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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Two of Fall's Best Books

Reprinted from the Citizen:
Fall is a big season for publishers, one in which books with high hopes for success hit the shelves. Two books that fit that category are by a well-respected author of fiction, essays and nonfiction, and a debut author whose name is well-known to anyone who has followed television and movies for the last 40 years.
The debut author is actress Sally Field, who took seven years to write her memoir In Pieces. 
Field grew up in a decidedly female household with her mother, grandmother and great-aunts, all strong women. She tells some of their fascinating stories, explaining how they got to be where they were. It will inspire the reader to talk to their own mothers and grandmothers about their life experiences.
The biggest influence on Field’s life was her beautiful mother, an actress who had a modest film career. Field had a complicated relationship with her mother growing up, made more so when her mother married an actor/stuntman, Jock Mahoney. Mahoney sexually abused Sally at a young age, and that relationship resonated with her for the rest of her life.
As Mahoney’s Hollywood fortunes waned, Sally’s interest in acting earned her a starring role in the 1960s sitcom “Gidget.” It was a good first experience, but her second television show, “The Flying Nun,” was a deeply unhappy one.
She didn’t want to do it, but Jock convinced her that she may never work again and she needed to take the job. After a few desperately unfulfilling years there, she was introduced to the Actors Studio, where she came alive. She studied and worked hard to become a serious actress.
Field details the highs and lows in her personal and professional life, from her marriage at a young age and subsequent divorce to raising her three sons and working to get the kind of serious roles she wanted.
From her breakout role as a severely mentally ill woman in “Sybil” to her Academy Award-winning performance in “Norma Rae” to her very complicated relationship with actor Burt Reynolds, Field lays it all on the line in an honest portrait of her life.
Although her mother had a drinking problem as Sally grew up, it was her mother she turned to when she needed someone to care for her sons when she worked. And her mother was there for her and her sons at every turn.
She ends the book trying to understand her mother, what drove her and why they had such a complicated relationship. In Pieces is an indelible portrait of a woman we all thought we knew.
Barbara Kingsolver has written some of the best books of the past 30 years, most notably The Poisonwood Bible. She writes about big issues as illuminated by her brilliantly conceived characters. 
Her latest, Unsheltered, tells a story that many people can relate to today. Willa Knox is a middle-aged mother of two grown children, happily married to Iano, a college professor she has loved forever.
When Iano’s college closes, they are forced to move to New Jersey, where Iano found a one-year teaching position at a small college. His very ill father, Nick, lives with them, a man who loves cable news and talk radio and loudly, and profanely blames anyone different from himself for the woes of the country.
Soon their son Zeke arrives with a new baby in tow, progressive daughter Tig comes home after two years incommunicado, and life becomes more difficult, made even more so by the fact that the home left to Willa by her aunt is literally falling down around them.
Willa lost her job when the magazine she wrote for folded, and money is tight. She discovers that their home may have historical classification, and she begins to research the previous owners in hopes of saving it, and them.
Thatcher Greenwood was a science professor who lived in the home after the Civil War. He believed in the work of Charles Darwin, which caused him trouble with his own family and the townspeople of Vineland. People believed Darwin's science was sacrilegious, and it frightened them.
Kingsolver writes brilliantly and beautifully in a novel that touches the reader emotionally and rationally. Her characters feel like real people (and some of the historic ones are), and the relationships between them (especially Iano and Willa) are moving. She really nails the family dynamic, especially in times like these when it can be problematic.

If you read

BOOK: In Pieces by Sally Field
PUBLISHER: Grand Central Publishing
COST: Hardcover, $29
LENGTH: 417 pages

BOOK: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
COST: Hardcover, $29.99
LENGTH: 480 pages

Friday, October 19, 2018

Great Reads by Emily Giffin, Susan Elia MacNeal & Beck Dory-Stein

Reprinted from the Citizen:

Why does summer fly by so fast? If you need a good vacation book or you just want to escape for a few hours at home, this month’s Book Report has some great reads for you.

Author Emily Giffin’s novel All We Wanted will resonate with anyone raising children in a world where social media impacts nearly everyone. Nina Browning leads a charmed life. She and her husband Kirk are part of Nashville’s elite, living in a mansion, attending countless galas, and raising their teenage son, Princeton-bound Finch. 

The perfect veneer cracks when Finch takes a photo of Lyla, a young woman who had passed out drunk at a party. When the photo goes viral, the lives of Finch and Lyla, and their families, are turned upside down.

Lyla is being raised by her single father Tom, and her mother occasionally pops in to wreak havoc. Tom is a working-class guy, and he is infuriated by what he sees as the wealthy getting away with bad, possibly criminal, behavior.

Giffin could have taken an easy way of out the story, but she digs deeper and writes a compelling story about money, privilege, class, social media, the treatment of women, and the values we teach our children. 

Susan Elia MacNeal’s eighth book in her Maggie Hope WWII series, The Prisoner in the Castle is an homage to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Maggie Hope, a British spy whose last assignment was in France for Britain’s SOE, now resides in a deserted castle on a Scottish island with other British spies. 

No one but a few government officials know where they are or why. When a dead body turns up, the spies are concerned, and that concern turns to fear when one by one the residents of the castle are murdered.

Maggie teams up with Sayid, an attractive doctor, to figure out what is going on and to try and stay alive. The problem they all have is knowing whom to trust. They are all spies, trained to gain the trust of people and then betray that trust.

MacNeal does a great deal of research for her books, and if you close your eyes, you’d swear that you are right there in the castle, on that island. There is an incredibly tense scene near the end, with Maggie’s life in danger, that will have your heart pounding as you turn the pages.

For those who prefer nonfiction, Beck Dorey-Stein’s memoir From the Corner of the Oval begins with Beck answering a Craigslist ad for a stenographer in Washington DC. It turns out that the job is at the White House, and Beck would be one of a few people who record President Obama’s public remarks and then type them up for official transcriptions. 

Beck has a boyfriend who works on various political campaigns (including both of Obama’s) so he frequently travels. It takes her awhile, but Beck makes good friends, and even plays basketball on Tuesday nights with the guys.

She also finds herself in love with Jason, a man who works closely with the President. Jason is a womanizer, and he is engaged to a young socialite who lives in Los Angeles. That doesn’t stop him from pursuing Beck and, unbeknownst to her, several other women simultaneously.

They have an on-again, off-again secret affair that leaves Beck desperately unhappy with own dishonesty toward her boyfriend and other friends. 

From the Corner of the Oval is a true story that reads like a terrific novel. Beck Dorey-Stein perfectly blends a young woman’s doomed romance with a fascinating workplace study where the workplace is the Oval Office.

As she travels with President Obama, we get a seat on Air Force One as they go to Europe, Asia, Africa and on an exciting visit to Cuba. We see Secretary Clinton as she spends an hour shaking hands and speaking with the kitchen staff in Myanmar, run next to President Obama on the treadmill as he teases Beck about her speed, and fear the sound of the Rattler, a mean woman who dislikes Beck and gets her nickname from the jangle of the ever-present bangle bracelets warning of her approach.

Beck Dorey-Stein is a fantastic writer and, for anyone who would love a peek at being close to the highest office in the land, this is a must-read. 

All We Ever Wanted” by Emily Giffin- A-
Published by Ballantine
Hardcover, 334 pages, $28

The Prisoner in the Castle” by Susan Elia MacNeal- A
Published by Bantam
Hardcover, 320 pages, $26

From the Corner of the Oval” by Beck Dorey-Stein- A+
Published by Speigel & Grau
Hardcover, 352 pages, $28

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Amendment by Anne Leigh Parrish

The Amendment by Anne Leigh Parrish
Published by Unsolicited Press ISBN 9781947021099
Trade paperback, $17, 336 pages

We first met Lavinia Dugan's family in Anne Leigh Parrish's fantastic book of linked stories Our Love Could Light the World. (My 5-star review is here.)

We catch up with Lavinia in Anne Leigh Parrish's marvelous novel, The Amendment, where Lavinia now-Starkhurt has to deal with the sudden death of her older husband Chip, struck down by lightning on the golf course. Chip was Lavinia's second husband and generous stepfather to her five children.

Chip loved Lavinia, and Lavinia loved Chip, even if he didn't excite her as much as her ex-husband Potter. When she and Potter were married, he couldn't hold down a job and he drank too much. Chip owned his own company, where Lavinia worked before she married Chip, and provided a lifestyle for Lavinia that enabled her to lead a life of leisure.

After Chip's death, Lavinia decides to leave her Finger Lakes region home and take a road trip across the country. She needs to get away from Mel, Chip's golfing buddy who loves Lavinia, and Alma, Chip's housekeeper who adored Chip (but not Lavinia). After her daughter Angie's attempt to get Lavinia to participate in group grief therapy goes terribly awry (Lavinia says some very inappropriate things), Lavinia hops in her car and takes off.

Along her travels, Lavinia picks up random items as totems of a sort- a stuffed teddy bear, a thimble collection she finds at garage sale, and a vase for the fresh flowers she buys every day. She stays at small motels along the way that have a diner nearby.

She meets people on her journey, listens to their stories and tries to help them, which is unlike her. She gives rides to people who need her help: a woman who was abandoned by her boyfriend at the laundromat, a teenager on the run from his uncles.

Lavinia stays for awhile at the home of her ex-sister-in-law. Patty and her husband Murph take her in and Lavinia stays for a few weeks, working for a few hours at a flower shop, trying to get a volunteer job as a driver for social services (until a previous DUI is discovered), and even has an affair with a cowboy.

I found Lavinia to be a fascinating, multi-dimensional character. She reminded me a bit of Olive Kitteridge from Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize novel of the same name. She is prickly and speaks her mind whether people want to hear it or not. She wasn't the best mother, maybe not affectionate enough. She wasn't the best wife to Chip, realizing that she married two men who were afraid of her. Some people call her a "straight-shooter", and she describes herself as a bitch.

I powered through The Amendment, turning the pages furiously because I couldn't get enough of Lavinia. She is funny and fierce and truly one of the most interesting characters I have found in a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed taking to the road with Lavinia and I highly recommend The Amendment.

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

Instagram Tour

Monday, October 1st: @readvoraciously
Tuesday, October 2nd: @read.write.coffee
Wednesday, October 3rd: @brookesbooksandbrews
Thursday, October 4th: @happiestwhenreading
Friday, October 5th: @novelgossip
Saturday, October 6th: @brokenteepee

Review Tour

Tuesday, October 9th: @readingwithmere
Wednesday, October 10th: @lavieestbooks
Thursday, October 11th: Girl Who Reads
Friday, October 12th: Wining Wife
Monday, October 15th: Palmer’s Page Turners
Tuesday, October 16th: Novel Gossip
Wednesday, October 17th: BookNAround
Thursday, October 18th: Bookchickdi
Monday, October 22nd: Seaside Book Nook
Wednesday, October 24th: Run Wright
Thursday, October 25th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Lighthouse Keepers's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor

The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks ISBN 9780062698629
Trade paperback, $16.99, 416 pages

Author Hazel Gaynor's historical novels frequently deal with stories in two different time periods- A Memory of Violets and The Girl Who Came Home among them. Her latest intriguing novel, The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter continues in that tradition.

Grace Darling lives with her parents and brother in 1838 at Longstone Lighthouse off the coast of England. She is a great help to her father, the lighthouse keeper, learning all there is to becoming a lighthouse keeper in her own right. It would be her dream to take over for her father, but alas, her brother will take over as women are not encouraged to hold such jobs.

When a terrible storm blows through and a nearby ship sinks, it is Grace and her father who jump into a boat to rescue several men and one woman who washed up on a rock. The woman, Sarah Dawson, was traveling with her two young children to visit her brother George Emmerson in Scotland after losing her husband.

The story of how Grace risked her own life to save others becomes legend, with newspaper stories written about her bravery. Artists wish to paint her portrait, people ask for locks of her hair and small pieces of her clothing, and she and her father even get to meet a duke and duchess who honor them.

In 1938, Matilda Emmerson finds herself pregnant and sent by her proper Irish parents to Newport, Rhode Island to stay with a distant cousin, a female lighthouse keeper named Harriet. Matilda is to give birth to the baby, give her up for adoption and return home to forget the whole thing.

Harriet is a bit brusque, and keeps to herself. Matilda hears her crying out for someone named Cora in her sleep, but when she asks about Cora, Harriet rebuffs her. Matilda finds a trunk with a portrait in it of a woman who has some connection to herself, and sets out to find out who the woman is.

Matilda begins to enjoy her life in Newport, making friends with a local artist named Joseph, and when she discovers a secret that Harriet has been hiding, her life begins to make sense to her. (The secret is a doozy!)

The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter is a wonderful book for young adult women to read as well. Through Grace, Sarah, Matilda and Harriet, we see independent women trying to make their way through a male-centered world, overcoming obstacles and tragedy. and finding their own strength.

I liked that there were male characters who supported these women- Grace's father, George Emmerson and Joseph- and who valued these women for their strength. Gaynor combines great characters with compelling storylines.

The Lighthouse Keeper is a poignant read, and I enjoyed learning about life in a lighthouse. I also found Grace's brush with fame interesting, and not so different from what happens in today's tabloid-filled world where people get their fifteen minutes of intense fame.

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

Instagram Features

Tuesday, October 9th: Instagram: @lavieestbooks
Wednesday, October 10th: Instagram: @kate.olson.reads
Thursday, October 11th: Instagram: @sarahs_reads
Friday, October 12th: Instagram: @shereadswithcats
Saturday, October 13th: Instagram: @the_need_to_read
Sunday, October 14th: Instagram: @simplykelina
Monday, October 15th: Instagram: @dropandgivemenerdy

Review Stops

Tuesday, October 9th: BookNAround
Wednesday, October 10th: bookchickdi
Thursday, October 11th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, October 12th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, October 15th: Doing Dewey
Tuesday, October 16th: I Wish I Lived in a Library
Thursday, October 18th: Man of La Book
Monday, October 22nd: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Tuesday, October 23rd: Books and Bindings
Wednesday, October 24th: Broken Teepee
Thursday, October 25th: Staircase Wit
Monday, October 29th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, October 31st: Instagram: @writersdream
Thursday, November 1st: Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, November 2nd: Into the Hall of Books

Monday, October 8, 2018

Three Historical Mysteries To Take You Away

Reprinted from the Citizen:
Sometimes when the world today seems too crazy, it’s good to get lost in a story set in the past. And if there is an element of mystery and suspense to it, all the better. This month’s Book Report takes us back in time with three books that will keep you guessing.
Three writers — Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig — teamed up a few years ago to write a terrific novel, The Forgotten Room, and liked the experience so much they got together again to write another.
The Glass Ocean features three female protagonists telling their stories. Two of the women are sailing on the Lusitania ship from New York to England in 1915, and one woman in 2013 has gone to England to find out if her great-grandfather who worked on the Lusitania had any connection to its sinking. 
Caroline is traveling on the Lusitania with her wealthy husband, who is carrying a valuable piece of historical sheet music by Strauss that he sold to someone in England. Her husband seems very distracted on the boat, which concerns her.
Robert, a man from Caroline’s past, is also on the boat. Robert has very strong feelings for Caroline. She is torn between her love for her husband and her attraction to Robert.
A young woman named Tess is also on board the Lusitania. Tess and her sister have been paid to steal the sheet music and make a copy of it. Tess keeps bumping into Robert on the ship, and they form a bond, one that may endanger Tess’ task at hand.
The tension builds with the ship moving closer to England, as the reader knows that historically the Lusitania will be sunk by the Germans off the coast of Ireland. There are rumors that there are German spies on board the ship who are signaling the Germans with their location in order to sink the ship.
The Glass Ocean is filled with terrific period details, and the trio of writers clearly did a great deal of research to bring the reader right onto the massive ship. The mystery is masterfully plotted as well, and you will find yourself searching for clues to what is really happening on that ship before it is sunk. I highly recommend it.
Stephen Giles’ The Boy at the Keyhole is set in 1950s England. Samuel is eight years old, and left in the care of Ruth, the family’s housekeeper, after his mother suddenly leaves their home in the middle of the night. 
His widowed mother has supposedly gone to the United States to secure funding for the family’s factory, which is in a precarious financial state following the death of his father. But why didn’t she say goodbye to him? Why did no one but Ruth know about her leaving?
When Samuel’s friend spins a wild tale of Ruth murdering Samuel’s mother, Samuel starts to suspect Ruth as well. She acts suspiciously, and she won’t allow Samuel to speak with his uncle. He also catches her stealing from his mother’s jewelry box.
The Boy at the Keyhole is a taut psychological mystery, one that keeps the reader guessing all the way to the stunning conclusion that you will not see coming. Buckle up — this is a book you will want to read in one sitting.
Daniela Tully’s Hotel on Shadow Lake is set in two time periods — World War II and current day. The book is set in motion in 1990, when an elderly German woman Martha Weisberg receives a letter from her brother, dated 1944. Shortly after receiving this letter, Martha disappears. 
In 2017, Martha’s granddaughter Maya is told that Martha’s dead body was excavated at a famous mountain resort in the Catskill Mountains, not far from where Maya studied in New York. How did her grandmother get to America? No one knew she had gone there.
Maya goes to the hotel to find out what happened to her grandmother, and gets involved with the family who has owned the resort for many years. Could they hold the answer to the mystery of her grandmother’s death?
We also go back in time to World War II Germany, where Martha is a young woman living with her mother and brother, who is a proud Nazi. Martha becomes part of the resistance and must keep her distance from her brother if she is to survive.
Hotel on Shadow Lake is a crackling good mystery, and both time periods are evenly interesting. Fans of World War II fiction will want to add this to their list.

If you read

BOOK: The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Karen White and Lauren Willig
PUBLISHER: William Morrow
COST: Hardcover, $26.99
LENGTH: 416 pages

BOOK: The Boy at the Keyhole by Stephen Giles
PUBLISHER: Hanover Square Press
COST: Hardcover, $25.99
LENGTH: 272 pages

BOOK: Hotel on Shadow Lake by Daniela Tully
PUBLISHER: Thomas Dunne Books
COST: Hardcover, $26.99
LENGTH: 254 pages

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis

When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks ISBN 9780062836052
Trade paperback, $15.99, 212 pages

Football season is upon us and if you are a fan of the game and fiction set during WWII, Majorie Herrera Lewis' When the Men Were Gone will hit the spot. It's 1944 in Brownwood, Texas, where football is king and WWII has taken its toll on the small town.

When their football coach is tragically killed in action in France, and the replacement coach up and enlists after his brother is taken as a POW, it looks like the football season will be cancelled. This greatly upsets Assistant Principal Tylene Wilson.

In addition to being a big football fan since she was a little girl, Tylenes fears that without football to keep the senior boys in school, they will enlist in the armed forces and go to war a year sooner than if they stayed in school.

Brownwood is located near an airfield where the bodies of the soldiers killed in action are returned. The people of Brownwood learn to fear the sound of the planes overhead that mean another of their young men are aboard.

When it looks like no one else will do it, Tylene proposes that she be allowed to coach the team. This causes an uproar in the community; many people, especially men, are apoplectic over it. Some of the players are afraid of the scorn of opposing teams and refuse to play.

Eventually Tylene manages to win over enough of the players, and the team prepares to take the field for their first game. When word gets out in the Texas football community, Tylene is the the subject of newspaper and radio stories. (Imagine if it were today, and she were subjected to online harassment that this would engender.)

The last section of the book is gripping, as Lewis describes Tylene's first game in vivid detail. You  feel like you are right in the stands with the entire town of Brownwood, holding your breath with each play.

If you are a fan of the dear, departed TV series Friday Night Lights, When the Men Were Gone is a good read for you. It's also a good read for high school young women interested in seeing a strong female protagonist in a story that is not set in a dystopian future but a realistic past.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Majorie Herrera Lewis' tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Instagram Features

Tuesday, October 2nd: Instagram: @shereadswithcats
Wednesday, October 3rd: Instagram: @kate.olson.reads
Thursday, October 4th: Instagram: @tbretc
Friday, October 5th: Instagram: @simplykelina
Saturday, October 6th: Instagram: @read.write.coffee
Sunday, October 7th: Instagram: @sarahs_reads
Monday, October 8th: Instagram: @the_need_to_read
Tuesday, October 9th: Instagram: @thebookishsisters

Review Stops

Tuesday, October 2nd: bookchickdi
Thursday, October 4th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, October 5th: Lit and Life
Monday, October 8th: Doing Dewey
Tuesday, October 9th: Staircase Wit
Wednesday, October 10th: Instagram: @theliteraryllama
Thursday, October 11th: Literary Quicksand
Tuesday, October 16th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, October 17th: Instagram: @writersdream
Thursday, October 18th: No More Grumpy Bookseller