Wednesday, September 27, 2017

My reads - End of Summer and beginning of Fall

It still feels like summer and I am still in summer reading mode. I have read so many good books since my last blog post!  Here are some more that I think you will enjoy as much as I did.  I have included two Young Adult novels that will be enjoyed by adults as well as teens.

Goodbye, Vitamin: a novel by Rachel Khong

Thirty year old Ruth moves home for a year to help her parents after her engagement is called off. Her father, a prominent history professor, is suffering from memory loss which seems to be dementia or Alzheimers. Ruth's mother is trying to find her way towards forgiveness of her husband's betrayals in light of his illness, but she is struggling. In a poignant turn of events Ruth's dad shares entries he made in his journals about Ruth as a child, while she ends up keeping a journal of her father's good and bad days. By turns funny and heartbreaking, this is a story that will be not be soon forgotten.

 The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The lying game started as a game played by four British boarding school girls. The object was to tell a lie to someone and earn points for how believable it is. All of the girls came to Salton House for different reasons and their outsider status is only fortified by the lies they tell to the other girls. The four end up leaving the school under mysterious circumstances and have not really seen each other since. Kate remains at The Mill where the four spent many weekends away from Salton House with Kate's artist father Ambrose and step brother Luc. Fatima has become a devout Muslim and is married with two children; Thea has a glamorous job in London; Isa is enjoying being a mother to her 6 month old daughter. But when 17 years later Thea, Fatima and Isa get a text from Kate saying "I need you" they do not hesitate to return at a moments notice. Because the biggest lie of the lying game is about to be revealed...

The Red Coat: a Novel of Boston by Dolley Carlson
Bostonians will especially enjoy this novel set in the 1940s and 50s. The red coat is the link between four young women's life stories. The coat originally belonged to Cordelia Parker, a so-called Boston Brahmin. Cordelia treasured it as a sign that the boy she loved felt the same way, but she finds herself living alone in her Beacon Hill home after the deaths of her parents. Her mother had donated the coat to a servant, Nora King, a mother of 9 who came to Boston from Ireland. The coat is then passed down from oldest daughter Rosemary to middle sister Kay and  baby sister Rita. Each woman finds the coat gives them just the boost of confidence they need to succeed. Filled with snapshots of Boston history and Irish traditions, this novel brings Boston to life with trips to Jordan Marsh, the Swan Boats, and more.

 The Break Down by B.A. Paris

When Cass Anderson drives by a woman in a car during a terrible rainstorm little does she know the consequences it will have on her life. The next morning the woman is found murdered and Cass is overcome with guilt that is exasperated by the fact that she seems to be forgetting things at an alarming rate. Her mother had dies of early onset dementia and Cass soon feels that she is headed for the same fate. Things get worse when she finds out the murdered woman was someone she recently befriended and she begins receiving phone calls she believes are from the murderer. Is she losing her mind or is there something more sinister at work? A can't put down thriller that will keep you guessing until the very end!

 P.S. From Paris by Marc Levy
In a novel that brings to mind the film Knotting Hill, an actress seeks anonymity in Paris.  Mia flies off to Paris after discovering her movie star husband's infidelity.   A series of mistaken identity and perhaps fate leads her to dinner with American ex-pat Paul.  Paul also came to Paris to escape.  Unable to deal with the fame of his first novel he moved to Paris and has strangely become a best selling author in Korea.  Although the two decide to be just friends, events and the interference of their friends seem to keep pushing the two together.  An endearing and funny look at modern romance.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
I could not put this book down and finished it in one day! Told from the point of view of three women this is a funny, intelligent and enthralling novel about the life of a young woman caught up in a political scandal. Rachel Grossman's daughter Aviva is an undergraduate at the University of Miami when she takes a job as an intern for a congressman. Rachel is horrified when her young daughter confides that she is having an affair with their former neighbor who is twice her age. When the affair comes to light, Aviva is slut-shammed and finds herself unable to find a job, even outside of Florida. She finally changes her name and moves to a small town in Maine to raise her daughter Ruby. But then Aviva, now Jane Young and an event planner, decides to run for office. Her thirteen year old daughter Ruby, a very smart child who is the target of mean girl bullies, discovers that her mother is not who she thought she was. The narrative includes Aviva's unfortunate blog about her affair and Ruby's emails to an overseas pen pal. This is a heartwarming and heartbreaking novel that will have you rooting for these three strong  women to find a happy ending.

Here are the YA books:

Words In Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
In alternating chapters, Australian teens Rachel and Henry recount their friendship. Rachel moved away from Gracetown three years previous after leaving a love letter to Henry in a book inside his family’s bookstore. Henry never acknowledged it and their correspondence fell off. Rachel left her perfect love letter in a copy of T.S. Eliot poems in the bookstore’s section called the Letter Library where customers write in the margins and leave notes for each other. Henry, who never got Rachel’s letter, is getting over a major break up while also dealing with the fact that the bookstore is failing. Rachel returns to Gracetown after the drowning death of her brother Cal and takes a job at the bookstore cataloging the Letter Library. Will these two former best friends help each other through their own personal losses and grief? Will their friendship change into something more? This is a heartfelt novel full of literary quotations that will appeal to the romantic in all of us. 

Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
Two lost souls find each other and themselves through letters left in a cemetery in this heartbreaking yet hopeful novel. Teenage Juliet lost her globe-trotting photojournalist mother when she is killed in a hit and run on the way home for the airport. Since then, Juliet has been unable to take part in her own love of photography and she deals with her grief and guilt by writing letters to her mother that she leaves on her gravestone. Declan, a high school student with a reputation for trouble, is fulfilling community service hours at the cemetery. Misunderstood and dealing with his anger towards his parents after the death of his younger sister, he finds one of Juliet’s letters cannot help but pencil in a reply. Writing anonymously to a fellow grieving person begins to help both Juliet and Declan. Although the two run into one another at school, neither knows who the other is as they use the aliases Cemetery Girl and The Dark in their letters and eventually online. This is a wonderful story that captures the heart of teen grief and offers hope.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What I've Read This Summer...So Far! (Part 2)

As you might guess, I love to read.  Being a librarian means that I am constantly bombarded with new books so my to-read list is constantly growing.  I hope to be able to share my recommended reads with you at least once a month.  Summer is prime reading time for me and I shared 5 great books with you in my last post.  Here are a few more from my summer reading pile that I hope you'll check out.

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand
One cannot live in Massachusetts and not read Elin Hilderbrand's summer novels. In addition to her usual Nantucket setting this novel also is set in Martha's Vineyard.  It is the story of identical twin sisters who are separated in high school when their parents divorce, bringing to mind the movie The Parent Trap.  The girls do a rock, paper, scissors contest to see who will get to live in Martha's Vineyard with their blue-collar contractor father, Billy and Harper wins.  Tabitha goes to live with her blue-blood fashion designer (think Lily Pulitzer) mother on Nantucket.  Although the islands are only a ferry ride apart, the twins become estranged and lead very different lives.  But then circumstances reunite them after years apart in a novel about family, sisterhood, forgiveness and love. This is  great beach read with a bit of romance, but mostly it is a story of two sisters.

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg
Berg has written a beautiful story about loneliness and family. Arthur at 82 spends every afternoon visiting the grave of his wife Nula and communing with the dead buried around her. Maddy is a high school senior who spend her lunch period at the cemetery seeking the peacefulness that evades her among the bullies at her school. These two strangers will come to find in each other just what they need - a true family. The addition of bossy octogenarian Lucille makes the little family complete. This is a seemingly simple story that draws on deep emotions and insight. The power of love and kindness among strangers can fill the deepest depth of loneliness and despair. The reader will fall in love the man whom Maddy nicknames "Truluv."

The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green
This is a story of mothers and daughters set against the background of Hollywood.  Ronnie Sunshine is a movie actress who has completely failed in the role of mother.  Her actions alienated her three daughters from both her and each other.  The oldest, Nell, finds a home away from all her mother's glamour on a Connecticut farm.  She raises her son on her own not far from her mother in miles, but very far away in lifestyle.  Middle daughter, Meredith, never thin or pretty enough for her gorgeous mother' approval, flees to England.  Suffering from low self-esteem, she is engaged to an overly critical and controlling man.The youngest, Lizzie, was born much later and received more of her mother's attention.  She has found success as a television chef but is following in her mother's footsteps as far as her family life is concerned.  All three are called to their mother's bedside expecting the usual hypochondria, only to realize something is very wrong.  Will Ronnie be able to fix things between the sisters after all these years?

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein  (YA fiction)
This one is YA fiction, but it has great crossover appeal for adults.  I highly recommend the sequel which was published in 2012, Code Name Verity.  One of my favorites.
This prequel to Code Name Verity, introduces readers to a young Scottish girl named Julie Stuart who becomes embroiled in a mystery at her family’s estate in Scotland. Set in the summer of 1938, Julie returns early from boarding school as her family is packing up her grandparents estate which is being sold to cover debts. Stopping by the river, Julie is hit on the head and wakes up 3 days later with no memory of what happened. But feisty Julie is determined to find out why someone knocked her out and how it relates to the missing Hugh Houseman, who was working to catalog her family’s treasures for a museum. Julie was rescued after her assault by a family of Scottish Travellers and befriends brother and sister, Euan and Ellen McEwan. This is a story full of mystery and danger where class issues between the Scots and the Travellers have been brewing over centuries. The book is filled with Scottish terminology that careful readers will be find easily decipherable. Those who have already met Julie in the sequel will welcome a chance to spend more time with her, while new readers will be eager to follow her story in the next book.

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak
A family that is quarantined for a week during Christmas break finds that too much togetherness can reveal both fractures in relationships and chances for new beginnings. Olivia, a doctor who has been treating victims of the Haag virus in Africa, returns to spend her quarantine with her parents and younger sister, Phoebe at the family's country estate. The entire Birch family is united under one roof, but are separated from each other nevertheless. Andrew Birch is an acerbic restaurant critic who regrets giving up his calling as a war correspondent for his family. His wife, the endearing Emma, is overjoyed to have both girls home but is hiding a secret. Self-centered Phoebe is wrapped up in her wedding plans and resents Olivia getting so much attention. Olivia has trouble adjusting to a 1st world life after so much time spent in 3rd world countries. Told in alternating chapters by the Birches, including Jesse a young man who has traveled from the US to England to find his birth father, this is a wonderful story of family, filled with both heartbreak and humor. Highly recommended.

Class Mom by Laurie Gelman
This is a hilarious look at parental politics as experienced by Jen Dixon, an experienced kindergarten class mom. In addition her 5 year-old Max with husband Ron, Jen has two daughters in college, one of whom she thinks may be the offspring of Michael Hutchence of INXs. Jen has been here before and she fills her emails with lots of snark and humor that is quickly misunderstood by some moms who are more than willing to take over the position. Jen finds herself dealing with an elementary school crush who happens to be a class dad, a mom who's son is allergic to everything, another mom who sees herself as queen bee, and a very sexy kindergarten teacher. Full of humor and reminiscent of Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, this one is sure to be a hit with moms everywhere! 

Friday, August 4, 2017

What I've Read This Summer...So Far! (Part 1)

I love the summer!  The warm sun and longer days mean that I get to spend more time outdoors doing what I love best...reading! I haven't made it to the beach this summer, but I have spent many sunny days on my back deck with a good book.   Here are some I think you'd find worth reading. More to come in next week's post!

The Seven Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard.  
Fans of The Rosie Project by Grahame Simsion and Be Frank With Me by Julia Clairborne Johnson will find lots of similarities in this novel about a young woman who has been sheltered all her life by her mother due to "incidents."  Readers will realize that Elvira falls somewhere on the Autism spectrum and the author's experience as a teacher of adults with learning difficulties shines through.  When Elvira's mother suffers a fall and ends up hospitalized, Elvira must learn to survive by herself in the world she finds confusing.  Luckily, she has a neighbor willing to help as well as a list of rules of conduct that she tries to follow.  A heartwarming coming-of-age story.

Our Little Racket by Angelica Baker
The lives of four women in wealthy Greenwich Connecticut begin to unravel when an investment bank goes under in 2008.  Isabel D'Amico with her old money elegance finds her spot as the woman to envy in town usurped when her Brooklyn born husband's bank fails.  Her best friend Nina is there to lend support and Xanax, but finds herself caught up in the gossip as rumors of  bankruptcy and criminal charges follow Bob D'Amico. 15-year old Madison has always been a daddy's girl, but she begins to uncover some shady secrets that Bob has kept hidden. Her best friend Amanda's father focuses his newspaper column of exposing Bob which strains the girl's friendship.  A story about the American dream,  having and losing it all.

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan
Two young Irish Catholic sisters, Nora and Theresa Flynn, emigrate from Ireland to Boston in the 1950s.  Nora, at age 21, is heading off to marry a man you doesn't really love in order to provide for her family. Seventeen year old Theresa is a fun-loving girl who loves being away from the restrictive rural village and lives for fashion and dancing. When Theresa ends up pregnant the two make a decision that will tear them apart for decades.  A family death will finally bring Nora, the mother of four grown children, and Nora a cloistered nun face to face. This is a story of family and sisterhood that explores secrets and forgiveness, love and loss.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Evelyn Hugo is a Hollywood star who is famous for not only her roles, but the fact that she married seven times.  At 80 years old and having outlived all seven husbands, Evelyn is finally ready to tell her story.  We learn of her early years in Hell's' Kitchen, the loss of her mother and her determination to find fame and fortune.  But which of her seven husbands was the love of her life. Or is there a secret that Evelyn has yet to reveal?

White Crysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht  (To be published in January 2018)
This is a heartbreaking story of two Korean sisters and their experiences during the Japanese occupation of Korea.  In 1943, 16-year old Hana is a "haenyeo," one of the "women of the sea."  These strong, powerful women work only for themselves and dive deep under the sea harvesting seafood to support their families.  Hanna and her younger sister Emiko have grown up speaking Japanese and are banned from their own Korean language and culture.  The novel tells the story of Hana beginning in 1943 and of Emi in 2011.  Hana is taken by Japanese soldiers and forced to become a 'comfort woman" in a military brothel.  Despite her terrible experiences, Hana never gives up on her pride or her heritage.  Meanwhile, Emi is a grandmother who has spent her life feeling guilty over her sister's abduction.  These two strong, resilient women illustrate the courage of women in times of war.  This is a moving story of two sisters that brings to light a piece of Korean history that few may know. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Debut Titles for Spring - Part 1

I am always amazed at how many wonderful debut novels are published each year.  Although I have many favorite authors whose books I eagerly await, it is exciting to discover a new talent. I have read some great debut novels this year that I would love to share with you. 

Weina Rai Randel debuts not one, but two novels this spring.  Her Empress of the Bright Moon Duology reimagines the life of Empress Wu of China.  Empress Wu, the first woman to rule China under her own name,  has often been portrayed as a ruthless and immoral woman.  The author decided to research the life of this fascinating woman ruler and found little documentation to support this reputation.  Taking into account that the Confucian scholars at the time who were writing the history had reason to besmirch a woman ruler, the author decided to write her own version of the story. 

 The first novel, The Moon In the Palace, begins with the life of the empress as a young girl.  When Mei is 5 years old a fortune teller states that she will not only be the mother of emperors, but an emperor in her own right.  Her sheltered life comes to an end when her beloved father dies.  She is taken from her family at age 13 and accepted into the palace of the emperor as one of 15 Selects of the inner court.  Her father's lessons in history, mathematics, poetry and especially Sun Tzu's The Art of War serve her well as she finds herself entangled in palace intrigues, jealousies and deceptions.  Young Mei also finds herself in grave danger when she falls in love with a young boy called Pheasant, as she belongs to the emperor. 

The second novel continues the story of Mei's rise in the court. The looming death of the emperor puts all of his concubines at risk.  Upon his death, those like Mei who have not born him a child will be sent to monasteries, where they will live in seclusion for the rest of their lives.  But Mei still has Pheasant on her side and although she is banished to a monastery she will return to the palace in time.  A monk reveals that she will face great loss before her fated rise to power and she does indeed suffer much grief.  Still, Mei's inner strength and her true love will see her through as she finally becomes Empress Wu.

I was lucky enough to be assigned these two titles to review for Library Journal.  I also had the chance to interview Weina Dai Randel for the magazine. To read my interview, Click Here. For more information about the author please check out her website Click Here

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Thrills and Chills for October

I am not a big reader of scary books.  In high school, I read Stephen King's Salem's Lot and that gave me nightmares for life!  I remember that my parents were out when I was finishing the book at night.  I kept reading despite my fear, hoping there would be a "happy ending."  I know, silly me.

Despite my fear of the supernatural, I have read several books in the past year that would be perfect for anyone looking for some seasonal scares.

Last October, the Mansfield Library Book Club was lucky enough to win the chance to Skpye with author John Searles as part of his "50 Book Clubs, 50 States" challenge.  We had a wonderful discussion with John and met his dog Ruby, the cutest dog on Earth!  It turned out that one of our members actually grew up in the same town as John - small world.  I would highly recommend Help for the Haunted.

I admit that I was scared to read this book at night, but I loved it. It combines mystery, the supernatural and a coming of age novel. Sylvia has been searching for answers about the deaths of her parents - so called demonologists. Her older sister, Rose, is her legal guardian and they live in their family home where the basement holds their parents' collection of items from the " haunted." These include Penny, a large Raggedy Ann doll who is locked in a cage. So scary! Sylvia begins writing in a journal as she searches for the truth of what she saw the night her parents were murdered. Lots of twists and scares, as well as a story about families and belief. I read it in one sitting!

Another psychological thriller is The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayn.

A spooky atmospheric thriller set on a small island off the coast of Scotland.  Sarah and Angus have moved to Thunder Island after the death of one of their twin daughters.  Lydia and Kirstie were completely identical twins.  The accidental death of Lydia has brought psychological damage to her parents and surviving twin.   But, was it really Lydia who died?  Why is Kirstie suddenly acting like her sister?  Did they make a huge mistake?  Meanwhile, Kirstie tells her parents that her twin is still with them and that she can see her in mirrors.  Scottish lore has it that Thunder Island is a thin place between spirit world - has a twin returned and which one is it?

Finally, there is A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan.  

What a brilliantly creepy novel! Mr. Heming is a realtor in a small town who tries his best to blend into the background. This comes in handy because he keeps copies of the keys to all the houses he has sold and will drop in from time to time...while the owners are out - or not! Mr. Heming is a bit of an unreliable narrator, having a tendency to scatter important facts here and there. We learn about his childhood, but only what and when he wants us to know. He seems content to live through the lives of others and sees himself as a benevolent god looking over his people. From time to time, however, he becomes embroiled in situations that result in violence. Surprisingly, I found myself hoping Mr. Heming did not get caught. This one is hard to put down and will make you immediately change the locks on your home!

I hope you'll enjoy these titles - read them with the lights on!!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hyacinth Girls

This debut novel is one that should be read by anyone who deals with teenage girls on a daily basis - parents, teachers, etc.  Lauren Frankel gives the reader a look inside bullying, from several perspectives.

Rebecca is a young woman who has taken on the responsibility of raising the daughter of her deceased best friend.  Rebecca has striven to shower Callie with all the love she deserves as well as sought to keep her mother's memory alive.  She has even made the decision to postpone her own love life until Callie no longer needs her.  So Rebecca is shocked to receive a call from the school principal telling her that Callie has been terrorizing a classmate.  Callie and her friends deny the incident and tell a completely different story about the other girl.  They tell Rebecca that Robyn was obsessed with Callie and paint a picture of a depressed and troubled girl.  But even after Callie is exonerated, Rebecca wonders if it is the entire truth.  

The novel begins from Rebecca's point of view before switching to Callie's.  The reader has the chance to experience the bully and bullying from a parent's and a teenager's perspectives. Rebecca has kept some truths about her parents from Callie that are soon unearthed.  It is a thrilling story that builds until the very end and tells the tale of two troubled girls who set of a chain reaction that leads to danger.  Filled with text messages, emails and facebook pages that tell the story of how quickly one can fall in this new world of technology.

Every parent will read this with a sense of fear.  As Rebecca asks in the prologue: "Do you know your children?"

For more information about this debut author please visit the publisher's website.

 "I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Monday, August 31, 2015

Summer Beach Reads

Summer is my favorite time for reading! I love reading outside, especially at the beach. During my vacation, I was able to get through a lot of my to-be-read pile, although it is steadily building up again.  So, just in time for Labor Day weekend here are a few perfect beach reads:

Mary Kay Andrews never disappoints - I read this in one day!

Greer Hennessy is a location director for Hollywood movies. Her latest brings her to Florida in search of an untouched old-time Florida beach town. She finds exactly what she needs in the town of Cypress Keys, but the mayor Eb Thibadeaux is not keen on Hollywood upsetting his peaceful little town. Greer is also dealing with the death of her mother and the fact that her father, who she hasn't seen in 30 years, is suddenly reaching out and happens to live a hour away from the movie location. Soon Hollywood comes to the small town bringing lots of problems fro Greer to deal with from an out of control rap star making his movie debut, to backed up porta potties. This is definitely not the time to add romance to her to-do list, but Greer finds herself drawn to Eb. Mary Kay Andrews has done it once again - I couldn't put it down!

I cannot believe I have never read an Elin Hilderbrand book before.  She is now on my radar!

A beachy summer read set on the island of Nantucket. Grace and Madeline have been best friends forever, living "perfect" lives with their husbands and children. But this summer, things are going to change and the rumor mill is going to be in full gear. Madeleine, the novelist, has writer's block and rents an apartment in town to write. Grace is crushing hard on her gardener, while her husband Eddie is in financial trouble. The small island will be buzzing with rumors about both women and their families. Will friendship survive?

I always love Jane Green's books and this one really peaked my interest with the Nantucket setting.

The narrative goes back and forth in time from 1998 to the present and geographically from London to Nantucket. Since she was a teenager, Cat has relied on alcohol to get her through, but now she is facing losing everything. Her husband has had enough and she is at risk of losing her daughter. Secrets from her mother's past come to light that send Cat to the island of Nantucket.  A family secret has opened up new possibilities for Cat.  All is great, until her actions during and alcoholic blackout send her running back to London. Will Cat finally face the fact that she needs help? Can she start over without alcohol?

I hope you get a chance to do some reading over the long weekend!  I will be back soon with some historical fiction suggestions!