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Monday, July 30, 2018

America For Beginners by Leah Franqui

America For Beginners by Leah Franqui
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062668752
Hardcover, $26.99, 320 pages

There is nothing more exciting than reading a debut novel and falling in love with the story and characters. That just happened for me with Leah Franqui's America For Beginners.

We begin with Mrs. Pival Sengupta, a recent Bangladeshi widow, planning a trip to America. We learn that Pival had an unhappy marriage to a man who verballly abused her, and banished their only son Rahi for a reason we come to learn later. Pival is "going to America to find her son or his lover. And to kill herself."

Pival has contacted Ronnie Munshi of the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company to arrange for her visit. Ronnie is an Indian immigrant who worked his way up from dishwasher to owning his own tour company, catering to wealthy Bangladeshis.

Ronnie has hired Satya, a poor young Bengali man pretending to be Bangladeshi, to act as Pival's guide. This will be Satya's first cross-country trip, and he is extremely nervous.

Ronnie also hired an American woman, Rebecca, a young struggling actress who sees this job as a way to earn some money quickly to help her achieve her dream which is slowly becoming out-of-reach, to act as Pival's chaperone.

Each of the above characters narrate chapters of this fantastic road trip story, alternating with Jake and Bhim's story. Californian Jake has fallen in love with Bhim, a young Indian scientist, who is reluctant to admit his love for Jake. Bhim tells Jake that in his home country it is not as acceptable to be gay as it is in America.

We travel America, stopping first in New York City, then on to Niagara Falls, Corning, New York to see the glass factory, Philadelphia, Washington DC, New Orleans, Phoenix, Las Vegas and finally Los Angeles.

As Pival, Satya and Rebecca traverse the country, staying in Comfort Inns and eating in inauthentic Indian restaurants, we visit famous American sights like The Statue of Liberty, Niagara Falls, The Liberty Bell, The Lincoln Memorial, and get to know Pival, Satya and Rebecca a little bit better.

I loved this book. Franqui does an amazing job of giving each character room to breathe and tell his or her own story, and each story is more compelling than the next.

But I felt closest to Pival, perhaps because we are both mothers of sons, but what a strong woman she is. She spent much of her life catered to and sheltered, never traveling far from home. Watching her open up was a privilege.

Franqui writes so beautifully too.
"As Tanvi grew upset, her folding became increasingly precise and perfect, until you could have cut onions with the razor-sharp corners of the sari silk."

And this:
"She had thought Ram would be the antidote to the loneliness and longing she had begun to feel. Instead, he became the cause of both." 

I confess to reading the last few chapters through tears. Pival's story was so emotional and beautiful, and yes, sad.

America For Beginners takes us on a road trip across the country, and on the trip that Ronnie, Satya, and Rebecca each take to get their share of the American dream that so many people long for and work to achieve. I highly recommend America For Beginners, and look forward to more from Leah Franqui.

You can listen to excerpts from the book here.

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

Instagram Features

Tuesday, July 24th: Instagram: @theloudlibrarylady
Wednesday, July 25th: Instagram: @read.write.coffee
Thursday, July 26th: Instagram: @megabunnyreads
Friday, July 27th: Instagram: @shereadswithcats
Saturday, July 28th: Instagram: @absorbedinpages
Sunday, July 29th: Instagram: @sweetbookobsession
Monday, July 30th: Instagram: @oddandbookish

Review Stops

Tuesday, July 24th: Wining Wife
Thursday, July 26th: Broken Teepee
Friday, July 27th: Instagram: @the_need_to_read
Monday, July 30th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, July 31st: Instagram: @Novelmombooks
Wednesday, August 1st: Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, August 2nd: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, August 6th: Jathan & Heather
Tuesday, August 7th: Man of La Book
Wednesday, August 8th: Literary Quicksand
Thursday, August 9th: From the TBR Pile
TBD: Bibliotica

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Solace of Water by Elizabeth Byler Younts

The Solace of Water by Elizabeth Byler Younts
Published by Thomas Nelson ISBN9780718075668
Trade paperback, $15.99, 351 pages

Elizabeth Byler Younts' novel, The Solace of Water, opens with Delilah at the grave of her son,  suffering an unbearable grief. Her preacher husband Malachi softly approaches her as she is filling her empty purse with dirt from his grave, which she will bring with her to their new home in Sinking Creek in Pennsylvania Amish country.

Delilah blames her fourteen-year-old daughter Sparrow for her son's death, and although we know don't the exact circumstances, we know that Sparrow blames herself as well. Delilah has turned her back on Sparrow, and refuses to offer comfort to her daughter.

Emma is an Amish woman, married to John, a respected deacon in their church. Emma is sad as well. She lost a baby girl to a miscarriage years ago, and her grief is still fresh. Her husband John is an alcoholic, a secret that Emma keeps from the congregation for fear that they will be shunned by their closeknit community.

Emma also has a secret of her own that she is carrying, one that troubles her daily.

While walking in the woods near her home, Emma finds young George, the twin brother to the son Delilah lost. Sparrow turns to Emma for the kindness that her mother can't seem to give her, and she becomes involved with Emma's son Johnny.

Delilah's family left the overt racism of Montgomery, Alabama in 1957 for the more covert racism of the North. While the children notice that there aren't any 'Whites Only' signs anywhere, they still need to learn where they are welcome and where they are not.

Malachi gets a job working in the only white grocery store where blacks are allowed to shop, although they have a separate produce section and shopping carts.

The Amish community does not discriminate against the black members of the community, but they stick to themselves, preferring not to socialize with anyone who isn't Amish. Emma breaks that tradition because she likes Sparrow, and teaches her how to do laundry and sew.

When Sparrow finds Emma in a bad state, she runs to her mother for help, and Delilah discovers that Sparrow has been spending time with Emma. She helps Emma and they become friends, finding that they have a shared sense of grief that no one else understands.

The title of the book comes from this line: "It was like lamenting over thirst while the solace of water was close at hand". Emma says that "no one wanted to talk about why we drew invisible lines around our hearts and expected everyone to stay away."

There is one incredibly tense scene that could have been from "The Real Housewives of Sinking Creek" where Delilah confronts Emma about the secrets she has been keeping, unaware that her own daughter has secrets of her own that could endanger her life.

The Solace of Water tackles so many themes- racism, grief, friendship, forgiveness, secrets, religion- that it would make a wonderful book club pick. There is a lot to discuss here.

Younts is a wonderful writer, she has several turns of phrase that made me stop and reflect. She tells the story through the words of Delilah, Emma and Sparrow and each woman speaks with a distinct voice. She also gives the reader a look into the Amish culture, something I was not overly familiar with. I recommend The Solace of Water for those who like a serious story.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Elizabeth Byler Younts tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Elizabeth Byler Younts’ TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, July 9th: @hollyslittlebookreviews
Tuesday, July 10th: What is That Book About – author Q&A
Wednesday, July 11th: Write Read Life
Thursday, July 12th: Jenn Blogs Books and @jennblogsbooks
Friday, July 13th: Books & Spoons
Monday, July 16th: @createexploreread
Tuesday, July 17th: The Book Diva’s Reads – author guest post
Wednesday, July 18th: Cheryl’s Book Nook
Thursday, July 19th: All of a Kind Mom
Monday, July 23rd: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, July 24th: Bookchickdi
Wednesday, July 25th: Splashes of Joy
Thursday, July 26th: The Christian Fiction Girl 
Friday, July 27th: Time 2 Read
Saturday, July 28th: Fiction Aficionado – author Q&A
Monday, July 30th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, July 31st: @girlandherbooks
Tuesday, July 31st: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Wednesday, August 1st: Girl Who Reads
Thursday, August 2nd: @novelmombooks
Thursday, August 9th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Friday, August 10th: Openly Bookish

Monday, July 9, 2018

Hot Reads for the Summer

Reprinted from the Citizen:
When the weather has been brutally hot like it has been recently, sometimes the best thing to do is to curl up with a good book and visit someplace new. This month’s Book Report will take you away.
Beatriz Williams takes her readers to the wealthy Long Island Sound enclave of Winthrop Island in the 1950s in The Summer Wives. Teenage Miranda Schuyler comes to Winthrop Island as her mother marries a wealthy man following the death of her husband in World War II. 

With her new stepfather comes a stepsister, wild child Isobel. Isobel is expected to marry someone of her own social station, but she becomes involved with Joseph Vargas, the son of a Portuguese fisherman.
Williams shows the readers the contrast between the lives of the wealthy summer visitors to the island and the people who live on the island full-time. The relationship is complicated, as the full-time residents depend on the summer visitors for their livelihoods, but fraternizing between the two groups causes complications.
Part of the story takes place in the 1960s, ten years after Miranda leaves the island under mysterious circumstances and returns as a famous actress. When she returns, she finds that her stepsister and mother have turned their home into an artists’ colony, and they have fallen on hard times.
She also comes home to find that Joseph has escaped from the prison where he has been held for ten years, convicted of murder. Williams takes us back and forth in time to tell us the story of what really happened the night of the murder, and how it impacted everyone on the island.
The Summer Wives is one of Williams’ strongest novels to date, and the topic of "the haves versus the have nots" is a topical one today. Regular readers of Williams’ novels will recognize the Schuyler name, as many of her novels feature characters from that family.
Ann Mah takes her readers to the Burgundy winemaking region in France in her fantastic novel The Lost Vintage. Kate is studying to take a test to become a master of wine in San Francisco when she returns to her mother’s family vineyard in France to prepare for the test. 
While there, Kate and her cousin’s wife are cleaning out a cellar and Kate finds a hidden room. There are hundreds of bottles of vintage wines in the room, where they were placed so that the Nazis wouldn’t find them during their occupation of France.
Kate also discovers that her mother had an aunt, Helene, who was accused of being a collaborator with the Nazis. Helene was shunned by the townspeople, and her family never spoke of her again.
When Kate finds Helene’s journal, she discovers the truth about Helene, which surprises everyone in the family.
The Lost Vintage is a dual timeline story, as we see Helene’s journal entries alongside Kate’s story. Frequently in dual storyline novels, one story is much stronger than the other. In this case, both stories are equally interesting.
Along with learning all about how to make wine, The Lost Vintage is great for foodies, as Mah shares the delicious meals the family eats, which will make your stomach growl. You can brush up on your French vocabulary as well as you traverse the Burgundy countryside.
In Laura Lippman’s Sunburn, we go to Belleville, a small beach town in Delaware. Polly shows up in Belleville after having abandoned her husband and small daughter after a day at a different beach. 
Polly gets a job as a waitress at the High-Ho Tavern. She keeps to herself until the day that Adam shows up as the new cook. Adam is there to keep an eye on Polly for a client. But who is his client? Is it Polly’s abandoned husband?
Adam and Polly fall into a sexual relationship, one that Polly wants to keep secret from everyone in town. Soon Adam falls in love with Polly, and he is conflicted about his responsibility to his client.
We slowly learn that Polly is a complicated woman. She has a secret past, and as Adam falls deeper in love with her, Polly has to fight her feelings for Adam or risk her future.
You get a real feel for this small beach town that comes alive with tourists in the summer season in Sunburn. This book is a homage to the novels of James Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce), and if you like those noir novels, Sunburn is a must-read.

If you read

BOOK: “The Summer Wives” by Beatriz Williams
PUBLISHER: William Morrow
COST: Hardcover, $26.99
LENGTH: 384 pages

BOOK: “The Lost Vintage” by Ann Mah
PUBLISHER: William Morrow
COST: Hardcover, $26.99
LENGTH: 372 pages

BOOK: “Sunburn” by Laura Lippman
PUBLISHER: William Morrow
COST: Hardcover, $26.99
LENGTH: 272 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

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Rainy Day Friends by Jill Shalvis

Rainy Day Friends by Jill Shalvis
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062448149
Trade paperback, $14.99, 384 pages

Last week, I read Ann Mah's The Lost Vintage, a dual timeline novel set at a family vineyard in the Burgundy region of France. It was a wonderful piece of literary fiction, and I learned a lot about life at a vineyard.

This week, I read another book set at a family winery, this one in California wine country. Jill Shalvis' Rainy Day Friends opens with thirty year-old Lainie trying to deal with her anxiety long enough to make it through her interview at Capriotti Winery. She applied for a temporary freelance position as a graphic designer, working on marketing products, wine labels and website graphics for the family winery.

The entire Capriotti family is eating their daily lunch out back, and invite Lainie to join them, which panics her. She meets Cora, the CEO of the winery, her daughters, parents, and two adorable, young twin granddaughters, Samantha and Sierra.

The Capriotti Family is boisterous and they all work at the winery at various jobs; all except Samantha and Sierra's handsome father, Mark, who is a deputy sheriff. Sparks fly immediately between Mark and Lainie, but she is not ready for a relationship.

Lainie is widowed, her husband Kyle having died of a heart condition. They had been married for five years when he died. After his death, Lainie discovers that Kyle was a bigamist and had four other wives. This shattered Lainie, and made her untrusting of not only others, but of her own instincts. She would not allow anyone to get close enough to hurt her again.

But the Capriotti family took her in. She adored the twins, and looked forward to being with them. She also liked spending time with Mark, and while a physical relationship with him was hot and heavy, she was not going to get emotionally attached, particularly after Mark said that he wouldn't get involved with another woman until his girls were grown. (Mark's wife left him and the girls.)

The Capriotti family takes in people and brings them into the fold. They took in Holden, a cowboy who cares for the horses at the winery and then one day a young very pregnant woman named River turns up, and Cora takes her in too.

River is hiding the real reason she came to the winery, but she too is happy to become a part of the family. Her mother died and her baby's father abandoned her, and she and Lainie become fast friends as well.

I enjoyed spending time at the Capriotti Winery, and as someone who comes from a big family, I found the Capriottis comforting. The way they tease (and harass) each other will be so familiar to anyone from a large family.

Rainy Day Friends is quick, terrific beach read, and I smiled as one character said that this is "not a Hallmark movie" because I though all throughout the book that this would be a perfect Hallmark movie. If you're looking for a light, sexy story, Rainy Day Friends hits the spot. I recommend it.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Jill Shalvis' tour. The rest of her tour stops is here:

Instagram Features

Thursday, June 14th: Instagram: @oddandbookish
Friday, June 15th: Instagram: @booksandballads
Tuesday, June 19th: Instagram: @simplykelina
Tuesday, June 19th: Instagram: @biblio_files
Wednesday, June 20th: Instagram: @worldswithinpages
Monday, June 25th: Instagram: @thepagesinbetween

Review Stops

Thursday, June 28th: Staircase Wit
Monday, July 2nd: The Book Date
Tuesday, July 3rd: bookchickdi
Wednesday, July 4th: Broken Teepee
Friday, July 6th: A Soccer Mom’s Book Blog
Monday, July 9th: Stranded in Chaos
Tuesday, July 10th: Jathan & Heather
Thursday, July 12th: Time 2 Read
Friday, July 13th: Girl Who Reads
Monday, July 16th: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, July 17th: Instagram: @Novelmombooks
Friday, July 20th: Not in Jersey