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Tuesday, September 19, 2023

The Museum of Failures by Thrity Umrigar

The Museum of Failures by Thrity Umrigar
Published by Algonquin ISBN 9781643753553
Hardcover, $28, 368 pages

I've been a big fan of Thrity Umrigar's novels since I read The World We Found in 2012. (My review is here.) Her last novel, Honor, was powerful and heartbreaking, and her latest novel,  The Museum of Failures,  continues her streak of writing stories that touch our humanity.

Remy is an Indian man who has traveled from his current home in Columbus, Ohio back to his hometown of Bombay (now called Mumbai). He has a successful career in advertising and a loving wife Kathy, a pediatric specialist. The one thing missing is a child.

After trying unsuccessfully to have a baby of their own, Remy's childhood friend tells him that he knows a young Indian college student who is pregnant and wants to give up her baby to Remy and Kathy to adopt. So Remy travels back home to meet the young woman.

While home, Remy discovers that his mother Shirin is not home as he thought, but rather she is in the hospital and very ill. Remy has always had a complicated relationship with his mother, he always found her to be harsh and uncaring towards him. He hasn't seen her since his father passed away three years ago.

He adored his late father Cyrus and while home, he keeps meeting people who share stories of his father's kindness and generosity. Remy misses his father deeply, a man who always treated him as if he were a prince.

Remy resolves to bring his mother out of her illness and back home where she belongs. Seeing her so ill and alone saddens him. 

As Remy attempts to straighten out his mother's financial and health situation and move forward with adopting an Indian baby, he discovers a huge secret that his parents kept from him, one that will change everything he grew up believing. 

 Remy has always thought of India as "a museum of failures, an  exhibit hall filled with thwarted dreams and broken promises." His return home has brought up complications and feelings he did not anticipate.

Once again, Thrity Umrigar has written a magnificent story, bringing the reader into the lives of Remy and his family. Once back home, Remy is torn between his the life he loves in Ohio and the world he grew up in in Mumbai, his future and his past. I give it my highest recommendation.

Thanks to Algonquin for putting me on Thrity Umrigar's tour.

Monday, September 18, 2023

The Book Club Hotel by Sarah Morgan

The Book Club Hotel by Sarah Morgan
Published by Canary Street Press ISBN 9781335005120
Trade paperback, $17.99, 368 pages

It's September now and even though it's still very warm in many places, you can cool off with a Christmas themed-book and Sarah Morgan's charming The Book Club Hotel  is a great place to start.

Hattie is a 28 year-old widowed mom of a five year-old daughter and owner of the Sugar Maple Inn in a small town in Vermont. Christmas season is upon her and while the inn is full, Hattie is feeling overwhelmed. Her head housekeeper gives her constant grief, and the celebrity chef her late husband hired has an ego and temper that makes the kitchen an unhappy place to be.

Three 40-year old best friends- Erica, Anna and Claudia- are planning their annual Book Club Hotel week at the Maple Sugar Inn this year. Erica, a hard-charging workaholic consultant, chose the Maple Sugar Inn this year for their week, surprising Anna and Claudia, as she usually wants to stay at a big city hotel.

Anna is dreading becoming an empty-nester when her twin son and daughter head off to college next year. Claudia is blindsided by her live-in boyfriend of ten years when he leaves her for a younger woman, and then she loses her job as a chef.

Sarah Morgan draws the reader right into these characters lives, we want to know more about them. Hattie is attracted to her handsome and kind neighbor Noah, who would love nothing more than to become Hattie's boyfriend. Anna needs to find a way to cope with her sad feelings, and Claudia's has to figure out where she goes from here. 

We gather that Erica is hiding the true the reason why she chose the Maple Sugar Inn, but readers should be able to figure it out before it is revealed (or her friends figure it out).

Many readers will relate to the longtime friendship of the three women, how they care about each other and know each other so well. We can also relate to the stage of life they are in.

The description of the Maple Sugar Inn sounds so charming that I wanted to immediately go online and book a holiday week. I especially want to spend time in Hattie's library, it sounds so cozy.

My only criticism of this delightful novel is that since Sarah is a British author, she uses many words and phrases that Americans don't. While Hattie is British and would use words like range cooker for stove, advert for ad, and tv presenter for tv personality, Erica, Anna and Claudia are Americans and would not use those words. It can be a bit jarring.

I loved The Book Club Hotel, and I plan on picking up more of Sarah Morgan's novels. It's a wonderful book club choice for the holiday season, and the descriptions of food had me nearly drooling. It would be fun to recreate some of the recipes for a book club meeting. I highly recommend The Book Club Hotel.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Fall 2023 Blog Tours.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Friday 5ive- September 8, 2023

Welcome back to the Friday 5ive, a weekly-ish (well that's the goal) post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. I took a lot of Friday 5ives off this summer, we took trips to Napa Valley, Greece, and more, but now it's time to buckle down and get back to a normal schedule. I'm working on some posts featuring photos from my trips so stay tuned.

1)  Last weekend I attended a bridal shower for my niece Olivia hosted at her aunt's beautiful home in the Hudson Valley. The theme was Tea Party and everything was so lovely. It was outdoors under a tent, with a balloon arch that made for a perfect backdrops for photos. The decorations were so pretty and we had traditional tea sandwiches, sweets, and the real hit of the food- blueberry, cranberry-orange, and chocolate chip scones made by my sister-in-law Brigette.They are her specialty and everyone jockeyed for position to get the leftover scones to take home. My husband would have been very unhappy if I returned without scones. 

2)  We went to dinner Saturday night in Saugerties, and on the way to the restaurant I saw Our Bookshop. What caught my eye was the display of books outside the store. There is a sign that states that anyone who wishes to purchase a book when the store is closed can put the money into the mail slot in the front of the store.  Now that is a small town for you!

3) I was walking home from work the other day and saw the craziest thing- an Amazon delivery truck dropped off an entire truckload of boxes in the middle of York Ave, taking up the entire two Northbound lanes while all the delivery people sorted through them for delivery. Drivers were laying on their car horns, and it was mayhem. Only in New York kids, only in New York.

4) I'm late to the party to watch HBO's series Barry. Bill Hader from Saturday Night Live stars as a hitman who, while on a job, discovers an acting class and decides he wants to be an actor. Henry Winkler plays the acting teacher and he and Hader have both won Emmys for their roles. The show is hilarious in parts (especially Anthony Carrigan as a Chechen mobster who hires Barry- give that guy an Emmy too please!) and violent as, even though Barry tries to get away from his hitman career, he keeps getting pulled back in. Stephen Root as Barry's mentor/boss and Sarah Goldberg as Barry's ambitious girlfriend are excellent as well. This series has everything- great writing, directing, acting. I'm in season three of four (it ended recently in season four) and I am stunned by it, especially by Bill Hader's acting. 

5) I read an early advanced copy of Lisa Grunwald's upcoming novel, The Evolution of Annabel Craig, publishing in April 2024. I adored her last novel, Time After Time, a romantic time-travel story about star-crossed lovers following WWII. (My review is here. It made my list of the Most Compelling Books of 2019 and the Most Compelling Books of the Decade.) 
 The Evolution of Annabel Craig is set in Dayton, Tennessee during the Scopes Monkey Trial and although the book is set in 1925, there are so many parallels to today. (I'm not sure if that is a good thing for us- the more things change, the more they stay the same.) Annabel's husband is one of defense lawyers, and as Annabel becomes friendly with the only female reporter covering the trial, she discovers that maybe what she thought she wanted out of life has changed. It's as much about society, religion, faith and politics at that time as it is about Annabel's growth as a person. I loved it and will be preordering this one as gifts. If you like historical fiction, put this one on your list.

Well that's it for this week. Stay safe and healthy everyone. Unitl next time.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

What You Are Looking For Is In The Library by Michiko Aoyama

What You Are Looking For Is In The Library by Michiko Aoyama
Published by Hanover Square Press ISBN 9788335005625
Hardcover, $21.99, 304 pages

I have always thought librarians were amazing, and after reading Michiko Aoyama's charming novel, What You Are Looking For Is In The Library, I am more convinced than ever.

It tells the stories of several people who are either at a crossroads or feeling stuck in their lives. Tomoka is 21 years old and works in a boring job at a clothing store in Tokyo. In order to get a better job, she has to improve her computer skills.

Her friend tells her about the Community House where she could take a class. At the community center she seeks out the reference librarian, Ms. Komachi, who listens to Tomoka's story and gives her advice, a list of books to check out, including a children's book seemingly unrelated to computers, and an odd little felt craft that Ms. Komachi made.

 Other people go the Community House for classes, and end up at the Reference desk with Ms. Komachi. A stay-at-home mom who was demoted from a job she loved when she returned to work after maternity leave is dissatisfied with her life, an accountant who dreams of owning his own antique shop, a recently retired man who doesn't know what to do with himself now that his identity has been taken away- they all end up at Ms. Komachi's desk. 

She listens carefully to each of them gives them advice, a list of books to help (including one seemingly unrelated to their search) and even though they don't understand all that Ms. Komachi tells them, eventually it all comes together.

The story is about the connections that people make, as this passage states:
"Everybody is connected. And any one of their connections could be the start of a network that branches in many directions. If you wait for the right time to make connections, it might never happen, but if you show your face around, talk to people and see enough to give you the confidence that things could work out, then 'one day' might turn into 'tomorrow'."

What You Are Looking For Is In the Library is a life-affirming, endearing story that restores your faith in humanity and will make you look for new connections in the people around you. It is perfect for fans of The Midnight Library (but I liked this one better). I adored this book and give it my highest recommendation.

Thanks to Harlequin or putting me on their Fall 2023 Blog Tours.

Main Character Energy by Jamie Varon

Main Chracter Energy by Jamie Varon
Published by Park Row Books ISBN 9780778334200
Trade paperback, $18.99, 320 pages

In Jamie Varon's delightful debut novel, Main Character Energy, Poppy Banks feels like her life is at a dead-end. She hates her job writing listicles for a Buzz Feed-type website, and has given up on her dream of writing mystery novels.

It doesn't help that her younger brother is a successful writer of romance novels or that her mother is constantly on Poppy to lose some weight and improve her appearance in hopes of landing a husband.

The only person who understands Poppy is her mother's sister Margot. Margot and Poppy's mother had a falling out years ago and don't speak, and if Poppy's mom knew that once a year Poppy meets with Margot she would not be happy. Margot encourages Poppy to keep writing, that something will happen. Margot wants Poppy to be the main character in her own story.

When Poppy gets word that Margot has died, she is shocked to discover that Margot left Poppy her French villa. One of the stipulations of Margot's will is that Poppy must live in the villa for six months and finish writing one book, then Poppy is free to keep the villa or sell it.

Margot ran a successful writing residency for women at the villa, a fact that surprises Poppy. Upon arriving at the villa, Poppy meets Sebastian, Margot's dear friend, and his nephew Oliver who worked for the writer's residency.

Poppy comes to like the beautiful French Riviera, and the people she meets at the villa, including the women who are the new writers in residence. Oliver is not bad on the eyes either, and the attraction appears to be mutual. 

She could be happy living in France, but the money she would make from selling the villa would help her wipe out her student and credit card debt. When two businessmen make her an offer to buy the villa and writing residency from her, she is tempted to take them up on it.

But first she must finish writing her book, and that is proving to be difficult. She can't seem to get out of her own head, and her brother's success and mother's critical words don't help.

Main Character Energy may inspire readers to ignore the negativity in their own lives and follow their own dreams. I loved the setting of the French Riviera, I could feel the sun on my face as I read it. There is an important surpise at the end, but it is one I guessed early on as many readers probably will, but guessing it doesn't take away from the joy of this sweet story.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on the Fall 2023 Blog Tours.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Two of the Best Reads of 2023

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

This month’s Book Report has two books that are among my favorites of all 2023.

Tracey Lange’s debut novel, We Are The Brennans was a Book of the Month Club pick from 2021, and her second novel The Connellys of County Down was recently chosen  too.

The Connellys of County Down opens as Tara Connelly is being released after eighteen months in prison for a drug conviction. When her brother doesn’t show up to pick her up, she is surprised by the cop who arrested her.

Tara’s arrest never sat right with Detective Brian Nolan. He never understood why she refused to give evidence against Roland Shea, the drug dealer he and his uncle and mentor were after. He didn’t believe that Tara was a drug runner, his gut told him something else was going on.

Brian gives a reluctant Tara a ride home, but where was her brother and sister? Tara moved back to the home she shared with her older sister Geraldine, an accountant for a local construction company. Geri raised Tara and her brother Eddie after their mother died and their father abandoned them.

Eddie is a single dad to Conor, who adores Tara. Eddie had a brain injury years ago and still suffers from the aftereffects, including debilitating migraines. Geri seems wary of Tara, and relegates her to the dusty attic bedroom when Tara returns.

Going back to her job teaching art in a Catholic school is impossible, and the only job Tara can get is working for two young gamers trying to go viral. It’s minimum wage, but Tara grows to like the young men.

Geri is clearly struggling with something, Eddie continues to deal with his injury, and Tara tries mightily to keep her family together and rebuild her life. The story of this family pulled me right in, the characters seem like people you would meet in real life. Lange does a good job as she keeps the reader guessing as to the real story behind Tara’s arrest. I highly recommend The Connellys of County Down for anyone who loves a good family story.

Ann Patchett has written many excellent books, and her latest, Tom Lake, might just be her best yet. As Lara, her husband, and three adult daughters- Emily, Nell and Maisie- head out into their orchard to pick cherries for the harvest, the girls ask Lara to recount the time she dated famous actor Peter Duke. 

Lara tells her story, beginning with her playing Emily in her community’s production of “Our Town” when she was in high school. She was so good, it led to Lara going to Hollywood to act in a big-time movie.

After filming the movie, she went to a small town in Michigan called Tom Lake to act in summer stock. It was there she met Peter Duke, and they became lovers. Peter had great ambitions to be a famous actor and he had the talent. Their affair burned bright, and Patchett recounts Lara’s time in Tom Lake so vividly you feel like you are right inside the story.

Lara’s daughters parse every morsel of her story, questioning any small differences from previous retellings of the story. Every character is so precisely drawn, we get to know all of them- from Emily, the eldest who is destined to inherit the family farm and marry the boy next door, to Maisie, studying to be a veterinarian and helping the neighbors with their animals, to Nell, who wants to be an actress.

The setting of the story in the orchard during the pandemic hits all the right notes about how we felt during that time. We tend not to think about our parents' lives before we existed, and Tom Lake may make you wonder.

This passage by Lara really sings and I will end with it:

“There is no explaining this simple truth about life: you will forget much of it. The painful things you were certain you’d never be able to let go? Now you’re not entirely sure when they happened, and the thrilling parts, the heart-stopping joys, splintered and scattered and became something else. Memories are then replaced by different joys and larger sorrows, and unbelieveably those get knocked aside as well, until one morning you’re picking cherries with your three grown daughters and your husband goes by on the Gator and you are positive that this is all you’ve ever wanted in the world.”

The Connellys of County Down by Tracey Lange- A+

Published by Celadon Books

Hardcover, $28.99, 272 pages

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett- A+

Published by Harper

Hardcover, $30, 309 pages

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Kissing Kosher by Jean Meltzer

Kissing Kosher by Jean Meltzer
Published by MIRA Books ISBN 9780778334408
Trade paperback, $18.99, 432 pages

I enjoy reading Jean Meltzer's romances (The Matzah Ball and 
Mr. Perfect on Paper) because I've learned so much about Jewish customs and traditions, and her newest novel, Kissing Kosher, adds another layer of learning.

Avital manages her family's popular Brooklyn Jewish bakery, Best Babka. Her twin brother is the creative baker, and Avital runs the business end of things. Avital also lives with a chronic illness called Interstitial Cystitis, which causes her disabling pelvic pain that makes everyday living difficult. Doctors haven't been very helpful, they are unable or unwilling to give her pain medication, and nothing else seems to work.

Business has been good at Best Babka, so Avital decides to hire a new person to join their tight-knit crew.
Ethan Rosenberg applies to work there, and Avital hires him unaware that Ethan has an agenda. He has been sent there to steal the recipe for the famous Pumpkin Spice Babka Bread.

Ethan's grandfather Moishe and Avital's grandfather used to be business partners until a serious falling-out resulted in a breakup of the partnership and friendship. The men became sworn enemies, trading insults and expensive lawsuits over the years.

Of course, Ethan is attracted to Avital which complicates matters. The more time he spends at the bakery and with Avital, the less he wants to do his grandfather's bidding, but there are family complications that he can't ignore.

I loved learning all about the bakery business, I found it fascinating. It made me want to search out the closest Jewish bakery near me to try their delicious treats. 

 Author Jean Meltzer lives with a serious chronic condition and she gives the reader a true look at the challenges of that. Her descriptions are so visceral, the reader can almost feel Avital's pain.

As Ethan and Avital's relationship blossoms, it can only be a matter of time before Avital learns the truth about Ethan's identity. What will happen then?

Once again, Jean Meltzer has created interesting characters and put them in a sticky romantic situation. Kissing Kosher is a little deeper than her previous books, dealing with a serious medical condition that many people (including myself) know little about. 

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Summer 2023 Blog Tours.