Archive | Books

bel-canto

September Books

Let’s face it in our world every season is a good season to read, but Fall seems to be prime reading time.  There are so many fiction works released in the early Fall, we can barely keep up.  And the books tend to be bigger and more complex than summer releases.  Because those are just now being released, we have a few books today that will bridge the gap between the summer light reading and the more consuming Fall reading.  And one of our picks is an older selection by Ann Patchett that will hold us over until we can get our hands on her new release, Commonwealth.  Our three books are The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown, Truly, Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty and Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown

the-light-of-paris

From Amazon:

The Light of Paris is the miraculous new novel from New York Times–bestselling author Eleanor Brown, whose debut, The Weird Sisters, was a sensation beloved by critics and readers alike.
 
Madeleine is trapped—by her family’s expectations, by her controlling husband, and by her own fears—in an unhappy marriage and a life she never wanted. From the outside, it looks like she has everything, but on the inside, she fears she has nothing that matters.

In Madeleine’s memories, her grandmother Margie is the kind of woman she should have been—elegant, reserved, perfect. But when Madeleine finds a diary detailing Margie’s bold, romantic trip to Jazz Age Paris, she meets the grandmother she never knew: a dreamer who defied her strict, staid family and spent an exhilarating summer writing in cafés, living on her own, and falling for a charismatic artist.

Despite her unhappiness, when Madeleine’s marriage is threatened, she panics, escaping to her hometown and staying with her critical, disapproving mother. In that unlikely place, shaken by the revelation of a long-hidden family secret and inspired by her grandmother’s bravery, Madeleine creates her own Parisian summer—reconnecting to her love of painting, cultivating a vibrant circle of creative friends, and finding a kindred spirit in a down-to-earth chef who reminds her to feed both her body and her heart.

Margie and Madeleine’s stories intertwine to explore the joys and risks of living life on our own terms, of defying the rules that hold us back from our dreams, and of becoming the people we are meant to be.

May’s Review:I first heard about this book from June, who is familiar with Eleanor Brown’s previous novel. This was my first read by Eleanor Brown, and I really enjoyed the book. I loved that the characters in the book were dreamers, thinking about all the possibilities of what their future could be, even though at times they felt quite stuck.  I really enjoyed the writing in this book, and look forward to the next one.

June’s Review:  I was eagerly anticipating this book and it did not disappoint.  Eleanor Brown’s previous novel, The Weird Sisters, was a favorite of mine with eccentric characters and the sisters all named after Shakespeare’s heroines.  I really enjoyed this book.  The characters in the book are caught between what is expected of them and what they had always dreamed to be, which I think is a theme many can relate to at certain times in their life.  The setting of Jazz Age Paris is romantic until the real world comes crashing in on Margie.  But who doesn’t dream of having lived a romantic summer in a foreign city?  I always love a well written book that uses past stories as a comparison to a character’s modern time life.  I highly recommend that you pick up this read.

 

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

truly-madly-guilty

From Amazon:

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty turns her unique, razor-sharp eye towards three seemingly happy families.

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.

May’s Review:I have always been a fan of Liane Moriarty, and always look forward to her new releases. I was number 46 on the library waiting list when this book came out, eagerly anticipating my email letting me know that it was finally my turn to read the book. I dug into it expecting it to be her like her previous novels, and really struggled to finish it. It was a long book too (432 pages), which made it even more challenging. This story centers around three couples and their children, who are attending a neighborhood barbecue where something unforeseen happens that forever changes all their lives. I thought I had solved the secret, but was told by June that I was wrong. Anyway, the secret of what happens could have been wrapped up very quickly, but unfortunately goes on and on and on. This definitely was not one of my favorite books by this author. I would check out some of her earlier works which are very good.

June’s Review:  I have enjoyed many of Liane Moriarty’s books in the past.  She usually has a way to write about a somewhat serious topic and add some quirky and humorous moments that give some levity and entertainment to the story.  Unfortunately, in this book any attempts at that fall flat.  This is a long book (432 pages) and the story centers around an event that happens at a barbecue attended by three couples and one of the couple’s two young children.  The book spends at least two-thirds of those pages building up to the event that occurred at the barbecue.  As the reader you think you know what that big secretive event is going to be.  I was almost finished with the book when May was about a third of the way through it.  She texted me about what she thought the secret was going to be and I told her that sadly she was wrong.  However, I had thought the same thing and that the secret was going to be a 1970s-era spouse swapping key game.  After the secret is revealed and while what happened was scary it seems that many of the characters are way to overwrought but what occurred considering the outcome.  This was not my favorite book by this author and I found it hard to get through which was disappointing because there was a lot of buzz around her having a new release.  If you have not read What Alice Forgot or The Husband’s Secret by this author I would pick those up and pass on this one.

 

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

bel-canto

From Amazon:

Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country’s vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening-until a band of gun-wielding terrorists breaks in through the air-conditioning vents and takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different countries and continents become compatriots. Without the demands of the world to shape their days, life on the inside becomes more beautiful than anything they had known before. At once riveting and impassioned, the narrative becomes a moving exploration of how people communicate when music is the only common language. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped. Ann Patchett has written a novel that is as lyrical and profound as it is unforgettable. Bel Canto engenders in the reader the very passion for art and the language of music that its characters discover. As a reader, you find yourself fervently wanting this captivity to continue forever, even though you know that real life waits on the other side of the garden wall. A virtuoso performance by one of our best and most important writers, Bel Canto is a novel to be cherished.

May’s Review:I was given this book by a friend years ago, and it was my introduction to Ann Patchett. I have been a fan of hers ever since. I have read the same novels that June has listed below, loving all of them. Bel Canto was one of my favorites about a birthday party gone wrong, and how it forever changes the lives of those in attendance. Like all her novels, Bel Canto is beautifully written and still sits on my book shelf. I am eagerly awaiting to read her newest release, Commonwealth.  Unfortunately, I am going to be out of town when she is in Chicago for a book signing, but if you are in the area, I highly recommend you attend!

June’s Review:  I am a huge Ann Patchett fan and I think this was the first book I ever read by her.  After reading this one, I immediately went back and read her previously read novels The Patron Saint of Liars, The Magician’s Assistant and her beautiful and at times heartbreaking memoir, Truth and Beauty: A Friendship and fell even more in love.  I think so far Bel Canto is by far my favorite of her novels although I would recommend any of those I mention and her later novels.  Plus she owns a bookstore in Nashville called Parnassus Books which maybe I can work at someday? (jk)  Ann Patchett has a new novel that just released called Commonwealth that I made sure I was one of the first on the reserve list at the library.  However, I just got tickets to hear her speak on October 20 in Chicago so now I am conflicted do I read the library copy before going or wait until I have very my very own signed copy from the talk and reading?  But back to Bel Canto, it is a beautiful story about a very scary, and in this world, an all too real situation.  The characters are interesting and the story is compelling.  Ann Patchett is an author where not only do you get lost in the story but also her use of language and syntax of writing.  I have not read this book in awhile but after writing about it here, I think I may add it to “my read pile” to be revisited.

Have a good weekend!  We hope you find some time for some good reading. –May and June

 

 

Continue to this post

Witch

August Books

Happy Friday!  It’s time for some of our book picks again.  We always find that our summer reading tends to be a little lighter. And with August being the last breath of summer, we picked a few more beach reads for the month, for you to soak up.  We always find Fall calls for more serious reads that you can really dive into, and there are some wonderful new releases coming out this Fall from some of our favorite authors.  So, in this last weekend of August, we hope you enjoy these last of the beach reads, even if you are just sitting in your backyard.

Here’s To Us by Elin Hilderbrand

Here's To Us

From Amazon:

Three romantic rivals. One crowded house. Plenty of room for jealousy.

Laurel Thorpe, Belinda Rowe, and Scarlett Oliver share only two things; a love for the man they all married, Deacon Thorpe–a celebrity chef with an insatiable appetite for life–and a passionate dislike of one another. All three are remarkable, spirited women, but they couldn’t be more different. Laurel: Deacon’s high school sweetheart and an effortlessly beautiful social worker; Belinda: a high-maintenance Hollywood diva; and Scarlett: a sexy southern belle floating by on her family money and her fabulous looks. They’ve established a delicate understanding over the years–they avoid each other at all costs.

But their fragile detente threatens to come crashing down after Deacon’s tragic death on his favorite place on earth: a ramshackle Nantucket summer cottage. Deacon’s final wish was for his makeshift family to assemble on his beloved Nantucket to say good-bye. Begrudgingly, Laurel, Belinda, and Scarlett gather on the island as once again, as in each of their marriages, they’re left to pick up Deacon’s mess. Now they’re trapped in the crowded cottage where they all made their own memories–a house that they now share in more ways than one–along with the children they raised with Deacon, and his best friend. Laurel, Belinda, and Scarlett each had an unbreakable bond with Deacon–and they all have secrets to hide.

Before the weekend is over, there are enough accusations, lies, tears, and drama to turn even the best of friends–let alone three women who married the same man–into adversaries. As his unlikely family says good-bye to the man who brought them together–for better or worse–will they be able to put aside their differences long enough to raise a glass in Deacon’s honor?

May’s Review:  This was my first novel by Elin Hilderbrand. I have seen her books on the library shelves many times, but always had so many books waiting on hold for me, I never picked one up. This was a fun, light beach read with interesting characters. I loved the sprinkling of recipes throughout the book, and even copied a few to try.  I look forward to reading some of her other books.

June’s Review:  I always look forward to a new Elin Hilderbrand book each summer.  She is an author that can always be counted on for a beach read especially because all of her books are set on a beach in Nantucket.  I enjoyed this book for a good light read.  The characters were interesting and each distinctive.  And once again, like many favorite books, there is food and recipes in the story which always makes it fun.  If you are looking for a fun read that feels like summer, check it out and if you haven’t read any of Elin Hilderbrand’s other books, you may want to read them when you are looking for a lighter read.

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

Don't You Cry 2

From Amazon:

From the author of the New York Times bestseller everyone is talking about THE GOOD GIRL, Mary Kubica returns an electrifying and addictive tale of deceit and obsession.

In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is and whether or not she’s the person Quinn thought she knew.

Meanwhile, in a small Michigan harbor town an hour outside Chicago, a mysterious woman appears in the quiet coffee shop where eighteen-year-old Alex Gallo works as a dishwasher. He is immediately drawn to her charm and beauty, but what starts as an innocent crush quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister than he ever expected.

As Quinn searches for answers about Esther, and Alex is drawn further under the stranger’s spell, master of suspense Mary Kubica takes readers on a taut and twisted thrill ride that builds to a stunning conclusion and shows that no matter how fast and far we run, the past always catches up with us in the end.

May’s Review: This was my second novel by Mary Kubica, a Chicago author. This book also takes places in Chicago, which is always fun when the setting of a story is in your home town. The story is told from two points of view and it’s about a young woman who is missing, and her roommate’s search to find her. I was thoroughly engrossed for the first half of  the story. This was a thriller and although I did enjoy the book, the story didn’t keep it’s momentum for me, and I found the ending to be a bit of a let down.

June’s Review:  Mary Kubica is a Chicago author and because we live in Chicago it always fun to recognize some of the setting in the story.  This book is a little mysterious and a little bit of a thriller.  I have come to the conclusion that thrillers are not my favorite genre because I am not usually surprised by the story or if I am surprised by it, I tend to be mad at it.  However, for the genre I liked this story.  It kept me engaged and guessing a bit.  It is a bit reminiscent of any creepy roommate movie or story that you have seen or read, but made it a little figure out what exactly was going to happen.  It was a fast read, perfect for the summer.

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose

Witch

From Amazon:

Possession. Power. Passion. New York Times bestselling novelist M. J. Rose creates her most provocative and magical spellbinder yet in this gothic novel set against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris.

Sandrine Salome flees New York for her grandmother’s Paris mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires.

Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten–her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s become possessed byLa Lune: A witch, a legend, and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse

This is Sandrine’s “wild night of the soul,” her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love, and witchery.
May’s Review: I just picked up this author’s newest novel, The Secret Language of Stones this week and am looking forward to starting it. There is something about Paris in the 1890’s that always draws me in, and this story pulled me in from the beginning. The story is sometimes dark, and ghostly with a touch of the supernatural, and it held my interest up to the last page. It was a nice change from all the beach reads this summer.
June’s Review:  This author has several books including a new one called The Secret Language of Stones: A Novel which from the synopsis looked really interesting, but I had never heard of her.  I loved the setting of this book in Paris in the 1890s and I loved the description of the paintings and the jewelry and the clothes.  I had a little trouble getting into the story a bit for some reason.  I am not sure if it is the book or if it was because we had just spent the weekend writing at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, which always makes reading difficult for me for a few weeks.  The story was interesting and definitely a gothic style about ghosts and the supernatural.
Finally, next Friday, September 2 the movie based on the book The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman is being released.  If you have not read the book, pick it up this weekend before the movie comes out.  It is a wonderful emotional novel.  And if you have already read it, let us know what you think of the movie.  May and June are planning on having a girl’s night at the movie theater to check it out.
Have a good weekend.  Happy reading.  -May and June
“One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.”
Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle
Continue to this post

The Sugar Queen

Book Picks

It’s time for some book picks again.  We always love to share what we have been reading with people.  The stories we read become a part of our life and what better way to share our life then to recommend books to people we love.  This month we thought it would be fun to highlight some books we have read that have food as a character in the story.  We have said in the past how often we love reading about food, so these are fun, having food as a main component of the novel.

This month we have The Memory of Lemon by Judith Fertig which is the sequel to The Cake Therapist that we previously highlighted, The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe  by Mary Simses and The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen (one of our favorite authors).

The Memory of Lemon by Judith Fertig

The Memory of Lemon

From Amazon:

The author of The Cake Therapist returns with another sweet and emotional tale featuring Neely, the baker with a knack for finding exactly the right flavor for any occasion…

A crisp tang of citrus that is at once poignant and familiar, sharpening the senses and opening the mind to possibilities once known and long forgotten…
 
Claire “Neely” Davis is no ordinary pastry chef. Her flavor combinations aren’t just a product of a well-honed palate: she can “taste” people’s emotions, sensing the ingredients that will touch her customers’ souls. Her gift has never failed her—until she meets a free-spirited bride-to-be and her overbearing society mother. The two are unable to agree on a single wedding detail, and their bickering leaves Neely’s intuition frustratingly silent—right when she needs it most.

Between trying to navigate a divorce, explore a new relationship, and handle the reappearance of her long-absent father, Neely is struggling to make sense of her own conflicting emotions, much less those of her hard-to-please bride. But as she embarks on a flavorful quest to craft the perfect wedding celebration, she’ll uncover a family history that sheds light on both the missing ingredients and her own problems—and illustrates how the sweet and sour in life often combine to make the most delicious memories…

May’s Review: A continuation from The Cake Therapist, I enjoyed Judith Fertig’s second book, The Memory of Lemon. Make sure you read The Cake Therapist first, because this book pretty much continues where the last one left off with Clare and her bakery, The Rainbow Cake. I found the book  entertaining, and of course loved the mouth watering descriptions of her sweet treats. In addition to Clare’s gift of tasting the flavors of her customers personal backgrounds, Clare is also working on her own personal relationships including a new romance and reconnecting with her estranged father. There is also a second story intertwined within this one that takes place in the past, involving women who are healers. This was a fun read for summer.

June’s Review:  I really enjoyed the previous book, The Cake Therapist, so I was excited when this one came in for my at the library.  After reading it, I think I liked this one more than The Cake Therapist, but if you have not read The Cake Therapist make sure you read it because it provides a lot of background that you need for this story.  I love Clare’s that gift to taste flavors of other people tells her about that person’s story.  Some of the insight she gets is a little sad.  This book gives a little more background about where she gets that gift.  This book alternates between Clare’s current story of running her bakery and wedding cake business and her personal life, with a past story taking place in the Appalachians, the underground railroad and women who are healers.  I loved the past story.  The description reminded me of spending time in the Ozarks.  And the women who are healers have a spiritual side which is lovely.  I also liked how the story had a connection to Clare’s current life.  I recommend this as a read this summer.

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary Simses

Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop

From Amazon;

A high-powered Manhattan attorney finds love, purpose, and the promise of a simpler life in her grandmother’s hometown.
 
Ellen Branford is going to fulfill her grandmother’s dying wish–to find the hometown boy she once loved, and give him her last letter. Ellen leaves Manhattan and her Kennedy-esque fiance for Beacon, Maine. What should be a one-day trip is quickly complicated when she almost drowns in the chilly bay and is saved by a local carpenter. The rescue turns Ellen into something of a local celebrity, which may or may not help her unravel the past her grandmother labored to keep hidden. As she learns about her grandmother and herself, it becomes clear that a 24-hour visit to Beacon may never be enough. THE IRRESISTIBLE BLUEBERRY BAKESHOP & CAFE is a warm and delicious debut about the power of a simpler life.
May’s Review: I read this one in a weekend. It was a fun book to get lost in on a hot summer day, and of course included some yummy dessert recipes with blueberries. It was the story of a big city girl with a high powered career, finding comfort and love in a small town in Maine. It was light and romantic, another great summer read.
June’s Review:  This book is sweet much like the desserts that are made with the blueberries described in the book.  I could identify with Ellen and her high powered career that maybe she does not like so much.  This book is similar to Them Memory of Lemon in that there is a past story to be unraveled that is important to the main character’s current life.  A great read if you are looking for a sweet and happy book that will make you feel good.  Plus there are some great looking recipes.
The Sugar Queen

In this irresistible novel, Sarah Addison Allen, author of the New York Times bestselling debut,Garden Spells, tells the tale of a young woman whose family secrets—and secret passions—are about to change her life forever.

Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds her closet harboring Della Lee Baker, a local waitress who is one part nemesis—and two parts fairy godmother. With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey’s narrow existence quickly expands. She even bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who is hounded by books that inexplicably appear when she needs them—and who has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush. Soon Josey is living in a world where the color red has startling powers, and passion can make eggs fry in their cartons. And that’s just for starters.

Brimming with warmth, wit, and a sprinkling of magic, here is a spellbinding tale of friendship, love—and the enchanting possibilities of every new day.

May’s Review: My first book by this author was Garden Spells, which I enjoyed and I liked this one too. Set in the south, this book is about three southern women, all eccentric and going through a bit of an identity crisis. Each chapter is named after a kind of sweet treat which was fun, there were a few twists, and even a few moments where I shed a tear or two.
June’s Review:  I love Garden Spells by this author and this was her follow-up and is my second favorite of all of her books.  This is a book full of quirky characters that have special gifts.   Once again food plays a big role in moving the story forward.  I read this book a few years ago but I remember that I loved it and it made me miss the characters when it was over.  Pick it up and if you haven’t read Garden Spells either pick that one up too.
Have a great weekend!  –May and June
“You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.” -Paul Sweeney 
 
Continue to this post

IMG_4243

The Curse of the Library

If you know me, then you know that I am an avid reader and that is probably an understatement.  It is not unusual for me to read at least one book a week, and depending on the genre, author or story, more than one book in a week.  Because of my reading habit, I use my local public library a lot.  I love the library because I can read to my heart’s content for free.  However, the thing about libraries is that you have to share the books.  I keep on top of “book news” of new releases, buzz about books and a new novel from any of my favorite authors, so I tend to put books on hold at the library so I can get my hands on anything I want to read.

But the curse that I have with the library is, it seems all of my books are ready for me to pick up at the same time.

IMG_4243

This is my current stack of books from the library (and this does not include books that I have bought that are also in the to-read queue or my book club read which while read needs to be quickly skimmed).  The borrowing period for most of these books is two weeks.  And while I am a fairly fast reader, I cannot read all of these books in that time period.  It never fails that all of my books on hold come in at almost the same time and lately there have been a ton of new releases that I want to read.  I am not Speed Reader from the Great Space Coaster  so many of these books will be returned without the spine being cracked.  So I look at this stack, slap my hand to my forehead, and think how am I ever going to choose which book to read next, and which one may be sacrificed back to the library, sadly unread.

I curse the library every time this happens so you would think that would teach me not to put so many books on hold, but it does not.  Instead I love seeing that email in my inbox telling me that a much anticipated book is ready for me to pick up and make it a part of my experience.  I cannot help myself at all, but I guess there are worse vices to have in this world.

So tell me, am I the only one who has this problem or are there others that are addicted to the siren call of the library, and all of those books? –June

 

For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” 
― Anne LamottBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Continue to this post

The Children

June Books

We find that summer is one of the best times of year to read, whether it is sitting on your porch, or taking a book on your beach vacation.  And there are always a lot of new books released in the summer to meet this demand.  Today we have three new books, The Weekenders: A Novel by Mary Kay Andrews, The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett, The Children: A Novel, by Ann Leary

 

The Weekenders: A Novel by Mary Kay Andrews

The Weekenders

From Amazon:

Some people stay all summer long on the idyllic island of Belle Isle, North Carolina. Others come only for the weekends-and the mix between the regulars and “the weekenders” can sometimes make the sparks fly. Riley Griggs has a season of good times with friends and family ahead of her on Belle Isle when things take an unexpected turn. While waiting for her husband to arrive on the ferry one Friday afternoon, Riley is confronted by a process server who thrusts papers into her hand. And her husband is nowhere to be found.

So she turns to her island friends for help and support, but it turns out that each of them has their own secrets, and the clock is ticking as the mystery deepens…in a murderous way. Cocktail parties aside, Riley must find a way to investigate the secrets of Belle Island, the husband she might not really know, and the summer that could change everything.

Told with Mary Kay Andrews’ trademark blend of humor and warmth, and with characters and a setting that you can’t help but fall for, The Weekenders is the perfect summer escape.

May’s Review: This was my first novel by Mary Kay Andrews and it was a perfect summer read. When I first picked up the book, I was a little surprised by the 451 pages, but this novel is light, uncomplicated, and reads quickly. The book begins on Memorial Day weekend on an island in the Carolinas. A murder has taken place and all the weekenders on the island are gossiping about the widow, Riley, and her daughter, Maggy. Now, if you’re expecting a big thriller, this is not that book, but if you’re looking for something with romance and a little bit of mystery, you’ll enjoy The Weekenders.

June’s Review:  I always like novels by Mary Kay Andrews for a fun, light, “beach” read.  This is one of those novels.  The story is a light romance and mystery rolled into one which is perfect for a good read by the pool or just enjoying a warm summer day.  There is even a few steamy scenes if you like that in your beach reads.  My only complaint is that the novel is a little long and slow to get started.  I found the second half of the book to be better than the first half.  However, it’s a pretty good beach read.  Also, if you have not read any other books by Mary Kay Andrews and this is all checked out at your local library, I would recommend Savannah Blues but generally you cannot wrong with any books by her if you need a beach read.

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Versions of Us

From Amazon:

In one moment, two lives will be changed forever . . . and forever . . . and forever.

The one thing that’s certain is they met on a Cambridge street by chance and felt a connection that would last a lifetime. But as for what happened next . . . They fell wildly in love, or went their separate ways. They kissed, or they thought better of it. They married soon after, or were together for a few weeks before splitting up. They grew distracted and disappointed with their daily lives together, or found solace together only after hard years spent apart.

With The Versions of Us, Laura Barnett has created a world as magical and affecting as those that captivated readers in One Day and Life After Life. It is a tale of possibilities and consequences that rings across the shifting decades, from the fifties, sixties, seventies, and on to the present, showing how even the smallest choices can define the course of our lives.
May’s Review: This is a debut novel for Laura Barnett, and I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of a movie I loved, called Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow, about two parallel universes and how the main character’s life changes, based on whether or not she catches a train. In this novel, there are three different versions of a story that begin when a man, Jim, comes to the aid of a young woman, Eva, whose bike has a flat tire. Each chapter is a different version of their lives based on different paths taken. You need to take your time with this one so you don’t get confused, but with that said, I really liked this novel.
June’s Review:  I was a little skeptical of this book.  I was afraid it was going to be a confusing mess with three different storylines or it was going to fall within the realm of a Choose Your Own Adventure book (which my brother loved), but it was surprisingly good.  Eva and Jim meet but in each version make a different choice which for the most part leads their lives on a different path.  Towards the middle book, the different versions did get a little confusing because there were many similarities to where Eva and Jim were in their lives in each version.  I did like how the author ended each version with the exact same event but slightly different depending on the path the characters had taken.  I think what held my interest through this book is that, I personally have a fascination with how single choices can change your own life.  This is a good read but takes a bit of concentration.
 The Children

From New York Times bestselling author Ann Leary comes the captivating story of a wealthy, but unconventional New England family, told from the perspective of a reclusive 29-year-old who has a secret (and famous) life on the Internet.

Charlotte Maynard rarely leaves her mother’s home, the sprawling Connecticut lake house that belonged to her late stepfather, Whit Whitman, and the generations of Whitmans before him. While Charlotte and her sister, Sally, grew up at “Lakeside,” their stepbrothers, Spin and Perry, were welcomed as weekend guests. Now the grown boys own the estate, which Joan occupies by their grace―and a provision in the family trust. When Spin, the youngest and favorite of all the children, brings his fiancé home for the summer, the entire family is intrigued. The beautiful and accomplished Laurel Atwood breathes new life into this often comically rarefied world. But as the wedding draws near, and flaws surface in the family’s polite veneer, an array of simmering resentments and unfortunate truths is exposed.

With remarkable wit and insight, Ann Leary pulls back the curtain on one blended family, as they are forced to grapple with the assets and liabilities – both material and psychological – left behind by their wonderfully flawed patriarch.

May’s Review: I had read Ann Leary’s book The Good House, which I enjoyed and was looking forward to her latest read. I really liked the character of Charlotte (Lottie), the story’s main character who is a bit of a recluse and a successful blogger on the internet. This is the story of a wealthy, quirky, blended family in New England and how their relationships change after the death of the patriarch Whit Whitman. There were a lot of characters in this book and all were interesting. I loved that all the characters had a touch of darkness to them which kept the book interesting all the way to the end. There were only 256 pages to this book which made it a good weekend read.

June’s Review:  This is a well written book.  I did not realize that it was going to be a bit of a suspense novel when I picked it up and it ended up being that way.  However, it is not an over-the-top suspense novel like many marketed that way.  Instead you know something is not right within the family and various relationships.  The novel does a pretty good job building up to the big reveal and the secrets come out.  The ending is not overly satisfying but probably realistic to real life.  I do recommend this book.

Have a good weekend. –May and June

Continue to this post

The Widow

May Books

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!!!  It’s hard to believe that long anticipated unofficial start to summer is here.  We hope your weekend is full of barbecues, good weather and of course time for reading some good books.  We read three new books this past month, The Forgetting Time: A Novel by Sharon Guskin, The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney and The Widow by Fiona Barton.  Also, in case anyone is wondering, each of us, May and June, independently write our own thoughts and reviews about each book because we want you to have two opinions.  We know that not ever book speaks to every reader.

The Forgetting Time: A Novel by Sharon Guskin

 

Forgetting Time

From Amazon:

What happens to us after we die? What happens before we are born? At once a riveting mystery and a testament to the profound connection between a child and parent, The Forgetting Time will lead you to reevaluate everything you believe…

What would you do if your four-year-old son claimed he had lived another life and that he wants to go back to it? That he wants his other mother?

Single mom Janie is trying to figure out what is going on with her beloved son Noah. Noah has never been ordinary. He loves to make up stories, and he is constantly surprising her with random trivia someone his age has no right knowing. She always chalked it up to the fact that Noah was precocious―mature beyond his years. But Noah’s eccentricities are starting to become worrisome. One afternoon, Noah’s preschool teacher calls Janie: Noah has been talking about shooting guns and being held under water until he can’t breathe. Suddenly, Janie can’t pretend anymore. The school orders him to get a psychiatric evaluation. And life as she knows it stops for herself and her darling boy.

For Jerome Anderson, life as he knows it has already stopped. Diagnosed with aphasia, his first thought as he approaches the end of his life is, I’m not finished yet. Once an academic star, a graduate of Yale and Harvard, a professor of psychology, he threw everything away to pursue an obsession: the stories of children who remembered past lives. Anderson became the laughing stock of his peers, but he never stopped believing that there was something beyond what anyone could see or comprehend. He spent his life searching for a case that would finally prove it. And with Noah, he thinks he may have found it.

Soon, Noah, Janie, and Anderson will find themselves knocking on the door of a mother whose son has been missing for eight years. When that door opens, all of their questions will be answered.

Gorgeously written and fearlessly provocative, Sharon Guskin’s debut explores the lengths we will go for our children. It examines what we regret in the end of our lives and hope for in the beginning, and everything in between.

May’s Review: I first heard about Sharon Guskin’s beautifully written novel, The Forgetting Time from June. This was a debut novel about reincarnation, a subject that is fascinating to me. I was pulled into the story from the very first chapter, with each character trying live their lives as normally as they can, even though they all are battling their own inner conflicts, which makes being “normal” more and more challenging with each passing day.  There were several references to a non-fiction book called Life Before Life: Children’s Memories of Previous Lives where scientific studies of children recalling previous lives were recorded. I read that book a few years ago, and had a hard time putting it down. Although the subject matter may be outside the comfort zone for some readers, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, right up to the end, and definitely recommend it.

June’s Review:  I was not sure about this book going in because I do not believe in reincarnation.  However, I do believe in souls.  I absolutely fell in love with this book.  Each character in this book is suffering from some unspeakable grief.  You feel the love each of the mothers, in particular has for their child, and the pain they are suffering.  Because Janie while her son is right there knows that there is something wrong with him.  And once she finds out why he is acting the way he is acting and believes it she suffers the pain of feeling inadequate as Noah’s mother because there is a mother that he loves more or as well.

Denise’s son is missing and when Janie shows up at her door with the story that she and Dr. Anderson believes to be true she is in disbelief as I think I would be.

The book is full of emotion and also excitement in a somewhat quiet way and will brought me to tears.  I have discovered lately that I find myself taking pictures of pages in novels when I love a book (as well as recommending it to everyone I know) so I can go back later and read certain parts after I return the book to the library.  There was a particularly lovely paragraph that I took a picture of because it struck me.  Denise had trouble believing in reincarnation yet she had a feeling about Noah so she thought “Yet how could it not matter whether this boy carried some little piece of Tommy deep inside of him? Some fragments of his love.  Tommy’s love for her, surviving, inside of Noah. That was something wasn’t it?”

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The Nest

From Amazon:

A warm, funny and acutely perceptive debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives.

Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs’ joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems.

Melody, a wife and mother in an upscale suburb, has an unwieldy mortgage and looming college tuition for her twin teenage daughters. Jack, an antiques dealer, has secretly borrowed against the beach cottage he shares with his husband, Walker, to keep his store open. And Bea, a once-promising short-story writer, just can’t seem to finish her overdue novel. Can Leo rescue his siblings and, by extension, the people they love? Or will everyone need to reimagine the futures they’ve envisioned? Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives.

This is a story about the power of family, the possibilities of friendship, the ways we depend upon one another and the ways we let one another down. In this tender, entertaining, and deftly written debut, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney brings a remarkable cast of characters to life to illuminate what money does to relationships, what happens to our ambitions over the course of time, and the fraught yet unbreakable ties we share with those we love.

May’s Review: I was on a pretty long waiting list at the library for this book, so obviously I had high expectations when I finally picked it up. It was just ok. For the most part, I found the family in this novel irritating, and thought they all needed a reality check on life. I wasn’t able to connect with even one of the characters in this story, and at times got bored and found myself skimming through the chapters. It was readable, but I feel there are too many other wonderful reads out there to enjoy.

June’s Review:  There has been a lot of hype about this book before it came out and it has been on the best sellers list for awhile.  However, I did not love it.  I would say its not a terrible read but not super great either.  Of course I may have a little bias because the central problem in the book revolves around a trust that was created for all four children, controlled by their mother, until the youngest of them turned 40, at which point they were supposed to receive one-quarter of it.  The problem is the mother gave most of it to the oldest brother, Leo, a ne’er-do-well who got himself in a bad situation.  Now all of the siblings are resentful because of it and it has repercussions in their owns lives.  From a professional standpoint this is terrible planning, so obviously I had a problem with this.  I kept thinking to myself “Who was the estate planning lawyer who thought this was good idea?”  But more than that, I really did not like any of the characters.  I thought most of them were big babies who needed to grow up and stop being so self-centered.  It is hard to be very invested in a novel and the outcome when you don’t really like the characters very much.

The Widow by Fiona Barton

The Widow

From Amazon:  For fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, an electrifying thriller that will take you into the dark spaces that exist between a husband and a wife.

When the police started asking questions, Jean Taylor turned into a different woman. One who enabled her and her husband to carry on, when more bad things began to happen…

But that woman’s husband died last week. And Jean doesn’t have to be her anymore.

There’s a lot Jean hasn’t said over the years about the crime her husband was suspected of committing. She was too busy being the perfect wife, standing by her man while living with the accusing glares and the anonymous harassment.

Now there’s no reason to stay quiet. There are people who want to hear her story. They want to know what it was like living with that man. She can tell them that there were secrets. There always are in a marriage.

The truth—that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything…

May’s Review: I went into this book with a lot of enthusiasm. I love a good thriller and saw that this novel was being compared to Gone Girl, and Girl on a Train – stories about the secrets between a husband and wife. The book started off ok, but for me it lost its momentum pretty early on. It was neither mysterious or suspenseful and very predictable. I also had a very difficult time getting interested in the main characters. I know I’m struggling with a book when it’s an effort to pick it up and read. This one was pretty disappointing, so I’m giving it a thumbs down.

June’s Review:  Any thriller lately likes to be compared to Gone Girl or Girl on the Train.  Of course considering both of those books disappointed me, I guess I should not be surprised that this book disappointed me.  I kept with this book thinking there was going to be big twist or surprise.  Then I got to the end and thought to myself “that’s it?”  I just had a conversation last week at book club that some of these books like this probably make better movies then books.  However, even this one would probably be a disappointing movie.  This book was a dud the ending just fizzled out.

Speaking of books to movies, if you have not heard Me Before You by JoJo Moyes is  being release as a movie on June 3.  I am sure you will need to bring some tissues with you.

Have a great long weekend.  –May and June

Continue to this post

IMG_3832

An Evening with Authors

If you’re a creative person, you know that sometimes you may feel a little stuck, uninspired, or you may feel your passion waning a bit. It happens to all of us whether that passion is writing, painting, design, photography, etc… Sometimes, all it takes is sharing a few hours with like minded people to get those creative juices flowing again. Whether you’re an avid reader, or enjoy creative writing, these events are fun and thought provoking. Plus it’s interesting  to meet the person behind the book.

This past week, May and June attended two author events in the Chicago area. All were authors from Chicago. Saturday evening we spent a few hours with Elizabeth Crane at the beautiful Hemingway Museum in Oak Park.  The event was sponsored as part of a series created by the author Elizabeth Berg, called Writing Matters.

IMG_3790

The Hemingway Museum

 Elizabeth Crane is the author of three collections of short stories- When the Messenger is Hot, All this Heavenly Gloryand You Must Be This Happy to EnterShe also has two novels, We Only Know So Much and The History of Great ThingsShe discussed her writing style as well as how her mother has always been a huge inspiration for her writing.  Her mother was an opera singer and they had a complicated relationship, which as a result has given her a lot to write about. Betsy Crane writes an interesting genre called autobiographical fiction.  So it seems to walk the border somewhere between memoir and fiction.

IMG_3788

We also attended an event on Tuesday evening at a nearby public library, with authors Brigid Pasulka, author of A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True, and Rebecca Makkah, who wrote The Hundred Year House.  They both spoke about their writing process, what inspired their stories, and answered questions from the audience.

IMG_3832

Both of these authors’ books have elements of historical fiction in them. Neither May nor June have read them, but they are now on our short list of books to read, and we look forward to sharing them with you.

One thing that was interesting about all three of these authors is that none of them have MFA degrees in creative writing.  Instead, all three really just became writers by doing something they love, writing.

Also, when all three writers talked about their books, none of them set out to write a novel. Betsy Crane said that she is really a short story writer and for both her novels, she started a short story and then kept going. Rebecca Makkai’s novel also started out as a short story which didn’t work, so she decided it needed to be a novel.  Unfortunately, that novel fell flat, however her interest in the history of the house became the subject matter for the novel that grew into The Hundred Year House. Similarly, Brigid Pasulka wrote a lot of stories about Poland that she put in a drawer. Then, while on vacation in Poland, the rest of the story came together. The part she had previously written and her more recent words intertwined, resulting in her novel.

All of the writers are currently working on other projects, but they also have day jobs as writing teachers. One thing that was startling was how long the timeline was for publishing. For a few of the writers, the actual writing of the novel took seven or eight years, and then after the story was sold, two more years to publish.

As book lovers  (and for at least one of us (June) an aspiring novelist), we always find it so interesting to learn about the writer’s creative process. These were very interesting events and inspired us to come home and be creative.  —May and June

Continue to this post

The House of Sprits

April Book Reads

Happy Friday!  How about some good reads for the weekend?   It looks like the weather may be gorgeous here.  In that case we will simply take our reading outside.  This month we have a book that is on the best sellers list, a work of historical fiction that is a collaborative work by three best selling authors, and an older work by one of our favorite authors.

A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman

A Man Called Ove

From Amazon:

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Fredrik Backman’s novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others. “If there was an award for ‘Most Charming Book of the Year,’ this first novel by a Swedish blogger-turned-overnight-sensation would win hands down” (Booklist, starred review).

May’s Review: I first heard about this book from June, and when I checked out the story, I wasn’t sure it was going to be “my cup of tea” so to speak. However, June loved it and since we pretty much share the same taste in books, I decided to give it a go- and loved it! By the end of the story, I had fallen in love with this shall we say prickly man called Ove. I laughed and shed a few tears throughout the story and was completely entertained by its cast of quirky characters. The author, Fredrik Backman is a native of Sweden, and this book was translated. Sometimes, the essence of the story can be lost in translation, but I’m happy to say this story kept its charm. I enjoyed it so much, I’ve put one of his newer releases, My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She’s Sorry, on hold at the library.

June’s Review:  I was completely charmed and smitten with this book.  I have probably said this before but I love books (and also movies and television shows) with characters that are quirky and a little off and you certainly have that here.  In the beginning, Ove is not really very likeable and is really my version of a nightmare, busybody neighbor.  However, when you find out the reason behind his surly demeanor you feel sorry for him and realize that he has suffered so much loss.  Fortunately for Ove people come into his life that decide they are going to love him in spite of himself.  This is such a touching story of how one person and one small deed can have a great impact on a person’s world. At the end I did need tissues but they were for the best type of happy sad tears that I love.

The Forgotten Room: A Novel by Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig

The Forgotten Room

From Amazon:

New York Times bestselling authors Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig present a masterful collaboration—a rich, multigenerational novel of love and loss that spans half a century….

1945: When the critically wounded Captain Cooper Ravenal is brought to a private hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, young Dr. Kate Schuyler is drawn into a complex mystery that connects three generations of women in her family to a single extraordinary room in a Gilded Age mansion.

Who is the woman in Captain Ravenel’s portrait miniature who looks so much like Kate?  And why is she wearing the ruby pendant handed down to Kate by her mother?  In their pursuit of answers, they find themselves drawn into the turbulent stories of Gilded Age Olive Van Alen, driven from riches to rags, who hired out as a servant in the very house her father designed, and Jazz Age Lucy Young, who came from Brooklyn to Manhattan in pursuit of the father she had never known.  But are Kate and Cooper ready for the secrets that will be revealed in the Forgotten Room? 

The Forgotten Room, set in alternating time periods, is a sumptuous feast of a novel brought to vivid life by three brilliant storytellers.

May’s Review: I’m always excited to read a work of historical fiction, and wasn’t sure how this story by three authors was going to read. This was the first novel I’ve read by these authors, and it’s  a love story, that focuses on three women who are all connected by family, in three different eras. I have to say these authors did a beautiful job of connecting this story, and I would love to know how they went about writing it. I liked all  the characters in this story and always looked forward to each chapter’s period in time. This was a pretty fast read and I found it very enjoyable.

June’s Review:  This work of historical fiction is set in three different time periods with an intertwined story line.  The characters are all connected and this results in a mystery of sorts for the reader to sift through.  I was concerned that because the book was written by three authors that the story would be stilted and disjointed but it was not.  In fact, I would be very interested to know how they wrote the book together since I could not tell which part was written by which author (I have read other books by Beatriz Williams and can recommend them).  I was a bit distracted during the book that someone was going to end up going to bed with someone that maybe shouldn’t because they were related so maybe they did not give enough clues in the puzzle for the reader to figure out soon enough.  All in all this was an enjoyable and quick read.

The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

The House of Sprits

From Amazon:

The unforgettable first novel that established Isabel Allende as one of the world’s most gifted and imaginative storytellers.

The House of the Spirits brings to life the triumphs and tragedies of three generations of the Trueba family. The patriarch Esteban is a volatile, proud man whose voracious pursuit of political power is tempered only by his love for his delicate wife, Clara, a woman with a mystical connection to the spirit world. When their daughter Blanca embarks on a forbidden love affair in defiance of her implacable father, the result is an unexpected gift to Esteban: his adored granddaughter Alba, a beautiful and strong-willed child who will lead her family and her country into a revolutionary future.

One of the most important novels of the twentieth century, The House of the Spirits is an enthralling epic that spans decades and lives, weaving the personal and the political into a universal story of love, magic, and fate.

May’s Review: For those of you who loved The Japanese Lover, I strongly suggest you read Isabel Allende’s first novel, The House of Spirits, which was written in 1982. I absolutely loved it! It’s a book that travels through four generations of a family in post colonial Chile. The book also explores the political struggles between Marxists and Capitalists and there’s a little magic woven into this story which I always love. This was a complex book, with a lot going on and it took a little bit more of my attention, but it was so worth it. Isabel Allende is an absolutely beautiful writer, and I highly recommend this book.

June’s Review:  This was Isabel Allende’s first novel and really is one of my favorite books of all time.  I have to admit I have not read this novel in a long time and I was hoping to pick it up to read it again before our little review here this month.  However, as always Isabel Allende’s writing is magical and masterful.  This book is a look at Chilean history and one thing to know is that Isabel Allende is the niece of Salvador Allende, the socialist president that was democratically elected and was later killed by the dictator, Pinochet.  All of my favorite elements are here of love and history and the mystical.  If you have not read this classic, I highly recommend it.

Enjoy your weekend.  –May and June

Continue to this post

Museum of Extraordinary Things

February Book Club

It seems like forever since we have have had a book post.  I think that says something about the seeming interminable length of the month of February.  This month we have two books that are wonderfully written and one that is a super fun read (a perfect beach read for everyone soon going on Spring Break).

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

Japanes Lover

From Amazon:

Named one of the most anticipated novels of the year by New York Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Publishers Weekly, The Huffington Post, and more. From New York Times and internationally bestselling author Isabel Allende, an exquisitely crafted love story and multigenerational epic that sweeps from San Francisco in the present-day to Poland and the United States during the Second World War.

In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco’s parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family’s Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family—like thousands of other Japanese Americans—are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps run by the United States government. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world.

Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco’s charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.

Sweeping through time and spanning generations and continents, The Japanese Lover exploresquestions of identity, abandonment, redemption, and the unknowable impact of fate on our lives. Written with the same attention to historical detail and keen understanding of her characters that Isabel Allende has been known for since her landmark first novel The House of the Spirits, The Japanese Lover is a profoundly moving tribute to the constancy of the human heart in a world of unceasing change.

May’s Review: I read this book in its entirety, cozy by the fire on a cold and snowy weekend a few weeks ago. I loved every single chapter of this love story, and had a hard time putting the book down. It’s been a while since I felt this way about a book. Isabel Allende is a wonderful author, and this was one of my favorites. Although there are several relationships involved in this story, I loved the connection between the two female characters, Alma Belasco and Irina Bazili, who are decades apart in age, and yet are connected by their very tumultuous pasts, learning together to eventually come to terms with their lives. This story was so beautifully written, I almost wish I would have read it a little more slowly, to savor the author’s beautiful words.

June’s Review:  First, I have to say that Isabel Allende is one of my very favorite authors.  If you have not read her prior works, I strongly encourage you to do so.  The House Of Spirits is often considered a classic in the genre of magical realism and is so wonderfully done.  This novel, The Japanese Lover, was love for me.  The story involves several relationships that are much more complex then they appear on the surface.  This story surrounds an ugly and despicable part of American history that so many Americans know nothing about of how our government forcibly imprisoned American citizens that were of Japanese ancestry.  As many know, I read a lot of novels and usually the story is what carries me through the book.  In this novel, I am not sure what I loved more, the story or the writing.  I found myself taking pictures of pages with my phone so I could go back later and savor the words themselves.  It is such an absolute treat when you find a novel that reminds you of what excellent writing consists of  and inspirational language can be.  I highly recommend.

The Cake Therapist by Judith Fertig

Cake Therapist

From Amazon:

Claire “Neely” O’Neil is a pastry chef of extraordinary talent. Every great chef can taste shimmering, elusive flavors that most of us miss, but Neely can “taste” feelings—cinnamon makes you remember; plum is pleased with itself; orange is a wake-up call. When flavor and feeling give Neely a glimpse of someone’s inner self, she can customize her creations to help that person celebrate love, overcome fear, even mourn a devastating loss.

Maybe that’s why she feels the need to go home to Millcreek Valley at a time when her life seems about to fall apart. The bakery she opens in her hometown is perfect, intimate, just what she’s always dreamed of—and yet, as she meets her new customers, Neely has a sense of secrets, some dark, some perhaps with tempting possibilities. A recurring flavor of alarming intensity signals to her perfect palate a long-ago story that must be told.

Neely has always been able to help everyone else. Getting to the end of this story may be just what she needs to help herself.

May’s Review: This was a delicious read that didn’t require too much thought. It was light, fun, and perfect for what I was in the mood for at the time. I enjoyed the main character, Claire’s ability to sense what flavors her customers needed in their cake, and there was a little mystery involving some of the residents of their small town. Of course for me, another yummy feature of the story was that it involved cake, and who doesn’t love that? Judith Fertig is coming out with a new novel this summer, about Claire and her bakery. It sounds like a perfect summer read.

June’s Review:  I really enjoyed this book.  I know I say this every time we review a book that has food in it but I usually enjoy novels where one of the characters is food.  It is a neat fact that Claire can play detective on what is going on with a person based on the flavors that come to mind.  I did really like this part and thought there was not enough of it in the book.  In addition, to the present day there is also a mystery from the past that comes into the story line.  This is a fun read that would make a good beach read.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Museum of Extraordinary Things

From Amazon:

The “spellbinding” (People, 4 stars), New York Times bestseller from the author of The Dovekeepers: an extraordinary novel about an electric and impassioned love affair—“an enchanting love story rich with history and a sense of place” (USA TODAY).

Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island freak show that thrills the masses. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father’s “museum,” alongside performers like the Wolfman and the Butterfly Girl. One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River.

The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his community and his job as a tailor’s apprentice. When Eddie photographs the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance. And he ignites the heart of Coralie.

Alice Hoffman weaves her trademark magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a tender and moving story of young love in tumultuous times. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is, “a lavish tale about strange yet sympathetic people” (The New York Times Book Review).

May’s Review: Alice Hoffman always has a beautiful way of weaving magic into her novels, which is one of the reasons why I love her books. There was a lot going on in this story and although it was dark at times and often sad, it was beautifully written. Definitely worth reading.

June’s Review:  Alice Hoffman is another of my favorite authors so I was excited to read this book.  This book is haunting.  The whole time I read this book I just felt so sad which says something about the gift of Alice Hoffman.  This is not a happy story but it is wonderful.  The setting is mysterious and unusual.  I recommend this novel.

Have a good weekend.  We hope that you will have some time to do some good reading! –May and June

Continue to this post

IMG_3465

The Joy of Reading

Anyone who knows me, knows one of my great loves is reading.  I am a prolific reader.  In fact,  I took a challenge one year to write down every book that I read during the year, and I averaged more than one book a week.  So the question that comes up in conversation is “How do you find the time to read?”

One thing you have to know is that I always have to have a book that I am reading.  There is no downtime between books while I look for another.  I have a list of requested holds at the library usually more than 10 books long.  I do get into trouble when they all seem to come in at once (there is no way even I can read 6 books in two weeks), so I pick a few favorites from the stack, read those, return the rest and request a hold on them again.

I am fortunate that I am a fast reader.  I always have been, so it is not a skill thatI can pass along tips to you, but I can tell you about the places I read.

First, I commute on public transportation so I always have a book to read and use that time as downtime to catch up on my fun reading.  I could work or write but I need that buffer between work and home, so I tend to use the time to read.  I put on my headphones, sometimes with music and sometimes without (I use the headphones to filter out noisy people on the train) and dive in.  I occasionally run into a dilemma with my train reading when I am faced with a book that has less than 75 pages left to the end.  Do I carry two books with me in the morning for when I finish the first?  Do I just bring a new book and leave the almost finished book at home to finish later, but usually I cannot wait to know how it ends.  I have developed very strong arm muscles because of this important dilemma.

IMG_3465

Second, I do try to read before I go to bed.  However, often I crawl in bed when my eyes are already heavy and I only last for a page or two before the words are blurry and my eyes and I have to turn out the light.

Third, in the summer I do a lot of porch reading.  Some of my best memories of reading happened in the summer, when I had full lazy days stretched in front of me and could just lose myself in the latest “chapter” book by Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary or The Secret Garden or the Little House on the Prairie books.  I think because of that I read a lot books in the summer and my favorite place to do that is on my back screen porch, with the fan lazily circulating the air and the sound of children playing and the smell of fresh cut grass permeating my nose.  In the winter, I take that reading inside to my living room couch on a quiet Sunday afternoon, where it is nice and cozy and warm.

Finally, the weirdest time and place I read is when I blow dry my hair.  This is a challenge that is not for the faint of heart because it takes some very careful coordination.  However, my hair takes forever to blow dry and I get really bored so I read to make the time pass by quicker.  The thing is, we only have a pedestal sink in our bathroom so the book is precariously balanced on the edge of the sink.  In order for the book to be held open flat, I have to find a makeshift paperweight.  If I am lucky our tube of toothpaste is pretty full and evenly squeezed out so not all the weight is at the top and I can use it to balance across the pages.  This does not always work though and the book closes on the toothpaste and the toothpaste and the book both fall on the floor and I lose my reading place.  Some mornings it is a mess.  I have also tried to use my curling iron as a makeshift paperweight but often it is too big and the cord gets in the way.  So hair drying reading is tricky at best.

Reading is really one of my great joys.  I love getting lost in a story even if its only for a few minutes.  It relaxes me.  At times it makes me laugh or cry or think.  So because of the happiness I get from reading, I squeeze it in whenever I have a moment.  Let me know if you have any other tricks for keeping on top of your reading.  –June

Continue to this post

Night Circus

January Book Club

It’s time for our monthly book selections.  Once again we have three reads this month, namely,  Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal, Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

 

Great Kitchens of the Midwest

From Amazon:

Kitchens of the Great Midwest, about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation, is the summer’s most hotly-anticipated debut and already a New York Times bestseller.
 
When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine–and a dashing sommelier–he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter–starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.
 
Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life–its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.

May’s Review: This novel centered around the life of a quirky girl named Eva Thorvald. It begins with her birth, and we are taken on a journey of her life into adulthood. I’ve written before that I love novels that are centered around food and its preparation, and this was one of those reads.  This book read a little differently in that each chapter felt like a short story, always centered around a time period in Eva’s life. Although I liked some chapters more than others, overall I really enjoyed this book.

June’s Review:  This book reminded me of several short stories all tied together by the character of Eva.  The writing in this book is lovely and the descriptions of the food make your mouth water.  I love books where food is almost a character unto itself.  Food plays such an important role in our life as nourishment, entertainment and community and the story in the book shows all of that.  This was one of my favorite reads lately.

 

Little Paris Bookshop

From Amazon:

Monsieur Perdu can prescribe the perfect book for a broken heart. But can he fix his own?
 
Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.

Internationally bestselling and filled with warmth and adventure, The Little Paris Bookshop is a love letter to books, meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people’s lives.

May’s Review: I first came across this book last fall, at the little book shop in the State Street Macy’s. For me, the book held a lot of promise and I had such high hopes.  I loved the premise of the story-a bookseller recommending books based on his customers ailments. Honestly, I got about halfway through and was ready to give up. I literally skimmed the rest of the book to the end, relieved when it was finished. I wanted to like it, but found it lacked any kind of depth, I couldn’t connect with the characters, and I found the story extremely boring.  Sorry, I can’t recommend this one.

June’s Review:  I wanted to love this book because the description spoke to my heart.  Who wouldn’t want the ability to prescribe books to people to ail what fixes them?  However, this book disappointed me.  I never really got invested in any of the characters.  I felt like they were kept at an arm’s distance.  I believe the book was translated from German and that may be part of the issue.  The writing style was somewhat cold.  The whole time I read the book I kept thinking I wish I could take the premise of this book and write the story differently.  Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this book.

 

Night Circus

 

From Amazon:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.

May’s Review: What can I say, other than I loved this book. I found myself getting lost in the magic of Le Cirque des Reves, The Night Circus. I loved that it was set during the Victorian era, and it was so easy to get pulled into the duel/love story between Celia and Marco. I loved the depth of the characters, and Erin Morgenstern’s beautiful descriptions made it easy for me to visualize the details of the mysterious tents and circus performers. This was a beautifully written novel and I definitely recommend it.

June’s Review:  I remember this book was on the best sellers list for a long time and I did not pick it up.  The description of the book with a magician duel and a magic circus did not seem like a story I would enjoy.  I typically do not gravitate towards fantasy novels.  However, this book does not fall in that genre and I found that I really loved it.  The book is extremely well written and the magical circus is completely believable.  The duel turns out not to be a duel how one might imagine it and ends up enhancing so much of the circus.  The love story between Celia and Marco is like many love stories where two people, due to circumstances, have no business being together.  The ending of their story is both sad and lovely.  I highly recommend this book.

Enjoy reading this weekend.  If you have read these and have some thoughts or if you have some book recommendations for us we would love to hear them.  And if you live anywhere in the Midwest stay warm this weekend.  We have heard the temperatures are going to be downright frigid.  –May and June

Continue to this post

Lake House

December Book Club

It’s time for our December book post.  There is nothing more relaxing then to sit and get lost in a good story.  Hopefully, you will have some time over the holidays to enjoy some quiet time and curl up with a good book.

After You by Jojo Moyes

After You

 

From Amazon:

“You’re going to feel uncomfortable in your new world for a bit. But I hope you feel a bit exhilarated too. Live boldly. Push yourself. Don’t settle. Just live well. Just live. Love, Will.”
 
How do you move on after losing the person you loved? How do you build a life worth living?
 
Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.
 
Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. . . .
 
For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

May’s Thoughts: After You is the continuation of one of my favorite books by JoJo Moyes, Me Before You. I always get a little nervous with sequels, but After You did not disappoint. Although it started a little slow for me (I almost wish I had re-read Me Before You), I was soon drawn back into Louisa Clark’s world, and thoroughly enjoyed her continued journey as Will Traynor continues to influence her life. I was left feeling that a third book might be in the future. A lovely book.

June’s Thoughts:  I loved the character Louisa Clark from Me Before You.  This book picks up a little while after the end of Me Before You.  Lou changed a lot in Me Before You but she is not done yet.  Will Traynor changed her, but she is still not sure what she is supposed to do with him gone and how she misses him.  Due to some shocking events, she is forced to change even more and open her heart in ways she never imagined.  A sweet, thoughtful book which will again require tissues as you root for Lou to finally find happiness with herself.

Coincidence of the Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert

Coincidenc of the The Cocunut Cake

From Amazon:

You’ve Got Mail meets How to Eat a Cupcake in this delightful novel about a talented chef and the food critic who brings down her restaurant—whose chance meeting turns into a delectable romance of mistaken identities.

In downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lou works tirelessly to build her beloved yet struggling French restaurant, Luella’s, into a success. She cheerfully balances her demanding business and even more demanding fiancé…until the morning she discovers him in the buff—with an intern.

Witty yet gruff British transplant Al is keeping himself employed and entertained by writing scathing reviews of local restaurants in the Milwaukee newspaper under a pseudonym. When an anonymous tip sends him to Luella’s, little does he know he’s arrived on the worst day of the chef’s life. The review practically writes itself: underdone fish, scorched sauce, distracted service—he unleashes his worst.

The day that Al’s mean-spirited review of Luella’s runs, the two cross paths in a pub: Lou drowning her sorrows, and Al celebrating his latest publication. As they chat, Al playfully challenges Lou to show him the best of Milwaukee and she’s game—but only if they never discuss work, which Al readily agrees to. As they explore the city’s local delicacies and their mutual attraction, Lou’s restaurant faces closure, while Al’s column gains popularity. It’s only a matter of time before the two fall in love…but when the truth comes out, can Lou overlook the past to chase her future?

Set in the lovely, quirky heart of Wisconsin, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is a charming love story of misunderstandings, mistaken identity, and the power of food to bring two people together.

May’s Thoughts: This is Amy Reacher’s first novel and I thought it was a charming although somewhat predictable story of a chef, Elizabeth “Lou” Johnson, who is struggling to make a success of her small French restaurant after a scathing review by the local restaurant critic. It was a cute love story with a wonderful recipe for coconut cake at the back of the book. Can’t wait to try it out!

June’s Thoughts:  This is a cute romantic comedy-type book.  I love books that include food as a character of the book and this one does so, the coconut cake plays an important role.  The book is set in Milwaukee which was fun because I lived in Milwaukee for a couple of years.  Although, Milwaukee has apparently gotten more hip than when I lived there.  It sounds like there are a couple of cool places that may require a road trip to visit.  I liked the characters and the overall story.  However, I did start to get a little annoyed by the end because the whole story where one character knows something that is a secret from the other character gets a little overplayed.  The end was a good one, though, which helped redeem that part.

The Lake House by Kate Morton

 

Lake House

From Amazon:

From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Secret Keeper and The Distant Hours, an intricately plotted, spellbinding new novel of heartstopping suspense and uncovered secrets.

Living on her family’s idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, innocent, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories. But the mysteries she pens are no match for the one her family is about to endure…

One midsummer’s eve, after a beautiful party drawing hundreds of guests to the estate has ended, the Edevanes discover that their youngest child, eleven-month-old Theo, has vanished without a trace. What follows is a tragedy that tears the family apart in ways they never imagined.

Decades later, Alice is living in London, having enjoyed a long successful career as an author. Theo’s case has never been solved, though Alice still harbors a suspicion as to the culprit. Miles away, Sadie Sparrow, a young detective in the London police force, is staying at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall. While out walking one day, she stumbles upon the old estate—now crumbling and covered with vines, clearly abandoned long ago. Her curiosity is sparked, setting off a series of events that will bring her and Alice together and reveal shocking truths about a past long gone…yet more present than ever.

A lush, atmospheric tale of intertwined destinies, this latest novel from a masterful storyteller is an enthralling, thoroughly satisfying read.

May’s Thoughts: Love, love, love Kate Morton. I was on a long waiting list at the library for her latest novel, The Lake House. I’ve read all of her books, and always enjoy how she blends the past with the present story. The characters in this book all had a story to tell about a midsummer’s eve party gone wrong. Although The Forgotten Garden is still my favorite Kate Morton novel, I did enjoy this book but have to admit, I was a little disappointed at how the book ended. It was a little too tidy.

June’s Thoughts:  I love Kate Morton.  One of my all-time favorite books is The Forgotten Garden by the same author.  This one, while it did not surpass that book, was definitely enjoyed.  The book is set in Cornwall, England and alternates between what happened many years ago during a midsummer’s eve party at a beautiful, idyllic lake house and the present where a disgraced police detective finds out about the event while on a forced leave.  It combines a mystery and a little romance.  The book is long and it took me a while to figure out what had happened to Alice’s little brother.  The ending was a little too neat, but in general was pretty satisfying.

We hope you enjoy our selections.  Let us know if you have read any of them and what you thought.  Happy Weekend before Christmas! –May and June

 

Continue to this post

Pretty Baby

October Monthly Book Club

It’s time again for our monthly book picks.  This month we have a fun light read, There’s Cake in my Future by Kim Gruenenfelder, the first book to a recently released sequel, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and a thriller, Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica.

There's Cake in My Future

From Amazon:

After listening to her closest friends’ latest travails in love, parenting, and careers, superstitious bride-to-be Nicole (Nic) believes she has the perfect recipe for everyone’s happiness: a bridal shower “cake pull” in which each ribboned silver charm planted in her cake will bring its recipient the magical assistance she needs to change her destiny. Melissa (Mel), still ringless after dating the same man for six years, deserves the engagement ring charm. The red hot chili pepper would be perfect for Seema, who is in love with her best male friend Scott, but can’t seem to make their relationship more than platonic. And recently laid off journalist Nic wants the shovel, which symbolizes hard work, to help her get her career back on track. Nic does everything she can to control who gets which silver keepsake – as well as the future it represents. But when the charmed cake is mysteriously shifted from the place settings Nic arranged around it, no one gets the charm she chose for them. And when the other party guests’ fortunes begin coming true, Mel, Seema, and Nic can’t help but wonder…. Is the cake trying to tell them something?

May’s Review: This was a fun light read about three friends in their late 20’s (Nicole, Seema, Melissa), one week before Nicole’s wedding. The book was a little reminiscent of a Sex in the City episode. I enjoyed how each of their stories were woven into their friendship and how sometimes, you just have to leave things up to fate.

June’s Review:  This was a fun cute read.  I always like a book where the characters have different stories but they all intersect in an interesting way.  The story shows how sometimes what we want is not we we really need.

 

Me Before You

From Amazon:

They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

May’s Review: This is my favorite book by Jojo Moyes. I loved the character of Louisa Clark and although this was a heartbreaking novel, there were many laugh out loud moments as well. I am very excited to read the sequel to this story.

June’s Review:  This was the first book I read by Jojo Moyes.  Because I liked it so much I went on to read her other books.  This is not my favorite by her (that would be The Girl We Left Behind) but I really did like it.  This one involves the tough subject of assisted suicide and what you would do for someone that you love.  I liked seeing how Lou grew as a person during the story and it ended with you happy that she changed.  This book requires a box of tissues.  I just started reading the sequel After You.  I hope the sequel does not ruin this book for me.

Pretty Baby

From Amazon:

A chance encounter sparks an unrelenting web of lies in this stunning new psychological thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Good Girl, Mary Kubica 

She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head… 

Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home. 

Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow’s past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.

Don’t miss this thrilling follow-up to The Good Girl by master of suspense, Mary Kubica.

May’s Review:  I just finished this book a few days ago. I thought it was  a great psychological thriller and I was truly surprised by the ending. (That doesn’t happen very often.) The chapters revolved around the characters Heidi, Willow, and Chris, with each sharing their own experience about their past and present situation.  The story kept its momentum up to the last page.  I also enjoyed that the story takes place in Chicago where I recognized the different locations.

June’s Review:  This story involves a chance encounter that changes Heidi’s life.  Because it was set in Chicago, I liked that I recognized many of the locations in the book.  I figured out the book before it was over but it still held my interest to the end.

Happy Weekend Reading! – May and June

Continue to this post

Marriage of Opposites

September Book Club

It’s time for our monthly book picks.  This month all of our books have a bit of magic in them.  We thought that some magical books may make some good reads as we go into the month of Halloween.  Our picks this month are Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler, Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman and Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen.

 

Book of Speculation

Via Amazon:

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.

One June day, an old book arrives on Simon’s doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of “mermaids” in Simon’s family have drowned–always on July 24, which is only weeks away.

As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon’s family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?

In the tradition of Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, The Book of Speculation–with two-color illustrations by the author–is Erika Swyler’s moving debut novel about the power of books, family, and magic.

May’s Review:  I love being introduced to new authors, and thoroughly enjoyed Erika Swyler’s debut novel about a family curse, where the women, who are all circus mermaids, always drown on July 24. I enjoyed Simon Watson’s character, who’s a lonely librarian trying to care for his quirky and somewhat annoying sister, Enola. It’s a novel that travels through time and I enjoyed reading about mermaids and  the magic of tarot cards

June’s Review:  I really loved this book.  It had a mystery to solve, real-life mermaids and a carnival.  I felt for Simon trying to figure out who he was and trying to protect his unique sister.  The book also is interesting when the story takes a turn to characters that lived with a traveling circus during the time of the American Revolution.  The book had a bit of a sad dark quality about it that came through on many pages.  A definite book to put on your to-read list.

 

Marriage of Opposites

 

Via Amazon:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things: a forbidden love story set on the tropical island of St. Thomas about the extraordinary woman who gave birth to painter Camille Pissarro—the Father of Impressionism.

Growing up on idyllic St. Thomas in the early 1800s, Rachel dreams of life in faraway Paris. Rachel’s mother, a pillar of their small refugee community of Jews who escaped the Inquisition, has never forgiven her daughter for being a difficult girl who refuses to live by the rules. Growing up, Rachel’s salvation is their maid Adelle’s belief in her strengths, and her deep, life-long friendship with Jestine, Adelle’s daughter. But Rachel’s life is not her own. She is married off to a widower with three children to save her father’s business. When her husband dies suddenly and his handsome, much younger nephew, Frédérick, arrives from France to settle the estate, Rachel seizes her own life story, beginning a defiant, passionate love affair that sparks a scandal that affects all of her family, including her favorite son, who will become one of the greatest artists of France.

Building on the triumphs of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things, set in a world of almost unimaginable beauty, The Marriage of Opposites showcases the beloved, bestselling Alice Hoffman at the height of her considerable powers. Once forgotten to history, the marriage of Rachel and Frédérick is a story that is as unforgettable as it is remarkable.

May’s Review:  I’m a long time fan of Alice Hoffman and am always excited to read her new releases.  I loved this story about a woman named Rachel, who we meet as a young girl living in St. Thomas in the early 1800’s.  She’s a free spirit bound by her religion and we are taken on a journey of her life until her death in 1889, at the age of 94. As in all her novels, Alice Hoffman always brings a little mystical-magical touch to her stories which for me, makes it all the more beautiful. I definitely recommend this novel….loved it.

June’s Review:  I always look forward to a new book by Alice Hoffman.  Her more recent books are more historical fiction than her earlier books, but they always contain an element of the supernatural.  This is a story about a woman who bucks all convention and tradition for the love of her life.  Life on the island of St. Thomas in the 19th century is beautifully described.  I loved some of the natural elements that were woven into the story.  This is a story about how love can be among the most beautiful of emotions, but also the most painful.  Another one to put on your to-read list.

 

Garden Spells

Via Amazon:

The magical New York Times bestseller.
 In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it….
The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.

A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants–from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys–except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.

When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down–along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy–if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom–or with each other.

Enchanting and heartfelt, this captivating novel is sure to cast a spell with a style all its own….

May’s Review:  June told me about this book a few years ago, and I loved it.  I found this to be a very enchanting story about the lives of the Waverly sisters, Claire and Sydney.  I loved the magic of the foods Claire prepares, and the big old apple tree in the yard that gives magical fruit, and loves to play tricks on people. Although these sisters are very different, they both remain close and connected to their family history.  This was Sarah Addison Allen’s first novel, and I think it’s a must read for anyone who believes in magic.

June’s Review:  This was published a few years ago but it is one of my favorite all time reads.  I love how how the magic just seems normal in the story.  The descriptions of Claire’s foods and her ability to cure ills with flowers grown in her garden are just lovely and makes me want to garden and cook more.  My favorite character is Evanelle who brings people in the book items that they don’t know they need.  And even the tree is main character in the book.  It is a story about sisters and coming to accept who you are and embracing your special and unique gifts.  This is one that if you have not read yet, you simply must.  I am jealous of all of you that get to read it and experience it for the first time.

Let us know what you think about your picks and if you have any other good reads to recommend.  Happy Weekend.  – May and June

 

 

 

Continue to this post

At the Water's Edge Cover

August Book Club

It’s time for our monthly book reviews.  This month we are going to review Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen.  Once again, while our opinions about each book were somewhat similar, we did have some differing thoughts.

Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Girl On the Train Cover

From Amazon:  

A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people’s lives.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.

May’s Review:  I heard a lot about this book, and was on a rather long waiting list at the library.  I loved how this story began.  The main character, Rachel, viewed the world and her former neighborhood  everyday from the window of a train, peeking into and creating stories of the people she viewed in their homes.  I discovered early on that Rachel’s character was definitely flawed, desperate, and somewhat humorous.  There are many twists and turns in this novel and I have to admit, I found the ending rather weak and somewhat predictable.  It didn’t live up to my expectations.

June’s Review:  This book has so much hype surrounding it and it seems that everyone is reading it or has read it.  Honestly, I didn’t think that it was worth all of the hype.  I liked and hated the narrator, Rachel.  Because she is unreliable it is hard to tell what to believe and what not to believe.  However, the end made me so mad that I wanted to throw the book through the window.  The ending seemed forced and contrived.  Keep breakables away from you when you start reading the conclusion of the book.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven Cover 3From Amazon:

Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

May’s Review:  I have read several books of this genre, and thought this was a well done story about the resilience of people in a post-apocalyptic world.  Although this novel was rather dark, I liked how the story’s characters were everyday people trying to adapt to their new environment.  The book goes back and forth in time, which gave me a glimpse into the lives of the characters, before their lives are forever changed.  I did find the traveling symphony of Shakespeare to be somewhat lacking in interest, however and usually skimmed through those chapters rather quickly.  Overall, I liked the writing and would recommend this book.

June’s Review:  The genre of this book is not something I typically gravitate towards.  I generally do not like doomsday or dystopian stories but I loved this book.  The writing is beautiful.  I was fascinated about how much the physical part of the world can change in a relatively short period of time if humans are not around to maintain it.  I loved the stories and how they ultimately fit together.  It is an interesting story of how humans adapt if their world drastically changes but yet still struggle to maintain parts of that world that they thought especially beautiful or worthy.  I read this book at least a year ago, and this story still haunts me.  A must read that combines both tragedy and beauty.

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

At the Water's Edge Cover

From Amazon:

In this thrilling new novel from the author of Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen again demonstrates her talent for creating spellbinding period pieces. At the Water’s Edge is a gripping and poignant love story about a privileged young woman’s awakening as she experiences the devastation of World War II in a tiny village in the Scottish Highlands.

After disgracing themselves at a high society New Year’s Eve party in Philadelphia in 1944, Madeline Hyde and her husband, Ellis, are cut off financially by his father, a former army colonel who is already ashamed of his son’s inability to serve in the war. When Ellis and his best friend, Hank, decide that the only way to regain the Colonel’s favor is to succeed where the Colonel very publicly failed—by hunting down the famous Loch Ness monster—Maddie reluctantly follows them across the Atlantic, leaving her sheltered world behind.

The trio find themselves in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, where the locals have nothing but contempt for the privileged interlopers. Maddie is left on her own at the isolated inn, where food is rationed, fuel is scarce, and a knock from the postman can bring tragic news. Yet she finds herself falling in love with the stark beauty and subtle magic of the Scottish countryside. Gradually she comes to know the villagers, and the friendships she forms with two young women open her up to a larger world than she knew existed. Maddie begins to see that nothing is as it first appears: the values she holds dear prove unsustainable, and monsters lurk where they are least expected.

As she embraces a fuller sense of who she might be, Maddie becomes aware not only of the dark forces around her, but of life’s beauty and surprising possibilities.

May’s Review: As a huge fan of Water for Elephants, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Sara Gruen’s newest novel.  I enjoyed how this book combined historical fiction, with a little bit of fantasy and loved that the majority of the story was set in the beautiful country of Scotland. Maddie’s character, who is very spoiled and superficial, goes through a wonderful transformation throughout  the course of the novel.  She pulled me in right from the start, and I absolutely loved her at the end of the book.  A must read.

June’s Review:  A story that combines World War II and the Loch Ness monster, how can you go wrong?  I really liked this book.  It was fascinating how some young people of privilege lived during this era, although it can be said that some of that still goes on today.  The parts about the Loch Ness monster were interesting because I have always thought of it as a myth but it seems that in this era (or at least these characters) really thought it to be true.  A compelling story that pulls you in and invests you in the life of the main character, Maddie.  I found myself rooting for her as she matured and found happiness.

Let us know if you have read or read any of our picks and your thoughts.  -May and June

Continue to this post

Dress Shop of Dreams

May and June’s Monthly Book List

Because we both love to read we thought it would be fun to share some of our favorite and not-so-favorite reads each month.  This month’s picks include Rainwater by Sandra Brown, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and The Dress Shop of Dreams: A Novel by Menna Van Praag.

 

Rainwater

via Amazon

Acclaimed bestselling author Sandra Brown celebrates the spirit and determination that kept our country proud even through the Great Depression, in this moving tale of a bygone generation and a strong young widow who must rise above her circumstances.

Ella Barron is determined that even the ravages of the Dust Bowl will not affect the well-ordered life she has built for herself and her special child, Solly, who lives in a world of his own that even she can’t enter. Aware that he evokes pity and distrust, Ella holds herself aloof from her small community, but her new boarder, David Rainwater, comes into her life— and changes it forever. As economic desperation creates bitter social unrest in the town and surrounding farms, Ella finds herself relying on Mr. Rainwater’s soft-spoken advice and the steely resolve of his convictions. But tensions escalate in the summer heat, until one violent night everything they believe in will be put to the ultimate test.

Sandra Brown’s Rainwater is a poignant, lyrical novel that will speak straight to your heart, a story that bears witness to a powerful truth: love is worth whatever price one must pay for it.

May’s Review – I thought it was a decent read.  I learned a lot about the hardships of the Great Depression, particularly the Dust Bowl and enjoyed the love story between the two main characters.  A very quick read.

June’s Review – I did not like this book and while short had trouble finishing it.  I had trouble relating to the characters.  Also, there was somewhat disturbing scenes involving dead cattle that I did not like at all.

Nightingale Front

via Amazon

In love we find out who we want to be.

In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France … but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can … completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

May’s Review – Loved, loved, loved this book. Two French sisters fighting Nazis during World War II and their love for each other which has them do things that are otherwise unthinkable.  I couldn’t put it down.  Have tissues nearby.

June’s Review – This was one of my favorite reads in a long time.  A novel about women in the French Resistance with one sister seeking out the opportunity to save her homeland and the other becoming a fighter due to her circumstances.  This was the best kind of good cry story.  Do not read the last third in a public place unless you want everyone to see you as a blubbering fool.

Dress Shop of Dreams

Via Amazon

For fans of Alice Hoffman, Sarah Addison Allen, and Adriana Trigiani, The Dress Shop of Dreams is a captivating novel of enduring hopes, second chances, and the life-changing magic of true love.

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires.

Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. Cora’s studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her forever. Determined not to allow Cora to miss her chance at happiness, Etta sews a tiny stitch into Walt’s collar, hoping to give him the courage to confess his feelings to Cora. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry. After Walt is spurred into action, Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

May’s Review – A fun story about magical dresses that includes a mystery.   A great summer read and a refreshing story in comparison to my typical historical fiction novels.  I would love to find a dress shop of dreams to explore.

June’s Review – I love books where the story has some magic in it. Etta’s shop is quirky and fun but she has a higher purpose of allowing women to achieve that thing they most desire or need.  This novel shows that true love in its all its forms prevails.  I really, really enjoyed this book and it would be amazing to find one of those magical dresses.

Happy Reading!!! Let us know if you have read any of these books and what you thought.  -May and June

Continue to this post

© 2016 May Meets June. All Rights Reserved.