Everyday Tidbits...

Be Kind. Do Good. Love is a Verb.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Half Wives...#BookReview

About the book:
Over the course of one momentous day, two women who have built their lives around the same man find themselves moving toward an inevitable reckoning.

Former Lutheran minister Henry Plageman is a master secret keeper and a man wracked by grief. He and his wife, Marilyn, tragically lost their young son, Jack, many years ago. But he now has another child—a daughter, eight-year-old Blue—with Lucy, the woman he fell in love with after his marriage collapsed.

The Half Wives follows these interconnected characters on May 22, 1897, the anniversary of Jack’s birth. Marilyn distracts herself with charity work at an orphanage. Henry needs to wrangle his way out of the police station, where he has spent the night for disorderly conduct. Lucy must rescue and rein in the intrepid Blue, who has fallen in a saltwater well. But before long, these four will all be drawn on this day to the same destination: to the city cemetery on the outskirts of San Francisco, to the grave that means so much to all of them. The collision of lives and secrets that follows will leave no one unaltered.

Henry and Marilyn tragically lost their 2-year old son and their marriage never recovered. They live together but distantly. Marilyn has never been able to move forward in her grief and loses herself in charity work. Henry has had a long-term affair with Lucy and they have a daughter. 

The one day that Henry and Marilyn come together as a couple is the anniversary of Jack's death. They meet at his graveside at a set time in the afternoon. But, Henry has also been going to the grave site on that same day with Lucy, but earlier in the day. And on this day, with extenuating circumstances and unexpected delays, they all come together.

So, a slice of life story is clever and a great way to keep the reader's attention. The characters were well developed and we really get a sense of their feelings.

The second person narrative with questionable punctuation and different perspectives? While, I can see why the author may have chosen to narrate second person, but it's just not a narrative I enjoy. However, the details and inner thoughts did add to the story.

The historical aspects and the dark history of San Francisco cemeteries was absolutely new to me and fascinating. 

The story is just that. A story. There isn't a grand reveal or am exciting turn of events. It's not particularly uplifting and there is little hope for a happy ending. There were some loose ends that were not resolved and I was disappointed in that.

Read 9/20

* * * 
3/5 Stars

Monday, September 28, 2020

Prospects of a Woman...#BookReview

About the book
Elisabeth Parker comes to California from Massachusetts in 1849 with her new husband, Nate, to reunite with her father, who’s struck gold on the American River. But she soon realizes her husband is not the man she thought—and neither is her father, who abandons them shortly after they arrive. As Nate struggles with his sexuality, Elisabeth is forced to confront her preconceived notions of family, love, and opportunity. She finds comfort in corresponding with her childhood friend back home, writer Louisa May Alcott, and spending time in the company of a mysterious Californio. 

Armed with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance, she sets out to determine her role in building the West, even as she comes to terms with the sacrifices she must make to achieve independence and happiness. A gripping and illuminating window into life in the Old West, Prospects of a Woman is the story of one woman’s passionate quest to carve out a place for herself in the liberal and bewildering society that emerged during the California gold rush frenzy.

The Gold Rush was one of my favorite parts of learning California history in the 4th grade. I've spent time in gold rush country and I love the Northern California area. So a book about a woman, set in that time period? Sign me up!

Elisabeth marries Nate, a man she barely knows to escape a life of poverty and despair in Massachusetts. Arriving in California, she discovers that life isn't any easier there. Her marriage isn't a happy one, because her husband, Nate, is a closeted gay man and she turns to another for affection. Working the claim they inherited from her father, the two struggle to make a living as well as a life. 

What I enjoyed most about Prospects of a Woman was California's progressive views about the roles of women and Elisabeth's understanding of the options she had there. She could own her own business. She could divorce her husband. She could make her own decisions. 

Elisabeth isn't an inherently likeable woman. But, her tenacity is to be admired. She writes letters to her friend, Louisa May Alcott, but while the letters give more insight into Elisabeth, we never see Louisa's responses, which would have given the story an added depth. 

Thanks to Netgalley and She Writes Press for the opportunity to read this book. You can learn more about Wendy Voorsanger on her website and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Read 9/20

* * *
3/5 Stars

Thursday, September 24, 2020

What's Not Said...#BookReview

About the book:
Kassie O’Callaghan’s meticulous plans to divorce her emotionally abusive husband, Mike, and move in with Chris, a younger man she met five years ago on a solo vacation in Venice, are disrupted when she finds out Mike has chronic kidney disease—something he’s concealed from her for years. Once again, she postpones her path to freedom—at least, until she pokes around his pajama drawer and discovers his illness is the least of his deceits.

But Kassie is no angel, either. As she struggles to justify her own indiscretions, the secret lives she and Mike have led collide head-on, revealing a tangled web of sex, lies, and DNA. Still, mindful of her vows, Kassie commits to helping her husband find an organ donor. In the process, she uncovers a life-changing secret. Problem is, if she reveals it, her own immorality will be exposed, which means she has an impossible decision to make: Whose life will she save—her husband’s or her own?

In a nutshell, Kassie wants to divorce her husband and just as she plans to tell him, she discovers he has a chronic disease he has concealed for years. 

I find myself with very mixed feelings about What's Not Said. I am so appreciative of the fact that the main characters are in their 50s. That was refreshing to read. 

Marriage isn't an easy ride. It requires communication and cooperation and sharing. Kassie is a woman who has always put her husband's needs above her own and Mike is a selfish man who just expects it. None of these characters is particularly likeable, but we're not meant to love every character we read about. The story isn't a polished romance either. Instead it is a stark reminder that life is happy and sad; painful and challenging; brutal and beautiful. 

What's Not Said, is a slower paced novel, but with enough drama that you just keep turning the pages. It is the first in a series and I am curious as to what happens next.

Thanks to Netgalley and She Writes Press for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about Valerie Taylor on her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Read 9/20

* * *
3/5 Stars



Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Rules of Love & Grammar...#BookReview

About the book:
A woman finds love and closure when she returns to her roots in the newest novel from the author of The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe.

Newly jobless, former technical writer Grace Hammond is unmoored. Desperate to escape the city and her problems, Grace hits 'pause' and returns to her Connecticut hometown, where she discovers that the answers to what her future holds might be found by making peace with-and embracing-the past.

As Grace sets out to correct her mistakes and come to terms, finally, with her sister's death, she rekindles a romance with her high school sweetheart, Peter, now a famous movie director, and finds herself sparring with Mitch, who works at the bike shop.

Torn between the promise of a glamorous life and the allure of the familiar, Grace must decide what truly matters, and how to move on without forgetting where she came from.

I had enjoyed The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe and how could I resist a book with this premise and title? It sat on my TBR for awhile though and last week I wanted something that I thought might be light and easy to read. This fit the bill.

After having lost her job and her boyfriend at the same time, Grace's ceiling falls in and needs repair. So she leaves New York and returns home to Connecticut to lick her wounds and celebrate her father's birthday. 

I liked Grace, but I found her attitudes and behaviors more suited for a teenager, rather than a thirty-year-old. That she reverted back to high school level jealousy over her former boyfriend and classmate was annoying. I kept wanting to tell her to just grow up. However, the story flowed well and the secondary characters are what made it enjoyable. I laughed out loud at times. 

I think the story had more potential than it reached, but this is light reading with a few heartwarming moments. 

I purchased my own copy.

Read 9/20

* * *
3/5 Stars

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

What If It's Us...#BookReview

About the book:
Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?

This isn't a book I would have ever picked up on my own. YA just isn't my thing. But, a young friend brought it to me and asked if I would read it and I did and we had a great discussion about it afterwards.

And it's a cute story. Arthur meets Ben at the post office and likes him immediately. But the two are separated and they each wonder how to find the other in a city as big as New York. So, I learned about missed connections on Craigslist. Kind of cool.

When the boys do meet up again, it's a classic romance of misunderstandings and miscommunications. Ben is getting over a break-up and Arthur has never had a boyfriend. The boys are high schoolers and so expecting levels of maturity is a bit unrealistic.

The secondary characters are almost more fun than the main ones. Dylan just steals the show. You'll love him. The pop culture references are many, almost to the point of saturation. Sorry. Not a fan of Hamilton, but with Arthur and his love of theater, it was inevitable that show tunes will be heard.

I've seen reviews that criticize the ending, but I found it realistic to the story line and the fact that these boys were still in high school. Loved the inclusion: to these boys' family and friends, they were just Arthur and Ben. Being gay wasn't an issue, as it shouldn't be. That the boys were Jewish and Puerto Rican characters was a plus. The one homophobic interaction on the train was handled well by Ben.

I didn't find anything remarkable or special about the book.  It's just a sweet story about two boys who fall in love.

I borrowed a copy.

Read 9/20

* * *
3/5 Stars

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes...#BookReview

About the book:
It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capital, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He's been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined -- every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute... and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

It's no secret that I adored the Hunger Games series. Dystopian YA is not a normal genre for me, but this series is awesome and this prequel? A fantastic villain origin story. 

Coriolanus Snow is an ambitious 18-year-old student whose wealthy family barely survived the war. He is all about image and pretense, which often vie against his normal, human feelings. His parents are dead and he lives in a rundown apartment with his grandmother and cousin Tigris. 

But, the 10th Hunger Games is to be the first one with mentors and Coriolanus has been chosen to mentor the female tribute from District 12. While at first humiliated at not being given a more highly rated district, he quickly realizes that Lucy Gray is someone who could win and it's up to him to figure out how to help her do that. Along the way, Coriolanus learns about love and the dangers it can bring. 

As he works his way through the Games, he also discovers who wields the power in the Capitol, who controls the games and what he needs to do to rise up above the masses. 

The student mentors also have a say in how the games are run, and in a somewhat twisted sort of way, their professor gives assignments and in Coriolanus' essays, we see how future Games come about and evolve. As the mentors talk about the games and what is happening, we also see how they are not all unfeeling or unkind. They view their tributes as people and they can see how unfair the Games really are. At the same time we see that those in the Capitol are only concerned about their well being and that their losses are because of the rebels. 

The Hunger Games series is vibrant and colorful in its imagery. This book, however, was almost more black and gray in its imagery, what with the rubble of the arena and the Capitol still trying to rebuild from the war. That made the contrast of Lucy Gray's colorful skirt and the snakes all the more striking.

As with the rest of the series, we see the government oppression, we see the results of war and rebellion. We see society broken, but fighting and we see that even with survival, life isn't grand and colorful. But we also see that the human spirit is strong. 

No one likes who President Snow becomes and I think writing about his story so that he gains the reader's sympathy is brilliant. The story isn't fast-paced, but it drew me in and kept me enthralled.

I purchased my own copy.

Read 9/20

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Friday, September 11, 2020

Sourdough...#BookReview

About the book:
Lois Clary is a software engineer at General Dexterity, a San Francisco robotics company with world-changing ambitions. She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders dinner every evening. Then, disaster! Visa issues. The brothers close up shop, and fast. But they have one last delivery for Lois: their culture, the sourdough starter used to bake their bread. She must keep it alive, they tell her—feed it daily, play it music, and learn to bake with it.

Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms. Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she’s providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria. The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmer’s market, and a whole new world opens up.

When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with no appetite for new members. But then, an alternative emerges: a secret market that aims to fuse food and technology. But who are these people, exactly?
Leavened by the same infectious intelligence that made Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore such a sensation, while taking on even more satisfying challenges, Sourdough marks the triumphant return of a unique and beloved young writer.
Lois is an introvert. She codes all day for a robotics company, even eating their nutritious paste instead of buying groceries. For dinner, she orders take-out every evening from a mysteriously run neighborhood restaurant with no address. When the brothers who own the restaurant have to close suddenly, they leave their sourdough culture with Lois. Their instructions? Keep it alive, feed it, play music and listen to it sing. And bake with it.
Having no experience, Lois bakes sourdough bread. She learns about this starter and what makes it sing and grow. She discovers that faces appear in her loaves which makes it unique and special. She begins selling it to the company cafeteria and decides to try her luck at a local farmer's market. She discovers secret markets, weird technology, funky people and a new life. All because of sourdough.
I loved the quirkiness of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and so I was excited to read about Lois' adventures. This did not disappoint. And as a Bay Area native, I adored the setting. The secondary characters were just as awesome as Lois. So many creative personalities, so many quirks. 
As Lois begins to discover herself, she finds a life worth living and a purpose beyond anything she'd ever imagined. This book was just fun, full of magical realism, yet thoughtful and endearing. Delightful to read and easily recommended. 
I purchased my own copy.
Read 4/20
* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Letters to the Lost...#BookReview

About the book:
Late on a frozen February evening, a young woman is running through the streets of London. Having fled from her abusive boyfriend and with nowhere to go, Jess stumbles onto a forgotten lane where a small, clearly unlived in old house offers her best chance of shelter for the night. The next morning, a mysterious letter arrives and when she can't help but open it, she finds herself drawn inexorably into the story of two lovers from another time.

In London 1942, Stella meets Dan, a US airman, quite by accident, but there is no denying the impossible, unstoppable attraction that draws them together. Dan is a B-17 pilot flying his bomber into Europe from a British airbase; his odds of survival are one in five. In the midst of such uncertainty, the one thing they hold onto is the letters they write to each other. Fate is unkind and they are separated by decades and continents. In the present, Jess becomes determined to find out what happened to them. Her hope—inspired by a love so powerful it spans a lifetime—will lead her to find a startling redemption in her own life in this powerfully moving novel.

Running from an abusive boyfriend, Jess finds herself on a ragged lane with an old house that appears vacant. Breaking in, she finds a place to stay and discovers a mystery when a letter arrives and she is too curious to leave it alone. The letter is from Dan, writing to see if his long-lost love Stella is still alive.

In 1942 London, US airman, Dan meets Stella and they are drawn to each other. While Stella is trapped in an essentially loveless marriage, she and Dan write with the hope that one day they might be able to be together. But, as so often happens, especially in war, life doesn't turn out the way we hope. 

As Jess finds more letters in the house and begins a quest to find out what happened to Stella, she goes on her own journey of self-discovery.

I loved everything about this novel. The present merging with the past. Star-crossed lovers. It's not always inherently happy and I would give a trigger warning for an instance of marital rape and depression. But it ends well and it was an engaging, heartwarming read. 

I purchased my own copy.

Read 6/20

* * * *
4/5 Stars