the kidnapper is.

The book becomes an entertaining fiction as the layers of Cam and Jade's life are peeled back to reveal their secrets and the people who have grudges against them. The book adds to the layers with multiple perspectives - Cam's, Jade's, and the invader's. Cam's perspective is portrayed through an after-the-fact interview with a reporter; it is about memory, regrets, and 20/20 hindsight. Jade's perspective is that of a mother's nightmare - captured in a house with her children and a masked invader; it is about fear, courage, and survival. The invader's perspective is the most mysterious for his identity and motive are unknown at the beginning; his is the story of anger, revenge, and desperation.

The story itself is slow moving for it is more about revelation than action. The crux of the story is the why? Why does this happen to Cam and Jade, and what role do they each play in the events that lead to this? What makes the story works is that all three characters - Cam, Jade, and the invader - are believable. All are driven by a sense of desperation. While, as a reader, there are decisions the characters make that should never be made, the sense of fear and even love that drives the choices is understandable. The children are perhaps a little too precocious, but it is what it is.

If you want to look at a broader point in a domestic thriller, this book highlights disparity in wealth and the decisions that leads to. It also speaks to decisions of business owners that sometimes come at the expense of their employees and the need to find that balance between profit and people. That conversation too is an important one.

So, enjoy the thriller or look for the bigger meaning or both in this entertaining book.

About the Book

Bestselling author of DEAR WIFE and THE MARRIAGE LIE, Kimberly Belle returns with her most heart-pounding thriller to date, as a masked home invader reveals the cracks in a marriage.

Everyone is about to know what her husband isn’t telling her…

Jade and Cam Lasky are by all accounts a happily married couple with two adorable kids, a spacious home and a rapidly growing restaurant business. But their world is tipped upside down when Jade is confronted by a masked home invader. As Cam scrambles to gather the ransom money, Jade starts to wonder if they’re as financially secure as their lifestyle suggests, and what other secrets her husband is keeping from her.

Cam may be a good father, a celebrity chef and a darling husband, but there’s another side he’s kept hidden from Jade that has put their family in danger. Unbeknownst to Cam and Jade, the home invader has been watching them and is about to turn their family secrets into a public scandal.

With riveting twists and a breakneck pace, My Darling Husband is an utterly compelling thriller that once again showcases Kimberly Belle's exceptional talent for domestic suspense.

About the Author

Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of seven novels, including her latest, My Darling Husband (December 2021). Her third novel, The Marriage Lie, was a semifinalist in the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery & Thriller, and a #1 e-book bestseller in the UK and Italy. She’s sold rights to her books in a dozen languages as well as film and television options. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

Q&A with Kimberly Belle

Q: Your cover really draws you in. Are you involved with the cover process? What do you hope this cover tells potential readers?
A: Thank you! And I agree; the designers at Park Row really nailed this one. Typically, I don’t have a lot of involvement with the cover until it’s nearly finished, which means it’s already gotten approval from my editorial team as well as the folks in sales and marketing before I get to see it. That moment when the email lands in my inbox – A sneak peek at your cover! – is always so exciting.

In my mind, what makes the My Darling Husband cover so strong is that it gives us a view of Jade’s face but none of her husband Cam’s, only a slice of his shoulder. For me, this makes Cam feel somewhat elusive, and it hopefully puts the reader on alert that things with him may not be what they seem. Especially in combination with the title, the image lets the reader know that the husband in this story may not be so darling after all.

Q: What research did you need to conduct for this book and how did you do it?
A: I did a lot of research around a couple of plot points that if I mentioned them here, would give a big chunk of the story away. What I can mention is my research around raising a child prodigy and the kinds of stresses that degree of talent can put on both the family and the child. Beatrix is nine and has played violin since she was a toddler, when she picked up one in the toy aisle at Target. As amazing as her talent is, it’s also a daily hurdle. Lessons, practice time, the drive to succeed, the pressure to not “waste” your talent by frittering away your time with normal childhood pursuits – it can all feel very isolating. She’s a brilliant, brave kid who is much more mature than she should be, as illustrated with this line: “Most parents want their children to grow up. Cam and I should have spent more time coaxing Beatrix to grow down.”

Q: What is your elevator pitch for My Darling Husband?
A: My Darling Husband is the story of a mother held captive with her two children in their own home while her husband scrambles for the ransom, and the masked invader who’s about to turn their family secrets into a public scandal.

Q: Which came first, the story or the title?
A: I turned this book in as “Book #7” so definitely the story came first. Seven books in, and not one of my titles has ever stuck, so I’ve stopped worrying about what the story will be called when I’m writing it. My publisher has a fabulous team of experts who are so much more versed in the process than I am. While I’m only thinking of the story, they’re looking at big-picture items like comparable stories, market trends, which words are hitting a collective chord (remember all the books with “girl” in the title?). All this goes to say, they know what they’re doing, and I am happy to let them work their magic!

Q: What is your favorite season and why?
A: My favorite season has always been fall. I never mind the shorter days and cooler air, all the more reason to light a fire and wrap myself up in an oversized sweater. For me, fall has all the bests–the best fashion and the best food (soup season!) and the best festivities, ones that are centered around family. That’s hands-down my favorite part of fall, when all my people are gathered under one roof.

Social Links

Author website: https://www.kimberlybellebooks.com/
Facebook: @KimberlyBelleBooks
Twitter: @KimberlySBelle
Instagram: @kimberlysbelle
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/kimberlybelle

Buy Links

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/My-Darling-Husband-Kimberly-Belle/dp/0778311562/
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/my-darling-husband-kimberly-belle/1138090011?ean=9780778311560
Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/books/my-darling-husband-9780778312116/9780778312116
IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780778312116
Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/My-Darling-Husband/Kimberly-Belle/9780778311560?id=8388215054600
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/my-darling-husband
AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/my-darling-husband/id1539274871
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Kimberly_Belle_My_Darling_Husband?id=6JMHEAAAQBAJ
Libro.FM: https://libro.fm/audiobooks/9781488212611-my-darling-husband
Indigo: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/my-darling-husband-a-novel/9780778333135-item.html

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

Monday, January 10, 2022

The Paris Bookseller

The Paris Bookseller
  The Paris Bookseller
Author:  Kerri Maher
Publication Information:  Berkeley. 2022. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0593102185 / 978-0593102183

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:  "It was hard not to feel that Paris was the place."

Favorite Quote:  "Not every star is like the étoile polar, chérie. Some are more elusive, more subtle. But they are no less brilliant, no less important."

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


The store Shakespeare and Company is a bucket list destination for this reader even though the store in existence now is not the store originally established by Sylvia Beach. I relish the opportunity to read a fictional account of the store's history history and the history of its intriguing founder.

February 2, 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the publishing of Ulysses by James Joyce - the most impactful legacy of Sylvia Beach. The novel was first published in installments as a serial. In the United States, it was deemed immoral and, by some, pornographic. No publisher on either side of the ocean would take on the project until Sylvia Beach. She and many others deemed it art. Her undertaking to publish it altered the world of literature.

This book is the story of Sylvia Beach, of Shakespeare and Company, and of the publishing of Ulysses. It does not cover Sylvia's entire life, but rather the time from 1917 until 1937, the period relevant to these events. 

Much as I find the history intriguing, I find myself not the reader for this particular book. Based on the content of Ulysses and based on Sylvia Beach's relationships at this time, this book becomes graphic at times, and that is just not for me. Much of the history relevant to this story is that of acceptance of sexuality and the differences in that acceptance amongst individuals and across continents between Europe and the United States. It is fascinating and heartbreaking to read some of the same conversations occurring today. However, I still do not need physical descriptions in a book to reach understanding.

The telling of this book is also very much like a history. As the author's note points out, "... I chose to write the novel in the third person because I wanted readers to see things that Sylvia might not." This narrative approach lends itself to that history book feel. Yet, many nonfiction sources exist for this history. I love historical fiction to point me to history, but I still want the emotional, fictional story built around the characters to be the focal point. Too much in the direction of history takes away from the emotional connection to the story.

As a broader third person history, the book also expands well beyond Sylvia's story. There are a lot of names in this book. Some I know. Some I feel I should know. Some I just don't. Many are historical figures, but some are pure fiction as the author's note distinguishes. With this broad number of characters, I find myself occasionally lost amongst the characters. When a name is first mentioned, I am unsure of how closely to pay attention as I do not know who will appear again and what relevance they may have to the story. It is a challenge, and not one I successfully meet through the entirety of the book.

Although I am not the reader for this book, I so appreciate the introduction to this history. I honor the book and the author in words from the book itself. "And I feel nothing but gratitude for the writers who make the sentences. Sentences have changed my life." Thank you.

About the Book

(from the author's website)

Discover the dramatic story of how a humble bookseller fought against incredible odds to bring one of the most important books of the 20th century to the world in this new novel from the author of The Girl in the White Gloves.

When bookish young American Sylvia Beach opens Shakespeare and Company on a quiet street in Paris in 1919, she has no idea that she and her new bookstore will change the course of literature itself.

Shakespeare and Company is more than a bookstore and lending library: Many of the most prominent writers of the Lost Generation, like Ernest Hemingway, consider it a second home. It’s where some of the most important literary friendships of the twentieth century are forged—none more so than the one between Irish writer James Joyce and Sylvia herself. When Joyce’s controversial novel Ulysses is banned, Beach takes a massive risk and publishes it under the auspices of Shakespeare and Company.

But the success and notoriety of publishing the most infamous and influential book of the century comes with steep costs. The future of her beloved store itself is threatened when Ulysses’ success brings other publishers to woo Joyce away. Her most cherished relationships are put to the test as Paris is plunged deeper into the Depression and many expatriate friends return to America. As she faces painful personal and financial crises, Sylvia—a woman who has made it her mission to honor the life-changing impact of books—must decide what Shakespeare and Company truly means to her.

About the Author

Kerri Maher holds an MFA from Columbia University. She was a writing professor but now writes full-time. She lives in a Boston, Massachusetts suburb with with her daughter and dog. She is the author of The Girl in White Gloves, The Kennedy Debutante, and, under the name Kerri Majors, This Is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World.


From THE PARIS BOOKSELLER published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Kerri Maher.

Sitting at her little desk in the Palais, Sylvia kept catching the scent of dust and lavender that reminded her of A. Monnier—the shop and the woman, both—and every time she buried her nose in her sleeves to find the source of it, she found it was always elusive.

She couldn't help thinking that this distraction was just one more sign she was not destined to be a writer, despite the fact that after all the reading she'd done in her life, everyone around her, from her parents and sisters to her oldest friend, Carlotta Welles, just assumed she would be one.

"There's a Walt Whitman in you," her father told her every time she brought home another high mark on a school essay. "I just know it."

But essays were not poems, or novels. When she tried her hand at verse or a story, it came out all wrong. She adored Whitman. To try to be anything remotely like him—or Kate Chopin or any of the Brontë sisters, for that matter—almost seemed an insult. It didn't help that as she grew older, she began to prefer the writers she saw successfully continuing Whitman's legacy, singing so startlingly of themselves and the world that she would sometimes complete one of their works and lie awake half the night wondering, How do they do it? How do they reach inside me, put their fist around my very soul, and rattle it in its cage? It had been like that with Chopin's The Awakening especially, and also with James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Oh god, she felt a roiling stew of lust and admiration and jealousy thinking of both those novels. The exquisite honesty with which they wrote about bodies and their cravings, and the guilt and consequences of those cravings, using words strung into unsettling sentences that embodied the very nature of the character's inner turmoil, made Sylvia sweat in her sheets.

Could she ever write so bravely, knowing her minister father, whom she loved dearly, would read every word? It was one thing for him to quietly accept her spinsterhood, and perhaps even her discreet sapphism—for he'd never encouraged her to marry and he'd never questioned the friendships she'd had with women, which after all had run the gamut between entirely platonic and, rarely, heart-wrenchingly intimate—but it would be quite another thing for her to write about her desires with the kind of honesty she admired in the new writing she was starting to see in the more progressive journals.

Could she write about her own deepest longings with abandon, without abandoning herself? Could she help fill the pages of her favorite journal, The Little Review, which its editor Margaret Anderson had boldly left entirely blank in 1916, publishing twenty-odd white pages with only an editorial saying that she was no longer willing to publish good enough writing; everything she published had to be true art. Art that would remake the world. And Sylvia believed with all her heart that this was the purpose of art—to be new, to make change, to alter minds.

She recalled her mother's reply to her father's suggestion about Whitman: "Or maybe she'll be the next Elizabeth Cady Stanton." Why did her parents have to pick such big shoes for her to fill?

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

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The Ride of Her Life

  The Ride of Her Life: The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse, and Their Last-Chance Journey Across America
Author:  Elizabeth Letts
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2021. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0525619321 / 978-0525619321

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

Opening Sentence:  "The sun rose bright over Pasadena, California, on January 1, 1954."

Favorite Quote:  "... the quiet strength of her personal philosophy - that happiness comes only to those who participate in the adventure of life, and that true security is, in essence, a state of mind."

Imagine 1954 in Maine. Imagine being a 63-year old woman who has spent most of her life on an isolated farm in Maine. Imagine that you have lost your family and are about to lose your farm.  Imagine that you have been told be the doctor to live a restful life and that you may not have long to live. If you find yourself in this situation, what do you do?

Now comes the surprise. Annie Wilkins is this woman, and what she decides to do is take a huge risk. She spends a season growing a cash crop to make some money, sells her farm, buys a horse, and decides that she is going to ride cross country with her dog to see California. Why? For the simple reason of a dream to see California. Annie, at a crossroads in her life, does not want to die without living out a dream.

This book is the story of that journey that lasted over a year. She began in November, 1954 and reached California in March 1956. She began with some money, a horse named Tarzan, and a dog named Depeche Toi. "And more than anything, Annie had trust. When she set off, she was sure she was going to find the same America she'd grown up believing in: A country made up of one giant set of neighbors. People who'd be happy to give you a helping hand. People spread out far and wide, from sea to shining sea, with different accents, and different favorite dishes, and different kinds of homes, people who lived with dust or traffic, snowstorms or tornadoes, or mountain for flatlands, in cities or small towns. ... people who were fundamentally decent and deep down, the same."

That trust, for the most part, bears out across the country. Annie's personal story becomes of days of riding and people along the way who provide help and support. The cycle repeats over and over and even grows as Annie's story goes "viral" through the news without the benefit of the internet. She and her animals capture the imagination of all those who learn about them. 

Annie's story alone, however, is not enough to fill a book because the days do repeat and the sense of purpose remains constant. This book adds to Annie's story with inserts about the history of the United States at that time. The highway system. The beginning of the TV age. The demise of small farms. The growth of towns. The Jim Crow era. McCarthyism. And so much more. The information builds on an incident, a location, or even a person along Annie journey and expands to present the history.

The history at times seems to interrupt Annie's story, but, at the same time, provides the context. At times, the balance tilts in favor of the history, with Annie's story becoming a conduit for the history. However, the uniqueness of Annie and her journey is definitely the ultimate lasting impression of this book.

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

Friday, December 31, 2021

When the Stars Go Dark

  When the Stars Go Dark
Author:  Paula McLain
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2021. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0593237897 / 978-0593237892

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

Opening Sentence:  "The mother who tore off her dress when the  police came to her house with the news and then ran down the street in only her shoes, while her neighbors, even the ones who knew her well, hid behind their doors and windows, afraid of her grief."

Favorite Quote:  "For the longest time, I stand on Lansing Street thinking about beauty and terror. Evil. Grace. Suffering. Joy. How they're all here every day, everywhere. Teaching us how to keep stepping forward into our lives, our purpose. Long ago Corolla told me that it's not what happens to us that matters most, but how can learn to carry it. I'm starting to understand the difference, and how maybe the only way we can survive what's here, and what we are, is together."

The author's note for this book points out. "Every 73 seconds someone in America becomes the victim of sexual assault. Every nine minutes one of those victims is a child. 82% of victims under the age of eighteen are female." These are mind boggling statistics.

Within this statistic, the book weaves in the actual history of Polly Klaas. In 1993, twelve year old Polly Hannah Klaas was kidnapped from her home during a sleepover. The search for Polly lasted almost two months. During this time, the information about her disappearance was shared far and wide, with thousands of people at a grassroots level involved in the search for Polly. Sadly, only her body was found. She had been strangled. I don't know if Polly's family gave permission for the inclusion of her case in this book or if the information used is public record. I would hope that it would not hurt them in any way and perhaps even bring peace that their daughter is remembered and that talking about her may save someone else. I, for one, would not know about Polly Klaas except for this book.

Within these statistics and this historic case, the book builds the fictional story of a missing teenager in Mendocino and that of detective Anna Hart. Anna Hart is a product of the foster care system. A fortunate placement with a couple in Mendocino brought love and a home, but she has not been back for years. She is passionate about her work as a police detective, often working with the most fragile of victims. Trauma in her adult life brings her "home" again. News of a missing teenage forces her to get involved. That sets her on the trail of a kidnapper but also brings her fact to face again with the traumas of her own past.

To me, this book is not really about the suspense of who the kidnapper is. I do guess that relatively early on simply because there are not that many characters in the book. To me, this book is also not really about the life Anna is running from - her husband and her child. I do wish more had been explained about those relationships.

To me, this book is about the damaged, flawed characters all dealing with the traumas of their past. It is about the emotional and psychological impact of childhood traumas. It is about bringing attention to the so very important issue of abuse and violence against women, particularly against children. The book is dark - by title, by subject matter, and by tone. However, it ends on a note of hope and light in some ways. It brings the statistics to life in a tragic, visual way that I will remember for a long while.

The author's note comes at the end of this book. I am very curious as this book is such a departure from the historical fiction I have read so far from the author, and I want to understand from what the story emanates. This is certainly not what I expect. "Writing a novel is such an interesting mix of effort and surrender, of control and vulnerability. It wasn't until late in the stages of drafting that it fully dawned on me just why I was so drawn to tell this articular story and not any other. My troubled detective, Anna Hart, is obsessed with trauma and healing, with intimate violence and the complex hidden connection between victims and predators, because I'm obsessed with those things, and long have been. I've given her other parts of me too - a version of my childhood spent in foster care, and my abiding love of the natural world as deep medicine. What Anna knows and thinks about the hidden scars of sexual abuse, I know as a sexual abuse survivor." Wow. Just wow.

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

Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Beautiful Ones

The Beautiful  Ones
  The Beautiful Ones
Publication Information:  TOR Trade. 2021. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1250785561 / 978-1250785565

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

Opening Sentence:  "Hector was like a castaway who had washed up on a room of velvet curtains and marble floors."

Favorite Quote:  "All we ultimately have to do is believe. We focus our mind on one single point, one single purpose, and we push. We grasp. We manipulate wood and glass and iron. However, the greatest trick is the belief. Belief is what makes it read."

Who are the beautiful ones of Loisail? They are the notable, wealthy elite. "Nothing matters more than money to us, the Beautiful Ones who walk down these city streets in pristine gloves and silk-lined garments. You can give yourself the luxury of love because you are not one of us. That is why you are my friend: because despite everything, at heart you remain an innocent."

Amongst the beautiful ones are two relative outsiders. Antonina "Nina" Beaulieu has been sent to her cousin's house for the Grand Season; she comes with her family's hopes that she will make good match. Hector Auvury is telekinetic who has traveled the world as a performer but who has returned to Loisail in the hopes of reconnecting with his former fiancé Valérie Beaulieu. Valérie Beaulieu, as the name might suggest, is married to Nina's cousin. As a way of approach, Hector decides to get to Valérie by courting Nina instead.

So begins this triangle. It weaves through the drawing rooms, walks, and balls that comprise the Grand Season. Hector and Nina find more in common than they might have imagined. Hector still has to reckon with Valérie's betrayal when they were both young. Nina knows nothing of this past. Valérie bears her own regrets about trading love for wealth and security. "We say a great many things when we are young. Eventually, we grow wiser." With those regrets come anger and grudges.

The telekinetic skills add a mystery and fantasy to the story. The triangle includes twists that surprise. The era of the Grand Season and the wealthy adds a Victorian touch with "proper" behavior, societal censure, and even duels. The story is slow to begin but builds to a dramatic, unexpected conclusion. 

Through the book, the sweet, somewhat innocent country-cousin-come-to-the-city Nina evolves and finds her own strength. I find myself rooting for her in life and in love. Hector is the hero from the wrong side of the tracks trying to make good. Although his actions are not all likable, overall, he too is a character to root for.

What I find most fascinating of all is the dramatic difference between this book and the first I read by the author. Gods of Jade and Shadow is based in mythology, with gods and goddesses and the characters traveling through time and space. This one has its magical element but is a story very much of this earth and the have and the have nots. The villain in this one is very much human. That being said, both books are about young, independent female protagonists - completely different from each other yet both on a journey of discovering and honoring their own strengths. For that, both stories work. I look forward to what Silvia Morena-Garcia writes next.

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

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The Betrayals

The Betrayals
  The Betrayals
Author:  Bridget Collins
Publication Information:  William Morrow. 2021. 416 pages.
ISBN:  0062838121 / 978-0062838124

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

Opening Sentence:  "Tonight the moonlight makes the floor of the Great Hall into a game board."

Favorite Quote:  "We search for the divine everywhere, she could say, and we may find it in the grand jeu or in the liturgy or both. There were grands jeux played in the Hagia Sophia and in the Al-Aqsa Mosque and at the Western Wall. It is modern arrogance to imagine that the divinity we hope to touch through the grand jeu is better than, or even different to, the deities of other religions. A young way to worship is not necessarily a better way, not is it the only way..."


This book appears set in a controlled, dystopian society where disagreeing with the powers that be will get you banished or worse. There is the Party and the Old Man. Christians are also labeled, forced to identify themselves, and persecuted. In a different context and with a different faith, sound familiar? Unfortunately, the book takes this in such a different direction that it loses a historical correlation for me. I don't want to follow along to see the parallels the book may draw to the history.

There is a school that teaches student the "grand jeu" - the big game. However, the book never explains what that actually is. It is a mix of music, math, magic, and other things. I don't get it, for a book that is based on that, that is too large a challenge to overcome. The book attempts to make a philosophical point:
  • "The grand jeu is not a game. It is the opposite of a game It is our way of paying attention to something outside ourselves. And what is outside ourselves - whatever truly exists - is the divine. We remake the world so that we can submit to it, and what we encounter, in the act of playing the grand jeu, is the truth."
  • "The grand jeu is worship, isn't it? One way for humans to approach the divine. Trying to embody the truth and beauty. A testament to the grace of God in the minds of men."
Unfortunately, I don't see the correlation because I still don't understand what the game is and what it metaphorically relates to. So, I cannot go along for the spiritual journey.

For me, it becomes even more challenging that the experts of this truth seeking are two characters whose very life and pursuit of the truth are based in lies. Again, I don't get it. It unfortunately makes the characters unlikable and unsympathetic. So, I don't wish to go along for their journey.

There is another character named simply the Rat. The backstory and the unfortunate naming as a creature not a character never quite makes her real. Her correlation to the main story also never quite comes together for me. She may have had the most compelling story of all, but the book does not go in that direction.

Characters aside, at over 400 pages, the pace of the book is very very slow. The winding back and forth through two timelines also does not work in this scenario because the "present" is about discovering the lies of the "past" and having that understanding lead to the past making sense for these characters. The confusion of the grand jeu ideas, the unlikability of the characters and the irony of a story about truth being held together with lies extends to both timelines and makes it truly challenging to invest in the story.

To some extent, for me, the book makes an attempt at an intellectual point. Either it does so unsuccessfully, or my intellect does not reach the understanding. At the end of the book, I am left wondering. What did I just read? And why? I walk away, knowing that I was clearly not the right reader for this book.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Secret of Snow

The Secret of Snow
  The Secret of Snow
Author:  Viola Shipman
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2021. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1525899813 / 978-1525899812

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the HTP 2021 Holiday Romance Blog Tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "And look at this!"

Favorite Quote:  "But too many of us ... live as though we're dying. We're trapped in fear. we let that define us. But our lives should be defined by our joy, passion, and happiness."

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

Book Review

Can you go home again? Can you go home if home is filled with love but also guilt and sorrow? Can you go home if you essentially ran away from home to get away from the guilt and sorrow? What happens when you are forced to go home? How do you cope?

These are the questions Sonny Dunes faces. She is a meteorologist in beautiful sunny southern California. Home is cold and snowy Traverse City in northern Michigan where Sonny's mother still lives. A sudden shift in her job situation leaves Sonny at loose ends. The job shift may have something to do with her over-fifty age bracket and with the technological takeover of certain professions. This is touched upon but not really explored in the book. It is simply the event that sends Sonny home.

A college acquaintance / friend / frenemy offers Sonny a job at a regional TV station in Michigan. It is definitely a step down for Sonny, but she has no other alternatives. Again, ageism and sexism have to do with the lack of alternatives, but that is not the direction of this book.

Home brings her mother and the memories of the death of her father and her sister. Home brings the guilt and sadness associated with her sister's death. Home also brings old friends, old enemies, and new friends.  This book goes exactly in the direction I expect it to, down to the new budding romance.

One touching aspect of this is the friendship and mentorship Sonny develops with a young man named Ron but nicknamed Icicle. He is shy and unsure of himself. His nickname is a reminder of a childhood trauma. He is also intelligent, curious, and hardworking. This is where Sonny's age comes into play as well. She becomes a mentor to Icicle to help him escape the shadows of his past and find his voice as Ron. This actually ends up my favorite aspect of the book and perhaps the most real.

The most touching aspect of this book, however, comes in the unexpected letter to the readers found at the end of the book. Viola Shipman is the pen name for Wade Rouse; it is his grandmother's name. Although this book is billed as a holiday novel, it really is not that as muchas a very personal statement. The emotion of this book is from Wade Rouses' own experience of  his brother's death. His brother was seventeen; Wade was thirteen. The message of the book comes from his grandmother - the very same Viola Shipman. "The Secret of Snow is a beautiful reminder that, no matter if those we love are no longer with us, family still surrounds us. It is a gentle reminder to reach out to those who need a hug, to let them know you care and that the names of all we’ve lost and still love shimmer as brightly as tinsel, and that their memories will never fade away as long as we refuse to let them."

A sweet story with a lovely message.

About the Book

When Sonny Dunes, a So-Cal meteorologist who knows only sunshine and 72-degree days, has an on-air meltdown after she learns she’s being replaced by an AI meteorologist (which the youthful station manager reasons "will never age, gain weight or renegotiate its contract."), the only station willing to give a 50-year-old another shot is one in a famously non-tropical place--her northern Michigan hometown.

Unearthing her carefully laid California roots, Sonny returns home and reaclimates to the painfully long, dark winters dominated by a Michigan phenomenon known as lake-effect snow. But beyond the complete physical shock to her system, she's also forced to confront her past: her new boss is a former journalism classmate and mortal frenemy and, more keenly, the death of a younger sister who loved the snow, and the mother who caused Sonny to leave.

To distract herself from the unwelcome memories, Sonny decides to throw herself headfirst (and often disastrously) into all things winter to woo viewers and reclaim her success: sledding, ice-fishing, skiing, and winter festivals, culminating with the town’s famed Winter Ice Sculpture Contest, all run by a widowed father and Chamber director whose honesty and genuine love of Michigan, winter and Sonny just might thaw her heart and restart her life in a way she never could have predicted.

About the Author 

Viola Shipman is the pen name for Wade Rouse, a popular, award-winning memoirist. Rouse chose his grandmother's name, Viola Shipman, to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his writing. Rouse is the author of The Summer Cottage, as well as The Charm Bracelet and The Hope Chest which have been translated into more than a dozen languages and become international bestsellers. He lives in Saugatuck, Michigan and Palm Springs, California, and has written for People, Coastal Living, Good Housekeeping, and Taste of Home, along with other publications, and is a contributor to All Things Considered.


Excerpted from The Secret of Snow by Viola Shipman. Copyright © 2021 by Viola Shipman. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

“And look at this! A storm system is making its way across the country, and it will bring heavy snow to the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes before wreaking havoc on the East Coast. This is an especially early and nasty start to winter for much of the country. In fact, early models indicate that parts of western and northern Michigan—the lake effect snowbelts, as we call them—will receive over 150 inches of snow this year. One hundred fifty inches!”

I turn away from the green screen in my red wrap dress and heels.

“But here in the desert...” I wait for the graphic to pop onscreen, which declares, Sonny Says It’s Sonny... Again!

When the camera refocuses on me, I toss an adhesive sunshine with my face on it toward the green screen behind me. It sticks directly on Palm Springs, California.

“...it’s wall-to-wall sunshine!”

I expand my arms like a raven in the mountains taking flight. The weekly forecast pops up. Every day features a smiling sunshine that resembles yours truly: golden, shining, beaming.

“And it will stay that way all week long, with temperatures in the midseventies and lows in the midfifties. Not bad for this time of year, huh? It’s chamber of commerce weather here in the desert, perfect for all those design lovers in town for Mid-Century Modernism Week.” I walk over to the news desk. The camera follows. I lean against the desk and turn to the news anchors, Eva Fernandez and Cliff Moore. “Or for someone who loves to play golf, right, Cliff?”

He laughs his faux laugh, the one that makes his mouth resemble those old windup chattering teeth from when I was a girl.

“You betcha, Sonny!”

“That’s why we live here, isn’t it?” I ask.

“I sure feel sorry for the rest of the country,” says Eva, her blinding white smile as bright as the camera lights. I’m convinced every one of Eva’s caps has a cap.

“Those poor Michigan folk won’t be golfing in shorts like I will be tomorrow, will they?” Cliff says with a laugh and his pantomime golf swing. He twitches his bushy brows and gives me a giant wink. “Thank you, Sonny Dunes.”

I nod, my hands on my hips as if I’m a Price Is Right model and not a meteorologist.

“Martinis on the mountain? Yes, please,” Eva says with her signature head tilt. “Next on the news: a look at some of the big events at this year’s Mid-Century Modernism Week. Back in a moment.”

I end the newscast with the same forecast—a row of smiling sunshine emojis that look just like my face—and then banter with the anchors about the perfect pool temperature before another graphic—THE DESERT’S #1 NIGHTLY NEWS TEAM!—pops onto the screen, and we fade to commercial.

“Anyone want to go get a drink?” Cliff asks within seconds of the end of the newscast. “It’s Friday night.”

“It’s always Friday night to you, Cliff,” Eva says.

She stands and pulls off her mic. The top half of Eva Fernandez is J.Lo perfection: luminescent locks, long lashes, glam gloss, a skintight top in emerald that matches her eyes, gold jewelry that sets off her glowing skin. But Eva’s bottom half is draped in sweats, her feet in house slippers. It’s the secret viewers never see.

“I’m half dressed for bed already anyway,” she says with a dramatic sigh. Eva is very dramatic. “And I’m hosting the Girls Clubs Christmas breakfast tomorrow and then Eisenhower Hospital’s Hope for the Holidays fundraiser tomorrow night. And Sonny and I are doing every local Christmas parade the next few weekends. You should think about giving back to the community, Cliff.”

“Oh, I do,” he says. “I keep small business alive in Palm Springs. Wouldn’t be a bar afloat without my support.”

Cliff roars, setting off his chattering teeth.

I call Cliff “The Unicorn” because he was actually born and raised in Palm Springs. He didn’t migrate here like the older snowbirds to escape the cold, he didn’t snap up midcentury houses with cash like the Silicon Valley techies who realized this was a real estate gold mine, and he didn’t suddenly “discover” how hip Palm Springs was like the millennials who flocked here for the Coachella Music Festival and to catch a glimpse of Drake, Beyoncé or the Kardashians.

No, Cliff is old school. He was Palm Springs when tumbleweed still blew right through downtown, when Bob Hope pumped gas next to you and when Frank Sinatra might take a seat beside you at the bar, order a martini and nobody acted like it was a big deal.

I admire Cliff because—

The set suddenly spins, and I have to grab the arm of a passing sound guy to steady myself. He looks at me, and I let go.

—he didn’t run away from where he grew up.

“How about you, sunshine?” Cliff asks me. “Wanna grab a drink?”

“I’m gonna pass tonight, Cliff. I’m wiped from this week. Rain check?”

“Never rains in the desert, sunshine,” Cliff jokes. “You oughta know that.”

He stops and looks at me. “What would Frank Sinatra do?”

I laugh. I adore Cliff’s corniness.

“You’re not Frank Sinatra,” Eva calls.

“My martini awaits with or without you.” Cliff salutes, as if he’s Bob Hope on a USO tour, and begins to walk out of the studio.

“Ratings come in this weekend!” a voice yells. “That’s when we party.”

We all turn. Our producer, Ronan, is standing in the middle of the studio. Ronan is all of thirty. He’s dressed in flip-flops, board shorts and a T-shirt that says, SUNS OUT, GUNS OUT! like he just returned from Coachella. Oh, and he’s wearing sunglasses. At night. In a studio that’s gone dim. Ronan is the grandson of the man who owns our network, DSRT. Jack Clark of ClarkStar pretty much owns every network across the US these days. He put his grandson in charge because Ro-Ro’s father bought an NFL franchise, and he’s too obsessed with his new fancy toy to pay attention to his old fancy toy. Before DSRT, Ronan was a surfer living in Hawaii who found it hard to believe there wasn’t an ocean in the middle of the California desert.

He showed up to our very first official news meeting wearing a tank top with an arrow pointing straight up that read, This Dude’s the CEO!

“You can call me Ro-Ro,” he’d announced upon introduction.

“No,” Cliff said. “I can’t.”

Ronan had turned his bleary gaze upon me and said, “Yo. Weather’s, like, not really my thing. You can just, like, look outside and see what’s going on. And it’s, like, on my phone. Just so we’re clear...get it? Like the weather.”

My heart nearly stopped. “People need to know how to plan their days, sir,” I protested. “Weather is a vital part of all our lives. It’s daily news. And, what I study and disseminate can save lives.”

“Ratings party if we’re still number one!” Ronan yells, knocking me from my thoughts.

I look at Eva, and she rolls her eyes. She sidles up next to me and whispers, “You know all the jokes about millennials? He’s the punchline for all of them.”

I stifle a laugh.

We walk each other to the parking lot.

“See you Monday,” I say.

“Are we still wearing our matching Santa hats for the parade next Saturday?”

I laugh and nod. “We’re his best elves,” I say.

“You mean his sexiest news elves,” she says. She winks and waves, and I watch her shiny SUV pull away. I look at my car and get inside with a smile. Palm Springs locals are fixated on their cars. Not the make or the color, but the cleanliness. Since there is so little rain in Palm Springs, locals keep their cars washed and polished constantly. It’s like a competition.

I pull onto Dinah Shore Drive and head toward home.

Palm Springs is dark. There is a light ordinance in the city that limits the number of streetlights. In a city this beautiful, it would be a crime to have tall posts obstructing the view of the mountains or bright light overpowering the brightness of the stars.

I decide to cut through downtown Palm Springs to check out the Friday night action. I drive along Palm Canyon Drive, the main strip in town. The restaurants are packed. People sit outside in shorts—in December!—enjoying a glass of wine. Music blasts from bars. Palm Springs is alive, the town teeming with life even near midnight.

I stop at a red light, and a bachelorette party in sashes and tiaras pulls up next to me peddling a party bike. It’s like a self-propelled trolley with seats and pedals, but you can drink—a lot—on it. I call these party trolleys “Woo-Hoo Bikes” because...

I honk and wave.

The bachelorette party shrieks, holds up their glasses and yells, “WOO-HOO!”

The light changes, and I take off, knowing these ladies will likely find themselves in a load of trouble in about an hour, probably at a tiki bar where the drinks are as deadly as the skulls on the glasses.

I continue north on Palm Canyon—heading past Copley’s Restaurant, which once was Cary Grant’s guesthouse in the 1940s, and a plethora of design and vintage home furnishings stores. I stop at another light and glance over as an absolutely filthy SUV, which looks like it just ended a mud run, pulls up next to me. The front window is caked in gray-white sludge and the doors are encrusted in crud. An older man is hunched over the steering wheel, wearing a winter coat, and I can see the woman seated next to him pointing at the navigation on the dashboard. I know immediately they are not only trying to find their Airbnb on one of the impossible-to-locate side streets in Palm Springs, but also that they are from somewhere wintry, somewhere cold, somewhere the sun doesn’t shine again until May.

Which state? I wonder, as the light changes, and the car pulls ahead of me.

“Bingo!” I yell in my car. “Michigan license plates!”

We all run from Michigan in the winter.

I look back at the road in front of me, and it’s suddenly blurry. A car honks, scaring the wits out of me, and I shake my head clear, wave an apology and head home.

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