Book Club Mom’s summer recommendations – grab a book and some fresh air!

Image: Pixabay

Summer reads have a certain feel about them and grabbing the right book can take you back to when you had long lazy days stretching out in front of you. Now, for many of us, it’s more a matter of creating the mood of an endless summer. So steal an hour, find a nice place in a park, in your yard or even at home with the windows open, and dig into a book that will grab you right away. Here are some recommendations to help you choose:


Dig Right In

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin – light, entertaining historical fiction during the late 1800s when billionaire American families match their daughters with cash-poor dukes and princes in need of American money.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer – set in Greenwich Village, NY, Greta discovers her 1985 self living in two other time periods, one in 1918 and one in 1941.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin – historical fiction and fascinating portrait of Truman Capote and his distinct sides, as both pet and confidante to the New York upper class, and serious writer.

Things We Set on Fire by Deborah Reed – great story about a mother who believes she is doing the right thing, but can’t see its impact until decades later.


Family Dramas

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler – a complicated family from Baltimore, full of secrets and an unacknowledged division between its members.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – great family saga that begins in the 1960s with six kids from two different families, thrown together because of an affair, a divorce and then a marriage.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub – light beach read about a dysfunctional family on a trip from Manhattan to Spain for some forced family vacation fun.

When I Found You by Catherine Ryan Hyde – a man goes duck hunting and finds an abandoned baby boy in the woods, changing his life in unimaginable ways.


Historical Fiction

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín – classic tale about post-war immigration from Ireland to America.

The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor – set in NY in 1950 during the Red Scare, the story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, arrested for spying for the Russians.

Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor – biographical novel about Emily Dickinson and a fictional coming-of-age story about her young Irish maid.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – a look at Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Elizabeth Hadley Richardson and their six-year marriage, spent mostly in Paris.


Secrets and Suspense

The Dry by Jane Harper – atmospheric thriller set on the edge of the Australia’s bushland during a devastating drought.

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey – an old woman on the edge of dementia falls into a confused world of memories and suspicions, certain that her friend Elizabeth is missing.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian – a flight attendant wakes up after a night of heavy drinking and discovers she is in bed with a man who has been brutally murdered.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – Young Adult story about mysterious events of one summer, forcing a family through painful changes.


I hope you find a good place to escape for a bit. What will you read?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Miracle Creek
by
Angie Kim

Rating:

To what lengths would you go to achieve normalcy? To fit in? To have the kind of regular life that everyone around you seems to enjoy? Would you lie? Would you commit murder? Would you frame someone else for the crime? These questions are rooted in Miracle Creek, a mystery/courtroom drama in which a young mother stands trial for the murder of her 8-year-old autistic son.

In her debut novel, Angie Kim shows how a controversial treatment for autism and other health problems can lead to desperation. Parents and others in this story hope that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (H-BOT) will correct, reverse and improve autism, brain damage and even infertility, and give their families the normal lives they deserve.

The story takes place in 2008, in Miracle Creek, Virginia, and is set at the Yoo family’s H-BOT facility where they call their chamber the “Miracle Submarine.” After years of sacrifice, Pak Yoo, his wife, Young and their teenage daughter, Mary, have moved to Miracle Creek to set up their business. Young and Mary have been in the country for four years, waiting for Pak to join them. He has been a “wild-goose-father” in Korea, working for an H-BOT company and preparing to come to America. They are certain this is how they will secure a future for Mary.

Regulars include three hyper-focused mothers who are desperate to improve their children’s, and their own, lives and a young man seeking fertility treatment. During one evening session, an explosion rips through the barn where the chamber is housed. Two people are killed, including the boy, Henry Ward, and others are severely injured. Henry’s mother, Elizabeth, had chosen not to enter the chamber with her son that night and everyone suspects murder.

The story quickly advances one year to the trial where testimony and back stories fill in missing pieces, with just enough lies, secrets, rivalry and false friendships between the mothers to cast doubt on others besides Elizabeth. In a parallel story about fitting in, the reader also learns more about Pak Yoo, his family and their struggles to assimilate into American life, including the prejudice against and ignorance about their Korean culture.

Throughout, Pak is honor-bound to lead and protect his family and Young must decide whether to obey or to think for herself. In addition, Mary’s secret teenage life reveals a shocking relationship with repercussions that shake both their family and the others involved in the treatment.

One of the strongest parts of the story is how Kim’s characters experience a range of troubling emotions including resentment and wild fantasies about being freed from their burdens and contemplating whose life is more worth saving, a sobering look at the roller coaster lives of special needs families.

I enjoyed reading Miracle Creek because of its original ideas and engaging plot and recommend it to readers who like character-driven stories about the devastating impact secrets can have. I’m looking forward to future stories by Angie Kim!

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Who’s That Indie Author? D. Wallace Peach

Author name:  D. Wallace Peach

Genre:  Fantasy/Science Fiction

Books:

The Shattered Sea duology – Soul Swallowers and Legacy of Souls; The Rose Shield series – Catling’s Bane, Oathbreakers’ Guild, Farlanders’ Law, and Kari’s Reckoning; The Dragon Soul Saga – Myths of the Mirror, Eye of Fire, Eye of Blind, and Eye of Sun; Stand-alones – The Sorcerer’s Garden, Sunwielder, The Bone Wall, The Melding of Aeris; Anthology – The Five Elements; Children’s Book – Grumpy Ana and the Grouchy Monsters

What’s your story and how did you become a writer?  Totally by accident!  I’d dabbled in writing for years but never considered it a real possibility. Then a temporary move for my husband’s work left me jobless with some rare free time to fill. The dear man suggested that I write a book. Well, the rest is history.

How do you balance your work with other demands?  Balance is one of those things I don’t negotiate well. It’s one reason I never considered writing while raising kids or working outside the home. Now, I’m attempting to balance aging parents and grandchildren, and it’s not easy to make time for the laptop. When things get busy, what do I let slide? Housework!

Name one of the happiest moments in your life:  That’s an easy one. The birth of my daughter. It was true love at first sight, and that’s never changed.

What’s your approach to writing? Are you a “pantser” or a planner?  I started writing as a pantser and loved following my characters on the most circuitous tangents. My first book was a 190,000-word masterpiece – a horrible one, needless to say. I had to cut 63,000 words to entice a publisher to even glance at it. After two torturous years of flaying my manuscript, I became an enthusiastic planner.

Could you write in a café with people around?  Maybe. I like the romantic writerly idea of it. But I live a long, long way from a café, so I haven’t had the chance to try it. I write in big chunks of time and might feel awkward capitalizing a cafe table for seven hours.

Have you ever written dialogue in a second language? If so, how did you do it?  For Sunwielder, I wrote dialog in a made-up language! That was super fun, but very limited since other characters had to translate and I didn’t want to bog down the prose. I made up words and structural rules and learned to speak it. I would definitely do it again if a book called for it.

What’s your favorite book and what are you reading now?  I love the book Anam Cara by John O’Donohue. My mom gave it to me years ago, and the beauty of the reflections spoke to me then and still do. Right now, I’m on an indie binge and just finished Survival of the Fittest by Jacqui Murray. Prehistoric fiction!

What’s your favorite way to read a book: hardcover, paperback, eReader?  I love paperback books, but switched to Kindle about 5 years ago. That far, far away café is next door to the far, far away bookstore. And honestly, when I finish a book, I want to start the next one that moment!  And ebooks are less costly so I can buy more of them!

Do you think print books will always be around?  Yes, they’re treasures. If I love a kindle book, I’ll buy the print version so I can hug it.

Would you ever read a book on your phone?  I have! Mostly when traveling, and it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.

What’s your go-to device? iPhone, Android or something else?  A giant laptop at home, and an old cracked iPhone on the road. I used to rely on an old cracked iPad, but it’s so slow now that I can’t bear it. (I tend to drop my electronics).

How long could you go without checking your phone?  Could I go? Months. I’m a hermit and can survive without human contact for decades. But that would be rude, so I check email once every couple of hours on my laptop.

Do you listen to audiobooks? If you do, what do you do while you’re listening?  I don’t, but I want to! I just have to figure out all the new-fangled technology and cough up the bucks for Audible. What would I do while listening? Drive, exercise, garden, housework, you name it.

Do you like using social media to promote yourself and your book? If so, what’s your favorite platform?  I love WordPress, and it’s my go-to platform. I cherish the community, the kindness, the laughter and tears, all the fun that I share with this talented bunch of people. The rest of social media I could take or leave and don’t make much time for. Blogging takes a lot of time away from writing, but it’s worth it to this old hermit.

Website and social media links:
Blog: mythsofthemirror.com
Website: dwallacepeachbooks.com
Twitter: @Dwallacepeach

Awards/special recognition:  Stay tuned.


Are you an indie author?  Do you want to build your indie author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email bvitelli2009@gmail.com for a bio template and other details.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Lot by Bryan Washington

Lot
by
Bryan Washington

Rating:

If you like short fiction and are looking for something new and raw, check out Lot by Bryan Washington. It’s the author’s debut collection of 13 stories, set in Houston, and told mainly by one character. In the first chapter, the central narrator is a 12-year-old boy with a black mother and Latino father. He lives in a poor area of the city with his parents and his older sister and brother above their family-run restaurant, a place where prostitution, drug dealing, murder, gangs, transience and broken families are common. As he comes of age, the narrator’s homosexual relationships are a major theme of the book, especially as he relates to his brother and mother. Later chapters show the narrator as a teenager and young adult, deep into changes and complicated relationships.

Each chapter is a stand-alone story, though they are tied together by the main narrator and other points of view. The “lots” refer to different streets or areas in Houston and are quick looks into the hard lives of the area’s multi-ethnic population. Making rent by whatever means is a common theme. Getting out is another. But for those who get out, for a mere chance to make it, some stay. The burden of staying ultimately falls on the narrator, even when there may be nothing left for him.

Despite their often desperate situations, friendships exist, though many are tenuous or short-lived. Families are often more tenuous and sometimes family isn’t your relatives, it’s the people who look out for you, or even take you in.

The stories are nonlinear and the author’s narrative style is loose, written in an authentic urban slang. Readers need to read for the “feel” of it and to trust that the big picture will be revealed. It is, but with many questions, loose ends, unresolved relationships and unknown futures. That’s the point, I believe, accurately depicting the messy, no promises life of the book’s characters.

I enjoyed Lot because I like discovering new short fiction. It’s an uncensored look at a struggling population with a hopeful finish and I look forward to more from Bryan Washington.

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Book Club Mom’s May recap – books, birthdays and a graduation

I don’t know what happened to May, but here we are at the finish. It’s a big month for birthdays in my family and we squeezed in a college graduation too! It’s always nice to settle into a comfy chair during the down times and relax with a book, a show or a puzzle.

I’ve become a bit crazy with a word game I have on my ancient Kindle called Every Word: Crossings, and I have been playing it obsessively. I never look at that as a waste of time, though. Things like that always help me sort out my day.

And I went a little overboard with my Barbie doll posts (see below), but it’s been fun (for me, at least!) sharing something that I loved as a girl.


This month, I read and reviewed three regular books:

 

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd – if you like mystery series, this is the first of the Bess Crawford stories, set in England during World War I. I enjoyed both the characters and the historical setting. The author, Charles Todd, is actually a mother-son writing team.


More and more, it seems, fiction books are being co-authored and this month I wrote a post about this very thing!

Author teams and pen names – if the story’s good, does it matter? Not to me!


Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – in this memoir about becoming a female scientist, Jahren writes a compelling personal story about family, love, friendship, mental health and the difficulties of earning a living as a scientist. (Jahren made it big, after a long road, and has won many awards.)


The Beneficiary – Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of my Father by Janny Scott – a biography of Robert Montgomery Scott, written by his daughter. A tale of four generations of a wealthy Main Line, Pennsylvania family and their 800-acre estate and the complicated relationships among family members.


As I mentioned above, I also started a series that celebrates books about the Barbie doll’s 60th birthday. Here are the first two posts, indulging my obsession. I’ll share my final Barbie post next week.

Dressing Barbie: A Celebration of the Clothes That Made America’s Favorite Doll and the Incredible Woman Behind Them – Carol Spencer

Look what Barbie’s wearing! Barbie Fashion 1959-1967 by Sarah Sink Eames


May was a busier indie author month. I introduced three hard-working writers:

Richard Doiron
Lucia N. Davis
Frank Prem

If you are an indie or self-published author and would like to be featured on Who’s That Indie Author, please email me at bvitelli2009@gmail.com. To shake things up, I’ve updated my interview with a new set of questions!


Next week, we’re starting a Summer Reading program at the library where I work, so I’ll be signing up for that. I plan to work these two books onto my list:

June book previews: Lot – Stories by Bryan Washington and Miracle Creek by Angie Kim


And last, I was sorry to see that American author Herman Wouk died on May 17, at age 103. I’ve enjoyed many of his books and think I will go back to some of them this summer. I had a fun time looking at these book covers – did you notice that the last two, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, fit together to make a bigger picture?

Remembering American author Herman Wouk, 1915 – 2019

I hope you had a good month, out in the world and between the pages. I’m looking forward to a good summer!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

June book previews: Lot Stories by Bryan Washington and Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Here are two books that have settled into a place on my coffee table. They have been patiently calling to me and I am determined to read them in June.


Lot Stories by Bryan Washington

A collection of 13 short stories set in the city of Houston, Texas. Told mainly by the son of a black mother and a Latino father, a young man who is just beginning to figure out who he is. “Bryan Washington’s brilliant, viscerally drawn world vibrates with energy, wit, and the infinite longing of people searching for home.” Because I like short fiction, I’m already drawn to this collection. I like that the stories are integrated and think I will enjoy this debut.


Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

I don’t know how best to describe this debut novel except to share parts of the inside jacket description:

“A literary courtroom thriller about an immigrant family and a young single mother accused of killing her autistic son…”

The book takes place in rural Miracle Creek, Virginia and is about “an experimental medical treatment device called the Miracle Submarine. A pressurized oxygen chamber that patients enter for therapeutic ‘dives,’ it’s also a repository of hopes and dreams…” During treatment, the oxygen chamber explodes and kills two people and these events lead to a murder trial.

I haven’t read a courtroom thriller in a long time, so I’m looking forward to what sounds like a unique story!

Do these books interest you? What is next on your list?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

 

 

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

A Duty to the Dead
by
Charles Todd

Rating:

If you’re looking for an entertaining historical mystery, you’ll enjoy A Duty to the Dead, a story set in England during World War I. This is the first book of the Bess Crawford Mysteries, written by a mother-son duo, who introduce Bess as a highly skilled young nurse aboard the doomed HMHS Britannic. Bess narrowly escapes death when the ship hits a mine and soon an unfulfilled promise to a soldier on an earlier ship assignment nags her. Arthur Graham, a dying English soldier, begged her to deliver a curious message: “Tell Jonathan that I lied. I did it for Mother’s sake. But it has to be set right.”

Bess knows it would have been her failure if she had died before trying to reach Arthur’s brother. And although her father, the retired Colonel Richard Crawford, is grateful she’s alive, he advises her, “But you have a responsibility not to put it off again. A duty to the dead is sacred. I needn’t tell you that.”

When Bess delivers the message, Jonathan Graham acts strangely. She’s fulfilled her duty, but she can’t let go. A medical emergency delays her departure and soon Bess is caught up in the Graham family affairs. Her nursing skills prove helpful, but her curiosity leads to hints of a chilling family secret. There’s only one person who can explain, but he’s locked in an asylum.

I enjoyed this mystery as much for the story as for its cast of characters. The Graham family has a lot to hide and although the people in the small town of Owlhurst can’t figure things out for themselves, they help Bess put the pieces together. And it becomes clear that her duty to the dead extends way beyond her promise to Arthur Graham. Interesting side stories enhance this mystery as the reader sorts out facts and events.

A Duty to the Dead is a fast and light read, but it also includes serious themes such as the damaging effects of war on both soldiers and families left behind, as well as the young men deemed unfit to serve. In addition, the author challenges the reader to think about responsibility for a crime. Does the blame lay on just one person, or do conspiracy and complicity make others just as guilty?

I liked how the author used this time period to show what people do during wartime and how their perceptions of danger change. Bess Crawford, barely out of her teens, has developed a courageous, confident and independent character, which serves her well as both a nurse and an amateur detective. I expect she will handle many challenges in the next books with the skills she shows in her first adventure. A Duty to the Dead was published in 2009 and there are eleven more for fans to enjoy. You can see the full list here.

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How to make a good book list – visit your library!

I’m surrounded by books at my library job and, as I travel through the stacks, I’m inspired by the many books on display. I also do a lot of book talking with my work friends and with people who come up to the desk. Yesterday, I walked over two miles and the sights were good!  Here’s a list of the books I’ve seen or heard about during my recent travels.

Take a look and be sure to check out the linked reviews by our fellow WordPress bloggers – it’s a great way to connect with readers!


Fiction

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – reviewed by HappymessHappiness
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – reviewed by Bookshelf Fantasies
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – reviewed by Traveling with T
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata – reviewed by Cover to Cover
Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reis – reviewed by Jenna Bookish

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly – reviewed by Dressed to Read
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – reviewed by Hannah and Her Books
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – reviewed by Ally Writes Things
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward – reviewed by By the Book Reviews
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson – reviewed by BooksPlease

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – reviewed by Simone and Her Books
The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn – reviewed by Angie Dokos
There There by Tommy Orange – reviewed by I’ve Read This
When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger – reviewed by Rainy Days and Mondays
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – reviewed by Fictionophile

Nonfiction

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery – reviewed by Shelf Love
Hunger by Roxane Gay – reviewed by Taking on a World of Words
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – reviewed by Kavish and Books

I’ll be reading Lab Girl for my book club and I know I’ll get to the rest one day – just a matter of time! What are you reading right now? What do you recommend?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Before the Fall
by
Noah Hawley

Rating:

Is it good luck to survive a plane crash over the Atlantic? Most would think yes, but Scott Burroughs, after a heroic swim to safety, with four-year-old JJ Bateman clinging to his neck, may wonder. Because he will soon find himself caught between competing government agencies searching for a cause and the media’s ruthless pursuit of a story, any story, even if it’s unfounded.

When Maggie Bateman offers Scott a seat on her private plane, he sees the quick jaunt from Martha’s Vineyard to New York as a way to avoid the ferry. Scott, a moneyless artist and recovering alcoholic, is an unlikely passenger on a plane for the ultra-rich. The remaining passengers include Maggie’s husband, David, a cable news mogul, their two young children, Wall Street millionaire investor Ben Kipling and his wife, Sarah. A body guard, two pilots, and a glamorous flight attendant complete the list, each with a story. But only Scott and young JJ will survive to tell what they know of it. The media won’t believe Scott and JJ is only four. The rest is up to investigators.

Everyone wants to know what made flight 613 go down. Was it terrorism? A conspiracy? Something else? The news machine has plenty of fuel for the fire, fanned by sensationalist ALC News personality Bill Cunningham, whose means to get a story are not always above board. And initially lauded as a hero, Scott soon becomes the target of the investigation, once his artwork is discovered. Is there meaning in these shocking portrayals?

Broken into chapters about each passenger and with descriptions of Scott’s paintings, Hawley’s story allows readers to develop their own theories. Many answers lay hidden in the airplane’s two black boxes and the truth will come out if they are recovered.

Before the Fall is not just about a plane crash. It’s a commentary on heroism, personal strength, wealth, power, the media and the question of “information versus entertainment.” It’s described as an international thriller and suspense novel, but I think it’s just a great story about how the truth is often obstructed by the human tendency to jump to conclusions. Heroes and happy endings are also hidden, but they’re in there somewhere.

Before the Fall is the winner of the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Novel and the 2017 International Thriller Writers Award for Best Novel. I recommend this book to readers who like big stories, with each character contributing to the plot surrounding a single event, and to readers who enjoy books that represent our society’s mishmash of beliefs, values and questionable morals.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon! 

The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves

The Glass Room
by
Ann Cleeves

Rating:

Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope has another crime to solve when her neighbor, Joanna Tobin, goes missing and an influential professor is murdered. Could Joanna, who is off her meds, be responsible for the professor’s death?

In the fifth of the Vera Stanhope series, which is also a popular show on Netflix, the stocky, gruff and brilliant detective investigates Tony Ferdinand’s murder. With Sergeant Joe Ashworth at her side and Detective Constable Holly Clarke close behind, Vera steps into the unfamiliar realm of writers and publishers, all trying to either get in the game, or stay in it, at Miranda Barton’s Writers’ House.

Ferdinand has been found stabbed and crouching on the balcony off the glass room and Vera is first to question the set-up. “Did he sit on the balcony and wait to be stabbed to death? Or was he moved afterwards? I mean, this all seems madness to me.”

As Vera digs, it seems everyone has something to hide, including Joanna, who is at the house on scholarship. Is what she has written the source of the crime? Why is Miranda’s son Alex defensive about his knives? And what is tutor Nina Backworth’s alibi? She hated Ferdinand and so did Miranda! Others at the weeklong course include a successful crime novelist, a former truck driver with a fresh new voice, and a former police inspector.

True to Vera’s character, the sharp-eyed detective has equally acerbic communications skills, pitting Joe against Holly and irritating many. She may be an imperfect and lonely human being, but no one can match her intuition.

Set in fictional Northumberland, England, I thoroughly enjoyed the coastline setting and clever story, in which the author offers clues, but saves the crucial details for the finish. Vera may be gruff, but Cleeves shows the detective’s soft sides as well. This is the second Stanhope mystery I’ve read. (Check out my review of The Moth Catcher here.) and, while Vera and her crew are regulars, readers will have no problem jumping in wherever they please. I see this as a great way for readers to enjoy books from a series without having to commit to reading a long line of books and I recommend The Glass Room to readers who enjoy entertaining and intelligent mysteries.

Have you read any of the Vera Stanhope books? Have you watched the show? I checked out the first DVD at the library and will be watching it soon!

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