Friday Book Whimsy: Book Challenge

While aimlessly perusing Pinterest (which provides recipes that I pin but almost never make, but at least doesn’t get political), I came across something called The Book Challenge. Loving a good challenge almost much as I love a good book, I’m taking the challenge, and sharing it with you for the next few weeks…..

Best book you read last year: I reviewed my post of January 3, 2020, in which I shared my five favorite books of last year. After considerable thought, I decided that my favorite book was Evvie Drake Starts Over, by Linda HolmesI like how the author empowered the protagonist. I liked the baseball tie-in. I liked all of the characters. I liked the ending.

A book that you’ve read more than three times: I have read very many books more than three times. I read very quickly, which allows me to read many books, but also results in me not always remembering them very well. I can — and do — reread books very often. But there are those kind of books, and then there are the kind of books that I reread because I love them so much. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, is one such book. I guess I love the atmosphere created by the author. Who gets any creepier than Mrs. Danvers?

Your favorite series: Oh, I love so many series. I’m a big mystery reader, and once I read a book that I like that is part of a series, I must read them all, and in order. But if I have to choose, I pick the Inspector Gamache series written by Louise Penny. Gamache solves mysteries in the small town of Three Pines outside of Montreal. There are 15 books in the series, with another book being released in September. Inspector Gamache is kind, fair, loving, and smart as can be.

A book that made you happy: Britt-Marie Was Hereby Fredrik Backman, made me very happy, and gave me a character that I think of very often. Britt-Marie left her cheating husband, and handled it by being very OCD and critical. That is, until she ends up coaching a terrible kids soccer team. She is surrounded by odd characters and a life that is definitely not made for someone who likes things just so. How she lands on her feet was absolutely delightful.

A book that made you sad: I tend to not choose to read books that make me sad. I also avoid movies with sad endings. No thank you to Terms of Endearment or Steel Magnolias, thank you very much. The Light Between the Oceans, by M.L. Stedman, thankfully, didn’t involve death by cancer. But it was a very sad story about a woman who has been unable to carry a child to birth who finds a boat carrying a dead man and a living baby at the lighthouse where she and her husband live and work. They decide to keep the baby, telling no one of its existance. Things don’t work out well. Very sad.

Continued next Friday….

 

Friday Book Whimsy: Ask Again, Yes

The ability to forgive: We might think we can do it, but should someone do something to someone we love, could we actually forgive them? I would like to say yes, but I can’t promise. Ask Again, Yes, a novel by Mary Beth Keane, is the story of broken families and forgiveness that is almost beyond imagination.

Brian Stanhope and Francis Gleeson are New York City police officers.  Francis and his wife Lena have three children, one after another. She is struggling with motherhood and loneliness, and is happy to learn that Brian and his wife Anne are moving next door in the small NYC suburb in which they reside. Unfortunately, Anne doesn’t have any interest in the friendship that Lena craves.

However, from the time they are little, Brian and Anne’s son Peter and Francis and Lena’s daughter Kate are the best of friends. As their friendship grows, tensions rise between the families, culminating in a major tragedy that understandably splits the families completely apart.

Though Peter and Kate no longer live near one another, they don’t forget about each other. Eventually, they reunite and marry. Unfortunately, the events of the past make it difficult to move forward. Both Kate and Peter were severely impacted by what happened.

Ask Again, Yes is filled with hope and love and the grace that comes from forgiveness. It also paints a clear picture of how mental illness impacts more than just the immediate the family.

I enjoyed this book very much.

Here is a link to the book.

 

 

 

Friday Book Whimsy: Daisy Jones & the Six

Daisy Jones & the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid, was a breath of fresh air. I read a lot. Some books are good; some aren’t so good. But they all basically follow the same format. This novel was something new altogether. New and refreshing.

Written as an oral biography, this NOVEL tells the story of rock music in the 70s through the lives of two very talented rock musicians. The format was so realistic that I will admit to googling Daisy Jones and the Six on more than one occasion to make sure that it was fiction. It was. Very good fiction.

I grew up in the 70s. It’s true I wasn’t particularly a traditional rock music fan, but I know enough about rock music and the musicians involved to know that this novel told not only an interesting story, but one that was pretty realistic. Lots of music and drugs and sex. Welcome to the 1970s.

Daisy Jones was the only child of two people who couldn’t have cared less whether or not they had a child. She basically raised herself. Her life revolved around music. She loved listening to it. She loved writing it. She loved singing it. She wanted music to be her life’s work.

When she met Billy Dunne, and his rock band called the Six, it was a marriage made in heaven. Billy was just like Daisy: music was everything in his life. That, along with the woman he loved and eventually for whom he changed his life to keep her.

Daisy Jones & the Six is a story of love and friendship and music, all wrapped around life in the 1970s. I couldn’t put the book down. I loved both Daisy and Billy, and was happy that music shaped their lives just as they had hoped.

I strongly recommend Daisy Jones & the Six, particularly for anyone who grew up in the 70s.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Lady Clementine

We all know about British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. He, along with FDR and other world leaders, played a pivotal role in ending World War II. We also know he drank a lot, smoked I don’t know how many cigars every day, and was a difficult man to work for. Marriage to him would not have been easy.

With this in mind, I dove into Lady Clementine, a novel by Marie Benedict, who has written a number of other historical novels, including The Only Woman in the Room (which I reviewed here.) I admit to enjoying learning history from reliable novels.

Clementine married the politically determined Winston Churchill in 1909, and became a force behind the man. She helped write his speeches, she advised him on strategy as he made his way towards being one of the most powerful men in the world. She was loyal and strong-willed and incredibly smart. And she wasn’t afraid of telling her moody and ambitious husband when she thought he was taking the wrong path.

While we learn a lot about Mr. Churchill from Benedict’s novel, we learn even more about Lady Clementine, the woman behind the great man. It is part history lesson, part romance story, part war story (she was with him through two world wars). What it really is, however, is a look at how difficult it was to be a woman in the early part of the 20th century. If the story is to be believed, Churchill considered his beloved wife to be a trusted advisory and companion.

According to the novel, Clementine Churchill and Eleanor Roosevelt were never very close friends, but had a grudging admiration and respect for one another. I bet that’s true.

I’m not sure I was overly fond of Clementine Churchill, at least as she was presented in this novel. But I admire her strength and tenacity during a difficult time in our history.

I enjoyed the book very much.

Here is a link to the book.

 

Friday Book Whimsy: The Spies of Shilling Lane

World War II is raging, and England is in chaos as the Germans bomb London and its surroundings almost nightly in what is called the Blitz. It’s hard to imagine living in a world where you don’t know if you’re going to make it through the night.

But all that Mrs. Braithwaite, the protagonist of The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan worries about is that she has lost her standing in the community because her husband has filed for divorce. Never mind that it was he who had the affair. She is being shunned.

So she sets off to London to surprise her daughter Betty, with whom she has never been close, to find comfort. Imagine her surprise when she learns that her daughter has been missing for a few days. Mrs. Braithwaite is immediately suspicious, and sets out to find her daughter. She convinces Mr. Norris, Betty’s timid landlord to help. The two quickly figure out that Betty isn’t just a secretary, but instead, is a spy working for the British government. It isn’t long before Mrs. Braithwaite and her new friend are in the thick of it.

The novel is a feel-good look at the role women played in World War II, and the difficult relationship between mothers and daughters. It’s hard to dislike Mrs. Braithwaite’s spunk, and her unwillingness to quit until she knows her daughter is safe. 

War is, of course, a serious topic, but Mrs. Braithwaite and her newfound friend provided readers a look at how strength and kindness we don’t even know we have can have a major impact.

The Spies of Shilling Street might be the first in a series? At least the ending led me to think so.

Here is a link to the book. 

 

Friday Book Whimsy: Light Changes Everything

I first met Sarah Agnes Prine — the main character in many of author Nancy E. Turner’s books — in These is My Words. In that particular book, Sarah tells her story about life in the Arizona territory in the late 1800s through a diary she kept of her daily life. I found Turner’s writing to be lovely, and her protagonist Sarah to be, well, fetching.

Since we live part of the year in Arizona to escape the winter chill of our Colorado home, I loved learning the history of my adopted state through her tales. Having done a bit of traveling in the state, I could easily recognize the areas about which she spoke. The characters in the book felt familiar as well.

Subsequent to reading These is My Words, I have read every Nancy E. Turner book written. No surprise then that I was delighted to learn that there was a new novel with Sarah Prine as a character. However, the  Light Changes Everything, rather than being about Prine, is about her niece Mary Pearl Prine — as gritty and determined as her aunt Sarah.

Mary Pearl is a teenager who is smart, a talented artist, and determined to make a mark on the world. She accepts a marriage proposal from sleazy lawyer Aubrey Hanna, but insists on putting the marriage off until she returns from studying art at Wheaten College, the college she attends (thanks to financing from her family) in Illinois. The education she receives teaches her about the finer things in life, but doesn’t change who she is at the end of the day. And thankfully, she escapes life with Hanna.

Turner paints a stark and honest picture of life in the frontier, when the western states and territories were young. Facing such hurdles as snakes and unbearable hot weather and greedy men, Mary Pearl, though not the eldest of the children, is the strongest.

I love Turner’s writing and storytelling. And I love to read about life in the frontier west. It makes me glad to be living in the 21st Century.

Here is a link to the book.

 

 

Friday Book Whimsy: The Wicked Redhead

Beatriz Williams: Oh, how you mess with your readers’ minds. Or at least my mind, because you had me so confused I didn’t know which way was up.

Back in 2017, Williams released Cocoa Beach, which is referred to as a “standalone novel,” meaning not part of one of her series. I reviewed that book here. I didn’t care for Cocoa Beach much, and was annoyed by the confusion created by references and ties to other of her books which readers may or may not have read. The author does this so often that she literally has a family tree available to readers to keep track of who is whom. But most annoyingly, she ended that book with reference to a redheaded woman and a man arriving at the home of the main characters, clearly in trouble. We are never told who they are or where they came from. Hello Sequel.

Well, if I had been paying attention, I would have recalled a redhead who escaped certain death at the end of another one of her novels, The Wicked City (a book I read but never reviewed).

Here it is, three years later, and we are able to access The Wicked Redhead, and finally tie the stories together. Interestingly, the publishers call The Wicked Redhead the second in “the Wicked City books,” never mentioning the standalone novel Cocoa Beach.

Having said all of that, I must admit that I liked The Wicked Redhead very much. Perhaps it was just because I could finally tie all of the stories together.

It’s 1924, and beautiful Ginger Kelly and her disgraced prohibition agent lover Oliver Anson Marshall arrive at the home of friends, running away from trouble and mayhem which left Gin’s evil stepfather dead. Accompanying them is Gin’s little sister Patsy. Mysteriously, Oliver is asked to return to his prohibition duties, leaving Gin and Patsy behind. It isn’t long before Gin is persuaded to undertake an odd duty by Oliver’s mother.

Meanwhile, it’s 1998, and Ella Dommerich (whom we met in The Wicked City) has discovered her husband is not only being unfaithful, but messing around with prostitutes. She leaves him, and quickly falls for her landlord Hector, whom we also met in that same book. She comes across some vintage postcards featuring a beautiful redheaded woman wearing little clothing. Having resigned her job, she has little to do, so begins researching this woman’s background.

It doesn’t take much imagination to tie the two stories together, but I will admit to being caught up in the process. Even though I find some of Williams’ tricks annoying, I will acknowledge that the woman can write a good yarn.

Some of the story is simply not believable, at least to this reader. Overall, however, I really enjoyed putting the pieces together.

Here is a link to the book.

 

Friday Book Whimsy: Dear Mrs. Bird

From the time I was a young girl, I loved reading advice columns. I savored Dear Abby and Dear Ann Landers as though my life depended on it. I couldn’t get enough. I’m not sure why people like me think a woman I don’t even know would be of any help to someone like me, but they were great successes. Dear Mrs. Bird, by A.J. Pearce, featured a World War II advice columnist.

Emmeline Lake wasn’t too excited when she applied for a job at a London newspaper during World War II for what she thought would be a assistant reporter position, but turned out to be the assistant to the advice columnist. The worst thing was that the advice columnist — Mrs. Bird — would only answer questions that held no Unpleasantness, Her definition of Unpleasantness was broad: anything involving sex, boyfriends, girlfriends, general ladies’ problems, religion, etc.. Those she did answer, she responded with unkindness and lack of empathy.

Before long, it got to be too much for Emmeline, and she began secretly answering the desperate readers’ questions and signing Mrs. Bird’s name. Before long, a few began appearing in the magazine, and Emmeline got busted.

I was excited to read the book because I felt the premise sounded interesting. Unfortunately, the characters were anything BUT interesting. I thought the book read like a poorly-written teenaged novel, and though I finished the novel, I couldn’t have cared less by the end.

The most annoying part of the book was the author’s habit of using capital letters to express any number of emotions. I’m serious when I say that there were probably three or four instances of this habit on nearly every page. After the first 10 pages, the capital-letters-for-emphasis became ANNOYING.

I’m afraid I can’t recommend this book even for a teenager.

Here is a link to the book.

 

Friday Book Whimsy:The Lager Queen of Minnesota

I’m not particularly a fan of beer. Oh, if I’m at a Mexican restaurant and the wine list looks suspect, I might make do with a Corona. For the most part, however, I stick to wine, gin, or whiskey.

But even non-beer-lovers would be unable to ignore a title like The Lager Queen of Minnesota. The author — J. Ryan Stradal — wrote what was one of my favorite books of 2017, Kitchens of the Great Midwest. I liked it so much that I was delighted to learn that he wrote another, even if it was about beer.

The story revolves around two sisters. Helen loved beer from the moment she tasted it, and was determined to learn to brew beer, no matter who stood in her way. Her sister Edith, on the other hand, was a baker, renown for her delicious pies, and couldn’t hurt a fly. Helen convinces her father to leave her his entire inheritance, which she uses towards her goal of being a beer brewer. Helen’s actions drive the two sisters apart.

Helen meets and marries the son of a Minnesota brewing family whose beer business was tanking. Using the inheritance, Helen and her husband begin making Blotz Beer a household name once again.  However, Edith and her husband are barely able to make ends meet. But this led to that, and eventually Edith’s granddaughter Diane (who isn’t even aware of Helen’s existence) becomes a master brewer of craft beers.

There is a lot of descriptions about brewing (and tasting) craft beers. Despite my lack of interest in beer, I must admit that I found the art of beer brewing fascinating.

While beer is the star of the show, the story is really about family and forgiveness and entrepreneurship and strong women. I loved every single page of the novel, and was sad when it ended. I can’t wait for the author’s next story about life in the Midwest.

Here is a link to the book. 

Friday Book Whimsy: Iced in Paradise

Ahhh. Hawaii. Tropical paradise. The last thing you would expect is MURDER.

Nevertheless, the island of Kaua’i is the location of a murder in the first in a new series by Hawaiian author Naomi Hirahara. The author has another series that I have not read. But the potential of mentally relaxing on the Hawaiian islands was too tempting to ignore, even if I needed to use my imagination instead of actually feeling the sun on my face. Iced in Paradise was a fun romp in paradise.

Of course, Leilani Santiago couldn’t relax after she returned from attending school in Seattle to her island home, where her family operated a shave ice shack. (And don’t misunderstand. The author made it a point to tell the reader at the very beginning that it is called SHAVE ICE. Anyone who calls it shaved ice is clearly a mainlander). The business is failing and she takes it upon herself to hunker down and get it back going strong.

It isn’t long however when a young professional surfer who is being mentored by Leilani’s father is found dead, and her father is falsely accused of killing him. Leilani knows that her father is innocent, and sets out to prove it. At the same time, she is getting used to being back on the islands, and away from her Seattle boyfriend.

The author has done a brilliant job of capturing the laid-back atmosphere that I have found on my visits to Hawai’i. The strong family ties provide a backbone to the book that is very pleasant. The descriptions of the environment and the scenery give the reader a feeling of being right there in the midst of the Santiago family.

There is a generous use of Hawai’ian slang, which I enjoyed despite having to stop once in awhile and try to figure out what they are saying. Still, it added to the atmosphere of the book.

Iced in Paradise is clearly the first in what will be a series. I look forward to the next in the series. In the meantime, I need to find a place that serves SHAVE ICE.

Here is a link to the book.