Showing posts from 2017

Weekend reads and some free-range reading...

After going through a glut of reads compelling enough to keep me reading, I've hit a dry spell.

Despite being on the hook for a number of reviews, the galleys and digital ARCs just haven't grabbed me. So I did some browsing through my library's online catalog and made some impulse requests, and so far, the experiment has worked!

My weekend reads is Andrea Barrett's short story collection, Ship Fever, which has been recommended to me more than once by a variety of readers I trust. I grabbed some books that I'm familiar with -- a Penelope Lively I haven't read, The Girl from Rawblood which crossed my radar sometime in the last twelve months -- as well as some I've never heard of -- Silvina Ocampo.

I'll resume Middlemarch on Monday.

What are you reading this weekend?

Muddling through Middlemarch...

I'm muddling my way through Middlemarch, a read I've long had on my TBR and am finally getting to because my book club selected it for our September read.

I anticipated loving it for ... reasons ... and at times I'm enjoying it, while other times I feel like it's going over my head. It's been a long time since a book has hit me this way, so I'm trying to roll with that -- and for good and for bad, there isn't another book clamoring to be read. Middlemarch it is.

Have you read Middlemarch? Love it? Hate it? Reading anything great right now?

Book Review: The One That Got Away by Melissa Pimentel

First line: It was Monday night.

Persuasion is my all-time favorite Jane Austen, so when I came across this Persuasion-inspired romantic comedy, I had to have it. It ended up being a very zippy read, super fluffy, the kind of thing you can dip in and out of easily.

Our heroine, Ruby Atlas, comes from a small town in Massachusetts where her father amassed a wealth in real estate. Her sister Piper is high-strung and snobbish. Before heading to her first grown up job after college, Ruby meets Ethan Bailey, son of a mechanic, who bartends at a neighborhood dive. It's instant chemistry between them. But not perfect.

In the now, Piper is engaged to be married, and Ruby is her maid of honor. Only hitch? Piper is marrying Ethan Bailey's best friend, and Ethan is no longer a poor kid from the wrong side of time. He's a billionaire tech inventor, lauded and sought after, and Ruby is in agony at having to see him again. The novel alternates between this story line and that of their ti…

Weekend reads and feeling witchy...

Another week in which I didn't land on something to read; I've got nine? ten books going -- and by going, I mean, I've started and have read a few pages and then moved on to something else -- and I keep perusing others in hope something sticks.

In the meantime, I'm deeply distracted by a new tarot deck -- the Ostara Tarot -- which is gorgeous. So my weekend reads is ... reading for me!

What are you reading this weekend?

Book Review: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

First line: Winslow Remington Houndstooth was not a hero.

I wanted to love this book so badly, and I'm so unhappy that I didn't even like it.

It has all the things that should make it a book I adore -- premise, characters, setting -- but the end result is weirdly flat, predictable, and boring. (It took me about three weeks to push through 120ish pages!)

Gailey's story imagines a US where hippopotamus ranches exist -- the result of a historical proposal that was rejected in our world, but was embraced in hers. The delta of Louisiana is home to hippo ranches and swamps full of violent, vicious feral hippos. A crew of criminals and misfits is hired to do some job (I'm still fuzzy on what it was, precisely, they were to do!) and it doesn't go to plan.

In a nutshell, I don't think Gailey had enough space to really stretch out and run. Everything in this novella smacked of shortcuts and assumption of goodwill, as if the reader has already bought into this ragtag bunc…

Weekend reads, and I got nothing...

I'm late with this post -- which also pretty much has nothing to do with books -- because of allergies and the migraine that came with them.

Goodreads says I'm currently reading 9 books, which sounds both totally possible and really quite ridiculous.

What are you reading this weekend? Anything I should pick up that would rattle me out of this fug?

Teaser Tuesday, August 1: Hippos!

My teaser for today comes from River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey. It's a novella that imagines 1890s Louisiana as if an insane idea had really been brought to fruition: hippos were bred in the Delta for meat.

Our hero, Winslow Houndstooth, is a hippo rancher, hired to do a mysterious job in a part of Louisiana thick with violent, feral hippos. He assembles a crack team, and as you can probably tell from my summary so far, it's a bananas story. (But so, so intriguing!)

"I think you've only been retired for a year, and already, you'd poison a stranger just to break up the monotony." (p22)
The sequel, Taste of Marrow, comes out next month.

So, what do you think? Would you read more? What are you reading right now?

Mailbox Monday, July 24

It's been a long time since I've done a Mailbox Monday post, but I've gotten some fun arrivals, so I thought I'd share.

Have you gotten your hands on any of these? What new arrivals are you excited about?

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily by Laura Creedle

The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel Davis Huber
A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan
Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
Yesterday by Felicia Yap

Book Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

First line: He was still bleeding.

This book is delicious.

It's also so bonkers. But delightfully so.

This debut novel explores the infamous Borden murders, opening with when the first body is found. The novel then shifts to two days before, and eventually, the days after the murder, and the story unfolds through Lizzie, her sister Emma, their maid Bridget, and Benjamin, an itinerant stranger.

Everyone in this book -- save for Bridget -- are awful. If one couldn't think of a reason for the murders, Schmidt offers a handful. The novel is creepy but not gory (just right for me), and there's a wonderfully claustrophobic feel to the narrative. It's a story, too, about frustrated ambitions and passions, petty jealousies and dysfunctional love. (I was reminded a bit of Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which made me wonder if Jackson was inspired at all by the Borden murders and if Schmidt had been inspired by Jackson...)

My only complaint about this …

Book Review: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

First line: A young man walks down by the banks of the Blackwater under the full cold moon.

I wanted to read this book the instant I heard about (shortlist for Baileys Women's Prize, I believe), and my hunger for it was justified because now, a week after finishing, I'm contemplating whether I can reread it before it's due (and if I can justify buying it).

Set in 1893, the novel follows Cora Seaborne, a new widow, who has a voraciously hungry intellect and a naturalist's passions. Freed from her cruel husband, she goes to Essex on a friend's suggestion, where she meets William Ransome, the parish vicar. Expecting him to be brutish or comfortably corpulent, she instead finds a mind like her's, hungry for knowledge -- but where she honors science, he honors faith.

The wild stories of the Essex serpent -- blamed for the deaths of livestock and children -- shape the landscape, the people, their experiences. Cora hopes to find it while Will believes it to be imagina…

The Essential Guide to Jane Austen

Today is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's death. I'm sipping coffee out of my ginormous coffee mug emblazoned with an L.M. Alcott quote, my new copy of Middlemarch by my elbow, and I plan on mainlining every Austen-inspired movie I own, so ... crushing it?

Penguin Random House/Signature Reads has made an Essential Guide to Jane Austen, a 29-page compilation with short pieces about Austen and her beloved works, and it's a fabulously fun way to get your Austen fix without having to call out of work because of an urgent need for an Austen reread.

If you end up paging through it, here are some of the things I want to discuss via comments or on social media:

Liz Kay's "6 Jane Austen Novels Ranked by Their Sexiness" (I 100% agree with her 'Peak Sexiness' ranking as it is my favorite Austen.)Charlie Lovett's "Pride and Prejudice on Film: The Best –and the Not-So-Great" (He dislikes the 1980 version that my wife so adores, which is fine by…

Book Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

First line: Why did Mindi want an arranged marriage?

I pretty much started hungering for this book the moment I learned its title. How can you resist?

The premise of this book is equally fun: Nikki, a young Londoner from a Sikh family, is casting about for direction when she becomes a writing instructor at a Sikh community center. At odds with her family, Nikki's foray with the Sikh widows in her class ends up centering her within a serious tension in their community, even as their wild class liberates the women and reveals the deep passion many -- including widows -- hunger after.

This book was swimming with laugh out loud moments, especially early on, when the class discusses their thoughts on passion, seduction, and romance. Jaswal includes excerpts of the erotic stories the widows pen, and they're fun.

The feel of this book will be familiar to anyone who watches contemporary British comedies like Bend It Like Beckham or Calendar Girls ("charming" keeps coming to …

Weekend reads and weather moodiness...

Boston has had full on weather mood swings: 90 degrees and steamy one day; 60s and chilly another. Today is a gray day, but it remains to be seen if it'll be cold or muggy.

This weekend, I hope to finish up the wonderfully funny  Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal, and I plan on starting Coming of Age: The Sexual Awakening of Margaret Mead by Deborah Beatriz Blum.

What are you reading this weekend?

Book Review & Giveaway: Lost Boy by Christina Henry

First line: Once I was young, and young forever and always, until I wasn't.

This book ruined my life in the best way.

Christina Henry's novel imagines that James Cook wasn't originally a villain. Once, James was a boy named Jamie, and he was Peter Pan's first playmate. His most beloved one.

But after years and years and years of living with Peter, Jamie has aged in some ways -- not physically, but mentally. He sees the arbitrary, insane cruelty of Peter Pan -- someone who yearns only for fun, but whose idea of fun includes real bloodshed and death -- and Jamie eventually tires of it.

I haven't actually read any of Barrie's original work on Peter Pan, but am familiar with the story as portrayed by Disney and popular culture. Henry's take is so achingly good, because when you get down to it, there is something horrifically vicious in Peter's behavior and world. Jamie -- who wants nothing more than to just love Peter as he once did, and be loved in return …

Teaser Tuesday, July 11

My Teaser Tuesday for this week is from the unbelievably good Lost Boy by Christina Henry, a novel that imagines Captain Hook's origins.

I read it in about a day and a half, and I'm still reeling.

My review (with a giveaway!) posts later this week. In the meantime, enjoy this juicy tidbit:

I felt the burn of envy deep in my chest, scorching hard enough to bring tears to my eyes. When had he learned such a thing? Why hadn't he shared it with us?

Why hadn't he shared it with me?

The warmth I'd felt when he smiled at me was gone. I didn't know Peter anymore, not the way I used to. (p105)
What do you think? Have any teasers of your own to share?


A little late, but here's the latest giveaway winner!

The winner of The Alice Network is ... Chris from Wildmoo Books!

Congrats! I've emailed the winner, who has until Wednesday to respond.

Be sure to visit my blog later this week as I have another giveaway coming up!

Wordless Wednesday, June 28

Today's Wordless Wednesday is of a few of the birthday cards I received this week.

The top one is from Unabridged Toddler, who, when asked what message he wanted to put in my card, said: "I'm watching you."

Ominous much??

Have a Wordless Wednesday to share? Put the link in the comments!

Book Review & Giveaway: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

First line: The first person I met in England was a hallucination.

Everyone, this book. This book!! Plot, characters, place, era, details, drama, villains, heroines, and wonderfully compelling storytelling -- everything was there that I wanted, unfolding in that delicious way that makes me just want to skip meals and read.

The novel follows Charlie St. Clair, a pregnant college student shipped to Europe to get an abortion, who yearns to find her beloved cousin who went missing during World War II. She meets Eve Gardiner, an pistol-wielding woman with a drinking problem, foul attitude, and destroyed, mangled hands. In alternating chapters, we learn Eve is recruited to work as a spy during World War I, part of the famous Alice Network, and her important but dangerous work changes her life.

Normally I'm not a dual narrative fan, but Quinn sucked me in with both stories/heroines and I really can't say which was my favorite. What I loved most about this book was its depiction of f…

Weekend reads, or summer, summer, summer!

It's officially summer now, but Boston has been alternating between 80ish days and 40ish ones, so who knows. But I'm really looking forward to our summer plans: lots of day trips, some camping, catching up with friends, and lots of summer eats.

My weekend reads for this weekend is Christina Henry's Peter Pan retelling, Lost Boy. The cover is a leeeeeetle gory for my tastes, and I am using big stickies to keep Unabridged Toddler from seeing it, but otherwise, I'm very excited to dig in.

I've got a crazy book hangover from Kate Quinn's The Alice Network (review and giveaway next Mon!) so I'm glad I've got something else that should suck me in.

What are you reading this weekend?

Teaser Tuesday: The Alice Network

My Teaser Tuesday for this week comes from Kate Quinn's marvelous The Alice Network. I'm only a fourth through but I am hardcore in love. There are a handful of badass women who dominate the book, and Quinn's trademark mix of rich detail and delightful one-liners. (Limiting myself to one teaser today was a challenge!)

This quote is from the start of the novel, when our World War I spy Eve gets her first job at a Lille-based restaurant..

Eve could see why the Germans came to dine here. It was a civilized place to relax after a long day of stamping on your conquered populace. (p103)

What are you reading right now? Any teasers to share?


A second whirlwind weekend, so my apologies for this late giveaway winner announcement!

The winner of my giveaway for Novel Destinations is ... Carrie of nomadreader!

Congrats, Carrie! I should have more giveaways coming up so don't despair -- be sure to keep reading!

Book Review: The Secret History of Jane Eyre by John Pfordresher

First line: We begin with a mystery.

I grabbed this book because of the cover (gorgeous) and the fact that I'm not a huge Jane Eyre fan and I kind of want to be. (I mean, it seems like a book I should be all over.) I love books about books, stories that dive into the nitty-gritty and ineffable magic of writing a novel. And I'm always up to learn more about books and how, possibly, to read them.

But this one really disappointed me.

Pfordresher's argument -- his 'secret history' -- is that Brontë mined her own life for Jane Eyre. (No duh.) But he pushes a literal person-for-person sort of equivalency that really disappointed me; while arguing for Brontë's creative genius, I couldn't help but feel like he was minimizing it in this manner.

There are also some intense leaps that just seemed a stretch to me. For example, Rochester's agonizing sexual frustration reflects "...a sexual energy Charlotte Brontë knew, daily, at Haworth," (p82), from the a…

Book Review: Swing Time by Zadie Smith

First line: It was the first day of my humiliation.

Unbelievably, this was my first Zadie Smith. How is that possible? I'm super embarrassed by this fact, but there it is.

The novel is narrated by a young biracial woman, recounting her childhood and early adulthood, and the things -- dance, music, education -- and people -- her mother, best friend, employer -- that shaped the direction of her life.

Passionate about dance, our narrator becomes friends with the only other biracial girl in her dance class, Tracey. Tracey is gifted at dance and her mother eagerly supports her while our narrator's mother is focused on educating herself and achieving personal happiness and success. Our narrator is shuttled to better schools and ends up becoming the assistant to a massive pop celebrity, an experience that changes her life in so many ways.

I liked this book, although I don't think its blurb does it justice -- I really expected a story about two friends -- the narrator and Tracey …

Book Review: Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon

First line: "I felt as if I'd got into a novel while going about in the places I'd read so much of," Louisa May Alcott wrote in her journal after seeing the sights of Dickensian London in 1865., from the Introduction

Book-inspired travel is a favorite of mine and my wife's. On my first trip with my in-laws, they cheerfully indulged my literary nerdiness by diverting a family road trip so that I could search for poet and novelist H.D.'s grave in Bethlehem, PA. Through multiple biographies and Jackson's own writing, my wife and I pieced together a route through North Bennington, Vermont, to explore Shirley Jackson's world. And for my babymoon, my wife took me to Yaddo, famed writing center, so I could walk the grounds so many favorite authors had.

All this is to say: a book that basically does all the work and offers me many, many ways to visit my favorite literary sites is pretty much catnip for me.

In its second edition, Novel Destinations offers a va…

Wordless Wednesday, May 24

My Wordless Wednesday offering for today includes two of my current reads: Buffalo Soldier and The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece.

Have a Wordless Wednesday image to share? Link to it in the comments!

Book Review: How to Be Everything by Emilie Wapnick

First line: If you picked up this book, it's probably because you've had trouble narrowing down "what you want to be" to one thing.

I agreed to review this book purely on the title: I was unfamiliar with Wapnick and her TEDx talk on calling but have long struggled with what I "want to be when I grow up" (even now, in my mid-30s). While I love learning, I don't love it enough to want to attempt a Master's degree or expensive classes, and I've struggled with understanding if I'm happy or not in my vocation(s).

Still, I was apprehensive about this book when I started, fearing it'd be a long form essay on #YOLO (you only live once) or a passionate defense of the gig economy.

Instead, I found this a fascinating, empathetic, empowering read that acknowledges today's economic realities, the personal temperament of many people I know, and the ways current US culture is oriented toward a rigid, specialist-type career path (and how that need n…

Book Review: The White Road by Sarah Lotz

First line: I met the man who would save my life twice -- and ultimately destroy it -- on a potholed road in the arse-end of the Welsh countryside.

I grabbed this book off NetGalley because I like Mulholland Books offerings, even though adventure thrillers aren't normally my thing. But I'm glad I started this one, as it was a wonderfully diverting summer read, the kind of book that had me impatient for lunch and putting off dinner because I had to know how things would end.

Without (hopefully) giving away too much, the novel follows two mountain climbers, Simon and Juliet, who struggle with their demons as well as their aspirations. Juliet is a famed mountaineer hoping to establish herself with a historic climb, while Simon is employed by a shock journalism website that specializes in "dark" found footage.

Unsurprisingly, things unravel quickly for both Juliet and Simon, and I hung on every word. Lotz is new to me, but Stephen King is a fan of hers, among others, and…

Weekend reads and nor'easter-y Mama's Day!

This morning started chilly and drizzly but there's some sun peeking out, although it seems like it's going to be a cold, wet weekend.

My mother is flying in today for the weekend, which is a great treat, although our one big plan -- to attend Lilac Sunday -- has fallen through because, apparently, there's going to be a nor'easter on Sunday! I'll say right now I only like nor'easters if it comes with a snow day on Monday; otherwise, I've got no use for 'em!

As we're a two mama house, we'll be juggling giving each other Mama's Day time, so there will a little reading, lots of noshing, some sight seeing, and plenty of Unabridged Toddler time.

For those of you who are mamas, happy mother's day to you! And for those of you for whom this weekend is less fun because of problematic or missing mothers, you've got my love. I hope it isn't too painful.

My weekend read is Jenni L. Walsh's Becoming Bonnie, a historical novel about one h…

Book Review: Landfalls by Naomi J. Williams

First line: No one knew what to make of the new galley stoves when they arrived.

I first read this book in 2015 and adored it, and I was delighted when my book club selected it to read last month. Rereading it reminded me of what is so fabulous about this book, and I think it might be edging into one of my top ten all time favorite books. (!)

As with all the books I adore, I feel like I can't adequately explain why I loved it so and what about it was so compelling. In this case, it's everything -- the premise, the characters, the narrative style -- and this reread had me once again breathless in awe.

Williams recounts the late 18th century voyage of the Astrolabe and Boussole, two French frigates tasked with further global exploration, scientific inquiry, and cartographic correction. Each chapter follows a different crew member, and details the dramatic and tragic journey of the two ships.

I hesitate to say too much about what happened (don't google before reading) because…

Book Release Spotlight: Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh

Becoming Bonnie is another novel I've been salivating over, ever since I caught wind of it last year. It's finally out, and I'm starting it in a few days. Really excited to share the squee about this one -- and even more exciting -- the sequel, Being Bonnie, has just sold, so more Bonnie to come! The Becoming Bonnieweb page has pre-order links, an FAQ, and other fun extras (like which member of Bonnie & Clyde's gang are you?)!

Becoming Bonnie: A Novel Jenni L. Walsh Forge/Macmillan: May 9, 2017 Hardcover | 304 pages Fiction / Historical
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From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh comes the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo.

​The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family's poverty, provide for herself, and maybe so…

Book Review: The Big Adventures of Tiny House by Susan Bernardo

First line:Once there was a farmhouse in a field of hay, but as it lay sleeping, the acres gave way to a bustling city whose bright, shiny towers edged out the farmhouse, the fields and flowers.

I love the idea of tiny houses although I could never, never, never live in one. The farm where my wife works, and where Unabridged Toddler spends most of his time, has a tiny house, and so when this book was offered for review, there was no way I could pass it up.

Both my toddler and I were completely charmed by this sweet read and gorgeous illustrations. An old farmhouse is transformed into a tiny house, and he and his friend, Big Truck, travel the country and make friends. A snobbish mansion makes Tiny nervous that he's not a real home, but he quickly discovers he's home no matter what.

The text is rhyming, but not irritatingly so, and the illustrations are wonderfully bold and bright. As Tiny and his friends travel the United States, there are visible notes of multiculturalism that…

Book Review: The Fisherman's Bride by Catherine Magia

First line: You only know of me through the healing of my mother, a shadow of a woman blessed by the miracle in the Gospels of Luke, Mark, and Matthew.

This slender book explores the life of the Apostle Peter's unnamed wife, and I found it a compelling, complicated, and surprising read.

As the first line explains, the only reference to her comes from the gospels, when Jesus heals her mother; from this simple line, Magia imagines what life for this unknown woman must have been like.

I didn't know what to expect with this novel; I enjoy fiction inspired by the events and figures in the Bible, even though I'm not a fan of explicitly Christian fiction. To my great delight, Magia balances an evocative sense of place and era with a gentle reverence for Jesus as a spiritual leader.

The novel opens with our heroine facing an unwanted marriage to a much older man, but her father's apprentice Simon asks for her hand, which she accepts. But as with everything in her life, this ch…

Book Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

First line: Melissa made fun of me at school today.

I wasn't falling over myself in love with the first book in this trilogy, Sleeping Giants, but without anticipating an oh-my-god read with this one, I enjoyed it more than the first book.

The mysteries from the first book are explored in this one -- the meaning of the alien technology and the purpose for the abandoned machine now named Themis.

Whereas the first book felt more intimate, in a way, being focused on the four or five characters involved in researching this alien technology and what that research does to them, this book pulls back and starts looking at the global implications.

There are still four main characters we see things through, who give the story some heart, but much of the story is focused externally -- and with good reason. An alien robot lands in London at the start of the novel, similar to Themis but not the same, and our heroes have to scramble to figure out what the meaning of this visit is -- and if they…

Book Blast: Lilli de Jong

I think all of us passionate readers have a TBR in the thousands and we still can't help anticipating new releases. (My 2017 aspirational TBR has more books than I can read in a year, but does that stop me from adding more?! NOPE!)

I've been super curious about this historical novel, Lilli de Jong, since I caught sight of the cover and title earlier this year. Honestly, I wanted to read it based on just those two things but after reading the blurb, I'm pretty much guaranteed to pick this one up. (And, undoubtedly, do some ugly crying.)

It doesn't hurt that it's been blurbed by authors I love and admire, like Sarah McCoy, Valerie Martin, and Sandra Gulland.

You can read an excerpt at the author's website.

So, what do you think -- curious, too?

Lilli de Jong
by Janet Benton

Nan A. Talese, May 16, 2017 Hardcover & eBook; 352 Pages Genre: Fiction/Historical/Literary

A young woman finds the most powerful love of her life when she gives birth at an institution for …