Showing Posts From: Book Review

21 Jun, 2018

Robots and Tea Shops and Magical Bakers!

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading Robots and Tea Shops and Magical Bakers! The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz
on March 16th 2016
Pages: 65
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
Published by Less Than Three Press
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Setting: Washington

Clara Gutierrez is a highly-skilled technician specializing in the popular 'Raise' AI companions. Her childhood in a migrant worker family has left her uncomfortable with lingering in any one place, so she sticks around just long enough to replenish her funds before she moves on, her only constant companion Joanie, a fierce, energetic Raise hummingbird.

Sal is a fully autonomous robot, the creation of which was declared illegal ages earlier due to ethical concerns. She is older than the law, however, at best out of place in society and at worst hated. Her old master is long dead, but she continues to run the tea shop her master had owned, lost in memories of the past, slowly breaking down, and aiming to fulfill her master's dream for the shop.

When Clara stops by Sal's shop for lunch, she doesn't expect to find a real robot there, let alone one who might need her help. But as they begin to spend time together and learn more about each other, they both start to wrestle with the concept of moving on…

Goodreads

This novella tells the story of a humanoid robot who is keeping her former owner’s beloved tea shop running almost 300 years after her death.  Robots like her have since been outlawed.  Robotics technician Clara is thrilled to meet Sal and offers to help fix up her ailing software.  What does she want to have changed though?  What makes her HER? 

This book features a f/f romantic, asexual relationship.  



		
		Robots and Tea Shops and Magical Bakers!
			
			
		
	Batter Up by Robyn Neeley 
on June 15th 2015
Pages: 172
Setting: New York

Bakeshop owner Emma Stevens has a secret. A delicious premonition she shares every Monday evening with the bachelors of Buttermilk Falls as they gather at the Sugar Spoon bakery for Batter Up night.

Investigative reporter Jason Levine just found himself as the man candy for a bachelorette party in Las Vegas. Roped into attending the Vegas nuptials, was he hearing things when the groom shares that the only reason he’s getting married is because a small town baker conjured up the name of his soulmate in her cake batter?

Sparks fly when Jason tries to expose Emma as a fraud, but reality and logic go out the window as he begins to fall under her spell.

Goodreads

This is a fun read that works if you just suspend disbelief and embrace the magical realism of the idea.  Emma knows one spell.  There really isn't an explanation for that. 
I also wondered how they have Batter Up night every week in this very small town and never run out of bachelors who want to commit.
It is a fluffy, light romance with fade to black sex scenes and magical cupcake batter so if you are looking for an escapist quick read this one might be for you.
08 Jun, 2018

Never Stop Walking

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Never Stop Walking Never Stop Walking: A Memoir of Finding Home Across the World by Christina Rickardsson, Tara F. Chace
on June 1, 2018
Pages: 249
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Brazil, Sweden

Christiana Mara Coelho was born into extreme poverty in Brazil. After spending the first seven years of her life with her loving mother in the forest caves outside São Paulo and then on the city streets, where they begged for food, she and her younger brother were suddenly put up for adoption. When one door closed on the only life Christiana had ever known and on the woman who protected her with all her heart, a new one opened.

As Christina Rickardsson, she’s raised by caring adoptive parents in Sweden, far from the despairing favelas of her childhood. Accomplished and outwardly “normal,” Christina is also filled with rage over what she’s lost and having to adapt to a new reality while struggling with the traumas of her youth. When her world falls apart again as an adult, Christina returns to Brazil to finally confront her past and unlock the truth of what really happened to Christiana Mara Coelho.

Goodreads

This is a heartbreaking story of a child living in extreme poverty on the streets in Brazil.  The things that happen to her are horrific including witnessing the murder of her best friend by the police, seeing numerous rapes, and killing another child in a fight over food. 

Because this all happened as a child she didn’t clearly know or remember the reasons why they lived like they did.  All she knew was that her mother loved her and her little brother but that there were also times when she wasn’t around.  The children were taken to an orphanage where they were eventually not allowed to have contact with their mother and then were adopted by a couple from Sweden. Nothing that was going on was explained to her.

As an adult she decides to go back to Brazil to try to find her mother and to find out what really happened to make sense of her childhood memories. 

She examines the disconnect she feels about being grateful for her good life in Sweden that wouldn’t have happened if she wasn’t forcibly taken from her mother but also being angry about being separated from the person who loved her. 

The book is very simply written or translated.  That makes it a very stark read.  It is very sad but I think it is necessary to know what is going on in the poorest parts of society.  Once again in reading this book I was struck by how often male sexual violence towards women and children is considered to be an everyday thing.  I hate knowing that there are women who have to submit to being raped because they are told that it is her or her child.  Books like this just make me want to have a moratorium on men for a while.

04 Jun, 2018

Baby Elephant Fighting Crime!

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Baby Elephant Fighting Crime! The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan
on September 15th 2015
Pages: 320
Genres: Fiction, Mystery & Detective
Published by Redhook
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Setting: India

On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra inherits two unexpected mysteries.

The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved. And the second is a baby elephant. As his search for clues takes him across the teeming city of Mumbai, from its grand high rises to its sprawling slums and deep into its murky underworld, Chopra begins to suspect that there may be a great deal more to both his last case and his new ward than he thought. And he soon learns that when the going gets tough, a determined elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs...

Goodreads

I requested the first book of this series from the library as soon as I heard about a baby elephant helping in a detective agency.  Really, what more do you need?  Rush out and read this.

On his last day at work before his unwanted medical retirement, Inspector Chopra gets a letter saying that he has inherited a very special baby elephant from his uncle.  He hasn’t seen his eccentric uncle in years.  He has no idea why he had an elephant or even that his uncle had died.  He also has no idea why he would think Chopra would want an elephant.

That gets put out of his mind when he gets to work and finds a woman leading a protest in front of the station.  Her son died the night before and she knows that the police won’t investigate because they are too poor. He starts to look at the case but doesn’t get very involved because it is his last day and he won’t be able to follow through.

He doesn’t take to retirement well.  (Also the set up for the Indian series that starts with The Marriage Bureau for Rich People.)  He decides to go see what is going on with the case of the boy that died.  He realizes that no one is investigating so he decides to go have a look himself.  Soon he is splitting his time between trying to solve this crime and nursing this very sickly, very sad little elephant that was delivered to his apartment complex.

But how does a baby elephant help solve crimes, you ask?  Well, even a small elephant is an effective battering ram.  Elephants can also find people over long distances.  Ganesha is just a baby but his role increases in each book so far.

I’m not usually a fan of mysteries but this one is ok because even though his reason for investigating is mostly boredom and resentment at being made to give up his career, he is a real investigator and not just a busy body.  Well, I guess he starts out as a busy body but then formalizes it to be a real private investigator.  I’m not a fan of cozy mysteries with busy bodies messing up crime scenes.  I’m perfectly ok with elephants trompsing all over crime scenes.



		
		Baby Elephant Fighting Crime!
			
			
		
	The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown (Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation #2) by Vaseem Khan 
on May 5, 2016
Pages: 353
Setting: India

For centuries the Koh-i-Noor diamond has set man against man and king against king. Now part of the British Crown Jewels, the priceless gem is a prize that many have killed to possess. So when the Crown Jewels go on display in Mumbai, security is everyone's principal concern. And yet, on the very day Inspector Chopra visits the exhibition, the diamond is stolen from under his nose. The heist was daring and seemingly impossible. The hunt is on for the culprits. But it soon becomes clear that only one man - and his elephant - can possibly crack this case...

Goodreads

I love the covers of these books. They are so cute and colorful. I’m usually indifferent to covers but I love these.

20180517_160737.jpg

Mild spoiler for the end of the first book but not really – Chopra ends up opening a restaurant for policemen/detective agency office/place for Ganesha to live in the backyard at the end of book 1. The restaurant itself doesn’t play a huge role here but I’m claiming it for Foodies Read anyway because everyone needs to know about baby elephants.

Speaking of Ganesha, he considers himself a full-fledged part of the agency.  He has a special truck he rides around Mumbai in so he can go on stakeouts.  In this book he gets to go undercover in a circus performance and loves his sparkly costume.  He’s also making new friends at the restaurant and gets to help rescue one when he gets in trouble.

Meanwhile, Chopra is hired by an old colleague who was in charge of security for the Crown Jewels.  He’s been arrested and knows that he’s going to take the fall for this crime if the real criminals can’t be found. 

These books are fun.  I’m looking forward to reading more and seeing how this team learns to work together even more.

29 May, 2018

All Four Stars

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading All Four Stars All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
on July 10th 2014
Pages: 288
Genres: Fiction
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: New York

Gladys Gatsby has dreamed of becoming a restaurant critic for New York's biggest newspaper--she just didn’t expect to be assigned her first review at age 11. Now, if she wants to meet her deadline and hang on to her dream job, she’ll have to defy her fast-food-loving parents, cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy, and battle Manhattan’s meanest maitre d’.

Goodreads

Gladys loves food.  She loves to read about it, cook it, and eat it.  Her parents don’t care about food at all.  They pick up dinner from fast food restaurants every night.  If they do try to cook, they believe that everything can be cooked just as well in a microwave as on a stove or oven.

Because of this Gladys as been cooking in secret for years.  She gets caught the day that her parents come home early just as she sets the kitchen curtains on fire while trying to crisp the top of a creme brulee. 

Now she’s in trouble.  Cooking is forbidden for six months and/or until she makes some friends and gets involved with what her parents consider normal kids’ activities. 

She’s trying to comply but when her entry into a newspaper essay contest in confused for a job application for a freelance food writer, she gets an assignment to review a dessert restaurant.  Now she has to find a way to get to New York City from Long Island for her chance to make it big.

This book was really cute.  It would appeal to anyone who is more into food than the people around them.  If your family doesn’t understand why full fat is better to cook with than nonfat or why you can’t use coffee shop sweetener packets instead of sugar when baking, then you understand Gladys’ troubles. 

My only complaint is that I wish there were recipes for the desserts she made.

22 May, 2018

Girl in Translation

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Girl in Translation Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
on April 29th 2010
Pages: 290
Genres: Fiction
Published by Riverhead
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: New York

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition. Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.
Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about.
Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant-a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.

Goodreads

This book is heartbreaking.  From the beginning you just want to hug these characters and beat up anyone who wants to harm them.  It is immediately obvious that the author is writing about her life.  The details that are included about living in extreme poverty in a condemned building while relying on an illegal job that pays pennies for piecework have to come from lived experience and not research.

I was ready to fight the evil Aunt who oh so generously brings her little sister and niece to the U.S. and then knowingly dumps them in these conditions.  She pretends to be helping them SO MUCH out of the KINDNESS OF HER HEART while leaving them in a building with no heat.  She underpays them and then manages to steal back a lot of the money they earned.  She needed somebody to whup her.

Even people who were nice to them did not have the ability to understand what was happening to them.  One of her friends started to see but asked her wealthy parents and was assured that she must have the situation confused because no one lives like that.

This is a story that anyone who thinks that immigrants get handed new lives in the United States needs to read.  This is a story that wealthy people who think that children and poor people don’t work dangerous jobs that defy labor laws in the U.S. need to read. 

16 May, 2018

Dread Nation

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Dread Nation Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
on April 3rd 2018
Pages: 455
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Balzer + Bray
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Goodreads

When  the bodies of the dead come back and attack people, the fighting in the Civil War stops. What doesn’t stop is the racism that was inherent in the United States. Now, 20 years after the shamblers first appeared, black children are taken and trained for combat duty.

The system replicates the hierarchy of slavery.  “Better” girls are trained in elite schools to be bodyguards to wealthy white women. They guard them from shamblers and serve as chaperones as the white ladies socialize.  Other girls end up working in the fields clearing shamblers as they approach towns.  Those people don’t have a long life span.

For me the story got most interesting when Jane and some companions are sent west to a planned community run by a pastor and his son, the sheriff.  Everything is set up for the safety and protection of white families but it is all run on the forced labor of black people.  The white overseers are so terrified of their black charges that they deliberately undermine their ability to fight shamblers by not giving them adequate weapons thus weakening the defenses of the whole town.  They won’t listen to the advice and expertise of black women until it is literally life or death.

This book didn’t interest me as a zombie/horror story.  It was at its best when showing off the absurdities of racism.  From phrenology to tell who is white and who is black to medical experimentation on unwilling black people to unequal distribution of assets this book highlights many aspects of systemic racism by placing them in a fantasy setting where people should be more interested in working together for survival than upholding an arbitrary hierarchy.

11 May, 2018

Picture Us in the Light and Mambo in Chinatown

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Picture Us in the Light and Mambo in Chinatown Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
on April 10th 2018
Pages: 361
Genres: Fiction
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Source: Library
Setting: California

Danny Cheng has always known his parents have secrets. But when he discovers a taped-up box in his father's closet filled with old letters and a file on a powerful Silicon Valley family, he realizes there's much more to his family's past than he ever imagined.
Danny has been an artist for as long as he can remember and it seems his path is set, with a scholarship to RISD and his family's blessing to pursue the career he's always dreamed of. Still, contemplating a future without his best friend, Harry Wong, by his side makes Danny feel a panic he can barely put into words. Harry and Danny's lives are deeply intertwined and as they approach the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook their friend group to its core, Danny can't stop asking himself if Harry is truly in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan.
When Danny digs deeper into his parents' past, he uncovers a secret that disturbs the foundations of his family history and the carefully constructed facade his parents have maintained begins to crumble. With everything he loves in danger of being stripped away, Danny must face the ghosts of the past in order to build a future that belongs to him.

Goodreads

I’ve heard a lot of hype for Picture Us in the Light but I didn’t really know what it was about.  That’s the point, I suppose.  This is a book about mysteries.

For me the main mystery in Danny’s family’s past was obvious from the first few pages of discussion of it.  That contributed to my frustration with this book.  It is hard to listen to people go on and on about how strange it all is and how they can’t figure it out when you, the reader, is sitting there thinking, “Dude, it’s obvious.”

There is another story line about a friend of Danny’s who died of suicide a year before.  There is a lot of good writing about how the different characters deal with survivor’s guilt and their feelings about whether their last interactions with her may have added to her decision to kill herself.

I admit that I was not that interested in this book while I was reading it.  But I had been in a bit of a reading slump where I was only interested in romance and nonfiction.  I was determined to finish something that didn’t fit into those categories.  People like this book.  I was going to finish this book even if I wasted away from boredom in the process.

Then I got to the ending.  I love an unexpected ending.  They make me want to stand up and cheer.  It perked me up and made me pay close attention again.  I loved it.  It made me glad I read the book for the last two chapters.

I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially who don’t tend to get bored to tears reading about teenagers and their angst, just for the ending.



		
		Picture Us in the Light and Mambo in Chinatown
			
			
		
	Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok 
on June 24th 2014
Pages: 384
Published by Riverhead Books
Setting: New York

Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (America-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher.
But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.

Goodreads

I’ve had this book on my TBR for a long time. Once I realized that I was going to do AsianLitBingo, I downloaded the ebook from the library.

I loved the main character of this book.  She’s always been told that she isn’t special enough to do anything.  She struggled in school and works as a dishwasher.  She wears hand me down clothes from the old ladies in her neighborhood.  The only skill she has is tai chi.  Her mother was a ballerina in China and she started Charlie in tai chi as a child.  But she doesn’t think of this as a talent.  She just thinks that she was bound to have picked up some skills since she’s been doing it for twenty years.

Her father and uncle tightly control her life.  So when she gets a job as a receptionist at a dance studio outside Chinatown, she keeps it secret.  She wants the extra money to help put her little sister into a private school.

At the school she is thrust into a world where people pay hundreds of dollars a week for dance lessons.  This isn’t a world that she knows.  Her coworkers take her on as a project to find the real person beneath the hand me down clothes and deferential manner.

This book is about branching out beyond what you’ve always been told your limits are.  How far do you go without losing parts of yourself?

09 May, 2018

Find Me Unafraid

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Find Me Unafraid Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum by Kennedy Odede, Jessica Posner
on October 2015
Pages: 272
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Kenya

his is the story of two young people from completely different worlds: Kennedy Odede from Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, and Jessica Posner from Denver, Colorado. Kennedy foraged for food, lived on the street, and taught himself to read with old newspapers. When an American volunteer gave him the work of Mandela, Garvey, and King, teenaged Kennedy decided he was going to change his life and his community. He bought a soccer ball and started a youth empowerment group he called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). Then in 2007, Wesleyan undergraduate Jessica Posner spent a semester abroad in Kenya working with SHOFCO. Breaking all convention, she decided to live in Kibera with Kennedy, and they fell in love.Their connection persisted, and Jessica helped Kennedy to escape political violence and fulfill his lifelong dream of an education, at Wesleyan University.
The alchemy of their remarkable union has drawn the support of community members and celebrities alike—The Clintons, Mia Farrow, and Nicholas Kristof are among their fans—and their work has changed the lives of many of Kibera’s most vulnerable population: its girls. Jess and Kennedy founded Kibera’s first tuition-free school for girls, a large, bright blue building, which stands as a bastion of hope in what once felt like a hopeless place. But Jessica and Kennedy are just getting started—they have expanded their model to connect essential services like health care, clean water, and economic empowerment programs. They’ve opened an identical project in Mathare, Kenya’s second largest slum, and intend to expand their remarkably successful program for change.

Goodreads

I had first heard of SHOFCO in the wonderful book A Path Appears.  It is also featured in the documentary made from that book.  Since reading that, I’ve been contributing monthly to the program. 

I had heard that they had written their own book.  I’m glad that I decided to read it even though I was aware of the basic premise of their story.  This book goes much deeper into Kennedy’s childhood than the previous book did.  It is a brutally honest book.  Content warnings for rape, abuse, genocide.

Kennedy experienced every kind of abuse that a child could. The book goes into detail about his life with an abusive step-father.  He left home at a young age to escape him and lived with a group of homeless kids who lived through crime.  He tried to get out by appealing to the church only to be sexually abused there.  It is amazing that he grew up to try to do something positive for the community.  He wanted something besides crime in people’s lives.  It all started with a 20 cent soccer ball and organized soccer games. That led to a theater group that tried to teach people how to live better lives. That’s how he met Jessica.  She was a rich, white American college student who wanted to help with the theater.  She does just about everything that you’d expect an American to do.  She’s pushy.  She makes many faux pas.  She doesn’t understand the community.  But eventually she learned to fit in and learned to love Kibera and Kennedy.

She went back to college and Kennedy was forced to flee Kenya because of violence.  Jessica was able to get him into college in the U.S. for his own safety.  The book does a good job detailing how difficult it was for him to move back and forth from Ohio to Kenya and function in both places.

It was the epidemic of child rapes around him that led him to decide to open a school for girls to prove that they are valuable.  The school is the center of a whole-life program in Kibera.  There is clean water provided and meals.  There are safe houses if the girls are being sexually or physically abused at home. 

This is an important story and an even more important program to know about.  It shows how grass roots community organizing in places in need can help lift up everyone involved.

08 May, 2018

Abby Spencer Goes To Bollywood

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Abby Spencer Goes To Bollywood Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj
on March 1st 2014
Pages: 256
Genres: Young Adult
Published by Albert Whitman Company
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: India, United States

What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film star--in Bollywood! Now she's traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India's most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.

Goodreads

This book was so cute!  I don’t read a lot of middle grade but I loved the sound of this one.

Abby’s mother found out she was pregnant after her college boyfriend moved back to India.  She was able to contact his family but he never returned her calls.  Now thirteen, Abby develops an allergy that starts her asking more questions than ever before about her father’s side of the family.

Her father changed his name and became a famous actor after he returned to India.  Attempts to contact him for his medical history are finally successful.  Now he wants to get to know her but it all needs to be carefully controlled because he is a huge star and he needs to control his image.

 

Abby’s a biracial child who has never had any contact with the Indian part of identity.  There is tension between her parents because of her father being absent for all of her life.  Her father is used to calling the shots in his life and her mother is not about to just go along with his ideas now that he’s back in the picture.  Abby’s also finding out that her wealthy father’s life in India is not typical for the country.

The book does a good job of making each of the characters multidimensional.  All of them have well developed concerns and personalities.  I really hoped that there was a sequel to see what came next in their lives because there is so much to explore but there isn’t a second book. That made me sad.  I didn’t want to leave these characters behind.

20 Apr, 2018

The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay by Nicola May
on April 9th 2018
Pages: 364
Published by Nowell Publishing
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Praise for Nicola May’s books
‘This book will twang your funny bone & your heartstrings’ – Milly Johnson‘A fun and flighty read’ the Sun‘A funny and fast-paced romp – thoroughly enjoyable!’ Rosa Larkin is down on her luck in London, so when she inherits a near-derelict corner shop in a quaint Devon village, her first thought is to sell it for cash and sort out her life. But nothing is straightforward about this legacy. While the identity of her benefactor remains a mystery, he - or she - has left one important legal proviso: that the shop cannot be sold, only passed on to somebody who really deserves it. Rosa makes up her mind to give it a go: to put everything she has into getting the shop up and running again in the small seaside community of Cockleberry Bay. But can she do it all on her own? And if not, who will help her succeed - and who among the following will work secretly to see her fail? There is a handsome rugby player, a sexy plumber, a charlatan reporter and a selection of meddling locals. Add in a hit and run incident and the disappearance of a valuable engraved necklace – and what you get is a journey of self-discovery and unpredictable events. With surprising and heartfelt results, Rosa, accompanied at all times by her little sausage dog Hot, will slowly unravel the shadowy secrets of the inheritance, and also bring her own, long-hidden heritage into the light.

Goodreads

The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay

It seems like I’m going with the unpopular opinion based on the reviews I’ve read from other people.  From the description I expected a light-hearted, funny read typical of the chick lit genre.  This book is not that.  It is surprisingly dark especially considering how it is being marketed.

The main character is self-destructive.  She drinks excessively and can’t keep a job.  Her main human contact is a series of one night sexual encounters.  She uses sex to help make up for the fact that she can’t always pay for the rent on her flat.  The only thing she loves at all is her dog, Hot.  Getting an inheritance is a way for her to get out of her current life and start fresh.

Usually in this type of book the small town the heroine goes to is full of lovely characters.  Here that isn’t the case.  In short order she is scammed, sexually assaulted, and her secret is outed against her express wishes.  Then she is threatened to provide someone with an alibi for a hit and run. 

She eventually finds some nicer people but they have secrets too.  Then people keep breaking into her house, she ends up with a pregnant teenager living with her, she gets scammed a few more times, she finds out about a decades old affair, and her dog gets hurt (but he’s ok).  This isn’t a bad book but I didn’t read it anything like the laugh a minute romp I’m seeing other people review it as.  I read it more as a cautionary tale about trying to keep secrets and the need to have someone who you can confide in.  Rosa is very damaged emotionally and trying to move past that in her own way isn’t easy.  Trying to open up and let other people in when you have learned over and over not to trust is hard.  When those people then repeatedly violate your tentative trust, what do you do?


I read an ARC so hopefully things have been cleaned up but there was an error in my copy.  She was reading letters about a person who was only referred to by an initial.  But when she thought about the person she thought of them by their full first name.  She had no way of knowing that.

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19 Apr, 2018

One Hundred and Four Horses

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading One Hundred and Four Horses One Hundred and Four Horses by Mandy Retzlaff
on August 15th 2013
Pages: 288
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by William Collins
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Zimbabwe

‘A letter is handed to you. In broken English, it tells you that you must now vacate your farm; that this is no longer your home, for it now belongs to the crowd on your doorstep. Then the drums begin to beat.’
As the land invasions gather pace, the Retzlaffs begin an epic journey across Zimbabwe, facing eviction after eviction, trying to save the group of animals with whom they feel a deep and enduring bond – the horses.
When their neighbours flee to New Zealand, the Retzlaffs promise to look after their horses, and making similar promises to other farmers along their journey, not knowing whether they will be able to feed or save them, they amass an astonishing herd of over 300 animals. But the final journey to freedom will be arduous, and they can take only 104 horses.
Each with a different personality and story, it is not just the family who rescue the horses, but the horses who rescue the family. Grey, the silver gelding: the leader. Brutus, the untamed colt. Princess, the temperamental mare.
One Hundred and Four Horses is the story of an idyllic existence that falls apart at the seams, and a story of incredible bonds – a love of the land, the strength of a family, and of the connection between man and the most majestic of animals, the horse.

Goodreads

What would you do if you had to leave your home in a few hours?  Could you leave your animals behind knowing that animals left on other farms had been killed?  That was one of the issues facing farmers in Zimbabwe when Robert Mugabe’s government instituted a series of land seizures.

The Retzlaff family didn’t leave Zimbabwe right away like many of the other white farmers they knew did.  They moved farm to farm but the chaos followed them.  As they moved across the country over a series of years, they collected animals.  Eventually, they moved to the neighboring country of Mozambique.

I imagine that this is a book that could have a hard time finding an audience.  Readers who care more deeply about people than animals might be offended by the effort and resources that went into moving and housing the horses when so many people were suffering.  Horse lovers don’t like to read books where horses are mistreated.  Horse lovers do need to be warned.  Most of the horses you meet in this book don’t survive until the end.  Many bad things happen to them regardless of the efforts of the Retzlaffs.

Another issue in this book is historical accuracy versus personal experience.  Reading the book, the land reform movement seems to come on suddenly.  I’ve been looking a bit more into the history because I assumed that there had to have been some colonial shenanigans that resulted in all these large landowners being white people.  Yes, Rhodesia (the former name of Zimbabwe) had favored whites in land distribution.  The black population was put onto the least productive land. 

“Following Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence, land legislation was again amended with the Rhodesian Land Tenure Act of 1969. The Land Tenure Act upended the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 and was designed to rectify the issue of insufficient land available to the rapidly expanding black population.[3] It reduced the amount of land reserved for white ownership to 45 million acres and reserved another 45 million acres for black ownership, introducing parity in theory; however, the most fertile farmland in Regions I, II, and III continued to be included in the white enclave.[3] Abuses of the system continued to abound; some white farmers took advantage of the legislation to shift their property boundaries into land formerly designated for black settlement, often without notifying the other landowners.” 

“In 1977, the Land Tenure Act was amended by the Rhodesian parliament, which further reduced the amount of land reserved for white ownership to 200,000 hectares, or 500,000 acres. Over 15 million hectares were thus opened to purchase by persons of any race.[3]Two years later, as part of the Internal SettlementZimbabwe Rhodesia‘s incoming biracial government under Bishop Abel Muzorewa abolished the reservation of land according to race.[3] White farmers continued to own 73.8% of the most fertile land suited for intensive cash crop cultivation and livestock grazing, in addition to generating 80% of the country’s total agricultural output.[3]”

“The Lancaster House Agreement [1980] stipulated that farms could only be taken from whites on a “willing buyer, willing seller” principle for at least ten years.[4] White farmers were not to be placed under any pressure or intimidation, and if they decided to sell their farms they were allowed to determine their own asking prices”

“Between April 1980 and September 1987, the acreage of land occupied by white-owned commercial farms was reduced by about 20%.” – all quoted from Wikipedia

Ok, so they can’t say they didn’t know this was coming.  They talk a little about the politics of it and how they weren’t paying any attention.  They mention the vote on a referendum in 2000 only because their black workers asked to borrow transportation so they could all vote.   It was the day before voting and they hadn’t really considered it?

The government organised a referendum on the new constitution in February 2000, despite having a sufficiently large majority in parliament to pass any amendment it wished. Had it been approved, the new constitution would have empowered the government to acquire land compulsorily without compensation. Despite vast support in the media, the new constitution was defeated, 55% to 45%.” Wikipedia

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It was after this failed that the government started to encourage mob violence to steal land without compensation.  I understand that they were both born and raised in Africa and felt protected because they legally owned their land but the writing was on the wall.  Things were about to get ugly and they were completely unprepared.  

What happened as a result of the seizure of white-owned farms was a complete disaster.  They were given as gifts to friends and family of powerful people who didn’t know the first thing about farming.  Zimbabwe’s economy was based on farming and when the farms collapsed it collapsed.  So no one is saying that this was a good and just plan but it couldn’t have been completely unexpected.

There are also some other statements that come across as very colonial.  One time when they move to a new farm she discusses her family moving into the farm house and then talks about her workers settling into the huts around the property.  She also has this quote – “John’s was a good old-fashioned cattle ranch of the kind the first pioneers in this part of the world had kept.”  Sure, they were the first people in the area if you ignore millennia of existence before then.  The author has commented negatively on reviews on Goodreads that bring up these aspects of the book.  That’s never a good look.

As a horse person I wish there were more details.  They talk about sometimes transporting horses in trucks.  Where did the trucks come from?  How many trips did you make?  How many horses did you have at any given time?  The synopsis refers to over 300 but the book doesn’t talk about that number.  How are you affording all this?

What happened to this family is bad.  But I can’t muster 100% sympathy for them.  I would have liked to see a bit more self awareness.  This book would have benefited from including the perspectives of the black workers who traveled with them.  A few of these people are mentioned once or twice by name but generally they are described as a faceless group of grooms.  That’s a big oversight in a book that describes many different white horse owners in detail.  

13 Apr, 2018

Series Review – Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading

After innumerable suggestions, I read my first Tessa Dare book in March.  Immediately after the first one I binged on her Spindle Cove series.

I loved the premise of this series.  Spindle Cove is a small community that has become known as a place to send unusual women to get them out of society.  As the series starts, an injured soldier has been given the title to the area.  He is expected to set up a militia to defend this part of the coast.  The last thing the women of Spindle Cove want is a bunch of soldiers messing up their happy settlement.

In the first book, A Night to Surrender, Susanna is the woman who has nurtured Spindle Cove to the haven it is now. She is the daughter of an eccentric inventor of firearms. She is furious that her father has handed over a ruined castle above the village and the earldom to this soldier who needs to retire due to his injuries.  The male lead character in this book was just on the brink of being too alpha-male bossy for my tastes.  Dare does a good job of having Susanna stand up for herself and her ladies.  That’s not an easy job because it can be seen as falling back into the patriarchal society that they are trying to avoid or being forced against their will into relationships with these men.  That could easily have been very off putting. 

The second book, A Week to Be Wicked, is probably my favorite.  It is the first to feature one of the Highwood family.  Mrs. Highwood and her three daughters came to Spindle Cove in book one.  Mrs. Highwood plans for her daughters to marry very well, especially her oldest, Diana.  The pressure was getting to her and they came to Spindle Cove to rest.  The second daughter, Minerva, is a scientist.  She’s been submitting papers under her initials and now has been invited to speak in Scotland.  She needs to find a way to get there.  She decides to fake an elopement with one of the less scrupulous friends of the Earl as a way to travel to Scotland.

 

 

 

 

 

Kate Taylor is the music teacher in Spindle Cove.  She has no plans to marry because she was raised in an orphanage with no idea where she came from and she has a large port wine birthmark on her face.  In book three, A Lady by Midnight, an eccentric noble family shows up in Spindle Cove looking for her.  They claim to have found out that she is related to them.  At the same time the very grumpy Corporal Thorne of the local militia starts to pay attention to her.  He seems suspicious of her new family.  Is it possible that he knows something about her past that he isn’t sharing?

 

Any Dutchess Will Do is book four.  A duke’s mother tricks him into accompanying her to Spindle Cove. She tells him to pick a woman, any woman sitting in the tea room, and marry her.  To spite her he chooses the serving girl.  Pauline has no time for this nonsense.  She is trying to save up money to get herself and her developmentally disabled sister out of their abusive father’s house.  Her goal is to open a small store and lending library.  The duke’s mother says she can pass her off as a lady in one week.  The duke promises to pay her enough money to start her store if she goes along with his mother’s plan and fails miserably.

 

One of the things that annoys me most about historical romances is the concept of women being ruined by being alone with a man. I know the books didn’t invent that but I hate the idea. People were so worried about what other people thought about a woman’s sexual experience that if there was even the possibility that she had had time and opportunity to have a sexual experience then she was “ruined”. It also presumes that no one has any self control at all and will fall all over a person of the opposite sex if given a chance. It makes me mad on behalf all humankind every time it is brought up. Do You Want to Start a Scandal‘s story is all about this. The youngest Highwood daughter, Charlotte, explains to the latest noble dude to show up in Spindle Cove that her mother will be trying to marry her off to him. She wants him to know that it isn’t coming from her and she is just as embarrassed about it as he will be. They are found alone in a room as a result of this discussion. To make it worse, they had been hiding from an unknown amorous couple whose sounds where overheard and commented upon loudly by a child. Now it is “known” that they had sex and have to get married. Now Charlotte is determined to get the real couple to confess and save her from this marriage.


I did enjoy all four novels.  There was enough humor and sweetness for me to be able to not be totally annoyed by the sex.  

 

There are three novellas that go along with this series.

I didn’t really care for these as much.  I didn’t think the shorter format gave her enough time to develop the characters and their relationships before the story was over and they were married.  The events of the novellas are referred to in the novels but you can get an idea what happened without reading them all in order.

10 Apr, 2018

The Fox Hunt

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Fox Hunt The Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America by Mohammed Al Samawi
on April 10th 2018
Pages: 336
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by William Morrow
Format: ARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: Yemen

A young man’s moving story of war, friendship, and hope in which he recounts his harrowing escape from a brutal civil war in Yemen with the help of a daring plan engineered on social media by a small group of interfaith activists in the West.
Born in the Old City of Sana’a, Yemen, to a pair of middle-class doctors, Mohammed Al Samawi was a devout Muslim raised to think of Christians and Jews as his enemy. But when Mohammed was twenty-three, he secretly received a copy of the Bible, and what he read cast doubt on everything he’d previously believed. After connecting with Jews and Christians on social media, and at various international interfaith conferences, Mohammed became an activist, making it his mission to promote dialogue and cooperation in Yemen.
Then came the death threats: first on Facebook, then through terrifying anonymous phone calls. To protect himself and his family, Mohammed fled to the southern port city of Aden. He had no way of knowing that Aden was about to become the heart of a north-south civil war, and the battleground for a well-funded proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. As gunfire and grenades exploded throughout the city, Mohammed hid in the bathroom of his apartment and desperately appealed to his contacts on Facebook.
Miraculously, a handful of people he barely knew responded. Over thirteen days, four ordinary young people with zero experience in diplomacy or military exfiltration worked across six technology platforms and ten time zones to save this innocent young man trapped between deadly forces— rebel fighters from the north and Al Qaeda operatives from the south.
The story of an improbable escape as riveting as the best page-turning thrillers, The Fox Hunt reminds us that goodness and decency can triumph in the darkest circumstances.

Goodreads

I didn’t know much about the causes of the war in Yemen until I read this book.  It still doesn’t make much sense to me because it boils down to “Those people look different than us and think differently than us.”  It is that kind of mindset that Mohammed Al Samawi was working against prior to the war. 

The stars of this story of the activists around the world who play a high stakes game of Six Degrees of Separation.  Who do you know?  Who do they know?  Can you get one man from Aden to Africa?

What struck me while reading this is the problems that are caused by Yemen’s patriarchy/toxic combination of masculinity and religion:

  1. The whole conflict could be put down to this
  2. He was unable to shelter with his uncle’s family because his uncle wouldn’t let him in the house where his unmarried female cousins lived.  How messed up is that?  Your nephew is alone in an apartment in a war zone but you won’t take him in because you assume he wouldn’t be able to sexually control himself around his female relatives?
  3. Because he was male he was completely unprepared to live on his own without women to care for him.  He moved to Aden and was living alone.  He ate out daily since he didn’t cook so he had minimal food and supplies in the house when all the shops closed down.
  4. After he was out of Yemen due to the help of a group of interfaith activists he was still too afraid to tell him mother (still living in a war zone) that he had been talking to Jews.

 

I found the beginning of this book with his entry into interfaith dialogue more interesting than the story of his escape from Yemen.  I think that is partially because the writing is very plain.  It reads like “This happened and then this happened and then this happened…”  Secondly, I mostly just wanted to shake the guy.  This is not a heroic memoir.  Mohammed Al Samawi isn’t brave.  He isn’t very good at planning.  He moves from Sanaa to Aden but neglects to bring his passport even though he travels for work.  These things all make trying to flee the country harder.  He uses the distraction of a Northern man like himself being publicly tortured to death in the street by Al Qaeda to escape from his apartment while wondering why no one tries to help that man.  He even refers to himself occasionally as a man-child.  He was in his late 20s in 2015 when this happened.

In the end there were so many different lobbying efforts going on that it is not clear who succeeded in getting the order given to let him on the ship from Aden to Djibouti.  I wish this had been investigated.  It seems to be a very strange thing not to know who allowed his transport in a book about arranging his transport.  

In the absence of facts, he falls back on the idea that God arranged his rescue.  While comforting for religious people, this makes nonreligious people want to pull their hair out.  Basically he saying that his God ignored everyone else stuck in a war (about religion and power) to concentrate on giving him special attention.  It also diminishes all the hard work that people did on his behalf.

 

 

06 Apr, 2018

Spring at the Little Duck Pond Cafe

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Spring at the Little Duck Pond Cafe Spring at The Little Duck Pond Cafe by Rosie Green, Berni Stevens, Cara Armstrong
on March 2018
Pages: 127
Genres: Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Fleeing from a romance gone wrong, Ellie Farmer arrives in the pretty little village of Sunnybrook, hoping for a brand new start that most definitely does not include love! Following an unscheduled soak in the village duck pond, she meets Sylvia, who runs the nearby Duck Pond Café. Renting the little flat above the café seems like the answer to Ellie's prayers. It's only for six months, which will give her time to sort out her life, far away from cheating boyfriend Richard.

But is running away from your past ever really the answer?

Clashing with the mysterious and brooding Zack Chamberlain, an author with a bad case of writer's block, is definitely not what Ellie needs right now. And then there's Sylvia, who's clinging so hard to her past, she's in danger of losing the quaint but run-down Duck Pond Café altogether.

Can Ellie find the answers she desperately needs in Sunnybrook? And will she be able to help save Sylvia's little Duck Pond Café from closure?

Goodreads

Spring at The Little Duck Pond Café

Books set in cafes in England are my favorites. This story features both a bakery and a cafe.

This is the first of a planned series of three books in this small town.  This section has the task of setting up all the characters and situations which is a lot to do in such a small space.  As a result it felt a bit like the author was ticking off the boxes of what is expected in this genre. 

  • A woman who just was dumped by her long term boyfriend for another woman
  • A conveniently single man at her new location complete with an adorable child
  • An aging proprietor of a failing cafe who wants to take in a total stranger

The story was enjoyable but it never rose above the predictable.  There wasn’t enough depth of emotion in the story to draw me in fully.  This may be a series read best when it is all completed so the characters have room to develop and grow. 

I’m most interested in seeing the development of some of the secondary characters like the secret baker who is learning to stand up for herself. 

 

Spring at the Little Duck Pond Cafe Full Banner

03 Apr, 2018

Lady Helena Investigates

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Lady Helena Investigates Lady Helena Investigates on March 14, 2018
Pages: 391
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Mystery & Detective
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

1881, Sussex. Lady Helena Scott-De Quincy’s marriage to Sir Justin Whitcombe, three years before, gave new purpose to a life almost destroyed by the death of Lady Helena’s first love. After all, shouldn’t the preoccupations of a wife and hostess be sufficient to fulfill any aristocratic female’s dreams? Such a shame their union wasn’t blessed by children . . . but Lady Helena is content with her quiet country life until Sir Justin is found dead in the river overlooked by their grand baroque mansion.

The intrusion of attractive, mysterious French physician Armand Fortier, with his meddling theory of murder, into Lady Helena’s first weeks of mourning is bad enough. But with her initial ineffective efforts at investigation and her attempts to revive her long-abandoned interest in herbalism comes the realization that she may have been mistaken about her own family’s past. Every family has its secrets—but as this absorbing series will reveal, the Scott-De Quincy family has more than most.

Can Lady Helena survive bereavement the second time around? Can she stand up to her six siblings’ assumption of the right to control her new life as a widow? And what role will Fortier—who, as a physician, is a most unsuitable companion for an earl’s daughter—play in her investigations?

Goodreads

AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE

 


04_Lady Helena Investigates_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

I loved Helena.  At the beginning of the book she has just been widowed for the second time although she is only in her early 20s.  She is the youngest daughter in a large family.  Because of that she has always been treated as a child.  They even call her “Baby” although her brother is younger than her. 

Helena is shocked by the death of her husband and is starting to get angry about the way her family has swooped in assuming that she is a problem that needs to be managed again.  She declares that she is not going to be married off again.  She is going to manage her own estate.  She is not going to be pushed out of her own life any more. 

Then her late husband’s doctor tells her that he doesn’t believe his death was accidental but that the other men on the inquiry panel ruled against him.  Most of those men are related to her.  What are they trying to hide?

There are several plot lines in this book.

  • How did Helena’s husband actually die?
  • Helena standing up for herself with her family
  • A tenant farmer’s death

I enjoyed reading about Helena’s relationships with each of the people in her large family.  She’s always accepted the surface version of things but now that she’s starting to dig deeper into her life, things aren’t always as she assumed.  Her little brother is overbearing and too enamored of his status as the head of the family but he isn’t always wrong about what she should do with her life.  Her mother and father may not have had the idyllic marriage that Helena imagined.  There may be more to her free-spirited artist sister than she expects.  All these relationships set up storylines that can continue into other books in the series. 

The book dives into disability during this time period also.  Helena’s mother is in the late stages of dementia.  She has a full time nurse but the mental toll on family members and on Helena’s mother is discussed in ways appropriate to the time period.  Helena’s brother reads as autistic.  At this time, that wasn’t a described condition so he is mostly considered odd and sometimes offputting.  But, his wife loves him and understands him and helps him interact with his family and the rest of the world.  Helena has a physically disabled nephew who she loves but who is treated as feeble-minded by his parents even though he is not.  She helps him learn to stand up for himself as she learns it for herself.

I’m not a fan of books where lay people investigate crimes unless the story sets up a good reason why the authorities can’t be involved.  In this case the authorities of the area are all family members who may be involved.  The doctor is French and may be a spy.  You never know quite who you can trust. 

I will definitely read the next book in this series. 

 


Giveaway

During the Blog Tour we will be giving away two eBooks of Lady Helena Investigates by Jane Steen! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on April 13th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US residents only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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About the Author

Jane Steen was born in England and, despite having spent more years out of the British Isles than in, still has a British accent according to just about every American she meets.

Her long and undistinguished career has included a three-year stint as the English version of a Belgian aerospace magazine, an interesting interlude as an editor in a very large law firm, and several hectic years in real estate marketing at the height of the property boom. This tendency to switch directions every few years did nothing for her resume but gave her ample opportunity to sharpen her writing skills and develop an entrepreneurial spirit.

Around the edges of her professional occupations and raising children, she stuck her nose in a book at every available opportunity and at one time seemed on course to become the proverbial eternal student. Common sense prevailed, though, and eventually she had the bright idea of putting her passion for books together with her love of business and writing to become a self-published author.

Jane has lived in three countries and is currently to be found in the Chicago suburbs with her long-suffering husband and two adult daughters.

For more information, please visit Jane Steen’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, March 12
Feature at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, March 13
Feature at To Read, Or Not to Read

Wednesday, March 14
Review at Pursuing Stacie

Thursday, March 15
Feature at Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen

Friday, March 16
Interview at Let Them Read Books
Feature at What Is That Book About

Tuesday, March 20
Feature at Donna’s Book Blog

Wednesday, March 21
Review at Rachael’s Ramblings
Feature at The Lit Bitch

Tuesday, March 27
Review at View from the Birdhouse

Wednesday, March 28
Feature at Susan Heim on Writing

Friday, March 30
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Tuesday, April 3
Review at Based on a True Story

Wednesday, April 4
Review at SilverWood Sketches

Thursday, April 5
Feature at A Bookaholic Swede

Wednesday, April 11
Review at What Cathy Read Next
Feature at A Literary Vacation

Thursday, April 12
Feature at Teaser Addicts Book Blog

Friday, April 13
Tour Wrap Up at Passages to the Past

 

22 Mar, 2018

Meet the Frugalwoods

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Meet the Frugalwoods Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living by Elizabeth Willard Thames
on March 6th 2018
Pages: 256
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by HarperBusiness
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

The deeply personal story of how award-winning personal finance blogger Elizabeth Willard Thames abandoned a successful career in the city and embraced frugality to create a more meaningful, purpose-driven life, and retire to a homestead in the Vermont woods at age thirty-two with her husband and daughter.
In 2014, Elizabeth and Nate Thames were conventional 9-5 young urban professionals. But the couple had a dream to become modern-day homesteaders in rural Vermont. Determined to retire as early as possible in order to start living each day—as opposed to wishing time away working for the weekends—they enacted a plan to save an enormous amount of money: well over seventy percent of their joint take home pay. Dubbing themselves the Frugalwoods, Elizabeth began documenting their unconventional frugality and the resulting wholesale lifestyle transformation on their eponymous blog.
In less than three years, Elizabeth and Nate reached their goal. Today, they are financially independent and living out their dream on a sixty-six-acre homestead in the woods of rural Vermont with their young daughter. While frugality makes their lifestyle possible, it’s also what brings them peace and genuine happiness. They don’t stress out about impressing people with their material possessions, buying the latest gadgets, or keeping up with any Joneses. In the process, Elizabeth discovered the self-confidence and liberation that stems from disavowing our culture’s promise that we can buy our way to "the good life." Elizabeth unlocked the freedom of a life no longer beholden to the clarion call to consume ever-more products at ever-higher sums.
Meet the Frugalwoods is the intriguing story of how Elizabeth and Nate realized that the mainstream path wasn’t for them, crafted a lifestyle of sustainable frugality, and reached financial independence at age thirty-two. While not everyone wants to live in the woods, or quit their jobs, many of us want to have more control over our time and money and lead more meaningful, simplified lives. Following their advice, you too can live your best life.

Goodreads

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
 
Author Links: TwitterFacebook, and Instagram

Debt-free living is a topic that is very important to me so I jumped at the chance to review this book from TLC Book Tours.  (Free book – Look at me being frugal!)

This is a memoir of a couple who used frugality to save enough to retire to the country in their 30s. They have a blog called frugalwoods.com.  I hadn’t ever heard of this before so I went into this book with no preconceived notions about what their story was.

I appreciated the fact that the book starts with a discussion of privilege versus systemic causes of poverty in the United States.  She realizes that just by being born to married, educated white parents in the suburbs of the Midwest that she got a leg up towards being able to be debt-free in her 30s.  She points out that her frugality is elective instead of a requirement to be able to afford her rent. 

I wish this was more of a how-to book. It doesn’t really explain how they became debt-free.  She says things like she saved $2000 of the $10,000 she was given as an AmeriCorp stipend.  She was living in Brooklyn with roommates but how did she manage to do that?  I want charts and spreadsheets.  She talks later about merging living expenses by moving in with her fiance and living below their means by not trying to keep up with the standard of living of their peers.  She says that even before they really committed to saving a lot of money in order to retire early, they were saving 40-50% of their take home pay not including 401K and mortgage principal.  This is where I started to feel pretty inadequate reading this book.  We’re debt-free but we are not even close to that kind of savings.  (I know the problem.  I eat out too much.  If I cooked every meal at home, I’d be golden. I need to make myself a challenge or something.)

I feel like reader’s reactions to this book will be influenced by where they are on their financial journey.  I can see her story of giving up $120 hair cuts seeming flippant to someone who is struggling to buy groceries.  At the same time, I can see it being inspirational to people who have the ability to start saving money.  I could also see it being frustrating and making people feel like they haven’t been doing enough to secure their financial future.  I’d be interested to see how people respond to the message.

 

 
Tuesday, March 6th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, March 7th: Stranded in Chaos
Thursday, March 8th: Literary Quicksand
Friday, March 9th: I’d Rather Be At The Beach
Monday, March 12th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, March 15th: Man of La Book
Monday, March 19th: What Is That Book About
Tuesday, March 20th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, March 21st: Doing Dewey
Thursday, March 22nd: Based on a True Story
20 Mar, 2018

The Best Boomerville Hotel

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Best Boomerville Hotel The Best Boomerville Hotel by Caroline James
on March 13th 2018
Genres: Fiction
Published by Ruby Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Let the shenanigans begin at the Best Boomerville Hotel …
Jo Docherty and Hattie Contaldo have a vision – a holiday retreat in the heart of the Lake District exclusively for guests of ‘a certain age’ wishing to stimulate both mind and body with new creative experiences. One hotel refurbishment later and the Best Boomerville Hotel is open for business!
Perhaps not surprisingly Boomerville attracts more than its fair share of eccentric clientele: there’s fun-loving Sir Henry Mulberry and his brother Hugo; Lucinda Brown, an impoverished artist with more ego than talent; Andy Mack, a charming Porsche-driving James Bond lookalike, as well as Kate Simmons, a woman who made her fortune from an internet dating agency but still hasn’t found ‘the One’ herself.
With such an array of colourful individuals there’s bound to be laughs aplenty, but could there be tears and heartbreak too and will the residents get more than they bargained for at Boomerville?

Goodreads

This book wants to be a fun romp in the country with an eclectic group of people.  That’s a fun premise for a book.  I’m always on the look out for books with middle-aged or older protagonists. 

I got a bit thrown off right at the beginning of the book with her definition of Boomers.  She defines them as 50-69 which is a tad young for a book published this year.  She then makes her main character 50.  So this is supposed to be a book celebrating Baby Boomers yet she makes the lead as young as she possibly can.  Then there are several comments throughout the book about how they don’t want “elderly people” at the hotel.  Older women at the hotel are described as “ageing” in a disparaging way.  That all seemed odd for a book that is supposed to be celebrating Baby Boomers.

There is a party that is held at one point in the book.  They decide to have Indian food.  That’s fine.  Then they decide to make it a costume party where all these upper class white British people will be wearing saris, turbans, and other Indian styles of dress.  That’s pushing pretty far towards creepy and inappropriate.  Then they decide to make it a party celebrating the British Raj.  Yeah.  That’s pretty out of touch.

Then there is the Shaman.  He doesn’t have a name.  He isn’t seen often.  He has both a “gypsy caravan” and a teepee.  He does sessions of some kind in there.  They appear to involve getting people high.  Then he starts showing up and making mysterious pronouncements of doom while also healing people with a touch before disappearing from sight.  One time he turns up to do a Shamanistic wedding ceremony and the guest indulge it as “a cabaret with a difference.” 

So the guests are all rich white people who can take off for weeks at a time to stay at a hotel and putter about.  The entertainment is a mish mash of other people’s cultures for fun.  The “romances” in the book are pure insta-love.  Our main character had two men fall for her on the first day she was there.  They were just overtaken by her beauty.  Once people decide to look at each other as a potential romantic interest, that’s it they are getting ready to get married.  This is explained as people being old and not having much time left. I get not dawdling but this felt more like, “You’re breathing.  You’ll do.”

I’d love to see this idea with maybe fewer characters so each could be well developed as a person instead of a stereotype – flighty artist, dirty old man, etc. 

 

17 Mar, 2018

Ecstasy

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Ecstasy Ecstasy by Mary Sharratt
on April 10th 2018
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

In the glittering hotbed of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Vienna, one woman’s life would define and defy an era
Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as “one of the very few magical women that exist.” But who was this woman who brought these most eminent of men to their knees? In Ecstasy, Mary Sharratt finally gives one of the most controversial and complex women of her time the center stage.
Coming of age in the midst of a creative and cultural whirlwind, young, beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. A brand-new era of possibility for women is dawning and she is determined to make the most of it. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?
Part cautionary tale, part triumph of the feminist spirit, Ecstasy reveals the true Alma Mahler: composer, author, daughter, sister, mother, wife, lover, and muse.

Goodreads

I received this book from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

Alma Mahler was a very interesting woman. She was ambitious in a time and place that did not reward that in upper class white women.  She wanted to be a composer but was told that she couldn’t if she wanted to marry the man she wanted.

This book does a good job of highlighting the mental cost of requiring a woman to be a wife and mother if that is not their desire. Her depression and their martial troubles in the face of his refusal to see her as a creative human being was well written.

I wish this book had pulled me deeper into the story emotionally.  Great historical fiction should immerse you in the time and place.  It should take a little effort to get your focus out of that world when you put the book aside. This reading experience felt very surface level which is a shame. Early 20th century Vienna and the artistic world there could be a very lush setting for a novel.

I enjoyed learning about this woman that I had not previous been aware of.

08 Mar, 2018

American Panda

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading American Panda American Panda by Gloria Chao
on February 6th 2018
Pages: 311
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Simon Pulse
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.
At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.
With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.
But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Goodreads

This book is so good!  

Conflict between immigrant Asian parents and their American-born kids is a staple in a lot of books.  What I appreciated about this book is that it took a deeper look at the people involved to figure out their motivations.  Mei is trying to be the perfect daughter because she has seen real world consequences of disobedience.  Her brother was cut out of the family years earlier for dating a woman with some health issues that may impact her fertility.  His parents would not accept a potential daughter in law who might not produce grandchildren.  Mei is raised on stories of a local Taiwanese-American woman who was cast out of her family and the horrible things had (supposedly) happened to her.  From an outsider’s perspective it is easy to wonder “Why doesn’t she stand up for herself?”  This book does a great job of showing where she gets the idea that she has no other options.

The book features other characters who have been in these situations and examines the results of their decisions.  There is:

  • A woman who became a doctor because her family decided she would be
  • A female relative whose life is taken up by caring for her mother
  • Mei’s boyfriend, who is from a Japanese-American family that has been living in the United States for several generations
  • Mei’s mother 

Mei’s mother’s story was amazing.  At the beginning she is portrayed as an overbearing, neurotic mother who has Mei’s schedule memorized and panics if she doesn’t answer her phone when she knows she should be out of class.  Her phone messages are played for laughs.  As the story deepens though we start to see her conflicts.  She’s the daughter-in-law of a very traditional family in an arranged marriage where her role is very sharply defined.  As she sees Mei start to branch out, she opens up a little about her life and you develop a lot of compassion for a character who very easily could have descended into a caricature.  

It’s great.  I would recommend this one to everyone.  Go get it and read it and pass it on.

07 Mar, 2018

Hippie Food

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Hippie Food Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat by Jonathan Kauffman
on January 23rd 2018
Pages: 352
Length: 9:13
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by William Morrow
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

An enlightening narrative history—an entertaining fusion of Tom Wolfe and Michael Pollan—that traces the colorful origins of once unconventional foods and the diverse fringe movements, charismatic gurus, and counterculture elements that brought them to the mainstream and created a distinctly American cuisine.
Food writer Jonathan Kauffman journeys back more than half a century—to the 1960s and 1970s—to tell the story of how a coterie of unusual men and women embraced an alternative lifestyle that would ultimately change how modern Americans eat. Impeccably researched, Hippie Food chronicles how the longhairs, revolutionaries, and back-to-the-landers rejected the square establishment of President Richard Nixon’s America and turned to a more idealistic and wholesome communal way of life and food.
From the mystical rock-and-roll cult known as the Source Family and its legendary vegetarian restaurant in Hollywood to the Diggers’ brown bread in the Summer of Love to the rise of the co-op and the origins of the organic food craze, Kauffman reveals how today’s quotidian whole-foods staples—including sprouts, tofu, yogurt, brown rice, and whole-grain bread—were introduced and eventually became part of our diets. From coast to coast, through Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Vermont, Kauffman tracks hippie food’s journey from niche oddity to a cuisine that hit every corner of this country.
A slick mix of gonzo playfulness, evocative detail, skillful pacing, and elegant writing, Hippie Food is a lively, engaging, and informative read that deepens our understanding of our culture and our lives today.

Goodreads

Obviously I had to listen to this book.  They should have just titled it “A Book for Heather.”

This is a history of the health food and vegetarian food movements in the U.S.  It starts with briefly talking about health food people like the Kelloggs and Dr. Graham at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century.  It then segues into the macrobiotic movement which came to the U.S. from Japan.  The bulk of the book focuses on the post-WW II push back to the marketing of processed convenience food.

What I really learned from this book:

White Folks Can’t Cook

 

The hippie/back-to-the-land movement was overwhelmingly white.  That’s briefly addressed but not explored deeply.  A lot of these people seemed to come from a background where they didn’t learn to cook without convenience foods.  So when they tried to cook whole food ingredients, they pretty much failed.  Spices?  What are they?

That’s how vegetarian food got a reputation for being bland and boring.  It only started to get good when they started stealing ideas from other cultures.  Japanese influences came in through macrobiotics.  This gets linked to politics because of the 1965 immigration reform that allowed more immigrants from non-European countries. Those people opened restaurants and suddenly people realized that you don’t need to eat food with the texture and taste of tree bark.  If the movement was inclusive from the start, hippie food might not have had such a bad reputation.

I loved hearing about how all sorts of foods that we consider staples now came to the United States.  Again this is presented from a white, middle class perspective.  It talks about starting tofu production in the States but I’m sure there were people in Asian communities who were doing this before white people adopted it and started mass production.  The same can go for different spices and/or vegetables that I’m sure were in use in black or Latinx communities.  That’s my major criticism of this book.

I would get excited whenever some of my favorites where mentioned.  Diet for a Small Planet!  (Yes, her made up theory of the necessity of “complete proteins” has been repeatedly debunked.  Can we let that die now? Please? Asking for all vegetarians who get asked about it ALL THE TIME.)  The Moosewood Cookbooks!  Those were some of the first I read.

Read this one if you love food history as it relates to personal ethics and politics.

 

 

 

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