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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Summer Reads

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

Memorial Day has passed us by and now it is time to prepare for our Summer Reading Season. Whether you’re headed to the lake, the beach, or just your own front porch, you’re going to need some good books to enjoy. 

Abby Jimenez’s romance Just For the Summer is the perfect way to kick off summer reading. Emma is tired of dating guys, breaking up with them and then finding that they find their true love after the breakup. 

When she discovers through social media that a young man named Justin has the same bad luck, they decide to date each other. Their theory is that when they break up, they will each then go on to meet their soulmate. So they decide to date ‘just for the summer’ to test their theory. What could go wrong? This is a fantastic read and so well-written.

Catherine Newman’s novel Sandwich is set on Cape Cod during an annual summer vacation. Rocky looks forward each year to having her husband and adult children all together, along with a visit from her parents.

This year Rocky is dealing with menopause, along with family secrets that come to light. Sandwich is funny and charming, and anyone who has vacationed with family will relate to Rocky’s situation. The characters are wonderful.

Holly Gramazio’s novel The Husbands has a unique concept. When Lauren arrives home one night after too much partying she is greeted by her husband, but she isn’t married. Her husband goes up to the attic and when he comes back down, he is a different man- literally.

Lauren discovers that every time her husband goes up into the attic, a different husband comes down. She cycles through several men, and when she decides she doesn’t like something about them, she sends them up to the attic to get a new husband. It’s hilarious and thought-provoking at the same time.

Speaking of husbands, author Beatriz Williams’ Husbands & Lovers has two main characters in three time lines. In 2018, single mom Mallory Dunne’s 10 year-old son Sam gets acute mushroom poisoning at summer camp and has to go on dialysis.

Three years later, her sister convinces Mallory to finally tell her summer fling from 2008 that he is Sam’s father. The only problem is that she is going to tell him on the weekend he is to be married to another woman.

In 1952, Hungarian war refugee Hannah is in Egypt with her British diplomat husband. She begins an affair with a hotel manager who has something to hide. We slowly get Hannah’s backstory, and how Beatriz Williams connects the stories of these two women is just brilliant. 

Historical mystery fans will want to read the final chapters of two of the best series in recent years. Jacqueline Winspear closes out her captivating WWII Maisie Dobbs series with The Comfort of Ghosts. 

We meet up with all of the characters in private investigator/psychologist Maisie’s life that we have come to love as she attempts to help some young orphaned squatters and a seriously injured serviceman. Maisie discovers that they have some connection to her deceased husband. This is one of the most satisfying endings to a series that I have ever read.

Susan Elia MacNeal says goodbye to her protagonist Maggie Hope in The Last Hope. We have seen Maggie go from a secretary to Prime Minister Winston Churchill to a spy for the top secret WWII SOE agency where she risked her life many times over. Maggie is one of the most intriguing characters in historical mysteries and MacNeal gives her a proper sendoff.

If Nonfiction is more to your taste, Erik Larson is back with The Demon of Unrest about the battle at Fort Sumpter that began the Civil War. History buffs have already made it a best seller.

For more current history, George Stephanopoulos and Lisa Dickey team up for The Situation Room which puts the reader right into the famed Situation Room in the White House where they recount the tales of twelve presidents who have dealt with crisis and disasters at critical junctures in our history.

If you love looking at birds in your backyard, author Amy Tan’s The Backyard Bird Chronicles is for you. Tan’s beautifully illustrates the bird she saw in her backyard and has a story about each of them in this lovely book that would make a great gift. 

Happy Summer Reading!

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Three Great Spring Reads

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

Spring is traditionally a busy time of year with many publishers releasing some of their most promising books of the year and this year is no exception. This month’s Book Report has a few of them in different genres.

Colm Tobin’s latest novel, Long Island picks up the story he began in his novel Brooklyn twenty years ago. We met young Irish immigrant Eilis Lacey who moved to Brooklyn, fell in  love, and married Tony Fiorello in Brooklyn

Twenty years later, Eilis, Tony and their two teenage children live amongst Tony’s large family in a Lindenhurst, Long Island cul-de-sac. Eilis still feels like an outsider in the large Italian-American family years later.

When a man comes to the door and says that his wife is pregnant with Tony’s child, and that when the baby is born he will be dropping the baby on Eilis’ doorstep, she tells Tony that she will not raise another woman’s baby.

As Tony and his mother make arrangements for her to take care of the baby, Eilis returns home to Ireland for a planned visit to see her own mother whom she hasn’t seen in twenty years.

Eilis’ last visit home was fraught with complications. She never told anyone she was married to Tony, and wasn’t sure then whether she would stay in Ireland or return to Brooklyn and Tony.

She began a relationship with Jim, whose family owned a pub in her hometown. After leaving Jim heartbroken, she never spoke to him again. Jim is now in a relationship with Nancy, a widow who was Eilis’ best friend. 

Eilis’ return again causes complications for Jim. He loves Nancy and wants to build a life with her, but seeing Eilis again brings up old feelings he thought were buried.

I found the character of Jim the most intriguing in Long Island. He is a good man who is torn between doing right by Nancy, a woman he truly loves, and wanting to be with Eilis, even if it means leaving all he knows behind.

Colm Toibin writes complicated, realistic characters, and I felt completely immersed in the small Irish town where most of the story takes place. We waited twenty years for the continuation of Eilis’ story and it was certainly worth the wait. I highly recommend Long Island.

I have two books that resonate with mothers and daughters. Andromeda Romano-Lax’s novel The Deepest Lake tells the story of Rose, a mother whose twenty-something daughter Jules drowned in a lake in Central America. 

Jules was working at a writers’ workshop run by Eve Marshall, a popular memoir writer whom Jules greatly admired. Rose is troubled by the fact that Jules was afraid of water, and wonders why Jules was last seen in a small boat out in bad weather. 

Rose decides to go incognito to the writers’ workshop to find out what happened to her daughter. While there, Rose meets the other women at the workshop, and begins to probe them and others about what exactly goes on at this retreat, without blowing her cover.

Rose can see why so many women are seduced by Eve’s glamour and personality, but she comes to feel that Eve’s methods to get these women to open up and write their own stories are disturbing. She feels that Eve is hiding something that may have to do with Jules’ mysterious death.

There is a twist at the end that I did not see coming that upends the story and creates tension in the novel. At the heart of the story is the strength that a mother finds in herself to discover what happened to her daughter. If you like well-written literary thrillers with intriguing characters, put The Deepest Lake on your list.

After the death of Mary Lou Quinlan’s mother, she discovered that her mother had stashed small boxes all over her home filled with little slips of paper containing petitions to God. 

The God Box shares many of the prayers her mother Mary wrote asking God to help her children, friends, and even people she barely knew. From serious health matters to job advancement to help with relationships, Mary’s faith, compassion, and empathy for others shines in this slim read, and it’s a beautiful tribute to her life.

The God Box is a lovely inspirational gift for any mom or daughter, it will encourage you to reflect on your own mother’s life.

Long Island by Colm Toibin-A

Published by Scribner

Hardcover, $28, 320 pages

The Deepest Lake by Andromeda Romano-Lax- A-

Published by Soho Crime

Hardcover, $26.95, 384 pages

The God Box by Mary Lou Quinlan- A-

Published by Greenleaf Book Group Press

Hardcover, $16.95, 122 pages

Monday, May 13, 2024

The Summer Swap by Sarah Morgan

The Summer Swap by Sarah Morgan
Published by Canaray Street Press ISBN 9781335474940
Trade paperback, $18.99, 336 pages

From the Publisher:

A recent widow’s plan to spend the summer in Cape Cod hiding from her interfering family is upended when she discovers her beach house has an unexpected guest, and the secret she's been keeping about her marriage threatens to be exposed. Perfect beach reading for fans of Taylor Jenkins Reid and Emily Henry.

70 year old widow Cecilia Lapthorne can’t bear the prospect of a family party to celebrate her birthday and the memory of her husband, famous artist Cameron Lapthorne. They had a toxic marriage but stayed together for the children, and bound by a big secret. She runs away to the Cape Cod seashore cottage she owned with Cameron--it’s where they first fell in love--but she hasn’t returned since she discovered him cheating on her there (for the first time). No one in her family knows about it, so she will be perfectly, delightfully alone for the summer.

Except struggling artist Lily has been secretly crashing on the sofa of the seashore cottage for the last couple of weeks. Unable to make rent after dropping out of medical school to pursue her dreams of becoming an artist and working as a housekeeper in Cecilia's Cape Cod enclave, she’s been illicitly camping at the cottage. Which isn’t a problem as it’s been unoccupied for years…until Cecilia unexpectedly shows up.

After the drama of discovering she has an unexpected house-guest has faded, Cecilia decides she’ll get along just fine with Lily for the summer. They form a tentative and powerful bond, based on shared love of art, but also the vulnerabilities they both share with each other. And when Todd, Cecilia’s beloved grandson (and the man who broke Lily’s heart in college) tracks her to the cottage, the three of them settle in for a summer of self-discovery, self-belief and second chances.

My Thoughts:

As someone who has visited Cape Cod on more than a few occasions, I was drawn to Sarah Morgan's The Summer Swap initially because of its setting. Morgan paints a vivid picture of the cottage that Cecelia, Lily, and eventually Todd end up spending the entire summer. I could see the cottage in my mind's eye and would love to have spent time there myself, and if you are someone who loves interior decorating, you'll enjoy this part of the story even more.

The characters are also vividly portrayed and you can see why Cecelia and Lily were drawn to each other. They are both trying to discover what the rest of their lives should be, what would make them happy and fulfilled. It was also enjoyable watching the relationships between Todd and Lily and Cecelia and her old friend blossom.

There is a bit of a mystery here, but one that careful readers will probably guess at early on; that doesn't make it any less interesting however. 

The Summer Swap is a perfect novel with which to start the summer beach reading season. Pop it in your beach bag next to the sunscreen.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on Sarah Morgan's blog tour.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Two Books By My Favorite Authors

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

There are some authors whose work I will always read. Their books are filled with characters that feel like people I want to know, the stories are interesting, and writing entrances me. Lisa Grunwald and Caroline Leavitt are two of those authors, and they both have wonderful books publishing in April.

Lisa Grunwald’s last novel Time After Time (about a young woman who, after she dies in train crash in a tunnel in Grand Central Station before WWII, returns to life but can only exist within the walls of Grand Central Central Station, falls in love with a train conductor) is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a beautiful love story.

Her new novel, The Evolution of Annabel Craig also has a historical setting. In 1925 Dayton, Tennessee, Annabel is married to George, a lawyer. Annabel overhears a group of the town’s businessmen discussing a newspaper article that states that the American Civil Liberties Union was offering to back any teacher in Tennessee who was willing to test a new law signed by the Tennessee governor. 

The Butler Act forbid the teaching of evolution in public schools in order to protect the children from hearing something that is in direct contrast to religious teachings. The Dayton businessmen believed that this test case could be a boon to business in town. 

Luckily for them, John Scopes, a young substitute science teacher and high school football coach, had taught a class about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is found in their science textbook. John agrees and history is about to be made.

Annabel’s husband George ends up on the defense team, and their lives immediately change. Their neighbors and friends become angry with them. Over 200 reporters descend on the town, including a female reporter named Lottie Nelson. 

Lottie befriends Annabel and opens Annabel’s eyes to a life beyond being a housewife. Annabel likes to take photos and Lottie encourages her in this pursuit, telling Annabel that “what a person wants can change”. 

The Evolution of Annabel Craig may be a historical novel, but it has so many parallels to things happening right now. The media circus, the debate over separation of church and state in schools, the country coming out of a recent horrific pandemic (the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic), it all resonates with today's issues.

If you’re familiar the play Inherit the Wind, you know about this story. Lisa Grunwald tells it through the lens of Annabel’s growth as a woman, discovering who she is and what is important to her. It’s a book that leaves the reader with so much to think about, I read it months ago and I still think about it. I give it my highest recommendation.

Caroline Leavitt’s new novel, Days of Wonder is more contemporary, but also tells the story of  a woman’s growth. When Ella was sixteen years old, she fell madly in love with Jude. They were inseparable and their love became nearly obsessive.

When it appears that Ella and Jude poisoned his father, a judge, after he disapproved of their relationship, Ella is sent to prison while Jude’s father moves him far away.

Ella was pregnant with Jude’s baby and Ella’s mother Helen made the decision that the baby would be given up for adoption. Six years later, Ella gets out of prison and returns home to Helen, who just wants her daughter to be safe and happy. Ella cannot forget about the daughter she gave up however and is determined to find her.

Moving to Ann Arbor, Ella doesn’t tell her mother she is going to find her daughter who has been adopted by a couple. Ella becomes involved in the lives of her daughter and the woman who has adopted the baby without them knowing who she really is.

Meanwhile, Helen, who has never had a relationship with a man since she had Ella, finds herself involved with a man who treats her with kindness and respect. Her life has opened up in ways she never believed possible.

Leavitt does a remarkable job with the characters of Helen and Ella. We watch them change and grow as they have to deal with an impossible situation and we root for them. Helen and Ella have found a place in my heart and no one writes the mother-daughter relationship in novels better than Caroline Leavitt. I also give Days of Wonder my highest recommendation, and it may be Caroline Leavitt’s best book yet.

The Evolution of Annabel Craig by Lisa Grunwald- A

Published by Random House

Hardcover, $30, 320 pages

Days of Wonder by Caroline Leavitt- A

Published by Algonquin Books

Hardcover, $29, 320 pages

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Two Books With Small Town Settings

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

This month’s Book Report features two books about families in small town settings.

I was always a fan of Anna Quindlen’s monthly column in Newsweek magazine years ago. When she turned to fiction, I enjoyed her many books as well. Her latest book, After Annie is her best book yet. 

After Annie begins when 37 year-old mom and nurse aide Annie Brown dies suddenly at home in front of her husband and four young children. Her husband Bill is completely bereft and has no idea how to carry on caring for his young children and running his plumbing business.

It falls to 13 year-old Ali to keep the house running, get her younger brothers off to school in the morning, and make sure there is food in the house. She puts one foot in front of the other and does the job all while trying to process her own grief and deal with being a teenager.

Annie’s best friend Annmarie is also grieving. Annie and Annmarie were best friends since elementary school, and they were a part of each other’s daily lives even though they led different lives.

Annie and Bill struggled to pay bills, and Annmarie owns a successful business and has married a man who has money. Annie and Bill have a big family, Annmarie has suffered miscarriages.

As we follow the story through the Bill, Ali, and Annmarie, we see Annie through their eyes. We discover that Annmarie had a serious addiction problem and Annie did her best to help her friend through her troubles. We see what a compassionate caregiver Annie was at her job at a nursing home, and what a giving mother she was to her children and a supportive and loving wife to Bill.

The sections of the novel that deal with Annie’s death and funeral ring so true to anyone who has experienced a sudden loss. Ali waiting up for her dad to come back from the hospital, shopping with her aunt for a dress to wear to the funeral, and the actual funeral itself- it’s all so vivid and visceral.

Quindlen has written about grief before, Every Last One being a powerful book, and After Annie is just as powerful but in a quieter way than that book. Annie- the wife, mother, friend, caregiver- may be gone by the first sentence of the novel, but she looms so large in these pages that we miss her even though we didn’t know her. I highly recommend After Annie.

Like After Annie, Amy Jo Burns novel Mercury has a small-town setting. The book begins in 1990 when 17 year-old Marley and the single mom who raised her move into the small town of Mercury, Pennsylvania. 

The Joseph family own a roofing business in town, and the first thing Marley sees as they pull into town is the three Joseph men on a roof. She is instantly intrigued. As the new girl in town, football hero Baylor Joseph flashes his smile at Marley and she is smitten.

Baylor invites her to dinner where she meets his younger-by-one-year brother Waylon. While Baylor can be cool to Marley, Waylon is kind. If only she met Waylon first. 

Marley spends every night at the Joseph’s family dinner table at the invitation of mom Elise ,and soon becomes a real member of the family when she marries one of the brothers. 

Mick, the patriarch of the family, is a dreamer and seems to have a lot balls in the air, a short attention span, and no financial sense. He leaves much of the roofing business work to Baylor and Waylon. Waylon works hard to expand the business, and soon Marley gets involved in the business as well which annoys Mick.

Over the years, we see the Joseph family dynamic change. Elise, who ran a tight ship, seems to pull away for reasons that soon become clear, and Marley takes over the matriarch role. Marley becomes a mother figure to the youngest Joseph brother Shay who is often left to his own devices.

We get a mystery when a dead body is discovered in the tower of the church. The Joseph family had repaired the roof years ago, could one of them be involved?

Mercury is character-driven story. Watching Marley grow into a strong, confident woman is such a reward. Each character is interesting and well-drawn, from Waylon to Shay to Shay’s best friend the town cop. The small town feels like a real place, and it plays an important part in the story. I highly recommend Mercury as well.

After Annie by Anna Quindlen- A+

Published by Random House

Hardcover, $30, 285 pages

Mercury by Amy Jo Burns- A

Published by Celadon

Hardcover, $29,  336 pages

Friday, March 22, 2024

The Day Tripper by James Goodhand

The Day Tripper by James Goodhand
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778367646
Hardcover, $28.99, 368 pages

From the publisher:

What if you lived your days out of order?

It’s 1995, and twenty-year-old Alex Dean has it all: a spot at Cambridge University next year, the love of an amazing woman named Holly and all the time in the world ahead of him. That is until a brutal encounter with a ghost from his past sees him beaten, battered and almost drowning in the Thames.

He wakes the next day to find he’s in a messy, derelict room he’s never seen before, in grimy clothes he doesn’t recognize, with no idea of how he got there. A glimpse in the mirror tells him he’s older—much older—and has been living a hard life, his features ravaged by time and poor decisions. He snatches a newspaper and finds it’s 2010—fifteen years since the fight.

After finally drifting off to sleep, Alex wakes the following morning to find it’s now 2019, another nine years later. But the next day, it’s 1999. Never knowing which day is coming, he begins to piece together what happens in his life after that fateful night by the river.

Why does his life look nothing like he thought it would? What about Cambridge, and Holly? In this page-turning adventure, Alex must navigate his way through the years to learn that small actions have untold impact, even in a life lived out of order. And that might be all he needs to save the people he loves and, equally importantly, himself.

My thoughts:

James Goodhand's time travel novel leaves the reader with much to ponder. The only person he knows who comprehends what he is going though is Dr. Defrates, a professor at a local school. While Alex goes back and forth in time, he finds that making different decisions while in the past can change his future.

Dr. Defrates tells him that if he can "make more good changes, you might reap more benefit. Commit to making real difference, those changes may begin to add up. Good decisions lead to good decisions, just as bad decisions beget more bad decisions."

Alex sees this live out as he wakes up in different time periods of his life. Goodhand does a terrific job placing the reader in Alex's shoes. Can you imagine waking up on your wedding day and not recognizing anyone at your wedding and not knowing who your bride is? 

The reader finds oneself rooting for Alex to make good decisions, and feeling empathy for him when he does not. He wants desperately to find out what went wrong with him and his true love Holly, why they are not together in some versions of his life. Can he correct his past wrongs and get back to her?

Ultimately, The Day Tripper is a rewarding and uplifting story and if this doesn''t encourage the reader to reflect on the decisions made in their own life, I'm not sure what would. I recommend The Day Tripper.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Winter 2024 Blog Tours.