Monday, October 31, 2022


Author:  Alex McElroy
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2021. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1982158301 / 978-1982158309

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

Opening Sentence:  "The men were outside my building."

Favorite Quote:  "Just because you're not sick ... doesn't mean you couldn't be healthier."

Two childhood friends - Sasha and Dyson - open a camp. Read into that - form a cult. The name is The Atmosphere. The members are men. The purpose is to rid the men of their toxic masculinity - define that how you will! "We'll call it The Atmosphere ... The men will be Atmospherics. It's a film term. Another word for extras:  people who provide the atmosphere and stand in the background. What better aspiration for men? To cede power, the spotlight, to let others speak, let the action continue without them."

The book gets more specific. This is about not all men but rather about white men in particular. "Over the past year, more and more me - always white men - had been hording together unprompted to perform mundane social activities. There was no way of telling how a man horde would act once it formed." I find that specificity not needed and shifts the focus to a racial issue rather than the patriarchy that many may understand.

Why? The purpose is entirely self-serving. Dyson is a failed actor. Sasha achieved success as an internet personality specializing in wellness for women. Unfortunately, responsibility for the tragic outcome of an online interaction is laid at Sasha's door. She stands to lose everything. This venture becomes an escape and a way to perhaps salvage her reputation. So, the clearly self-focused goal belies the altruistic purpose of reforming men and society. It make the whole idea harder to buy into.

The ideas of internet influencers, troll, masculine toxicity, and retreats to relearn are clearly picked from today's headlines. There are some truths to be found in this premise. I wanted to like this book for those truths, particularly the influence of social media on so many.

Based on the description, it is intended as satire. For me, the key to satire is the ability to interject enough reality so as to be recognizable and perhaps even relatable. Unfortunately, for me, the book chooses to highlight items in a direction that I find not helpful. Focusing on a gender and a race highlights divides and promotes the extensions of damaging stereotype. In the current divisive and divided atmosphere of our nation, it is, for me, not funny. Clearly, my sense of humor and that of this book lie in two different directions.

Unfortunately, I find neither the characters nor the story engaging.  Likable characters are not a necessity to a great read. However, engaging characters and/or an engaging plot are. Unfortunately, for me, this book holds neither. Having read the entire book, I do not feel like I understand Dyson or Sasha or really care about their outcome. As far as the plot, the book focuses more on the characters and on building the world of the The Atmosphere. It is challenging to follow what happens or why even up until the very end.

Sadly, I find myself walking away from the book, clearly not the reader for it.

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

Sunday, October 30, 2022

The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives

  The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives
Author:  Kristin Miller
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2021. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1524799521 / 978-1524799526

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

Opening Sentence:  "Pain is the first thing I remember."

Favorite Quote:  "If you're going to be two-faced, at least make sure one of them is pretty."

A small gated community of the rich and famous in the hills of San Francisco is home to the trophy wives.  Brooke Davies is the newest wife to join this community. She is a mystery writer married to a man 22 years her senior. She lives in a world of mansions and private jets for her husband Jack is that kind of rich. Erin Kent is a news anchor married to a plastic surgeon and is on a quest to keep her marriage. Georgia St. Clare is the Black Widow, for she has outlived two husbands and is now on number three. Although nothing was ever proved, many believe that she had a hand in the deaths of her first two husbands.

These are the secrets these three women come to know about each other. As you might suspect, there are many more they choose not to share. The fact that the book tells the story from the perspective of these women causes some of their secrets to be slowly revealed and in a way that they come forth to the reader before being revealed to the other characters. That is fun in allowing the reader to be a voyeur to this situation and to watch the drama  unfold.

This book is unbelievable - the plot and the characters. There are no consequences for the abuse and the murders that takes place in this book. From the ending of the book, it is clear that there are not likely to be any consequences. In a serious book, I might wish for some balance. However, this story is so over the top that it is possible to completely let go of reality and go along for what proves to be a fun almost comical ride. I don't know that this is the intent of the book, but it works for me. 

The ending is a twist that I, for one, do not see coming. Again, in a book I might follow as a serious story, I might not excuse all the things that happen. In this one, it is one more convoluted twist that makes up the farce of this book.

Although I have never watched a Desperate/Real Housewives show (nor do I think I ever could), I imagine this book creates the same environment. After having read it, I am wondering what led me to choose to read it. A Desperate/Real Housewives vibe is definitely not my TV or reading genre of choice. I suppose I expected a book that developed some depth into the characters and the relationships - marriage and friendship. This completely does not but ends up an entertaining, fast-paced ride to follow.

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

A Woman of Intelligence

  A Woman of Intelligence
Author:  Karin Tanabe
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2021. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1250231507 / 978-1250231505

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

Opening Sentence:  "Only one word cut through the noise of a New York afternoon."

Favorite Quote:  "In my world, anything that isn't impossible is possible."

Katharina Edgeworth is an unhappy wife and mother. She is married to a rich, successful physician and is a mother. She is educated and multi-lingual. Prior to her marriage, she worked as a translator for the United Nations. After marriage and motherhood, she leaves that behind. It is the 1950s, and her role as a wife, mother, and housewife superimpose themselves on all else that she is. Is it a sign of the time and place? Does she allow it to happen?

She loves her husband. She loves her children. At the same time, she feels trapped and stagnating. "I think the problem is that I'm not happy. So I'm not happily married." That is a powerful emotion and one, perhaps, that people can relate to. Choosing a path - even one you love - can at times trigger a longing for the path not taken. Unfortunately, with this character, the focus is so completely on this regret that the character ends up appearing completely self-absorbed and not likable. She appears to dwell completely in her unhappiness.

Another unfortunate aspect of the book is that the other characters, to me, are just as one dimensional. The husband is a handsome, successful physician wrapped up in his career. The in-laws are unsympathetic. Even the child embodies the essence of a tantrum-throwing toddler who needs discipline and boundaries which are not forthcoming. Another character introduces the conversation of an interracial relationship, but that thread never develops any depth either.

The plot of the book is that, all of a sudden, a man from her past enters the picture and she finds herself recruited for the FBI! Unfortunately, the way in which this happens and the speed in which this happens is, for me, unbelievable and does not ring true. Katharina is instantly willing to put her family at risk - a risk to life that a government operative may face and a risk to life that rekindling an old romance may engender. That does not seem the mark of a woman of intelligence. The fact that the FBI would recruit someone off the street and immediately put them in a high risk situation rings completely false.

That aspect of the plot also becomes complicated with many characters and connections and events that take a while to untangle and become clear. Despite its billing as a thriller, this book is a very slow read.

I appreciate the question around which this book is based. What compromise does a woman make between  independence and a career and home and family? The reality is that the discussion continues even today and definitely more so in the context of women than men. Despite the progress made, this decision arises and is faced time and again. Everyone hopefully finds an answer that works for them. It is nevertheless a decision, and there is nevertheless a path not taken.

Although the character and story was not for me, this conversation is what I take away from this book.

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

Monday, October 3, 2022

The Personal Librarian

  The Personal Librarian
Author:  Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2021. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0593101537 / 978-0593101537

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

Opening Sentence:  "The Old North bell tolls the hour, and I realize I'll be late."

Favorite Quote:  ".. all I've ever wanted for my children was the opportunity soar, no matter their heritage, and to live a life of meaning. That has been my fight. But in our current society with our current laws, it's enough that you succeed, that you are able to follow your passion in your work, that you leave a legacy that will benefit the multitudes - one day, even the colored multitudes."

This book does what I love best about historical fiction. It introduces me to a history I might never otherwise have learned. It tells a story that keeps me turning pages beginning to end. It sends me on a search for the actual history that underlies the fiction.

Recently, I had an opportunity to visit the Morgan Library in New York City. It is like discovering a secret treasure trove. Currently, it is a museum and research library. It began in 1890 as a private library of Pierpont Morgan and was build adjustment to his New York home. It was not until 1924, eleven years after Pierpont Morgan's death, that the library was opened as a public institution by his son, JP Morgan Jr.

On the Morgan Library website under the "about" section appears a name - Belle de Costa Greene. She served the Morgan Library for forty three years. She was first recruited by Pierpont Morgan as his personal library. After his death, she remained on in that role as the library transitioned to JP Morgan. She also served as the first director as the library transitioned into a public institution. She was instrumental in amassing the collection, transitioning it into a public resource, and building around it programs that continue to this day.

This book is the story of Belle De Costa Greene. Her career achievements as a woman at that point in history are an amazing enough story. What is even more amazing is the personal story of the woman. Belle De Costa Greene was born Belle Marion Greener. She was the daughter of the first Black graduate of Harvard College. Her father was an educator and an activist for racial justice. When her parents separated. Belle's mother moved the children to New York and changed their surname to Greene. She described their heritage as Portuguese and lived as white in what was a racist and segregated society.

It was perhaps this fact that allowed Belle to get the job she did. Yet, this dichotomy in her life was always a challenge in so many ways. There was always the obvious fear of being found out. There was the separation from family for what purpose would a white, Portuguese family from New York have in getting together with an African American family from Washington DC. Beyond, there was the constant struggle of denying a part of who she was. "I realized that to achieve one dream, you had to forsake your core identify. Changing your name is easy. Changing your soul is impossible."

Yet she did - for her entire life leaving an unmatched legacy. "One day, Belle, we will be able to reach back through the decades and claim you as one of our own. Your accomplishments will be part of history, they'll show doubtful while people what colored can do. Until that time, live your life proudly."

This is the story of this book, beautifully told and beautifully rendered. I am so glad this fiction told an engaging story and even more led me to this amazing history.

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