Showing Posts From: Book Review

White Is A State of Mind
28 Nov, 2019

White Is A State of Mind

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading White Is A State of Mind White Is a State of Mind by Melba Pattillo Beals
on March 15, 1999
Pages: 338
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Putnam Adult
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

In 1957, while most teenage girls were listening to Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue," watching Elvis gyrate, and having slumber parties, fifteen-year-old Melba Pattillo was escaping the hanging rope of a lynch mob, dodging lighted sticks of dynamite, and washing away the burning acid sprayed into her eyes by segregationists determined to prevent her from integrating Little Rock's Central High School - caught up in the center of a civil rights firestorm that stunned this nation and altered the course of history. Her critically acclaimed and award-winning memoir Warriors Don't Cry chronicled her junior year in high school, the year President Eisenhower took unprecedented, historic action by sending federal troops to escort Melba and her eight black classmates into a previously all-white school. Now, in answer to the often repeated question "What happened next?" Melba has written White Is a State of Mind. Compelled to flee the violent rage percolating in her hometown, young Melba was brought by the NAACP to a safe haven in Santa Rosa, California. This is the story of how she survived - healed from the wounds inflicted on her by an angry country. It is the inspirational story of how she overcame that anger with the love and support of the white family who took her in and taught her she didn't have to yearn for the freedom she assumed she could never really have because of the color of her skin. They taught her that white is a state of mind - that she could alter her state of mind to claim fully her own freedom and equality.

Goodreads

After reading Melba Patillo’s memoir of the integration of Little Rock’s Central High School, I wanted to know more details about what happened next.  Instead of letting the black teenagers have a second year in Central High, the governor closed the high schools.  This lead to increasing anger towards the families that were involved in the integration from both white and black families.  Melba finally had to flee the state when a bounty was placed on her by Klan members.

Let’s talk about how she found out about this.  Her mother had a cousin who was passing as white.  That wasn’t that unusual at the time.  In fact, she had several relatives passing.  But this man was not only married to an unsuspecting white woman and had kids who thought they were all white, he was the sheriff of a small southern town and the head of the local KKK.  You read that right.  A black man was head of the local KKK.  He found out about the bounty on his little cousin and called the family to alert them (presumably before putting the word out to his members).  I want to know more about this.  I want a whole book about him and then I want that book turned into a miniseries.  Somebody make that happen.

She is taken to a safe house in California.  The NAACP there was mostly made up of white liberals.  It gets cringey.  They want so badly to be helpful but they can’t understand why she was terrified.  She came from an environment where she was only safe with (some) black people and now she is surrounded by white people.  It was complete culture shock for her.

She came from a world where survival consumed everyone’s thoughts.  She had never had the experience of planning to go do something just because it might be fun.  She couldn’t relate to teenagers with seemingly trivial concerns.  On the other hand, once she saw that a better life was possible, she couldn’t fit in with the survival mentality in Little Rock.  She also had to face discrimination from black people in California who looked down on her for being southern.  

She didn’t have an easy life but learned gradually to stand up for herself.  

The Rise of the Ultra Runners
27 Nov, 2019

The Rise of the Ultra Runners

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Rise of the Ultra Runners The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance by Adharanand Finn
on May 7, 2019
Pages: 304
Length: 11:09
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Pegasus Books
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Setting: England, U.S., South Africa, France, Spain, Italy, Oman

An electrifying look inside the wild world of extreme distance running.

Once the reserve of only the most hardcore enthusiasts, ultra running is now a thriving global industry, with hundreds of thousands of competitors each year. But is the rise of this most brutal and challenging sport―with races that extend into hundreds of miles, often in extreme environments―an antidote to modern life, or a symptom of a modern illness?

In The Rise of the Ultra Runners, award-winning author Adharanand Finn travels to the heart of the sport to investigate the reasons behind its rise and discover what it takes to join the ranks of these ultra athletes. Through encounters with the extreme and colorful characters of the ultramarathon world, and his own experiences of running ultras everywhere from the deserts of Oman to the Rocky Mountains, Finn offers a fascinating account of people testing the boundaries of human endeavor.

Goodreads

I’ve talked on this blog a lot about how I hate running with a passion that is only equal to how much I love reading about running.  This book was perfect for me.  

The author decides to learn about ultrarunning by getting a press pass to run the UTMB, a ultramarathon in the mountains in France.  In order to use his pass, he has to qualify by getting enough points in other ultramarathons around the world.  His journey to learn to love (and survive) ultrarunning and his interviews with the people he meets along the way are the heart of this book. 

He covers the different types of ultrarunning – running 50-100 + miles at once, running a marathon every day for several days in a row, and running a short stretch of trail or on a track for 24 hours.  Each has its own challenges.  

He meets up with some of the best competitors and realizes that their lifestyles help them with their training.  One person lives in a cabin 5 miles up Pike’s Peak.  There is no road.  You have to run in to get there and to leave.  Others travel the world racing the hardest trails and mountains they can find. 

He tries to talk top Kenyan marathoners into trying longer distances without a lot of success. 

He talks to coaches and health care providers about how to stay fit for this and whether all of this is ultimately healthy or not.

I loved this story.  I loved seeing what goes into pushing beyond marathon distance.   I would never do it but I liked reading other people’s adventures. 

Haben
08 Nov, 2019

Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Haben:  The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma
on August 6, 2019
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Twelve
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Setting: Eritrea, Mali, United States

The incredible life story of Haben Girma, the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School, and her amazing journey from isolation to the world stage.

Haben grew up spending summers with her family in the enchanting Eritrean city of Asmara. There, she discovered courage as she faced off against a bull she couldn't see, and found in herself an abiding strength as she absorbed her parents' harrowing experiences during Eritrea's thirty-year war with Ethiopia. Their refugee story inspired her to embark on a quest for knowledge, traveling the world in search of the secret to belonging. She explored numerous fascinating places, including Mali, where she helped build a school under the scorching Saharan sun. Her many adventures over the years range from the hair-raising to the hilarious.

Haben defines disability as an opportunity for innovation. She learned non-visual techniques for everything from dancing salsa to handling an electric saw. She developed a text-to-braille communication system that created an exciting new way to connect with people. Haben pioneered her way through obstacles, graduated from Harvard Law, and now uses her talents to advocate for people with disabilities.

HABEN takes readers through a thrilling game of blind hide-and-seek in Louisiana, a treacherous climb up an iceberg in Alaska, and a magical moment with President Obama at The White House. Warm, funny, thoughtful, and uplifting, this captivating memoir is a testament to one woman's determination to find the keys to connection.

Goodreads

The thing that impressed me about this book was her sense that her disabilities, especially her blindness, really aren’t that big of a deal.  She repeatedly says that blindness is “just a lack of sight” like it is mostly inconsequential.  I think this is because there is more adaptive infrastructure for blind people than for Deafblind people.  She is able to use braille computers and books, cane skills, and her guide dog to get around the world.  Adaptation for deafness like sign language aren’t as accessible to her because of her blindness.

It amused me that she could never understand why her parents were so “overprotective.”  She couldn’t understand why they didn’t want her to go off and build a school in Africa.  Most parents wouldn’t say their teenager could go on a several month trip to Africa during the school year without thinking about it a bit.  That’s without adding in the additional issues raised when that teenager is Deafblind.

It was frustrating to read about people who wouldn’t inconvenience themselves a little bit to make adjustments that had huge impacts for her.  I would like to think that people would want to help others but I guess I’m being naive. 

This memoir is written as a series of essays on different points of her life so dwells for a while in one time period and then jumps ahead sometimes by several years.  I liked this format because a lot of memoirs get bogged down in minutia during the less interesting times of the subject’s life. 

I’d recommend this memoir to anyone who wonders what it is like to be Deafblind in a seeing and hearing world.

Christmas at Pennington’s
26 Oct, 2019

Christmas at Pennington’s

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Christmas at Pennington’s Christmas at Pennington's by Rachel Brimble
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Gripping drama as Pennington's department store prepares for a glittering Christmas in 1911, but a killer stalks the women of Bath.

Christmas sees Pennington's at its most glorious, thronged with shoppers, its grand staircase and balcony adorned with holly, mistletoe, tinsel and lights. It should be the happiest time, but dramas are seething beneath the surface.

For Cornelia Culford, in charge of jewellery, a divorce hearing looms, where she could lose custody of her young sons to her overbearing and unfaithful husband.

For Stephen Gower, being head of security at Pennington's is the perfect refuge from a tragic past at Scotland Yard. But soon the past will call him back, as Joseph Carter and Elizabeth Pennington beg him to help solve the murder of Joseph's first wife, now that it seems as if the killer has struck again.

For Joseph and Elizabeth, their marriage depends on exorcising the past. But can it ever be laid to rest?

Goodreads

This is the third book that I’ve read in this series set in an English department store. Each of the books focuses on a particular couple but because there is a larger mystery that moves through all of them, it is best to read them in order. 

Cornelia is a soon to be divorced woman who is working at the jewelry counter.  Stephen is a policeman on leave pending an investigation into his role in a case that went horribly wrong.  He’s working security at the store.  Several people find out that he is from Scotland Yard and decide to enlist him in solving problems of their own.  He doesn’t want to be involved in anyone’s affairs but he finds himself being drawn in.

I like the setting of the books.  It is 1911.  That’s isn’t a time period I see represented a lot in historical fiction.  The backbone of this series is women who are trying to move themselves out of the domestic sphere that they have been pigeonholed in.  One is trying to run a business.  One is active in trying to get the vote.  One is trying to get away from an abusive husband.  I like seeing those perspectives.

I’m not a fan of the men in these books.  I really learned to despise the man who was the romantic lead of book one.  He’s obsessed with finding out who murdered his first wife.  That’s fine but it is turning him increasingly nasty which is an interesting story arc for a person who was supposed to be a hero.  He keeps saying that his first wife won’t be able to rest in peace if he doesn’t find her murderer.  I don’t think that is how it works.  She doesn’t care because she is dead.  You care, sir. 

I wasn’t a huge fan of the resolution of that story line either.  For the buildup it was over pretty quickly.  There was a connection between several victims that I have a hard time believing no one noticed.  “Oh, 50% of our group has been murdered?  Is that why we don’t need as many refreshments at meetings?”

But if you are willing to let that go, it is an interesting look at a time and place.

 


Author Bio –
Rachel lives with her husband and their two daughters in a small town near Bath, England. Since 2007, she has had several novels published by small US presses, eight books published by Harlequin Superromance (Templeton Cove Stories) and four Victorian romances with eKensington/Lyrical.
In January 2018, she signed a four-book deal with Aria Fiction for a new Edwardian series set in Bath’s finest department store. The Mistress of Pennington’s released July 2018, A Rebel At
Pennington’s February 2019 and Christmas At Pennington’s September 2019.
Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and Romance Writers of America and has thousands of social media followers all over the world. To sign up for her quarterly and new release newsletter, click here to go to her website: https://rachelbrimble.com/

 

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Warriors Don’t Cry
22 Oct, 2019

Warriors Don’t Cry

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Warriors Don’t Cry Warriors Don't Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High by Melba Pattillo Beals
on February 1, 1995
Pages: 336
Genres: Historical, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Washington Square Press
Format: Audiobook
Source: Owned
Setting: United States

The landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, brought the promise of integration to Little Rock, Arkansas, but it was hard-won for the nine black teenagers chosen to integrate Central High School in 1957. They ran the gauntlet between a rampaging mob and the heavily armed Arkansas National Guard, dispatched by Governor Orval Faubus to subvert federal law and bar them from entering the school. President Dwight D. Eisenhower responded by sending in soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division, the elite "Screaming Eagles" - and transformed Melba Pattillo and her eight friends into reluctant warriors on the battlefield of civil rights. May 17, 1994, marks the fortieth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which was argued and won by Thurgood Marshall, whose passion and presence emboldened the Little Rock struggle. Melba Pattillo Beals commemorates the milestone decision in this first-person account of her ordeal at the center of the violent confrontation that helped shape the civil rights movement. Beals takes us from the lynch mob that greeted the terrified fifteen-year-old to a celebrity homecoming with her eight compatriots thirty years later, on October 23, 1987, hosted by Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton in the mansion that Faubus built. As they returned to tour the halls of the school, gathering from myriad professions and all corners of the country, they were greeted by the legacy of their courage - a bespectacled black teenager, the president of the student body at Central High. Beals chronicles her harrowing junior year at Central High, when she began each school day by polishing her saddle shoes and bracing herself for battle.

Goodreads

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You’ve seen the pictures of the Little Rock Nine being escorted into the school by soldiers and the famous picture above of the angry mob around Elizabeth Eckford. What I never heard about or considered was what happened after they got into the school. I guess I thought that everything was fine once they got inside. It absolutely wasn’t. This is that story.

I listened to the audiobook of this story. It is brutal. Every day after listening I was completely disgusted with white people. I’d tell the white people I work with all about what I had learned that day so they could be mad at our fellow white people with us. I proposed a road trip to Arkansas to beat up some elderly white people but no one has taken me up on it so far. That’s only because they haven’t read the book. If they had, they’d get over their reservations and join me in giving some old people some well deserved whuppings.

All day long the white kids in the school tormented the black students. It was completely ignored by the adults. That’s what amazes me the most. The adults seemed to give up control of the school. I understand that most of them wanted the black students gone too but you’d think that they would at least try to keep some order during classes. They didn’t. It seems like the whole school was ruled by packs of students.

On the first day the teenagers were in school a mob was threatening the school. There was actually talk by the adults in charge of giving one of the students to the mob to be lynched in order to settle them down. They discussed this in front of the kids.

Beatings happened daily. They were kicked all the time. White kids tried to set Melba on fire several times and she had acid thrown in her face. Lit dynamite was thrown at them in the hallways. I don’t know how many textbooks they went through because white students destroyed them routinely. This went on EVERY DAY FOR A WHOLE SCHOOL YEAR. I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine living through it and I can’t imagine hating anyone or anything so much that I could keep that level of abuse up for a whole school year.

Melba credits her family with the strength to get through.  This is where I differ with her interpretation a bit.  Her grandmother was a very religious woman who kept saying that god was in control of everything.  As a non-Christian, this grated on me.  I think it would have been better for the adults in her life to help stand up for her in any way they could (which admittedly was very little) instead of spouting platitudes.  Melba did embrace these and gained strength from them so I’m glad it helped her.  As a reader though they made me grind my teeth in frustration.

At the end of the book she talks a little about her perspective on the experience in retrospect.  She says that she would have never put her own kids into that kind of abusive situation.  That was something I wondered about.  The cause was good and just but what they went through was child abuse.  They sacrificed their mental and physical health for integration.  There is a second book that discusses what happened in her life after this hell year.  I’m going to read that.  She was definitely damaged by the experience. 

I would also like to read about this from the perspective of some of the white people.  I kept trying to get into their minds and figure out how they were possibly justifying any of this.  I can’t make that mental leap.  I’d love to just be able to ask, “What the hell were you even thinking?” 

This is a book I want to put into the hands of everyone.  These teenagers were amazing.  They took unimaginable abuse from both the white and black community.  This is history that we can’t forget. 

Slay
11 Oct, 2019

Slay

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Slay Slay by Brittney Morris
on September 24, 2019
Pages: 336
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Simon Pulse
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the "downfall of the Black man."

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for "anti-white discrimination."

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?

Goodreads

Slay is a great book if you are capable of massive suspension of disbelief.

I love the description of the game.  The virtual reality world that this game exists in sounds absolutely amazing.  I’d love to see video games like this.  In the world of this book V.R. technology appears to be commonplace.  It is much more technologically advanced than we are now but everything else besides gaming seems to be about the same level of technology.

Slay is a virtual world where people duel using powers granted to them by cards that they draw from a deck.  The cards are based on aspects of black lives across the globe.  Mom’s Macaroni and Cheese makes the ground your opponent is standing on gooey so they get stuck.  The Afro card surrounds you in a protective bubble of hair.  Other cards on based on famous people.  I loved reading about the cards.  The world building here was so inventive and funny.  It was everything I love about fantastical worlds. 

In order to play Slay you need to have a passcode from another player.  It is understood but never explicitly stated that you have to be black to play.  When a top player is murdered in real life because of a dispute about the game, the media finds out about the exclusivity of Slay.  They start to debate about whether or not it is racist to limit play to black people. 

There are great discussions about harassment of black videogamers and the importance of having spaces where you can be yourself.  Who gets to decide what is black culture? 

This part of the story is all good.  The problems come if you think about the details too much.

Supposedly this game was built by a teenager.  It has 500,000 players using virtual reality.  Where is this being hosted?  How is it being paid for?  It is a free game with no apparent advertising.  The murder was over people pooling resources in the game.  It implies that there was money being spent on the game but she never seems to collect any money.  How would a minor be able to set up a company that could do that alone?  Somehow her family has never noticed that she is running a massive undertaking from her bedroom.  She doesn’t really seem to do much but moderate some large duels.  She talks about adding new features and about some glitches but she never seems to fix anything.  She goes to school full time, has a boyfriend, tutors, does her homework, and goes to bed early.  Nothing ever seems to crash or absolutely need her attention.  Games need teams of people to keep them going but she checks in for a few hours a day when she can get away from her family?  Not likely.

If you can let all that go and pretend that this is a totally self sustaining game, then you can enjoy the larger social issues brought up in the story. 

Barnabas Tew
18 Sep, 2019

Barnabas Tew and the Case of the Enlightened Cow

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Barnabas Tew and the Case of the Enlightened Cow Barnabas Tew and the Case of the Enlightened Cow by Columbkill Noonan
on September 18, 2019
Pages: 205
Genres: Fantasy
Published by Darkstroke
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

Rama, the Hindu god who maintains dharma, or the balance of all things, is in terrible trouble, and only Barnabas and Wilfred can save him!

Private detectives to the gods, Barnabas Tew and Wilfred Colby, believed they’d discovered the secret to taking charge of their destinies. Unfortunately, they’re about to be taught a hard lesson: nothing is as it seems and taking control is easier said than done.

Fresh off their most challenging case to date, the two detectives step into a cenote: an otherworldly portal that connects worlds and can take them anywhere if they know how to use it. Each is hoping to be reunited with someone he left behind, but they soon realize that something has gone terribly, disastrously wrong. Instead of being reunited with their lady-loves, they find themselves in a Hindu temple, together with Kamadeva, the Hindu god of desire.

Kamadeva asks them to save his friend Rama, who is in grave danger. It seems an innocent enough request, but Barnabas and Wilfred have learned that not everything is at it seems, and the right thing to do is not always so obvious. It doesn’t take long to discover that not all the gods want Rama saved, leaving the two detectives to make a terrible choice.

The detectives have faced dangerous deities before, but the Hindu gods are different. Otherworldly, wise, and full of shadowy motivations, they all seek to manipulate the hapless detectives to suit their purposes.

Can Barnabas and Wilfred see through the illusions and the lies to uncover the truth of the matter? Or will they fail, and choose the wrong side?

Goodreads

I loved the synopsis for this book.  The idea of a pair of detectives for the gods is right up my alley.  There have been several books in the series previous to this one but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything by just reading this one.

They mistakenly end up with the Hindu gods after trying to use a portal in a cenote and failing miserably.  They spend the first several pages of the book arguing about this instead of interacting with the beings that they have appeared in front of.  That was one of my issues with this book.  I understood these to be British detectives who spend a lot of time ignoring or disparaging their surroundings.  When they are ignorantly mocking things like a group of people doing yoga with an attitude of their own superiority it gets a bit uncomfortable.

There isn’t really much a plot here.  They wander about interacting with some of the gods that they meet.  They never really know what is going on.  They discover things mostly by accident.  I did enjoy the part where they were turned into fish and had to figure out how to get from a moat to an ocean.  They were active participants in their own story for this – not just passive observers that events happened to.

 

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Columbkill Noonan is the author of the bestselling “Barnabas Tew” series, which features the bumbling-yet-lovable Victorian detective Barnabas and his trusty sidekick, Wilfred. Columbkill combines her love of mythology and her affinity for period fiction to craft unique cozy mysteries that will leave you guessing (and chuckling!) till the very end.

07 Sep, 2019

Love Delusion

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Love Delusion The Love Delusion by Nicola Mostyn
on February 2019
Pages: 224
Genres: Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

LOVE IS . . . A MYTH?
That's the belief of Frida McKenzie, devoted member of The Love Delusion movement, determined to cure humans of our ridiculous obsession with love.
But there's something she's forgotten...
When Frida finds a mysterious picture of herself with a man she barely knows, the certainties she has about her world begin to unravel.
What are the sinister roots of the cult that seems to have gripped humanity? Why can't she remember anything about her life before - including the strange(ly attractive) man in that picture? And just when exactly did she take up fantasy role play?
As a battle approaches that's been millennia in the making, it's beginning to look like there's only one question that really matters: if love conquers all, what happens when it's gone?

Goodreads

This is the second book in a series where I didn’t read the first.  Usually that is a problem but this series is perfect for this situation.  The book opens with two people being captured.  You don’t know why they are running.  The next chapter is two years later and their memories have been wiped.  If you didn’t read the first book you get to figure out what is going on right along with the characters. It worked really well.  I’m sure reading this book is a totally different experience if you read the first book and know everything that they have forgotten.

Frida is active in a group that aims to support and protect the rights of single people.  They are changing the culture.  No more requirements to pay double occupancy rates on trips if only one person is going.  No social shaming for not having a date.  The group is growing rapidly.  People are figuring out that love is a delusion and they don’t have to fall for it.  Frida enjoys her life until she meets a protestor on her way to a meeting.  She feels drawn to him but she doesn’t know why.  Then she finds a picture that she doesn’t remember of the two of them together. 

I read this a long time after I signed up for the book tour so I didn’t remember anything about the synopsis.  I was totally surprised by everything that happened just like the characters.  I think I was expecting something along the chick lit/romance line but this is more of a light fantasy book.  There is magic all around. 

I quite enjoyed this book.  It would be perfect for anyone looking for a fun, fast paced story with twists and turns that you might not expect.

 

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Author Bio –
Nicola was born and lives in Manchester. She has a Master’s degree in English Literature and has spent more time immersed in the works of Philip Larkin than is strictly healthy. Her inspirations are Stephen King, Tina Fey and Joss Whedon and as such she’s a big fan of the funny – both ha ha and peculiar. Her debut, The Gods of Love, was shortlisted for The Writers’ Guild Best first novel. The Love Delusion is the companion novel. As well as writing novels, she works as a creativity coach and has written a non-fiction book for aspiring writers, Seven Creative Gremlins. For more about Nicola visit www.nicolamostyn.com
Social Media Links –
Twitter – @nicolamostyn
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/nicolamostynauthor/
Insta: @NicolaMostyn
http://nicolamostyn.com
https://linktr.ee/nicolamostyn

The Chocolate Maker’s Wife
27 Aug, 2019

The Chocolate Maker’s Wife

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading The Chocolate Maker’s Wife The Chocolate Maker's Wife by Karen Brooks
on August 20, 2019
Pages: 608
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Australian bestselling novelist Karen Brooks rewrites women back into history with this breathtaking novel set in 17th century London—a lush, fascinating story of the beautiful woman who is drawn into a world of riches, power, intrigue…and chocolate.

Damnation has never been so sweet...

Rosamund Tomkins, the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, spends most of her young life in drudgery at a country inn. To her, the Restoration under Charles II, is but a distant threat as she works under the watchful eye of her brutal, abusive stepfather . . . until the day she is nearly run over by the coach of Sir Everard Blithman.

Sir Everard, a canny merchant, offers Rosamund an “opportunity like no other,” allowing her to escape into a very different life, becoming the linchpin that will drive the success of his fledgling business: a luxurious London chocolate house where wealthy and well-connected men come to see and be seen, to gossip and plot, while indulging in the sweet and heady drink.

Rosamund adapts and thrives in her new surroundings, quickly becoming the most talked-about woman in society, desired and respected in equal measure.

But Sir Everard’s plans for Rosamund and the chocolate house involve family secrets that span the Atlantic Ocean, and which have already brought death and dishonor to the Blithman name. Rosamund knows nothing of the mortal peril that comes with her new title, nor of the forces spinning a web of conspiracy buried in the past, until she meets a man whose return tightens their grip upon her, threatening to destroy everything she loves and damn her to a dire fate.

As she fights for her life and those she loves through the ravages of the Plague and London’s Great Fire, Rosamund’s breathtaking tale is one marked by cruelty and revenge; passion and redemption—and the sinfully sweet temptation of chocolate.

 

 

Goodreads

Purchase Links: 

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

 

Let me just start this review by saying that I really liked this book.  It was over 600 pages but it flew by.  I felt fully immersed in the world of 1660s London.  However, this book also really made me angry.  The reason for that is the treatment of the female characters. 

The story starts with Rosamund, as a teenager, working as a serving girl in the inn that her mother and stepfather own.  You quickly find out that her stepfather and two stepbrothers have been sexually abusing her since she moved in with them years earlier.  This is not spelled out in detail but is made clear from their interactions. 

In an attempt to run away from her brothers to avoid being raped again, she meets a wealthy man.  He offers to take her to London with him for reasons that he doesn’t make clear.  Her mother sees this as an opportunity to get her daughter away from the men in her life and get her a better life.  She arranges a fast marriage ceremony and then sends Rosamund away with orders never to return. 

Her new husband turns out to be a controlling man who owns slaves and who tells her that he doesn’t want to her any opinions or ideas from her.  Her job is to learn to make chocolate.  Her husband is going to be opening a chocolate house and he wants her to serve the chocolate.

You learn a lot of chocolate at this time in England.  It is just being introduced.  It is considered a very racy drink.  The English are started to add sugar and milk and herbs to it to fit their tastes instead of drinking it straight like Central Americans and Spaniards. 

Rosamund is an anomaly.  She is in the chocolate house.  She is seen in public.  So of course in the minds of the men in the area she is up for grabs.  There are more attempted rape just because she is on the street.  In the chocolate house she is molested and called all kinds of names just for existing in public.  The attitude of the men of the era is completely repulsive.  I want to shove this book into the hands of everyone who tells me that women had it better when they lived at home and were protected.  This is what it was like to have zero rights even as a noblewoman.  It is even worse for the few other female characters.  There is a widow who cleans the chocolate house, there is a young girl who starts working there, and there is a female slave in the household of Rosamund’s new husband. Add the sexism into the hatred of the poor and into the racism of the time and these women were just hanging on. 

Real events of the time period like outbreaks of plague and the Great Fire are detailed to show how this affected people living in London at the time.  I really did learn a lot in this book.  I appreciate a book that can make me angry at the injustices that fictional characters are faced with.  So, read this book – just don’t be surprised if you feel like yelling at men afterwards.

 


About Karen Brooks

Karen Brooks is the author of twelve books, an academic of more than twenty years’ experience, a newspaper columnist and social commentator, and has appeared regularly on national TV and radio. Before turning to academia, she was an army officer for five years, and prior to that dabbled in acting.

She lives in Hobart, Tasmania, in a beautiful stone house with its own marvellous history. When she’s not writing, she’s helping her husband Stephen in his brewery, Captain Bligh’s Ale and Cider, or cooking for family and friends, travelling, cuddling and walking her dogs, stroking her cats, or curled up with a great book and dreaming of more stories.

Find out more about Karen at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Confessions of a Traveler
26 Aug, 2019

Confessions of a Traveler

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Confessions of a Traveler CONFESSIONS OF A TRAVELER: The Observations of Alien 597 by Clara Molina
Genres: Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

Confessions of a Traveler: The Observations of Alien 597
Grotesque insect looking beasts, which burst out of your chest, and have acid for blood. Grey and short aliens with big eyes, who want to take over your mind, and they do horrible experiments with instruments that go up your anus. They’ve come to take over the world, and make you into a zombie or dinner. If they ever land in full view, they would either be worshiped and a new religion would form, or murdered immediately, and their ship parts sold to the highest bidder. Alien 597 read her report about aliens that humans had encountered. 



A short story about an alien visiting Earth.

Goodreads

Alien 597 didn’t want to grow up to be a traveler.  But now her species has found out about humans and she is going to go and observe life on Earth. 

I love fish out of water stories about people (or aliens) finding new cultures.  This is a very quick read since it is a short story.  She makes many mistakes trying to understand how humans are interacting with her. 

 


Author Bio –
Clara L Molina writes Science Fiction books most of the time, dabbles in comic drawings occasionally, and writes to laugh at herself all the time. She has a computer science degree, but has been a lifelong writer. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas, and enjoys fresh air and days where her hair is not frizzy.

The Lost Vintage
16 Aug, 2019

The Lost Vintage

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Lost Vintage The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah
on June 19, 2018
Pages: 384
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by William Morrow
Format: ARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: France

To become one of only a few hundred certified wine experts in the world, Kate must pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine Examination. She’s failed twice before; her third attempt will be her last. Suddenly finding herself without a job and with the test a few months away, she travels to Burgundy, to spend the fall at the vineyard estate that has belonged to her family for generations. There she can bolster her shaky knowledge of Burgundian vintages and reconnect with her cousin Nico and his wife Heather, who now oversee the grapes’ day-to-day management. The one person Kate hopes to avoid is Jean-Luc, a neighbor vintner and her first love.

At the vineyard house, Kate is eager to help her cousins clean out the enormous basement that is filled with generations of discarded and forgotten belongings. Deep inside the cellar, behind a large armoire, she discovers a hidden room containing a cot, some Resistance pamphlets, and an enormous cache of valuable wine. Piqued by the secret space, Kate begins to dig into her family’s history—a search that takes her back to the dark days of the Second World War and introduces her to a relative she never knew existed, a great half-aunt who was teenager during the Nazi occupation.

As she learns more about her family, the line between Resistance and Collaboration blurs, driving Kate to find the answers to two crucial questions: Who, exactly, did her family aid during the difficult years of the war? And what happened to six valuable bottles of wine that seem to be missing from the cellar’s collection?

Goodreads

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


I’ve read Ann Mah’s nonfiction about french food while traveling through France, so I jumped at a chance to read her fiction about a vineyard in Burgundy.

This book was inspired by stories of what happened to French women following D-Day.  Many were treated as traitors for having collaborated with the Germans.  This was mob justice so no investigations were done to see who was innocent and who wasn’t.  No distinctions were made for women who willingly were sleeping with German soldiers and those who were raped.  Women who had nothing to do with the Germans were turned in as collaborators by angry neighbors. 

There is a lot going on in this book.  The present day story involves a woman who is studying for a wine test.  She goes to a family vineyard where the current generation is trying to modernize against the will of the older generation.  There is an ex-fiance next door.  There is a potential new love interest who may be up to no good.  (I felt like that was a story line that could have been taken out.)  She finds a hidden area in the wine caves with evidence of a relative that no young people have heard of and no older people will discuss.

I found the historical fiction aspect of the story more interesting.  Helene-Marie’s story is told mainly through her journal.  They find out that she was denounced as a collaborator after D Day.  This causes some issues in the family because no one wants to think of their family helping the Nazis.  Do they want to dig deeper into what really happened?

This is an interesting point to raise.  We all want to think that we (and by extension our families)would be on the right side of history but that obviously isn’t true.  I think about this a lot.  I want to be on the morally correct side of conflicts, not just a bystander who let things happen because they weren’t affecting me directly. 

Using a journal as a story telling device lets the author dive deeply into what life was like in occupied France.  It shows clearly how much there was to gain by collaborating with the Germans.  Do you starve with your morals intact or do you live through actions that you might have previously disapproved of?  Do you let your family starve?  What were the risks of working with the Resistance? 


 

About Ann Mah

Ann Mah is a food and travel writer based in Paris and Washington DC. She is the author of the food memoir Mastering the Art of French Eating, and a novel, Kitchen Chinese. She regularly contributes to the New York Times’ Travel section and she has written for Condé Nast Traveler, Vogue.com, BonAppetit.comWashingtonian magazine, and other media outlets.

Find out more about Ann at her website, and connect with her on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and Pinterest.


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Review Stops

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Friday, August 16th: Based on a True Story

Wednesday, August 21st: Into the Hall of Books

Thursday, August 22nd: Always With a Book

Friday, August 23rd: Bookapotamus

 

 

Mrs Sommersby’s Second Chance
08 Aug, 2019

Mrs Sommersby’s Second Chance

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Mrs Sommersby’s Second Chance Mrs. Sommersby's Second Chance (The Sommersby Brides #3) by Laurie Benson
on July 16, 2019
Pages: 288
Genres: Fiction, Love & Romance
Published by Harlequin Historical
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

She’s played Cupid for others

Now she’s met her own unlikely match!

Widowed society matchmaker Mrs. Clara Sommersby thinks handsome, self-made businessman Mr. William Lane is just the man for her neighbor’s overlooked daughter. He’s successful and confident, if somewhat emotionally distant, until suddenly—shockingly—his attention turns to Clara herself! She thought her days of romance were over, but is this younger man intent on giving her a second chance?

Goodreads

I’m an absolute sucker for older female protagonists in fiction.  As soon as I saw the description of this book, I was all in even though she is only in her 40s. Bring me all the older ladies!

Clara entertains herself but selecting a young woman each season in Bath and working as her matchmaker.  She’s not looking for romance for herself.  She is a widow and honestly, she’s doing quite fine on her own, thank you very much.  Her husband wasn’t much of a business man.  He never listened to her ideas.  When he died she bought a hotel for gentleman that she had had her eyes on.  She set up a male relative as the supposed owner but she actually runs the business. 

She meets a man in the pump room and gently flirts with him.  What she doesn’t know is that he just bought the property next door to her hotel and is looking to buy her property also if he can just figure out who owns it.

I loved this book for its description of all the locations in Bath. I visited there a few years ago and could visualize most of the places they discuss.  It added to the story to have all these famous places as background. 

This was a great storyline that you don’t often see in romances.  This woman isn’t pinning all her hopes on finding the right man.  She is living an independent life and she needs to consider the real risks to her freedom of allowing another man in her life.  She will lose all her legal rights if she remarries.  Is it worth it?

 

America for Beginners
06 Aug, 2019

America for Beginners

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading America for Beginners America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
on July 24, 2018
Pages: 336
Genres: Fiction
Published by William Morrow
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

Recalling contemporary classics such as Americanah, Behold the Dreamers, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a funny, poignant, and insightful debut novel that explores the complexities of family, immigration, prejudice, and the American Dream through meaningful and unlikely friendships forged in unusual circumstances.

Pival Sengupta has done something she never expected: she has booked a trip with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company. But unlike other upper-class Indians on a foreign holiday, the recently widowed Pival is not interested in sightseeing. She is traveling thousands of miles from Kolkata to New York on a cross-country journey to California, where she hopes to uncover the truth about her beloved son, Rahi. A year ago Rahi devastated his very traditional parents when he told them he was gay. Then, Pival’s husband, Ram, told her that their son had died suddenly—heartbreaking news she still refuses to accept. Now, with Ram gone, she is going to America to find Rahi, alive and whole or dead and gone, and come to terms with her own life.

Arriving in New York, the tour proves to be more complicated than anticipated. Planned by the company’s indefatigable owner, Ronnie Munshi—a hard-working immigrant and entrepreneur hungry for his own taste of the American dream—it is a work of haphazard improvisation. Pival’s guide is the company’s new hire, the guileless and wonderfully resourceful Satya, who has been in America for one year—and has never actually left the five boroughs. For modesty’s sake Pival and Satya will be accompanied by Rebecca Elliot, an aspiring young actress. Eager for a paying gig, she’s along for the ride, because how hard can a two-week “working” vacation traveling across America be?

Slowly making her way from coast to coast with her unlikely companions, Pival finds that her understanding of her son—and her hopes of a reunion with him—are challenged by her growing knowledge of his adoptive country. As the bonds between this odd trio deepens, Pival, Satya, and Rebecca learn to see America—and themselves—in different and profound new ways.

A bittersweet and bighearted tale of forgiveness, hope, and acceptance, America for Beginners illuminates the unexpected enchantments life can hold, and reminds us that our most precious connections aren’t always the ones we seek.

Goodreads

I loved this book that brought together several people who are new to America.  I love reading books that give you a new perspective of America.

Mrs. Sengupta is newly widowed.  She has lived a sheltered life in Kolkata, constrained by what was expected by her husband’s traditional family.  Now her husband is gone and she is going to take this opportunity to do what she wants to do and no one will stop her.  Her only child moved to America.  He called home and told her husband that he was gay.  Soon afterwards her husband told her their child had died.  She never knew if he was lying or not.  Now she is going to go see the country that her son loved and find out for sure what happened.

Ronnie Munshi is a Bangladeshi man who runs a tour company catering to high class Bengali tourists.  He doesn’t want anyone to know that he and all his tour guides are just pretending to be Bengali. 

Satya is his newest hire.  He’s never seen anything outside of New York but he has his guide books.  What could go wrong escorting one widow on a country-wide tour?

Rebecca is an American struggling actress who is hired to be a companion to Mrs. Sengupta.  She knows when Satya is making things up.  Is she going to bring the whole scheme down?

Mrs. Sengupta, Satya, and Rebecca take off across the country enduring bad Indian food, multiple tourist traps, and subpar hotels all while each is confronting their ingrained biases and attitudes.  They rub against each other’s sharp edge and find themselves reshaped into people they didn’t imagine that they could be.

This is a character driven novel that is beautifully written.  Suspense comes from wondering what she is going to find when she gets to Los Angeles and the last known address of her son. 

 

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Photo by Priyam Dhar

About Leah Franqui

Leah Franqui is a graduate of Yale University and received an MFA at NYU-Tisch. She is a playwright and the recipient of the 2013 Goldberg Playwriting Award, and also wrote a web series for which she received the Alfred Sloan Foundation Screenwriting award (aftereverafterwebseries.com). A Puerto Rican-Jewish Philadelphia native, Franqui lives with her Kolkata-born husband in Mumbai. AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS is her first novel.

Find out more about Franqui at her website, and connect with her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

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Law and Addiction
05 Aug, 2019

Law and Addiction

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Law and Addiction Law and Addiction by Mike Papantonio
Genres: Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: West Virginia

One week before Jake Rutledge is scheduled to graduate from law school, he receives the devastating news of the death of his fraternal twin, Blake. What makes this death even more terrible for Jake is that his brother died of a drug overdose. Until hearing of his death, Jake had no idea his brother was even using drugs.

When Jake returns home to Oakley, West Virginia, he takes a hard look at the circumstances of his brother's death. In the five years Jake has been away for his schooling, his hometown has drastically changed. Because of the opioid epidemic, and the blight it has brought, many now call Oakley Zombieland. Jake can see how his town's demise parallels his brother's.

Undeterred, the newly minted lawyer takes on the entrenched powers by filing two lawsuits. Jake quickly learns what happens when you upset a hornet's nest. The young attorney might be wet behind the ears, but is sure there is no lawyer that could help him more than Nick Deke Deketomis and his law firm of Bergman/Deketomis. Deke is a legendary lawyer. When he was Jake's age he was making his name fighting Big Tobacco. Against all odds, Jake gets Nick and his firm to sign on to his case before it's too late.

Goodreads

I was interested in reading Law and Addiction because I work in a town that has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic.  Every week I read the local paper purely for the police blotter.  In between the entertaining tales of some really stupid criminals there is report after report of officers treating overdoses.  I find it interesting to see how many dose of naloxone they need for each person.  The record I’ve seen so far is 14 doses.  (That person then woke up and refused all other medical treatment.)  So when this book describes the cost to towns of treating all these addicts and overdoses I understand what it is talking about.

I’ve also had a few people bring their dogs in who they claim are on mega doses of tramadol for their arthritis.  Usually an in-depth conversation about alternatives to controlled medication and a discussion of the dispensing schedule we will have them on to make sure they aren’t getting too many means we never see those people again. 

In the middle of reading this book I actually had to put it down to go pick up some opiates from a pharmacy.  The husband had had surgery and was prescribed opiates even though it was fairly minor.  He took some prescription NSAIDS and iced the area and did well.  Opiates were a bit of overkill in this instance.  (He asked how we were going to get rid of them.  I said I’d take them to work.  He slowly questioned again, “What are you going to do with them?”  Yeah, he knows the town I work in.  “Getting rid of them” there can be interpreted a few ways.  For the record, I am going to put them in the Drug Destroyer solution.)

On the other hand, my doctor side comes out and I don’t really want more regulation on access to them by doctors for people (and animals) who really need them.  They have a place in medical care.  Proper dosing and monitoring are the key. 

Down the street from my house there is a place with a chalkboard in the front lawn with a running total of people who died from overdose in the city since they started keeping count.  I think they are in the 600s. 

All of that means that I can relate to the setting for this story.  Jake is a new lawyer who has lost his twin brother to an overdose.  He decides to try to get local governments to let him sue pharmacy companies on their behalf for the cost of treating the addiction crisis. 

The book does a good job explaining the various causes and effects of the problem.  Some of them I hadn’t thought of before.  I hadn’t tied together economic collapse due to decreased business in affected communities with the ability for other people to buy up real estate cheaply potentially leading to gentrification and large profits. 

A lot of this book consists of lawyers sitting around and discussing how they are going to build their case.  It is a lot of exposition.  That is interesting if you want to see how people put these kinds of large cases together.  It is also how you get the information about how opiates came into these towns and what it causes.  I think this book works as an educational piece but it doesn’t really work as a thriller for me.  There is a bit of mystery but it never really gets intense and “can’t put it down.”  Use this as primer on opiate addiction and the economic effect on towns more than a nail biting story.

 

The Undertaker’s Assistant
02 Aug, 2019

The Undertaker’s Assistant

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Undertaker’s Assistant The Undertaker's Assistant by Amanda Skenandore
on July 30, 2019
Pages: 336
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

Set during Reconstruction-era New Orleans, and with an extraordinary and unforgettable heroine at its heart, The Undertaker's Assistant is a powerful story of human resilience--and of the unlikely bonds that hold fast even in our darkest moments.

"The dead can't hurt you. Only the living can." Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child, knows the truth of her words. Taken in by an army surgeon and his wife during the War, she learned to read and write, to tolerate the sight of blood and broken bodies--and to forget what is too painful to bear. Now a young freedwoman, she has returned south to New Orleans and earns her living as an embalmer, her steady hand and skillful incisions compensating for her white employer's shortcomings.

Tall and serious, Effie keeps her distance from the other girls in her boarding house, holding tight to the satisfaction she finds in her work. But despite her reticence, two encounters--with a charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline--introduce her to new worlds of protests and activism, of soirees and social ambition. Effie decides to seek out the past she has blocked from her memory and try to trace her kin. As her hopes are tested by betrayal, and New Orleans grapples with violence and growing racial turmoil, Effie faces loss and heartache, but also a chance to finally find her place . . .

Goodreads

The Reconstruction period after the Civil War was a time when the hopes of the newly freed African-Americans were built up and then dashed by the resurgence of white supremacy.  This book looks the life of a black woman during that period.

Effie is a fish out of water.  She escaped slavery as a child.  Her first memory is being taken in by a Union army camp.  She was cared for by an Army doctor who took her home with him to Indiana after the war.  She was raised as his ward and trained to help him with his new career as an undertaker.  Now as an adult she is drawn back to New Orleans to try to find out more about her life.  Did she have family?  Can she find them?

Her instinct is to stay to herself.  She has an introduction from her guardian to an undertaker who was a Union officer in the war.  She gets a job that takes up most of her time but she slowly starts to meet new people.  She gets involved in Republican politics after developing a crush on a black state senator.  This exposes her to the ambitions of people who were formerly enslaved.  She also meets a Creole woman and her mother.  They are biracial upper class women who mourn the loss of status and wealth that has come about because of the war.  These two groups of people allow the author to explore the effects of the end of slavery on several different classes of black and mixed race people.

I would have liked to known more about her employer.  He was a southerner who chose to fight the for Union and then came back south to his hometown.  Stress from the war and his unwelcome reception back in town have started him drinking.  Over the course of the book he works on acclimating back into upper class white society.  He needs to abandon the beliefs that would have led him to fight for the north to do this.  Because we don’t see his point of view, it appears very random and arbitrary.  I would have like to have seen this change explored more deeply.  

I loved this book.  It shows how historical fiction can be used to explore many points of view and experiences in the same time frame.  Using Effie as an outsider to all of them is a good device to see everyone clearly.  


About the Author

Amanda Skenandore is a historical fiction writer and registered nurse. Between Earth and Sky was her first novel. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Readers can visit her website at www.amandaskenandore.com.

Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, July 23
Review at The Lit Bitch
Review at Broken Teepee

Wednesday, July 24
Review at Coffee and Ink
Review at Reading the Past
Interview at Jathan & Heather
Review at Suzy Approved Book Reviews

Thursday, July 25
Review at Jennifer Tar Heel Reader
Interview at Let Them Read Books

Friday, July 26
Review at Orange County Readers

Saturday, July 27
Feature at Donna’s Book Blog

Monday, July 29
Review at Macsbooks
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Tuesday, July 30
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Review at Melissa Reads

Wednesday, July 31
Review at McCombs on Main
Interview at Jorie Loves A Story

Thursday, August 1
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Review at Clarissa Reads it All

Friday, August 2
Review at Based on a True Story

Saturday, August 3
Feature at Mama’s Reading Corner

Monday, August 5
Review at Bibliophile Reviews

Tuesday, August 6
Review at 100 Pages a Day
Review at LadyJ’s Bookish Nook

Wednesday, August 7
Review at A Bookish Affair

Thursday, August 8
Review at Comet Readings

Saturday, August 10
Feature at What Is That Book About

Monday, August 12
Review at Cover To Cover Cafe

Tuesday, August 13
Review at Reader then Blogger
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time

Wednesday, August 14
Review at Amy’s Booket List

Thursday, August 15
Review & Interview at Passages to the Past

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour, we are giving away two signed copies of The Undertaker’s Assistant by Amanda Skenandore! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on August 15th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

The Undertaker’s Assistant

 

Becoming Superman
30 Jul, 2019

Becoming Superman

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Becoming Superman Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood by J. Michael Straczynski
on July 23, 2019
Pages: 480
Genres: Biography & Autobiography
Published by Harper Voyager
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

With an introduction by Neil Gaiman!

In this dazzling memoir, the acclaimed writer behind Babylon 5, Sense8, Clint Eastwood’s Changeling and Marvel’s Thor reveals how the power of creativity and imagination enabled him to overcome the horrors of his youth and a dysfunctional family haunted by madness, murder and a terrible secret.

For four decades, J. Michael Straczynski has been one of the most successful writers in Hollywood, one of the few to forge multiple careers in movies, television and comics.  Yet there’s one story he’s never told before: his own.

Joe's early life nearly defies belief. Raised by damaged adults—a con-man grandfather and a manipulative grandmother, a violent, drunken father and a mother who was repeatedly institutionalized—Joe grew up in abject poverty, living in slums and projects when not on the road, crisscrossing the country in his father’s desperate attempts to escape the consequences of his past. 

To survive his abusive environment Joe found refuge in his beloved comics and his dreams, immersing himself in imaginary worlds populated by superheroes whose amazing powers allowed them to overcome any adversity. The deeper he read, the more he came to realize that he, too, had a superpower: the ability to tell stories and make everything come out the way he wanted it. But even as he found success, he could not escape a dark and shocking secret that hung over his family’s past, a violent truth that he uncovered over the course of decades involving mass murder.

Straczynski’s personal history has always been shrouded in mystery. Becoming Superman lays bare the facts of his life: a story of creation and darkness, hope and success, a larger-than-life villain and a little boy who became the hero of his own life.  It is also a compelling behind-the-scenes look at some of the most successful TV series and movies recognized around the world.

Goodreads

I’ve seen a lot of J. Michael Straczynski’s work.  I watched He-Man and She-Ra in the 1980s.  I’m a huge fan of Sense8.  But I didn’t know who he was until I read this book. 

Becoming Superman refers to many things in the author’s life.  He eventually was able to write the Superman comic which fulfilled a lifelong dream.  More importantly, it refers to his ability to survive and then thrive despite of his chaotic home life. 

He was raised by very manipulative people.  His family tree is a list of people who did what they wanted in order to get ahead with no thoughts to how their actions would impact anyone else.  Content warnings for this book would include genocide, rape, kidnapping, murder, domestic violence, and animal abuse – and that is just talking about his father.  Michael built his life on the simple premise that he was going to do the exact opposite of what he believed anyone in his family would do.  It has served him well.  He was able to build a successful career (or four) as a writer in journalism, television, movies, and comics.  He deliberately distanced himself from his family but curiosity about the secrets that he knew his family was keeping made him dig a little deeper.  What he found out shocked even him. 

This isn’t an easy book to read but it is worthwhile.  Pick it up if you like stories of people overcoming horrible childhoods or if you just like some of the shows that he was written.  You’ll be amazed.


 

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

 

About J. Michael Straczynski

J. Michael Straczynski has had one of the most varied careers of any American writer, penning hundreds of hours of television, comic books for Marvel and DC that have sold over 13 million copies, and movies that have grossed over a billion dollars.

Follow him on Twitter.

 
Tuesday, July 23rd: Reading Reality

Wednesday, July 24th: Bibliotica

Thursday, July 25th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Friday, July 26th: The Desert Bibliophile

Monday, July 29th: Jennifer ~ Tar Heel Reader

Tuesday, July 30th: Based on a True Story

Wednesday, July 31st: Patricia’s Wisdom

Thursday, August 1st: Literary Quicksand

Monday, August 5th: Tina Says…

Tuesday, August 6th: Man of La Book

Wednesday, August 7th: Jathan & Heather

Friday, August 9th: Instagram: @happiestwhenreading

Cormoran Strike Series
10 Jul, 2019

Cormoran Strike Series

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading by J.K. Rowling, Robert Galbraith
Genres: Crime & Mystery, Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible

I’d been low key wanting to read the Robert Galbraith mystery books ever since it was revealed that they were written by J.K. Rowling.  I finally started them and then I couldn’t stop.  I’ve listened to the four books on audio one after the other.  Here’s why I think you should read them.

Great Characters

Cormoran is an ex-Army investigator who lost a leg in an IED explosion.  He is now a private investigator whose firm is failing.  When the first book starts he is breaking up with his toxic on again off again girlfriend of 16 years.  He’s also the illegitimate (and unrecognized) son of a major rock star and a famous groupie.  He grew up shuttling between a stable life with his aunt and uncle and a peripatetic life with his drug addicted mother.

Robin is new to London and newly engaged.  She is working at a temp agency who sends her to Cormoran’s firm for a week.  He forgot he signed up for a temp and can’t afford her but she makes herself too useful to get rid of.

Rowling is also still great at secondary characters.  Each person is unique and has a well thought out backstory.  They aren’t just a stock bad guy or witness.

Detailed Stories

Much like the Harry Potter books there is way more detail in these books than you actually need.  I think this is a good thing but I’ve seen some people complain about it.  I think if you are used to very spare mystery writing this will seem excessive.  There are definitely lots of red herrings and clues that never develop into anything just like it would be in real life.  Not everything is important to the story line.  That makes these books pretty long but I like that.  I like exploring the world that she is making and I don’t want them to be over quickly.

There is a TV show (if you like that sort of thing)

There is a film adaptation of the first three books.  The first book is three one hour episodes and the rest are two episodes.  I find them frustrating.  I think the main characters are well done but everything is so condensed.  Secondary characters are dropped.  Secrets that are hours in the teasing out on the audiobook are dropped casually in exposition.

I watched The Cuckoo’s Calling and the first hour of The Silkworm.

Everything you ever wanted to know about London transportation

Transportation is a major consideration in these stories.  That amuses me for some reason.  They are always running around the city but instead of just saying they went here and suddenly they are there, transportation problems are factored in.  The Underground is always used because they can’t afford cabs.  The time it takes to get anywhere is always discussed.  Having to walk far between public transit stops is a problem because Cormoran’s stump hurts and he has multiple untreated injuries during the series that make walking more and more problematic. 

What I’d like to see next

I’d love to see his father need his help.  Cormoran has met his famous father twice and neither time went well.  He has a little bit of a relationship with his father’s other children.  I want to see someone in the family get into trouble and need to come to him to sort it out.  Then he’d have to dive into all the family secrets and relationships whether they want him to or not.

 

 

Have you read any of these books?  What did you think?

The Day The World Came to Town
05 Jul, 2019

The Day The World Came to Town

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Day The World Came to Town The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede
Genres: Historical, Nonfiction
Published by HarperCollins
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Newfoundland, Canada

When 38 jetliners bound for the United States were forced to land at Gander International Airport in Canada by the closing of U.S. airspace on September 11, the population of this small town on Newfoundland Island swelled from 10,300 to nearly 17,000. The citizens of Gander met the stranded passengers with an overwhelming display of friendship and goodwill.

Goodreads

I had heard the story of a small town in Canada where many airplanes had to land on 9/11 but I didn’t know the details.  

The reason all the planes went there was because Gander used to be a major airport.  When planes had to refuel before crossing the Atlantic, they went to Gander.  Private planes still do.  The U.S. military had a lot of planes here.  Because of the history of military use, the runways are long.  This allows it to be listed as a secondary landing area for the space shuttle in case of trouble on takeoff.  

This book details the lengths that people went to when they needed to suddenly accommodate an influx of people on an island.  They weren’t allowed to get their luggage off the planes so medications had to be found.  Clothes and toiletries were in short supply.  Bedding was collected from houses all around the island.  People opened their homes to let travelers take showers.  

All kinds of people were stranded.  There were government and military officials who needed to help coordinate emergency response so they needed to get out of Gander.  An executive for the clothing company Hugo Boss was horrified to have to buy new underwear at WalMart.  Refugees settling in the U.S. were confused to find themselves in a whole different country.  

I was particularly interested in the stories of the animals on the planes.  There were two bonobo apes moving to a new zoo.  They weren’t allowed out of their transport cages but they helped out by cleaning their own cages for the handlers and entertaining themselves by watching the dogs and cats near them.  

I’d recommend reading this book to take a glance at a little known slice of history.


Next week I’m going to see the musical Come From Away which is based on this story.  I wanted to make sure I finished this book ahead of time so I could be properly obnoxious with stories of, “Well, actually, what had happened was…”  I’ll report back with how close the musical is to the real story.

I Have the Right To
21 Jun, 2019

I Have the Right To

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading I Have the Right To I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope by Chessy Prout, Jenn Abelson
on March 6, 2018
Pages: 416
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Young Adult
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

A young survivor tells her searing, visceral story of sexual assault, justice, and healing in this gutwrenching memoir.

The numbers are staggering: nearly one in five girls ages fourteen to seventeen have been the victim of a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. This is the true story of one of those girls.

In 2014, Chessy Prout was a freshman at St. Paul’s School, a prestigious boarding school in New Hampshire, when a senior boy sexually assaulted her as part of a ritualized game of conquest. Chessy bravely reported her assault to the police and testified against her attacker in court. Then, in the face of unexpected backlash from her once-trusted school community, she shed her anonymity to help other survivors find their voice.

This memoir is more than an account of a horrific event. It takes a magnifying glass to the institutions that turn a blind eye to such behavior and a society that blames victims rather than perpetrators. Chessy’s story offers real, powerful solutions to upend rape culture as we know it today. Prepare to be inspired by this remarkable young woman and her story of survival, advocacy, and hope in the face of unspeakable trauma.

Goodreads

I heard of this story last week in a news article about her rapist seeking a new trial.  In the article it mentioned her by name which is not usual for a sexual assault case and especially one where the person was a minor.  Later in the article it said that she had gone public to bring awareness to her case so I was interested in reading the book.

Don’t pick this one up unless you are in the head space to get good and angry.  At this boarding school it was pretty much considered normal for the girls to be assaulted.  They were taught during orientation that if they needed to discuss anything with an adult that they should always say it was a hypothetical situation.  This was specifically to get the faculty around the mandatory reporting that would be required if they knew that a crime had taken place.  Sexual conquests were tracked publicly.  This was done so openly that a guide to the terminology used was published in the school newspaper. 

Chessy’s assault took place right before graduation weekend when she was a freshman.  She knew she was basically being hunted but he offered to take her to a forbidden location and she wanted to get a good Instagram picture there.  She didn’t think he would do anything to her.  She was 15 and stupid.  She admits this. 

Even after the rape she kept trying to keep up a good front even to the point of not trying to upset her rapist.  It took her a long time to realize that this wasn’t her fault.  The story of how she and her family were ostracized from the community once she went to the police is maddening. 

She pointed out a lot of ways that the system is stacked against survivors.  One that I hadn’t thought of was regarding news coverage.  Her rapist was 18.  He was always described as something like, “Prep school athlete so and so….” with a nice picture while she was “a 15 year old accuser”.  The stories were always about him because she was a minor and a rape victim so they wouldn’t publish her name.  That’s good most of the time but it lead to sympathetic coverage for him.  That’s one of the reasons that she came out publicly.  She was able to put a face to her story.

Another aspect of this story is the reaction of the school.  All of these activities were protected by the school under the guise of “tradition.”  Alumni paid for her rapist’s lawyer to defend the reputation of the school.  How do you make a school a safe place if no one cares?

 

Instant Indian
11 Jun, 2019

Instant Indian

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Instant Indian Instant Indian: Classic Foods from Every Region of India Made Easy in the Instant Pot by Rinku Bhattacharya
on October 2, 2018
Pages: 240
Genres: Cooking
Published by Hippocrene Books
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher


Discover favorite foods from all over India with the first regional Indian cookbook authorized by Instant Pot!

Rinku Bhattacharya -- cookbook author and founder of Spice Chronicles -- has put together a collection of 100 authentic recipes that showcase the diversity and range of the foods of India, where every state and region boasts its own unique dishes. Whether you crave takeout favorites or want to be introduced to lesser-known specialties, this cookbook brings the best of India to your table in an instant!

The Instant Pot(R) lends itself perfectly to Indian recipes, making flavorful, nutritious Indian fare (like simmering-all-day dals, legumes and all manner of curries) in minutes instead of hours.
Instant Indian
features numerous vegetarian and vegan options, and nearly all recipes are gluten-free.

With step-by-step instructions and color photos throughout, Instant Indian makes Indian cooking easy and fool-proof using all the functions of this popular appliance.

Sample recipes:

Chicken Korma Kofta Pulao (Saffron Rice Pilaf with Chicken Meatballs) Goan Pork Ribs Vindaloo No-Knead Naan Kerala Shrimp Curry Parsee Steamed Fish with Coconut-Mint Chutney Cucumber Raita with Homemade (Instant Pot) Yogurt Hakka Noodles Tamatar Masala Anda (Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce)

Goodreads

I received this book and Spices and Seasons by the same author for book tours.  I got Instant Indian first which sort of ruined me for a lot of the recipes in Spices and Seasons.  In my mind all I was thinking was, “Ok, but can you make it in an Instapot?”

I love Indian food but I don’t get to eat it much anymore.  My husband has developed an allergy to some ingredient in Indian food.  From process of elimination I think it might be fenugeek but the only way to test that is to feed it to him and see what happens.  He only broke out in hives from eating Indian food before but since he has another anaphylactic allergy I’m not inclined to push it.  So, I either need to eat Indian food when he isn’t around or cook it myself for solo meals.

I’ve been having fun making different flavors of rice.  I love making rice in the instapot anyway so getting combination of spices to mix in is an easy way to dress up otherwise simple meals.  

Another recipe I want to try is the version of channa masala that is in here.  I love chickpeas and tomatoes and this simple enough to make on a weeknight after work. 

This book contains full color pictures of every dish.  That’s something I want to see in all cookbooks. 

If you aren’t familiar with the different spices or ingredients used in Indian cooking, there are explanations of the purpose of and helpful hints of sourcing things that you might not already have in your pantry. 

This is a great book for anyone wanting to start making simple Indian dishes at home.

 

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