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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Two Books By My Favorite Authors

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

There are some authors whose work I will always read. Their books are filled with characters that feel like people I want to know, the stories are interesting, and writing entrances me. Lisa Grunwald and Caroline Leavitt are two of those authors, and they both have wonderful books publishing in April.

Lisa Grunwald’s last novel Time After Time (about a young woman who, after she dies in train crash in a tunnel in Grand Central Station before WWII, returns to life but can only exist within the walls of Grand Central Central Station, falls in love with a train conductor) is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a beautiful love story.

Her new novel, The Evolution of Annabel Craig also has a historical setting. In 1925 Dayton, Tennessee, Annabel is married to George, a lawyer. Annabel overhears a group of the town’s businessmen discussing a newspaper article that states that the American Civil Liberties Union was offering to back any teacher in Tennessee who was willing to test a new law signed by the Tennessee governor. 

The Butler Act forbid the teaching of evolution in public schools in order to protect the children from hearing something that is in direct contrast to religious teachings. The Dayton businessmen believed that this test case could be a boon to business in town. 

Luckily for them, John Scopes, a young substitute science teacher and high school football coach, had taught a class about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is found in their science textbook. John agrees and history is about to be made.

Annabel’s husband George ends up on the defense team, and their lives immediately change. Their neighbors and friends become angry with them. Over 200 reporters descend on the town, including a female reporter named Lottie Nelson. 

Lottie befriends Annabel and opens Annabel’s eyes to a life beyond being a housewife. Annabel likes to take photos and Lottie encourages her in this pursuit, telling Annabel that “what a person wants can change”. 

The Evolution of Annabel Craig may be a historical novel, but it has so many parallels to things happening right now. The media circus, the debate over separation of church and state in schools, the country coming out of a recent horrific pandemic (the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic), it all resonates with today's issues.

If you’re familiar the play Inherit the Wind, you know about this story. Lisa Grunwald tells it through the lens of Annabel’s growth as a woman, discovering who she is and what is important to her. It’s a book that leaves the reader with so much to think about, I read it months ago and I still think about it. I give it my highest recommendation.

Caroline Leavitt’s new novel, Days of Wonder is more contemporary, but also tells the story of  a woman’s growth. When Ella was sixteen years old, she fell madly in love with Jude. They were inseparable and their love became nearly obsessive.

When it appears that Ella and Jude poisoned his father, a judge, after he disapproved of their relationship, Ella is sent to prison while Jude’s father moves him far away.

Ella was pregnant with Jude’s baby and Ella’s mother Helen made the decision that the baby would be given up for adoption. Six years later, Ella gets out of prison and returns home to Helen, who just wants her daughter to be safe and happy. Ella cannot forget about the daughter she gave up however and is determined to find her.

Moving to Ann Arbor, Ella doesn’t tell her mother she is going to find her daughter who has been adopted by a couple. Ella becomes involved in the lives of her daughter and the woman who has adopted the baby without them knowing who she really is.

Meanwhile, Helen, who has never had a relationship with a man since she had Ella, finds herself involved with a man who treats her with kindness and respect. Her life has opened up in ways she never believed possible.

Leavitt does a remarkable job with the characters of Helen and Ella. We watch them change and grow as they have to deal with an impossible situation and we root for them. Helen and Ella have found a place in my heart and no one writes the mother-daughter relationship in novels better than Caroline Leavitt. I also give Days of Wonder my highest recommendation, and it may be Caroline Leavitt’s best book yet.

The Evolution of Annabel Craig by Lisa Grunwald- A

Published by Random House

Hardcover, $30, 320 pages

Days of Wonder by Caroline Leavitt- A

Published by Algonquin Books

Hardcover, $29, 320 pages

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Two Books With Small Town Settings

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

This month’s Book Report features two books about families in small town settings.

I was always a fan of Anna Quindlen’s monthly column in Newsweek magazine years ago. When she turned to fiction, I enjoyed her many books as well. Her latest book, After Annie is her best book yet. 

After Annie begins when 37 year-old mom and nurse aide Annie Brown dies suddenly at home in front of her husband and four young children. Her husband Bill is completely bereft and has no idea how to carry on caring for his young children and running his plumbing business.

It falls to 13 year-old Ali to keep the house running, get her younger brothers off to school in the morning, and make sure there is food in the house. She puts one foot in front of the other and does the job all while trying to process her own grief and deal with being a teenager.

Annie’s best friend Annmarie is also grieving. Annie and Annmarie were best friends since elementary school, and they were a part of each other’s daily lives even though they led different lives.

Annie and Bill struggled to pay bills, and Annmarie owns a successful business and has married a man who has money. Annie and Bill have a big family, Annmarie has suffered miscarriages.

As we follow the story through the Bill, Ali, and Annmarie, we see Annie through their eyes. We discover that Annmarie had a serious addiction problem and Annie did her best to help her friend through her troubles. We see what a compassionate caregiver Annie was at her job at a nursing home, and what a giving mother she was to her children and a supportive and loving wife to Bill.

The sections of the novel that deal with Annie’s death and funeral ring so true to anyone who has experienced a sudden loss. Ali waiting up for her dad to come back from the hospital, shopping with her aunt for a dress to wear to the funeral, and the actual funeral itself- it’s all so vivid and visceral.

Quindlen has written about grief before, Every Last One being a powerful book, and After Annie is just as powerful but in a quieter way than that book. Annie- the wife, mother, friend, caregiver- may be gone by the first sentence of the novel, but she looms so large in these pages that we miss her even though we didn’t know her. I highly recommend After Annie.

Like After Annie, Amy Jo Burns novel Mercury has a small-town setting. The book begins in 1990 when 17 year-old Marley and the single mom who raised her move into the small town of Mercury, Pennsylvania. 

The Joseph family own a roofing business in town, and the first thing Marley sees as they pull into town is the three Joseph men on a roof. She is instantly intrigued. As the new girl in town, football hero Baylor Joseph flashes his smile at Marley and she is smitten.

Baylor invites her to dinner where she meets his younger-by-one-year brother Waylon. While Baylor can be cool to Marley, Waylon is kind. If only she met Waylon first. 

Marley spends every night at the Joseph’s family dinner table at the invitation of mom Elise ,and soon becomes a real member of the family when she marries one of the brothers. 

Mick, the patriarch of the family, is a dreamer and seems to have a lot balls in the air, a short attention span, and no financial sense. He leaves much of the roofing business work to Baylor and Waylon. Waylon works hard to expand the business, and soon Marley gets involved in the business as well which annoys Mick.

Over the years, we see the Joseph family dynamic change. Elise, who ran a tight ship, seems to pull away for reasons that soon become clear, and Marley takes over the matriarch role. Marley becomes a mother figure to the youngest Joseph brother Shay who is often left to his own devices.

We get a mystery when a dead body is discovered in the tower of the church. The Joseph family had repaired the roof years ago, could one of them be involved?

Mercury is character-driven story. Watching Marley grow into a strong, confident woman is such a reward. Each character is interesting and well-drawn, from Waylon to Shay to Shay’s best friend the town cop. The small town feels like a real place, and it plays an important part in the story. I highly recommend Mercury as well.

After Annie by Anna Quindlen- A+

Published by Random House

Hardcover, $30, 285 pages

Mercury by Amy Jo Burns- A

Published by Celadon

Hardcover, $29,  336 pages

Friday, March 22, 2024

The Day Tripper by James Goodhand

The Day Tripper by James Goodhand
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778367646
Hardcover, $28.99, 368 pages

From the publisher:

What if you lived your days out of order?

It’s 1995, and twenty-year-old Alex Dean has it all: a spot at Cambridge University next year, the love of an amazing woman named Holly and all the time in the world ahead of him. That is until a brutal encounter with a ghost from his past sees him beaten, battered and almost drowning in the Thames.

He wakes the next day to find he’s in a messy, derelict room he’s never seen before, in grimy clothes he doesn’t recognize, with no idea of how he got there. A glimpse in the mirror tells him he’s older—much older—and has been living a hard life, his features ravaged by time and poor decisions. He snatches a newspaper and finds it’s 2010—fifteen years since the fight.

After finally drifting off to sleep, Alex wakes the following morning to find it’s now 2019, another nine years later. But the next day, it’s 1999. Never knowing which day is coming, he begins to piece together what happens in his life after that fateful night by the river.

Why does his life look nothing like he thought it would? What about Cambridge, and Holly? In this page-turning adventure, Alex must navigate his way through the years to learn that small actions have untold impact, even in a life lived out of order. And that might be all he needs to save the people he loves and, equally importantly, himself.

My thoughts:

James Goodhand's time travel novel leaves the reader with much to ponder. The only person he knows who comprehends what he is going though is Dr. Defrates, a professor at a local school. While Alex goes back and forth in time, he finds that making different decisions while in the past can change his future.

Dr. Defrates tells him that if he can "make more good changes, you might reap more benefit. Commit to making real difference, those changes may begin to add up. Good decisions lead to good decisions, just as bad decisions beget more bad decisions."

Alex sees this live out as he wakes up in different time periods of his life. Goodhand does a terrific job placing the reader in Alex's shoes. Can you imagine waking up on your wedding day and not recognizing anyone at your wedding and not knowing who your bride is? 

The reader finds oneself rooting for Alex to make good decisions, and feeling empathy for him when he does not. He wants desperately to find out what went wrong with him and his true love Holly, why they are not together in some versions of his life. Can he correct his past wrongs and get back to her?

Ultimately, The Day Tripper is a rewarding and uplifting story and if this doesn''t encourage the reader to reflect on the decisions made in their own life, I'm not sure what would. I recommend The Day Tripper.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Winter 2024 Blog Tours.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Becoming Madam Secretary by Stephanie Dray

Becoming Madam Secretary by Stephanie Dray
Published by Berkley ISBN 9780593437056
Hardcover, $29, 528 pages

One of the reasons I enjoy reading historical fiction is that I learn more about historical figures I knew little about. Stephanie Dray's newest novel, Becoming Madam Secretary, shares the story of the life of Frances Perkins, best known as Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor following the Great Depression.

The novel opens in 1933 with the recently elected President of the United States Franklin Roosevelt summoning Frances Perkins and offering her the job as Secretary of Labor in his cabinet. Perkins would be the first woman in history to serve as a cabinet member, but that doesn't seem to persuade her to take on the role.

Perkins had prepared a list of things that she wants to accomplish if she took the job, including eliminating child labor, limiting working hours, instituting a federal minimum wage, and creating what would become Social Security. If she thought this would discourage Roosevelt, she was mistaken. He agrees to back her and she is stuck taking the job.

The book then goes back in time and we see Perkins' start, first as a graduate student in economics studying child malnutrition in Hells Kitchen in New York City. Her dedication, work ethic, and success captures the attention of others in the social work field, and she is asked to become a lobbyist with the New York Consumers League.

Through her lobbying efforts Perkins becomes acquainted with politicians like future governors of New York Al Smith and Franklin Roosevelt, and they recognize her talents and put them to good use. But being a woman in a man's world back then required a high wire act that Perkins managed to walk.

Frances also captures the attention of writer Sinclair Lewis, whose attempts to woo her are comical if unsuccessful. She does marry a man who appreciates that Frances has a career doing important work, but their union has troubled times ahead.

I found myself totally immersed in the life of Frances Perkins and I could not put Becoming Madam Secretary down. I found it reminiscent of Allison Pataki's The Magnificent Marjorie Post; both books highlighted women who accomplished so much in a time when women weren't expected to do much more than run a household. 

Frances Perkins saw a need to fix major problems in this country at a most challenging time, and she was  the woman for the job. Becoming Madam Secretary is an appropriate and excellent read for Women's History Month. I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for providing a copy for an honest review.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Hypnotized By Love by Sariah Wilson

Hypnotized By Love by Sraiah Wilson
Published by Montlake ISBN 9781662514227
Trade paperback, $16.99, 283 pages

Sariah Wilson's latest rom-com Hypnotized by Love has a protagonist with a unique occupation- Savannah Sinclair practices hypnosis therapy. People come to Savannah for help with anxiety, sleep issues, and more.

As the story opens, Savannah has been censured by the Florida Board of Professional Hypnotists. When a patient came to her office, Savannah felt that something was not quite right and offered to refer him to another hypnotist. This man pursued Savannah romantically and when she demurred, he went online and left bad reviews and eventually filed a complaint stating that she was pursuing him romantically.

This hurt Savannah's business and her confidence. Her twin sister Sierra, an ER nurse, and their friend Bridget are doing their best to cheer Savannah up at a restaurant when in walks Mason Beckett, the guy who broke Savannah's heart in high school and who spread rumors about her that left her devastated.

Mason is a successful writer, and his parents and Savannah's have been best friends forever. The two families spent all their time together. He is the last person Savannah wants to see today.

It turns out that Mason is writing a magazine piece about hypnotherapy and he booked an appointment with Savannah under a different name. Savannah wants nothing to do with Mason, but when his mom asks her to see him as a favor, she relents. She will see him once, but when their session is interrupted before Savannah can bring him out of his trance by a fire in the building, a problem ensues.

Mason turns on the charm, but Savannah wants nothing to do with him romantically, and after the censure incident, has to be very careful not to be seen as anything but professional with Mason. But this is a rom-com, so we know that things will turn romantic.

Hypnotized By Love is a quick and enjoyable read, and I loved the clever banter between Savannah and Mason and Savannah and her twin sister Sierra. There are a lot of humorous quips that had me laughing. I found the hypnosis angle intriguing and different. Sariah Wilson manages to make the usual rom-com tropes refreshing with her witty writing and characters. Hypnotized By Love was a perfect plane read.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Sariah Wilson's Tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Instagram features:

Monday, February 19th@aneedleinmybookstack

Tuesday, February 20th@suzylew_bookreview

Wednesday, February 21st@mrsboomreads

Friday, February 23rd:  @purrfectpages

Friday, February 23rd@megsbookclub  

Saturday, February 24th@wordnerdbookworm 

Sunday, February 25th@everlasting.bookworm

Monday, February 26th@subakka.bookstuff

Tuesday, February 27th@bookapotamus

Wednesday, February 28th@andrea.c.lowry.reads

Wednesday, February 28th@thealylifestyle

Thursday, February 29th@poisedpen 

Friday, March 1st@nsiabblog

Monday, March 4th@coffee.break.book.reviews

Monday, March 4th@angelas.book.shelf

Tuesday, March 5th@suethebookie

Wednesday, March 6th@bookstasamm

Thursday, March 7th:  @a_book_read_in_jersey 

Friday, March 8th @cozy.coffee.reads

Friday, March 8th@bookish.bai

TIKTOK features:

Monday, February 26th@bethanys_books

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Tuesday, February 27th@lalalifebookclub

Wednesday, February 28th@thealylifestyle

Thursday, February 29th@welovebigbooks 

Friday, March 1st@xoamanda.lynn

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Saturday, March 2nd@chill_jilland_read

Sunday, March 3rd@tialala001


Saturday, February 17th@lovemybooks2020

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Tuesday, March 5thBookChickDi

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Thursday, March 7thRead Eat Repeat

Monday, March 11thWhat is That Book About

Wednesday, March 13th@dana.loves.books

Saturday, March 16th:  Girl Who Reads

Monday, March 4, 2024

Kilt Trip by Alexandra Kiley

Kilt Trip by Alexandra Kiley
Published by Canary Street Press ISBN 9781335009296
Trade paperback, $18.99, 336 pages

I traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland a few years ago, and when the opportunity to review Alexandra Kiley's romance Kilt Trip popped up, I enthusiastically joined and I'm glad I did.

Addie Macrae has an interesting job- she is a travel consultant. She works for a small company that advises tour companies around the world, and helps them better utilize such things as social media to maximize profitability.

Her newest assignment takes her to Edinburgh to help a family-run tour guide business. She begins by taking a tour incognito with the company . The tour guide is Logan Sutherland, whose father hired Addie's company. Looking quite ruggedly handsome in his kilt, Logan has a great personality in his role as a guide, but Addie is dismayed to discover that the tour leaves out the usual highlights that most people associate with Edinburgh.

Logan is charming to Addie during the tour but when he discovers that she is the consultant that his father hired, he is not happy. He believes that his tours show people the more interesting sites in Scotland, not the ones that every other tour guide company visits. That makes their company unique, but unfortunately not profitable enough.

Logan and Addie make a deal- Logan will take Addie on his favorite tour and Addie will take Logan on a tour she designs that hits all the touristy highlights people want to see. The winner gets to choose which tours the company will focus their efforts on.

Addie confides in Logan that her mother's family is from Scotland. Since her mother passed away thirteen years ago, Addie has been adrift. Logan arranges for Addie to see all of the places that her mother loved in Scotland, and this moves Addie.

In this enemies-to-lovers story, Addie and Logan overcome their animosity and give into their passion- and there is a lot of passion in this novel. Kilt Trip is a spicy read (the castle scene!), and there are enough bumps in the road to romance to keep things intriguing. Addie is torn between her growing attraction to Logan and her duty to her company and Logan's father to make their company profitable.

Kilt Trip is a fast read, one that had me turning the pages to see if Addie and Logan can make their different lifestyles work together. The scenery may inspire readers to travel to Scotland to find their own kilt-clad tour guide and see all the sights. I recommend Kilt Trip, a terrific spring break beach read.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Winter 2024 Blog Tours.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Friday 5ive- February 24, 2024

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly-ish featuring five things that caught my attention this week.

1) I attended a luncheon at the beautiful Sarasota Club featuring a discussion with the popular The Thursday Authors talking books and the friendship they formed over Zoom during the pandemic. Fiona Davis, Lynda Cohen Loigman, Amy Poeppel and Susie Orman Schnall were led in discussion by Lea DeCesare. They talked about their current books, how they got their starts (all were not published until the age of 40+), the importance of sitting your butts in the seat and just writing, their favorite writing spots,  (Lynda writes at her kitchen table- how does she do that?) and so much more. The talk was interesting, inspiring and lots of fun. Many thanks to the Kappa Kappa Gamma alumnae of Sarasota/Manatee who put this terrific program together. (And Amy Poeppel is one of my go-to authors. I've read and loved all her books.)
Amy Poeppel and Susie Orman Schnall signed copies of their books

2) I had the most delicious appetizer at Café L'Europe in St. Armands Circle in Sarasota. It was deviled eggs topped with caviar and it was amazing. I will definitely be back.

3) What is the deal with this car parked on the Upper East Side? I don't know what it is trying to say. Any guesses? 

4) I saw the play "Doubt- A Parable" starring Liev Schreiber and Amy Ryan. I bought my tickets months ago when Tyne Daly was scheduled to play Sister Aloysius and I was so excited to see her back on Broadway as I have seen her in other shows and she is amazing. It was announced a few weeks ago that Tyne had to bow out for medical reasons and Amy Ryan was tapped to take over with just a few rehearsals. Amy's role is the biggest one in the show (Meryl Streep played the role in the movie). Amy Ryan was phenomenal, she hit it out of the park and should definitely get a Tony nomination for her performance. The show is set in the early 1960s at a Catholic school. Sister Alyosius suspects that a priest has been inappropriate with a young male student and she looks to a young nun, played so wonderfully by Zoe Kazan, to confirm her suspicions. Liev Schreiber plays the priest and this revival of John Patrick Shanley's 2004 play about doubt and convictions is timely and thought-provoking. Go see it if you can. 

5) The New York Times ran a piece featuring Oscar-nominated actors in their "Secret Places". Paul Giamatti, nominated for Best Actor for his role in The Holdovers, which he is brilliant in, chose to be photographed in a used bookstore.  As someone who runs a used bookstore in NYC (Paul lives in Brooklyn), I'd like to invite him to come see the Book Cellar. Here is the piece from the NY Times website:

Have a great week all, stay safe and healthy. Until next time.