Monday, February 24, 2020

The Bromance Book Club, in which some macho athletes use romance novels to improve their real-life relationships

Title: The Bromance Book Club
Author: Lyssa Kay Adams
Publication: Berkley, Trade Paperback, 2019
Genre: Romance
Plot: Pro baseball player Gavin Scott has a beautiful wife, Thea, and three-year-old twins, and what he thinks is a perfect life until he learns his wife has been faking orgasms since their marriage.  Hurt and ashamed, he moves out and Thea asks for a divorce.  Drinking himself to oblivion in a motel, Gavin is visited by his best friend Del and several other athletes and Nashville notables who urge him to join their secret group, which uses romance novels to improve their ability to understand and please the women in their lives.  Gavin is skeptical but has no better options, reluctantly accepting a pile of romance novels, including Courting the Countess, a regency historical that has some parallels with his situation.  Under the tutelage of this ramshackle group, he persuades Thea to let him move back in for one month, with the goal of winning her back.  During this time, he will try to show he understands her needs, convince her of his love, and cope with those who don’t want Gavin and Thea to have a HEA . . .

My Impressions: I don’t remember who recommended this book to me but I usually enjoy contemporary romance with a sports theme and found this entertaining and often amusing, if not quite as charming as I had hoped. While the source of Gavin and Thea’s problem is meant to be funny, their real issue is that they married quickly when Thea was pregnant, and the lifestyle/absences of a professional athlete put a strain on their marriage while they were still developing their relationship.   Now they have to decide if they want to work through their problems or just bail.

Thea and her sister Liv both have a lot of baggage from their parents’ unhappy marriage and divorce.  Their father is about to remarry someone close to them in age and their mother’s bitterness has rebounded on her daughters.  Gavin also (although this is less convincing, given that he is a handsome, talented athlete) has struggled to believe he could find a loving relationship.   The premise of the story is that until they can share their feelings and their troubled pasts, there cannot be a true meeting of the minds.  Thea also has a lot of resentment that Gavin’s job takes him away from home a lot and she dropped out of college after their marriage (not sure why as they can certainly afford a babysitter if she wanted to continue her studies either full or part-time).   Although Gavin’s attempts to woo her are sometimes poignant and sometimes funny – as when he takes her on a date to a craft warehouse to show he understands her interests, and his buddies stalk them in disguise), it takes Thea going to her father’s wedding to understand some truths about her own marriage, not to mention a grand gesture from Gavin to work everything out. I definitely enjoyed this enough to read the second book about Thea’s sister!
Harvard freshman Chris Ledlum (4) has been the Ivy League
Rookie-of-the-Week five times
Off the Blog: It was a busy basketball weekend with two “eyelash wins” by the Crimson over Princeton (61-60)and Penn (69-65), and a disappointing double OT loss by the University of Chicago to Brandeis (cheering for a family friend).  I managed to squeeze in a few hours at our VITA tax site as well.

Source: Library

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Deep State, a White House thriller in which a young woman investigates a conspiracy against the President

Title: Deep State
Author: Chris Hauty 
Publication: Simon & Schuster, hardcover, January 2020
Genre: Suspense

Plot: Hayley Chill, who joined the military to get out of West Virginia yet sends most of her salary home to her family, is now beginning an internship at the White House.  Driven and patriotic, she is more mature than the college students with whom she is sharing projects and distinguishes herself from the beginning.  First, she helps bring down a trespasser on White House grounds and then when a jealous colleague tries to sabotage her work, she saves her boss from embarrassment and impresses him and the President.  However, when her boss dies suddenly, Hayley is the only one who wonders if it was more than a natural death.  Soon, she has uncovered a conspiracy that threatens the President, and anyone – such as Hayley – who gets in the way, in a thriller that seems realistic enough to be true . . .  

My Impressions: I had read a great review of this book so put it on my 2020 list, and I enjoyed it enough to keep reading until I finished it at 3 am.  The plot could be pulled from current headlines, and Hayley is an entertaining heroine because she is intrepid, confident, resourceful, and is not ashamed of being from small-town West Virginia.   Hayley is not as cartoon-hero invincible as Jane Hawk, in the Dean Koontz series I recently enjoyed, although she seems to triumph almost effortlessly.  Fans of David Baldacci will enjoy the political overtones, the intricate plotting, and the pursuit scenes.  Deep State is not as compelling as books by David Baldacci, which often disarm the reader with humor, and I found one aspect of Hauty’s style quite annoying.  His omniscient narrator (for want of a better phrase) sometimes warns the reader of the unpleasant fate of certain characters in the future ("Ten years later she would become a televangelist and would defraud her followers of millions of dollars"). This is a mistake because it disrupts the narrative and jolts the reader out of an absorbing story. Better to keep us reading!

Off the Blog: It’s the annual New England Betsy-Tacy Halloween Party today, hosted by Judith in her beautiful Worcester home where every piece of furniture and bric-a-brac has a story. I am bringing spinach squares.
Source: Library copy

Monday, February 10, 2020

Books I'm looking forward to in 2020

Historical Fiction

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel                                March 2020
This is the final novel in Mantel’s trilogy of historical novels about the life of Thomas Cromwell, and will cover the final four years of Cromwell’s life, starting with Anne Boleyn’s execution in 1536, and (spoiler!) moving to his own execution for treason and heresy in 1540.  And she'll be in Boston on March 20th!  Unfortunately, I know from a family member that she is quite unpleasant.
The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Kay Penman                 March 2020
From the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Sharon Kay Penman comes the story of the reign of King Baldwin IV and the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s defense against Saladin’s famous army.  I have been a huge Penman fan since the summer I spent in DC, poor and only allowed to check out two books at a time by the library.  I bought The Sun in Splendor for $1 on the street and, entranced, made it last an entire week.  

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau                                                 January 2020
The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground; a historical thriller about corruption, class and dangerous obsession set in New York City and Coney Island.
The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner                            May 2020
Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England's finest novelists. Now it's home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen's legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen's home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen.

Fiction

We Wish You Luck by by Caroline Zancan                              January 2020
In Zancan’s second novel, a group of students at a low-residence MFA program band together to take revenge on a professor who has wronged one of their classmates.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano                                            January 2020
The story follows Edward, a child who is the sole survivor of a terrible plane crash and returns to the final minutes of the crash.
Weather by Jenny Offill                                                          February 2020
I am strangely attuned to librarian stories now!   This is about a librarian in New York assigned to answer the climate change mail and how it changes her life.  The title also refers to the prevailing atmosphere in the country, after the election of Trump, which happens around halfway through the book.

Suspense

Hid from Our Eyes by Julia Spencer-Fleming                       April 2020
Russ and Clare find themselves investigating two mysteries from the past - 1952 and 1972 – that are connected to a present day 911 call.  This is the ninth in one of my favorite series.
The Cutting Place by Jane Casey                   February 2020
In book 9 in the series, DS Maeve Kerrigan finds herself in an unfamiliar world of wealth, luxury and ruthless behavior when she and her partner Josh Derwent investigate the murder of a young journalist, Paige Hargreaves.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley                    February 2020
During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.  Soon one of them is dead.

Deep State by Chris Hauty                              January 2020                 My review
I started this last night!  After serving in the United States military, Hayley changes career paths and ends up working at the White House.  When the president’s Chief of Staff dies unexpectedly, Hayley is the only one who finds this suspicious and uncovers a conspiracy.


Romance

Headliners by Lucy Parker                              January 2020
My copy has finally arrived!  Sparks fly when two feuding TV presenters are thrown together to host a live morning show in Lucy Parker's latest enemies-to-lovers contemporary.  Check out this EW mention!
The Honey-Don't List by Christina Lauren                 March 2020
A romantic comedy about what happens when two assistants tasked with keeping their bosses’ rocky relationship from explosion start to feel sparks of their own.  This book was in high demand at ALA Midwinter and the S&S minions at the show would not give me a copy!  Having been a minion in my day, I could usually judge the real fans and would sneak them an ARC if they were nice to me.  

YA

Chasing Lucky by Jenn Bennett                                 April 2020
An ambitious teen returns to her hometown only to have her plans interrupted after falling for the town’s “bad boy”—a.k.a. her childhood best friend.

The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski                           March 2020
Nirrim lives in a restrictive world where people of her low status follow grim rules, so she hides her secret and stays out of trouble.  But then she encounters Sid, a rakish traveler from far away, who whispers rumors that the High Kith possess magic. Sid tempts Nirrim to seek that magic for herself.  I hope I like this as much as her Winner's trilogy.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord                                         January 2020
When Pepper and Jack find their family restaurants in competition for ownership of a legendary grilled cheese recipe, they become locked in a Twitter war, filled with snarky memes, that goes viral. But tweeting with the enemy shouldn’t be this fun. Will their online battle move to an IRL romance neither of them expected?

More Than Maybe by Erin Hahn                                May 2020
Growing up under his punk rocker dad’s spotlight, eighteen-year-old Luke Greenly knows fame and wants nothing to do with it.  He hides his musical talent but has another secret. He also has a major un-requited crush on music blogger, Vada Carsewell.

Children’s 

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley          August 2020
A powerful novel that explodes the stigma around child sexual abuse and leavens an intense tale with compassion and humor.   This was the book I most hoped to find at ALA Midwinter and I was rewarded!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Second Midnight, historical fiction about an English boy's survival in Nazi Europe

Title: The Second Midnight
Author:  Andrew Taylor
Publication: Harper Collins, trade paperback, February 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: From a bestselling author comes a World War Two tale of one boy’s fight for survival in Nazi Europe

A secret mission . . .

1939. As Europe teeters on the brink of war, businessman Alfred Kendall is asked to carry out a minor mission for the British Intelligence Service. Traveling to Prague, he takes his troubled young son, Hugh, as cover.

A terrible choice . . .

When Hitler invades Czechoslovakia, Alfred is given an ultimatum by the Czech Resistance. They will arrange for him to return to England, but only if he leaves his son Hugh behind as collateral.

A young boy stranded in Nazi terrain . . .

Hugh is soon taken under the wing of a Nazi colonel – Helmuth Scholl. But even though Scholl treats Hugh well, his son, Heinz, is suspicious of this foreigner. And as the war across the continent intensifies, they are set on a path that will ultimately lead towards destruction. . .

My Impressions: Not long ago my mother told me she had read and enjoyed a book called The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor.   I don’t think she realized it was a sequel until after she had finished it but, once she realized, she told me to begin with the first book, The Ashes of London, which I did in December.  Set during the Great Fire of London in 17th century London, it is well-written and an atmospheric page-turner.  Thus, I was very pleased when TLC invited me to review The Second Midnight.
Most of the books I read about World War II feature a heroine so it was a change of pace for the main character of this book to be an adolescent boy.  Hugh is an interesting character: when we meet him he is 12 and has just been (unfairly?) expelled from boarding school. Traveling to Prague with his verbally and physically abusive father, Hugh is fascinated by his exposure to a different culture and soon is studying Czech and modern history.   This stands him in good stead when his father abandons him and this child has to scramble for survival.  How he manages to stay alive and end up working for a Nazi colonel, who is kinder than his own father, is a compelling story.  Hugh comes to love the colonel’s daughter Magda but war tears them apart.  I have just a couple more chapters to go to see how this will end.

This book was originally published in Britain in 1988 and has now been reissued to take advantage of Taylor’s strong UK sales on his Marwood-Lovett series and (doubtless) the crazy for WWII settings.  It is full of interesting characters, although some are very disagreeable indeed, particularly Hugh's siblings and father, while his mother was weak.

Purchase Links: Amazon * Barnes&Noble * IndieBoundHarperCollins

Off the Blog: Watching for Iowa Caucus results – glad my state has a primary!

Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes.  Please visit other stops on the tour by clicking below:

Wednesday, January 29th: Booked J
Thursday, January 30th: Helen’s Book Blog
Friday, January 31st: Really Into This
Monday, February 3rd: Instagram: @hooked.by.books
Wednesday, February 5th: Welcome to Nurse Bookie
Thursday, February 6th: Book by Book
Friday, February 7th: Instagram: @rendezvous_with_reading
Wednesday, February 12th: Jathan & Heather
Thursday, February 13th: Laura’s Reviews
Friday, February 14th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Six Degrees of Separation: From Fleishman to A Cure for Dreams

It’s time for #6degrees, inspired by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Start at the same place as other avid readers, add six books, and see where you end up.

This month’s chain begins with Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner who often writes about celebrities for the New York Times Magazine.
I have not yet read Fleishman but the author’s name led me to my first book which is Daddy- Long-Legs by Jean Webster (1912), an old favorite.  At a fictional college based on Vassar, orphaned Judy learns how to have fun as well as to study, making choices and developing personality not previously available to her. There is plenty of taffy and fudge making (a pity that tradition has not endured) in these college stories. As Bronte Coates observes,
“A variant on the boarding school theme, these stories were set in fictionalised versions of women’s colleges and are credited as playing a part in normalising the idea of higher education for women.”
I own a really nice edition but I now see there is one with an introduction by my beloved Eva Ibbotson, and I would really like to read that.
People in the sorts of books I read are always having taffy pulls! My second book is The Golden Road by L. M. Montgomery (1913), which features Sara Stanley, one of LMM's lesser-known heroines:
The Story Girl and Peter came over, of course, and we all agreed that we would haste and get the work done in the forenoon, that we might have an afternoon of uninterrupted enjoyment. A taffy-pull after dinner and then a jolly hour of coasting ... 
In my third book, read by my book group years ago, Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (2011), a character hears Plymouth Brethren singing and compares their dragging out the words to a taffy pull.

My fourth book is Betsy’s Up-and-Down Year by Anne Pellowski (1983). This is the fifth book in a series that follows four generations of a Polish American family in Wisconsin:
“Fudge. Make fudge,” suggested Betsy. 
“No, I think I’ll try my hand at some taffy. I’ve always wondered what it was like to pull taffy, and this seems like a good time to find out. Kathy was already removing some of the cookbooks from the shelf. “There are at least two recipes I’d like to try,” she said after she had read through more than a dozen of them. “I’ll make each in a different flavor: one mint and one vanilla.” She gathered the ingredients on the table and set the children to measuring sugar, water and butter.
The Rope by Nevada Barr (2012) is my fifth book. This is a series I became familiar with when I worked at Avon, although it is not a favorite.
“It reminds me of ribbon candy. The kind we used to get at Christmas,” Anna said, sounding determinedly cheerful. 
Jenny added her own nonthreatening image, hoping it would help. “Or taffy the way they'd pull it at the county fair, the colors stretching and twisting all through it.”
My sixth book, A Cure for Dreams by Kaye Gibbons (1991), reminds us of a real risk: taffy pulls sound extremely fun but are hazardous to our teeth!
Bridget was exactly as in my mind's eye, down to the nubby teeth, though by 1938 she had lost most of her teeth to pull taffy, as had most of her family.
Next month (March 7, 2020), we’ll begin with Australian author Lucy Treloar’s Wolfe Island, a dystopian novel set in Chesapeake Bay.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Bettina's Book Tagging Game

Finishing School: Further Studies in Schoolgirl Literature is primarily a group for literary analysis and general discussion of children's books.   This week, my friend Bettina posed a tagging game, asking for a book:

1. Containing a map?

I found several, and chose a book that was my mother’s before it was mine, At the Sign of the Golden Anchor by Ruth Langland Holberg (1947), set in Gloucester, Massachusetts, about an hour away from me.  The map is of Annisquam Harbor (Massachusetts), 1812.
2. With a Sunday School prize plate?

This took me much longer to find than I had expected!   Long Barrow by Gwendoline Courtney (1950) finally yielded a book plate – Nancy MacIntosh earned it for good attendance in 1956-57.   One can’t help wondering why they didn’t give her a more recently published book!  They must have been big Courtney fans like me.  I think Gill Bilski found this for me.
3. Showing defiant girl on the cover?

I think this heroine, a Paul Revere wannabe, looks pretty defiant in Midnight Rider by Joan Hiatt Harlow (2005).
4. With a character or place with your name?

Constance by Patricia Clapp is an old favorite.   She was a real person who sailed on the Mayflower and this book was Runner-up for the National Book Award for Children's Literature in 1969.
5. Which is a Puffin paperback?

I have quite a few but the first one I found was Thursday by Catherine Storr (1972). This is about a troubled teenager who disappears and Bee, his only friend, who tries to find him.  I am a bigger fan of her Marianne Dreams.
Three of these books are set in Massachusetts which is fun but unintended!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Time for you to try some D.E. Stevenson?

Just a quick post to share this delightful speech that D.E. Stevenson gave to the "book trade" in Glasgow in or around the late 1960s.   Check out the Dean Street Press blog to read it.

Stevenson (1892-1973) was a bestselling author of light romantic fiction, known for her warm and captivating characters, her humor, her vivid settings (often Scotland but sometimes London), and her wonderful storytelling.   Reading about how she crafted her stories was very interesting for a fan like me.
For those who have never read her books, several have been reprinted by the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint of Dean Street Press.   Try one of these in book or electronic form:

Spring Magic - 25-year-old Frances Field escapes to a small village in Scotland to finds herself

Vittoria Cottage - Caroline, a young widow, and her children, find romance in small English town - but it's complicated . . .

Mrs. Tim Christie (aka Mrs. Tim of the Regiment) - Set in the 1930s, this is written in the form of journal entries about Hester Christie's quirky life as the wife of a British military officer.
I look forward to adding to my shelves soon!