Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What's Your Dream Home Library?


Every book lover has thought a time or two (or, in my case, hundreds of times) about having an at home library.  Most of us will never have the space for a library; I'd have to live on an English estate to have my perfect library.  My tiny house has just enough room for 3 bookcases and plenty of shelving in my bedroom.  It's pretty fantastic to fall asleep with books all round me.  So far I haven't had any fall on my head.  Although I may have just jinxed myself.  

I've been challenged by Arhaus to write a blog on my dream library.  So, if money was no object, and I could have whatever I wanted...this is what I'd like:



A bar is a must!

This would be my library on the grounds of my estate
Dream library


Tree of Life pillow from Arhaus


A lovely rug for my library from Arhaus



A couple of these Baldwin chairs from Arhaus
I'd have to have some great wall art mixed with the books! Blue Haze from Arhaus

So as you can see, I'd like something cozy, yet light; toss in a couple hundred books and I'd be a happy camper!  Check out more home goods and living room furniture at Arhaus to help you build your dream library (or home!).
Lots of bookcases, of course!  Arhaus Athens 

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown

If you're a long time follower of the Bookalicious Babe, well...you know I have a soft spot for witches.  As in I read a heck of a lot of fiction that features witches.  I believe the first actual "paper" I wrote for school in 8th grade was all about the Salem witch trials.  

Yes, I wrote a paper about the Salem witch trials and I attended a private Catholic school. And it was 1980. Oops. I don't even remember what I wrote about, but I'm pretty sure I played it safe and just regurgitated what my library books put down as history. I'm pretty sure my opinion today would have gotten me a trip to the principal's office and a grounding at home.  It's obvious my interest in witches has been around for a very long time, so when I saw this title on Goodreads I had to request it from the library.  

I knew this novel was going to be a bit heavy, so I kept putting off reading it.  I finally dived in this past week, not knowing quite what to expect.  It takes place in Essex, England in 1645.  Alice Hopkins is returning home to the small village of Manningtree after her husband dies in a shooting incident in London.  She is a few months pregnant, broke, and the only family left in England is her younger brother, Matthew Hopkins.  They haven't seen each other for five years; she married a servant's son, and Matthew was, to put in today's terms, pissed.  Meanwhile their mother (Alice's step-mother) has died, and Alice hasn't told Matthew her husband is dead, too.  She's had five miscarriages and doesn't want to even think about her current pregnancy for fear of losing it, too.  So she keeps mum about it, hoping to reveal it when she's farther along and closer to her due date.  

Matthew Hopkins has grown up and prospered since Alice left.  He owns an inn, where Alice comes to stay.  He's grown a beard to hid the awful scars on his face and neck that resulted from falling into a fire when he was a baby.  The exact how of that incident has never been explained; but a wet nurse was blamed and lost her job over it.  

Oh--did I mention that Matthew is a witchfinder?  

What starts out as a few people taking revenge on women in the village soon spreads across England, with people accusing pretty much anyone that looked different, lived alone, was poor, or involved in the healing arts.  It was not a time to have any enemies.  Matthew would travel to other villages by horse with a female servant, and spend hours questioning  and examining women under very cruel conditions until they broke and told him what he wanted to hear.  The women were then taken to the gaol, to await trial.  Usually, in times past, the women would be let off after a few months.  But this time, the atmosphere in England was different, and people were out for blood.  

Alice's mother-in-law Bridget had worked for the family when Alice and Matthew were younger.  Matthew doesn't like Bridget (for reasons you will find out as the story unfolds), and Alice is terrified Bridget will be on Matthew's list of potential witches.  She challenges Matthew on his path of destruction, but realizes he's got the bug, and is not one to be challenged.  Matthew is a man with a mission and plenty of zeal.  He's not a fan of women.  

The plot moves fairly slowly; not a whole lot happens over the course of the book.  But, that slowness of plot gives you ample time to feel the dread building as the witch hunts intensify and Matthew grows further apart from Alice.  Family secrets, the real story behind Matthew's childhood accident, and the political atmosphere of England at the time make for one unsettling book.  When you can't trust anyone around you, and you can't trust anything to be real...just what do you do to save yourself? Can Alice save anyone else?

I thought there would be more movement in the book, but I'm not unhappy with the story.  It was actually pretty good, and had a few twists.  You'll be saying "Girrrl....you go Alice!" as she starts to grow a spine and stand up to Matthew---at her own peril.  

If you're a fan of witchy fiction, you'll want to read this.  Matthew Hopkins was an actual witchfinder in England, but that's about all that is factual in this novel. Not a nice man!

Rating:  3/6 for a historical novel set in the midst of England's witch hysteria, with an unsettling atmosphere that will keep you reading even when you dread what's coming next. 

Available in hardcover and ebook. 






Monday, May 15, 2017

The Simplicity of Cider by Amy E. Reichert

Amy E. Reichert is an author that I associate with summer.  She writes foodie fiction tossed with a dash of magic, along with strong female protagonists who fight for the life they want to live, even if it may mean giving up their chance on love.  

I've read all three of Amy's novels:  The Coincidence of Coconut Cake; Luck, Love, and Lemon Pie, and now The Simplicity of Cider. They all take place in the Midwest, which of course is very appealing to a Midwest gal like myself.  Cider takes place in Door County, WI.  If you've never been, please go.  It's so gorgeous; Wisconsin was the location of many wonderful family vacations during my childhood.  

Sanna Lund runs the family apple orchard business along with her father, Einars. Her brother Anders has left the farm and lives in the city with his wife and two daughters. He would love to sell the farm, and a water park company is sniffing around.  Sanna's orchard is the perfect place to build a tourist mecca, sure to make a lot of money in a place where tourism is a big deal.  Einars is getting old, and the orchard is too much for just Sanna to run on her own. She's determined to graft the oldest trees to new trees, thus keeping the very best cider making apple trees from one day dying.  Those trees have been on the property for decades. Sanna's gift is being able to blend apple juices perfectly to create different ciders. She can see, in her mind, the colors each blend will make.  It's a form of synesthesia, and a few other people in her family have had the same gift.  

Along comes Isaac and Bass, his son. Isaac has traveled from California, seeking to escape a family tragedy and protect his son.  They wind up on the Lund apple farm, and Einars hires Isaac to help out. Isaac is immediately attracted to Sanna, but she's too busy running the orchard and being stand-offish to realize that she's attracted to him, too.  

Meanwhile, the pressure is on to sell the farm. Anders returns to the farm, and along with her prickly relationship with Anders, she's forced to finally come to peace with "the egg donor"; aka her mother. Poor Sanna has a lot of stuff going on in her life.  Can she navigate safely through troubled waters and find happiness with Isaac?  And Isaac; well, he's got a few big issues to face as well.  

I was very excited to read Amy's latest novel. She's an author that I won't hesitate to read or recommend to friends.  This was a refreshing setting, with some pretty fantastic apple trees and a wonderful, cranky old truck as supporting characters.  Little Bass was a delightfully sweet addition to the mix, and helped soften Sanna's prickly exterior. 

A big thank you to Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster) for an advanced copy of this novel.  It is being released in paperback on Tuesday, May 16th in the U.S. 

Rating:  4/6 for a perfect summer read set on an apple orchard in Door County, WI.  A strong, prickly female protagonist carries the story to a satisfying and happy ending.    

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Life Reimagined: The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife by Barbara Bradley Hagerty: An Audio Book Review

I stumbled upon this audio book perusing my local library's online catalog, and thought it would be perfect for my weekly commute.  It was perfect, and quite honestly, it woke me up a bit.  

I am in midlife.  I'm 50; childless, unmarried (but in a long term relationship), and oftentimes puzzled at how my life has turned out so far.  Where exactly did I make the turns that led me to this place?  How, quite frankly, did my life turn out so completely different than I had hoped?  Could I possibly craft the rest of my life by thoughtful planning and reflection?

Barbara Bradley Hagerty is an NPR reporter who had a few midlife crises of her own.  It led her to spend a year traveling the country, talking to experts and some every day people about what we expect from life in our 40's, 50's, and 60's.  What she found surprised her.  It seems that there is a natural dip in our happiness that begins in our 40's.  Some people think it's a midlife crisis, but when scientists actually dug into the question of midlife crisis, they found out that people weren't having a midlife crisis at all--it's all bogus. 

 We have a natural dip that occurs when we reach an age where we re-examine where we've been, where we want to go, and what hasn't worked out.  We look at our jobs, our relationships, our dreams.  We realize that we won't get that big promotion; maybe we've worked in a career for 20 years and realize the passion and love is gone; our drive calls us to seek something else.  We are seeing our parents age and pass on; we are the next generation up.  It's a big wake up call.  With luck, we'll have another healthy 25-35 years--so what are we going to do to make them the best we can make them?  

But guess what?  People in their 60's are the happiest they've ever been in their lives.  That natural dip climbs again, and by refocusing our lives around those we love, building those relationships, giving of ourselves and letting go of the material stuff, we are at our most content and most free.  We cherish those moments, small and random, where life is most sweet.  We explore our creativity; we cherish our friends and family.  And what's great about all of this is that science actually backs this up.  

I recognized myself in some of the things Barbara talks about:  I returned to graduate school at 46 after the loss of my sister; at 48 I graduated and began a new career as a librarian.  Shortly after I began my new career, my mother passed away.  My father had already passed away when I was in my late 30's; I felt a bit lost and orphaned.  My parents were gone.  What did that mean to me?  How was it going to define my life going forward?  

My partner takes care of his aging parents and I do what I can to help him.  We've discussed what we want to do next with our lives, after the inevitable happens.  With no children between us, and no one to answer to, we will be free to pursue his dreams, long put on hold.  And in doing that, I will be able to pursue my dreams alongside him.  So for now, we plan, and we cherish the moments we have together.  It is a bittersweet time, and painful moments are on the horizon.  But, as Barbara has discovered, those snapshot moments of happiness are more frequent, and even sweeter than you can imagine. 

I highly recommend this book.  I enjoyed the audio so much, I bought the paperback so I could mark it up, discuss it with my partner, and keep it on my bookshelf.  

Rating:  5/6 for a fascinating look at a second phase of life that can be just as exciting and rewarding as those heady days of our youth.  It will definitely make you think about your life; you'll find yourself in the pages of this book. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio.

 

Monday, May 8, 2017

32 Yolks: From My Mother's Table to Working the Line by Eric Ripert-Audio Book Review


In my ongoing quest to listen to audio books on my commute, I happened on this memoir and decided it had been long enough since I had immersed myself in a foodie book. And I had never heard of Eric Ripert.  

I had no idea he's a famous chef in New York City.  He has a show on the Cooking Channel (which I would probably watch if I got the Cooking Channel!), and grew up in France.  I read a few reviews of this memoir before I had finished it and the big complaint was where in Eric's life he decided to stop his story. I decided, after listening to this audio, that it stops at a very natural place, and just hearing about his early years was such an interesting journey that I didn't need to know more.  We know how it ends, so this was all about how it began.  

Eric was born in France to a vibrant mother and a loving father.  The first few years of his life were very happy; his parents adored him and their life was full of fun, good times, and delicious food.  He developed a very sophisticated palate very early, and nothing was better to Eric than sitting down to a memorable meal.  His parents divorced when Eric was around 5 years old; it was a difficult split and Eric didn't get to see his father very often.  He moved around with his mother, as she opened and ran successful clothing boutiques throughout France.  Their connection, as always, was food.  A mean step-father made Eric's life hell, and he struggled through his tween and teen years with a lot of anger and resentment.  His father died suddenly when Eric was eleven, and he had no way to relieve his grief.  Through this all, there was food.  He watched, listened, and learned wherever he could, but never was allowed to actually cook until he was in high school, and entered a cooking school.

Eric's journey after graduating from cooking school takes him to Paris and his first big job.  Let's just say his idea of his talent and the actuality of his talent weren't the same, and the stories of his humbling experiences as a young cook in very fine restaurants never get old.  Eric kept coming back for more; his passion drove him to keep improving, keep practicing, knowing that he was meant to be a chef.  It is a lesson in perseverance and believing in yourself and your dreams.  

I listened to the audio, and Peter Ganim does a fine job narrating, with a very good French accent and pacing. My only complaint is listening to the audio made me hungry.  

Rating:  3/6 for a memoir about knowing what you love, and pursuing your dreams even when they seem very far away.  

Available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook.

 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Romance Reader's Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell

I can't tell you where I first saw this cover; wherever it was, it caught my eye.  Then I read a short synopsis of the novel and decided that I just had to read it.  A rainy, chilly weekend with no plans guaranteed me plenty of time to read it, and I did in just a few short days. 

 I'm not one to sit for hours and buzz through a book; I get twitchy and have to get up and move around, so while I read quickly, it still takes me a few days longer to finish a novel.  This was the exception for me, and I'm still trying to figure out exactly why.

It appears by the cover this could be a romance, a historical romance, or even a chick-lit novel.  It's not really any of these.  After thinking about it for a few days, I still can't quite decide just what  exactly it is, so I'm going to stop trying.  I'll give you a quick peek:

An Irish-American family, growing up in Lynn, Massachusetts in the early 1930's.  Sisters Lilly and Neave are close in age, but pretty different personalities.  Lilly is all glamour, while Neave lives for books.  She gets paid a nickel to read to an elderly neighbor, and Neave hopes it is an entry into being able to read those forbidden romances her neighbor has on the shelf.  Nope, no luck.  The lure of those romances is too much to bear, and Neave steals The Pirate Lover and reads it in her closet at home.  It's terribly exciting, and the story of Electra Gates and her adventures reflects back onto Neave and Lilly's lives as they grow up and start a cosmetics company in post-World War 2 America.  Things are going fairly well, until Lilly meets a horrible, horrible man whom she marries (her second marriage).  She ends up dead.  No surprise, since the first chapter is Lilly telling you that she's dead.  

Lilly, along with the family dog Mr. Boppit (who appears on the other side as a young man in a naval uniform and wearing high heels) are there to help Neave not only keep the company going after Lilly disappears, but protect her from Lilly's husband.  Neave, quite frankly, doesn't take any crap from him, and he's filled with such loathing for her that he decides she must be punished.  He's a psychopath in 1950's America, and is a frightening character.  He eerily echoes a character in The Pirate Lover.  Poor Neave is finding out the hard way that love and romance in real life are nothing like romance novels. In fact, reading those romance novels as a young girl have given her a false sense of what life as an single young woman looking for love really means.  As Lilly finds out it can be downright dangerous, and finding the right guy isn't easy or guaranteed.  

This novel sounds like it's a bit crazy, right?  But it's actually quite good.  It is a mixture of mid-twentieth century America, family drama, romance, thriller, humor, and a bit of magical realism all tossed together.  Yet somehow it all works.  Neave just cracks me up.  She is so very funny as a young girl.  It was a treat to watch her mature into a poised young woman, even in the midst of her anxiety at being stalked and not knowing where her sister was, but knowing deep down something very bad had happened. The reader gets to know Lilly both from her perspective on the other side, and through Neave's eyes.  I grew to love her, too.  Mr. Boppit starts out as a dog (who loves to chew up shoes!) and Neave's companion, and ends up as a charming character who loves Neave so much he continues to protect her from the other side.  

The Romance Reader's Guide to Life is quite unlike anything I've read recently, and it was a refreshing experience.  I hope Ms. Pywell continues to write; I will eagerly await her next novel.  

Rating:  4/6 for a completely different novel that marries quite a few genres into one interesting read about family, love, romance, faith, and perseverance. 

Available in hardcover and ebook. 
 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Don't Worry, Life is Easy by Agnes Martin-Lugand


I was thrilled to be able to read this sequel to Happy People Read and Drink Coffee (click on the link to read my review from 2016), because quite frankly the tale of Diane and Edward was so powerful I couldn't wait to find out what happens next.  If you haven't read Happy People, I'm going to probably spoil a few things for you, so beware.

Translated from French, this sequel picks up a year after Diane returns to Paris from Ireland.  Her bookstore is doing well after Diane renews her commitment to making it a success.  Her life has a routine; her grief has subsided.  Her feelings for Edward, however, are still pretty strong, and her time in Ireland and the people she met remain on her mind.  Felix, her best friend, is still a delightful character who can be counted on to keep things light.  

Diane has been going out on dates, and they're all pretty horrible.  Listening to the tales my dating friends tell me, it's amusing to read about similar experiences in Paris, the City of Love.  Bad dates happen everywhere!  But Diane does meet Olivier...a kind, quiet, handsome man who is very patient with Diane.  He's safe, and doesn't stir her wild emotions as Edward did in Ireland.  And who's to say safe is a bad thing, after the emotional devastation Diane has gone through?  

One night out, Diane and Olivier run into Edward, who's visiting Paris for a photography exhibition.  Diane is shaken, and her feelings for Edward are still strong.  She finds out his Aunt Abby is ill, and decides to travel back to Ireland to visit her.  

I'll stop there.  I won't give any more away.  I will tell you that this sequel is just as good as the first novel.  Agnes succeeded in reducing me to a sobbing mess more than once.  She writes so beautifully; simply said but so impactful.  Spare, but packs a punch.  You are wishing so much for Diane and Edward to find a way; can two people who live in different countries, are both emotionally damaged, and so wary find happiness together?  

It's a quick read, but one that will stay with you for quite some time after you've turned the last page.  It is one of my favorite reads for 2017. Both novels remind us that life can be so very painful, unfair, and dark.  But if we are brave enough, it can also be pretty wonderful, too.  


Thank you to Hachette Books for a chance to read this book ahead of publication.  Also a huge thank you to Roslan & Campion for giving me the opportunity to talk about this wonderful author once again.   

Don't Worry, Life is Easy will be available May 2nd in the U.S. in hardcover and ebook.  But you must read Happy People first!

Rating:  5/6 for a sequel that is just as good as the original novel about  finding the sunshine in life after devastating loss.