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.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba

The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba
  The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba
Author:  Chanel Cleeton
Publication Information:  Berkeley. 2021. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0593098870 / 978-0593098875

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

Opening Sentence:  "I am surrounded by forgotten women."

Favorite Quote:  "... when you control the media and regulate speech in a country you can shape reality however you see fit."

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton is based in the history of the 1950s and 1960s and the Castro regime in Cuba. This book travels back to the 1800s - another uprising, another revolution, and another war in the tumultuous history that continues to trace Cuba's existence. This book is set during the time of the Cuban rebellion against Spanish rule. Spain's attempts to squash the rebellion ultimately read to the Spanish-American War.

This book does not travel two timelines like Next Year in Havana. However, it does travel the story to completely different women whose lives intersect in a most unexpected way.

Grace Harrington is a young reporter in New York City. The New York newspaper scene is defined by the rivalry between William Randolph Hearst and Jospeh Pulitzer. The fued for supremacy reigns over everything. Grace finds her a pawn in this feud as she goes to work for The Journal, Hearst's flagship newspaper. As with any reporter, the goal is the next big scoop.

Evangelina Cisneros is an eighteen year old Cuban woman. Because of who she is, what she stands for, and what she attempts, she is ensured in a trap that lands her in a Havana women's jail.

Evangelina Cisneros' story caught William Hearst's attention. In the interest of newspaper supremacy, her story was published in The Journal, with the tag line "The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba." This, in turn, led to a daring attempt to rescue her from the prison. On October 8, 1897, a New York Times headline read, " Senorita Cisneros Escapes; Bars in her Room in the Casa de Recogidas in Havana Sawed Off and No Clue Found." Subsequently, many raised the question as to whether the whole thing was a hoax or fabricated for newspaper sales. "When you read the news, you don't want to read about every arcane policy disagreement. You want to feel. That's how you win the people."

At an individual character level, this book is the story of Grace Harrington and Evangelina Cisneros, of how their lives intersect, of the escape, and of what comes after. On a broader scale, this is historical fiction about Cuba and about the New York Gilded Age.

On a philosophical level, this story is the conversation about journalism. What is news? How is the news influenced by who brings it to us? How is our reading of the news influenced by what is included and what is left out? What is the impact of a news story on the ones that the news cover? Does the impact of a story to influence change justify the means to get it? Given the current addition of social media and other quasi-entertainment sites as "news" sources, this conversation grows in importance. What is news, and what sources do we trust to bring the factual news to us?

At every level, the book keeps me turning pages until the very end and then, beyond the end, as I research the history to see what happened next.

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

A Family Affair

A Family Affair
  A Family Affair
Author:  Robyn Carr
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2022. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0778331911 / 978-0778331919

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and HTP Winter 2022 Women's Fiction blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Anna McNichol gently grasped her mother's bent, arthritic hands."

Favorite Quote:  "When it was good, it was very good ... When it was bad, I became an overachiever."

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


Anna McNichol is a successful attorney, who has found her passion as a judge in domestic cases. She herself has just been widowed. Her husband Chad goes on a trip and is killed in an accident. She and Chad have been married for a long time. They raised three children who are now adults. Jessie is a physician and ever the over achiever. Michael teaches and coaches high school, and he is forever his mother's champion. Elizabeth faces her challenges, diagnosed with autism as a child; her parent's support and her own perseverance lead her to an independent life as an adult. All three have relationships in their adult lives to varying degrees of success. All three bear the mark of their upbringing.

From the outside looking in, Anna and Chad are "the" couple. Each successful in their own right. Each supportive of the other. Together with a wholesome family life and their love for each yet.

And, yet, as we all know, life when the door closes often does not match the vision. That is what this book explores. It begins with Chad's death and the fact that Anna sees a pregnant woman at the funeral. Who is she, and why is she there? Turns out Anna has history that cause her to worry. The reading of the will brings further surprise and another layers to what really lies beneath Chad and Anna's life.

The book then proceeds to examine these family relationships and the changes they undergo based on Chad's death and based on the discoveries after. Part way through, the book takes an unexpected left turn. It still explores the same things but adds the element of realization that each one of us has a limited amount of time - sometimes more limited than we think.

The setup works for a family drama and for real life relationships and emotions. Unfortunately, for me, the unfolding of the story seems less real. It feels forced as if the point being made takes over the telling of the story which would leave the same lesson. It is just all too much.

Each main character - Anna and each of her three children - have their own story line that centers on the dysfunctional past of the family. However, that becomes the only memorable facet of each character. Anna stays in a marriage and survives. Jessie cannot sustain a relationship. Michael is afraid of not living up to his idealized version of his father. While I applaud the attempt to include a neurodiverse character, that is about the only thing I learn about Elizabeth. The story ricochets between each of these character traits without developing the character or the story further. Scattered in between are a couple of graphic scenes which don't help.

The most interesting character in the book is perhaps Amy, whose story is sadly only told tangentially through the other four. 

The premise and the setup holds potential. Unfortunately, by the end, I am not the reader for this book.

About the Author

Robyn Carr is an award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than sixty novels, including highly praised women’s fiction such as Four Friends, The Summer That Made Us and The View from Alameda Island, as well as the critically acclaimed Virgin River, Thunder Point and Sullivan's Crossing series. Virgin River is now a Netflix original series. Robyn lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. You can visit her website at

About the Book

An exceptional storyteller, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr beautifully captures the emotionally charged, complex dynamics that come with being part of any family. Readers will laugh and shed a few tears as they discover what it means to be loved, supported and accepted by the people who mean the most.

When a woman notices a young pregant woman attending her husband's funeral she realizes his mid-life crisis went far beyond his weekend warrior lifestyle. But Carr's story of a family dealing with their grief is full of surprises and as everyone examines their own beliefs and behavior, they become closer than they ever thought possible. Carr tackles the serious issues women face with humor and heart.


Excerpted from A Family Affair by Robyn Carr. Copyright © 2022 by Robyn Carr. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

The celebration of life was not held in a funeral parlor or church but rather in a fancy clubhouse in an upscale Mill Valley community. It was furnished with comfortable sofas, chairs, small round accent tables, thick carpet and carefully chosen art. Its primary purpose was for hosting parties. Residents in the community could rent it for events, which Anna had done. There was a huge viewing screen upon which the pictures of Chad’s life played, a hundred and fifty of them, carefully and lovingly chosen by Anna with a little help from the kids. Every picture had Chad in it, starting from old childhood prints she’d inherited from Chad’s mother years ago. She’d glance up to see one of him in a high school football uniform looking the worse for wear with a big grin on his dirty face; she caught a huge blowup of their wedding picture; there was one soon after of him with baby Jessie asleep on his chest. There were many pictures of Chad alone, a few of Chad and Anna, one of a young Anna gazing lovingly up into Chad’s face, several family groupings. The focus was Chad, his life, his accomplishments, his achievements, his happiness, a few of the important people in his life. Chad, Chad, Chad. Just like before he died.

Things had been tense lately, but she remembered those younger years fondly because, although it hadn’t been easy, they had been deeply in love. They met through what can only be described as fate, as destiny. In fact, their meeting was a legendary family story. Anna had been in San Francisco, shopping on her lunch hour down at Fisherman’s Wharf. Shopping but not buying, which was typical for her as she had been and still was very frugal. She loved the sea lions, enjoyed watching tourists, sometimes found bargains at Pier 1, enjoyed the occasional meal on the pier.

On that day, something strange happened. She heard a panicked cry rise from the crowd of tourists on the pier, saw a food truck trundling across the pier without a driver, picking up speed. A man in work clothes and apron was chasing the truck. She only had seconds to take it in. It seemed the food truck, its awning out and moving fast, was headed toward a group of people. Right before her eyes the truck knocked a man off the pier before the truck was stopped by a barricade.

The man, completely unaware, flew off the dock and into the water below, startling a large number of fat sea lions who had been sunning themselves nearby.

The sea lions scrambled into the water and the man was flailing around in a panic. Someone yelled, “He can’t swim!” Hardly giving it a thought, Anna dropped her purse, kicked off her shoes and jumped off the pier, swimming to the man. Getting to him was no challenge; she practically landed on top of him. But he was hysterical and splashing, kicking and sputtering. “You’re okay, come on,” she said, grabbing his shirt by the collar. But he fought harder and sank, nearly pulling her under with him.

She slapped him in the face and that startled him enough he could let himself be rescued. She slid her arm around his neck and began pulling him to the dock where a couple of men seemed to be standing by to pull him in.

There was a lot of commotion, not to mention honking noises from sea lions. Anna was shivering in her wet clothes and all she could think at the time was how was she going to locate a change of clothes for her afternoon at work. Then there were emergency vehicles and a handsome young police officer draped a blanket around her shoulders and took a report. The near drowning victim was taken away in an ambulance and Anna was given a ride to her apartment by the cute policeman. She was delighted and surprised when the police officer called her a week later. She almost hyperventilated in hope that he’d ask her out.

“The man you pulled out of the water has been in touch. He wants your name,” the officer said.

“He isn’t going to sue me, is he?” she asked.

“I don’t think so,” he said with a laugh. “He seems very grateful. He won’t have any trouble tracking you down but I said I’d ask. He probably wants to thank you.”

The man’s name was Chad. He was finishing up his PhD at Berkeley while she was working in a law office in the Bay Area. She was twenty-three and he was twenty-seven and she was not prepared for how handsome he was and of course much better put together than when he was dragged out of the water.

He took her to dinner and, as she recalled, their first date was almost like an interview. He wanted to know everything about her and was utterly amazed to learn she’d had a job as a lifeguard in a community pool for exactly one summer when she was a teenager and yet jumped in to save him with total confidence. They fell in love almost instantly. The first time they made love, he asked her to marry him. She didn’t say yes right away, but they knew from the start they were made for each other. What they didn’t know was how many fights they’d have. Very few big fights but many small ones; she thought of them as bickering. They fought about what was on the pizza; a scrape on the side of the car that was not her fault, not even remotely; what kind of vacation they should have and where they should go. As Anna recalled, they always went where Chad wanted to go. They fought about what movie to see, where to eat, what was grumbled under his or her breath.

They fought seriously about his affair. That was in the distant past but it took a long time to get over. Years. But when they finally pledged to stay married, to do their best to make it good, they fell into bed and had the best sex of their lives. And they had Elizabeth.

That experience was how she knew that all the excuses for this current marital rift, no matter what he called it, was probably about another woman and not them growing apart or having divergent needs. He wouldn’t admit it and she had no proof, but she had better than average instincts. She believed he’d gotten all excited at the prospect of falling in love and was rewriting their history to make that acceptable. He was looking for an excuse that would make it reasonable to step outside the bonds of marriage. She could feel it; he’d been involved with someone else.
Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Letter to a Stranger

  Letter to a Stranger:  Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us
Editor:  Colleen Kinder
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2021. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1643751247 / 978-1643751245

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:  "We are born into a world of strangers."

Favorite Quote:  "These letters are gifts. The invitation to write a letter is a gift. The invitation to write a letter is a gift. The invitation of a fissure is a gift. It's a way of encountering the world that stays attuned to the incompleteness of our vision: the infinitude of what we can see, and the infinitude of what we can't. These letters say: I never had you. I never knew you. I am to see to it that I do not lose your."

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


What a fascinating project! The author put a call out to other authors to "write a letter to a stranger who haunts you." She gets responses from around the world. She then compiles sixty five responses into this book.

The form and content of the letters are perhaps as diverse as the origins of the letters themselves. Nicaragua, Myanmar, Peru, Germany, Italy, India, China, Australia, France, Uganda, and several from the United States. Each letter is as individual as its writer and its individual audience; each one stands along. Yet, at the same time, there are common themes and a universality running through all of them. This book is yet another example that around the world, more unites us than divides us. A powerful lesson in a world so divided.

The letters are organized into sections:  symmetry, mystery, chemistry, gratitude, wonder, remorse, and farewell. All themes are ideas the reader can relate to, and all trigger an emotion. The form of the book itself triggers an emotion. A letter is contained. Yet, in this day of text messages, emails, and other forms of communication, a letter is at the same time expansive, allowing room to explain and breathe. The idea of writing to a stranger is expansive because perhaps in that anonymity more can be said. A letter is also intimate and personal. Reading someone else's letter can seem an illicit pleasure, or, in this case, an invitation into someone's world. That is the emotion of it.

"My letter ... wasn't the account of an entire life; it was an account of brushing up - just briefly - against the infinitude of another person, and feeling him brush up against my own. It opened up a seam in my memory and asked me to peer through it. It was a fissure. This is a book of fissures. They live in all of us."

Throughout this book, as I read letter after letter, strangers who touched my life come to mind. Who would I write to if I were to embark on this journey? What would I say? So, here goes one of mine...

Dear Fellow Book Lover,

Welcome. I do not know you, but I feel that you are a friend. A book lover who has found their way here surely must be a friend. I see you at the library and look to see what you are reading. I see you so engrossed in your book on a train. I see you on the park bench. I see you at story time perhaps passing your love of reading on. I see you at the bookstore mulling over choices. 

I do not know you, yet the book you hold is one I love. I want to ask you what you think of it. How did it move you... Were your surprised when... Could you believe that ending... What other books do you love.... I want to talk and get lost in a world of books.

I hope you enjoy what you read here and learning something about this stranger writing these words. I hope you walk away with a recommendation. I hope you come back.

Happy reading, fellow book lover!

How about you? Who is the stranger who comes to your mind?

About the Book

When Colleen Kinder put out a call for authors to “write a letter to a stranger who haunts you,” she opened the floodgates. The responses—intimate and addictive, all in the form of letters, all written in the second person—began pouring in. These short, insightful essays by today’s best literary minds are organized around such themes as Grati­tude, Wonder, and Farewell, and guide us both across the globe and through the mysteries of human connection.

Bestselling author Leslie Jamison, who provides the foreword, reveals she has been haunted for years by a traveling magician she met in Nicaragua. Journalist Ted Conover writes his missive to a stranger he met on a New Yorker assignment in Rwanda. From the story of Vanessa Hua’s shoe shopper in China to the tale of Michelle Tea’s encounter in a Texas tattoo parlor, these pieces are replete with observations about how to live and what to seek, and how a stranger’s loaded glance, shared smile, or question posed can alter the course of our lives. Moving and unforgettable, Letter to a Stranger is an irresistible read for any literary traveler and the perfect gift for anyone who is haunted by a person they met once but will remember forever.

About the Author

Colleen Kinder is an essayist and editor whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, National Geographic Traveler,, and The Best American Travel Writing. She has taught writing at Yale University, the Chautauqua Institution, and Semester at Sea. A Fulbright Scholar, Kinder received her MFA at the University of Iowa and is the author of Delaying the Real World and the cofounder of the online magazine Off Assignment.

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

Sunday, March 27, 2022

This Might Hurt

This Might Hurt
  This Might Hurt
Author:  Stephanie Wrobel
Publication Information:  Berkeley. 2022. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0593100085 / 978-0593100080

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 stand at the head of the conference table."

Favorite Quote:  "Did we know we were making our favorite memories while they were happening?"

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


Wisewood is a place. More than that, Wisewood is a state of mind. "Guests" are expected to come and stay for a minimum of six months. Some come and never leave. During their stay, guests are expected to adhere strictly to the rules. Rules such as no phone, no contact with the outside world, no physical contact with other guests, assigned chores, no leaving, and more. The goal - to help each guest focus entirely on themselves and become fearless.

All Natalie Collins knows is that her sister Kit disappeared into this world about six months ago and has not reappeared. That might have been okay since Natalie and her sister have been estranged. However, Natalie receives an email from someone at Wisewood that they will reveal her secret to Kit. What secret? The email does not say, but Natalie know. So, of course, she takes herself off to Wisewood, find Kit and either prevent the secret from coming out or tell Kit herself before someone else does.

So begins this somewhat confusing story of a cult. There are multiple narrators - Natalie, Kit, and a third unnamed narrator. There are also multiple time periods - the present at Wisewood, Natalie and Kit's childhood, Kit's time as she comes to Wisewood, and an undefined time in the life of the third narrator. Eventually, it all comes together but...

As a reader, it takes me way too long to realize there are three narrators - and not just Natalie and Kit -  and then it takes me way too long to identify who the third narrator is. By the time I realize the connection, it is a little too late to go back, reread and develop a better sense of this character, to redefine the characters who are not this narrator, and bring it all together into what happens next.

This book is dark. The images of child abuse and the physical and psychological scars it leaves are heart wrenching and disturbing. The abuse is relentless. This book does hurt and should absolutely contain trigger warning that is not currently in the book description. The fact that because of the multiple narrators, I realize late in the book the victim of this abuse makes the book a challenge. That unfortunately lessons the understanding of the far-reaching impact that childhood abuse can have.

Beyond the story of the two sisters or really the story of the third narrator, the book is a view into a cult. Perhaps the most fascinating part of this book is the concept on which the cult is based - the idea of facing fears and living live fearlessly. That idea has merit and can likely be found in much of personal development literature and training. To see an idea of merit devolve into a cult with such negative ramifications is relevant to today's world. That view, rather than the characters or the story, is my lasting memory of this book.

About the Author

Stephanie Wrobel grew up in Chicago but lives in the UK for the past three years with her husband and dog, Moose Barkwinkle. She has an MFA from Emerson College and has had short fiction published in Bellevue Literary Review. She is also the author Darling Rose Gold and has been a creative copywriter at various advertising agencies.

About the Book

From the USA Today bestselling and Edgar-nominated author ofDarling Rose Gold comes a dark, thrilling novel about two sisters—one trapped in the clutches of a cult, the other in a web of her own lies.

Welcome to Wisewood. We’ll keep your secrets if you keep ours.

Natalie Collins hasn’t heard from her sister in more than half a year.

The last time they spoke, Kit was slogging from mundane workdays to obligatory happy hours to crying in the shower about their dead mother. She told Natalie she was sure there was something more out there.

And then she found Wisewood.

On a private island off the coast of Maine, Wisewood’s guests commit to six-month stays. During this time, they’re prohibited from contact with the rest of the world—no Internet, no phones, no exceptions. But the rules are for a good reason: to keep guests focused on achieving true fearlessness so they can become their Maximized Selves. Natalie thinks it’s a bad idea, but Kit has had enough of her sister’s cynicism and voluntarily disappears off the grid.

Six months later Natalie receives a menacing e-mail from a Wisewood account threatening to reveal the secret she’s been keeping from Kit. Panicked, Natalie hurries north to come clean to her sister and bring her home. But she’s about to learn that Wisewood won’t let either of them go without a fight.

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

Saturday, March 19, 2022

The Summer Getaway

The Summer Getaway
  The Summer Getaway
Author:  Susan Mallery
Publication Information:  HQN. 2022. 416 pages.
ISBN:  1335479996 / 978-1335479990

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'm going to sleep with Dimitri.'"

Favorite Quote:  "No one who's an awful person is willing to consider the possibility that she's awful. Self-awareness requires intelligence..."

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


This book deals with infidelity, an absentee parent, death, mother-child angst, military service, an unplanned pregnancy, bridezilla, divorce, financial insecurity, childhood cancer, and more. At the same time, it deals with love, dreams, hopes, friendship, and the courage to pursue them. It features an odd mansion on the Santa Barbara coast overlooking the ocean. It features the kind of wealth that can afford such a mansion.

So much happens in this book that it makes for a fun read because it is so over the top. Robyn Caldwell is at the heart of this story. She is there for everyone - her ex-husband, her boyfriend, her kids, her friend who also happens to be her boss, and her aunt. The question of it all is where and who is Robyn beyond all that surrounds her. Who was she before she started putting everyone else first?

The thing is she has the luxury of finding out. She has the luxury of an escape to her aunt's home in California. The fact that the home happens to be a gigantic ocean front mansion helps. The fact that Robyn  is to be at least partial heir to her aunt's fortune helps. The fact that she meets the other heir when she gets to California helps. Let's just say the book isn't exactly grounded in the day to day reality of most of our lives. However, that makes this perfect escapist reading.

Robyn gets her momentary escape until everyone - and I do mean everyone - somehow ends up following her to California. Her son Austin is figuring out who is going to be when he grows up. Her daughter Harlow needs to grow up and define her self beyond an indulged kid. Harlow and her fiancé need to determine if their relationship is a partnership between adults. Robyn's ex-husband is still trying to get Robyn to solve his problems. The ex-boyfriend cannot take rejection. Even the friend intrudes on Robyn's escape with her own crisis. In the middle of all this, Robyn herself must figure out what is next for her own life.

Some of the scenes and the chaos that ensues is completely over the top. Yes, emotions and situations that are closer to real life. Some I find myself relating. Yet, the fact that all of this happens to Robyn and at the same time leaves me laughing at the circumstances. Laughter is a good thing in an escapist read. I am not sure if that is the intended impact, but it works for me.

All the individual stories end up about where I expect them to, but it is a fun journey getting there.

About the Book

Already a worldwide success in mass market and trade paperback formats, Susan Mallery’s newest hardcover is an emotional, witty, and heartfelt story about a woman who takes a trip to California to figure out her life and get a break from her family...only to be reminded that life--and your children--follow you wherever you go. With a powerful mother/daughter relationship at its core, fans of Elin Hilderbrand, Susan Wiggs, Mary Alice Monroe, and Nancy Thayer will love this book.

Robyn Caldwell’s family is driving her crazy. There’s Harlow, her daughter, who’s engaged to a man she’s only known a short time and is rapidly turning into bridezilla. And her son, Austin, who would rather work with his dad’s family charter boating business than go to college. Her friend, Mindy, who’s playing with fire by contemplating an affair with her tennis instructor. And let’s not forget her ex-husband whose bad behavior has just crossed the line yet again.

Robin needs some time to catch her breath and figure out what her next step should be. So when her beloved aunt Lillian asks her to come to Santa Barbara for an overdue visit, Robyn jumps at the chance. Her aunt Lillian is working on settling her affairs and a distant relative is staying with her that stands to inherit the house. Trouble is the last thing Robyn needs, but she refuses to let her aunt be taken advantage of.

While staying in her aunt’s beautiful, quirky mansion and spending time in the Santa Barbara sunshine with the woman who’s like a mother to her, Robyn will see herself—and the people she loves most—with a bit more clarity. And it will push her to take chances she hadn’t dreamed of before.

But life has a funny way of following you wherever you go. What began as an escape soon becomes an unforgettable adventure…and Robyn is ready to dive in, feet first.

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.

Q&A with Susan Mallery

Tell us about your latest book, who is the main character(s) and what can we expect when we pick it up?
The Summer Getaway, which will be out on March 15, is the story of Robyn Caldwell, a mom who has one too many things on her plate—her daughter’s wedding demands, her son’s refusal to grow up, her best friend’s self-destructive behavior, and her ex-husband’s wildly inappropriate new girlfriend: their daughter’s soon-to-be sister-in-law. She’s been focusing on everyone else’s problems so much that she forgot to make a plan for her own future.

She needs a minute. So Robyn hops on a plane to visit her beloved great-aunt Lillian in sunny Santa Barbara, to give herself time and space to figure out what she wants the rest of her life to look like. But she’s the heart of her family, and those family ties draw everyone she loves to follow her across the country, one by one.

I adore Robyn, a smart, nurturing mom who has given so much that she forgot about herself. I think a lot of us women are like that, and I think readers will be thrilled to go along on Robyn’s journey of self-discovery.

Give us an out of context quote from your book to warm our hearts.
Harlow's gaze turned knowing. "You're protecting him. Not because you're still in love with him, but because he's my father. This is about me, not him." She smiled. "You're a good mom. I hope when I have kids I'm just like you."

Which of your characters would you want to share a campfire with, and why?
Oh, Robyn, for sure. First of all, because she’s the kind of woman I love to have as a friend—great sense of humor, good conversationalist, loving, loyal, smart. And secondly, because the woman knows how to cook. (That said, I would choose a fireside table at a nice restaurant. I don’t get the appeal of eating outside.)

Where do you get your ideas for your books, characters, series?
Ideas come from everywhere – conversations, articles. Songs are a great source of inspiration for me. I’m convinced that there’s a book in every country music song, but you might be surprised at the idea that comes from a song. For me, it’s not about the lyrics or the story of the song, as much as it is about the emotions.

So yes, ideas are everywhere, but the idea is merely a spark. The tough part is fanning that spark into flames, into a full-length women’s fiction novel. I’ve had a lot of ideas that weren’t good enough to sustain a book. I either have to reassign it as a subplot, or let it go. (That is so hard sometimes!)

The spark that led to The Summer Getaway is something no one would ever, ever guess. I had an idea to write a story about a woman who has fallen in love with an oil painting and goes in search of the artist, sure that they will share a deep connection. Instead, she discovers that the painting means nothing to him. He paints the same scene over and over again because it sells.

But there’s no artist in The Summer Getaway. No contemporary oil painting. While brainstorming the book, the idea morphed beyond recognition from that initial spark. Inspiration is a funny, ineffable thing. You don’t know where it will lead. All you can do is loosen the reins on your mind and let it run.

I couldn’t be happier with the end result. The Summer Getaway is a heartfelt, emotion-filled story of one woman’s triumph over self-doubt. Robyn is nurturing and fiercely loyal, and I love her.

I might still write about that artist. . .

Do you interconnect series and locations or is it one and done with series?
Sometimes series are connected to other series, sometimes not. The Summer Getaway is a standalone novel, not part of a series. But when it comes to series, the Fool’s Gold series segued into the Happily Inc series. The Blackberry Island series segued into the Mischief Bay series—and then I returned to Blackberry Island with Sisters by Choice. A teenager in the Bakery Sisters series ended up as the hero of one of the Fool’s Gold books, Finding Perfect. (That was a reader’s suggestion, by the way.)

How do you keep track of your characters when a series is you keep what I have heard referred to as a "Bible"?
I do have a series bible that my assistant creates. The Fool’s Gold bible is about 300 pages long. Every character is in it, with whatever specific details have appeared on the page—age, height, hair and eye color, where they went to college, what kind of car they drive. . . And because animals are so important in my books, even the animals are included in the bible.

Did you love books as a child, what age did you begin to read and devour books, and what is the first book that you remember that made a difference in your writing (as a child or later)?
Oh yes, I was a voracious reader for as long as I can remember. Every Saturday, my dad took me to the library, and the rule was that I was allowed to check out as many books as I could carry. We would go home, and I’d read them all that day, and then spend the week re-reading the ones I loved. When a librarian told me how many more books I could carry if I used a tote bag, she changed my life!

I didn’t start writing until I was in college (studying accounting). In addition to my full courseload, I took an evening class titled How to Write a Romance Novel. By week six of the eight-week course, I knew I wanted to write books.

My goal, still, is to make each book better than the last, so I continue to study the craft of writing. I don’t remember the first book that made a difference in my writing, so I’ll tell you about a book that did so more recently—Save the Cat! It’s a book on screenwriting. Although I don’t have aspirations of writing screenplays, I like to study screenwriting because I find the story structure helpful. Save the Cat! talked about the importance of high stakes in a way that made me think differently when plotting my books. In my books, the stakes aren’t actual life and death, but they’re deeply emotional stories, and the stakes need to feel like emotional life and death to the characters and to the reader.

Can you remember one or more early books that influenced you? What were they? Did you remain interested in the same type of stories over the decades or did your interests change? 
When I was a teenager, I discovered my best friend’s mom’s stash of romance novels. She let me borrow them whenever I wanted. I still remember the feeling that came over me when reading that first one—that moment of catching my breath when the hero’s and heroine’s eyes met in the mirror—and that early reading experience continues to influence me today.

Do you read the same genre you write or branch out to relax?
I still love reading women’s fiction and romance. I like stories that bring me deep inside characters’ heads and hearts, and I love happy endings.

Do you write under another name or in other genres? If so...please share!
No, I only write under Susan Mallery. Early in my career, I wrote a few historicals as Susan Macias.

How many books have you written?
176 and counting… (including a few that haven’t been published yet—The Boardwalk Bookshop will be out in May, Home Sweet Christmas in October, and The Sister Effect next year, assuming the title doesn’t change.) And I’m working on more.

Is writing easy or difficult...or should I ask what parts are easy and what parts are difficult?
The beginning of a book usually goes relatively slowly for me as I get to know the characters. But once I’m in the groove, the actual writing goes pretty fast and smoothly for me. I do a lot of plot work before I ever sit down to write, and that works for me.

The more challenging part for me, after all these books, is to come up with ideas that I haven’t already written about, but that still give readers the experience they want from one of my stories. Variety makes it more interesting and fun for me, too.

Tell us about what you are reading at the moment or anticipate reading in the future? Any new books you are looking forward to?
Christina Dodd has a new one coming out this summer that I can’t wait to read—Point Last Seen. She’s a master of romantic suspense, and I find myself holding my breath as I read. I’m currently reading First Comes Baby by one of my favorite romance authors and one of my favorite people, Christine Rimmer.

Social Links

Twitter: @susanmallery
Facebook: @susanmallery
Instagram: @susanmallery
Author website:

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

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Wonders

The Wonders
  The Wonders
Author:  Elena Medel (author). Lizzie Davis & Thomas Bunstead (translators).
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2022. 240 pages.
ISBN:  1643752111 / 978-1643752112

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:  "She checked her pockets and found nothing."

Favorite Quote:  "It's funny, Maria will think many years from now, how memory generates its own fictions:  how what hasn't stayed with us, because we think it insignificant or because it doesn't align with our expectations, gets filled in with what we wish had happened instead."

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


Three generations - Maria, Carmen, and Alicia - separated by time distance and difficult choices. Maria grows up in a small town. She has a baby at a young age out of wedlock. She is sent to her aunt's house in Madrid while the baby stays with her family in her small town. In Madrid, Maria learns the relationship between money and power. Carmen grows up knowing very little of her mother, and that sends her life on a different trajectory. Carmen's daughter Alicia moves to Madrid to see her own future. Maria and Alicia's paths cross in the context of the Women's March in 2018, but neither know it.

In parallel perspectives, the book tells the story of these three women and the issues, challenges, and changes surrounding the role of women. Politics and the women's movement provide the context and history of their stories.

The release of this book during Women's History Month is clearly purposeful as these three women chart their course within what is still a patriarchy. The placement of the current time at the time of the Women's March certainly ties into that theme.

I want to like this book better than I actually do. The theme and the idea appeals to me. The publicity for the book and the awards it has one speak to its success. Yet, I feel like I am missing something. I feel like I get lost in the story, and I do not understand. That begins at the beginning and continues all the way to the ending. Perhaps that may be due to the fact that I am reading a translation. Elena Mendel's background is in poetry. Perhaps that style carries to this book, and it just does not translate.

The emotion of the book - or the emotion that I think should be there - does not come to life off the pages. I don't really understand why, but say, once again, that perhaps, it does not translate well. As the language changes, so does the spirit of the story.

What I do walk away is an understanding of the universality of certain experience and certain gender struggles. The women of this book struggle with teenage pregnancy, single parenting, the quest for independence, family expectations, societal norms, the patriarchy, and so much more. This book is set in Spain and covers three generations. The same conversations occur in so many other nations and across so many times. So many parallels across time and place - some days it seems like this conversation makes no progress at all.

About the Book

From award-winning Spanish poet Elena Medel comes a mesmerizing new novel of class, sex, and desire.

Already an international sensation, The Wonders follows Maria and Alicia through the streets of Madrid, from job to job and apartment to apartment, as they search for meaning and stability in a precarious world and unknowingly trace each other’s footfalls across time.

Maria moved to the city in 1969, leaving her daughter with her family but hoping to save enough to take care of her one day. She worked as a housekeeper, then a caregiver, and later a cleaner, and somehow she was always taking care of someone else. Two generations later, in 2018, Alicia was working at the snack shop in Madrid’s Atocha train station when it overflowed with protestors and strikers. All women—and so many of them—protesting what? Alicia wasn’t entirely sure. She couldn’t have known that Maria was among them. Alicia didn’t have time for marches; she was just trying to hang on until the end of her shift, when she might meet someone to take her away for a few hours, to make her forget.

Readers will fall in love with Maria and Alicia, whose stories finally converge in the chaos of the protests, the weight of the years of silence hanging thickly in the air between them. The Wonders brings half a century of the feminist movement to life, and launches an inimitable new voice in fiction. Medel’s lyrical sensibility reveals her roots as a poet, but her fast-paced and expansive storytelling show she’s a novelist ahead of her time. I understand the sadness intellectually. I just wish I was walking away feeling it.

About the Author

Elena Medel is a Spanish poet and the founder and publisher of La Bella Varsovia, an independent poetry publishing house. Medel was the first woman ever to win the prestigious Francisco Umbral Prize, for her debut novel The Wonders, which was also longlisted for the Finestres Award and has been translated into fifteen languages. She published her prizewinning first collection of poetry, My First Bikini, when she was sixteen years old.

About the Translator

Lizzie Davis is a translator and an editor at Coffee House Press. She has translated Elena Medel’s poetry collection My First Bikini, Juan Cárdenas’s Ornamental (a finalist for the 2021 PEN Translation Prize), and work by Valeria Luiselli, Pilar Fraile Amador, and Aura García-Junco. Her work has appeared in the Paris Review, Granta, and other publications.

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

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Project Hail Mary

  Project Hail Mary
Author:  Andy Weir
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2021. 490 pages.
ISBN:  0593135202 / 978-0593135204

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

Opening Sentence:  "What's two plus two?"

Favorite Quote:  "Human brains are amazing things. We can get used to just about anything."

The Martian was science-y, geeky, irreverent, and a whole lot of fun. Artemis was a little less geeky, a little more about politic and greed, still fun, but without the intensity of The Martian. Project Hail Mail becomes the third book I have read by Andy Weir. 

A "Hail Mary" of course has its basis in Christian tradition, a prayer in praise of and seeking assistance from Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. In American culture, this phrase has long been used in the sport of football. A "hail mary" pass is a long distance throw near the end of a game with little chance of completion but with a hope and a prayer for a miracle.

The use of the phrase in the title of the book is the same meaning, except not for football but rather for the survival of the human race itself. Interestingly, the book does give a nod to the Christian origins of the phrase and the recognition that other cultures and traditions may have something similar. "Maybe that ship is the Praise Allah or the Blessings of Vishnu or something."

The miracle is needed. This Ryland Grace know although at the beginning he cannot quite reconcile with where he is or why he is there. He "wakes" up on a spaceship, alone, flanked on either side by two corpses. He is cared for by the ship itself or rather computers embedded in the ship. He is unsure what his objective is. At the beginning, he is unsure of even who he is.

Gradually, memory returns, and he remembers his mission. He is on a ship built by a collaborative effort by all nations on earth - political message there? He and his colleagues were hurtled far, far away into space in an attempt to save earth. Now, there is only him.

Until there is not only him. Thus begins the main story of the book. There is another ship, and on it is Rocky. "Rocky is smaller than a human. He's about the size of a Labrador. He has five legs radiating out from a central carapace-looking thing. The carapace, which is roughly a pentagon, is 18 inches across and half has thick. I don't see eyes or a face anywhere."

Ryland and Rocky could not be more different. Yet, they appear to be in a shared predicament. Perhaps, they even share the same goal and the same feelings towards their home planets and those they left behind.  A friendship develops.

That is the crux of this book - collaboration, friendship across seemingly insurmountable differences, caring and love across boundaries, and sacrifice for the greater good. In this book, it is the result of an existentialist threat to both their worlds. I would like to think that an outside threat precipitated the meeting the friendship, but it might have happened anyways. A lovely lesson to find anywhere.

While this book does not live up to the intensity and humor of The Martian, it does provide an entertaining read and an important reminder that we are all ultimately one world.

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

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Eight Perfect Hours

  Eight Perfect Hours
Author:  Lia Louis
Publication Information:  Atria/Emily Bestler Books. 2021. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1982135948 / 978-1982135942

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

Opening Sentence:  "To Noelle. My girl. My best friend"

Favorite Quote:  "... the only way to live forever is to leave parts of yourself behind."

Lia Louis's first book Dear Emmie Blue is about a woman reckoning with the impact of a traumatic childhood event, a friendship whose conclusion the reader sees coming way before Emmie does, and a cast of mostly endearing characters. The book does incorporate serious issues including abuse and an unhealthy relationships. Yet, the book ends up a sweet, feel good story about the power of love and friendship.

Eight Perfect Hours works in somewhat the same way. The serious issues in this book include a young accidental death, depression and mental illness, caregiving, and aging. Once again, as the reader, I see the conclusion well before it arrives. Once again, the book ends up more about the power of self discovery, friendship, and the courage to live your life. Once again, some of the dynamics between Noelle and her brother are indicative of an unhealthy relationship.

In addition, this book adds in the element of fate, karma and kismet. Call it what you will, it all ends at the same place. Some things are just meant to be.

The book begins in the middle of an unexpected snowstorm. Noelle finds herself stuck on a highway, where the cars are not moving. A dire need lands her in the car next to her; that car belongs to Sam, an American on his way to the airport to head home. Noelle and Sam spend eight "perfect" hours stuck together in the snow storm. The highway gets cleared, and each goes on their way.

Yet,  Noelle cannot stop thinking about Sam, and, as fate would have it, their paths keeps crossing in completely unrelated and unexpected way. It's almost as if it is meant to be. In the midst of their budding friendship, there are old relationships to be reckoned with, jobs to be contended with, and families to be cared for.

The entire book is written from Noelle's perspective, who, at the time of this book, is thirty-something. The reader sees her continuing struggle with the death of her best friend in high school. The reader sees the sense of responsibility she feels as the primary caretaker of her mother and her resentment at her brother's role in the process. At the same time, the reader sees her need to move forward with her own life. The reader also sees her walking away from a twelve year relationship. The relationship may not have been right anyways, but her reason for walking away is family. What the reader does not see is Noelle expressing any of these concerns out loud. Nor does the book show her having the hard conversations in her life.

The book ends as you might expect, but the addition of these conversations would have added substantial depth to the book. Nevertheless, a sweet story with which to spend eight, perhaps not perfect but still, enjoyable hours.

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

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Hour of the Witch

  Hour of the Witch
Author:  Chris Bohjalian
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2021. 416 pages.
ISBN:  0385542437 / 978-0385542432

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

Opening Sentence:  "It was always possible that the Devil was present."

Favorite Quote:  "There were  people in the world who were good and people who were evil, but most of them were some mixture of both and did what they did simply because they were mortal. And her Lord? ... He knew it all and had known it all and always would know it all."

A young woman. An only daughter. An educated woman. An abusive marriage. No children. An appeal for divorce. A Puritan town looking for signs of anyone breaking tradition and anyone different. A charge of witchcraft.

This is Mary Deerfield's life in 1600s Boston. She and her family arrive in Boston when Mary is a teenager. Her father is a respected and wealthy businessman - a shipper and an importer of goods. Mary tries to play by the rules. She is a dutiful daughter. She is dutiful wife, hiding evidence of her husband's abuse. Yet, her power of independent thinking does not go well in this town. That combined with Mary's supposed friendship with suspicious persons - a supposed witch and a man who is not her husband - lead to suspicions about Mary herself. She pushes the boundary even further when escalating abuse causes her to file a petition of divorce from her husband. The issue escalates even more so when a series of circumstances lead to an accusation of witchcraft.

This book has all the elements I love about Chris Bohjalian's books. The history is researched and real. According to author interviews, the idea for this book originated in the case of Katherine Nanny Naylor in front of the Boston Court of Assistants in 1672. The case stands out because Nanny Naylor filed for and was able to win a divorce from her husband. She spend the rest of her life living independently. The records of the case can still be found in the Massachusetts Archives Collection. Interestingly, in 1992, archeologists discovered the privy of her home in Boston. Because of the wealth of artifacts found in the privy, the discovery is considered one of the most significant ones from the early colonial period.

Fascinating history aside, the book is at the same time fiction and tells a story that keeps me rapidly turning pages from beginning to the end. The characters - especially Mary herself - are well drawn and the history is so brought to life through them that I think surely, they must be real themselves. The one thing I could have done without is Mary's repeated thoughts about men and about sexual pleasure. For me, that distracts from the story about Mary's rise as a woman.

What I might expect of this book is the story of Puritan New England and a male dominated society. Yet, this book is really the story of the women. It is about the individual strength of Mary herself. It is also about the women who surround her - those who would tear each other down and those who would lift each other up.

By the nature of the time and place, the men play key, visible roles. "This may be the hour of the witch. But the Devil? He most definitely wears breeches. The Devil can only be a man." However, it is the women on whom the story and its final conclusion rests.

The epilogue ending was what I expected given the times. However, I do wish the book had ended with the strength of the women without that add on.

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

Friday, February 18, 2022


Author:  Eto Mori
Publication Information:  Counterpoint. 2021. 224 pages.
ISBN:  1640094423 / 978-1640094420

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

Opening Sentence:  "As my dead soul leisurely drifted off to some dark place, this angers I'd never seen before suddenly appeared right in my way."

Favorite Quote:  "Extraordinary joy and sadness can come out of the ordinary every day."

A nameless young individual dies. His soul drifts towards the afterlife and the cycle of rebirth. An angel named Prapura notifies him that he has won the lottery. Because of his actions during his life, this individual is about to be kicked out of the cycle of rebirth. The soul is to be no more. However, due to the decision of the "boss," he is being given a second chance. He is to be given a "homestay" in another body. There he stays until he can determine what grave error he made in his own life.

The host body is fourteen-year-old Makoto Kobayashi. He has just killed himself, but due to the chance given to this nameless soul, is brought back to life. Now, this soul has to live as Makoto while determining what went wrong in his own life. Surrounding Makato are his parents, his older brother, and his school mates.

So begins this journey of self- discovery. Although marketed as literature and fiction, this book has very much of a young adult feel. The conclusion of the book is just what I expect it to be. The lesson is just what I expect it to be. "It wasn't some simple change, like things that I thought were black were actually white. It was more like when I looked closely, things I thought were a single, uniform color were really made up of a bunch of different colors. That's maybe the best way to describe it."

The journey of self-discovery also becomes a journey of learning about those who surround us. So often in our lives, we take for granted those closest to us and see what we choose to see. The soul in Makato's body learns this lesson about his family and his school mates.

The young-adult feel of the book comes from how simplified issues such as suicide, mental health, ethics, and infidelity seem to be. The resolutions to these issues seems equally simplified. In many ways, this is a self-help book with a lesson that appears easy to state but is so challenging to implement. "Remember how it felt to move freely without trapping yourself in your own expectations." The books appears to gloss over the challenges.

The biggest issue I have with the book does not even center on the main character, but rather on a girl who he cares about. The book, in a matter of fact way, presents an eight-grader prostituting herself so that she can buy things! "Pretty clothes, bags, rings, all those nice things I want are super expensive. Even if I tried to save  up my allowance, okay. even if I saved up for a whole year, I could never buy any of them ... But if I do it with him three or four times, boom, I can buy whatever I want." This is something I just cannot see past. The fact that the girl has an allowance indicates an economic level and a home life. But prostitution! The fact that I feel this book has a young adult audience makes this statement worse. The fact that is presented matter of factly and then not addressed again makes it worse and beyond my understanding. The fact that this being the reason for rejection of Makato is somewhat tangential to Makato's story makes it worse. Teenage angst over an unrequited love alone is enough. Why add this twist to the mix?

The original Japanese book won the Sankei Children's Book Award when originally published in the 1990s; it has been made into multiple movies. The fact that it won a Children's book award makes the subject matter even less palatable. Let's just say I do not understand.

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