Beyond That, the Sea by Laura Spence- Ash is a 2023 Celadon Books publication.
Beatrix- ‘Bea’ Thompson is sent to America at age eleven by her parentsBeyond That, the Sea by Laura Spence- Ash is a 2023 Celadon Books publication.
Beatrix- ‘Bea’ Thompson is sent to America at age eleven by her parents to protect her from the ravages of World War ll. She lands with the Gregory family in Boston and is immediately folded into this loving family, though it does take some time to adjust.
As the war rages on, Bea enjoys a life she could never have imagined. Her American mother, Nancy, grows quite attached, and Nancy’s son’s also forge a tight bond with Bea.
But on the other side of the ocean, Bea’s parents struggle with the reality of war, with missing their daughter, and the widening distance between them- not just geographically, or physically, but emotionally…
Eventually, though, despite the chasm of grief over leaving America, Bea returns home to her mother. Yet, as the years pass, the bonds she created with the Gregory’s never fully fades. They each, in their own way, stay emotionally connected, believing they must live separate lives despite the deep-seated feelings that bind them together…
What an amazing novel! I love historical sagas- and this one fits the bill- it’s sweeping- covering decades of time. In many ways it is a quiet novel, but it packs a big emotional punch. The characters each have strengths and flaws, go through many trials and changes, periods of setbacks and growth, triumphs and grief, and the reader is right there- going through it with them!
Overall, this is a beautifully written story- a love story on so many levels, and a story that will stick with me a long time to come!
On Gin Lane by Brooke Lee Foster is a 2022 Gallery Books publication.
Everleigh’s fiancé, Roland, surprises her with a hotel he built for her in the HOn Gin Lane by Brooke Lee Foster is a 2022 Gallery Books publication.
Everleigh’s fiancé, Roland, surprises her with a hotel he built for her in the Hampton’s. Though she didn’t ask for this, Everleigh, embraces the role, but then a fire breaks out, putting Roland in a financial bind, and both of them under suspicion, as detectives believe arson might be to blame.
Under the strain, Everleigh’s relationship with Roland, begins to fray, and she begins to second guess her decision to marry him. Meanwhile, Everleigh’s love of photography gives her an opportunity to work doing something that she loves. Yet her family, and Roland, are determined to force her to quit…
As she digs her heels in, Everleigh is becoming more and more certain she’s made a mistake with Roland, but can’t seem to find a way out of her engagement…
Although Everleigh is naïve, and comes from a wealthy family, she spends her summer in the Hamptons growing up and becoming wise. She still must fight with herself about social standings and appearances, duty, and how her decisions will affect her family, but she comes into her own, in her own good time.
There is a mystery, an investigation, and loads of questions about that fire, but for a long time the mystery runs in the background as Everleigh struggles with her failing romance, her desire to break free from the strictures of her life, as she falls under the spell of both her new photography mentor, Starling Meade, and Curtis, a doctor she keeps bumping into.
Once the revelations start pouring out, though, the surprises are stunning, and not nearly as predictable as I expected them to be...
This was a book I had intended to read over the summer-but I crammed too many ‘Beach’ reads onto my summer list, and, sadly, ran out time before I had a chance to read all of them. Usually, I packed all seasonal books away until the next year- but the premise for this one sounded so good, I had to have just one last summer fling before I pack away the summer books for good this year.
I loved the setting, the location, and the quiet way the novel unfolded, the character growth and the pioneers who paved the way for women to have more options in life and step out from behind the shadows of their fathers and husbands to gain more independence and control over their own destinies.
Starling might have been the trailblazer in this story, but though it seemed unlikely, Everleigh also became a trailblazer in her own right, as well.
Overall, I have to say I enjoyed my last beach flirtation, and think this was a lovely swan song for the summer of 2022…
I read this for banned books week- but now I wish I had chosen a different book. The history is interesting as it is based on true events- which have I read this for banned books week- but now I wish I had chosen a different book. The history is interesting as it is based on true events- which have been mostly forgotten about now. I understand much of what the author is trying to accomplish with the book, but it is too heavy and dismal. I turned the last pages feeling utterly deflated and miserable.
Banning and censoring books is never the way to handle controversial material or opinions that differ from your own. That said, this book is supposedly aimed at a YA audience and even us old jaded adults appreciate those trigger warnings that come in BIG BOLD LETTERS about abuse- sexual or physical- as well as racist language, etc., so I do think this book should come with some kind of warning about the content, as some people are more sensitive than others.
Overall, this one was too depressing for my taste. A good book to prompt important, healthy conversations about race and abuse- but it won't be for everyone.
Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates is a 2017 Ecco Publication.
Let me begin by saying I have had this book on my TBR list long before a Netflix movie was eveBlonde by Joyce Carol Oates is a 2017 Ecco Publication.
Let me begin by saying I have had this book on my TBR list long before a Netflix movie was even thought of. I was advised that reading a good traditional biography about Marilyn Monroe before starting this one would be a good idea, so, dutifully, I squeezed in a lengthy biography over Monroe, back in the spring. (Marilyn: The Biography by Donald Spoto)
Truthfully, that book was depressing, and I needed a little break before tackling this tome about Marilyn.
But then the rumors I’d heard about a Netflix movie based on this book started heating up and I wanted to read this book before I saw the movie, so I put everything else aside and got started on it. I was only about halfway into the book when the movie premiered-
And like every single other thing these days it got the controversial treatment- When the reviews starting coming in they were mixed- but mostly, critics and viewers alike complained of exploitation- and there's that NC-17 rating, on top of being three hours long.
All this bad press made me curious about how well this book was received, so I took a peek at the ratings. Curiously, on Goodreads, this book has over twelve thousand ratings and boasts a 4.01 average, ( at the time of this writing), which is pretty darned good, actually. So maybe this is another one of those instances where the movie was LOOSELY based on this novel and maybe it took more liberties with the book than JCO did with Marilyn’s life. (JCO claims she had nothing to do with the film and even she had to take a break from its brutality)
I haven’t seen the movie, at this writing, and now I can’t say I’m in a hurry to do so- though I might change my mind later- but there are a few things to keep in mind if one is considering reading the book the film is based on. Readers have long lamented movie adaptations of books and the material- or any material for that matter, based on Marilyn Monroe is going to be exploitive, because frankly, Marilyn and exploitation always went hand in hand during her life, and far too long after her death.
Another thing to consider is that the masses seldom do their homework before watching a movie based on a book. I'll go out on a limb here and say that I suspect very few of the critics- and none the outspoken Twitter crowd, have read Marilyn's biography, or this book, before watching the film. Just something to keep in mind.
This book, like any other book of historical fiction based on real people, has taken liberties- sometimes with times, or places, events, and most certainly with the facts- more so than most, I’d say.
Some authors like to make their fictionalized versions of a person’s life as close to reality as possible, while others go so far as to completely re-imagine someone’s life. I think JCO did a little of both here. Some parts of the novel are total fabrications- completely made-up out of whole cloth, but in other areas, the people are familiar- if not named outright- and the scenes described are authentic- and those are the ones people object to the most. Sadly, as much as we would like to believe differently, the book in many ways probably hits a little too close to the bone and most people don't want to believe that, preferring to hold on to a fantasy image of the late star, instead.
Yes, it’s brutal, but the book shows the ‘Blonde actress’ as a separate entity from Norma Jeane- and it is Norma Jeane, and her private battles that take center stage here.
I really do think Marilyn was an unhappy person- her non-fictional biography certainly gives off that vibe- But putting those truths into JCO hands, is sure to expand on that vibe exponentially- something those familiar her literary style can attest to, I'm sure.
This novel is dark and heavy- and though the accusations of exploitation nearly always has some merit- I think that the author’s distinction between the public persona and Norma Jeane diminished that to some degree-rather showing how the actress was exploited by Hollywood and the toll it took on her personal life, which was already marred by a myriad of other demons, in my opinion, at least.
All that said, this is an interesting take on the life of the ‘Blonde Actress’ and the woman behind the image. The approach is idiosyncratic and does require one to pay attention, read between the lines, and remain open to JCO interpretation of Marilyn- because that isn’t always easy.
Was the book what I was expecting? No, not really. Did I like it? In some ways, yes, and in other ways, no. I’m glad I read it, as I’ve been curious about it for ages- but I do think that now, after spending a fair amount of time with Marilyn this year- I’m inclined to agree that it is well past time to let both the ‘Blonde Actress’ and Norma Jeane finally rest in peace…
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah is a 2020 St. Martin’s Press publication.
After the death of their father, his daughters, Meredith and Nina, two womenWinter Garden by Kristin Hannah is a 2020 St. Martin’s Press publication.
After the death of their father, his daughters, Meredith and Nina, two women who are polar opposites, must cope with their cold mother, Anya, who is exhibiting signs of dementia. Nina is determined to grant her father's dying wish, which is to get Anya to tell his daughters the entire Russian fairytale she had started and stopped so many times when the girls were younger.
Meredith, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about fairytale stories. Meredith promised to take care of her mother- which may mean moving her to a care facility for her own safety. As she goes about packing up her mother’s things, Nina coaxes Anya to tell her story, a story, which despite her resentments, Meredith eavesdrops on, suddenly finding herself enthralled by it...
This novel begins like a highly emotional contemporary/women’s fiction novel as a death exposes the monumental dysfunction within a family. A marriage is in trouble, the sisters bicker, and their mother seems unmoved by the drama, refusing to budge from her cold shell to comfort them or bring about peace. But, as the story develops, the saga takes on an entirely different tone with Anya taking control of the main narrative.
Once Anya begins her narration, I found myself riveted by her story. Naturally, her story can put one’s own struggles into perspective and is a horrible reminder of the sacrifices, and sufferings of a complicated war. The story ends with a bittersweet tone- at once sad and triumphant.
Kristin Hannah is a powerful storyteller. For some reason I have only read a few of her books, though I have several of them on my Kindle- if they are all as good as this one- I’ll be reading a lot more of Kristin Hannah- especially since older books are working out much better for me than the new releases- by far!
Were there some weaknesses? Yes, but I’m so grateful for the quality of this novel, I’m willing to overlook them. By and far, this book blows anything and everything I’ve read this year, so far, completely out of the water.
If I had read this book a few years ago, I might have given it a four-star rating, but because I feel like a person dying of thirst in the middle of the desert who was just been given a long, refreshing drink of cool water- this book gets the full five stars!...more
Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a 2022 Ballantine Books publication.
Carrie Soto was once the best tennis player in the world, until sheCarrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a 2022 Ballantine Books publication.
Carrie Soto was once the best tennis player in the world, until she retired due to injury and age. But when a new tennis star threatens to break her records, Carrie can’t stand the idea of losing her status as the most decorated female tennis player. So, at the age of thirty-seven, she hires her father as a coach and makes a comeback…
We first met Carrie Soto in ‘Malibu Rising’. Under those circumstances, she was a bit of a villain. I wondered how Reid would make me sympathize with her.
Reid did not disappoint. She did not change Carrie’s personality to make her more likable. She showed me her drive and determination, her competitive spirit and ambition. But she also showed me her flaws and insecurities, her fear of being irrelevant and forgotten. She made me understand what tennis meant to her, but also how it limited her life outside the court.
Reid also made me feel the excitement and tension of Carrie’s tennis matches, while exploring her character and relationships. Despite her abrasive attitude and stubbornness, I found myself rooting for her - not only to win at tennis, but to find happiness and fulfillment in other aspects of her life.
Reid also portrayed the sexism and bias female athletes face from the media and the public. But she also showed how Carrie earned back the respect and admiration of her fans and peers - as well as mine.
This is another brilliant novel by Reid. It’s a complex and compelling character study, but also a fun and inspiring sports story.
O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker is a 2022 Scribner publication.
What an unusual story. This book was originally published back in the early 90s, O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker is a 2022 Scribner publication.
What an unusual story. This book was originally published back in the early 90s, I think, but I was unaware of it. This reissue comes with a foreword by Maggie O’Farrell.
Can one really slap a label on this book? It’s historical fiction, it could pass for ‘coming of age’, or YA, and it certainly deserves its place in Gothic literature- but it seems like it is all those things and more…
As the story opens, the reader is immediately made aware that sixteen-year-old Janet has been murdered. From there we are taken back to Janet’s childhood, and we learn she is the oldest of five children, but she’s not a natural conformist- she does not assimilate.
She doesn’t have the natural beauty of her younger sister, she’s a loner, finding stimulation and imagination through reading. Mostly, she’s just misunderstood- but she refuses to be anything or anybody other than herself….
On one hand, this short story is darkly humorous, on the other hand, it is sad and maybe a little depressing, too. Janet, though, is just wonderful. A great character- full of promise, but continuously rebuffed and neglected by the adults in her life, eventually bonding with a bird who becomes her devoted and sole companion.
The writing is lush, and the imagery captures the time and place beautifully. I love books like this one- but they are far and few between. Janet is a character I will not forget anytime soon!! I am so happy I finally discovered this little gem!!...more
Booth by Karen Joy Fowler is a 2022 Putnam publication.
I received a few emails about this one from various book sites and publishers, so I decided toBooth by Karen Joy Fowler is a 2022 Putnam publication.
I received a few emails about this one from various book sites and publishers, so I decided to give it a try, though I must confess, I’ve never given a great deal of thought to John Wilkes Booth’s family.
The prompt, though, was all about the families of those who commit heinous crimes, which is a subject I have given some thought to in the age of mass shootings.
Unfortunately, this book wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped. To make sure everyone is on the same page here- the book is not specifically about John. Rather, it is about his family, and though John naturally has a role in the book, he is not the primary focus.
The story gives voice to a handful of John’s siblings – of which there were nine- each with a unique disposition and set of circumstances, but all bound by tragedies, scandal, humiliations, and madness.
With all that going on, John’s antics were not especially troublesome to anyone, until much later, when a few of his siblings did notice him spiraling far away from their belief system- while others excused him or might have even shared some of his political opinions. This is where the question of what the family knew comes into play. What signs did they miss, or ignore- or were they in any way complicit?
The author did a good job with time and place-eerily so, truth be told, which was of more importance to me than anything the Booth family was doing.
The pacing is slow, and often rambling, with many segments being just plain boring. I did become frustrated enough to consider throwing in the towel, but had just enough curiosity to see how the author would build up to the assassination to soldier on- though there was some skimming involved.
In the end, other than the reminder of the undercurrent leading up to the civil war, which so mirrors the undercurrents of today- which probably wasn’t the author’s main goal here- this book is a take it or leave it type story, for me.
It has some interesting moments, sure, but mostly it was a slog.
The Foundling by Ann Leary is a 2022 S&S/ Marysue Rucci Books publication.
This story is both horrifying and inspiring.
Set in the 1920s, the study ofThe Foundling by Ann Leary is a 2022 S&S/ Marysue Rucci Books publication.
This story is both horrifying and inspiring.
Set in the 1920s, the study of Eugenics in full swing, Mary, who spent her formative years in a Catholic orphanage before her aunt took her in, is a naïve young woman who is beyond grateful to find a job that will get her away from her aunt and give her a sense of independence.
She accepts a typist/secretarial position at 'The Nettleton State Village for Feeble-minded Women of Childbearing Age'- working for the highly respected Dr. Agnes Vogel, whom Mary all but worships.
As fate would have it, Mary soon recognizes one of the inmates- a girl she knew at the orphanage as a child. The girl she knew was not at all feeble-minded. But Mary doesn’t dare tell anyone for fear of being fired.
The longer Mary works under Dr. Vogel, she begins to notice some unlawful and unethical practices at the institute, but again, she keeps quiet. It wasn’t until her old friend asks to meet her and Mary meets a journalist who helps pull the wool from her eyes, that Mary begins to realize the esteemed Dr. Vogel is, in fact, a monster- one she must take steps to expose…
Whew! This book was intense. The subject matter alone is one that should make the hairs stand up on the back your neck- but the author sets the stage for one riveting, nail biting, edge of your seat drama. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!
While this topic will make you squirm in your seat, shocked at how the popularity of eugenics was so widespread and supported! The author handles this through the book’s characters, without being heavy handed, which also allows the characters to develop, grow and strengthen. While the story is about a shameful period in our history, it is just as much about having the courage of one’s convictions.
Overall, I thought the story was well-balanced, getting the point across, but also giving the reader a rewarding story with a lovely, but strong conclusion. Well done!
Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow is a 2022 The Dial Press publication.
In 1995, Miriam North heads back home to Memphis with her two daughters- Joan anMemphis by Tara M. Stringfellow is a 2022 The Dial Press publication.
In 1995, Miriam North heads back home to Memphis with her two daughters- Joan and Mya- in tow, running from her abusive husband, Jax. She moves back in with her sister, August, and her nephew, Derek, despite a very disturbing and complicated history between them…
From here, the reader is taken on a somewhat jumbled journey through the North family history, with Joan representing the future of the North women.
Memphis itself is an intricate part of the story, creating the atmosphere and a point of reference for the experiences this family absorbed. The history is dark, but the author alludes to the strong musical and literary influences, proving the strong contributions of the city, as well.
Multiple timelines can be tricky under the best of circumstances- at least for me. Unfortunately, these time shifts were not smooth transitions. It was a bumpy ride on that front and interrupted the flow of the story for me. At times it was a heavy and laborious read...
That said, I love a good family saga, and while the presentation was uneven, I liked the mother/daughter/sister dynamics and the historical aspects of the book, and the way Joan takes charge of her own destiny.
A word of warning, though-
This is a trigger-happy book. The material here is often hard to digest- and it can be quite graphic. In fact, I felt so uncomfortable initially I couldn’t decide if I wanted to continue with the novel.
I’m glad I saw it through, as I feel it was rewarding in the long run-
I didn’t know what to expect going in, and so I’m giving you a heads up because you will need to brace yourself for some passages.
My understanding is that this is a debut novel- and it is a strong one, overall. I do think it was an ambitious undertaking and there were some warbles here and there, but despite that, I think this is a book I’d recommend, and Tara M. Stringfellow is an author I’ll be keeping my eye on.
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson is a 2022 Ballantine Books publication.
When their mother, Eleanor Bennett, passes away, brother and sister- Byron aBlack Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson is a 2022 Ballantine Books publication.
When their mother, Eleanor Bennett, passes away, brother and sister- Byron and Benny- learn, via Mr. Mitch- their mother's attorney, that she left a tape they are required to listen to.
The siblings have grown apart over the years, each presuming things about the other- and the tension between them is heavy. But, as they gather to hear the tape, their mother’s revelations shock them to their core…
I was a little nervous about this one. I wanted to like it, but felt a little intimated by some warnings I had received about the style of writing, the plethora of social issues, and most of all, the very large cast of characters.
I was grateful for the advice, and it helped that I knew some of the challenges I might encounter in advance- especially since these issues usually fall into my ‘pet peeve’ department.
Yes, it is true- there are many characters, and the presentation is unique, and there are multiple social issues in one book, something I am growing very weary of, especially in 2022 releases- And it is also true, I wasn't a fan of all the material presented.
But despite all that...
I liked this book!
The characters are often flawed, not always sympathetic, but others are very likable. The way the food is woven into the saga, binding generations together, added a special warmth and vibrancy to the story.
The execution is well-done, especially as the author took a bit of an unconventional approach- although at times the pacing is a tad sluggish.
There are various themes- culture, identity, generational riffs- to name a few. But I think what made the story appealing to me was that when you get right down to it, it’s a family saga and I’m always a sucker for these types of books.
I liked the way everything wrapped up. I got all the answers I craved, and felt the characters will move forward with a clearer vision of who they are, and where they will go from here…
The Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson is a 2022 Sourcebooks Landmark publication.
This follow up to "The Book Woman of Troublesome CreekThe Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson is a 2022 Sourcebooks Landmark publication.
This follow up to "The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek”, centers around Honey Mary Angeline Lovett, and her fight for independence after her parents are jailed. Honey, at sixteen year of age, is not quite old enough to live without a guardian and forces are at work to send her to a horrible work- house like environment, unless she can find someone to stay with until she’s of age.
Eventually, Honey finds herself following in her mother’s footsteps, delivering books to the far corners of Appalachia. Her journey is paved with hardships and challenges, but with some help from her friends and supporters, she channels her mother’s fighting spirit to face adversity and overcome the obstacles in her way.
I loved this book as much as I did the first one!! Honey is a compassionate, determined character. Despite the odds against her, she never settles, and though she could take an easier path, she stays true to herself instead. I also loved the way her friends had her back and did all they could to keep her safe and free.
Honey’s story is difficult, as she deals with some of the same issues her mother faced, but ultimately it is one of triumph and inspiration.
Overall, this is a deeply absorbing novel, with well-drawn characters, and as with the previous book, it is very descriptive, honoring the time and the place. I hope we hear from these characters again in the future as I am sure there are many more stories to be told!
Spirits and Smoke by Mary Miley is a 2022 Severn Publication.
Maddie, a young widow with a small son, finds a home with Carlotta, a fraudulent medium.Spirits and Smoke by Mary Miley is a 2022 Severn Publication.
Maddie, a young widow with a small son, finds a home with Carlotta, a fraudulent medium. Maddie’s job is to investigate potential clients prior to their séance sessions. Maddie’s conscience does bother her, but she also finds she is a darned good investigator.
When she begins investigating one of Carlotta’s clients, she learns he is not who he claims to be, which leads her to the discovery that an innocent man who died from tainted alcohol, might have been murdered. This suspicion leads her into the dangerous world of gangsters, while under the watchful eye of the Chicago police who are skeptical of Carlotta’s ‘skills’….
I have enjoyed Mary Miley’s historical mysteries over the years and jumped on this one the minute it popped up on my radar. Somehow, though, I had not realized this book was the second book in a different series from the one I’d been following.
No worries, though, really. The author provides enough background so that one can jump in without feeling lost. I absolutely love stories set during the 1920s- and Miley does a great job of capturing the popular interest in spiritualism during that era, as well as describing the landscape and climate of Chicago- which was run by gangsters. The mystery is compelling, with a few surprises here and there. The story is light on violence, but also has a good crime drama quality to it, as well.
I also enjoyed the way Miley had the characters speak and act in the way a real person would during this decade- with no modern vernacular. Naturally, today we wouldn't say or do these things, as we are better informed- but this gave the story more authenticity, and I appreciated that quality about the book.
Overall, this is fun, clean, jazz age mystery. I enjoyed the characters, atmosphere, and attention to historical details.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is a 2019 Doubleday publication.
Drawing from the events of real-life Dozier School for Boys, this novel is centerThe Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is a 2019 Doubleday publication.
Drawing from the events of real-life Dozier School for Boys, this novel is centered around ‘The Nickel Academy’- a similarly nightmarish reform school.
The story follows a good kid named Elwood Curtis, who is in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets sent to the notorious reform school, and the more worldly and street smart, Jack Turner, who takes Elwood under his wing.
Years later, the discovery of an unmarked graveyard catapults the school into the spotlight, and prompts Turner to reflect on his time as a ‘Nickel Boy’ and to finally confess to his wife the atrocities of the school and the truth of what happened to him and Elwood.
This book, short though it was, is a harrowing novel, right from the first chapter to the final page. Its passages are tense and difficult and then ultimately it rips your heart out. I was icy hot with rage, and utterly gutted by this story. To think this book borrows from true events makes it more tragic and disturbing.
This novel is well-written as it certainly drew me in and held my undivided attention, and brought to life the possibilities that died, the lives destroyed and ruined, and the scars that followed the survivors the rest of their lives.
I must admit this is my first book by this author. I’m always very, very, very late to add Pulitzer Prize winners, or any other award-winning novels, to my reading list- If I add them at all- which is why I am just now getting around to reading this book.
With all the big prizes and awards attached, I wasn’t expecting such a raw, minimalist approach – but it was much more effective- and realistic, to be totally honest.
While I normally feel these great award winners have a short shelf-live on relevancy, I certainly don’t think that is the case here- or with ‘Railroad’, though I have yet to read that one.
Despite the straightforward, bare-bones prose, the story knocked me back on my heels and left me feeling numb, and unable to process it fully for a while.
Several reviews have been honest in saying that as a follow up to the massively successful ‘Railroad’, this one didn’t quite have the same impact. Be that as it may, for now, I have to say this is an exceptional novel, which should stand on its own merits, away from the shadow cast by its immediate predecessor. The story packs a heck of punch and is important enough that I urge everyone to read it.