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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

New in Paperback- With Or Without You by Caroline Leavitt

With Or Without You by Caroline Leavitt 
Published by Algonquin Paperbacks ISBN 9781643751436
Trade paperback, $16.95, 289 pages

Author Caroline Leavitt's novels share stories of people facing some kind of crisis, often ones not of their design. In Pictures of You, a car crash causes the death of a woman that upends the life of the other driver. In Cruel Beautiful World, Charlotte's life is thrown into turmoil when her younger 16 year-old sister runs away with her teacher. She creates characters that you empathize with, and feel deeply about.

Leavitt's latest novel, With or Without You, begins with Stella and Simon, who have been together for twenty years, having a recurring argument. Stella, a nurse, wants to settle down, buy their New York City apartment, and have a child. Simon, a rock musician, does not.

Simon is preparing to go Los Angeles with his bandmates to open for a younger, popular rocker. He sees this as an opportunity for the band to break out and gain the attention they have been seeking for the last twenty years. Times have been tough for them, and this may be their last best chance.

Stella is suffering from a terrible cold, and instead of going to Los Angeles with Simon as planned, she says that she will stay in New York. At first upset, Simon tries to talk her into coming, even though maybe deep down, he thinks it would be better for her not to go. 

During the argument, they are drinking wine, and Simon gives Stella a pill to take to feel better. The next morning, Simon has to rush the unconscious Stella to the hospital where she works, after she has fallen into a coma.

Libby is an attending doctor and one of Stella's best friends. She is on Stella's case, and not a fan of Simon, whom she thinks is selfish. But Simon stays by Stella's side the entire time, giving up his trip to Los Angeles and dreams of stardom.

Stella's mom Bette flies in from Spain, and she and Simon form their own new family as they wait by Stella's bedside for her to wake up. The relationship between Simon and Bette is touching, and we see a side to Bette that Stella doesn't know. Libby comes to see another side of Simon as well.

When Stella eventually wakes up, she is a different person. She begins drawing circles on paper, over and over. She goes to the park and feels compelled to sketch people. Her drawings are so intense, and she becomes a popular attraction. People begin to pay her for her drawings, and soon she gets commissions for her sketches and draws the attention of the media.

Simon doesn't know what to make of this. All his life he has been an artist, and wanted attention for his work, and now Stella is the one whom the world notices. 

No one writes characters as well as Leavitt, and here we see how the circumstances of Stella's coma have changed the lives of not only Simon and Stella, but Libby's as well. People are forced to look at the life they had wanted but must deal with the life they now find themselves facing. 

 I liked how Leavitt looks at memories that we have of our childhood, and assumptions we make about those we love that turn out to be different from we had always believed. The characters in With Or Without You go through such emotional and physical upheavals, and the reader is right along with them for all the heartache. I read With Or Without You in one sitting, my heart breaking the entire time. I highly recommend it, and Caroline Leavitt gets better with every novel.

 Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Caroline Leavitt's tour.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Eva And Eve by Julie Metz

Eva and Eve by Julie Metz
Published by Atria ISBN 9781982127985
Hardcover, $28, 309 pages

Mother  and daughter stories will always be popular, both fiction and nonfiction. Julie Metz's new nonfiction, Eva and Eve- A Search For My Mother's Lost Childhood and What A War Left Behind takes Julie Metz from her mother's childhood home in Vienna to Trieste in Italy to Manhattan where her mother ended up when she escaped to America during WWII.

Julie's mother Eve and her family lived in the beautiful city of Vienna, Austria. There was a vibrant Jewish community of 200,000 people there in the 1930s. (Post-war, it was 9000.) When Hilter came to power in Germany, his Nazi party wanted to reunify the Germans living in Austria, and so the anschlauss (annexation) of Austria began. 

The property of Jewish people were stolen by the Nazis- homes, businesses, property- and Eva's older brothers were sent to London to protect them from a Nazi neighbor who had a grudge against them. Eva and her parents stayed in Vienna, and soon they were trapped in their home, ten year-old Eva unable to even go to school.

Eva's father Julius, with the help of some of the people who worked in the paper factory he owned, managed to raise enough money and get passports to get Julius, his wife Anna, and Eva to Italy and then on a boat to America where they settled in Brooklyn.

After her mother died, Metz found a notebook in her mother's dresser drawer, filled with notes to  Eva from her friends before the family left for America. Metz had a difficult relationship with her mother, who worked as an art director at Simon & Schuster publishers for many years, working her way up to an important position in the company.

Metz decided to find out more about her Eve's life as a child, when she was known as Eva, to better understand her mother. Julie traveled to Vienna and found the home where Eva lived with her parents and the factory her father owned. With the help of some kind people, she was able to uncover through photos and artifacts what life was like for her mother and grandparents. 

She found photos and archival information about life for Jewish people during the anschlauss. She learned the details of how systematically the Nazis took everything away bit by bit from the Austrian Jewish population, deported them, and began to send them to concentration camps.

Metz also visited Trieste, Italy, where her mother's family traveled and stayed for nine days, awaiting the ship that would take them to America.  She followed in their footsteps to better understand what happened to them and others.

Using both information she could verify and the feelings that she imagined her mother and family had as they watched their lives being taken away from them, Metz puts the reader into the minds of Eva and her family. We feel what they feel.

Eva and Eve is also part travelogue. Metz takes the reader to Vienna and Trieste, two cities I didn't know much about. We get a real taste for the food and culture of both cities.

If you only know about what happened in Austria during WWII from watching The Sound of Music or the one paragraph in your high school history book, reading Eva and Eve will give you a better perspective. On a microlevel, it examines how that trauma shaped the life of Eve, and how that affected her relationship with her daughter. I recommend it. 

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

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Lady Sunshine by Amy Mason Doan

Lady Sunshine by Amy Mason Doan
Published by Graydon House, ISBN 9781525804670
Trade paperback, $16.99, 368 pages

Books set in the music scene of the 1970s are popular right now, (novels like Taylor Jenkins Reid's Daisy Jones and the Six, Emma Brodie's Songs in Ursa Major, Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau and Ronald Brownstein's nonfiction Rock Me on the Water) and if you fondly remember those days, Amy Mason Doan's new novel Lady Sunshine is for you.

The novel is set in two time periods- 1979 and 1999- at the Sandcastle, the home of once-popular folk singer Graham Kingston. The Sandcastle is a sprawling rural estate, where Graham, his wife Angela, and teenage daughter Willa live in a commune-like existence, along with the myriad of stragglers and fans who show up.

In 1999, Graham's niece Jackie, a Boston music teacher, has inherited the Sandcastle and returns to pack up the remains of the place and prepare it for sale after the death of Angela. Graham is already dead, and the story hints that there is something mysterious about his death, as well as questions about what happened to Willa.

While there, Jackie meets Shane, a musician who tells her that Angela asked him to record a tribute album at Graham's studio at the Sandcastle. Angela gave Shane a notebook with Graham's original music and lyrics, and although Jackie wants to finish the task and go back to Boston, something from the past haunts her.

Jackie came to stay at the Sandcastle one summer in 1979 when she was 17 years old. She didn't know her aunt and uncle well, and it is with Willa whom she creates a solid friendship bond. Willa teaches Jackie to surf, and they write songs together.

Although Graham is a hero to the many people who come and stay at the Sandcastle, there are hints that Angela and Willa think differently about him. After Jackie witnesses something disturbing, she and Willa decide to do something that results in tragedy.

Jackie lost touch with the Kingstons after that summer, and returning to the Sandcastle twenty years later brings up things she doesn't want to remember. She thinks she sees Willa on the property, although no one has seen Willa in twenty years, and other items show up that relate to the mystery of the night of Willa's disappearance.

Lady Sunshine is a story of young female friendship, with a mystery twined around it. Anyone who grew up in that 1970s time period will be transported back to those summer days, when music and friendship meant everything.
Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Summer 2021 Beach Reads Blog Tour.

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Hollywood Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal

The Hollywood Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal
Published by Bantam ISBN 9780593156926
Hardcover, $27, 368 pages

There are a small number of series that I impatiently wait for the next book to publish, and Susan Elia MacNeal's WWII spy Maggie Hope series is one of the few. Maggie has taken us from London to Berlin to the coast of Scotland to Paris, and in the latest book, The Hollywood Spy, Maggie is in 1943 Los Angeles to help her former boyfriend discover who killed his fianceé.

Maggie's old beau RAF pilot John Sterling is in Hollywood training pilots for war. He also has a project in the works at Walt Disney Studio, working on an animated film about pilots. Disney has opened up his studio lot for the war effort, in addition to creating films intended to promote the US involvement in the war. 

Maggie's friend and former spy Sarah has a dance role in one of the films, so Maggie is staying with her at the Chateau Marmont hotel. While investigating the drowning of John's fianceé, which the police have ruled an accident, Maggie discovers an ugly underbelly of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles was a hotbed of Nazism until Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. While the Nazis have seemingly gone underground, the Ku Klux Klan is an emerging power. Their anti-Semitism, anti-immigration, and racism attracts people drawn to the White Power movement, including people high up in the Los Angeles police department.

The more Maggie digs, the more she discovers a possible connection between John's fianceé's death and the Nazi sympathizers. But when evidence in the case disappears, Maggie doesn't know who to trust.

MacNeal immerses the reader in 1943 Los Angeles. We visit such iconic places as The Cocoanut Grove, Disney Studios, and Schwab's Pharmacy. Her descriptions of the architectural mishmash of different styles - Moroccan next to Spanish next to Greek next to Roman- highlight that Los Angeles is "a mirage in the desert- suspended between fantasy and reality", a point made more than once. (One house that Maggie visits actually contains fake marble columns from a film set.)

Since this is Los Angeles, many famous people made cameo appearances- Walt Disney, Linus Pauling, Howard Hughes, Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Hattie McDaniel, Igor Stravinsky- that add to the atmosphere of the story. It's also good to have our old friends here- Sarah and John.

I learned so much about a time in the history of Los Angeles with which I was unfamiliar, and a glance at the extensive Sources section at the end are a tribute to the substantial amount of research MacNeal did in crafting this fascinating chapter in Maggie Hope's story.

MacNeal opens the book with two powerful quotes- one from Hitler in 1933 about undermining the morale of the American people, and one from Albert Camus' The Plague about a plague lying dormant and rising again. Both of these (unfortunately) resonate with the political dynamics of today. I don't know if it should be a comfort to know that as a country we have faced these problems before or a disappointment that we still have not reckoned with anti-Semitism and racism.

The Hollywood Spy is the tenth book in the brilliant Maggie Hope series and it's good to see that Maggie has seemingly come through the personal troubles she has faced in the last two books. Fans of Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series should start reading the Maggie Hope books, they're a great companion- both women are strong, intelligent, brave and great inspirations for young women. I highly recommend The Hollywood Spy.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Friday 5ive- June 18, 2021

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

1) On Thursday night, my husband and I heard what we hoped was fireworks. We went out on our balcony and sure enough, there was barge in the East River shooting off fireworks. It was a few days too late for the Back to Normal celebration that New York State organized earlier in the week. Maybe it was practice for the Macys 4th of July Show?

2) My husband and I put together our new wine rack from Wine Enthusiast on Saturday. (Well, I held it together while my husband screwed in the 100 screws.) Thank goodness we had a cordless drill, we were able to finish in less than two hours. It's been awhile since we had to put furniture together.

3) I received the cutest invitation for our Beach Club Book Club meeting next month. The book is Jennifer Ryan's The Kitchen Front, about a cooking contest in England during WWII. I can't wait to read and discuss the book, if it's half as much fun as the invitation, it will be a great time.

4) We watched the hugely popular French TV series, Lupin, on Netflix this week. It tells the story of a man, Assane Diop, who sets about to avenge the false imprisonment and death of his father. Assane is a "gentleman thief", inspired by the French literature character Arséne Lupin, and it's a combination of Ocean's Eleven  and Sherlock Holmes. Omar Sy winningly portrays Assane Diop, a big man with a charming smile. It's fun to try and put the puzzle together as to what is happening. I forsee future Lupin tours of Paris, similiar to the Sex and the City tours in NYC. 

5) I read two terrific books this week. I stayed up late to finish in one day Laura Lippman's latest mystery, Dream Girl. Lippman has recently paid homage to books she loved Wilde Lake  (To Kill A Mockingbird), Sunburn (the novels of James M. Cain) and now she salutes Stephen King's Misery in Dream Girl. When writer Gerry Andersen is seriously injured in a fall at his Baltimore condo, he is bedridden and dependent on his young assistant Victoria, and the nurses and therapists who come to his home. He begins to get threatening phone calls from a woman who claims to be the character of his most famous book. Are these calls real or a figment of his imagination? It's a twisty mystery that goes back and forth in time through Gerry's life, and he has to take a look at how he has lived his life. and treated others, particularly the women, in his life. It's a fantastic, meaty mystery.

Julie Metz's nonfiction Eva and Eve, looks at the life of her mother, who escaped from Vienna with her parents during WWII. Metz and her mother had difficulties, and Metz hopes by visiting Vienna and Italy, where her mother spent nine days before boarding the ship to America, she will better understand her mother. If you only know about Austria's history during WWII from The Sound of Music or the brief mention of the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria by Germany in your high school history book, you'll learn so much more about that important moment in history. It also has relevance in today's world if you look at what Russia is trying to do with the Ukraine and other neighboring countries. It's an enlightening book. My full review publishes June 28th. 

Our apartment building has lifted all mask requirements for vaccinated people, and it seems like teh whole world has changed for the better. I hope all is well in your part of the world as we get back to normal.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

A Winter Night by Anne Leigh Parrish

A Winter Night by Anne Leigh Parrish
Published by Unsolicited Press ISBN 9781950730605
Trade paperback, $16. 244 pages

I was first introduced to the Dugan family in Anne Leigh Parrish's book of linked short stories, Our Love Could Light the World. (My review here) The Dugan family story continued in the novel The Amendment (My review here) I loved both books, and so I really looked forward to a third meeting with the Dugans in A Winter Night.

A Winter Night focuses on 34 year-old Angie Dugan, who works as a social worker at a retirement/nursing home. Angie helps families and residents adjust to a new life. She's good at her job, even if it is not exactly what she wants to be doing with her life.

Angie is dating Matt, a younger bartender who is a real people person, a useful trait for his profession. Their relationship is fairly new, and Matt is a friend of one of Angie's younger brothers, which means they spend a lot of time with her brother and his girlfriend.

Trust is an issue for Angie in relationships. She's only had three serious relationships, and each ended on not great terms. Angie's mom Lavinia left the family for a time when the children were young, and then divorced her alcoholic husband Potter and married a wealthier man who later died after being struck by lightning on the golf course. Angie has always helped pick up the pieces of her father's life, even after he married a successful realtor. 

Parrish's beautiful writing gives us such insight into Angie, as seen in this passage about Matt's apartment building:
"It reeks of the temporary, the rootless, somewhere people stay on their way to somewhere either better or worse. She's only channeling her own experience, though, of moving so often when she was growing up. Her family never seemed to stay anywhere longer than a year."

Angie "was told her honesty was a weapon, a means to hand out judgment that was seldom unbiased. Her mother said she liked to beat people up with her words." She sees a therapist to try and have a better understanding of herself.

When Potter relapses and starts drinking again, Angie does not want to be pulled back into the caretaker role she undertook when she was younger. Although Potter promises to stop drinking, as Lavinia says, his "promises are never false. They're just seldom kept."

Reading A Winter Night felt like going back to your hometown and catching up with an old friend. The Dugans live near the Finger Lakes region where I grew up, and that connection drew me in once again. Like Angie, I also grew up as the oldest of five children, and the Christmas dinner scene with all the siblings with all the family dynamics that entails is so relatable.

I highly recommend A Winter Night. It can be read as a stand alone novel, but do yourself a favor and read the two earlier books to get a deeper appreciation of the arc of the Dugan family story. I hope we get to read more about the rest of the Dugans in further stories, as Angie's story reminded me how much I missed them.

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

Review tour:

Friday, June 4th: 5 Minutes for Books

Monday, June 7th: @jenniaahava

Tuesday, June 8th: BookNAround

Wednesday, June 9th: Eliot’s Eats

Thursday, June 10th: @reading_with_nicole

Friday, June 11th: Nurse Bookie and @nurse_bookie

Monday, June 14th: SusanLovesBooks

Tuesday, June 15th: Lit and Life

Wednesday, June 16th: Mom Loves Reading and @mom_loves_reading

Thursday, June 17th: Bookchickdi

Friday, June 18th: @fashionablyfifty

Monday, June 21st: Blunt Scissors Book Reviews and @bluntscissorsbookreviews

Tuesday, June 22nd: Openly Bookish

Thursday, June 24th: Run Wright and @karen_runwright

Friday, June 25th: Kahakai Kitchen

Monday, June 28th: Stranded in Chaos and @sarastrand9438

Wednesday, June 30th: Girl Who Reads

Thursday, July 1st: @lovelyplacebooks


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Nowhere Girl by Cheryl Diamond

Nowhere Girl by Cheryl Diamond
Published by Algonquin Books ISBN 9781616208202
Hardcover, $27.95, 309 pages
In the memoir, Nowhere Girl, author Cheryl Diamond states "by the age of nine, I will have lived in more than a dozen countries, on five continents, under six assumed identies. I know how a document is forged, how to withstand an interrogation, and the most important, how to disappear." How can you resist that?

When the book opens, four year-old Cheryl (whose given name is Bhajan), her older brother Frank (age 14) and older sister Chiara (age 16) are traveling in an out-of-control car careening through the Himalayas with their parents, George and Anne. The family are Sikh, vegetarian, and constant travelers, on the run from Interpol and their mother's father, a member of the Luxenbourg secret police. 

Cheryl is not exactly sure what her father has done, it has something to do with money, but the family has to obey his three rules- always be loyal to their family, trust no one, and be a noble criminal. It is an "unbreakable outlaw code".

Moving from country to country, the children could not make friends. When they are in British Columbia, Chiara plans on attending college and is devastated when George gets into some trouble with an investor and tells them to pack up, they are on the move.

For people who are always on the run, I found it puzzling that George encouraged Frank to join swim teams wherever they moved, becoming good enough that he would train for the Olympics. Cheryl showed skill in gymastics, and she trained with an eye towards the Olympics as well. Weren't they worried they would be discovered?

George had an explosive temper and could be violent with his family. He verbally and physically abused them, beating young Cheryl with a electrical cord. He didn't speak to Frank for over a year- not a word spoken to him. That abuse left emotional scars on all of them.

As the children get older, they rebel against this lifestyle. Eventually, Cheryl wants a passport in her real name, but the problem is that she doesn't have a legal birth certificate. The birth certificate she has is fraudulent, and getting a passport with that would mean that she would be committing fraud. 

Nowhere Girl is a crazy true story, and if it were a novel, the editor would probably tell the author to tone it down, it's too outrageous. The family lived like kings in fancy hotels at times, and then were living in their car, homeless, at others. They had adventures and traveled the world, but had to constantly look over their shoulder. If you liked the books Educated and The Glass Castle, put Nowhere Girl on your list. I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Cheryl Diamond's tour.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Friday 5ive- June 11, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blogpost about five things that caught my attention this week.

1) I made a Costco trip this week, and there were so many people there for a weekday. My sister-in-law had these delicious Lemoncello Chocolate Almonds from Sconza Chocolates at a family gathering last week and I loved them. If you've been to Italy and enjoyed limoncello, these white chocolate covered almonds will take you right back there. They're my new obsession.

2) Speaking of Italy, we did a wine Zoom with a family Italian winery we visited two years ago. NostraVita combines their beautiful winery, with its gorgeous views of the hills of Montalcino, with owner Annabale and Elena's love of art and local history. When we received our shipment of wine this time, we also got a original drawing from their daughter Carlotta, who is is well respected artist. When we visited in 2019, we bought three of her paintings. 

3) I passed a big milestone this week on my Peloton bike- 1000 rides! My two sons (who were doing their 1200th and 1300th rides) and brother-in-law joined me on my favorite instructor Jenn Sherman's Sold Out Show Ride on Sunday morning. All of the songs were from live shows, and she played songs by four of my favorite artists- Fleetwood Mac (The Chain), Bruce Springsteen (Promised Land), Donna Summer (No More Tears) and I got a shout-out from Jenn during one of my all-time favorites, Heart's Crazy For You

4) Before Hamilton- The Musical became the juggernaut that it is, Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical In The Heights about the members of a neighborhood in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan surprised everyone by winning the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical. When I saw it, I thought it was the best musical I had seen. The movie version of In The Heights is now playing on HBOMax until July 11th and it is spectacular. It's about the lives, loves, and dreams of a community and the everything about this movie is fantastic. Some of the standouts include the song 96,000 (filmed at a local public pool that rivals anything ever done in Esther Williams' films), the joyous choreography by Christopher Scott, brilliant direction by John M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) and fantastic performances by Anthony Ramos as Usnavi the bodega owner (a star-making turn) and Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia (whose song Paciencia y Fé is astonishing). This is the perfect movie for summer, the joy we need now. 

5)  I read two terrific books this week. First up, Anne Leigh Parrish's A Winter Night (set near the Finger Lakes region where I grew up) continues the story of the Dugan family, this time focusing on 34 year-old Angie. She works as a social worker at a retirement home/nursing home, dealing with families and helping new residents adjust. Angie is dating Matt, a bartender, her first serious relationship in a long time after a series of bad ones, but trust issues get in the way for her. Reading it felt like catching up with old friends (we met the Dugans in Our Love Could Light the World, and continued with their story in The Amendment). These are characters that feel like real people, people who live in your neighborhood. My full review posts here on June 17th.

Matthew Norman's new novel, All Together Now is a story of friendship. Four friends who were kicked out of their private Baltimore High School years ago reunite after the most successful of the group, hedge fund billionaire Robbie, invites them for a weekend at a Rehoboth Beach mansion. Wade is about to get evicted from his New York City apartment after his second novel fails to attract attention from publishers. The woman he loved in school, Blair, is a mom of two young children with a marriage on the rocks who gave up her artistic endeavors. Cat is a morning television show assistant producer in Los Angeles who doesn't know her clandestine relationship with the married female host of the show is about to blow up. The world knows Robbie as a math genius, philanthropist, and astute businessman but they don't know that he is dying, and neither do his friends. What else is Robbie hiding from them? I'm a big Matthew Norman fan, (Domestic Violets, We're All Damaged, Last Couple Standing) he puts his characters in interesting situations, and he writes some pointedly funny stuff, and although this one is more serious, it's still a great book. It's got a Big Chill vibe. (80's movie reference there).

Have a safe week, I hope you're able to get out and enjoy the nice weather now that things are returning to normal.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Summer Reads

Reprinted from auburnpub.com :

With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, it’s time to turn our attention to summer reading season. There are so many books in so many different genres, what should we read?

For traditional beach reading, while fans of the Amazon show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are patiently awaiting the next season, Elyssa Friedland’s novel, The Last Summer at the Golden Hotel with its Catskill vacation hotel setting and family dynamics will fit the bill. 

In Mary Kay Andrews’ The Newcomer, a woman flees to a small beach town motel in Florida with her young niece after her sister is murdered. The retirees and snowbirds of the small town are suspicious of them, and a handsome cop becomes a romantic entanglement. (The hotel/motel setting is popular this season). 

Taylor Jenkins Reid, who scored big with Daisy Jones and the Six two years ago, is back with Malibu Rising, another rock’n’roll affiliation. The four adult children of famous rocker Mick Riva are throwing their annual summer blowout at their Malibu mansion. Everyone wants to be there, and the craziness that begins ends with the home burned down by morning.

The Queen of Beach Reads, Elin Hilderbrand, has Golden Girl as her annual entry. When a popular female novelist is killed in a hit and run accident while jogging, she ends up in the Beyond, where her guide allows her to follow her family for one last summer, and give her three adult children each one “nudge” to guide their behavior. 

If mysteries and thrillers are more to your taste, Laura Lippman channels Stephen King and the #MeToo movement in Dream Girl, as a famous novelist, laid up in his apartment after an injury, receives disturbing phone calls from a woman claiming to be the protagonist in one of his novels. No one believes him. Is he losing his mind or is he in trouble?

Fans of John Grisham’s legal thrillers will like Stacey Abrams’ While Justice Sleeps. When a Supreme Court justice mysteriously slips into a coma, his law clerk discovers that she has been named his legal guardian. She uncovers that he has been researching a controversial case before the Court, and now she is the middle of danger. 

Good historical fiction abounds this summer. Alka Joshi’s The Secret Keeper of Jaipur follows the characters from her brilliant 1950’s India-set novel, The Henna Artist as they move into the 1960s and try to find their way in the changing world. 

Chris Bohjalian goes back to 1662 Boston in Hour of the Witch.  Mary fears for her life after her husband’s violence towards her escalates. When a young boy she treated with herbs dies, Mary is accused of being a witch, and must fight for her life. It’s The Crucible meets The Handmaid’s Tale.

Beatriz Williams takes on Cold War spy novels in Our Woman in Moscow. In 1952, Ruth McCallister receives a postcard from her twin sister Iris who disappeared with her husband and young children four years ago after Iris’ husband defected to Russia when he was uncovered as a spy. FBI agent Sumner Fox convinces Ruth to travel to Moscow to help extract her sister. It’s a tension-filled narrative with twists and turns that will keep your turning the pages.

Nonfiction fans have many choices as well. Continuing with the Cold War, Anne Sebba’s Ethel Rosenberg- An American Tragedy  takes a fresh look at life and the case against the wife and mother who was executed with her husband in 1953 accused of for spying for Russia. 

Ashley C. Ford’s memoir, Somebody’s Daughter shares her story about growing up as a young black girl in Indiana. She had a troubled relationship with her mother, and her father was imprisoned for reasons no one would tell her. Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle, and Oprah have praised this powerful memoir. 

There are a few suggestions for Father’s Day gifts as well. Popular business/current events writer Michael Lewis’ The Premonition tackles the COVID crisis through people who saw it coming when the CDC didn’t and tried to warn others. 

Sy Montgomery’s The Hummingbirds' Gift takes a deep dive into the world of that beautiful bird, perfect for the nature-loving dad. 

Tom Coyne takes readers on a trip across the country to the best golf courses in A Course Called America. If your Dad spends his weekends hitting the links, he’ll love this one. 

Happy summer reading to everyone!

Saturday, June 5, 2021

The Happiness Thief by Nicole Bokat

The Happiness Thief by Nicole Bokat
Published by She Writes Press ISBN 9781647420574
Trade paperback, $16.95, 280 pages

How can you resist a book that opens with "I think I killed my mother."? Nicole Bokat's novel The Happiness Thief begins with that intriguing sentence that encourages the reader to discover why Natalie would think that.

When Natalie was thirteen, she was in a car accident that killed her mother. Natalie suffered a serious brain trauma, and she can't remember exactly what happened, except that she fears that she shined her flashlight in her mother's eyes and that is what caused the accident.

Natalie is with her stepsister Isabel on a Caribbean island where Isabel is speaking at a Happiness Conference.  Isabel is a self-help guru (think Glennon Doyle or Brene Brown) who is trying to build her brand after writing a successful book, and working to finish a second book. People surround Isabel at the conference, wanting any piece of her and her advice that she can give them.

"Isabel was the powerhouse and the bulwark, while Natalie was the sensitive one" in the family. Natalie's husband recently left her and their teenage daughter Hadley for a younger colleague. The dissolution of her marriage has left Natalie depressed, and this trip is supposed to cheer her up.

While driving on the island at night, a car follows them and shines highbeams at them. Natalie is driving and hits something in the road, leaving blood on the bumper. She panics, and flashes back to the accident that killed her mother. Isabel and the man in the car behind them get out and look for what was probably an animal, but Natalie is convinced it was a person.

When they return home to Boston, Natalie receives an email from somone who says he knows that she hit someone on that road. Even though Isabel does her best to prove Natalie that she didn't hit a person, Natalie is not convinced.

There are two mysteries here- was Natalie responsible for her mother's death and did she hit someone on the island? I didn't find myself as invested in the mysteries as I did with Natalie's home life. The relationship between Natalie and her daughter Hadley was the strongest part of the book, that felt true and honest.

I found it difficult at first to keep track of the family situation- Isabel's mom (deceased), Natalie's mom, Natalie's dad who died when she was young, her stepfather who is Isabel's father. It took awhile to get it straight. 

There are a lot of moving parts in this story, this is the kind of book you have to pay close attention to when you're reading. If psychological suspense and family drama is something you enjoy in a book, The Happiness Thief will quench your thirst.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Nicole Bokat's tour. The rest of the stops are here:

Review Stops

Friday, June 4th: Instagram: @readyourworriesaway

Saturday, June 5th: bookchickdi

Monday, June 7th: Books and Bindings

Tuesday, June 8th: Stranded in Chaos

Wednesday, June 9th: Write – Read – Life

Thursday, June 10th: Instagram: @whatalyssareads

Friday, June 11th: Instagram: @berittalksbooks

Monday, June 14th: 5 Minutes For Books

Tuesday, June 15th: Instagram: @babygotbooks4life

Wednesday, June 16th: Instagram: @sealedwithabook

TBD: Wednesday, June 2nd: Live, Read, and Prosper

TBD: Thursday, June 3rd: What Is That Book About

Friday, June 4, 2021

Friday 5ive- June 4, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention this week. We made a trip to Pittsburgh over the holiday weekend to visit family, and it was wonderful to see loved ones we haven't seen in over a year.

1) My sister-in-law took us on a quick tour of the area, and we made a stop at one of their favorite breweries, Hitchhiker Brewing Company. There was a food truck parked there, Bridge City Brinery, and we got some delicious food to go with the beer. Bridge City has a Korean inspired menu, and I loved the Onion Tots with Honey Mustard best.

2) We also visited the Strip District which has lots of cute shops, including some great foodie shops. Shop In The Kitchen has every possible kitchen gadget you could want (and many you didn't know that you needed). We spent too much time in there. Pittsburgh Macaroni Co. is an amazing Italian food import shop. They have so many pastas, sauces, meats, prepared foods, and my daughter-in-law was excited to find a cheese from back home in Catalonia that she has never seen in the United States. Check out their their website, they ship.

3)  We stayed at the Marriott hotel near the airport, and they gave people the option of using a qr code to put the television remote on your phone via an app. What a great idea! The remote is one of those things that I don't like touching in a hotel, and this eliminates that. This is a photo of what it looks like.

4) I started watching Hacks on HBO Max. Jean Smart is phenomenal as a Joan Rivers-type stand-up comedian who has been around a long time. She's based in Las Vegas now, and works constantly, hawking items on a shopping channel and even showing up at the opening of a pizza joint. She is forced to hire a struggling young writer, wonderfully played by Hannah Einbinder, to update her act for the 21st century. It's a fantastic show, with the brilliant Mike Schur (The Good Place) executive producing. You can the watch the trailer here

5) Romance was on the menu this week in my reading. Historical romance novelist Eloisa James moves into contemporary fiction under her real name, Mary Bly, with Lizzie & Dante. Lizzie is a Shakepearean scholar traveling with her best friend to the Italian island of Elba to help his boyfriend, a famous mega movie star, write a script for his version of Romeo & Juliet. Lizzie meets a handsome Italian chef and falls in love with him, his twelve year-old daughter Etta, and their dog. But Lizzie has a serious illness and if they get more involved, she could hurt Dante and Etta deeply. You can feel the warmth of the Italian sun, hear the sea roar, and taste the delicious food Dante creates in his restaurant in this novel that appeals to all your senses. You'll be packing your bags for Elba before you finish this wonderful book.

Kate Bromley's contemporary romance novel, Talk Bookish to Me, is about a historical romance novelist. Kara is struggling to complete her latest novel as she prepares to be maid of honor at her best friend's wedding. When she discovers that Ryan, the man who broke her heart in college ten years ago, is one of the groomsmen, she is unhappy. After Ryan and his bulldog Duke are kicked out their hotel, Kara offers to let them stay at her apartment for the weekend of the wedding. The banter between Kara and Ryan made me laugh out loud, and you'll learn about romance novel genres, subgenres and tropes in this delightful, sexy story. My full review is here

After last weekend's freezing cold weather, we're getting ready for 90 degrees for the next few days. Stay safe and cool everyone.