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Monday, December 23, 2019

Husband Material by Emily Belden

Husband Material by Emily Belden
Published by Graydon House ISBN 9781525805981
Trade paperback, $15.99, 304 pages

Emily Belden's first novel, Hot Mess, (my review here) appealed to me because it was set in the restaurant world, and my husband and I owned a restaurant at one time. Her interesting characters and sharp writing style (which had lots of clever lines that made me laugh out loud) hooked me right away.

I was pleased to see that she has a new novel, Husband Material. Her new protagonist Charlotte, who works in analytics for a social media influencers company, is hiding something from her roommate and coworkers: Charlotte lost her husband five years ago when he died of a sudden stroke.

Charlotte is working on a new dating app that analyzes a person's social media posts and history to predict if the person is the perfect match. It gives her stats on how likely a second date would be, how likely they would be to marry, and how likely they would be to divorce. She has been trying it out on herself, but to no avail. Her Tinder dates haven't gone any better.

She brings a disastrous first date to her best friend's wedding, a setup by her best friend. He looks like a contestant from The Bachelor, and unfortunately he acts like one too, or as she puts it "he reminds me of a guy who gets sent home on night one of The Bachelor." Charlotte is so appalled by his comments and behavior, she asks him to leave before dinner is served.

When she returns home from the wedding, a package is waiting for her. The mausoleum where her husband Decker's ashes resided burned during a wildfire, and now the urn with his ashes are in her apartment. A letter accompanying the urn states that the company is no longer in business and she may do what she wishes with them.

This throws Charlotte for a loop, and brings back people into her life she hasn't seen since her husband died. Charlotte goes to the home of her former mother-in-law, a wealthy woman who has no love lost for Charlotte since she blames Charlotte for her son's death.

Charlotte also reconnects with her husband's best friend Brian, now a pediatrician. Brian offers to help her find another resting place for Decker's ashes, and then asks her if she'd like to go to a baseball game with him.

Husband Material contains the interesting characters and sharp wit seen in Hot Mess. (I wonder if her next novel's title will be two words beginning with H and M?) Brian's fancy car has air vents that can be customized to release scents like "freshly baked waffles", and Charlotte lamenting that her "aerobic capability caps at power walking to my Ubers before I get charged the late fee" are two examples of her wit.

While it would have been easy to make the mother-in-law strictly a Wicked Witch of the West character, a plot twist near the end shows a different shade. The plot twist is one I didn't see coming, and it certainly throws a interesting curveball.

Emily Belden's second novel Husband Material is even better than her first. I liked that it's not strictly a romance, it's more a story about Charlotte facing her future by dealing with her past. I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Harlequin for inviting me to be a part of their Romance & Women's Fiction blog tour, and providing me with an egalley for an honest review.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Wicked Redhead by Beatriz Williams

The Wicked Redhead by Beatriz Williams
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062660312
Hardcover, $26.99, 406 pages
When we last left Gin Kelly, she had just had a harrowing encounter with her violent stepfather and his gang of Prohibition-violating criminals that left Billy Marshall, the man who loved her, badly beaten in Beatriz Williams' second Wicked City series novel, The Wicked City.

The third novel of the Wicked City series, The Wicked Redhead, picks up in 1924 in the aftermath of the violent event. Gin and Billy's brother Anson, a Prohibition agent who is Gin's lover, have escaped to Cocoa Beach, Florida with Gin's young sister Pasty. They are staying with Anson's friends Simon and Virginia to recuperate.

Although Anson wants to provide a safe life for Gin and Patsy, he is drawn to helping the feds fight the scourge of pirates who are attacking the illegal rum runners, as well as the unlawful liquor distributors filling the waters off the east coast.

Gin is angry that Anson would undertake such a dangerous mission. When Anson and Billy's indominable mother comes to Cocoa Beach, she wants to bring Gin back to Long Island to help her son Billy's recovery. She offers Gin a quid pro quo- if Gin comes backs to New York to help Billy, she will give Gin some information about her family that could change her life.

The scenes between Gin and Mrs. Marshall are the strongest of the book. These two characters are tough, strong ladies. Mrs. Marshall may not be sympathetic, but she loves her seriously injured son and will do anything to help him. As the mother of sons, I understand that.

In 1998, Ella's story also picks up where we left her in The Wicked City. Ella has left her cheating husband and moved into a small apartment where Gin used to live. Ella finds racy vintage photographs of Gin, and wants to know more about this redheaded woman who also has a connection to her great-aunt Julie.

Once again, there is a violent confrontation involving Anson and Gin at the end of their story. There are also a few explicit sex scenes early on in the book, and Williams knows how to raise the pulse of her readers. Williams' leaves readers with more to tell in Gin and Ella's stories, so I'm sure we will see these ladies again in another book.

I enjoy Williams' style of writing, and I found one particular passage enlightening. Gin thinks-
"That's the trouble, isn't it? You never can see yourself from the perspective of someone else. You never do know how you look."
For those who read the Schuyler Sisters novels by Williams, you'll be happy to know that they play a part in this series as well. And I loved that the law firm of Willig, Williams & White is mentioned, a nod to Williams' writing partners authors Lauren Willig and Karen White, whose latest book, All the Ways We Said Goodbye publishes in January.

Fans of Beatriz Williams will enjoy The Wicked Redhead, but I do suggest that you read The Wicked City first in order to fully appreciate the new novel.
Beatriz Williams' website is here.
My review of The Wicked City is here.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Beatriz Williams' tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Instagram Features

Tuesday, December 10th: Instagram: @owlslittlelibrary
Tuesday, December 10th: Instagram: @jessicamap
Wednesday, December 11th: Instagram: @book.hang.o.ver
Thursday, December 12th: Instagram: @girlwithnoselfie
Friday, December 13th: Instagram: @downtogetthefictionon
Saturday, December 14th: Instagram: @lavieestbooks
Sunday, December 15th: Instagram: @wherethereadergrows
Monday, December 16th: Instagram: @tarheelreader
Tuesday, December 17th: Instagram: @bookishblissandbeauty
Wednesday, December 18th: Instagram: @thephdivabooks

Review Stops

Tuesday, December 10th: The Pages In-Between
Wednesday, December 11th: Jessicamap Reviews
Thursday, December 12th: Instagram: @lauralovestoread
Friday, December 13th: Reading Reality
Friday, December 13th: View from the Birdhouse
Sunday, December 15th: Girl Who Reads
Monday, December 16th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, December 17th: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, December 18th: The Reading Corner For All
Thursday, December 19th: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, December 23rd: Always With a Book
Monday, December 30th: Instagram: @babygotbooks13
Tuesday, December 31st: Instagram: @libraryinprogress
Thursday, January 2nd: Instagram: @kraysbookclub
Friday, January 3rd: Iwriteinbooks’s blog
Monday, January 6th: Instagram: @shereadswithcats

Friday, December 13, 2019

The Friday 5ive- Christmas books

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention during the week.

I know you'll be surprised to know that I have a lovely collection of Christmas books that I display during the holidays. The following are five of them that I think you may like.

1) Many writers have a Christmas book in their collection, and the late Dorothea Benton Frank's The Christmas Pearl is one of the best. It takes place in her beloved Low Country of South Carolina, where 93 year-old Theodora is remembering the the beautiful family Christmas' of her childhood as her bickering family comes home for the holidays. The edition I have has dozens of down-home family recipes at the end. We all miss Dottie.

2) In the historical romance genre, Lauren Willig's The Mischief of the Mistletoe is her Christmas novel from her popular Pink Carnation Series. While teaching at a girls school in Bath, England, Arabella and her friend Reginald find a Christmas pudding with a cryptic message inside that will lead them into a Christmas caper. The cover of this one is so lovely.

3) Mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark writes a series of Christmas books (some with her daughter Carol Higgins Clark), and her Silent Night takes the reader on a New York City adventure as young Brian follows a man who steals his mother's wallet into the subway and this changes the life of the thief and Brian.

4) I adore Mary Poppins, and when I saw this slim volume of Christmas stories, Aunt Sass, by P.L.Travers, I had to have it. Travers wrote these three stories to give as gifts to her friends about three people who influenced her- a Chinese cook, a foul-mouthed ex-jockey, and Aunt Sass, the inspiration for the character of Mary Poppins.

5) Last year the New York Public Library published 100 Christmas Wishesa beautiful collection of vintage holiday cards that would delight any fan of Christmas.  It's so pretty to thumb through, and I got my copy signed by Rosanne Cash, who wrote the forward.

Do you have a favorite Christmas book? Share it in the Comments section.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Friday 5ive- Christmas Ornaments

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post where I share five things that caught my attention this week.

It was time to put up the Christmas tree again and I enjoy going through all the ornaments, remembering where I got them and what they mean to me. Here are five that I particularly enjoy.

1) The best ornaments are the ones that our sons made in elementary school. These take front and center position on our tree every year and they always will.

2) One of the most popular shops at The Holiday Market at Bryant Park is the one that sells personalized ornaments. I stop by every year, and three years ago I got this one with all of our names on it. 

3) One of my newest ornaments comes from the New York Public Library Gift Shop. Since I volunteer at the Book Cellar book shop located in the Webster branch of the NYPL, this one is very appropriate.

4) Whenever we travel, I pick up an ornament for our tree. This one is from our trip to Ireland.

5) A family member gave us this Wegmans ornament to remind us of home, and that it does. (Although now there is a Wegmans in Brooklyn I have yet to see.)

Do you have favorite ornaments for your tree? Share them in Comments below.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Meet Me On Love Lane by Nina Bocci

Meet Me On Love Lane by Nina Bocci
Published by Gallery Books ISBN 978-1982102043
Trade paperback, $16, 282 pages

This past summer I read On the Corner of Love and Hate a sweet romance novel by Nina Bocci.  (My review here) It is set in the small tourist town of Hope Lake, Pennsylvania, and tells the story of Emma Peroni,  who works in the Ecomonic Development Office of the town and is the daughter of the long-serving and popular mayor.

Emma is terrific at her job, and resents her coworker Cooper, the handsome ladies' man her father is grooming to become the town's next mayor. I loved the small town setting of Hope Lake, and coming from a small town, I felt the characters to be realistic portrayals.

So I was happy to find that Bocci has a second novel in what she calls her Hopeless Romantics series, Meet Me On Love Lane. Charlotte Bishop returns to her hometown of Hope Lake after having left with her mother when she was ten years old.

They moved to New York City after her parents' divorce, and 21 years later she comes home after her mother's death and her career as an events planner falls apart. She shows up unannounced at her doctor-father's office, much to his delight and surprise.

Charlotte moves in with her elderly grandmother Imogen, a retired doctor and popular figure in town. People are constantly stopping by Imogen's house to drop off food, run errands, or pick her up for her one of four book club meetings. One of her many visitors is Henry, the high school English teacher.

 Henry also works at the town's bookstore, and runs several book clubs. He is popular with town's residents, from the very young to the more mature. He is single, and seems to be keeping his eye on Charlotte from a distance, yet always there when she needs a ride or a helping hand.

Charlotte reconnects with her best friend Emma, and Nick and Cooper, her other childhood friends. She doesn't recall Henry at all, even though as children they were all thick as thieves. She also meets the hunky Dr. Max, who works with her father and would like to become better acquainted with Charlotte.

With no plan in sight (or money), Emma convinces Charlotte to stay in town and temporarily run a new florist shop. Charlotte is still trying to sort out her conflicted feelings about being back in Hope Lake, her attraction to Dr. Max, and why she can't remember Henry from years ago.

Meet Me On Love Lane is a strong second novel in the Hopeless Romantics series, beautifully picking up where On the Corner of Love and Hate left off. It made me happy to be back in Hope Lake and to meet more of the town's residents. The way Bocci describes the lovely town square, I can picture it clearly in my mind's eye.

I enjoyed that Emma and Cooper also played a prominent role in Charlotte's story, it felt like catching up with old friends, and I liked meeting more of the town. I want to shop at the bookstore, grab some lunch at Casey's, and stop by Late Bloomers to pick up a bouquet of flowers. Give me a terrific love story in a small town, with a local business owner in it and I am all in!

I went to Nina Bocci's website and was overjoyed to see that there is a third novel in the series due in April 2020. I cannot wait to return to Hope Lake then.

If you are a Hallmark Channel fan, Meet Me On Love Lane is the novel for you. I highly recommend it.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Nina Bocci's tour. The rest of her stops are here:
Monday, December 2nd: Bookchickdi
Wednesday, December 4th: Reading Reality
Thursday, December 5th: Read Love Blog – review and guest post
Friday, December 6th: @lifeinlit
Friday, December 6th: The Sassy Bookster – guest post
Monday, December 9th: @pieladybooks
Tuesday, December 10th: @everlasting.charm
Friday, December 13th: @inquisitivebookworm
Tuesday, December 17th: Nurse Bookie and @nurse_bookie
Wednesday, December 18th: Hallie Reads
Thursday, December 19th: Girl Who Reads
Friday, December 20th: Tar Heel Reader and @tarheelreader
Monday, December 23rd: From the TBR Pile – review and guest post
Monday, December 23rd: Thoughts on This ‘n That – review and guest post
Tuesday, December 24th: Jathan & Heather – review and guest post
Thursday, December 26th: Openly Bookish
Friday, December 27th: Not in Jersey and @notinjersey
Monday, December 30th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Monday, December 30th: Broken Teepee – guest post
Tuesday, December 31st: Books & Bindings
Thursday, January 2nd: Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, January 3rd: What is That Book About
Monday, January 6th: The Romance Dish
Tuesday, January 7th: Bookish Bliss and Beauty and @bookishblissandbeauty
Wednesday, January 8th: Kritter’s Ramblings


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Book Are Great Gifts Holiday Guide

Reprinted from the Citizen:
Thanksgiving is this week, and that means that Christmas shopping officially begins as well. Books make the best gifts — they are never the wrong size or color, and they are easy to wrap, even for the most gift-wrapping-challenged among us. And so I present the annual Books Are Great Gifts Guide.
If you’re looking to give a gift for an entire family, National Geographic has a wonderful collection of coffee table books filled with gorgeous photos and interesting facts. There’s Epic Journeys for the world (or armchair) travelers, and Atlas of National Parks for those who prefer to visit our nation’s parks. Almanac 2020 is filled with fun facts and photos about the world around us. 

For the biography aficionado on your list, Edmund Morris’ Edison dives deep into the life of the famous inventor. Ed Stack, the founder of Dick’s Sporting Goods (which began in Binghamton), recounts his own story in It’s How We Play the Game. Pair Sheila Weller’s Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge with some of Fisher’s own books for a great gift. 
There are many biographies of musical icons out as well: Elton John’s autobiography Me is topping the bestseller list now, as is a biography of Prince, The Beautiful Ones by Dan Piepenbring. Holly George-Warren’s biography Janis: Her Life and Music takes the reader inside Janis Joplin’s short and intense life. Add a CD of the artist’s music, and you have a great gift.

For the chef in your life, there is a new edition of The Joy of Cooking that updates 600 recipes for today’s chef. For the Food Network fan, Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman: The New Frontier has 112 recipes for everyday cooking. Wrap it in a pretty tea towel and you’re done. 
Fiction this season is all about sequels. Elizabeth Strout brings back Olive Kitteridge from her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name in Olive, Again, which continues the cantankerous Maine woman’s story. Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments picks up life in Gilead 15 years after her 1985 book The Handmaid’s Tale. Fans of the Hulu show will want to read this one. 
If your fiction reader prefers historical novels, Jojo Moyes’ The Giver of Stars is about a group of female librarians during the Great Depression who deliver books to rural residents of Kentucky, although there are people who are trying to stop them. 
For the romance fan, Katherine Center’s Things You Save in a Fire is about a young female Texas firefighter who moves to Boston with her mother, and finds male firefighters there not as welcoming — except for one handsome rookie. Linda Holmes’ Evvie Drake Starts Over is about a young widow who takes in a Major League Baseball player with a case of the yips. 
Mystery fans love new books from their favorite authors. David Baldacci’s One Good Deed takes place in 1949, as a World War II vet on parole from prison takes a job that becomes complicated. Harlan Coben’s Run Away is about a father who finds his missing daughter busking for money in Central Park, and this endangers all their lives. Fan favorite Mary Higgins Clark’s Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry tells the timely tale of two women who accuse a TV newsman of sexual harassment and end up dead. 
Books make wonderful gifts for children, and older teens will love Ruta Sepetys’ The Fountains of Silence, about young teens trying to survive life during the brutal rule of Francisco Franco in 1957 Madrid, Spain. Katherine McGee’s American Royals posits that George Washington was named king of the United States, and his descendant, Princess Beatrice, is preparing to take the throne in modern times. Graphic novel fans will enjoy Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks’ Pumpkin Heads, about two teens who work in the same pumpkin patch every autumn
Middle grade readers also like graphic novels, and Raina Telegmeier’s Guts is about a young girl whose worrisome nature gives her a constant stomachache. James Patterson’s new Max Einstein novel, Rebels With A Cause, will be a hit, and Dav Pilke’s newest Dog Man book, Brawl of the Wild, is a favorite among youngsters. 
For the youngest children, you can celebrate Sesame Street’s 50th birthday with Cookie Monster’s Foodie Truck. Pair that with Little Blue Truck’s Christmas for a truck-themed gift. Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush Hager have teamed up for Sisters First, a charming story about the love between two sisters. 
Happy Thanksgiving, and happy shopping!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The New Milk Bar

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.

After we finished our fun and exciting experience at Mission Escape Games last weekend (my first time doing one), we headed over to the newest edition of Milk Bar. I've been to the Milk Bar near Union Square, but this one is a much larger space and is called their Flagship Store.

When you walk in, a greeter leads you to the display case and gives you a menu. You move along in a cafeteria line, past their famous cookies- Conflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow, Blueberry & Cream, and my favorite, Compost Cookie. The Compost Cookie has everything- chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, potato chips, pretzels, oats and coffee. It's so good!

They have their famous Milk Bar Pie, their delicious cakes (Birthday Cake is popular) and their seasonal Pumpkin Dulce de Leche. Their truffles (Birthday Cake, Chocolate Birthday Cake and more) are a big take-out treat.
Birthday Cake Slices

New to Milk Bar are their savory treats. They make Pepperoni Bombs, Bagel Bombs, Italian Hero and Eggplant Parm Bombs. Each round, pillowy pastry has a filling inside that's just enough for a snack, a little less than a meal. I had the Pepperoni Bomb and quite enjoyed it. I also tried their seasonal Turkey Croissant, filled with turkey, cranberry, and herbs. It tasted just like Thanksgiving!
Truffles and Savory Bombs

This Milk Bar features a Build-A-Pint for $15, you can choose your flavor of ice cream and add toppings. Next time I will bring one of those home for dessert.

They also carry soft serve ice cream, milkshakes, milkquakes (shakes with add-ins) and  flavored lattes. One of our group got the Apple Pie soft serve and it had a wonderful apple flavor, topped with brown sugar and cinnamon.

The display case of cakes is a sight to behold, filled with so many gorgeous cakes that are sure to taste as good as they look.

Cakes as far the eye can see
They even have classes there where you can learn to bake your own Milk Bar cake to take home.

If you are fan of Milk Bar, or of bakeries in general, make sure to stop by Milk Bar Flagship in New York City, not too far from Penn Station.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Friday 5ive- November 22, 2019

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post where I share five things that caught my attention this week.

1) The fabulous Kristin Chenoweth spent a week at the Nederlander Theatre performing songs from her wonderful CD For The Girls. I love my signed copy that I got when I met her at Barnes & Noble where she shared some great stories with the audience. Her show was amazing, and she had special guest stars at each performance. We were lucky enough to get gospel singer CeCe Winans, who sang one solo song, and then she and Kristin blew the roof off the theatre with their duet of How Great Thou Art. Kristin performed a duet with the current Glinda from Broadway's Wicked (Kristin was the original Glinda) and then she invited a young woman from the audience to come up and sing a duet of Popular with her. The seventeen year-old was astonishing. I'll have more in a future blog post, but let me say, if Kristin Chenoweth is performing near you, you must go see her. For The Girls is on constant repeat at my apartment- I adore it!

2) On Sunday, I was invited to go to an Escape Room with my daughter-in-law, nephew's wife, and another nephew's girlfriend. I'd never done an escape room before, but these women were veterans. You are locked in a room and have to figure out a set of clues that lead you to another set of clues and on and on until you solve all the clues or your time of one hour is up. The scenario was that we had to solve the clues to save humanity from destruction, and let me tell you, forget Tom Cruise or Will Smith- if we need to save the world, get these young women. I was in awe as they ran around,worked together and figured it all out with eighteen minutes to spare. They could have taken a coffee break and still saved the world. It was fun and next time I hope to be of more (any?) help.
You're welcome humanity

3) The sign of the week caught my eye as I was running errands. I saw this in the front door of an apartment building. I think one of the occupants is hoping to get some of that $1000 a month Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang is promising voters. Good luck.

4) I read two books this week. The first was Amaryllis Fox's memoir Life Undercover- Coming of Age in the CIA about her days as a young undercover operative in the CIA. I found the life she led intriguing, particularly in light of the testimony of the diplomatic and national security people we heard this week. These people are loyal to our nation and to our national security. There are so many young analysts and undercover agents working hard to keep us safe, and they sacrifice much to complete their missions. I give this one a solid B.

I'm in the middle of Nina Bocci's romance novel Meet Me on Love Lane, the second in her Hopeless Romantics series of books set in the Pennsylvania tourist town of Hope Lake. (The first one was On The Corner of Love and Hate.) In this one, Charlotte comes back to Hope Lake after a twenty year absence to try and figure what her next life move should be. Her father is the town doctor, her best friend Emma is head of the Community Development Office, and there are two men who could be her love interests. It's a sweet story, and if you live in a small town or just wish you did, this is a great series of books for you. I'll post a full review on December 2nd. 

5) I've been bingeing the first two seasons of Netflix's The Crown, about the life of Queen Elizabeth II. Claire Foy is brilliant as the young Queen, I can see why she won all the awards that she did for this role. John Lithgow is always stellar, and he shines again as Winston Churchill. I found Princess Margaret's (beautifully played by Vanessa Kirby) story moving, perhaps because I just finished a novel, The Other Windsor Girl, recently and enjoyed it. I can't wait to get to the newly released season three. Are you watching?  
The first two seasons are on DVD

Thanksgiving is less than a week away- are you ready?

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Atlas of the National Parks by Jon Waterman

Atlas of the National Parks by Jon Waterman
Published by National Geographic  ISBN 9781426220579
Hardcover, $65, 424 pages

If you are a fan of our country's National Park system, National Geographic has published the perfect book for you. Their Atlas of the National Parks by Jon Waterman is a lush coffee table book designed to please the outdoor traveler.

It begins with a overview of the National Parks system, starting with the creation of the National Parks Service in 1916 signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson.  This beautiful book has over 200 maps, photos, and illustrations. History buffs will enjoy the many old photos and maps that show the parks as they were. Science fans will be attracted to the topographical maps and information about the flora and animals found in the parks, and art majors will love the  historical paintings that feature the parks.

There are so many interesting facts here, like the top fifteen most visited parks (did you guess that the Great Smoky Mountains Park is number one with more than 11 million annual visitors?). The Extremes Map has lots of trivia - the oldest park (Yellowstone, established in 1872), the only park south of the equator (National Park of American Samoa), and the smallest park by area (Thaddeus Koscuiszko Park in New Jersey is .02 acres).

The sections are divided up by region- from the Eastern Coast & Forest Parks to Alaska & Hawaii Parks. There are fun facts interspersed in each section that you can use as ice breakers at a party- Cadillac Mountain is the highest peak on the Atlantic Coast, and from October to March is the first place in America to see the sunrise, and Butch Cassidy's gang hidout in Canyonlands National Park in the rock walls there known as Robbers Roost.

Of course the photos are stunning, as one would expect to find in a National Geographic publication. You'd swear some of them were paintings- like the photo of the Grand Teton National Park, Bear Lake in the Rocky Mountain National Park, and Snug Harbor Park in Isle Royale National Park- they look so breathtaking.

After extensively covering 32 of the largest and most popular parks, there is a section that gives an overview of the smaller and lesser-known parks, like Mesa Verde in Colorado, Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio, and Virgin Islands National Park.

Atlas of the National Parks is a comprehensive look at some of the most beautiful places in our nation. If you have someone on your holiday gift list who has visited some of them or always wanted to visit them, give them this beautiful book.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on this tour. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

Two Books About Siblings

Reprinted from the Citizen:

The sibling relationship can provide drama in real life, and two recently published novels dive deep into those waters with J. Ryan Stradal’s second novel, The Lager Queen of Minnesota, and Ann Patchett’s tenth book, The Dutch House. 

Stradal’s first novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest was a critically acclaimed story of a talented young chef staying true to herself and her food. In The Lager Queen of Minnesota we meet Edith, 64 years old, who works as a dietary aide in a nursing home. She bakes pies for the residents, and hers are named the third-best pies in the entire state by a hip newspaper. 

Soon, people are lined up trying to get into the nursing home dining room to try Edith’s pies. Edith and her retired husband Stanley struggle financially, but maybe this is a way to make some money and become more stable.

Edith grew up on a family farm, with her parents and sister Helen. When their father passed away, it was assumed that the farm would be sold and the sisters would split the money. But their father left it all to Helen, who took the money and with it, she and her husband became one of the biggest brewers in the Midwest.

After that, Edith refused to speak to Helen, but Helen was so busy creating her empire that she put it aside. When Edith’s granddaughter Diana comes to live with her, Diana ends up working at a local IPA brewer, and it turns out that she is very good as a brewmaster.

When Diana needs help, she turns to Edith and a group of older women who prove that age is just a number, and when the chips are down, there are people around to pick you up. 

You don’t have to like beer to appreciate The Lager Queen of Minnesota, but if you like a good IPA, you’ll get more out of this fantastic novel. I enjoyed learning about the brewing business. The Midwest setting is a welcome change from the urban settings of many books, and the characters are grounded in reality. I highly recommend this novel.

In Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House Cyril Conroy creates a successful business in real estate after WWII in Philadelphia. He surprises his wife by buying the Dutch House, a huge mansion in the suburbs. But is it a good surprise?

With the house comes a staff of three women who help raise the two children, Maeve and Danny. Their mother seems very unhappy, and disappears from time to time, until one day she leaves and never comes back.

Tenacious young widow Andrea sets her sights on Cyril, and their shared love of the Dutch House brings them together. When Cyril marries Andrea, she brings along her two young daughters. Like the wicked stepmother in fairy tales, Andrea bides her time until she can force Maeve and Danny from the Dutch House, and claim it as her own.

This devastates Maeve and Danny. They have lost the only home they have ever known, and any connection to their parents. Maeve, who is out in the workforce, takes in her high-school aged brother, and they live together in a small apartment.

Danny narrates this beautifully told story as he tries to understand where he fits into this world. Although the narration switches back and forth in time, Patchett is such a skilled writer that it all flows so smoothly, and the reader is never confused.

Maeve and Danny occasionally park outside the Dutch House, peering inside and reliving the past while talking about the future. We follow them through college, work, adulthood, and eventually Danny has a marriage and family of his own.

Maeve can’t seem to move forward with her life, and she tries to push Danny to go to medical school to become a doctor, but for her own reasons. When Danny meets the woman he wants to marry, she is concerned by how close Danny and Maeve are, and the influence Maeve wields over him. This causes problems for Danny as the two people he loves most don’t like each other.

Since we see Maeve through Danny’s eyes, she is perhaps not as well known to the reader. But they have an unshakeable bond that gets tested at the end of the story as they confront their past, the cost of forgiveness, and the meaning of family. I loved The Dutch House and highly recommend it.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal- A+
Published by Pamela Dorman Books
Hardcover, $26, 349 pages

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett- A+
Published by HarperCollins

Hardcover, $27.99, 352 pages