Sunday, September 28, 2014

When the Shoe Fits...Essays of Love, Life, and Second Chances by Mary T. Wagner






First of all, I have to apologize to Mary Wagner for taking so long to review her book.  Time flies by just too darn fast!  I've managed to read her collection of essays, and found them thoughtful and full of realizations that do truly only come  to us when we've been through a few things.  Those things?  Life changes, career changes, marriages ending, and moving from your 20's through your 30's and into your 40's.  

I look back at myself in my early 20's and think that if I met my younger self on the street, what would I say to her?  I think it would be:  "Don't be afraid to ask questions.  Live life to the fullest.  Don't worry about making mistakes.  Speak up for yourself--no one else will.  Travel!  And love will find you, even if it takes awhile." oh--and "You'll never ever regret not getting a tattoo."   Reading Mary's essays on her life gave me some food for thought.  

Mary is in her 40's, divorced, and after years of being a freelance journalist and mom of 4 kids, she went back to law school and became a lawyer.  In the meantime, she got a divorce and learned that there is something powerful in being a woman and not being afraid to wield a power tool.  There is a certain feeling of pride and accomplishment when you can take care of yourself.  Yes, it's always easier to have that man around to help out, but knowing you can do it yourself is a powerful confidence booster.  

One particular essay talks about being kind and it really hit home for me.  As Mary says, "That if you have something good to say about someone, say it sooner rather than later, because you just never know what shores that encouragement will carry them to."  Offering advice to someone who's struggling with a life change; telling someone to "Go for it!" and leading by example can work miracles.  My niece said something wonderful to me the other night that made me feel like I am doing something right.  My sister died a few years ago, and I have unofficially stepped into being the Auntie/Mom that my two nieces need.  Yes, they're adults, but they still need a Mom figure.  And that's me.  And she let me know they see it, appreciate it, and it makes them feel like someone is looking out for them when they feel disconnected and a bit lost without their Mom to keep connections to family alive.  That meant a lot to me.  And I'm pretty sure my sister is smiling.  

So read Mary's essays.  They are entertaining, thoughtful, and show a woman who has become comfortable in her skin.  

Rating:  7/10 for a look at a woman who juggles it all, and keeps moving forward.  

Available in paperback 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Moment of Everything by Shelly King

This happens every time I post a "This is What I'm Reading" blog.  I immediately turn around and find something to read that's not on my list.  This is one of the perils of working at a bookstore.  

School has been incredibly busy this month!  I am doggie paddling as fast as I can; it doesn't help that I want to sit and read fun stuff all day and I can't.  I have read two books in the past few weeks, but they are about my other interests:  forensics and death.  I didn't want to post reviews on those, cause I figure y'all want something fun to read!  So here's a fun book to read, and perfect for book lovers, librarians, and fans of bookstores.

The Moment of Everything by Shelly King is a sweet little novel about being at a point in your life where you think you should do one thing, but another is calling to you.  We've all been there...sometimes more than once.   Maggie Dupres is a former librarian who turned her library skills into mining for information at a Silicon Valley business she co-founded with her pal Dizzy.  Unfortunately, through acquisitions, board member stuff, and just bad luck, she's out of a job.  The only thing she knows for sure is that moving home to Mom and Dad is not an option. 

 She finds herself hanging out at Dragonfly Books, a used bookstore that is home to a quirky owner, a vicious cat, and lots of romance novels.  Maggie reluctantly becomes vested in the well-being of the shop when she finds a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover that changes her life.  Inside the beat up, torn up novel are marginalia (the librarian in me is delighted to use that word) between Henry and Catherine that tell of their love story.  What is marginalia?  Scribbles, comments, and notes in the margins of books.  It's also a secret way to communicate between lovers.  Who are they?  Where are they?  Did they ever meet?  Maggie becomes obsessed with this tale, and it becomes a driving force in reinvigorating the business of Dragonfly books.  It also messes with Maggie's ideas of love and romance.  She thinks she's pretty immune to love, but finds out love pops up whether she's ready or not.  

This novel is full of great book references, the smell and feel of a bookstore, and reminds me of why I love books and reading.  I also got a kick out of reading about a librarian working at a bookstore--gee, that kinda sounds familiar....

Anyway.  Read this if you liked The Storied Life of AJ Fikry.  Or if you love books and bookstores.  And if you have a Dragonfly Books in your life, visit it.  

Rating:  7/10 for down to earth characters, a lovingly drawn-out bookstore, and a woman's story that is a bit messy but real.  

Available in paperback and e-book.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier


I've finally read a Juliet Marillier novel, and I feel like I need to make a check on my Science Fiction/Fantasy Authors I Must Read Before I Die listI have had so many people recommend her, and I'm sorry to say it's taken me this long.  Thanks to Nita Basu from Penguin, who asked me to review a new series by Juliet Marillier.  Dreamer's Pool is the first in the new Blackthorn and Grim series, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There's something of the fifteen-year old fantasy geek left in me that just loves to read fantasy.  Bring on the curses, mysterious woods, wisewomen, and ancient tales.  You could even toss in a unicorn and I'd be fine with that.  

Dreamer's Pool doesn't have a unicorn, but it does have everything else that makes a great fantasy novel, and a satisfying ending that doesn't leave you on a cliff until the next novel--but makes you look forward to reading more about Blackthorn and Grim.  The story begins with Blackthorn and Grim as two prisoners in quite frankly, a hellish place.  Blackthorn is a woman bent on revenge against Mathuin, a completely corrupt and evil leader.  He's tossed Blackthorn into jail to rot.  Grim is a fellow prisoner, who relies on Blackthorn (although she doesn't know it) to keep him sane.  And just when it looks like Blackthorn is going to be executed, she gets a chance at freedom from Conmael, a fey creature.  But there's a catch:  she must live near the village of Winterfalls and provide care to anyone who asks her.  And she must do this for 7 years; after that, she is free to pursue her vengeance.  

So things happen (I'm not going to tell you!), and Blackthorn finds herself living in a small cottage at the edge of the woods--with Grim.  Prince Oran is preparing to meet his future bride, Lady Flidais.  He's fallen in love with her through her portrait and letters they've exchanged.  He can't wait to meet her.  

Except something strange has happened, and Lady Flidais is not the kind, sweet, loving person who wrote letters to Prince Oran.  Yes, she matches the portrait to a "t", but her personality doesn't fit at all.  What's going on?  And how can Blackthorn and Grim solve the mystery?  And what does it have to do with Dreamer's pool in the woods?

I would recommend this title to a teen starting out in fantasy, or anyone who likes Mercedes Lackey or Juliet Marillier's series Sevenwaters.  It captures you from the first page and keeps you entertained the whole way through.  Blackthorn is a woman who has suffered much, and struggles to keep her desire for revenge under control.  Grim is her stalwart companion, who struggles himself to be rid of the nightmares of prison.  There's a bit of magic, mystery, and mischief.  Perfect for a cool Fall night.  

Rating:  7/10 for an enjoyable start to a new series.  Can't wait to read more adventures of Blackthorn and Grim!

Available in hardcover in November, 2014.  Also will be available in e-book format.   
 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Upcoming Reviews: A Mixed Bag of Good Reading

School is in swing and the summer is over, except for the occasional 90 degree day with high humidity.  Yes, it gets extremely humid here in Iowa. I can feel like I'm in the tropics for free--except there are no fruity drinks to sip while I read unless I make them myself.  And no beach.  

Fall is my favorite season, and mostly because I love Halloween, pumpkin bread, and a reason to make hearty suppers.  But it also brings out the desire to read books that have a slightly spooky, other-wordly slant to them.  I love my ghost stories!  Here is a list of upcoming books I'm going to read and review in the next few months; a little bit of this 'n that:

Witches and curses:  a teen novel

A new fantasy series

A memoir

Historical fiction with-you guessed it--a lighthouse!

Murder and magic

A woman's walking journey to the ocean
So you can see, I have once again set my reading 
bar high. What authors are you looking forward to reading this fall?  

And if you haven't "liked" my Facebook page, please do!  I not only post my reviews, but news about the book world and anything else I find interesting regarding reading, books, and living the life of a bookworm.  Just click Bookalicious Babe and "like" my page. 


Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen

My desire to devour a large quantity of books this summer hasn't worked out.  Life got in the way, which is hard for me to fathom.  Not much gets in the way of my reading.  And now I'm back to school; life is so full I don't think I'll get a break until after Christmas.  Those bits of time during the day when I can sit and read keep me sane and help me feel that I can keep managing my hectic schedule.  

In between getting ready for school, planning and executing a surprise birthday party for my boyfriend, and trying to keep my yard and house clean (not winning that battle), I've managed to start quite a few books, but only finished this one.  It was the perfect book to end my summer and begin a new season.  

The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen is sure to appeal to anyone who loves Sarah Addison Allen, Alice Hoffman, and anyone who loves a bit of magical realism tossed into a story.  I'm a firm believer in magic and the wonderful, quirky way things can manifest in our lives.  Sometimes there is no explanation, it just is. 

 Olivia Pennywort lives in New York state, in the wonderful Green Valley.  Her farm is known around those parts as a place where a person can go, wander the maze, and find the answer to life's most important question:  what do I do with my life?  Sometimes it can take time to receive the answer; for that reason Olivia provides a barn where women can stay, work the gardens, and await their answer.  They come and go every year and always leave at peace.  Olivia's magic touch with plants of any kind is legendary; she grows flowers and vegetables  when the whole valley is undergoing a horrible drought and heat wave.  

But Olivia has a secret:  she is poisonous to the touch.  Anyone who touches her (or whom she touches) breaks out into a horrible poison ivy rash.  She's kept to herself on Pennywort Farm, working every day on her gardens.  No one knows her secret, except for her father, Arthur.  He lives in a ravine on the farm, in a little shack.  He refuses to move back into the farmhouse, and Olivia visits him every day with food and conversation.  Both are not happy with life, but aware that what they have is all they can ever hope for and expect out of life.

Sam Van Winkle comes back to town, and stirs Olivia out of her prison.  Years before, Sam and Olivia were childhood friends who fell in love as teens.  Sam left town when Olivia broke off their relationship with no explanation.  He tried to find life away from Green Valley, but realized it called to him and was where he needed to be.  Now a police officer, he has to live up to the Van Winkle reputation of being a "hero".  He doesn't feel very hero-like.

Sam, Olivia, and Arthur are all damaged by the past.  Are they courageous enough to take the steps to be happy?  Can Sam and Olivia have a normal life together when physical touch is impossible?  And what of the secret garden locked up in the middle of the maze?  

Love is a powerful emotion, and can make anything possible.  Forgiveness, passion, loving someone wholeheartedly and without reservation; those are all themes in this novel.  Living in the midst of beauty while feeling empty and alone and unable to move forward into the richness of life.  It's all here, in The Night Garden.  

Rating:  7/10 for lush descriptions of gardens, flowers, and nature.  An unusual love story, and a main character who fights for love.  

Available in October in paperback and e-book.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino

Madeline is nine.  She wants to be a jazz singer.  And she's amazing.  

Madeline is the center of this wonderful little jewel, 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas.  It's the Eve of Christmas Eve in Philadelphia, and Madeline is heading to school.  She attends a catholic school, and before class, they have to go to church.  Claire, the prissy perfect girl in Madeline's class, is going to be singing a solo  hymn in church.  

Until she gets hits by a bicyclist on her way to school.  Oops.  Cue Madeline.  Her teacher, the wonderfully smart and sassy Sarina Greene, suggests Madeline sing in Claire's place.  It's a dream come true.  Madeline stands up front, opens her mouth, and just as her glorious singing is about to begin, Claire bursts through the church doors:  "I can sing!  I am here!"  

Dammit.  

And so begins Madeline's lousy Eve of Christmas Eve.  Her birthday is on Christmas Day, but her mother is dead, and her father sits in his bedroom, paralyzed by grief and listening to old jazz records.  Madeline is on her own.  The Cat's Pajamas is a jazz club in the neighborhood, and it is in trouble.  Citations mean if they're not paid, the club closes.  It's the last chance for Lorca to have a great time and maybe, just maybe pay the citations and keep his legendary club open.  But he's got problems of his own...

There are so many wonderful, quirky characters in this novel it's hard not to talk about them all.  You'll just have to discover them as you read.  I can assure you there are lines where you will laugh out loud.  Did I mention that Madeline has a mouth like a sailor?  Yes she does.  

This novel is about people all standing at a crossroads and deciding where and what to do.  Which path to take.  Do they put the past behind, and move forward?  

Anyone who read Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple will find themselves enjoying this tale of jazz, Christmas, and a little girl's dream.

Rating:  8/10 for a fantastic main character and a story that left me reluctant to turn the last page.  

Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills

I think it's pretty safe to say that the majority of adults in the U.S. have read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  I myself read it in 9th grade for my first high school English class.  I also think it's pretty safe to say Mockingbird continues to be considered an American classic and a beloved treasure.  

So where is Harper Lee, and who is she?  Why did she never write another book?  Is she still alive?  All those questions are answered in Marja Mills' inside look at Harper Lee and her life in Monroeville, Alabama.  Harper, known by all her close friends as Nelle (Nelle Harper Lee is her full name), is notoriously reclusive.  We don't know much about her.  Marja Mills begins her extraordinary journey into the life of Harper Lee with a simple letter.  Marja is a journalist, writing about Chicago's One Book, One Chicago project: a city-wide reading of To Kill a Mockingbird.  She's assigned a story that requires her to travel to Monroeville, Nelle's hometown, to talk to townspeople about Harper Lee.  Everyone knows in the news industry that Harper will not grant interviews and her circle of friends won't speak about her. Marja doesn't expect much, but writes Nelle and her sister Alice a letter explaining why she's traveling to Monroeville.  A simple courtesy letter.  And it opens up an unforgettable period in Marja's life that leads to a friendship not only with Nelle's close friends, but Nelle and her sister Alice.  A friendship that includes travels to feed ducks, dinners at small diners, a road trip to New York City, and even renting the house next door to Nelle and Alice.  

Nelle and Alice are two extraordinary women.  At the time of this book, Alice was in her 90's, still practicing law every day in the law firm their father (the basis for Atticus Finch) began decades before.  Nelle, the younger sister, spends part of her time living with Alice in Monroeville, and part of her time in New York City, going unrecognized and remaining anonymous to all but her close New York friends.  They live simply; the royalties from Mockingbird have meant that Nelle doesn't ever have to work.  They are fiercely protective of Nelle's privacy and the legacy of her one epic novel.  

I did truly enjoy this look into Nelle Harper Lee's life.  You do come to know Nelle and Alice and enjoy spending time with them.  Both are incredibly brilliant, sharp, and so well read it puts the rest of us to shame.  And some questions are answered:  what was Nelle's relationship with Truman Capote like?  Why did she never write another book?  Will she ever write a memoir?  An intensely private woman who attempts every day to live a quiet life surrounded by her books, friends, and the legacy of Mockingbird.  I felt Marja's book was very respectful, and shows an obvious deep affection for  Nelle and Alice.  They are two walking repositories of the history of their town, the people who are no longer there, and a time that is long gone.  A gentle and poignant look at small town life, and what fame can do to someone who is gifted in so many ways, but finds the legacy they have created a difficult burden to bear, even after so many years.  

Thank you to Dani at Penguin Press for a review copy.  

Rating:  8/10 for a respectful and thoughtful look at the intensely private life of a beloved author.  

Available in hardcover and e-book.