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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

A Shoe Story by Jane L. Rosen & Flying Solo by LInda Holmes

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

July is the time to kick our summer reading into high gear, and this month’s Book Report features two titles that are made for that. A Shoe Story and Flying Solo are two novels that each feature a woman looking at a very different future than she imagined. They are at a crossroads in their lives and with the help of their friends, and the possibility of romance that may or may not include reconnecting with former loves, they forge ahead.

First up is  A Shoe Story by Jane L. Rosen. Esme is excited to be graduating from college and heading off to her new life interning at an art gallery in New York City and living with Liam, her college boyfriend who also has a job in New York. 

When tragedy strikes, Esme returns her upstate New York hometown of Honeoye Falls to care for her father and all her future dreams fade away. She breaks up with Liam, not wanting to hold him back.

Seven years later, Esme has the opportunity to dog sit for a woman in New York City.  While it’s only for a month, Esme looks forward to being able to explore the city she once hoped to call home, and maybe even run into Liam.

Esme meets a handsome bartender who rescues her from a creep, and makes friends with Sy, an elderly man she meets at the dog park. She also discovers that the woman who owns the apartment has an extensive collection of beautiful shoes, and finds a note from the woman telling her to help herself (or so she thinks).

Each clever chapter title is the name of a pair of shoes from the closet, and gives the reader some idea of what it to come. (I’m not a shoe person, but if you are, you will drool over some of these descriptions and titles.)

I loved following Esme’s adventures in New York City, and made a list of all the fun places I want to visit. (Mercer Kitchen will be my first stop.) Rosen drops the reader right into Greenwich Village, with a side trip to the Hamptons. You'll feel like you are there.

A Shoe Story is a perfect summer read, with characters you want to befriend, a fantastic setting, and fancy shoes. What could be better? I highly recommend it.

Linda Holmes’ first novel, Evvie Drake Starts Over was one of my favorite books from summer of 2020, and I was pleased to hear that her second, Flying Solo publishes in June of 2022. 

Wildlife journalist Laurie Sassalyn is about to turn forty, has just broken off her engagement shortly before her wedding, and now returns to her small hometown in Maine to clean out the home of her beloved great-aunt Dot after Dot’s passing. Dot provided refuge to Laurie as a child when living with her four brothers was too noisy and overwhelming for the young girl who liked to read books in silence.

Dot was unmarried and lived a full life, traveling the world, collecting books, too many souvenirs from her travels, and boxes and boxes of Polaroid photos of friends and family. Laurie hires Matt from a service called Save the Best to provide a “bereavement decluttering”, which means he will determine what may be valuable to sell and then get rid of the rest.

Laurie finds a wooden duck decoy hidden underneath blankets in Dot’s cedar chest. She feels strangely attached to the duck, and Matt tells her he will see if could possibly be worth something, though he doubts it.

There is a mystery to be solved when the duck is stolen and Laurie, her best friend June, and former high school boyfriend-now-hot-librarian Nick team up to find out what happened and if the duck could be the product of a famous artist. 

I enjoyed the caper, sort of a grown-up Scooby-Doo mystery. Like A Shoe Story, Flying Solo has characters you want to know, and Laurie’s journey to discover if she wants to live a solo life like Dot is a unique storyline.  I liked the small town setting and getting to know the residents. I smiled at the Evvie Drake shout-out as the setting of both books are the town of Calcasset, Maine. I highly recommend Flying Solo as well. 

A Shoe Story by Jane L. Rosen- A

Published by Berkley 

Trade paperback, $17, 336 pages

Flying Solo by Linda Holmes- A

Published by Ballantine Books

Hardcover, $28, 320 pages

Friday, June 24, 2022

Friday 5ive- June 24, 2022

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly-ish post featuring five things that caught my eye this week.

1)  We visited our home near Sarasota this week with friends and after a wonderful dinner at Casa Antica Ristorante where we had some truly delicious wines, we popped up to the rooftop bar at the ArtOvation Hotel.   They had a watermelon cocktail that was quite refreshing, a fantastic view of Sarasota, and no one fell into the pool.
The view from the rooftop bar 

2) My dear friend Kelly brought me a special gift- a vintage Tommy Hilfiger dress with a bookcase pattern and a matching belt. Could there be anything more appropriate for me? It's darling.

3) File this under "You Never Know What You'll Find On An NYC Street". I was walking to the bodega across the street from our apartment to pick up a forgotten dinner ingredient and I found this set of 15lb dumbells. If I could have carried them back to our apartment, I would have, but would I have been able to use them on Peloton strength workouts? Probably not.

4) When I returned from our trip to Florida, I had two book boxes waiting for me. The first was titled "Stories & Suspects- A Bantam Mystery Box" from Bantam publishers. It had five mystery/thriller books, a cookie from Carnegie Deli and a silk sleep mask from Brooklinen inside. This was a great surprise, I had no idea it was coming from Random House. I think I'll read Nonna Maria and the Case of the Missing Bride  by Lorenzo Carcarterra first. I'm in an Italy state of mind now.

The other box was from Book Club Girl to celebrate their podcast's second anniversary. I really enjoy listening to the podcast, hosted by Tavia Kowalchuk and Bianca Flores, where they interview authors and we get to hear an audio clip from the book. This season they had Lucy Foley discussing her bestselling The Paris Apartment, Vanessa Riley discussing Island Queen, and one of my favorites Jenny Colgan talking about The Bookshop on the Corner. This box had some terrific summmer swag including four fabulous books, a lightweight tote, a travel tumbler, and an outdoor blanket perfect for taking to the beach or park to lay out and read on. I'm going to read Piper Huguley's By Her Own Design first. It's a novel about a Black designer, the granddaughter of slaves, who designed Jackie Kennedy's wedding dress. I've had my eye on this one for awhile now. 

  5) I read one great book this week. Seamas O'Reilly's Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?, a memoir recounting his early childhood in Derry, Northern Island. Seamas was just seven years old when his mother tragically died of cancer, leaving her husband to raise their eleven children. You might think this is a sad story, and it is at times, but Seamas recounts some hilarous stories from his childhood that had me laughing out loud, and people asking me "What is so funny?" It really is a love letter to his strong, loving, funny, compassionate father whose abiding Catholic faith sustained him throught his life. If you liked the Netflix series Derry Girls, you will love Did Ye Hear Mammy Died. I loved it so much I sent a copy to my Mom for her birthday. (Shout-out to the river's end bookstore in Oswego, New York for getting the book to her in just a day and a half. They have the best customer service!) 

Stay safe and strong my friends.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Friday 5ive- June 10, 2022

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly-ish post featuring five things that caught my attention this week.

1) I went to my niece's baby shower last weekend, and it was so cute. She lives in a rural area surrounded by a lot of animals, so the woodland theme was perfect. The decorations were adorable, and everyone brought a book with a note inside written to the baby; I love that idea! One clever person really leaned into the book idea by bringing three Mo Willems books along with matching stuffed animals. The baby's bookcase is filled with all the classics- lucky baby.

2) My local New York Public Library branch, Webster Library, set up their Summer Reading Program. They have a colorful sign out front and a table set up with free books. It was great fun watching the kiddies' eyes light up as they chose their free book.

3) June is Pride Month, and we noticed that the Silvercup film studio across the East River from us in Queens had their usual red sign lit up in rainbow colors.

4) I finished watching the second season of Hacks on HBO. Jean Smart, who swept the awards season last year for her portrayal of Deborah Vance, a older female standup comic (think Joan Rivers), once again gave a fantastic performance. Deborah lost her job as the headliner at a Vegas casino and now has to figure out what to do next. She decides to tour the country with a revamped act, much different than her old one thanks to her partnership with a young female comedy writer she mentors. 

5) I read two very different books this week. The first one is a memoir, You'll Forget This Ever Happened, by Laura L. Engel. Laura was a senior in high school in 1967 when she became pregnant by her boyfriend. Her religious conservative parents are ashamed of her and send her away to a home for pregnant young women in New Orleans after her boyfriend refuses to marry her. Laura recounts her days at the home, where the young women sign away the rights to their babies, giving them up for adoption. We meet the other young women residing there, and Delli, a Black nurse who works in the nursery caring for the babies when they are born until they are adopted. Delli shows Laura kindness as they work together in the nursery. Laura wants to keep her baby and is devastated when her parents refuse to let her. It consumes her thoughts and life for a very long time. This is a heartbreaking story told with such clarity. You learn about a time not so long ago when young women had little agency over their lives. I highly recommend You'll Ever Forget This Happened. 

The other book is Cate Ray's Good Husbands. Three women each receive a letter from a young woman who says their husbands sexually assaulted her mother years ago and she is the product of that night. The women have to decide if they believe this woman or their own husbands. They work together to get at the truth. It's a thought-provoking psychological story that will have you asking yourself what would you do in their shoes. There is a shocking twist near the end that had me literally gasping. My full review is here.

Have a happy, safe week. I'm off to enjoy some sunshine.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Good Husbands by Cate Ray

 Good Husbands  by Cate Ray
Published by Park Row ISBN 9780778333203
Trade paperback, 416 pages, $16.99
What would you do if you received a letter from a stranger saying that your husband was one of three men who sexually asssaulted her mother one night years ago and she is the result of that attack? And so begins Cate Ray's taut psychological drama Good Husbands.

The letter is delivered to three women who each have no idea who the other women are who also received the letter. Priyanka and her husband Charles have a young son whom Charles dotes on, and a happy marriage. Jess is married to Max, an energetic businessman who still excites her even after sixteen years of marriage and two children. Stephanie is married to Dan, a man quick to temper and put down Stephanie. He is a stepfather to Stephanie's two older daughters, and they have a teenage daughter together.

The women are obviously rocked by the letter and each deal with it in a different manner. Jess approaches Priyanka and Stephanie to find out what they know. Priyanka comes around before Stephanie, but eventually they decide they must find out the truth behind the letter.

Could their husbands have done such a terrible thing? Is it possible they don't know their husbands as well as they think they do? The men each have a different view of what happened that night, so it becomes a case of he said/she said. 

The women work together to discover the truth, no matter where it leads. About three quarters of the way through the novel, Ray throws a twist in, and something happens that literally had me gasping in shock. I did not see that coming.

Cate Ray does a fantastic job putting yourself in these women's shoes. What would you do if you if you discovered something awful about the past actions of someone you loved? Could you ignore it or would you need to know the truth? Good Husbands will have you pondering that long after you finish this thought-provoking book. 

Thanks to Harlequin Books for putting me on their Summer 2022 Mystery & Thriller Blog Tour.

Monday, June 6, 2022

It Takes A Villa by Kilby Blades

It Takes A Villa by Kilby Blades
Published by Entangled ISBN 9781649372086
Mass market paperback, $8.99, 352 pages

So many of us have yet to return to traveling, and if you want to travel to Italy without leaving your chair, Kilby Blades It Takes A Villa will have you feel like you are on the Amalfi Coast.

Natalie and her grandmother had planned to buy an abandoned villa in Amalfi. After her grandmother passes away, Natalie went through with their plans alone. Italy runs a program to encourage foreigners to buy homes for $1, with the stipulation that the buildings must be renovated within a six month time period or the buildings revert back to the towns.

Italy has a reputation for having a slow bureaucracy, which makes this program problematic. But Natalie is determined to renovate the abandoned villa on her own. It's go big or go home. She meets other Americans in the program, and as a group they support each other, sharing ideas, supplies, and work loads.

Natalie also meets Pietro, an architect and the son of the town's mayor, who is helping people (especially Natalie) renovate their buildings and manuever through the maze of regulations. Pietro wants this program and his town to succeed. He's also handsome, single and very attracted to Natalie.

Along with the traditional romance tropes, we get the added benefit of the lovely setting of the beautiful Amalfi Coast and the lessons of life lived in a different country and culture. That is what set this interesting novel apart from most books in the romance genre.

Fans of all the HGTV renovation shows will get an extra level of enjoyment from It Takes A Villa. And if you like Italian food, your mouth will water at the descriptions of the delicious food. This one would make a terrific Hallmark movie. 

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Kilby Blades tour.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Friday 5ive- June 3, 2022

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly-ish post featuring five things that caught my attention this week.
Can it be June already????

1) I attended the White Mass to honor healthcare workers at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City this week. Sponsored by ArchCare, Timothy Cardinal Dolan celebrated the mass, and it was a great turnout of healthcare workers. It was an opportunity to thank the healthcare workers who were the true heroes during the pandemic, especially the early days when we really didn't know much about COVID. They went above and beyond to care for those who needed it most. Healthcare workers processed down the aisle with colorful umbrellas and that is always the most popular part of the mass.

2)  We traveled to Columbus, Ohio for our niece's high school graduation. It was a big graduating class, over 450 students. They had such beautiful music played and sung by the seniors, and we had a big family turnout for our niece Eva.

3)  The big family weekend activity (after the graduation of course) was an outing for all of us to a place called The Kitchen. It's a terrific group activity, we divided up and work at various work stations, prepping dinner for all of us to eat. We followed their recipes and chopped salad ingredients, made a dressing, made a chimmichurri sauce for filet mignon, peeled potatoes, cut broccolini, and mixed cupcake batter. The staff assisted with the actual cooking, and then we all sat down to eat. Add in the open bar with a signature cocktail and mocktail, and we all had a great time. 
The cupcake station
The prep tables

4) We're so happy to see the second season of Stanley Tucci's Searching for Italy is back on CNN. We enjoy his travels around the various regions of Italy showing us all the fantastic food we're missing. You know I took notes for our next trip to Italy. (Although the fish in Venice was not exciting to us.)

5) I read a fantastic novel, A Shoe Story by Jane L. Rosen. I'm not a 'shoe person', yet I really liked this one. After a tragedy send young Esme from a coveted post-college job opportunity at an art gallery in NYC back to her small hometown in Honeoye Falls, near Rochester, NY, the life she thought she would have disappears. Years later, she has an opportunity to dog sit for a woman in NYC, and she wonders if she can get the life  she dreamed of back. The characters are wonderful, particularly Sol, the elderly gentleman Esme befriends in the park. As someone who grew up near Rochester, I understood her upstate references, and now that I live in NYC, I jotted down all the places that Esme visited that I have yet to see. I also liked that each chapter was headed by a different show that Esme wore in that chapter-  it was so clever! A Shoe Story is a lovely story in a great setting. 

HAve a good week, stay safe and healthy.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain
Published by Kensington Books ISBN 9781496737755
Trade paperback, $15.95, 390 pages

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle captured my heart from the very beginning. Albert is a lonely 65 year-old postal worker in an English town. He works, doesn't interact much with his coworkers or the people on his route, and goes home alone. We root for Albert to find joy and his lost love as he courageously opens up his life to include coworkers and people he meets on his postal route. 

I loved how the people in his world were happy for Albert, how they showed him kindness and friendship. How wonderful it would be if we all lived in a world like Albert's!

Matt Cain's characters embody the best of humanity, and my eyes teared up more than once as I read this beautiful story. The interviews Matt shares at the end of the book with gay men he met who lived through a much more unkind world were enlightening and add a great perspective to Albert's story. I highly recommend The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle for those who loved The Guncle and The Story of Arthur Trulove. The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle is destined to be on my Best of 2022 List.