Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Boardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger

Boardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062748065
Trade paperback, $15.99, 384 pages

Meredith Jaeger's novel Boardwalk Summer tells the story of two women in two different time periods. In 1940, Violet Harcourt longs to be in the movies, but her marriage to a violent man thwarts her dreams. In 2007, Marisol Cruz's hopes of a college education in history ended when she became pregnant.

No one knows that Violet's husband Charles, a club owner in Santa Cruz, beats her physically and emotionally abuses her. When Violet decides she can no longer take it, she hitches a ride to Hollywood to try her luck at acting.

The Hollywood she discovers is not the one where she is discovered in a soda shop. Jaeger shows us the seedier side of Hollywood in the 1940s. Thousands of young women, all vying for stardom, are taken advantage of by men who use them to get what they want, and then abandon them.

Marisol is raising her young daughter Lily with the help of her parents. She waitresses at a diner, and when the opportunity arises to work for the local historical society, she is excited. Marisol's grandfather, Ricardo Cruz, grew up working on local farms with his family until he became a trapeze artist and performed at the boardwalk on Santa Cruz.

Marisol idolized her grandfather and when she went through his personal papers, she discovered that he was friends with Violet Harcourt, the Miss California winner who left for Hollywood and died mysteriously a few months after her return home.

With the help of a young man Marisol met at the diner, she discovers her family's connection to Violet and sets out to find out why Violet died.

What I found most interesting about Boardwalk Summer is that the setting is unique. Not a lot of books are set in Santa Cruz, so we get to see a different place. You can almost smell the ocean and taste the cotton candy while reading. Marisol's interest in local history, and her grandfather's career as a trapeze artist, is fresh as well.

I also liked the way Jaeger sprinkled real Hollywood figures into the storyline. Famed director Ernst Lubitsch has a cameo in the book, in a key scene involving Violet.

The author drops in some hints as to where the story is going, so careful readers will pick up on those and be rewarded for their prowess. There are two big twists at the end- one I found a little too convenient- that the reader may or may not see coming.

Some of Jaeger's storylines have relevance today. Marisol's grandfather is originally from Mexico, and she still faced nasty racially-charged comments from people, and the issue of women in Hollywood being sexually harassed back in the 1940s unfortunately still continues today as we see in the #MeToo movement.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Meredith Jaeger's tour. The rest of her stops are here:
Tuesday, June 19th: bookchickdi
Wednesday, June 20th: Reading Reality
Thursday, June 21st: Bibliotica
Friday, June 22nd: Literary Quicksand
Monday, June 25th: Instagram: @oddandbookish
Tuesday, June 26th: A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, June 27th: Instagram: @hollyslittlebookreviews
Thursday, June 28th: Instagram: @notthepathtonarnia
Tuesday, July 3rd: BookNAround
Wednesday, July 4th: Tina Says…
Thursday, July 5th: Instagram: @writersdream

Monday, June 18, 2018

Matchmaking for Beginners By Maddie Dawson

Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson
Published by Lake Union ISBN 9781503900684
Hardcover, $24.95, 370 pages

The summer reading season is now in full swing and I just finished a book that perfectly fits the bill. Maddie Dawson's Matchmaking for Beginners is a charming story, with wonderful characters and a premise that hooks the reader right away.

The story opens with elderly Blix at a party at her niece's home in Virginia. Blix doesn't usually leave her home in Brooklyn to visit her family; she finds her niece Wendy to be a a grasping social climber. But her great-nephew Noah is bringing his fiancee Marnie to meet the family, and something told her she needs to be there. (You see, Blix has special powers, sort of like a witch. But her real forte is matchmaking.)

Wendy embarrasses Marnie at the party (she feels Marnie is marrying above her station), and Marnie finds herself outside the party where she and Blix hit it off. Blix tells Marnie that Marnie is destined to have a big life, but Marnie just wants a normal, quiet life, with a husband, kids, and a nice house.

Marnie and Noah marry, but the marriage ends after two weeks, and Marnie goes home to Florida with her parents and her perfect sister Natalie. She runs into her old high school boyfriend and they rekindle their relationship. Things are going so well, it now looks like maybe Marnie will end up with the normal life she wants.

Until the day she gets a letter from a lawyer in New York. It seems that Blix has left her home in Brooklyn to Marnie in her will. But they only spoke a total of three times, why would she do that? That is a question that Noah and his mother want answered too; they believe the house should be theirs.

Marnie has to go to New York to settle the will, and discovers that in order to inherit the house, she must live in it for three months. Her family and boyfriend are upset by this, but Marnie decides to stay. After three months, she can sell the house, have some money, and go home.

She meets the tenants who live in Blix's home: a single mom and her young son (who adored Blix) and Pat, a mysterious man who lives in the basement and never leaves his apartment. She befriends  Lola, Blix's best friend and next door neighbor. Marnie becomes involved in their lives, and even finds a job working in a florist shop.

Marnie has always felt that she had a knack for matchmaking, and begins to acknowledge that maybe Blix and she were more alike than she realizes.

The characters in Matchmaking for Beginners are beautifully drawn. The family that Blix created in her home is such a New York thing- total strangers coming together, and Marnie fits right in, taking Blix's place.

The story had me turning the pages, wanting to know more about these characters and wondering which path Marnie would choose for her life. I was utterly charmed by Matchmaking for Beginners, and I would love to read a prequel about Blix and how she got to be where she ended up. I highly recommend Matchmaking for Beginners.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me Maddie Dawson's tour. The rest of her tour stops are here:

Instagram tour stops:

Monday, May 28th: @girlsinbooks
Monday, May 28th: @booknerdingout
Tuesday, May 29th: @createexploreread
Thursday, May 31st: @spinatale
Friday, June 1st: @bribookishconfessions
Friday, June 1st: @beccasbookishlife
Saturday, June 2nd: @ladyofthelibrary
Saturday, June 2nd: @jessislibrary
Wednesday, June 13th: @chaptershoe

Review tour stops:

Monday, May 28th: A Bookish Way of Life
Tuesday, May 29th: Bewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, May 29th: BookNAround
Wednesday, May 30th: What is That Book About – guest post
Thursday, May 31st: Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, June 1st: Not in Jersey
Tuesday, June 5th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Wednesday, June 6th: From the TBR Pile
Friday, June 8th: Thoughts on This ‘n That
Monday, June 11th: A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, June 13th: Books & Bindings
Monday, June 18th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, June 19th: Literary Quicksand
Thursday, June 21st: Chick Lit Central – author Q&A
Thursday, June 21st: Patricia’s Wisdom
Wednesday, June 27th: Midwest Ladies Who Lit
TBD: Books a la Mode – guest post

Monday, June 4, 2018

All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller

All The Ever Afters by Danielle Teller
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062798206
Hardcover, $26.99, 384 pages

I'm not a particular fan of fairy tales, but I do enjoy a good retelling or re-imagining of a classic story, so Danielle Teller's All The Ever Afters caught my attention.

Told from the point of view of Agnes, Cinderella's stepmother, we get a different take on Cinderella. Agnes' mother died in childbirth, when she was just a small child. Her father was very poor and couldn't care for three children, so Agnes was sent off to work at the Aviceford Manor house at the age of ten.

She ended up as an assistant in the laundry, where the young child did most of the actual work, while the laundress verbally and physically abused her. It was a brutal life for a child, sleeping on the pantry floor, working sunup to sundown.

One day, she was called to assist Emont, the Lord of the Manor. He was lying passed-out drunk, and Agnes helped clean him up.

Soon Agnes grew up, met a sweet-talking man and fell in love. She became pregnant, and they married, only for Agnes to discover that he was not the man she thought he was.

Agnes was a clever, hardworking woman, and she found her way to becoming a brewer, making ale and selling it at a small tavern. She was quite successful, raising her two daughters Charlotte and Matilda, until circumstances arose that took her livelihood away. (Let's just say that times were not kind to women.)

When Agnes ends up working back at the Manor, the lady of the manor had just given birth to a baby girl, Elfilda, called Ella. Agnes cared for Ella, nursing her, carrying her around while she worked. Lord Emont recognized Agnes as the young child who helped him years ago, and they form a friendship.

Soon Agnes' good business sense helps Lord Emont in running the manor, and eventually the two become close and marry. Ella is not happy about the situation, and neither are Charlotte or Matilda. Ella is a quiet child, standoffish. She doesn't like to ride horses, like her mother did. She loves beautiful gowns and is frequently off in her own world.

Interspersed in the story are journal entries from the Royal Court, where Ella is now married to Prince Henry. Ella has three young children, and Agnes, Charlotte and Matilda are not quite insiders, yet not outsiders either.

We learn from Agnes a different side to Ella and Henry's love story- meeting at the ball, dropping her shoe, the search of the kingdom for Ella using the shoe- it's all here, albeit with a unique viewpoint and spin.

All The Ever Afters is a wonderful story, especially for people who love Broadway's Wicked and TV's Once Upon A Time. It's got a feminist twist to the story, with Agnes using her brains and compassion to make her way in a world that is not kind to women who are not conventionally beautiful or rich. She fiercely loves her daughters, and would do anything to protect them. I recommend it.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Danielle Teller's tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Instagram Stops

Wednesday, May 23rd: Instagram: @theshybooks
Thursday, May 24th: Instagram: @readforevermore
Saturday, May 26th: Instagram: @shereadswithcats
Sunday, May 27th: Instagram: @read.write.coffee
Monday, May 28th: Instagram: @_ebl_inc_
Tuesday, May 29th: Instagram: @lavieestbooks

Tour Stops

Wednesday, May 23rd: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, May 24th: Reading Reality
Friday, May 25th: Instagram: @thepagesinbetween
Monday, May 28th: Instagram: @Novelmombooks
Tuesday, May 29th: Stranded in Chaos
Thursday, May 31st: Broken Teepee
Monday, June 4th: bookchickdi
Wednesday, June 6th: Literary Quicksand
Thursday, June 7th: Instagram: @worldswithinpages
Friday, June 8th: Jessicamap Reviews
Monday, June 11th: A Bookish Affair

Monday, May 21, 2018

By Invitation Only by Dorothea Benton Frank

By Invitation Only by Dorothea Benton Frank
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062390820
Hardcover, $27.99, 390 pages

Nothing says summer like a new Dorothea Benton Frank book, but this season's By Invitation Only is especially appropriate this year. The protagonist has the same first name as me (Diane), and her son is getting married (so is mine) to a young woman he met at work, a fellow accountant. (My son met his bride-to-be at their accounting jobs too.)

So you can see why I would be excited to read By Invitation Only. Throw in the fact that Diane and her brother and mother run a peach orchard in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, where they make and sell pies at their roadside stand, well, I am hooked. (I love books about food and family-run businesses!)

Diane is a somewhat concerned about meeting her son Fred's fiancee Shelby and her family. Susan Kennedy Cambria and her hard-charging hedgefund manager husband Alejandro live in a gorgeous Chicago penthouse and are conspicuous consumers, the one-percenters we frequently hear about.

When both families decide to host an engagment party for the happy couple, it is a major culture-clash. Diane and her brother Floyd throw a Southern BBQ, complete with a pig roast, to welcome the new in-laws. At first Susan is shocked, but when Floyd, who fancies himself a ladies' man, turns on the charm and offers Susan a taste of honey-flavored moonshine, it is Diane who becomes concerned. (As does Floyd's current girlfriend).

The favor is returned when Diane, Floyd, their mother and Diane's best friend head up to Chicago for the wedding, which is Susan's chance to go really over-the-top, over the objections of even her daughter. (Think Harry and Meghan's wedding.) A major snowstorm throws a monkey-wrench into Susan's plans, and adjustments must be made.

I absolutely adored By Invitation Only. The juxtaposition of the uber-wealthy, luxury brand-name droppers (shout-out to Tiffany's, the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Beach, Karl Langerfeld, and Gulfstream G550 private jets) and the hardworking farming family at the mercy of the elements, made for such a fascinating, fun story.

Reading about the delicious food at the BBQ (shrimp and grits, deviled eggs,  corn muffins, biscuits, bluefish spread on toast points) as well as the preparations for the family Thanksgiving dinner, had my stomach growling.

As with every wedding, things go wrong, and there are a couple of twists in the plot that have characters re-evaluating their lives. Benton Frank writes her characters so well that you feel like you could sit down next to them and have a juicy conversation over a glass of sweet tea. Her trademark humor shines here as well.

By Invitation Only might be my favorite Dorothea Benton Frank book, and I just hope my son's upcoming nuptials go a little smoother than Fred and Shelby's. I highly recommend it for your summer beach read, and if you know any upcoming MOBs (Mother-of-the-Brides) or MOGs (Mother-of-the-Grooms), this would make a lovely gift. (And the cover is gorgeous too.)

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Dorothea Benton Frank's tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Instagram Feature Stops

Tuesday, May 15th: Instagram: @theloudlibrarylady
Wednesday, May 16th: Instagram: @read.write.coffee
Thursday, May 17th: Instagram: @katereadsbooks_
Friday, May 18th: Instagram: @laceybooklovers
Saturday, May 19th: Instagram: @diaryofaclosetreader

Review Stops

Tuesday, May 15th: Instagram: @writersdream
Wednesday, May 16th: Instagram: @jessicamap
Thursday, May 17th: From the TBR Pile
Friday, May 18th: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, May 21st: bookchickdi
Tuesday, May 22nd: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, May 21st: Girl Who Reads
Thursday, May 24th: Instagram: @Novelmombooks
Friday, May 25th: Stranded in Chaos
Monday, May 28th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, May 29th: Jathan & Heather
Wednesday, May 30th: Literary Quicksand

Monday, May 14, 2018

New in Paperback- Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank

Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062390790
Trade paperback, $15.99, 374 pages

It's almost a shame that Dorothea Benton Frank's books always have such gorgeous covers because every year when I buy the newest one, I inevitably mar up the pretty covers with sunscreen. I guess she shares some of the blame, after all, her books are a summer right of passage. Summer has not officially arrived until I have the latest Dorothea Benton Frank book in my beach bag.

This summer's book is Same Beach, Next Year set in her beloved Lowcountry of South Carolina. Each year Adam and Eliza and their young twin boys Luke and Max spend a few weeks at a vacation condo not far from home. Adam is a hardworking successful construction business owner and Eliza is a fabulous cook, who yearns to write a cookbook.

One year, a new couple takes the condo next door and it turns out the woman is Eve, Adam's first love. Eve is married to Carl, a hardworking, successful pediatrician and they have a young daughter, Daphne, about the twins' age, and they are joined by with Eve's mother Cookie.

The two couples get along famously, and although Eliza has her antenna up a bit about Adam and Eve, the fact that Carl is extremely handsome and shamelessly flirts with her distracts her somewhat.

The four become fast friends, and along with Ted, Adam's father, and Ted's girlfriend Clarabeth, it's one big happy family as they meet every year for two weeks and swim together, golf together and eat together.

Cookie likes to stir trouble, and she is hyper-critical of her daughter, which literally drives Eve to drink. Time flies by and Eve turns to Adam when she fears that Carl has been cheating on her. That sets in motion an incident that threatens two marriages and their friendship.

One of the things I love best about Frank's book is that she makes her characters relatable. Eliza has two sons (so do I), her dog Rufus is her best friend (mine was Malcolm, my late beloved basset hound) and Eliza loves to cook, as do I (well, most of the time).

This book is written from the perspectives of both Eliza and Adam, and I found it intriguing how Frank got into Adam's mindset. I have to say, though, I found his behavior and rationalizations puzzling, although I think each character makes some head-shaking choices here.

Since Eliza is a cook, we get some wonderfully descriptive foodie scenes, from Eliza's trip to the Piggly Wiggly grocery store to Eliza's family Christmas breakfast (I could almost smell the cinnamon on the page) to the feast that Eliza has with her Greek family in Corfu.

Same Beach, Next Year is another Dorothea Benton Frank winner, it's got everything you want in a summer beach read- great characters, sassy dialogue, interesting family and friend dynamics and a road trip to Greece. Maybe I should try covering my book in plastic so the sunscreen doesn't ruin the beautiful cover.

You may recognize the book's title- an homage to the Alan Alda-Ellen Burstyn movie, Same Time, Next Year, which if you haven't seen, you should. The IMDB link is here. (It was a play first.)

Monday, April 30, 2018

Good Neighbors by Joanne Serling

Good Neighbors by Joanne Serling
Published by Twelve ISBN 9781455541898
Trade paperback $13.99, 256 pages

Joanne Serling's novel Neighbors is set in a leafy suburb of Boston, where we meet four families, all in their forties. Their kids play together, they share dinners and parties and gossip and friendship.

The story is told through the point of view of Nicole, who is married to Jay, a man who loves to talk about the looming economic doom facing the world. Nela works long hours as a corporate attorney while her husband Drew, who owns a baseball card store, handles most of the socializing. Lorraine is a divorced mom of two, who dresses impeccably, loves tennis and likes to boss everyone around. She always knows the scoop.

Paige is unpredictable. She likes to run all the gatherings, has a spectacular home, and at a Leftovers Day celebration after Thanksgiving, announces that she and her husband Gene are adopting a four year-old Russian girl. Everyone is surprised, but happy for them.

When Paige and Gene bring Winnie home after a month in Russia, Nicole, Nela and Lorraine stop by their house bearing gifts. Winnie is a lovely, shy little girl, but when they arrive home, Paige seems very uptight. She has a lot of rules for interactions with little Winnie- don't say "real parents", say "biological parents". Don't say that Winnie was "given away". Don't talk about her lazy eye.

Nicole is delighted to meet Winnie, but soon it becomes apparent that there are problems. Paige tells odd tales of their time in Russia. She is short-tempered with Winnie, screaming at her for small things, correcting her behavior rudely in front of everyone.

Gene takes time off from work to spend time with Winnie, whom he clearly adores. But things go downhill quickly. Paige interacts less and less with Winnie, spending more time at yoga or shopping. She doesn't bring Winnie to the neighborhood gatherings, then fires her longtime nanny.

Soon Paige stops interacting with her friends. She locks herself and Winnie up in the house and refuses to speak to anyone. Nicole, Lorraine and Nela become worried for Winnie and Paige.

Since the story is told from Nicole's point of view, we also get a glimpse of Nicole's dysfunctional family. Her sister Penny is an alcoholic, and she calls Nicole crying about her life and asking for money. Nicole's mother calls and complains about Penny, and berates Nicole for not being a better daughter.

I found Nicole's family story very compelling, and wished there had been more about it. Nicole feels guilty for not being there for her mother and sister, but what she is doing is not helping their situation either.

Fans of Lianne Moriarty's Big Little Lies will enjoy Good Neighbors. Reading it made me feel like I was in the neighborhood, peeking out of my curtains watching this group of friends try to figure out what is happening to their friend.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Joanne Serling's tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Review Tour:

Monday, April 16th: Novel Mom Blog and @novelmombooks
Tuesday, April 17th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, April 18th: @readingandranunculus
Thursday, April 19th: 5 Minutes for Books
Friday, April 20th: From the TBR Pile
Monday, April 23rd: Clues and Reviews
Tuesday, April 24th: Bewitched Bookworms
Wednesday, April 25th: Books a la Mode – author guest post
Thursday, April 26th: The Sketchy Reader
Monday, April 30th: Bookchickdi
Tuesday, May 1st: Eliot’s Eats
Wednesday, May 2nd: Novel Gossip
Thursday, May 3rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, May 7th: Books & Spoons
Tuesday, May 8th: Jessicamap Reviews and @jessicamap
Thursday, May 10th: Girl Who Reads

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Two Great Spring Titles

Reprinted from the Citizen:

Spring is always an exciting time of year for readers. Publishers release some of their best books, and this year is certainly no exception. There are two authors who have a long body of outstanding work, and their newest books top the list of the best reads of the season.
March is the month for a new book in the popular Maisie Dobbs series by British author Jacqueline Winspear. Readers first met Maisie Dobbs as World War I had just broken out, and Maisie becomes a nurse on the front lines in France, where she is severely injured. 
She returns home to London and studies under her mentor, Dr. Maurice Blanche, a private investigator and psychologist. Maisie eventually opens up her own agency, and we meet several of her family, friends and coworkers in each successive book.
In the 14th book of the series, To Die But Once, Maisie is back in 1940 London as Britain is getting pulled into World War II. A family who owns the local pub has hired Maisie to find their son, who was last seen working for a company that uses flame-retardant paint on buildings to protect them in case they get bombed by the Germans.
Maisie and her team must discover what happened to the young man. At the same time, Maisie is in the process of finalizing the adoption of young Anna, an orphan from Spain who is currently in the care of Maisie’s father and stepmother. As Maisie is a widow, the powers-that-be are reluctant to allow the adoption.
The young men in the story — the two sons of Maisie’s investigator, Billy, and the two sons of her best friend, Priscilla — are of age to fight in the war. That frightens everyone who lived through the horrors of World War I.
The rescue of the British soldiers at Dunkirk plays out in the story. Priscilla’s son and his best friend take a boat to join the armada of British fishing boats and pleasure boats to help, and they are in danger.
Winspear always does a great deal of research for each of her books, and her father’s story of painting flame retardant to buildings inspired the main story. To Die But Once is vintage Maisie Dobbs, and it’s great to see Maisie interacting with Billy and Priscilla after the last few outings took her alone to Germany and Spain. We missed all of her old friends. Fans of historical mysteries and strong female characters will love this one.
Anna Quindlen writes contemporary fiction, and her latest is Alternate Side. Nora, her husband, Charlie, and their twin children, Rachel and Oliver, live in a lovely home on a rare dead-end street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. 
Charlie is in finance, but the time has passed when he will become top-tier in his world. Nora is the director of a small museum of jewelry, and the twins are seniors away at college.
The most exciting thing to happen to Charlie is that he has finally been awarded a coveted parking spot in the small outdoor lot on their street. All of the men on the street want a spot there, and those that have one have a certain level of prestige.
One of the neighbors, George, takes it upon himself to be the mayor of the street, dropping off missives at everyone’s home with instructions on everything from parking to what kind of flowers to plant. Nora and most of the other women can’t stand him.
Ricky is the handyman on the street, taking care of everything from a clogged drain to a furnace that needs to be replaced. George and another man frequently yell at Ricky when he parks his van on the street, partially blocking the entrance to the parking lot.
After an incident with Ricky, things spiral out of control. Sides are taken, with neighbor against neighbor, and even husband against wife.
Quindlen’s story is relevant in today’s world. We see how Nora’s interactions with Ricky, her housekeeper, Charity, and Phil, the not-really-homeless guy outside her office, reflect her conflict with the haves versus the have-nots in society. Charlie does not share her concerns, and that causes problems in their marriage.
Alternate Side is one of Quindlen’s best novels. Her commentary on marriage, parenting, identity and privilege are thought-provoking and insightful, and you feel that you could run into her characters on any street on the Upper West Side of New York.

If you read

COST: Hardcover, $27.99
LENGTH: 336 pages

PUBLISHER: Random House
COST: Hardcover, $28

LENGTH: 288 pages
Diane La Rue is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and blogs about books at http://bookchickdi.blogspot.com. You can follow her on Twitter @bookchickdi, and she can be emailed at laruediane2000@yahoo.com.