Friday, March 16, 2018

In Praise of Difficult Women by Karen Karbo

In Praise of Difficult Women by Karen Karbo
Published by National Geographic ISBN 9781426217746
Hardcover,  $26, 346 pages

In the introduction to Karen Karbo's In Praise of Difficult Women: Life Lessons from 29 Heroines Who Dared to Break the Rules, the author states that "a difficult woman is a woman who insists on inhabiting the full range of her humanity." This book profiles 29 women in modern history who do just that.

Each chapter profiles one woman, beginning with a single word to describe them ("Fiesty" for Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, "Indefatigable" for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, "Determined" for Jane Goodall) and a vibrant illustration by Kimberly Glyder.

 Karbo writes a short sketch of each remarkable woman, and her opinion of what it is that makes each of them "difficult". I am familiar with all of the names in the book, but I got an deeper understanding of women whom I didn't know much about, like "imperious" French fashion designer Coco Chanel, who gets a longer chapter (perhaps because Karbo's previous book was The Gospel According to Coco Chanel).

People responded to her book about Chanel by saying it seemed that Chanel didn't seem like she was a nice person. Karbo would often say that Chanel was a "complicated, stubborn, ambitious visionary who transformed the way we dress, view ourselves in clothes and walk through the world. You need her to be nice on top of everything else?" People don't usually comment on ambitious men's "niceness".

"Fanatical" Eva Peron gets a longer chapter too, and for those who only know her from the Broadway musical "Evita" will appreciate maybe the most complicated woman in this book. Peron came from extreme poverty (as did Josephine Baker), and as the mistress, then wife, of Argentinian President Juan Peron,  she spent much of her time giving food, money and more to the poor in her country. She and her husband also refused to listen to any dissent, punishing those who disagreed with them, shutting down newspapers, unions, and impeaching Supreme Court justices.

I also found chapters on Josephine Baker, Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, and Janis Joplin fascinating. Angela Merkel's story- a research scientist who lived under Communism in East Germany to rise up and become a unified Germany's Chancellor and now the leader of the free world- gives smart girls everywhere hope.

Many of us know Kay Thompson from the Eloise children's books, but her contributions to musical comedy world are innumerable. She was a choreographer, lyricist, vocal coach (Frank Sinatra owes her much), and it was her idea to have singers sing and dance at the same time on stage, instead of just standing at a microphone singing. The word diva was made for Thompson.

Perhaps the most moving anecdote that Karbo shares is a personal one. She was in First Lady Hillary Clinton's West Wing office in 2000, and she was speaking with an engaging young aide.  When Karbo asked her what was the best part of working for the First Lady was, the young lady's face "opened into a grin." She makes me feel smart!"  That doesn't make Clinton difficult, but it speaks volumes as to who she is.

In Praise of Difficult Women is a great read for Women's History Month. You can dip into it and read a few chapters while riding the bus, waiting at the doctor's office or in your car at school pickup. You're sure to find more than one who will inspire you to be a difficult woman. And if you want further reading about these remarkable women, Karbo shares her sources at the end, with further reading on her website here.

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

Tour Stops

Tuesday, February 27th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, March 1st: A Bookish Affair
Monday, March 5th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, March 6th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Wednesday, March 7th: Literary Quicksand
Tuesday, March 13th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, March 14th: Doing Dewey
Thursday, March 15th: Bibliotica
Friday, March 16th: bookchickdi
Monday, March 19th: Openly Bookish
Monday, March 19th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Hot Mess by Emily Belden

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food.

Hot Mess by Emily Belden
Published by Graydon House ISBN 9781525811418
Trade paperback, $15.99, 448 pages

As someone who ran two fast food restaurants with my husband, I could not resist the opportunity to be on the TLC Book Tour for Emily Belden's debut novel Hot Mess.

Allie Simon loves her job as a social media manager for a cotton  company. After hours she works at pop-up dinner events with her boyfriend Benji Zane, the bad boy hotshot chef of Chicago. Benji is three months sober after a serious drug problem and has moved into Allie's apartment.

He is a rock star as a chef, but other than creating the occasional pop-up dinners, he hangs out on Allie's couch watching the expensive cable channel package and playing around on the internet. But he does make Allie amazing lunches to take to work everyday.

Allie is charge of the money (which doesn't go much farther than barely covering their bills) and doles it out to Benji $20 at a time; that is all he can handle. The sex is hot and if Allie is honest with herself, she likes the attention she gets as the girlfriend of a guy everybody wants to know.

When Benji is approached by Angela, a woman who was at his last pop-up dinner, with a proposal to open his own restaurant on the hottest culinary avenue in Chicago, he is all-in. While a hedge fund manager is fronting most of the money for the restaurant, he requires that Benji come up with $30,000 of his own cash to invest and guess where Benji goes to for that.

Allie reluctantly cashes out her life savings to invest in Benji's restaurant, Here, and then finds out that Benji has relapsed. They have a terrible fight and he disappears six weeks before Here is to open.

Unable to get her investment money back, Allie and Angela team up, find a new chef in Tabitha, and work their butts off to make Here a success.

My favorite part of Hot Mess was watching Allie, Angela and Tabitha work together to open Here. I found the details of construction, hiring the staff, and placing the food orders fascinating. As they readied for opening night, I got jitters just as they did, hoping that all went well, and holding my breath as the first customers came in to dine.

I also felt heartache for Allie as she discovers that Benji is the not the guy she thought he was. Addicts are cunning and manipulative, and Benji personifies that perfectly.

I did find the idea that Allie was a media sensation by virtue of the fact that she is dating a culinary rock star a little hard to fathom, but I guess in this age of Kardashian, where people are famous for being famous or dating someone famous (like on the Bachelor, Allie and her girlfriends' favorite show) it is plausible.

I am older than the demographic that Hot Mess is aimed at, but I really enjoyed it. There are a lot of food references in here that will make you drool, and I liked that the women in this story became their own heroes through their strong work ethic. I highly recommend Hot Mess for anyone who likes Jennifer Weiner's novels and foodie fiction.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Emily Belden's tour. The rest of her stops are here:
Monday, March 5th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Monday, March 5th: Rockin’ & Reviewing
Monday, March 5th: @bookishconnoisseur
Tuesday, March 6th: @createexploreread
Wednesday, March 7th: Chick Lit Central
Thursday, March 8th: Kahakai Kitchen and @debinhawaii
Monday, March 12th: Simone and her Books and @simoneandherbooks
Tuesday, March 13th: Little Black eBook and @littleblack_ebook
Wednesday, March 14th: Bookchickdi
Wednesday, March 14th: Novel Gossip and @novelgossip
Thursday, March 15th: The Literary Llama and @theliteraryllama
Friday, March 16th: @somekindofalibrary
Monday, March 19th: Girls in Books and @girlsinbooks
Tuesday, March 20th: Moonlight Rendezvous
Wednesday, March 21st: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, March 21st: @thehookandtale
Thursday, March 22nd: Caryn, the Book Whisperer
Friday, March 23rd: Palmer’s Page Turners
Monday, March 26th: West Metro Mommy Reads
Tuesday, March 27th: @remarkablylisa
Wednesday, March 28th: @mwladieswholit
Thursday, March 29th: Thoughts on This ‘n That
Friday, March 30th: Suzy Approved

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian
Published by Doubleday ISBN 9780385542418
Hardcover, $26.95, 368 pages

One of the things I like best about author Chris Bohjalian is that every book he writes is so different from his last. He has written about a Vermont midwife accused of a terrible crime (Midwives), a young woman attacked while riding her bike (The Double Bind), an Italian family trapped in their villa in WWII (The Lights in the Ruins), a young American nurse who is witness to the Armenian genocide in 1915 (The Sandcastle Girls), and a man whose life intersects with a young woman caught up in sex trafficking when he hosts a bachelor party for his brother-in-law (The Guest Room), among many others.

His latest novel, The Flight Attendant, maybe his most topical yet. Cassie Bowden is a flight attendant who spends her time-off  getting blackout drunk and waking up in the bed of an unfamiliar man. She doesn't see this as a problem, she likes to drink and have fun.

Until the morning she wakes up in Dubai, in the bed of Alex Sokolov, a handsome hedge fund manager who grew up in Virginia and now lives in New York City. They struck up a conversation as she worked first class on the plane, and then met for dinner and went back to his hotel room, where they drank a lot of vodka and had sex.

She was nauseous and hungover and when she turned to look at Alex, his throat was slit from one end to the other. After monmentarily panicking, Cassie carefully showered the blood off herself, and wondered if she had killed Alex. She had done dumb things while drunk, but she was never violent.

She wiped her fingerprints off anything she touched and hightailed it back to her hotel, dressed and headed to the airport for her flight back to the United States. If needed, she'd call a lawyer from the US, but after what happened to Amanda Knox in Italy, calling the police in Dubai did not seem wise.

Cassie remembered that a woman, Miranda, a work acquaintance of Alex's, stopped by his hotel room and they all drank vodka while they talked business. Did she have anything to do with Alex's murder?

But Miranda is not her name. Her name is Elena and she is a Russian assassin tasked with killing Alex because he stole money from his investors, Russian oligarchs, which was not a good idea.

The Flight Attendant is a cat-and-mouse game as Cassie tries to figure out who killed Alex while evading the police investigation into his death and Elena is monitoring the investigation and Cassie, hoping she doesn't have to kill Cassie too.

As a big fan of FX television's The Americans, which is sadly winding up this spring (noooo!), I found The Flight Attendant a great companion to that. And with Russian meddling in our elections all over the news, it is the right time for this fast-paced novel with a surprise ending that will have you shaking your head in disbelief as Bohjalian pulls one over on the reader. I had to go back twice to say "What just happened????"

It is a crazy, suspenseful ride, and one well worth taking. Chris Bohjalian does it again.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

I'll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos

I'll Be Your Blue Skyby Marisa de los Santos
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062431936
Hardcover, $26.99, 320 pages

What first attracts you to Marisa de los Santos's novel I'll Be Your Blue Sky is the gorgeous cover- a red butterfly against a blue sky backdrop, with a green plant on the bottom left corner; it's striking.

The story opens in June of 1950 on Edith and Joseph's wedding day, as they enter their beautiful home. De los Santos reveals the home in loving detail, and you can close your eyes and picture each room as Edith describes it, and even smell "the sawdust and lemon oil and reckless salt wind."

The home is in a beach town in Delaware, a busy place in the summer, but dreary and desolate in the winter. They have a happy life together, canoeing, photographing wildlife, and enjoying each other's company.

Flash forward to the current day, Clare Hobbes' wedding day. Clare is marrying Zach, a man who appears to be her perfect match. But something is not quite right, and after Clare encounters an elderly Edith on a bench at the wedding venue, she realizes she cannot marry Zach, which at first confuses, then enrages, him.

A few weeks later, Clare gets a letter from a lawyer- Edith has passed away and left her large home to Clare. Why did this happen? Clare only spoke to Edith briefly. Since she at odds, and getting away from her life might be good for her, Clare goes to the house, called Blue Sky House.

Clare learns that Edith used to run a bed and breakfast at Blue Sky, but abruptly left in 1956 after a murder occured in the town. Did Edith have anything to do with the murder? When Clare finds two sets of ledgers hidden in a cupboard, she enlists her childhood best friend Dev to help her investigate.

At first glance, I'll Be Your Blue Sky seems like a typical chick-lit book, two women in different times telling their stories, but it is so much more. De los Santos surprised me with Edith's story, and I found it engrossing and couldn't turn the pages fast enough.

I loved Edith's strength and courage, and her relationship with the town's sheriff was touching. I admit to be a little lost with Clare's family story, there seemed to be so many people to keep track of that I was confused. When I discovered that they were all introduced in de los Santos' previous two books, You Belong to Me and Love Walked In, I immediately went to my Goodreads page to put them on my Want to Read list.

I hope that de los Santos gives us another book with more of Edith's backstory, she is truly one of the more fascinating characters that I have encountered in awhile. If you like novels like Christina Baker Kline's The Orphan Train, give I'll Be Your Blue Sky a try. I recommend it.

Here is my review of another Marisa de los Santos book, The Precious One.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Marisa de los Santos' tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Tour Stops

Tuesday, March 6th: Openly Bookish
Wednesday, March 7th: Time 2 Read
Thursday, March 8th: bookchickdi
Friday, March 9th: The Sketchy Reader
Monday, March 12th: BookNAround
Tuesday, March 13th: Mother’s Circle
Wednesday, March 14th: Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, March 15th: G. Jacks Writes
Monday, March 19th: Literary Quicksand
Tuesday, March 20th: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, March 21st: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, March 22nd: A Bookish Way of Life
Friday, March 23rd: Into the Hall of Books

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062666710
Trade paperback, $15.99, 384 pages

Jennifer Egan's 2017 novel, Manhattan Beach, was set during WWII, and a big part of the story took place at a war factory, filled with women contributing to the war effort. The novel garnered great acclaim, deservedly so.

Janet Beard's The Atomic City Girls will appeal to fans of Manhattan Beach as it tells the fictional account of men and women who worked at a real munitions factory in Oak Ridge, Tennesee.  An entire city was created out of farmlands, and hundreds of people were brought there to work on a top-secret project- creating an atomic bomb.

Very few workers knew what they were working on; only scientists like Dr. Sam Cantor, a physicist from California, knew the true extent of what was going on. Sam found himself attracted to a young farm girl, June, whose grandfather had his land taken by the government for this project. June and Sam dated, even though Sam was a good ten years older than June, and much more sophisticated in the way of the world. He was also an alcoholic, and had a temper.

June's roommate Cici was a farm girl too, but she passed herself off as a society girl, from a good family, there just trying to help the war effort. What she really wanted was a rich husband from a prominent family, and she would do anything or hurt anyone to accomplish that goal.

The most compelling character for me was Joe Brewer. Joe was a black sharecropper who left his loving wife and three children behind in Alabama to go to Tennesee to make enough money for his family. Through Joe, his young protegee Ralph, and the young activist Ralph falls in love with, we see a different side to this great society.

The white workers have decent housing, and good food. June is impressed with the food, it's better than she had at home. The black workers lived in cold, damp huts, and they ate rice and beans for most meals.

Buses would pick up the workers and bring them to the work compounds, but the black riders were frequently tossed off the buses to make room for white workers. White married families were able to live together in houses, black families were separated, men in one hut, women in the other. The black workers on construction crews built the homes, but they were not allowed to live in them.

The Atomic City Girls (the title may be a misnomer, we get the male point of view here as well) is strongest when it shows the reader how the war effort worked in Oak Ridge. Workers were constantly reminded not to talk about their work with anyone, and not to write to their families about it. Letters home were read by government officials, and people were encouraged to turn in anyone who violated these policies.

I liked learning about this project, and the photos from the Department of Energy that are  interspersed throughout the book are fascinating. I was less interested in the love lives of the characters.

People who enjoyed Hidden Figures will also find The Atomic City Girls interesting. I recommend it.

Janet Beard's website is here.

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

Tour Stops

Tuesday, February 6th: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, February 7th: Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, February 8th: Literary Quicksand
Friday, February 9th: West Metro Mommy
Monday, February 12th: Reading Reality
Tuesday, February 13th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, February 14th: Peppermint PhD
Thursday, February 15th: Time 2 Read
Tuesday, February 20th: Openly Bookish
Wednesday, February 21st: A Literary Vacation
Thursday, February 22nd: Bibliotica
Monday, February 26th: Literary Lindsey
Tuesday, February 27th: Instagram: @_literary_dreamer_
Wednesday, February 28th: Instagram: @theliterarybirds
Thursday, March 1st: bookchickdi

Friday, February 23, 2018

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

Sunburn by Laura Lippman
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062389923
Hardcover, $26.99, 292 pages

Suspense writer Laura Lippman is best known for her crime novels set in the city of Baltimore. The city is as much of a character in her novels as the people she writes about. Her newest novel, Sunburn, leaves Baltimore for  the small beach town of Belleville, Delaware, a tourist town that booms during the summer months, and reverts to its small town ways the rest of the year. A town Polly describes as "put together from other town's leftovers."

While passing through town Polly stops into the High-Ho tavern and decides to get a job there as a waitress. Polly has just abandoned her husband and three-year-old daughter while on a beach vacation. What kind of woman does that?

Adam wanders into the High-Ho and gets a job as a cook in the kitchen. He has a reason for being there too- he is watching Polly for a client. Who is the client? Is it Polly's abandoned husband?

Slowly we get more information about Polly. She has a past, and many secrets to hide. She is adept at manipulating people to do what she wants, without them even knowing that they are doing it, and being grateful to help her.

Trouble begins for Adam when he falls in love with Polly. He struggles with his secrets, with his sense of responsibility to his client. Even with what he knows about Polly, he stiil loves her.

Polly has fallen in love with Adam too. Their casual affair becomes serious and then deadly when a death occurs in the town. Was it an accident or murder?

Lippman is at the top of her game with Sunburn. Her inspiration for Sunburn is the work of fellow Baltimore native James M. Cain, whose classic novels include Mildred Pierce, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Double Indemity. Lippman includes elements from all three novels in her story- an insurance man, illicit lovers, manipulative women, even the restaurant angle- and are all brilliantly woven together in this spellbinding novel.

Sunburn is the perfect book to take on vacation; I read it on a three-hour flight from Florida to New York, and never looked up once until we landed and I had finished the book. The ending is a stunner!

Polly is a fascinating character, as she "fixes her gaze on the goal and never loses sight of it". The big question is what exactly is Polly's goal? Crime noir is frequently the purview of male protagonists, so it is intriguing to have a femme fatale running the show.

Sunburn is easily one of the best novels I have read in recent memory, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes mysteries and good fiction.

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

Instagram Stops

Tuesday, February 20th: Instagram: @jackiereadsbooks
Wednesday, February 21st: Instagram: @Jessicamap
Thursday, February 22nd: Instagram: @hippiechickreads
Friday, February 23rd: Instagram: @hollyslittlebookreviews
Monday, February 26th: Instagram: @writersdream
Wednesday, February 28th: Instagram: @ACaffeinatedBibliophile
Thursday, March 1st: Instagram: @acouplereads

Review Stops

Tuesday, February 20th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Wednesday, February 21st: The Book Diva’s Reads
Thursday, February 22nd: Into the Hall of Books
Friday, February 23rd: bookchickdi
Monday, February 26th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Tuesday, February 27th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, February 28th: Novel Gossip
Tuesday, March 6th: A Book a Week
Wednesday, March 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, March 12th: Staircase Wit
Tuesday, March 13th: Clues & Reviews
Wednesday, March 14th: Julie’s Bookshelf
Thursday, March 15th: Thoughts On This ‘n That

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Best Friends Forever by Margot Hunt

Best Friends Forever by Margot Hunt
Published by Mira ISBN 9780778331131
Hardcover, $26.99, 384 pages

Sometimes you pair the perfect book with the perfect place to read that book. Last month I was lucky enough to have a few hours to sit on a warm Florida beach and soak up the sun, so I brought along a new book to read- Margot Hunt's Best Friends Forever. Three hours later, I finally looked up and took a breath, having finished the book. (Thank goodness I used plenty of sunscreen.)

Alice Campbell is making breakfast, getting her son and daughter ready for school, when two policemen ring her doorbell. They have questions for Alice about the death of her friend Kat's husband, Howard.

Howard had fallen to his death from the balcony of his and Kat's mansion. Everyone assumed it was a drunken accident, until the police came knocking. They asked Alice to come down to the station to talk about Kat and Howard.

Kat came from a wealthy family, and owned an art gallery on Worth Avenue, a fancy shopping district in West Palm Beach, Florida. Alice met Kat at JFK airport where she was waiting out a delayed flight to their new home in Jupiter. Kat bought Alice a martini and they bonded.

They became fast friends, even though their economic circumstances weren't exactly compatible. Alice and her husband Todd disliked Howard upon first meeting him. He was obnoxious, and  condescending and rude to his wife in front them. 

The story jumps back and forth in time, from the present, with Kat refusing to answer any of Alice's texts or phone calls, to three years before when the ladies meet and begin spending all their free time together, even taking girls' weekend vacations together on Kat's dime.

Todd and Alice run into financial troubles and Kat helps them out. Then Kat confides in Alice that Howard is physically abusive to her, in addition to the emotional abuse that Alice has witnessed.

As the police investigation proceeds, it is clear that Alice doesn't know everything about her best friend Kat. The suspense builds quickly as the police decide that Alice knows more than she has told them, and she has to use her wits to figure what happened before it's too late for her.

Best Friends Forever is a terrific suspense novel, one that fans of Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies will really enjoy. Like Moriarty, Hunt punctuates the day-to-day domestic life with a puzzle of a mystery to be solved. Also like Moriarty, Hunt sprinkles in a few clues that clever readers may be able to pick up on that help solve the mystery, and even though I thought I knew where it was going, the ending still caused me to gasp out loud. Suspense lovers should put Best Friends Forever on their TBR list, maybe for a long airplane trip. It will make the time fly by. (Just be careful who you talk to at the airport.)

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


Monday, January 22nd: Girls in Books blog and Instagram
Monday, January 22nd: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, January 23rd: The Literary Llama on Instagram
Wednesday, January 24th: Katy’s Library blog and Instagram
Thursday, January 25th: Clues and Reviews
Friday, January 26th: From the TBR Pile
Monday, January 29th: The Book Diva’s Reads
Tuesday, January 30th: LiteraryJo Reviews blog and Instagram
Wednesday, January 31st: Bibliotica
Thursday, February 1st: Books and Bindings
Friday, February 2nd: Chick Lit Central
Monday, February 5th: Caryn, The Book Whisperer
Tuesday, February 6th: Palmer’s Page Turners
Wednesday, February 7th: Girl Who Reads
Thursday, February 8th: A Holland Reads
Monday, February 12th: Novel Gossip blog and Instagram
Monday, February 12th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, February 14th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, February 15th: Bookchickdi
Friday, February 16th: Thoughts on This ‘n That